Visiting the Big Island from January 14 to January 21, 2017.
After a chilly December in San Francisco, Daniela and I took advantage of discounted post-holiday plane tickets to spend a week traveling around the Big Island of Hawai'i. We explored the forests, volcanic rock, and beaches in a relaxing seven-day trip.
After landing in Kona, we drove south on route 11, making our way towards the Volcano National Park, where we spent our first night. But before we got there, we stopped at a harbor in the south-east for a half-day snorkeling trip.
We boarded the catamaran, and held on tight as the boat bounced on the choppy waves for a hour-long trip to the snorkeling spot. When we arrived, the water was much more placid, perfect for snorkeling. While we could see just fine, a significant portion of the coral reefs were whitened or gray from rising sea temperatures.
Left: The catamaran we hopped on to go snorkeling. Right: Our snorkeling spot was tucked in a shallow cove.
A view of the Hawaiian coast from the catamaran.
Volcano National Park
At the end of our first day, we made it to a bamboo forest in the south where we found our Airbnb. It was surreal. With a mix of rock and bamboo garden on the outside and paper doors and modern furnishings on the inside, the house was a fantastic mix of Japanese and American.
The exterior / interior of our Japanese Tea House Airbnb in Volcano National Park
For the next two days, we ventured into various parts of Volcano National Park. The mix of waves, greenery, and volcanic rock was beautiful and dynamic.
Volcanic lava from Kilauea filled this crater with a bed of rock.
Left: The Holei Sea Arch in Volcano. Right: The waves break against the volcanic rock.
Peering off the edge, there was a fifty foot drop to the water.
A large portion of the park is just flat expanses of volcanic flow.
When we got out of our car, the sun beat down hard reflecting off hot asphalt and volcanic rock.
The Fruit Farm
When we left Volcano National Park, we drove west to the southwest corner of the Island. After making our way through Pāhoa, we turned off the main highway onto a dirt road, which we made our way down, at less than five miles and hour, for a full mile. Splashing through mud puddles and navigating around rocky, uneven ground, we made our way to the end of this road to a beautiful fruit farm.
After meeting with our gracious hosts (the farmers), we walked through the biodynamic fruit garden on blanks, strewn on top of rocks, milk crates, and other improvised lifts. Feet free of excessive mud, we arrived at our next Airbnb: a cabin studio overlooking the farmland.
Left: The inside of our cabin / studio. Right: Every morning, our hosts served us a breakfast of fresh fruit.
From the fruit farm, we went on several day trips, to forests, beaches, and pools. Our favorite was by far Ahalanui County Beach Park, where we swam in the volcanically heated seawater pools. The ocean water flows in through a small man-made channel, where it mixes with the heated water.
We swam in the pools until sunset.
On other days, we ventured north on a tour of nearby waterfalls. Some were right by the road, and others were further in, but none were more than an hour's drive from our cabin.
The walk through the forest towards ‘Akaka Falls.
Left: A stream along the walk to ‘Akaka Falls. Right: A view of Rainbow Falls from above.
‘Akaka Falls was absolutely beautiful.
We also had the opportunity of visiting Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, a carefully crafted collection of tropical flowers, trees, and bushes. Carved into a seaside ravine, the garden was the life's work of Dan Lutkenhouse, and had a huge collection of different kinds of plants.
After entering the garden, you immediately descend down a 500-foot landscaped boardwalk towards sea level.
Left: A waterfall in the Botanical Garden. Right: A view of the sea at the bottom of the valley.
On our last day, after checking out of our Airbnb, we headed across the Island to the northwest, where we'd spend the rest of our time. But on the way, we spent several hours hiking into Waipio Valley.
Like many places along this coast, the road leads to the top of the valley, and any hiking involves walking down and then back up. While more fearful (or brave?) travelers paid to be driven in vans down the extremely steep road, we opted to walk. When we finally made our way back up, we were tired, but it was well worth the journey.
A shot down into the beach at the entrance of Waipio valley.
Back to Civilization
After all this time out in nature, we also needed some time at a hotel. We stayed in the Mauna Lani hotel in the west, which was right on the beach and whose lobby is a beautiful open courtyard.
The lobby of the Mauna Lani has a seawater river running through it.
Left: A boat moored off the coast. Right: The waves hit the volcanic rock nearby.
We explored the seawater pools on the land adjacent to our hotel.
While we spent most of our hotel time on the beach, we did venture outside the grounds for one special trip: a summit of Mauna Kea, the tallest mountain in Hawaii.
You can drive up to the visitor center (elevation 9200 ft) with a normal car, but to get to the summit, you need a four-wheel drive car. We rented a Jeep Wrangler for the day, and made our way up. We stopped by the visitor information center to adjust to the altitude for about an hour or so, before turning on 4WD mode and heading up to the summit.
It was an amazing view, and an amazing end to our otherworldly trip.