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We had cruised all the way from Sydney in Australia to Honolulu in Hawaii for 18 days. We were so happy to arrive in Hawaii to commence the second part of our holiday. This was a Big Island adventure on the island actually called Hawaii.
The Big Island, as it is called, is the biggest island in the Hawaiian archipelago. It is also the most volcanically active of all the Hawaiian Islands. As always, I like to research a new destination and this revealed that both sides of the island are completely different, particularly in terrain and climate. I decided that the best way to see the entire island was to divide my time between two locations on the island.
Our first peek of the Big Island from the air was of the snowcapped peak of Mauna Kea shrouded in cloud. This came as a surprise to me because it was Spring and I was not expecting snow in Hawaii.
The climate and terrain on the Hilo side of the island is completely different to the Kona side of the island. Hilo is wetter, greener and cooler. The surrounding region is blessed with dramatic waterfalls, fertile rainforests and picturesque gardens.
We landed at Hilo Airport and got an Uber to our hotel. It was only lunchtime so we dropped our bags and set off on foot to explore some of this sleepy coastal town. Nearby our hotel were extensive bayside parklands, a large Japanese garden and a Banyan tree lined street containing many resorts.
The Liliʻuokalani Gardens are the largest Japanese Gardens, located outside of Japan. They were named after the last reigning monarch of Hawaii – Queen Liliʻuokalani. The 24.67-acre gardens feature arching bridges over fishponds, rock gardens, pagodas, Japanese stone lanterns and a teahouse. I was mesmerised by the huge Banyan trees and also a lone Umbrella tree within the gardens.
Other attractions in Hilo are the local farmer’s markets held each morning; a visit to one of Hilo’s beach parks – Reeds Bay where this a large shallow rockpool with adjoining parklands; and a short drive to Rainbow Falls located in Wailuku River State Park.
On day three of our stay in Hilo we jumped into our rental car and took a drive north along the Hamakua Coast where there was spectacular scenery aplenty. We left the main highway and took the four-mile scenic drive just outside Hilo where we drove through a lush rainforest. There were beautiful creek crossings on rickety old bridges and a couple of spots where you could observe the jagged coastline of Onomea bay. Eventually we came to the entrance of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, where we had a quick look before continuing our journey.
We were delighted with views of the Pacific Ocean, verdant green pastures, eucalyptus forests, small plantation towns and striking valleys along the drive. We crossed many rivers, diversions and byways, that had us catching our breath.
This coastal drive is the home of Hawaii’s most famous waterfalls. We were particularly interested in seeing ‘Akaka Falls that are a stunning 128.6 metres single drop falls over a steep rocky escarpment. But there is also Kahūnā Falls within the State Park. There is limited parking available here at $10 per car and then it is $5 each to enter the national park to walk to the falls.
En-route to ‘Akaka Falls we made a lunch stop in the gorgeous little town of Honomu. The sugar plantation town’s main street consists of a row of colourful, little timber-frame buildings, housing art galleries, crafts stores and eateries.
We also stopped at Botanical World Gardens and Adventure Park in Hakalau. Here we got lost in the hedged maze, strolled through the beautiful Botanical Gardens, and visited the nearby Kamae’e Falls. But you can also try Zip Isle Zip Line and Segway here if you wish.
After a day of exploring the Hamakua Coast we returned to Hilo for our last night.
Encompassing 335,259 acres of terrain, the Volcanoes National Park is a place of contrasting environments and landscapes. From the extensive hiking trails throughout the park you will witness rugged lava fields, rainforest flora and fauna, lava tubes and craters, coastline meetings of lava rock and ocean, Hawaiian cultural sites, ash-covered deserts, and even alpine tundra.
We started at the Kīlauea Visitor Centre, located a short drive into the National Park, where we obtained maps and information about the park. Our first hike was called the volcano crater rim trail that was 3.7 kilometres from the Visitor Centre. This trail takes you along the edge of the crater with several lookout points and a couple of off shoots to Sulphur Banks trail and Steam Vents, until you reach the Kīlauea Overlook. You get fantastic views of the active volcano crater from all along this trail and on the day we saw grey smoke being emitted from the crater epicentre.
We went as far as Steaming Bluff and then backtracked to see the Steam Vents and Sulphur Banks prior to returning to the Visitor Centre. Here we decided to have an early lunch at the Volcano House Restaurant, that also afforded fantastic views over the crater. Once we were refreshed we drove on the crater rim drive to the dead end of the road at Uekahuna. This was the closest viewing point to the smoking crater mouth.
Afterwards, we took a drive along Chain of Craters Road towards Kīlauea Iki Crater, the Thurston Lava Tube, and Devastation Valley. From two carparks you can descend down into the dormant volcano crater that last erupted in 1958, get a bird’s eye view from Pu’upua’i Overlook or take the Devastation Trail through the barren moon-like landscape of the volcano.
Thurston Lava Tube was the last hike for the day, where we took a short walk from the car park into a cave. The 500-year-old lava cave is located at an altitude of 3,900 feet and was formed when a river of lava gradually builds solid walls and a ceiling from volcanic activity. At the end of the cave there is a beautiful tropical rainforest.
After three fabulous days in Hilo we took the scenic drive once again on the highway that loops around the island. We were headed for Kailua-Kona on the Kohala Coast where we were to spend the remaining three days of our holiday. Unfortunately, for me my Flu virus had worsened and I was not feeling well. My intention of stopping at Waipi’o Valley on the way to Kona did not happen as I was too sick.
As we drove across the island to the western side it looked a little like a moonscape with black volcanic rocky terrain. We arrived into the town called Kailua-Kona and took a stroll along the beachfront, where the large cruise ship was moored for the day. The little town was bursting with activity. We found a restaurant/bar where we enjoyed some lunch with a view over the waterfront.
On the main street we also visited two historical sites: The Mokuaikaua Church, Hawaii’s oldest Christian church, founded by missionaries in 1820. Hulihe’e Palace sitting on the beachfront, originally built as a summer residence for Hawaiian Royalty.
Kona for us was more about spending time relaxing. Where we stayed there was a rocky oceanfront, a pool and BBQ area with sun lounges, and also a balcony overlooking the ocean. We happily spent our time here while I slowly recovered. There was a small sandy beach not too far from our accommodation, that on the day we visited, had a large sea lion sunning itself on the shore.
Our days here were spent exploring the local area. We decided to drive along the coastal road to see some of the beaches in the area. We discovered the black sandy Kahalu’u Beach Park that is a historical surf spot, that was sadly closed to visitors on the day.
We also visited the Ali’i Gardens Marketplace that offered an array of goods, including a ukulele stall, local arts and crafts, souvenirs, fresh fruit, and Hawaiian clothing.
The most popular things to do on the Kona Coast are:
You can either fly into Hilo or Kona from Honolulu. Hawaiian Airlines or Southwest Airlines have regular flights to both places. Otherwise there are no boats that serve the island from Honolulu.
Many visitors to Hawaii get aboard one of the Hawaiian Island cruises so that they can island hop around these group of islands. Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) cruise ship Pride of America visits four islands in eight days, including both Hilo and Kona on the Big Island.
Our six day Big Island adventure staying on both sides of the island was the perfect way to get an overview of the island. The last time we visited Hawaii we stayed on Maui, and although we thoroughly enjoyed our stay there, the Big Island was very different. The geographic uniqueness of this island simply took my breath away.
Kathy was a 50 something year old when she started up this blog 6 years ago, but has since turned over another decade and is now in her early 60s. She is married with two adult children and lives on the Tweed Coast of New South Wales, Australia. Kathy enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, photography, travelling, cooking and blogging! Kathy works part-time as a freelance writer but her real passion is travelling and photographing brilliant destinations both within Australia and overseas and writing about it.
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