The Big Island, Hawaii… Volcanoes, Beaches, Hiking, Coffee… And a great frick’n tan!

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Volcanic coastline – Southern coast of the Big Island

Aloha!    Before I start, I feel like I should confess that I actually avoided Hawaii for years.  I thought, how can a place that is so hyped up actually live up to the expectations?  Besides, every time I looked up Hawaii online, the tourist areas looked so congested.  I pictured shoulder to shoulder people pushing their way through to their limited spot on the beach.  I have to admit that I could not have been happier to be so wrong!

In 2011, I came across a deal through http://www.expedia.com for a package deal to Oahu, Hawaii that was just too good to be true and I immediately fell in love with both the Island and the spirit of Hawaii.  So when it came time to book our Christmas vacation, an annual tradition to escape the madness that the Holidays always bring out, it was easy to give the Big Island of Hawaii a look.  We decided to fly out 1st thing in the morning on December 24th.  That’s right, we flew on Christmas Eve.  Much to my surprise, the plane was not even full and I had a full row to myself.  What a great way to start a vacation!

Evening sunset from a hiking trail from Hapuna Beach

Evening sunset from a hiking trail from Hapuna Beach

After quite a bit of research, we booked the Hapuna Prince Beach Hotel,  which was only about an hours drive north of the Kona airport on Queen Ka’Ahumanu Highway on the Kohala Coast. This is a hotel that I would book again without hesitation. The Hotel had the best buffet that I have ever had, and I am usually not a fan of buffet eating, but I do love good yet healthy food.  The location was ideal as it is one of the sunniest spots on the entire Big Island and let’s face it, the Big Island is small enough to go anywhere for a day trip, so isn’t it worth it to come back to one of the sunniest and most beautiful beach locations on the Island?  I thought so.  It is also the perfect place to go whale watching and snorkeling. We booked an excursion through the concierge at the Hapuna Prince beach hotel and not only did we get up close and personal with several whales, but we had fantastic sea turtle sightings and went snorkeling along a beautiful black sand beach.

Sea Turtle

Sea Turtle following us, eating algae off the boat.

Amazing sightings during a whale watching cruise

Amazing sightings during a whale watching cruise

OK, so speaking of day trips, plan ahead and make reservations if you plan to rent a vehicle as supplies are limited.  While a convertible may sound sexy, I suggest going with a 4×4 Jeep on this Island.  Keep in mind, that is is primarily a volcanic island and if you want to get off of the main road, and you will, you’ll really need a Jeep.  And think of it this way, when that sexy convertible is stranded alongside the road, you’ll be actually soaking up the sun on some deserted beach or getting a workout from a nice hike.  So I guess the Jeep really is the sexy choice here, eh?

Hiking the lava fields at Volcanoes National Park

Hiking the lava fields at Volcanoes National Park. My inner geek, which I am proud of, felt like we were hiking through Mordor!

The Big Island of Hawaii is deceiving since it is a volcanic island made up primarily from lava flow formations.  And this is something that you will see a lot of and the one thing that does get “old” after a while unless you make the most of it or get off the main highway.  To make the most of it, I suggest taking a day trip and hiking Volcanos National Park on the SouthEast side of the island.  Plan to go early as you do not want to get stuck out in the lava fields after dark, especially if you do not have a flashlight.  Which may have happened to us, but man was it fun!  Even if I did wreck a branch new pair of shoes.  On the way back, if driving along the southern coast, plan to hike out to the green sand beach.  It’s a bit of a hike and you’ll need a Jeep or similar vehicle to get close, but it is worth it.

Green sand beach, aka Papalokea Beach

Green sand beach, aka Papalokea Beach

For a stark contrast, take a drive up the Lush North Kohala Coast, and you will not be disappointed.  While on your drive, look for Kohala Burger and Taco in the small Kawaohae Shopping center.  I had one of the best seafood civeche’s here (it was a daily special and I do not believe that it is on the regular menu) and amazing fish fajita’s!!!  You’ll find lush and breathtaking views, great hiking with State Parkland, cute little towns with unique shoppes and a lot of local artisan works for sale.  We found a great set of wooden dishes and bowls made of a local Hawaiian hardwood at a little shop in Hawi.  The store owner even shipped them to us so that we wouldn’t have to worry about how to get them home.  Once you’ve reached Hawi, you are almost to the end of the road in which you’ll find the Pololu Vally, with an incredible view and some nice hiking.

At the Waipio Valley Lookout - Big Island, Hawaii

At the Waipio Valley Lookout – Big Island, Hawaii

Slightly to the west of this area is Hamakua Coast and an easy drive is the Waipio Valley Lookout.  This is one of many great sites for some great pictures in addition to good hiking trails.  There are several beautiful waterfalls in this region, several of which are viewable from this lookout point.

Locals outside of Hilo, packing up after a gathering, of sorts.

Locals outside of Hilo, packing up after a gathering, of sorts.

Should you keep going east, you’ll eventually make it to Hilo, which is where a lot of folks fly into and out of the Big Island.  This is also the only area on the island where we wished we had bug spray. This is the rainforest side of the island and is lush and full of life, but very wet and can have a lot of mosquitoes.  We decided to spend our time in this area very randomly and we just simply explored.  As a result, we ended up driving down a valley to the ocean and came across a local gathering of families.  Some were preparing food and cooking out, while others were surfing, or attempting to surf.  It was awesome to see people who lived there, truly living there!  While in Hilo, save up your appetite for the Hilo Burger Joint.  Seriously!  While I have my list of upper end restaurants that I love, some of the best food I have ever found has been street food, or small places like this one. I think I had the best burger of my life here.  They also have vegetarian options, so there is no excuse not to go!

And last but not least, if you are going to the Big Island, plan to spend a day in Kona.  After all, this is the only place in the world that Kona coffee comes from and there are plenty of coffee plantations that hold daily tours.  We took the tour at Greenwell Farms which was really cool to see the process close up and actually see the coffee bushes at different stages.  Plus the property was filled with avocado and multiple fruit trees.  It was hard not to daydream about buying a lot and moving to Hawaii while on the plantation tour.  Hmmm.. Someday???

Tim’s Recommended activities

  1. Hike to the green sand beach, locally referred to as Papalokea Beach
  2. Take a whale watching and snorkeling cruise
  3.  Hike the lava field at Volcanoes National Park
  4. Drive up to the Northern Coast for some amazing views and hiking at Pololu Vally and then head to Waipio Valley
  5. Soak up the sun at the beautiful Hapuna Beach
  6. Drive to Hilo
  7. Spend a day in Kona and take a coffee plantation tour

Restaurants

  1. Kohala Burger and Taco
  2. The buffet at Hapuna Beach Hotel
  3. Kohala Burger and taco

As always, thank you for reading and please feel free to share if you found this helpful or if it made you daydream about moving to Hawaii as well.

Life is way too short, make it an adventure…

-Tim

 

2 thoughts on “The Big Island, Hawaii… Volcanoes, Beaches, Hiking, Coffee… And a great frick’n tan!

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