We are off again for the bulk of our around the world trip. First stop is to mark Hawaii off our United States map. Plus we cut a very long flight to New Zealand in half. I have always wanted to go to Hawaii but for some reason never made that dream a reality. So I was very excited this was finally happening. I had done a ton of planning and I was prepared for the adventure. Our first stop was the Big Island of Hawaii.
We rented a car and booked a room at the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa. It was right on the water, but with no beach. We had a huge pool and a few restaurants to choose from. For some reason most of the restaurants on the island close early or are only open to 8pm. Plan accordingly. We ended up eating at the hotel most nights since they were the only ones open.
Sidenote to save money: If you travel a lot I totally recommend you getting the Citi Prestige Credit card. They offer a concierge service where if you book through them you pay for three nights you get the fourth night free. The rates are generally the same as booking online through the hotel website. We used this offer for all three of our stays in Hawaii saving us almost $800 in 2 weeks.
We set off with a slam packed day one. Our first stop was to South Point where one of four green sands beaches exist in the world. Green sands are made from the stone when ground down becomes the peridot gemstone. A must see for me. After turning off the main road onto a one lane road we headed the southern most point in the United States. We drove as far as we could drive without having a 4WD vehicle. We knew the locals set up shop and offer rides in their pickup truck to tourist who do not want to make the 2.6 mile walk on a dirt/stone road out to the green sands beach cove.
Since we had a full day planned we opted for the ride. Along with eight other tourists we were loaded into the back of a beat up pick up truck and set off on what would be quite a bumpy ride. After about 20 minutes of constant bumps and jumps and achy butt from sitting on 2X4's and holding on for dear life we finally made it to the cove. We also made some new friends, Sam and Jeanine, who we ended up spending the rest of the day with as we had the same route planned. We all agreed it was worth the $15 pp price to avoid the long walk.
The beach surpassed anything I could imagine. From the top of the cove the sand glistened like glitter. We made the short hike down to see the sand up close and swim. The sand was even prettier up close. It had a green hue to it but looked more like gold in your hand. After a short swim we hopped back in the truck and made the bumpy journey back to our car.
The second stop was the Punaluu black sands beach. Black sands are made from lava rock that has been ground down super fine by the waves. We made the short drive down the road and luckily this beach was right off the highway. Entry into the beach was free. The black sands was super neat to see but naturally super hot on the feet. We were greeted by some sea turtles hanging out on the sand.
When we entered the water we also found a sea turtle swimming right next to us. The water was chilly and the sand ended shortly after entering the water leaving a mixture of rocks and sand. We stayed only a short time before heading off to our next stop.
The third stop was Volcano National Park. We intentionally wanted to arrive later in the evening as we wanted to see the lava spewing from the crater. We didn’t plan for how many trails there were to hike through. In hindsight we should have planned at least half a day here at the park to hike from one side to the other.
We paid our $20 car load entrance fee and headed to the visitor center to plan the few hours we had there. Our first stop was the lava tube. The tube was created when lava flowed through creating an underground tunnel. It was a short hike of about 15-20 minutes and cool to see all the caved out areas the lava flowed through.
On our way to the Jagger Museum (the lookout point for the active lava) we stopped at a few lookout points surveying the crater from a far. We also got out and felt the steam coming from the steam vents. Hot and smelly.
We arrived at the Jagger Museum while the sun was still up. I threw on some pants and we both grabbed our jackets for what was going to be a cold night up that high (it rained too). When we arrive the lava was not spewing and we couldn’t see anything. After patiently waiting (staring at the crater hoping to see a glimmer of something) we finally starting seeing red lava. As everyone gathered to watch you could hear the lava crashing back into itself almost sounding like waves crashing. Such a neat sound. We posted up at a prime spot and waited for the sun to go down. The lava got more intense as we waited. While our pictures do not do the lava justice we have a pretty awesome memory of it.
Day two we took a drive up to the north side of the island and the observatory. We took our time driving up the north coast stopping at the Hamakua macadamia nut farm. This turned out to just be a cannery and not a farm full of trees. The tour was self led and lasted about 2 minutes looking at the canning machines. Not what I wanted but we made the best of it and tried all the samples before heading out.
Next we set off to the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy. We had read they set up telescopes during the day to see the sun and then at night to see the planets and moon. The Big Island does their best to help eliminate light pollution making it perfect for star gazing. Our rental car climbed (struggled) the 9,000 feet up the mountain and the temperature dropped from 80 degrees to 60 degrees. Once again the cloudy weather prevented us from enjoying the stop. (Check out the Puno blog post) Staff didn’t even have the telescopes out. We did some shopping at the gift shop and went on our way….disappointed.
Day three we made the drive to the east side of the island to see the lava flow into the Pacific Ocean. We were given directions as to where the best place to see the lava flowing into the ocean at the end of Highway 130. We drove as far as we could and decided to rent bikes rather then walk the 4.6 mile gravel road. We arrived around noon, which was not the smartest idea since it was hot and we are surrounded in black lava fields.
There were a bunch of local guys renting bikes. We picked a guy on the end and paid $20 pp for all day bike rental and was given snacks, water and a backpack. Off we went on the hilly against the wind gravel road ride. We had a tough time for sure. Tim’s bike wouldn’t shift into a higher gear. We finally stopped and he moved the chain himself. After about 45 minutes we made it to the end. We then had to take a small hike over the lava fields to the ocean.
With the wind blowing the smoke was covering the lava flow from view. However, every few minutes, if you were patient, the smoke would clear and you could see the lava spewing out and into the ocean. The sounds were amazing! Once again the pictures do not do it justice. But it is something I will never forget.
The ride back was mostly downhill and with the wind making it less challenging and faster. We returned our bikes and rewarded ourselves with some shave ice from one of the many vendors in the area. Delicious end to the adventure. This was probably my favorite activity on the big island.
We had a great time on the Big Island of Hawaii and after visiting Maui and Oahu it is my favorite island. It was laid back, less westernized, fewer tourists, and just beautiful. Sorry this is a lot longer than most posts. It kind of got away from me.
Travel Tip for the Big Island of Hawaii - If you are planning to do a similar trip I totally recommend staying in Kona for a few nights and doing the north drive and beaches and staying in Hilo for a few nights to do the volcano park. Staying in Kona for the entire time creates lots of driving. We spend many hours in the car and it burned us out quickly.