Hawaii: Our trip to the Big Island

We have been to Hawaii before (Oahu, Maui and Kauai) but never to the Big Island. Everyone says the Big Island is where you “feel” the nature forces and that it’s an place that shouldn’t be missed.

We booked one week there, splitting our time between Kona and Volcano. There’s a lot of driving involved on the island, so we planned to have two days at Volcano in order to be able to appreciate Kilauea crater by night without the need to drive several hours in the dark, something I usually avoid whenever possible.

We flew from YVR (Vancouver International Airport) to SFO (San Francisco International Airport) where we got a plane to HNL (Honolulu International Airport). From Honolulu we got on a short flight with Hawaiian Airlines to KOA (Kona Keahole Airport).

San Francisco

The Golden Gate Bridge seen from the plane.

When we got to the Big Island we rented a vehicle from Hertz and drove to the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.

The hotels:

We divided our staying on the island in two hotels. Most of the time (5 nights) we stayed at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa and the two last nights we stayed at Kilauea Lodge. Unfortunately, I do not recommend any of them.

Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa: It is in a good location, three minutes walking to a shopping mall that carries several stores,  including a Starbucks (where we had breakfast daily, spending a fraction than we would pay at the hotel) and one supermarket.

Marriott Waikoloa Resort & Spa

Marriott Waikoloa Resort & Spa

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Waikoloa Beach Marriott has a large room lacking comfort in some details, like:

To turn the bed lights on & off you need to stand;

There’s a glass wall separating the sleeping area to the bathroom area, and when the bathroom area is lit the light invades the sleeping area

No robes or sleepers in the bedroom. For me a hotel that uses the pompous  title “resort and spa” should have both!

The swimming pool at Waikoloa Beach Marriott is just “ok”.  There’s also a policy to use cards to get beach towels (that, bye the way,  are shabby).  Awful policy.   (We stayed in Oahu in a Marriott’s property where the towels were new and were just there, folded, waiting for guests to pick them up. No “exchange cards” needed. I think customers who can afford staying at a Marriott Resort property are not the kind of people who will steal towels, so I found the policy of Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa unacceptable). 

The beach in front of the hotel is “ok”.  There are better options not far away.

The restaurant was relatively good,  but again, there are better options close by.

All by all, it’s an average hotel, and for sure I wouldn’t stay there again.

***

Kilauea Lodge: We  stayed two nights at this hotel due to its location close to the crater (I planned to see the crater after dark and I don’t like to drive after the sun sets). This was the only reason for booking a room at this hotel.

Reception: Awful. The lady almost didn’t say “good afternoon” when we arrived. She only  wanted to have my credit card for “securing any damages”,  as our bill was been paid in full several months prior to our arrival.

When we asked if there was someone to take our luggage to the room, located on the second floor, she said that the person who would do this had already left, although we checked-in during the regular period: At 3pm, to be precise.

We had to take the luggage ourselves, risking to fall from the stairs.

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The room @ Kilauea Lodge: Large room without air conditioner. It wasn’t warm, but the place is too humid, an air conditioner is mandatory in a place like that. There’s only a fan in the bedroom! Awful experience.

Mattress was comfortable, pillows were awful (as hard as bricks).

Bathroom was large and had a water fountain, that was useful for our daily hiking.

Hot tub is part of the advertisement in this hotel but was covered and not to be used all the times we went there to check, even during the advertised “hot pool hours”.

Breakfast is just pretentious. It’s included in the room rate but one of the options, like the omelette with potatoes that comes “plain”. They don’t serve one single slice of bread accompanying the meal! I guess one single slice of bread is “mandatory” as it’s also usual in any 2 starts motel located on highways.

We had dinner there twice (I don’t like to drive in the dark, so there is no other option). The “special of the day” is not “of the day”, it’s the special of “everyday” as it was exactly the same on both nights. We also don’t enjoy the meals, and you cam read more about it in the “restaurants” section of this post.

I wrote a bad review on GoogleMaps and Tripadvisor and got a reply from the owner apologizing and stating that she was not there at the time of our staying and that she would take measures to improve the service. We weren’t offered any kind of compensation for our bad experience there.

Kilauea Lodge? Never again!

Island Attractions:

Big Island has several remarkable attractions! we didn’t stop during our staying there!

Green Sands Beach:  If you go to Green Sands Beach I recommend you combine this attraction with South Point. It’s better to go to Green Sands Beach first and visit South Point by the end of the day, in order to enjoy the sunset there.

To go to Green Sand Beach you need to drive to a parking lot and from there, it’s a great idea to ride on one of the locals’s vehicles. Do not drive there all the way to the Green Sands Beach, even if you rented a 4 WD jeep! There’s no way to know the correct path and there are holes on the dirty road that are beyond huge.

Green Sands Beach

Green Sands Beach

As soon as we got there, a girl offered to take the four of us to the beach and bring us back for $15 / each.  We offered $50 and she accepted. By the end we gave more, because she was really nice. During our trip to get there, we saw several people having trouble driving.  Walking is also not a good idea, as it’s quite far and depending on the weather it can be really hot (there are no trees/ shades on the way). Last but not least, it’s not an “obvious path”, so, its easy to get lost or to walk more than needed.

Tip: Help the local economy and hire one of the drivers that will be offering their services at the parking lot. You will be glad if you do so.

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Awful road. Make sure you hire a local to take you to Green Sands Beach

After you disembark, you need to walk all way down to the beach. There’s a narrow path between the rocks and a small ladder as well.  If you have small children or a lot of stuff, the path can be tricky. Use caution.

The sea, although beautiful,  isn’t calm there. The sand color looks pretty when you are there “in person” than when we look to the pictures. The color comes from “olivina”, a volcanic material. You can read more about it here.

We found a nice spot to stay, like an “open cave”. It was really amazing to watch the surf from there.

Green Sands Beach

Our “secret spot” at Green Sands Beach

***

South Point: After some hours on the beach, our driver took us back  to the parking lot where we got again in our rental cars. We drove to the “South Point”, the furthermost south point in the United States of America.

Sunset there is gorgeous and we were able to watch some brave (crazy?) people jumping into the ocean. Wow!

South Point

South Point

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Sunset at South Point, HI

***

On the next day we went to Pololu Valley. Located on the north part of the island, it’s a beautiful drive from Kona.

After parking the car (free parking) we walked on a trail down down down all the way. It’s not “super steep” but it can be treacherous as there are some parts pretty close to the cliff.

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On the way to Black Sands Beach, Pololu Valley

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After we walked almost 2/3 on the route to get to the black sand, it started to rain and we decided to return, as the path was getting slippery. Although we didn’t walk all the way to the black sand beach we had a great time enjoying the views along the way.

 

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PS: We managed to go to another black sand beach that is even prettier than this one…  keep reading! 🙂

Tip: If you decide to go to the Black Sand Beach, on Pololu Valley,  use comfortable shoes (no flip flops), and carry almost nothing (= travel light!). Of course, drinking water, sun protector, mosquito repellent and a hat are mandatory.

***

Manini’owali Beach – easy park and crystal clear waters but for my taste the waves are too strong. I prefer beaches that are almost like a “swimming pool” with almost no surf at all.

Manini'owali Beach

Manini’owali Beach

Manini'owali Beach

Manini’owali Beach

Manini'owali Beach

Manini’owali Beach

***

Hapuna Bay – Beautiful beach, but not “astonishing”. It’s a beautiful place to take sunset pictures.

Hapuna Bay, HI

Hapuna Bay, HI

***

Magic Sands Beach – This was my favorite beach on Hawaii Big Island. We had a delightful spot under a coconut tree, despite the sign warning not to do so…   🙂

Magic Sands Beach

Magic Sands Beach

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Magic Sands Beach. We stayed UNDER this coconut tree! Awesome!

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Magic Sands Beach

***

Mauna Kea, Hawaii tallest volcano (13796 feet above sea level) and home of the world’s largest telescopes.

Note:  In my opinion, if I have to compare Mauna Kea vs Waimea Canyon Drive (on Kauai Island) vs Haleakala (on Maui Island), I would rate Mauna Kea on the third place, with Waimea Canyon getting the Gold Medal (but that’s just me….).

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When you get there the rangers will show where to park your vehicle

The views at the top are really spectacular and I recommend you go all there although… (dot dot dot)

It’s forbidden to take 2WD vehicles up to the top. You are allowed to drive just to the Visitor Center, located at the base of the mountain.

Although 4WD vehicles are allowed to go to the top of Mauna Kea, it’s written “somewhere” that rentals can’t use the road,  as part of road has no asphalt.  I guess they keep these two miles as a dirty road to avoid thousands of people driving to the top… 

You can book an excursion, but they are pricey.

Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea

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On the way to the top of Mauna Kea

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On the way to the top of Mauna Kea

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On the way to the top of Mauna Kea

The excursions cost a lot of money and take a long time, as the operators need to be picking up guests along the way. Also, the tours generally offer “food”, probably to justify the + USD 150.00 charged by person…   In my opinion, it’s a lot of money to stay at the top for just a few minutes. I am glad we didn’t spend + $300 USD to go there! 🙂

What we did to get to the top of Mauna Kea:  All excursions stop by the Visitor Center (Onizuka Center for International Astronomy) before driving up the mountain, so their customers can use the facilities there and also acclimatize with the altitude. Ellison Onizuka was an astronaut born in Hawaii who died in the terrible Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986.

We asked several tour drivers parked there if they had an “extra spot” on their vans.  After several “no, sorry, my van is full”, we were able to find two spots, although in different vehicles. It cost us a fraction of what we would have paid for a “regular excursion”!  🙂

The road up to the top is beautiful (Waimea Canyon is prettier!)  and it’s not “super steep” as it is usually advertised. Again, I think the only point of saying “it’s dangerous”, “it’s super steep”, etc is to avoid tourists driving all the way to the top, where there’s limited parking.

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Top of Mauna Kea

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Top of Mauna Kea

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Top of Mauna Kea

When we got to the top the driver / guide said that everyone should be back as soon as the sun set down, which occurred approximately 15 minutes after our arrival.

The sun goes down really quickly and the tour operators don’t give much time to stay there after sunset (the “magical hour” for photographers). It’s really a “get there, snap some pictures and back to the vehicle).  Fast, fast, fast.

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Sunset on the top of Mauna Kea

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Sunset on the top of Mauna Kea

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Sunset on the top of Mauna Kea

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Sunset on the top of Mauna Kea

It was  pretty dark when we were going back to the Visitor Center, where we were dropped.

There were several telescopes mounted by the entrance of the Center, just waiting for visitors to take a look on planets and starts.

We were able to see Venus, Mars, Saturn and several starts. When it got really dark, they started a presentation pointing out constellations, the morning star, several planets etc.

Tip: Dress warm as it gets really cold on the top of Mauna Kea, despite the warm temperatures at beach level.

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Tip: The “Star Gazing” was super interesting! We loved it!  If you go to Mauna Kea, I recommend  you wait and watch the presentation. It’s really awesome!

***

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Pu’uhonua O Honaunau

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau –  This is a sacred place, used as refuge in the past. When some of the sacred laws was broken, the punishment was usually death. The only way to survive was to escape to this place, as no warm could be done for someone inside the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau.

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Pu’uhonua O Honaunau

Tip: As soon as you enter, go listen to the Ranger talk (several times along the day), and we will be able to understand the importance of this historical site.

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Pu’uhonua O Honaunau

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Pu’uhonua O Honaunau

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Mark Twain’s bench

The pamphlet that is given at the entrance contains a self guided tour that is easy to follow. It’s mandatory to use the pamphlet to be able to understand what you are seeing.

There’s a stone bench in front of the main wall that was favored by Mark Twain. It’s a great spot to seat and watch the ocean and the “Two Steps” beach just across.

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Pu’uhonua O Honaunau

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If you want to have more information before going to this awesome place, read the Parks official page here.

***

Two Step Beach – Located at the side of Pu’uhonua O Hnaunau Historical Site, this beach is the best place to snorkel on Big Island, accordingly to many aficionados. Its very calm and easy to get into and out of the water.

There were hundreds of colorful fish and it was easy to spot them even from a standing point on the rocks.

Two Steps Beach

Two Step Beach

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Two Step Beach

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Two Step Beach

***

‘Akaka Falls – Beautiful site and very easy to walk. There’s a parking that cost only $5 and it gives you access to the trail.

Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls

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Basically you walk along a wooden platform in the middle of a rain forest. Really pretty. The loop will take you to two waterfalls: Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls. The last one is seen from a longer distance. Its an awesome place to take pictures!

Tip: Although it’s a circular loop, I recommend you stay to the right.

***

Rainbow Falls – It’s not as impressive as ‘Akaka Falls. I recommend you visit in the same day you go to ‘Akaka Falls as they are relatively close one to the other.  We went after 9am. and people say you can only see the rainbow before 10am.

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Rainbow Falls

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After watching the falls you can walk along a trail located on the left hand side to see the river before it gets to the falls.

It’s a pretty place to go if you are already in the region, otherwise just skip it.

***

Volcano National Park – The cherry on top of the cake. Wow! What can I say about this place? It’s simple insane to go there and see the Kilauea crater, specially if you stay longer and wait after sunset, when the glow gets really bright.

volcano-national-park-1

There’s an information center, as soon as you enter, with Park rangers giving information and advice for daily hiking. We got very useful information from a ranger and after buying a map we were good to go on a great adventure! Keep reading to learn more about our Kilauea Iki Trail.

Jaggar Museum is located just across the crater and it’s a place that should not be missed. There you will learn a lot about volcanos in general and Kilauea in particular.

The first night we were there we couldn’t see much due to heavy fog. Fortunately we were staying at a nearby hotel and it was easy to return on the next night for a better view.

Kilauea Crater with fog

Kilauea Crater with fog

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Kilauea Crater on our second visit

***

Kilauea Iki Trai – It’s a must see! Don’t miss it! When walking along this trail you will be able to enter in s lava tube!  The trail takes you from forest to all types of lava formations. It’s better to walk counterclockwise.

Kilauea Iki Trail

Kilauea Iki Trail

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***

Nahuku (Thurson Lava Tube) – Nahuku (Thurson Lava Tube) is a 500 years old lava tube located in the Volcanoes Park. It’s just a 15 minutes walk inside the well lit tube that is surrounded by dense forest.

Lava Tube

Lava Tube

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***

Devastation Trail – It’s very impressive to walk along this trail. There are pictures showing the asphalted road when it was hit by the lava. It’s not a “dramatic” place to visit but it’s short and easily accessible. It’s not a “must-see” but it’s interesting in case you have time.

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Devastation Trail

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Devastation Trail

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Devastation Trail – Picture shows the lava on the road

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Devastation Trail

***

Mauna Ulu Trail  (also called Pu’u Huluhulu Trail) – This is an absolute MUST-DO attraction while visiting Volcano National Park.  The 1969 eruptions from Kilauea built this new lava shield. The eruption only stoped in 1974 and covered 10,000 acres of park and buried six miles of the original “Chain of Craters Road”.

Mauna Ulu Trail

Mauna Ulu Trail

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The best way to enjoy it better is to buy the walking map at Jaggar Museum or at the Volcano Visitor Center. You will follow signs from 1 to 15 along the trail. When we were there (September 2016) it was almost deserted and we only met two people along the way. There were times we almost gave up, afraid of getting lost, but we are glad we did it from start to end.  You can read further information about this awesome trail here.

***

Driving all way along “Chain of Craters Road” – This is an awesome drive and an absolutely “must-see attraction”.  You should stop along the scenic outlooks, you should walk on lava fields, you should see (from a distance) the lava flowing into the sea and, last but not least, you should take pictures with the Holei Sea Arch in the background.

***

Punalu-u Beach – If you want to see a “real black sand beach”, don’t bother going to the one at Pololu Valley, where you will have to climb dozens of “stairs” on a trail. Just drive to Punalu-u Beach and you will have a free parking lot and will walk straight to the black sands!!!  Besides being gorgeous, this beach is famous for the green turtles. You will spot many of them when visiting this awesome beach!  There are several facilities, including flush toilets.

Black Sands Beach, HI

Black Sands Beach, HI

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RESTAURANTS

Marriott’s Restaurant was “ok”, although pricey. They serve a very good mango drink. The lobster we ate there was just “ok”, not “exceptional”.

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Marriott Waikoloa

Lava Lava – We went there several times, for lunch and dinner. It’s very close to the Marriott and during the day we went walking along the beach (just walk left when you are looking to the ocean on Marriott’s beach).  The food at Lava Lava is “ok”. Although fresh it wasn’t tasteful, meaning that there were no spices or flavors or smells.

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Lava Lava on Big Island, HI

You may ask: If Lava Lava is not very good, why you went there so many times? Ok,  we returned there because there aren’t other options, at least within 20 minutes driving distance.

Tropics Ale House:  Decent pizza, average food and good selection of ales. We went there twice and found the first time better than the second.

Tropics Ale House, HI

Tropics Ale House, HI

Kilauea Lodge – We had dinner there twice, only because we were staying there and there are no options nearby. The food and service are not good for the price charged.  Breakfast is also poor, as they serve eggs with potatoes but not one single toast.

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Kilauea Lodge

Ebisuya Sushi – It’s a very simple place regarding decor but the food is absolutely wonderful. This was the best food we had while visiting Big Island. It’s a family operated business and it can’t get any better. It’s absolutely tasty and delicious!

Ebisuya Sushi, HI

Ebisuya Sushi, HI

From Big Island we flew to Oahu where we stayed for one additional week.

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About CeciliArchitect

World Traveler ~ Photographer ~ Social Media Specialist ~ Tourism Vancouver Certified Specialist ~ Independent Tour Manager and Events Coordinator ~ Blogger ~ Architect & Interior Designer (in my previous life)
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2 Responses to Hawaii: Our trip to the Big Island

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes, a good summary… after cumulatively spending several months on this island, it’s nice for a short visit, but I’ll still take the Hana coast of Maui first.

    Like

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