Aloha and Mahalo for being here!
Welcome to my blog. Today, I will be writing about the highlights from my trip to Hawaii!
Here it goes…
Day 1: Getting to the Big Island and Exploring Kona
Itinerary: DFW -> LAX -> KON (Kona, Hawaii)
Total Travel Time: 10.5 hours
We began by flying to Kona on the big island. There are 2 major airports located on the big island, Kona, which is in the middle of the western shore of the island and Hilo which is on the northeastern corner of the island. We decided to fly into Kona because it was closer to our hotel in Waikoloa Village for the first 2 nights. The airport is pretty small and upon landing it appears that the island is very arid. That is because Kona is located near several volcanic state parks.
Upon landing in Kona, we had scheduled a rental car. We rented from Hertz and even opted for a great deal on an upgrade because well…how many times are we going to get to visit Hawaii? The rental car situation on the big island is better than our experience on Kauai based on car availability, but we will get to that. If you want to explore the island, a car is essential. You can easily spend a few hours driving from location to location on the island and it’s especially great if you plan to visit one of the main attractions – Volcanoes National Park.
So we took our rental car and headed to check into our hotel in Waikoloa Village. Summary of our hotel – it was massive, and beautiful. The property was large enough to have many pools as well as a train connecting the different buildings. It also had a dolphin training center, several restaurants, and a nice ocean view. It did not, however, have a great beach access zone. In fact, the oceanfront at the hotel was rather rocky and I’d recommend looking elsewhere on the island, south of Kona for better beaches.
After checking in and hanging at the hotel for a bit, we ventured south of Kailua-Kona, about a 45 minute drive from the hotel, to visit a beach park to watch sunset. On the way, we caught our first few rainbow views. The sunset was incredible and it was clear that several locals were there swimming in the beach park – what a happy life!
After dark, we stopped in on one of the most popular restaurants on the island, Kona Brewing. The wait was about 45 minutes but there was an outdoor beer hut where you could grab a drink and hang out until the table was ready. Kona Brewing offers a great selection of beer and the environment is casual and fun! We shared an incredible sweet and delicious brownie sundae in celebration of our journey before calling it a night.
Day 2: Viewpoints and Food Points!
The next day, we decided to explore several lookouts on the north of the island and to stop in for some of the supposed best breakfast on the island. We went to Hawaiian Style Cafe and got some haupia pancakes (pancakes covered in a coconut cream sauce w/macadamia nuts), a vegetarian omelette, and the fried rice. The pancakes are absolutely worth the hype and worth the short wait.
After breakfast, we went to the Waipo Valley Lookout. The access road to get to the beach and the waterfall were closed but the lookout was nice and there were several places along the way to stop for a taste of exotic fruit. We stopped at the Lilinoe Fruit Stand and paid $25 for an exotic fruit bowl. A little pricey but we were in Hawaii on a single backroad and the fruit was…well, exotic!
After the Waipo Valley Lookout, we drove about an hour and 15 minutes to Pololū Valley Lookout and hike. Driving here, we drove through sunshine, rain, clouds, and wind. A typical drive on the big island where weather changes rapidly.
The hike down to the beach was steep and good shoes and water are recommended! While the beach is nice, be sure to take a few moments to enjoy the views on the way down, one might argue that they are are better than the views at the beach 🙂 But I’ll let you decide.
Following our visit to the two lookout sites, we headed into the city of Kailua-Kona to grab some dinner. We stopped into Paradise Brewing Company in the city because it was well situated by the water and didn’t look too busy. We were rewarded for this decision with a wonderful waitress and a surprise rainbow appearance! The food was fine, the view was a 10.
Also, we learned a fun fact, geckos LOVE jelly. If you put out a little packet of jelly, they will come and eat it up! Just store that info away – who knows if you may ever need it.
Day 3: A Day of Water and Fire
Day 3 our plan was to wake up early and head towards Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Our goal was to stop at several waterfalls along the way that made the total estimated trip time from door to volcano roughly 3 hours. Though we hoped to get an early start, we ended up leaving around 9 and we made it to our first stop – Akaka Falls State Park by about 11 in the morning. The Falls were stunning and it was a nice and enjoyable ~.5 mile walking loop around the state park.
After the visiting this well established and easily accessible waterfall, we decided to venture on the wild side and visit a popular local waterfall swimming hole called Narnia. Enter a truly adventurous experience for 2 non-natives.
Narnia is a series of waterfalls and swimming holes that cannot be found on a map. The parking, instructions, and entrance can be found on AllTrails. We parked moderately close and started walking. Without a doubt, we underestimated the amount of time and *cough* bravery this activity would take. After walking about 1.5 miles up a fire road, we hooked a right and came to a dam with a view of 7 waterfalls. We walked…and waded…across the dam as water flowed over it to make it to one of the first waterfalls. We opted to take a swim in that waterfall and not walk up to additional ones due to time. The water was cold but we had the place to ourselves! For this activity, I would advise good shoes and an adventurous spirit!
After visiting Narnia we drove about 30 minutes to Volcano Inn in Volcano Village just outside of Volcanoes National Park and checked in quickly. We grabbed our things and headed straight into the park to try to make the most of the light prior to sunset. The entrance fee to the park is $30, the views, priceless.
This was my 18th National Park and each one always stuns me. We made a few quick stops at the crater overlook and steam vents. We then began a short hike to get to the lava tube, on which we noticed people walking on the crater floor far below us. There is a hike available that is 4 miles roundtrip that actually takes people from the rim to the crater floor. I wasn’t able to due it this trip but for those who have time, surely it would be an incredible experience!
We walked through the pyroduct, aka lava tube and marveled at what nature can do. You can read about how lava tubes are created on the National Park Website here. After our quick visit to the Lava Tube, we had roughly 30 minutes until sunset. I ambitiously pushed for us to drive all the way through the park to get to the ocean. We raced along the Chain of Craters Road and made some stops as the sun began to sink, exposing a sky of pastels. We made it to the sea arch just as the darkness swept in.
Feeling accomplished, we had a long, slow, terrifying drive in complete darkness out of the park. It was a new moon that night and relatively cloudy so there was hardly any natural light to guide us. After driving cautiously out of the park, we stopped for delicious Thai Yellow Curry in at Thai Thai Bistro and Bar in Volcano Village before returning to Volcano Inn and our wonderful little room.
After a quick dip in the hot tub, my beginner, astro-photographer heart thought it had to take advantage of the new moon and therefore we drove back into the national park around 11:00PM. We parked in one of the lookouts. I tried taking some photos but the clouds were too thick. I resigned to call it a night. It was pretty cold and it had been a long, incredible day.
Day 4: Saying Goodbye from Hilo
The next day, we woke up early. It was our last few hours on the big island. We ate a breakfast of homemade banana bread and papaya at the inn and headed to Hilo to catch our flight. We stopped in briefly for a nice walk in the Liliuokalani Japanese Gardens, grabbed some Mochi from a popular shop, Two Ladies Kitchen, and went to the airport. Fortunately, we were able to catch an earlier flight and off we went to Kauai! I write about my Kauai experience soon and link it here 🙂