After spending 2 weeks in Maui we took a short hopper flight over to Hilo for some adventure on the Big Island. We had one week to explore this huge place and we had plans to see as much of it as we could. Rowan turned 16 the day we flew to the Big Island and we had fun celebrating this mile marker with him. What an incredible way to turn 16!
Hilo and Beyond Adventure on the Big Island
We started our time in Hilo by visiting Akaka Falls and Rainbow Falls. Both are easily accessible with fairly short walks and a rain forest ambience. These are not the type of waterfalls we had experienced in Maui, to be sure. These were for observing only. The kids were disappointed because they wanted to experience them, but the rules and regulations felt really different on the Big Island. Maui was more tactical and tangible, but we found that the Big Island was more hands off and enjoyed by observation. So, we simply changed our expectations.
We discovered that we could snorkel at Carlsmith Beach Park (Four Mile) very near Hilo. Take your water shoes as they volcanic rock is very rough on your feet. The area was incredibly crowded and the current was strong for being so shallow and sheltered. The boys didn’t have much success in seeing much that was exciting, but Holland and I unexpectedly got to swim with sea turtles VERY up close. I really think if you’re patient and peaceful, the beauty comes to you. I would also recommend getting there earlier in the day than we did so the crowds don’t get too overwhelming.
We took several hours to visit the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, which is located about 15 miles north of Hilo on the coast. The garden is run as a non-profit nature preserve that a family cleared and planned privately. With entry fees at $20 for adults and $5 for kids aged 6-16 we felt it was well worth the money. The trails are hilly, but there are golf carts available for those who are unable to make their own way. You will be provided with a map and you will want to follow it so you don’t miss anything. Bring your own insect repellent and have your camera at the ready. We ooohed and ahhhhed our way through the trails.
Adventure in Volcanoes National Park Area
Volcanoes National Park was our next stop. We stayed at an Airbnb near the park entrance. It was the perfect spot and we loved being near the park. We enjoyed several hikes, saw the petroglyphs, and really enjoyed the chain of craters road. The views were sweeping and gorgeous. Do not feel bad about stopping 10 or more times along the road just to get out in the coastal breeze and to gape at the coastline. The water was so blue-just amazing!
Adventure to Kona and North of the Big Island
The rest of our time on the Big Island we made our way along the coast on Route 11. We stopped along the way to see Punalu’u Beach with its black sand and sun bathing sea turtles. After that we stopped at Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park where you get a glimpse of the Captain Cook Monument across the bay. We opted not to take the long hike and had missed our opportunity for kayaking out there, so getting a glimpse was the best we could do.
Our next Airbnb was up on the Northwest side of the island near Kamuela, north of Kona. We loved this place-away from the busyness of Kona and we had a view from on high with incredible sunsets from the backyard (including from the outdoor shower). Hapuna Beach (entry fee and gets crowded, so get there early!) is a great spot for swimming, snorkeling, reading on the beach and relaxing. We hadn’t had much down time over the past 3 weeks so we took advantage of it. Adventures and trying to see as much as we can are so important to us, but it felt good to slow down for one day.
One of the best things about driving all over the Big Island was listening to Gypsy Guide, an amazing ap that you can download to your phone that will follow your car with GPS. Gypsy Guide will give some suggestions about areas to stop and lookouts to enjoy, but they also have a running commentary giving the history of the locations you are seeing and driving through. We are big fans of Gypsy Guide and it’s nice to learn some things along the way. We made our way up to Hawi, a town on the Northern side of the island where we stopped for ice cream and a little shopping before making our way as far as we could go with our rental car. Our last night on the Big Island we went back to Hapuna Beach and decided to swim until the sun set over the ocean horizon. The sun making its way, melting into the horizon was a metaphor for our summer. We were so happy to be together for 3 weeks, but it was all coming to and end and the kids would start school in less than a week. It was magical and wonderful and the perfect way for us to end our incredible 3 week Hawaiian adventure!