So, waaaay back in November, I took my family to the Big Island for a vacation. I know there's always people looking for info on the area, so I thought I'd post up a few pics and details.
I've been to the various islands 5x over the years. Oahu is home to Waikiki Beach, and the city of Honolulu, which is roughly 1M people. While there are 'authentic Hawaii' things to do there, it's much more about the party and big tropical city stuff. Maui and the Big Island are much more laid back. They are much more laid back, yet still offer plenty of modern amenities. The one place I haven't been is Kauai, which I understand is even a further step off the grid from Maui or the Big Island.
First off, if you're gonna go.....for the love of god, get this book: http://www.hawaiirevealed.com/books-...sland-revealed. Don't bother with ANY of the others. I went through one (Folgers I think) in 2 hours on the plane, and it did me basically no good at all. I finally found the one linked, and it describes in very accurate detail EXACTLY where to go and what to do when you get there. Hidden gem places, hidden beaches, background info etc.......it'll be the best $20 you spend on the whole trip, guaranteed.
We stayed in Kailua-Kona for our entire stay, at the Kona Bali Kai condo development about 10 minutes from town, down Ali'i Drive (the main road south along the beach) Kona is the main city on the island (about 9PM on the island, if it were a clock). It's generally dry, and can get real hot in the summer. The Ironman is hosted there each year.
There are a few markets (a daily one right near town, a Saturday one at the south end of Ali-I Drive called the Keauhou Mall). The Keauhou one was pretty good. By most accounts, the best place for fresh fruit and Hawaiian trinkets.
Food - if you're staying in condo like we did, first thing to do on the first day is head up to Henry St. and to Safeway for groceries and booze. We did breakfasts and most lunches as picnics packed from the condo. Dinners out. Prices are higher than you'd pay locally, nevermind the dollar. Count on everything being about 15-20% higher than home. While out and about, there are ABC Stores (think a cross between 7/11 and London Drugs in 1500 sq ft.) Decent prices on snacks, single beers, mac nuts, souveniers, and they are everywhere in Kona, but not outside the bigger towns.
Restaurants: Most in Kona are good - Lava Java has live music most nights. There is a nice range of higher end seafood places, loud pub style restaurants, or Subway if you're in a rush. The absolute highlight for me though was the Kona Brewing Company. It's up the hill in the industrial park (I'd recommend taking a cab!!). Fantastic food, and beers beyond compare. When you come home, you can pick a few of their brands up in the USA, but not for sale in Canada. mmmm......Lavaman Red Ale. *drools like Homer Simpson*.
Shopping: Right in Kona there is a boardwalk with lots of art shops, trinket stores, clothing etc......
Sights in Kona: The Banyan Tree, while usually littered with locals, is a nice shady place to hangout during the day. The SHeraton Hotel around the point offers a Manta Ray night feeding. We didn't do it, but heard that they can get a good # around in the evenings. Otherwise, the town itself is a little tourist town, and fun to hang out for an afternoon or evening. Fantastic sunsets.
Beyond Kona, there are adventures 'o plenty. To the south, the Captain Cook area is beautiful. The Captain Cook memorial is a bit tricky to get to (according to the book) so we didn't do it, but we did get to the Honaunau Area, about 10 minutes south. Park up the hill and walk down. Over to the right is where the dolphins hang out in about 50' of water. If you're patient and tread water quietly for a few minutes, they will come up for a visit. The area of Refuge is right beside. A beautiful spot. Plan for a day in this area.
South Point is a neat spot too. 70' lava rock cliffs (for jumping, if you dare) and a nice view. If you're adventurous, take a right down to the boat launch, then a 3 mile trek due east along the shore (only with your Jeep with 4WD and a 4LO option!) to the Green Sand Beach. Be prepared to spend an afternoon in this lovely place. It's a tricky place to get in and out of, but if you're patient, you can navigate the potholes. Take it slow, it's worth it.
The Volcano Park is nothing short of stunning. Study up on the lava flow, check out the Jagger Museum in the daytime when it's open, take the 'Chain of Craters' Road down to the bottom, then head back up to the hotel for dinner or an overnighter, but best of all, go back to the Jagger Museum late at night and see the glow out of the crater. Nice way to finish off a day. Plan for a full day in the park. (2 hour drive from Kona)
Again, starting from Kona, you could go up north to Hawi. Pitstop at Waikola to see how the other half live. Fancy golf courses, high end shopping etc......if that's your thing. We stopped at Hapuna Beach (#1 rated beach in North America), but didn't swim there. Instead, opted to pull out of the lot, turn right and head down to Waialea Bay just around the corner. Almost private, shaded by banyan trees, fantastic snorkeling, peaceful day spent there. When my number gets called, and I am hopefully sent 'upstairs', I'd hope that heaven looked something like Waialea Bay.
Complete a day by heading up to Hawi (on this north side of the island, you're officially in rainforest), pay your respects to King Kamehameha's statue, and perhaps take a nice hike at the Polulu Valley. With the kids, and the torrential downpour the day we were there we didn't venture down, but it seems reasonably easy to navigate (bring sturdy shoes and extra water) to get down there. Roughly 1-2 hours round trip to the Black Sand Beach and back I think).
Back to Kona......you can head East through the ranching town of Waimea, and on to Hilo. You go over the Saddle Road, which until recently was a goat trail. They paved it a couple of years ago. The peak is about 7500', where the US Army has a training ground, which I hear has been used for B2 (Stealth) Bomber training, amongst other things. I believe NASA has a Mars testing program going on up there currently as well. There are ZERO services up there, and lord help you if you break down, but there is a Ranger Station at the top. There are observatories that you can get to up Mauna Kea, so check that out if you're a star-gazer. If not, just stop at the Ranger Station at night, and take a look. There is an ordinance on the Big Island with regard to lighting - it has to be kept pointed down, and all the street lights are the Amber style lighting. This is all in an effort to minimize glare for the observatories.
On the other side of the saddle road, you're back into Rainforest, and into the city of Hilo. It was basically decimated in I believe 1946 by a tsunami that killed a good number of people. It's a working town for the most part, has an international airport, and is a fully functioning city with all amenities. You MUST go to Ken's House of Pancakes for breakfast. It has a cult following of sorts. Definitely the best breaky in town. Bring your eating pants.
South of Hilo is the Puna area. I'm led to believe that this is an area of the island that is basically 'ungoverened'. Lots of hippies, lots of ahem, crops as well. There is access to the town of Pohoa, which is the area where the volcano is poking up currently. Check local road and volcano reports for the latest.
North of Hilo is utterly beautiful. Plantlife like you've never seen, rainforest, waterfalls. Check out the Big Island Revealed book for the details, but one could spend a day EASILY and not see all the sights. Lots of people actually go and stay in Hilo for 2-3 days as part of a trip to this island. Akaka Falls is probably the highlight - all 450' of it. There is a side road that leads down to the Hawaiian Botanical Gardens, that is only 4-5 miles long, but gives you a real taste of Hawaiian jungle. The Old Mamalahoa Highway.
That was most of our trip. There's adventuring, there's relaxing, there's beach time, there's shopping, there's hiking.....you name it, you got it.
I will post up a few pics with the next post.