Volcano National Park: Plan an entire day including the round-trip drive from Kona or stay in the park at Volcano House. The active lava lake spewing red fire creates fine strands of golden fiberglass, called Pele’s Hair, after the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. They’re formed when lava is ejected into the air and small droplets are caught by the wind, which then cools and stretches them into very thin strands. This melted gold is breathtaking to see and touch but be careful it can cut your hand. Touring an active volcano is a good reminder that earth is always changing by forces outside human control. Be sure to take a tour with a ranger to have a better understanding of man’s relationship to nature. Before man brought predators to the islands, large birds and flora were the only inhabitants. Our ranger described how the birds became large and flightless because of the lush vegetation. Imagine a five foot tall owl greeting you as you walked the rainforest.
Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Gardens (near Hilo): The flora in this garden is absolutely stunning. The pathway winds through a rain forest, past water falls to the ocean. If you are lucky, you will be caught in a rain storm providing a sense of why everything stays so green. This garden reminded me of Mother Nature gone wild with her paint brush. The number of exotic flowers and colors was astounding.
When you go to the Gardens, make a quick stop by Rainbow Falls in Hilo. This is a state park, no fee and the falls are right by the parking area.
Honokohau Settlement and Kaloko-Honelieh National Historical Park: This is a national park and takes either your Golden Eagle pass for entrance or $5.00 a car. Once a thriving Hawaii settlement (1200 A.D.) the park provides remnants of the past including a massive wall surrounding a long ago demolished palace, a place of worship, wood carvings of Gods and individuals re-enacting activities from the period. We saw a man in a loincloth making rock tools. We also saw live sea turtles on the beach.
A short walk away is Honokohau Boat Harbor. There is only lava to sit on but the area provided the clearest blue waters and most variety of fish for snorkeling of all the places we stopped to snorkel.
Akaka Falls State Park: There is a short loop walk to see amazing falls in a tropical rainforest setting. Cost of entry is $5 per car to park in the lot at Akaka Falls State Park or $1 for walk-ins (if you park on the side of the road outside of the park boundary). The 0.4-mile loop trail to the waterfalls is paved, although there are some stairs. Plummeting 442 feet, it’s easy to see why Akaka Falls is one of Hawaii’s most famous waterfalls. A viewing area includes protective railings so that you don’t fall over the edge while capturing the waterfall’s slender but powerful plunge into a gorge created by years of erosion. My kids had fun doing pictures for snap chat of the falls going into their open mouths.
Waipi’o Valley Lookout: On the way to Akaka Falls stop at the Waipi’o Lookout. Take the time to view “The Valley of the Kings” at the end of the Hamakua Heritage Corridor. Once an important site for Hawaiian history and culture, it’s also a place of dramatic tropical beauty. I could feel a sacred spirit surrounding me when I viewed the gorgeous valley.
Beaches: We spent three days visiting various beaches up and down the Big Island Coast line. As my son remarked, “The best beach is relative.” At one beach, there were shady trees, gentle water lapping on the shore and children building sand castles. At another we had to drive over lava in a four wheel drive vehicle and hike to a length of white sand with life guards because the surf was rough. Guide books can describe the various attributes of the beaches to you but the ones you like best will depend on what you like to do sun, surf, snorkel. The water at all of the ones we visited were glorious variations of blue and the temperature of the water warm. All Hawaiian beaches are open to the public. The government of Hawaii has done a good job of providing clean rest rooms and showers where ever practical.
Kona Coffee: Kona is known for coffee and there are many places to take free coffee tours. The purpose of the tours is to sell local coffee. I found the opportunity to learn about how coffee is made very engaging.
Local Restaurants worth trying:
- Merriman’s at Waimen pioneered Hawaii’s farm to table cuisine. Plan on eating luscious local dishes in an elegant environment. This is a high end restaurant but worth the price.
- Kona Pub and Brewing: A fun outside restaurant which provides good food while allowing the beer connoisseurs in your group to try out different flavors. Examples of beers are Big Wave Golden Ale, Lemongrass Luau, and Lavaman Red Ale. Prices are comparable to brew pubs on the main land.
- Lucy’s Taqueria, Hilo. We ate here twice because it was inexpensive, had lots of options for vegetarians (we have one in our crowd), food was served quickly and it was scrumptious.
Most of all take the time to enjoy your surroundings and the people you are with. The Big Island is big, beautiful and tranquil. Don’t plan so much that all you are doing is rushing hither and yon.