Big Island, Hawai'i

12 – 19 August 2016

But it hardly ever rains in Kailua Kona,” we were told after explaining to the receptionist how we'd struggled to find our condo in the dark with the rain hammering on us when the reception was closed. Not an auspicious start to our 'holiday'. We so rarely take short trips anywhere that having just a week to explore Big Island felt a little strange and we had no time to waste.

Our first day found us exploring the resort town of Kailua Kona where we were staying. On booking we'd feared an island overrun with tourists and resorts, yet everything felt relaxed and low key, the scenery stark and relatively unspoilt. We took a drive to get our bearings and ended up bobbing up and down in the surf at beautiful Hapuna beach.

View from our condo.

Day two was a momentous one, as Christine passed her half century. It was celebrated in style later in the day but first a cultural trip to Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, to discover how royalty used to live on the island. The park offered a beautiful taste of island life, with carved statues, wooden huts and outrigger canoes on display.

Even better, our US National Park pass worked in Hawaii too and right next door was one of the best snorkelling spots on the island. The sight of us struggling to change out of wet swimming gear in our rental car in the Park's car park became a regular sight during the week!

We tried out the snorkelling on that first visit. The sea was boisterous but once we made it safely off the rocks and into the sea, we bobbed around in comfort enjoying our first Pacific Ocean snorkelling experience. Some of the fish were familiar to us from our time in the Caribbean, many were new.

We couldn't linger that day though, back to the condo to get ready for the Lu'au. Well, if it's your 50th birthday and a huge party is happening just up the road, you may as well take part!

Birthday dinner being prepared in a traditional underground oven – a whole pig.

The birthday girl and her date found themselves at the Island Breeze, being adorned with leis, the garlands of flower petals placed around the neck. Then we headed out into the garden to the free bar and hearty meal based on the whole pig which had been roasting underground for many hours.

Our table companions Matt and Sky were wonderful company and Christine survived the public announcement of her birthday (the free bar helped!).

The rain mostly held off, but just in case we were each issued with a plastic poncho.

Once the food was over, the entertainment began, informative historical story-telling about the Island and demonstrations of dancing and traditional costumes from many South Pacific Islands.

The next day found us driving the width of the surprisingly large island to visit the Botanical Gardens on the eastern coast near Hilo. It was a beautiful drive through the mountainous centre over the Saddle Road past the observatory at Mauna Kea. We later learned that the 13796 foot high volcano was used for scientific research for the Mars exploration, housing scientists homed in a bubble and only allowed to head outside in space suits.

The gardens were worth the drive. The Hawai'i Tropical Botanical Gardens were a non-profit established by one man, Dan Lutkenhouse, who purchased the overgrown jungle in the Onomea Valley and gradually converted the area to the beauty it is today.

The return journey allowed us to explore the northern coast road and visit Akaka Falls State Park with it's stunning waterfalls.

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens

Akaka Falls

A day off driving was enjoyed with more snorkelling before another mammoth trek, this time to the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park on the south coast, more than 100 miles away. A hundred miles on the mainland US would hardly be considered a trek yet here on the island, like at home in the UK, the winding, narrow roads meant it took around two and a half hours.

Early in the day we visited the National Park itself, viewing the eerie landscapes of lava flows, lava tubes and massive volcanic holes.

Our main aim was to visit the live lava flow at Kalapana, where red hot molten lava is continually erupting and flowing into the sea. This required a fairly long drive from the Park to the south-eastern corner of the island followed by a long hike of four miles each way.

We timed our arrival for sunset to get the maximum effect of the glow from the molten lava. Of course this meant a four mile hike back in the dark.

Lava Tube

Stepping around near the erupting lava was a nerve-wracking experience as the ground was still crackling nearby, like a giant bowl of Rice Krispies, as the lava cooled. Once the red glow disappeared it was hard to tell which ground was older and which had only recently erupted and would melt your shoes and possibly lead to your early demise. Our water bottles came in handy as sprinkling water droplets onto the ground in front of us soon indicated where the hot spots lay.

Hawai'i's native Nenes.

Are we sure this is safe?

It was a late at night by the time we drove back across the island to Kailua Kona and we enjoyed another quiet day of snorkelling close to home the next day.

After checking out of our condo on the last day we had a whole day to explore and headed north to Pololu Valley Lookout for the steep walk down to the peaceful beach.

We visited the beach at Mauna Kea on the way back and narrowly avoided being stung by jellyfish. A young girl right near us in the water wasn't so lucky.

Not a minute of the trip was wasted as we awaited the departure time of our plane by having a delicious seafood dinner at the Kona Brewing Company before heading to the airport.

Pololu Valley Lookout

Return to Homepage