While my partner in crime was winter bike camping in negative degree weather in Alaska, I was celebrating my mom’s retirement, my dad’s birthday and my sister’s company on the Big Island, Hawaii.
The youngest Hawaiian Island definitely delivers on a variety of activities to choose from. The first day we explored the beautiful Waipi’o Valley, known as the Valley of the Kings. The area was inhabited for hundreds of years by Hawaiians growing taro and other crops, but the powerful 1946 tsunami wiped out most of the valley history. Our drive from Waikoloa Village consisted of a constant down pour; however when we arrived at the trailhead the rain had subsided, thus we began the slow-going downhill journey into the valley on the 25%-grade rough single lane road. We weren’t even five minutes into the journey when the rain caught up to us. The hike is only 0.75 miles, but losses 975′ in elevation. When we decided to turn back the rain had turned from a nice warm sprinkle to sheets of water that were barely visible to see through. The hike back up was closer to swimming up a river than it was hiking up the side of a mountain. The rain didn’t bother me as much as it did my camera, which received water damage, despite being kept in it’s protected case inside my bag. With that, you can imagine how soaked we were when we arrived at the top.
After drying off we decided to head back to the almost-always dry side and explored the petroglyphs near our rented condo, located in the Waikoloa Resort Area. It would be hard to visit the island and not run into petroglyphs at one point or another. I’ve never been to a place where they have been so easily accessible. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of detailed petroglyphs carved on smooth plates of ancient lava within a half mile from our living room. Accompanying the artwork were rock and cave shelters which painted an even clearer picture of how past Hawaiians had lived.
The first night on the island ended with drinks on the beach watching the sunset, because isn’t that just what you do on vacation? Although the view and entertainment (live music on the beach) was wonderful, I still don’t know if it was worth the $17 that I was charged for a single drink at the Lava Lava Beach Club.
The next day we made our way to Hilo along the Hamakua Coast. Our first stop was Laupahoehoe Point, a flat lava peninsula formed by a late-state Mauna Kea eruption. Today the area is home to a small monument that lists 20 school children and four adults that were taken by the sea durning the 1946 tsunami. Since then, the town has relocated up the steep 1.5 mile drive from the point. The place had an eerie feeling about it and the ocean didn’t hold back it’s power as we watched the water slam against the lava rocks.
Next we quickly stopped at the Waikaumalo Community Park along the Old Mamalahoa Highway. We also explored Kolekole Beach Park, a river-mouth break that has a local swimming hole, equipped with a rope swing and waterfall.
Umauma Falls is located between the two above mentioned parks, a three-tiered waterfall that you can get to by paying the $10 per person entrance fee. Although my parents had already seen, and zipped-lined, through the area I was happy to pay the entrance fee to view the waterfall and nearby gardens.
Our next stop was the very popular Akaka Falls State Park. As we approached the entrance to the 1/2 mile forest loop we were stopped by a man at a small self-standing booth. He collected $5 for every car that parked in the small 15-20 lot parking area and $1 for every person that entered onto the trail. We were very surprised and lucky we had three singles to hand over (we parked up the street so avoided the parking charge). Although my dad joked that it was probably some random guy taking money from tourists I somewhat wonder if he was right… Once we arrived at the falls it was well worth the $1, compared to the $10 we spent at Umauma Falls. The 420′ fall is quite impressive.
We arrived at Hilo around 1:30pm and went straight to grab lunch. We’d heard of Cafe 100 from a few locals (including my old roommate, Vanessa, who grew up in Hilo) and decided to try it out. It was cheap, local and good food. After we tried a loco moco for the first time we headed to the local brewery. Hilo’s sole craft brewery, Mehana Brewing Company, is definitely worth visiting if you are interested in more free tastings than you are in getting a tour of the brewery. The beer just kept coming to the point where my dad had to decline the last few because someone had to drive back to Kona that night. After we all had our share we headed to Rainbow Falls. Ideally, you should visit the falls in the early morning to see the rainbows that give it it’s name; however we thought the falls and the surrounding foliage was stunning in the afternoon as well. We arrived back in Kona just in time for a BBQ at sunset.
The next morning we headed to North Kohala. Our first stop was at Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company. Again, if you’re more interested in lots of free samples than you are in a tour- stop here. They have all different kinds of flavors, including Spam. We stocked up on flavorful nuts and headed north to Lapakahi State Historical Park. Due to the high surf damage from the previous week most of the park was closed, including the 1 mile-loop that passes through the remains of stone walls, house sites and canoe sheds.
Our next stop was the peaceful Keokea Beach Park. It may have been the locals playing ukulele or the impressive surf but something about this park was very calming despite the sheer force of the ocean. This was also the first time we discovered noni, a vomit smelling jelly fruit that is used for medicinal purposes.
We arrived at Pololu Valley about a half hour later and were welcomed with a stunning row of steep, mystical cliffs. The valley was once abundant with wetland taro but now seems to consist of primarily tourists adventuring down the steep hiking trail.
The beautiful drive down the Kohala Mountain Road included views of cows, horses and snow on top of Mauna Kea.
As we made our way further south we decided to check out Hapuna Beach. We had tried to enter the beach the day before but were turned away due to the high surf damage. Our luck changed on the second try. The beach, although beautiful, was the busiest I had seen on the island. I guess that is what you should expect from a ‘world-famous’ beach that consists of a half-mile sweep of white powder sands. The water was still a little rough for swimmers but that didn’t stop folks from simply standing in the water to cool off. I was truly entertained by two men that held a beer in one hand and a cigar in the other and every time a wave hit they’d raise their arms to protect their precious items.
Our last stop that day, worth mentioning, was at the Puako Petroglyph Preseve. With more than 3,000 petroglyps this area was far less impressive than our previous petroglyph stop. I think I was more interested in the white and black beach lava rocks.
The next day was my dad’s 64th birthday! The first thing on the birthday agenda was to get a cup of coffee at Hula Daddy’s, a very fitting name for the occasion. The coffee was good, the tour okay, but I was really taken by the tea that they made with coffee shells.
After we were wide awake we headed to the beach. We left the birthday boy in the shade while the ladies snorkeled at Kahalu’u Beach Park.
Humpy’s is one of my dad’s favorite pubs in Anchorage and it just so happens that the sister pub is located in Kona. We stopped in for a few birthday drinks then headed home for a BBQ and watched the sunset from our gazebo.
The next morning my parents and I headed to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. The first stop on the 2.5 hour drive was the southernmost bakery in the USA, Punalu’u Bake Shop. The ice cream and sweets really hit the spot. Next we visited Punalu’u Beach Park, a great little black-sand beach that almost always has turtles.
We arrived at the park around 1pm and headed straight for the Kilauea Visitor Center. I was on a mission to find directions to the secret lava tube hike that my travel book referred to as the Pua Po’o Lava Tube Hike. After waiting nearly 20 min to get to the ranger (who was very helpful and excited about her job), I was met with disappointment when I was told they closed off this particular lava tube hike years ago. Our only other option was to go to the not-so-secret Thurston Lava Tube. To get there we took the short Kiauela Iki Trailhead. The 500 year tube was actually really neat. While at the park we also visited the Jaggar Museum, which provides a good view of the smoking Halema’uma’u Crater.
The following day the ladies were interested in a second round of snorkeling. We wanted to go to Kaelakekua Bay but were having a hard time deciding how to get there. The options were to take a guided snorkel tour, rent a kayak or hike down the steep Captain Cook Monument Trail. We opted for the hike. The 1400′ drop in elevation took about an hour and a half to get down but more than twice that coming up. The end of the hike brings you face-to-face to the Captain James Cook Monument. It was at this spot where Cook first landed on Hawai’i and drew his last breath. Apparently there are even some of his bones at this sight, which apparently sits on a small patch of British soil. With regards to snorkeling in the area- the waters were clear, the fish were bright and the coral was amazing!
When we returned to our fabulous rental in Kona that night we relaxed by the pool, read our books and admired the beautiful garden.
The next day was Superbowl Sunday! The day started out with a wonderful tour at the Kona Brewing Company. Since opening in 1994, the brewery has expanded to include a second pub in Honolulu and distributes its beers in other states and Japan. They practice a ‘green’ operation which was evident by looking at their light source, a skylight with glass shards reflecting the light from the sun. After the tour and four 4oz samples we headed back to the rental to watch the Superbowl. We jumped into the pool after every touchdown made by Seattle. Unfortunately, the Seahawks lost and after the game the only thing we were drying were our tears.
The next day Eileen caught a flight back to Seattle and we sadly had to say our goodbyes. After the airport we headed to Kiholo Bay. On the gravel path toward Kiholo Bay we stopped at Keanalele Waterhole, known as the Queen’s Bath. It’s a 40′ long old lava tube that is filled with clear and clean fresh water that is home to a few fish and is considered a scared place by the Hawaiians. It has two openings, one of which is much easier to enter from. In my opinion, this was the most amazing and interesting place on the island that I visited. Surprisingly, we had it all to ourselves for about 20 min until a few locals arrived. I’m pretty sure this place is a well kept secret from tourists.
The ocean was still a little too rough for us to really enjoy swimming in the open water so we set out to find a swimming hole where we wouldn’t have to worry about the waves. Kikaua Beach fit this description perfectly. This beach was created by the private club it fronts and is said to be the perfect place for teaching little kids to swim and snorkel. However, when we were there I don’t believe there was one person under 50 years old, besides myself. In other words, it a very relaxing and calm place to swim and snorkel. Access to the beach is limited to 25 cars (we were the 24th car of the day), so it’s never crowded- which is great! Access is via Kuki’o Nui Road near the 87- mile marker, go to the gate and request a pass.
The next morning was sadly our last on the island, but we had until 11pm to continue to have fun before we caught our flight back to the mainland. We decided to go to the virtually unknown Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park in the Kaloko area (near Costco). There were more rangers at this park than visitors. The 1160-acre park is sacred Hawaiian ground. During our visit, we made our way down to the ocean by taking the Ala Mauka Makai trail, which was short but very hot because we were walking on lava rocks in the direct sun without much shade. Given the amount of turtles we saw when we arrived at the beach, it was well worth getting a little sweaty.
Our next stop was Pu’uhonhu o Honaunau National Historical Park. The park’s name means “Place of Refuge at Honaunau”. Although the majority of the park was closed due to high surf damage, what we were able to see was interesting.
We ended our stay with listening to a complimentary presentation about manta rays at the Sheraton Kona. The free manta talk takes place at the Manta Ray Learning Center every Monday through Saturday at 6 p.m. The hour long presentation includes a detailed description of the huge swimmers which can have a wingspan of up to 16 feet. The tour ends well before 8pm when the manta rays usually start appearing off the coast of the hotel. They swim here because the hotel shines light into the water which attracts their food source- plankton. We grabbed some apps and drinks at Rays on the Bay and watched the water to see if any would appear early. We ended up not seeing any, but did see a slew of tour boats just waiting to catch a glimpse of one.
All in all the trip was amazing!! I was happy to be with my family while exploring uncharted territory. Although I loved the big island, I think I’ll go back to Maui or Kauai again before I explore this one further.