Several people had asked for good recommendations around the Big Island, so I thought I’d jot down some of our good (and not as good) experiences for those who are planning or at least dreaming of their own trip. My references included: Lonely Planet: Hawai’i the Big Island (3rd edition September 2008), my friend Fran (a native of Hilo), our previous trip in 2005, the interwebs, and recommendations from my followers on Twitter.
* relief artist: dorothy nelson, 1966 (public domain)
Day 0: Kailua-Kona
Day 1: Green sand beach, Punalu’u bake shop, black sand beach, Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Day 2: Punalu’u black sand beach, Hilo Coffee Mill, Lava Tree State Monument, Pahoa, Kapoho Tidepools, Kea’au
Day 3: Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, Hilo, Akaka Falls State Park
Day 4: Hilo Farmer’s Market, Banyan Tree at Rainbow Falls, Waipi’o, Waimea, Pololu
Day 5: Waipi’o Valley, Hawi, Pololu Valley, Waimea
Day 6: Waimea, Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation, Kona
Day 0: Flying into Kona (Kailua-Kona) on a drizzly Tuesday night is not ideal, but who am I to argue with $10 airfare from Denver to Kona? Thank you, frequent flier miles! December-January is considered the peak travel time and that can affect prices for lodging and other services. We popped into a KTA grocery store to ogle the offerings (lots of Asian stuff, regular white grocery stuff, and beautiful local fruits) and had a stay at the Royal Kona Resort. Jeremy found that one online ($123 for room with 2 double beds, $10/night for parking). Dated, but clean with pretty grounds.
things we liked
Apple bananas: They look like half-sized regular bananas, but they have a slight tartness to them which makes them infinitely better than the regular banana. You do need to wait for them to turn yellow as with regular bananas.
Taro chips: Taro is ubiquitous in Hawai’i. I love it. I’m Chinese, man. Looking at the label on one brand of taro chips, I was mortified to see that it had been processed on the mainland and shipped to Hawai’i, so we stuck with the local brands of sweet potato and taro chips.
taro and sweet potato chips
Day 1: We went to the green sand beach at Mahana Bay (free), one of three green sand beaches in the world – the other two in Guam and the Galapagos. Hike 2.5 miles from the “parking area” to the green sand beach with mild yo-yoing as you skirt the coast. Follow the maze of 4WD roads that mar the coastal landscape (it can be quite muddy). The south part of the island is generally windy and sand was flying everywhere (not the green kind – that’s heavier). There were a few fellows with 4WD trucks driving people to the green sand beach, presumably for a fee. If you can walk, I suggest you walk and bring some water. You will see plants, minerals, critters, and beach up close. It’s a quick and not so difficult scramble down the wall of the old cinder cone to the beach itself and worth the small effort. Removal of green sand is illegal, not to mention a jerk thing to do.
on the hike to the bay, a little pocket of green sand accumulated on the beach
volcanic rock with olivine crystals
the bay: olive green, not emerald green (it would be made of emeralds if that were the case)
On Highway 11 to the east was the little town of Naalehu. The point of interest: Punalu’u Bake Shop. Their guava, taro, and other sweet breads are carried in most of the grocery stores on the island. We tried some of the samples before having lunch and malasadas. The chocolate cream and the strawberry-filled malasadas were nice, but the real winner for us was the plain taro malasada (we also got a guava, but I’m partial to taro and purple). It was raining, but there were several covered seating areas to enjoy your goodies while admiring native flowering plants in the gardens and all of the gorgeous local birds twittering about. We walked a little bit of our lunch off checking out the grounds (it’s small, but pleasant).
malasadas: guava (pink), taro (purple), strawberry-filled, and chocolate cream-filled
We made a quick stop at the Punalu’u black sand beach (free). It’s a pretty black sand beach, but I wasn’t there for the sand (which is a little uncomfortable to walk on because it is broken down from cooled lava – basalt – that hasn’t broken down completely into smooth little sand grains). This is a great location to see green sea turtles, except we didn’t see many of them on the beach – mostly just frolicking in the water. It was afternoon and the winds were crazy, so we didn’t stay long.
here is one returning into the waves
The drive from Punalu’u to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park ($10/vehicle, good for 7 days) climbs 3500 feet. At some point you cross over to the wet side of the island. There are rainforests here for a reason. On the recommendation of a Twitter follower, I booked two nights for us at the Volcano Rainforest Retreat nestled in the rainforest just outside of the national park.
entrance from our covered parking
shoes off, please
lovely little touches
We stayed in the Forest House (for 2 night stay, $170/night not including taxes/fees) – an octagonal stand-alone structure with private path to the hot tub. Our 300 square foot space had skylights, big windows, a gas fireplace/stove/heater (it was in the 50s and 60s), an air purifier (you’re RIGHT NEXT to active Kilauea Volcano), refrigerator, wifi, television, robes, flip flops, flashlights, umbrellas, and tons of information on the park and nearby services in the town of Volcano (massage therapists and restaurants). Breakfast is provided the day before: papaya, apple bananas, local pastries, 100% Kona coffee, hard boiled eggs, juice. It’s a crunchy-granola type of place, which we like. There are bins for compost, recyclables, trash. There is a purifier spigot for drinking water which, like all the rest, is sourced from the rainwater they catch. It is quiet, peaceful, relaxing, and private. My only gripe was the lack of shampoo/conditioner.
the view from our room – all rainforest
bright and tidy
our path to the hot tub
view from the hot tub
The Hawai’i Volcanoes NP visitor center provides the latest information on lava flows and volcanic activity (close at 5pm). There was no active lava flowing and there hadn’t been for three years. The only activity was at Halema’uma’u Crater and a little at Pu’u O’o – craters housing small lava lakes that weren’t doing much at the time. The volcanic activity was producing dangerous sulphur dioxide gas which forced closures over half of Crater Rim Drive. We grabbed a quick dinner at Lava Rock Café in Volcano (the town) even though Kiawe Kitchen‘s menu looked better – we were short on time. While nothing spectacular, the food is decent and you can get some local flavor like liliko’i (passion fruit) vinaigrette on your green salad, fresh mahi mahi fish and chips, and decent kalbi (korean bbq beef short ribs).
Reaching the Jaggar Museum in the national park by sunset, we walked out onto the back deck with hordes of middle schoolers and their chaperons in the drizzle and rain to watch steam rising from Halema’uma’u Crater. The lava levels were low and deep in the crater, so not visible from where we stood. As twilight approached, a faint pink tint appeared at the base of the steam and it intensified to a moderate glow. It was in the lower 50s, but standing around in the wind and rain made it feel colder.
the start of the glow
last remnants of blue
things we liked
Olivine sand at the green sand beach.
Taro malasadas from the Punalu’u Bake Shop in Naalehu.
Volcano Rainforest Retreat in Volcano.
Halema’uma’u Crater at night in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
**Jump for more butter**