Big Island Activities:
As our time on the Island draws to a close, I reflect on all we have experienced in our two weeks here. This truly is an island for those seeking adventure and unique experiences in a beautiful, diverse and laid back atmosphere. You definitely need a car rental to make the most of your time and you often need to drive around the island to seek out the best spots, but it is well worth the effort. We will be going home with unforgettable memories – here are a few of our favourites:
Beaches: The beaches are as different and diverse as you can possibly imagine. From black sand to green sand to white sand and from calm waves to rocky snorkeling areas to big surf…if you don’t like the one you are at – drive down the road and find another. My personal favourite of the four we tried was Spencer Beach Park. It isn’t the largest or the most beautiful, but it was a really nice combination of a quiet beach, nice sand, safe water for kids, but still had snorkeling areas and nice facilities. Great for families.
Island Breeze Luau: I have been to many luaus on several islands. This was probably my number 2. I thought the food was great – they even had a kids buffet with chicken fingers and macaroni and cheese, etc. which was a hit, the performers were excellent, the cost was reasonable – especially their kids rates. The only reason I liked the Aulii Luau at the Sheraton Kauai better was the setting was prettier and I thought their MC/host was better.
Royal Kona Coffee Center: This was one of our stops enroute from Kona to the Volcano National Park. It’s free: FREE walking tour, FREE samples of Coffee and Tea and Rum Cake, they have a great gift shop, a pretty view and a lava tube you can walk through. All in all it is a great pit stop to break up the long drive.
Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park (City of Refuge): This is a national park area and normally there is a charge for a vehicle to enter and park. On the day we were there, the gates were open and there was no charge. This was another stop enroute to the volcano and was just south of the Kona Coffee Center. It was an interesting place to learn about the Hawaiian history and a very pretty setting. I wish we had taken our swimsuits as it was quite hot out and there was a nice little beach spot there as well. There are no food services, but I asked for advice for a lunch stop nearby and she suggested the South Kona Fruit Stand – at the top of the hill – made to order sandwiches, fresh fruit and smoothies and you could eat in their shady tropical garden. It was a nice, relaxing lunch spot – smoothies were excellent, sandwiches were ok. The next stop would have been 40 minutes away and this worked well for us.
Volcano Winery: This little gem is located about 5 minutes before you reach the gates to enter the Volcano National Park. They make about 10 different kinds of wine – whites, reds and fruit blends. For $5 they let you sample 7 different wines – a good deal! The ladies who were running the winery were friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable about their wines. They have a unique store where they sell some gift-ware and their wines. We enjoyed our stop here and the wine tasting.
Volcanoes National Park: Far and away, this was my favorite thing I did on the Big Island, but mainly because we had perfect Volcano viewing weather while we were there and also because we had planned to spend the night at the Volcano House hotel, giving us unparalleled views of the Kilauea Caldera at night. The Volcano National Park is about a 2 hour drive from Kona or 35 minutes from Hilo over unfamiliar, windy roads. We really wanted to see the Volcano at night to get the full effect of the glow, but we weren’t keen on driving back in the dark and it would have been a very long day with the kids. The Volcano House hotel isn’t cheap, but it’s well worth the cost to get the full experience. I would urge you to consider adding this extra night into your trip budget to maximize your experience.
The Volcano House hotel is a National Park Hotel and was first built in the 1800’s. It is rustic and quaint, not luxurious. The lobby has a big wood burning fire place and seating with a view of the volcano. There is a lounge and a restaurant that both serve lunch, dinner and drinks. The food in the lounge was very reasonable – most adult dinners around $14/15 USD and kids around $10 USD. In this kind of a captive setting, I would have expected them to charge more. The restaurant also serves a buffet breakfast that was quite good, but very busy. Half of the hotel rooms are Crater View – splurge on the extra charge! All night long, every time I would wake up, I would look out the window and see a glowing volcano. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience. The Volcano National Park has hours and hours of hiking trails through Sulphur Flats, around the Caldera Rim, to the Jagger Museum and through the Thurston Lava Tube. You could spend days here hiking and enjoying the unique nature of the area. They also have a Parks Center, an Art Center and the Jagger Museum, which outlines the history of the Volcano and also has the very best views of the Caldera at night. I was glad we had a full 24 hours in the park – we could have easily spent a few more days. It costs $25USD for a car to enter the National Park. This gets you entry for up to 7 days.
Panaewa Rainforest Zoo in Hilo: On our way home from the Volcano to Kona, we took the cross-island route down through Hilo, then across the island, instead of going south. We stopped in at the Rainforest Zoo – FREE (entrance by donation only). Their main claim to fame is two tigers (one Orange named Sriracha and one White named Tzatiki). They also had monkeys, ant eaters, alligators, lots of tropical birds and much more. It was a nice stop and we would have stayed longer, but it was very hot out and my little guy wasn’t feeling well.
Atlantis Submarine Kona: I was excited to take the kids on their first underwater adventure as they are too young for any real snorkeling or scuba. Check in is located in the Courtyard King Kamehameha hotel and they offer reduced parking rates for the Atlantis customers. Check in was smooth, all was well. We took a boat out to the Submarine – roughly 40 people. I walked down into the Submarine and found myself walking right back off. I have never gotten claustrophobic in my life, but I had a minor panic attack before the hatch was even closed and knew I had to get off. The crew was wonderful! They let me off and back up onto the launch boat. The rest of my family stayed onboard and went on the adventure as planned. I waited out the 45 minutes aboveboard on the boat in the very pleasant company of three other crew members. They filled me in on their favourite places to eat, favourite beaches, etc. and told me some of their history with the island – why they came, or where they grew up, the lava flows in recent history and how they went through a town near to one of them. It was the most entertaining visit I have had in ages. My family re-emerged from the deep blue sea, excited and bursting with news of the fish and eels and shipwrecks they had seen and I was quite content with my time spent on the boat. Thank you Atlantis Submarine all around for a lovely outing. Side note: please don’t think you will get claustrophobic – every other person on the boat was fine and enjoyed their time undersea!
Sunset MaiTai: While in Hawaii, you need to take time to enjoy the sunsets; weather permitting, they are spectacular. The best way to do this is to find an oceanfront spot and enjoy a quintessential Hawaiian cocktail – the Mai Tai. My favourite place on the Big Island for this is Huggo’s lounge. Huggo’s is oceanfront in downtown Kona, beside the Royal Kona Resort. They have a free parking lot (bonus) and $5 Happy Hour sunset specials that include cocktails, beer and house wine. The Mai Tai’s at Huggo’s are the best I have ever had and the view can’t be topped. We also had dinner one night at this restaurant. The food was very good and the service was excellent.
Now it’s time to start packing our bags to get ready for the journey back to Saskatoon. Aloha!