Hawaii’s Big Island Kilauea volcano has been active lately, destroying roads and homes and forcing evacuations. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but it’s still sad that people have lost their homes. I can sort of understand, living in an earthquake-prone area myself, knowing one day the “big one” can hit and take away everything, but I continue to stay here. I don’t blame Hawaiian residents for wanting to stay in paradise, dangerous as it may be.
Back in 2014, John and I visited the Big Island. It was our first time on the Big Island, and we went in September, which in hindsight was not ideal. It was incredibly hot and humid.
For most of our stay we were in Kailua-Kona, on the west side, which is touristy and has more favorable weather. On the opposite side of the island, Hilo is often rainy and less developed.
Day 1: Arrival
After getting the keys to the rental car, the first stop was Holuakua Cafe for brunch. The setting was beautiful, surrounded by lush greenery, and the food was good though overpriced. Little did I know, the mosquitos were lurking. After scratching my ankle absentmindedly, I looked down later and was horrified to see it was swollen. These were not your run of the mill mosquitos, but some sort of super breed that caused sore, extremely itchy bites.
We drove to our accommodations, Holua Resort at Mauna Loa Village, which was set up like a one-bedroom apartment, with a dining table, living room with TV, full kitchen, and even a washer and dryer. It was spacious and everything was clean, no complaints.
We took a 20 minute tour of Greenwell Farms which grows Kona coffee, among other things. We learned about how coffee is grown and made and tried some samples at the end. I was also given this delicious pink guava. Not bad for free!
Then we stopped by Kahaluu Beach to dip our toes in the water and watch the sun set. We had dessert at Scandinavian Shave Ice, with a scoop of coconut Tropical Dreams ice cream in the middle. It was the most amazing shave ice ever and nothing I’ve tried since can compare.
Day 2: Exploring Hilo & Mauna Kea
We started the day off with a classic Hawaiian breakfast of loco moco and pancakes at Hawaiian Style Cafe. It was very hearty and the pancakes were bigger than my face! Not something you can eat every day without eventually developing heart problems, but worth a try.
Next we browsed Hilo Farmers Market where I was in tropical fruit heaven. Our haul included coconut, papaya, sweet corn, starfruit, guava, avocado, purple yam, and apple bananas. The guava wasn’t as good as the one we’d gotten from the farm tour.
Then we visited the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. There was a decent variety of plants and the view was nice but overall it wasn’t as amazing as I’d expected, and not worth the $15 entrance fee. I wished we had gone zip lining instead.
We got a refreshing $7 fruit smoothie at What’s Shakin before making stops at Rainbow Falls, Boiling Pots, Pe’epe’e Falls.
We also dropped by Big Island Candies to sample and purchase their popular shortbread cookies. They’re the Big Island’s equivalent of Honolulu Cookie Company’s cookies without the signature pineapple shape, but taste just as good, and make great gifts.
Finally, we made it to Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station just after sunset. Fun fact: At a summit of 13,796ft (4,205m), Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in the world, measuring from its base far below the depths of the ocean. (Mt. Everest is the highest in the world, measuring from sea level.) The visitor station is at 9,200ft (2,800m) and due to its usually clear skies, is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. Be sure to dress warmly as the temperatures at such a high elevation can drop to 2 degrees Celsius! Pro tip: the station sells hot beverages but you can bring a thermos and hot cocoa mix or tea bags and use the hot water provided to brew your own.
Around 9 pm the stars came out and the Milky Way became visible. Not to sound corny, but it really did take my breath away, the beauty of it. It was the first time I saw our galaxy with my own eyes. There are telescopes available to look at other planetary bodies as well as some informational talks.
Day 3: Waimea
After the previous full day, we gave ourselves a break. We spent the morning snorkeling at Hapuna Beach, which supposedly is normally a great spot, but the water was unusually rough that day. We were having a hard time and didn’t see much, but when we were leaving, I felt something brush my leg and looked down to see a turtle swim away!
Then we drove to the north part of the island to tour the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company factory (sampling my weight’s worth in macadamia nuts) and emerged with a couple bags of the Kona coffee flavor. Dinner was at Sushi Rock, which served very small portions for the price. Then we gobbled up Tropical Dreams ice cream at a nearby shop. Mmmm.
Day 4: Kailua-Kona
Another chill day. We had lunch at Broke Da Mouth Grindz and ordered furikake fried chicken and shrimp plate lunches. The pictures look good, but honestly I can’t really remember how it tasted.
We went to Huggo’s on the Rocks for happy hour overlooking the water. The drinks were pretty yet underwhelming.
For dinner we tried Big Island Grill; I got some sort of grilled fish sandwich with mango.
Continued in Part 2…