After 4 days on the Big Island of Hawai’i it is evident to me that Hawai’i is truly the paradise everyone has made it out to be. From lush forests, to clear water beaches to the looming volcanoes and beyond; the 4000 square foot island provided me thrills that I never believed imaginable and left me craving more of the Hawaiian culture and lifestyle. Traversing the island from Kaiula-Kona to Hilo is a short 1.5 hour drive, putting every attraction within driving distance of your hotel and setting the scene for your tropical adventure.
I found some traces of home in the laid back beach culture and found it charming how native Hawaiian speakers affix a “yeah?” to the end of most sentences. After about 5 days on the island I have left with knowledge of new Hawaiian words [my favorite being hoaloha meaning friend], myths and history. It almost feels like a different country with a different language, culture and an absolutely different climate. Hawai’ian tradition dictates that the island was the creation of the benevolent lava goddess, Pele, and now sitting back home in my cozy LA apartment I crave to see Pele and her island creation once more [perhaps Maui?].
Pele’s domain on the island is Volcanoes National Park where various hikes will lead you to amazing new sights. Upon arrival in Kona we found it difficult to find much nightlife outside of the touristy Kailua-Kona, fortunately nightlife is not what thrill-seekers such as I search for in Hawaii and seeing the lava-glow at night from the Jaggar museum was amazing. The nigh time lava-glow from the Kilauea caldera lights up the night’s sky and ironically looks like a beautiful doorway to hell. During daytime, taking a 1/3 mile stroll through the Thurston lava tube will begin the tour of the national park. Several hundred years ago the tube was filled with a river of searing hot lava and today you can peacefully take a leisurely stroll with the only danger being a knock to the head in the low ceiling cavern. Upon exiting the tube the trail will deposit you on the Crater Rim Trail which ends with a 400 foot decent into the smoldering crater of the Kilhauea volcano. The crater itself looks exactly like Mordor from Lord of the Rings and offers a safe way to walk across an active volcano. In the crater you will find many smoking and hot rocks to help remind you that you are walking with lava right beneath your feet. Volcanoes National park is composed of a myrad of craters and lava fields connected by the “Chain of Crater Road” and ending with views of the ocean and the Hōlei sea arch.Make sure to always ask a park ranger for tips whenever you are in any national park as they provide valuable insight into awesome places to visit within the park. In our case, the park rangers keyed us into a new lava flow that ended with a lava-fall into the ocean. To get to the lava flow you will need to exit the park and head northeast on highway and then take to highway 130 all the way to the end where you will find the parking lot. The trail to the lava flow is about 4 miles through lava fields and you have the option to rent a 20$ bike from a vendor or brave the hike on foot. Regardless of the method of transport, the reward is immense with a view point for the lava falling into the ocean alongside explosions that blast water high up into the air. I highly recommend the lava flow as it will be one of the only ways to view lava directly. I would highly recommend a car rental, as it enables you to break away from expensive prepackaged tours and customize the experience to fit your interests. We took the $130 Captain Zodiac “5-hour Beat the Crowds” tour that did offer some unique sights but nevertheless fell short in expectations. The tour transported us to the Captain Cook Monument by boat, while being easily accessible by vehicle from highway 11. While snorkeling I was able to view immense amounts of biodiversity that included a reef shark. In my opinion this was the best snorkeling on the island and would definitely recommend to any visitors to the island.
By being an island you can expect beaches of every variety littered over the shoreline. On the southernmost tip of the island [as well as the USA] you will find the Papakōlea Green Sand Beach tucked into a hidden bay accessible by off-road vehicle or by a 5 mile hike. This is one of 4 green sand beaches in the world and should easily be at the top of your list. There are also some cliffs at South Point where locals dive off of regardless of cautionary signage posted nearby. I caught my first daytime view here at the top of a tower, and it was a magical moment for me. Waipo Valley was one the most gorgeous places on the island by offering views of a duel waterfall inland, a waterfall at the beach, a black sand beach, and a river. I beauty of this location cannot be easily interpreted into worlds but heed my plea to take water on your visit as the trail into the valley is very strenuous and steep. During our hike in the valley we found locals harvesting a local plant and were happy to offer some. Kahalu’u Beach Park south from Kahlua-Kona had some great snorkeling but reveled itself to be even better when we discovered that the water was riddled with friendly sea turtles. It is not advisable to touch the turtles but and I personally spent a lot of time watching them swim [without touching them] about their business with no consideration of my intrusion. If you’re looking for the idyllic beach paradise Hapuna Beach, north of Kailua-Kona, is the place for you. The beach has perfectly white sand and the water is clear blue.
The jungle on the island is thick, hidden within are some amazing waterfalls worth taking a look at. Akaka Falls is north from Hilo and is within easy hiking distance from the parking lot. The waterfall is very tall and the trail will allow you to see some of the lower falls as well. You will find a lot of farms on the way to the falls which will give you a chance to try some fresh fruit or some smoothies. Rainbow Falls which is about 5 minutes from Hilo is not as large in scale to Akaka falls, but makes up for it by allowing you to climb up to the top of the falls. Caution is advised but climbing up to the edge of a waterfall is a sight to see.
Overall I recommend this trip to anyone willing to see beautiful sights at the cost of a hike. I am sure there is a place for anyone, at any age, at an expensive resort but that is not what I am looking for. There is natural beauty at every turn here, and I personally do not see the point of visiting such a natural gem and spending it all at some beach. This is the island where it rains for hours and then ends abruptly and majestically with a wonderful rainbow. This is the island where I swam at sunrise in warm water, where stargazed at the top of Mauna Kea, where I swam with a real life version of Crush from Finding Nemo and where I dared to take the biggest waves I have ever taken! So if you’re in the market for an adventure in the pacific I recommend you take a visit to the Aloha State and take a look at paradise.