A February 2006 trip
to Hawaii (Big Island) by creekland
Quote: Hawaii's Big Island is a treasure trove of diversity in terrain and activites. From desert to rainforest, beaches to an active volcano, snorkeling to climbing a 13,000+ ft summit, there's something for every nature lover on this island!
Hotel | "Kona Bali Kai"
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 26, 2006
Kona Bali Kai Condo Resort
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
There are no motels in Volcano—only B&B's and rental houses. We like privacy and have children, so we opted for a rental house and came upon Haunani House. Find it at Volcano Hideawaysif it appeals to you and ask for Todd, he has other houses too and is a wonderful source of advice.
Haunani House is a mere mile from the entrance of the park and is wonderfully landscaped with flowers and various greenery. It has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen (no dishwasher though), living room, and a (free) washer and dryer (very helpful!). He's redone the house interior - and done it well.For those that need them, there is a television and phone. He also provides some VCR tapes. For cold nights, there is a gas stove/heater in the living room. You can easily walk to anywhere in the village itself which has two SMALL general stores, a post office, and a few eateries as well as a farmer's market if you're there on the right days. Todd can offer more info on the days/times. The privacy, yet closeness to it all, is really nice. We'd easily stay there again and enjoyed our visit. The guest book listed many satisfied travelers from points afar as well. We had fun reading about their visits. We chose Volcano Village as a place to spend 5 nights and opted to see the National Park (2½ days), Hilo, Mauna Kea Summit, Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls (all in 1 day), the Puna District and Kalapana (the village the lava destroyed in the 90ºs - ½ day for our visit) from there. While it meant some additional driving, it kept us from having to shift lodging too many times, and kept us from the crowds of Hilo. I'd also MUCH rather drive "home" from Hilo after we were done than to drive back to Hilo after a night hike to see lava! By the way, Hilo is about a 35-minute drive, depending on traffic, all on decent roads (few streetlights). Kona, is a good 4½ hours away.As an additional bonus with Haunani House, at the time we stayed, Todd offered the fifth night free if you stayed 4 nights. We took him up on that, and it worked out well for our needs and budget.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 29, 2006
Hale Ohia Road
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
To find it, look towards the ocean for Spur Road (right next to a small shopping center) in Na'alehu. You should see a sign, and can turn into the shopping center to access the restaurant if you miss the road (as we did).Park, and go right in. The "setting" is a basic diner. Many locals eat here - some tourists. We were the only tourists we saw, but their guest book had others listed from points afar. It wasn't busy when we stopped, but we were off typical lunch time, so I'm unsure of peak hours. They have plate specials of the day (which we got) and menu ordering too - quite a decent variety on their menu actually. For Hawaii, this place is not expensive at all.For something different, consider trying their Lilikoi Lemonade. Four of the five us of liked it (and the 5th is my youngest, pickiest eater who doesn't care for regular lemonade either - he did really like the food). Their desserts looked awesome too, but they gave such huge portions that we were stuffed at the end of our meal - and on our way to Kailua-Kona, so weren't sure about keeping desserts fresh in the van while we explored South Point, etc. Another time we'll plan accordingly and give the desserts a try though!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on April 26, 2006
Hana Hou Cafe
95-1148 Spur Road
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii 96772
Attraction | "Dive certification - Jack's Diving Locker"
To get certified, you have to be at least 10 years of age and in decent health (or OK'd by your doctor). Call ahead to reserve classes, and get books/DVD sent to you. Then study... have all the tests in your book done PRIOR to arriving to class - and be ready to be tested on them.
Classes run for 4 days from 8am to 4pm or so. The first 2 days you are in the classroom and pool. The classroom part is to be sure you know your textbook - NOT to learn it there. The pool part is to be sure you can swim/snorkel and have "hands on" with all your dive equipment. This is fun and exciting, but be sure you are up to it. You need to tread water for 10 minutes and swim a fair distance first... no cheatin'. For the pool part, you will go through ALL the exercises described in the book.
It's a bit, but it's not difficult. We all did it just fine—with kids ages 10, 11, and 13—who were all quite used to the water and snorkeling. Be sure your kids are up to it if you sign them up... they need to want to do it themselves. Diving is no place to force your youngsters to join you...
Now the last 2 days... FOUR open-water dives! Open, as in "out in the ocean," diving from their boats... you not only go through the same pool skills you just did, but you also get to DIVE! It's a REALLY, REALLY, fun experience - and a great "high" for those of us addicted to snorkeling.
Jack's Diving Locker has our utmost endorsement. EVERYONE there was friendly and accommodating to our needs. The instructors were patient and fun. The group was small (seven—we were five of them—with two instructors). The boat crew was awesome; funny, but professional too. If you want to get dive certified while in HI, or referral certified, definitely consider them.
Jack's Diving Locker
75-5819 Alii Drive
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
Attraction | "Diving/Snorkeling Two-Step (Place of Refuge)"
Next to Place of Refuge
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
Tip #1: Stay in Volcano (the village) for at least 1 night. If you can handle less-than-spectacular accommodations, stay in the park itself, with a great view and location. There are rental houses and B&B's in Volcano (1 mile away) for better accommodations. It's REALLY nice to have just a mile to drive after a long night hike. Volcanoes is a good 30 to 40 minutes from Hilo and 90 minutes, maybe more, from Kailua-Kona. We stayed in Volcano for 5 nights and used it as a spot to see Hilo and the Puna District, too.
Tip #2: Go early. This place gets crowded midday from all the bus tours, so if you want to feel less crowded, be there early.
Tip #3: Ask questions. Rangers here seem to love their job and eagerly answered all questions we asked or heard others ask. Be SURE to ask about lava viewing for the time you are there. It varies day by day.
Tip #4: If the lava is viewable at night, it's incredible. It's a wonderful feeling to see new earth being made—at night.
Tip #5: DON'T hike on the lava in sandals. Pieces of glass-like lava can get under your feet, and if you fall on lava... we saw one young girl with a badly cut hand. Use "real" hiking boots if you have them.
Tip #6: The Big Island Revealed is an awesome source for hiking information, better than the National Park sources in our opinion.
Tip #7: Eat at the Volcano House for lunch. It's a buffet, and it's crappy, especially for the price, but the view is second to none and one that can't be found elsewhere. Go BEFORE noon (closer to 11am), as that's when the tour buses come and it gets CROWDED. You won't find much cheaper in Volcano anyway, and there's nothing else around.
Tip #8: Nature lovers, allow yourself at LEAST 2 days to see this park. No nature lover I've heard from has been content with 1 day, especially not with part of one day!
Tip #9: You don't need a tour bus or a guide. These cost more and limit your time at places YOU want to see as well as ensuring you are with a crowd. Info guides share can be found on signs and/or in the Big Island Revealed + National Park info, with limited cost to you. We saw many guided groups, and overheard many too, and not ONCE did we wish we had been with them instead of on our own.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Hilo, Hawaii 96718
It's difficult to get to Cook's Monument. You can't drive there. Your options are kayaking (what we chose), a boat tour (costly, limited time, crowds), a horseback tour (intriguing but limited time), or a long hike (easy downhill - a killer up).
Kayaking was relatively easy, and safe. You're in a bay, so you're not going to get swept out to open ocean. When we started the wind was coming in, making for a longer trip to the monument (about an hour), but still not dangerous at all. The return trip was quicker and the waves carried us in. Our 13 year old easily handled a single kayak on his own. The rest of us paired up. It was our first kayaking experience of any sort, so don't be put off by inexperience. Many folks there are first timers. It's a great place to learn.
When renting a kayak, the folks at the shop strap it on—and can fit them on ANY car—including multiple kayaks. They give you instructions and directions, then it's off to the bay. At the launch site, locals are around to get you all set up. PLEASE tip them if you use them. They do this for a living, are excellent at it, and are well worth the tip money. They help you in, and out, and replace the kayaks on your vehicle too. Go early for the best parking (and a long time enjoying your day).
We were fortunate to have spinner dolphins all around, often swimming within feet of our kayak. They swam to us—it's illegal to paddle to them. It's a nature lover's treat to have such luck.
For landing, do NOT land at the monument itself... look where others have landed and join them. It's a great picnic spot and an easy land path to the monument for a closer look and a trip to a foreign land (Britain owns the land the monument is on).
Snorkeling is gorgeous and easy for all ages. It's helpful to stay away from the boat tours when they arrive... crowds... but they don't stay long. Look closely and you can see eels lurking in the rocks deeper down. Underwater cameras are awesome here. We have a special case for our Canon digital—well worth the money for the great pics.
It's best to wear reef shoes, wet suits, and gloves. This water is more shallow and you don't want to step (or touch) urchins. NOTE: Wet suits do NOT protect you from urchins, but they do help you stay warm in cold water so you can enjoy yourself for hours while others need to get out due to cold...
Kayaking/Snorkeling Cook's Monument
Kealakekua Bay off Napoopoo Rd
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
Now the basics... Many dive outfits offer this dive. We went with Jack's Diving Locker and HIGHLY recommend them. Make reservations for this dive; it's usually totally booked. They can't guarantee you will see mantas, but when we were there, they'd seen at least one, usually more, each night for the previous week. We saw 10 between our two dives.
You gather at the boat around 3pm and head to Garden Eel Cove. The first dive is a daylight dive with lots of marine life. We saw four mantas just on this dive. They don't feed during the day, but they're neat to see swimming.
Then it's a break for a quick slice of sandwich and cookies while watching the sunset. From the boat we saw whales breaching (need to go in winter for this) and dolphins. Then it's time for the real deal.
The crew has stationed lights on the ocean floor aiming upwards. This attracts plankton, which is what the mantas feed on. You dive down with your own light, no snorkel (to avoid hitting mantas), and sit in the sand in a circle around the lights to wait for mantas. For us, the mantas were already there, six of them. We sat and marveled for way too short of a time.
You are not allowed to touch the mantas, but they don't have the same rules, and once in a while, one gets blessed to be touched by them. Often they come within inches, only to turn up in a dancing dazzle. You can look right into their gaping mouths. For the latter few minutes of this dive, you go touring and get to see eels hunting (successfully) and other night creatures.
You return to the dock late; I can't remember exactly how late... I know we didn't get back to our condo till 11pm, but some of that time was spent talking and reliving. You are on such a "high" that none of us were ready to sleep for a long time. Be sure you don't have to get up early the next day!
We purchased a DVD of our dive, which was well worth the money to relive those moments. Jack's Diving Locker also has one of the founders of the Manta Pacific Research Foundation on board as an extra bonus.
I'm not sure when, but I do know we'll be back.
Manta Ray Night Dive
75-5813 Alii Drive
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii 96740
Attraction | "Naalapa Horseback Ride - Waipio Valley"
Begin by checking in at the Waipio Valley Artworks shop and waiting for a van and guide. If you like, come early and there are sandwiches and ice cream (etc.) that can be bought and eaten here, or browse the shop. Parking is free.
The guide arrives and you ride in the van to the bottom of the valley - from where you get your steeds for the rest of the ride. They have a max of 10 riders, and take riders as young as 8. You have a choice of morning or afternoon rides (each 2½ hours) any day but Sunday.
You do NOT need previous riding experience. The horses DO know the way, and it is a "walking only" trail ride, but it is far from a nose to tail ride. You may ride anywhere in the group that you like... and the scenery is breathtaking. The guides stop along the way to take pictures of you; pictures from YOUR camera, not ones they take and sell you for an exorbitant fee.
The guides make a point of talking to everyone on the ride, including kids, and are a wealth of knowledge about the valley, the island, and of course, horse activity. One of our guides lives in the valley. Some of their steeds were used in making the movie "Waterworld," as was the valley itself.
The scenery includes the awesome valley itself, waterfalls, creeks that double as roads, wild horses, taro fields, huge trees, and lush greenery. It was a feast for our eyes.
If there's any complaint, it's that we never did get to go to the beach... you need to hike up/down yourself if you want to go there, but the ride was really, really nice—and that coming from a family that originally didn't want to do this activity! My boys enjoyed it as well as we adults did.
Hmm, other advice? Wear boots of some sort, and long pants (shorts will let your legs chafe against the saddle); and bring water and your own camera. The horses are safe for any level rider, and hard hats are available for adults—required for those under age 13 (they have them there).
Naalapa Horseback Riding
Leaves from Waipi'o Valley Artworks
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
Attraction | "Night hike to see lava (Volcano NP)"
At the end of Chain of Craters Road there is a "turn around" for cars. Parking is as you leave. If you're lucky, you'll get a close spot. If not, expect an extra hike. This sight is popular. Port-a-potties are available here (the ONLY facilities). Just before you head out there's a video with info on the hike. It's worth watching.
The trail starts off on the paved road for another ¼ mile, then you see nature's destruction—really cool. This is worth seeing (accessible to all) even if you don't go further. Continue on the lava following the reflector marked trail. You can follow a simple 1 mile trail to an overlook. You can also continue on the lava on your own for another mile or so until you reach a blocked area after which it is considered unsafe. The view is much better from the longer hike. A ranger was stationed there and stayed until shortly after dark. Ask all the questions you want, but most people watch in silent awe after dark.
To return, the NP has set up construction beacons about ¼ mile apart. You simply play "connect the dots," and you're back to the marked trail. Take your time. Rushing means falling. Keep your lights pointed DOWN to avoid ruining the night vision of others.
WEAR HIKING BOOTS!!! Hiking on lava is a never ending set of ups and downs, and it is sometimes crumbly under your feet. Tennis shoes do not provide adequate traction or ankle support, especially at night. Sandals allow bits of sharp lava to get under your feet. Lava is sharp if you fall on it. We saw one young girl with a badly cut hand...
Other basics... take water and any food you want. It's best to hike out in the daylight and watch the colors change at sunset. Allow extra time beyond what you think you're going to need. Some of this is due to the hike, but most of it is due to the enchanting spell that comes as you watch earth's youngest rock form at night. One spectacular view night, we didn't get back to our house in Volcano till 11pm... still wishing we had stayed longer.
Take BINOCULARS! When we were there we still had to stay 1 mile away from the lava. It's MUCH better to see it from that distance with binoculars. You can see lots more detail and flow, etc.
Attraction | "Punalu'u Black Sand Beach"
Taking off your shoes for at least a little bit is critical. Why? Because true black sand doesn't FEEL like ordinary sand, and it's hard to explain. A few steps and you'll understand. It's neat and definitely different.
You can swim on this beach, but the water is cold—especially due to some freshwater that comes up from the ground here (you can see it along the water's edge). We opted to wade and take in the beauty. Our boys enjoyed playing in the water and on the rocks. There are plenty of turtles around if you haven't seen any on the BI yet.
Tour buses stop here, as does pretty much every tourist circling the island, so be prepared for crowds. Even so, it's worth it to stop. When the buses aren't there the crowds are quite reasonable, so wait a little bit if they are there when you arrive. They don't stay long. It's a fine place to picnic if you are so inclined, but we didn't. (We wanted to eat at the Southernmost restaurant in the U.S. [see separate journal for Hana Hou Cafe].)
This stop makes a nice stretch of legs if one is going to/from Volcanoes National Park and Kailua-Kona. It's a shorter beach, but nonetheless, the beauty makes it nice for beach walking.
If you want some tourist souvenirs, there are shops here.
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
Attraction | "Thurston Lava Tube - in Volcano NP"
Considering we have a crowd allergy, we looked for an opportunity to visit without others... and found one! The National Park never closes, so we simply went at night after supper and waited about 10 minutes for the few people that were there to leave. We never saw another soul in the whole tube and it was awesome! I can only imagine what this tube is like when it's wall to wall people... I expect the experience is almost totally different.
The first section of the lava tube is lit, so you can do this whether or not you brought your own lights. You can see the walls, the size, and even an area or two where parts collapsed (from lava cooling or later rainwater). However, the neatest section is beyond the lit area. This is open to the public, but you absolutely must bring your own light - one per person, don't share - it's much easier. There you get a feel for what the tube is REALLY like (without human "sprucing"), and it's fun to ponder what life would be like if there WERE a collapse. (At least, we have fun doing that - if you truly get scared from such thoughts, DON'T do that. It could really get scary I imagine.)
There are areas where you need to scramble down/up over rocks that have fallen, and one shelf in this back section. It's a lot of fun to explore - very similar to a cave. There are places where water can drip on you, but you don't really get "wet," they are just drips. Shine your light on the wall and see some of the weird colors in places—probably from minerals.
When you leave, if you go at night, the rain forest part of the trail isn't worth it as you can't see much, but you can return to do that during the day, or do it while hiking Kilauea Iki. It IS good for everyone to hike a section of rain forest whether here or elsewhere. The greenery there is amazing.
There are flush toilets here—outside the tube—if anyone needs to use the facilities. They are also open at night and were quite clean then when we used them.
Thurston Lava Tube
Volcano National Park
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii 96718
Attraction | "Visiting the Southernmost Point in the U.S."
To get there, take South Point Rd from Highway 11 (between mile markers 69/70). This is a narrow road, and sometimes you wonder if you're on the "right" one, but face it, there aren't any others... so it's right. When you face oncoming cars, one of you must pull over, but it's fairly easy to do.
On the way you'll pass a wind farm. If your windows are up, put them down for a tad and listen. The sound the windmills make is different, and neat, though I'm not sure I'd want to live near them and hear it all the time! The wind makes some of the trees grow strangely too, so keep your eyes out and you'll see them on your way.
After 4 miles (or so) you'll reach a fork in the road - stay right. Soon you'll reach a parking area with lots of people at it. If it's a day like we were there, you'll also see youngsters (and a few oldsters) jumping from the cliff into the sea below. My boys wanted to. Dad didn't want to go with them (Mom either) so they left disappointed. Other tourists were joining in. There's a shaky looking ladder to climb back up.
There were also fishermen there, and general picnickers. Beware though—this ISN'T the southernmost point. To reach that, head to your left (looking at the water) past a spot where ancient Hawaiians tied their canoes (looking at that along the way), and follow a rock wall as it gently goes down into the ocean. That's the TRUE south point. When we were there, someone had written (in coral) both an arrow pointing the direction to go, and the words "You are Here" when you finally got there. Quite a nice tip, and confirmed by the guidebook.
The view from here is amazing... and we spent a bit of time walking around and reflecting of exactly where we were on the globe at this point in time. (Another travel thingy!) If you have time, go there; if for nothing else other than just to say you've been! It's free.
South Point (Ka`u District )
the southern most part of the USA
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
Akaka Falls State Park
End of 'Akaka Falls Road (Highway 220)
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
Attraction | "Kilauea Iki Trail - Hawaii Volcanoes National Park"
Chain of Craters Road USED to connect Volcanoes National Park with the Puna District (that would be the area south of Hilo), allowing one a nice ocean-side road to drive a loop around. Many, many times, this road has been covered with lava in places, only to be bulldozed by man to recreate the road (this is an awesome sight in itself). Yet nature won in 1992 and is continuing today to keep the road closed after mile marker 19, maybe less if she decides to in the future.
Chain of Craters starts from Crater Rim Drive through forests at first, then you gradually descend. Pauahi Crater is easily accessible from a pull-off—there are other craters too, but they require hikes. More USED to be accessible from the road, till nature intervened.
Afterwards you reach a more rapid descent with many pull-offs to see gorgeous views stretching from the ocean to the many lava flows down the hill. It's incredible the extent of it all, one never envisions the scope. You can easily see both types of lava (Pahoehoe, smooth ropish looking; and A'a, sharp jagged looking). You're also free to explore it in many places. Some lookouts have picnic facilities. Few have restrooms.
Near the bottom is a trail to some ancient Hawaiian Petroglyphs. The trail is 7/10ths of a mile, over lava. It's hot, so bring water. At the end, it's boardwalked to keep folks OFF the petroglyphs, but it's all lava till then. Rock piles, called cairns, mark the trail.
At the very end is the Holei Sea Arch (go to the ocean and look AWAY from the current lava flow) and parking to view the current lava flow. There's a turn around for cars, so while you're driving in, scout your parking place for the way out. This stop has port-a-johns.
Even if you don't plan to hike to see the lava flow, walk at least ¼ mile to see where nature won... it's incredible to see—and wheelchair accessible. Check out my Kalapana journal to read about Chain of Craters from the other side.
Sights from Chain of Craters Road
Inside Volcanoes National Park
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
Attraction | "Kalapana - or what USED to be"
Kalapana is located in the Puna District - a gorgeous section of Hawaii that is jungle in many areas and partially developed in others. This area is still in danger of lava flows. See it now before this entry is outdated!
One note: not ALL the locals like tourists here... usually nothing BAD happens, but if folks don't appear friendly, don't push the issue. This is the only area we encountered that was "iffy" in this aspect on the Big Island. Some folks just want to keep their beauty and paradise to themselves. Others were as welcoming as any other area. There are supposedly some awesome snorkeling spots along here. We didn't get to see them this time, but WILL be back someday...
For a pretty drive, head from Volcano up to Kea'au (or Hilo down) and start on Rt 130 south. If you're in a hurry, stay on 130. If you have time, switch to Rt 132 and take the scenic route. You're simply driving and enjoying the natural beauty. If you have more time, stop and see some of the beaches. We did, and encountered the "iffy" part... so opted to drive.
Your destination—well, OUR destination was seeing the end of Chain of Craters Road from the other side where the lava destroyed Kalapana (the village, beach, etc). This is at the end of 130, follow the signs. You reach an area where the road appears to end, but a bulldozed path has been made. There's a sign saying "resident's only" but our guidebook claimed otherwise. We weren't sure, but then saw real estate ads encouraging folks to go past the signs to look at lots so we figured it MUST be ok. We drove up on to the lava...
The road goes like this for a few miles, on lava, off lava, back on "real" road, then more lava. It's unreal and really cool. The real estate ads were correct... there ARE lots for sale out there - priced at $14,500 when we were there. I'm not so sure it's a great investment, but wow, what an awesome souvenir for those who have money to spare, isn't it? For just over 14K you have a pretty decent chunk of relatively new rock (created in 1990) and few neighbors (at this point). No lawn to mow either.
Keep going till it ends. Along the way you CAN see some signs left of the destruction, along with a couple houses the lava didn't touch but rendered inaccessible. You can also hike at night to see the lava at times from here, though when we were there the views were better from the National Park side. Beware though, this is no theme park. Your safety out on the lava depends on you.
Kalapana Sights & Attractions
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
East Berlin, Pennsylvania