Around the same time we left cruising my parents and brother moved out to the Big Island of Hawaii, just outside of Kona. My sister Rebecca had been living there already with her husband Chris and their twin daughters, Christina and Hanna. It had been awhile since I had seen my family and when they asked us to come out for a visit we didn't hesitate! We were so excited to see my family after almost a year of traveling and couldn't wait to check out their new home for the first time. I'll spare you the day-to-day style blog post here, because honestly we spent a lot of time just catching up with my family. When you haven't been able to hug your parents in a year you don't really care so much about what you do as long as it's quality time with your loved ones. That time isn't for the blog, but just for us!
Instead, we'll share with you the highlights!
The Big Island of Hawaii is the largest island of the archipelago and the fourth most visited island behind Oahu, Maui, and Kauai. The island itself contains less than 15% of the state's population, even though all of the other islands could fit within it. What does that mean for the island's visitors? More nature, less crowds and way more aloha love!!!!
Life in Hawaii is lived outdoors. Homes, offices, and even the airport are built with open-air walkways, large windows and lanais (balconies or patios) so you’re never fully indoors. The native Hawaiians see their identities and wellbeing intertwined with the land, respecting it and living in harmony with it is of the utmost importance to them.
The Big Island was unlike any other place we've been before and it's one of the few places where you can find a land mass go from nothing but smoldering rock and ash, to a flourishing rainforest within an hour drive. In my opinion this island offers the most to an adventurous person!
Here are a few of our favorite stops/adventures while visiting the Big Island:
Seeing my family was number one of course....
Ok, I had to say that but seeing my family underwater was truly my favorite! For as long as I can remember I've loved the water, surfing, swimming, diving, or just floating. The ocean has cast her spell on me and it flows through my veins. So just snorkeling out in front of my parents house at Heeia Bay was amazing! The underwater structures and swim throughs out on the point looked like the Lost City of Atlantis.
There are lots of great spots for snorkeling around the island and we had a chance to visit a few. A couple of our favorites were: Anaeho'omalu (A Bay), Magic Sands, Two Step, Lapakahi Park, and Mauna Kea Beach. There are many more, but half the fun is stopping the car and jumping in to see for yourself!
2. Manta Ray Night Dive:
The Manta Ray night dive was one of the coolest experiences we've ever had! And on the Big Island there are three main dive sites that numerous charter/dive companies can take you to to dive or snorkel with manta rays. The dive itself is very easy, essentially you drop down 30ft to the ocean floor and sit in a giant circle around some very bright lights. What makes this dive world famous is the graceful giants that come gliding through the illuminated water column. Pass after pass, these massive manta rays gorge themselves on plankton that are attracted to the light. As they barrel roll in the water above the strobe lights feeding, you're sitting front row seat to the buffet!
The manta rays that live here in the Hawaiian waters belong to the sub species manta alfredi, they are smaller than the larger migratory species of manta birostris, and are found to live in shallower, more coastal habitats. These so-called reef mantas are the second largest species of manta rays in the world and they can have a wingspan of up to eighteen feet (5.5m)! On average, the manta rays you see here will be around twelve feet. It is truly an amazing experience and one that should not be missed, even with the hefty price tag attached.
3. Pololu Valley:
Pololu Valley is the northern-most point of the island, located at the end of the windy Highway 270. Make your way down the first decent from the road and look out into the beautiful valley below. Cross the fresh water stream that bisects the valley and find the path that continues up the other side.
There are seven valleys along the trail, each one is slightly different but equally rewarding. As you climb and descend each of the divides the trail gets less and less maintained, but still easy enough to follow. Most people stop after the first valley and by the third you will most likely be by yourself, walking through lush rainforest, towering bamboo, old palm tree fields and massive ferns.
Swimming in these valleys is for experienced ocean swimmers only. I hate being one to say not to do something, but there are very strong rip currents, ocean currents, and large swells. There are no lifeguards and limited to no cell service here, so if you do want to jump in and cool off stay in the shallows.
4. Volcano National Park
Do I need to say anything at all here? The Big Island has active volcanos!!! My only thought other than you have to go see the lava flow, is how to do it. We drove to the end of highway 130, where the lava flow has covered over it! There are a ton of bike rental places along this road and the prices all seemed similar. Ask a few vendors about pricing and go with one that has mountain bikes with several gears. It's a dirt road and only takes about half an hour to forty five minutes of relatively easy peddling to reach the end. I would strongly recommend going a couple of hours before dark, the lava is amazing anytime, but to see it glowing in the dark after sunset is unreal!!!
Make sure to bring plenty of water, a camera and some little snacks. Be prepared to hike after the bike ride, you will have a fairly strenuous hike over sharp uneven terrain to get to the lava flow (if it's flowing). I recommend a pair of shoes that you won't mind getting ripped up or even slightly melted. Bring a headlamp or ask your bike rental place for an extra flash light for your bike in case the batteries die or they just are not that bright.
This was truly one of the most amazing experiences that we have ever had! To see, feel and even smell the molten lava flowing from the hillside and under the massive plates was amazing! Make sure to look up or call ahead to see where and how much lava is flowing. Sometimes the volcano is more active than others, and occasionally it's so active that they have to close the entire area.
5. Papakōlea Beach:
Also known as the Green Sand Beach, it gets its name from the green, glassy olivine crystals that make up most of the sand on this beach. The olivines are washed out of a 49,000 year old cinder cone that once spewed olivine-rich lava, and is visible on the east side of the bay. Getting here is as easy as it appears on google maps. From the parking lot it's only 2.5 mile hike down a dirt road to get to the beach. Make sure to go early to beat the crowds!
If you really hate walking or can't hike that far, you can also drive to the beach but you will need a high clearance 4X4 to get through the ruts and soft, powder-like sand. For the best view of the beach and the green color, it's best to view the beach from the point just south.
6. South Point:
While visiting the Green Sand Beach you should also stop by and check out South Point, the southern-most point in the US. This is a beautiful area to walk around and to see the power of the Pacific as the massive, deep blue ocean swells crash onto the dark lava cliffs.
If you are feeling a little more adventurous, there is also a popular 40 foot cliff jump into the surprisingly warm and clear water. If you do plan on jumping bring a mask and snorkel, hold on to it but don't wear it on the jump. The visibility in the waters below the cliff is amazing (depending on tide and swell) and there are many underwater ledges and swim throughs along the wall.
7. The City of Refuge (Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park):
The simplified history of this National Park is that in the ancient Hawaiian culture the City of Refuge was a safe place where no one could hurt or capture you. If you had broken the Kapu, or law that was often punishable by death, you could escape here as fast as you could to find safety and even be forgiven by a priest. The calm waters and small bay also offered a protected place to land canoes and fish, which now makes it a perfect place to snorkel.
This beach is your best bet to see the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle, locally called honu, sunbathing on the coarse jet-black sand. Green Sea Turtles like to relax on the warm sand, just like us visiting humans. The combination of colors from vibrant green coconut trees, charcoal black sand and shimmering blue waters create a fairy tale like backdrop, making this the most popular black sand beach on the Big Island.
If you are heading to the Big Island on vacation, you are more than likely going to want to spend at least one day just hanging out on a beautiful sand beach. This is not as easy as it is on some of the other islands, as the Big Island is a newer island and hasn't had the time to develop as much sand as the others, but there are still some amazing sand beaches.
Here again are just a few of our favorites near where we were staying in Kona: Kua bay, Makalawena Beach and Mahaiʻula Bay, Aiopio Beach, Airport Beach, and Magic Sands.
Everyone loves a good waterfall and Hawaii has many! Our favorites were Rainbow Falls, Boiling Pots and 'Akaka Falls. Most falls are over near Hilo where the rainforest thrives, and they were definitely worth the drive to go and see.
I have to say that after spending two weeks on the Big Island exploring, it's now my favorite island, with Kauai coming in for a close second. In fact, Rachel and I both agree that this is one of the few places on a very short list of places that we could see ourselves living and starting a family. We loved every moment with our family here in Hawaii, from swimming and hiking, to pool side BBQ's and sunsets in the KTA parking lot, the Big Island's laid back vibe enchanted us and we look forward to visiting again soon.
For more information on the island of Hawaii, check out the website LoveBigIsland.com.