Basking in the Big Island

Big Island Silhouette

It seems like I am always hearing people in California talk about how they are going to or returning from Hawaii. Even though the flight is only a little longer than a flight to the east coast Erika and I had never been. Finally, that has been rectified. We spent eight days there in the middle of May—specifically on the Big Island.

The Big Island (the one island actually named Hawai’i) is big, larger than all of the other Hawaiian islands combined. It is also less developed than Oahu and the landscapes are more varied—all but 2 climatic zones exist on this one island. We flew into Kona on the Western side (the dry side). I’m not one to fawn over airports (and I haven’t been to all that many), but the Kona Airport is pretty superb. The entire facility is outdoors and each gate is a thatched pavilion. We stayed at the Royal Kona Resort primarily because half of our nights were free thanks to a time-share presentation we had attended in January. There are many nicer upscale resorts on the island, but—as folks used to sleeping on the ground—it was more than sufficient for us. Besides, we didn’t intend to spend much time in the room. We didn’t.

We squeezed as much into those eight days as we could. We spent a day on the Eastern side of the island, but most of our time was on the Western side. I’d like to return and spend several days exploring the lush jungles and forests (full of waterfalls and enormous trees) on the Eastern side of the island. Much of our time was spent participating in water activities: scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and beach bumming.

SCUBA: We went on four dives during the week. The reefs and life in the area are beautiful and the water is a bit warmer than California, but the big draw in Kona is manta rays. Our last dive was the famous Manta Night Dive. This is a surreal experience. For roughly 45 minutes, we sat at the bottom of the ocean while various lights attracted plankton, in turn attracting several mantas. These alien-looking creatures not only swim near you, but often brush across your head as they eat the plankton your dive light attracts.

Snorkeling: We tried various spots, but nothing beat Kealakekua Bay. The hike in and out can be rough, but it is absolutely worth it. If you can only go snorkeling once when in the area, go there. if you don’t want to hike an hour or so down and up the steep trail, you can launch a kayak from the end of Napoʻopoʻo Road across the bay or go with an outfitter.

Beaches: Big Island has an enormous variety of beaches of all types. The ones we especially liked were:

  • Makalawena – no crowds, sand and rocks, turquoise water
  • Mahai’ula – near and similar to  Makalawena, but easier to get to, great trees for climbing
  • Punalu’u – gorgeous black sand beach, plants growing out of the lava flow
  • Waialea Beach (Beach 69) – easy access, but not crowded, similar to Mahai’ula, but smaller

 Pololu Valley: We drove North until the 270 ended. There we found Pololu Valley. It is a spectacular green valley that opens to the ocean. We hiked down a winding trail at the end of the road leading down to the valley and beach. My words won’t do it justice so I won’t bother. If you are in Northern Hawaii, make the drive to Pololu.

We also had a short visit to Volcanoes National Park where we saw an active caldera and hiked through a lava tube—a cave created from hardened lava. There is clearly lots more to see and do there than we could manage in a few hours. We had a short visit to Hilo, saw Rainbow Falls, visited a macadamia nut farm, and climbed a huge banyan tree. We even attended a luau. It is hard to do everything in eight days on Hawaii (we’d probably need eight years). Now that I’ve been, my list of places to see has only gotten larger.

As we drove to the airport to fly home, we pulled to the side of the highway and explored one last lava tube as the Sun set. We checked our baggage, then sat under the moon as a cool breeze wafted past and planes rolled down the tarmac. I doubt I’ll ever again be so content while waiting for a plane to arrive.

Makalawena Breaks

Gallery is below, but there are even more photos on Facebook.


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