It’s no wonder millions of travelers from all over the globe visit Hawaii each year. These little gems tucked away in the big blue Pacific are full of natural beauty. The vibe is eternally ‘laid back’ making it an ideal place to get away from the hustle and bustle of our continental lives. Our recent visit there proved to be just what we needed to reboot. A few days of feet in the sand was just what the doctor ordered.
Our visit to the big island began with a trip to the beach. Glorious beaches are everywhere. Our first stop was Hapuna Beach just a few miles from where we were staying. It was impeccably maintained and the water was crystal clear, albeit chilly.
Determined to take in as much of the Big Island as possible in our weeklong stay, we hopped in our rental and headed to North Kohala. After breaking away from the lava landscape of Waikoloa, we were welcomed with a lush, tropical setting. The drive was simply breathtaking. Our final destination for the day was Pololu Lookout and the Pololu Valley. We parked the car and took in the spectacular view. It seemed like it couldn’t get any better… but it did. As we hiked down the cliffside (about 15 minutes) we were greeted by a new stunning view of the black sand beach below at every turn. Our hike was rewarded by a stay at the beach and relaxing in the adjacent palm grove.
Note: The hike back up the cliff was also breathtaking… but not in the same way.
There is quite a bit of driving to do on the Big Island if you want to see it all. I highly recommend renting a car. Also, common things around the resort areas are quite expensive, but a quick trip to neighboring towns will yield essentials at a greatly reduced price. Mind you, many of the things you take for granted on the mainland are double or even triple the price in Hawaii. Just be sure to plan for that and embrace what is local.
Our next outing was to the Akaka Falls. On our way, we stopped for what might have been the best pineapple I will ever eat. The roadside stand was manned by the farmer who grew the fruit. He shared stories of his family and how he came to live in Hawaii.
The hike to the falls was on a man made path that wound through loads of shady tropical trees. When we emerged from the ‘jungle’ we saw the falls. It was beautiful although admittedly I had expected to get a bit closer. While a little ‘touristy’, it was worth the trip to be in the presence of such natural splendor.
As we left the falls, we came across a small town dotted with tiny shops. We stopped for shaved ice and to check out an antique store (or two). One of the antique dealers had a ridiculous collection of glass bottles. When I asked about it, he explained the fascination of glass collection in Hawaii. According to him, glass cannot be made in Hawaii. As small villages popped up along the rivers, each one developed its own farming community, sugar plantation… and soda factory. Each soda factory had its own bottles made bearing the town name. As these small villages gave way to bigger towns and the mass import of national brand sodas, the soda factories faded away. The bottles became very collectible and many scoured the local dumps to find them.
We travelled on to the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Gardens for a quick tour before lunch in the town of Hilo. Our quick tour took far longer than expected as we were amazed at the content of the garden. There were unbelievable views at every turn and waterfalls, and tropical birds, and wildlife everywhere. At the far end of the garden we stopped to take in a wonderful ocean view.
After lunch and a very short browse of the farmer’s market in Hilo (some fruit and vegetables, mostly tourist trap), we headed to the volcano. The weather changed dramatically as we ascended the mountain. We left behind 86 degrees and by the time we reached the volcano observation area it was 65. Fortunately, we had brought along light jackets as recommended by some locals.
For the ride back we decided to take the scenic route which would lead us off the beaten path. That also led us to some very hilly and twisty terrain. There were several times that I couldn’t see where the road was going and thought I might drive right off into the ocean. It was a little scary but made for lots of laughter.
Our trip to the south end of the island was perhaps the most enjoyable for me. We stopped at the royal grounds and place of refuge called Pu’uhonua o Honaunau. This state park is the site of much Hawaiian tradition. The royal grounds were complete with thatched roof buildings and fish ponds that brought in water from the ocean underground and mixed with fresh water from springs. These pools were once used to keep fish fresh and at the ready to feed the community and any visitors.
The royal grounds were separated from the place of refuge by a long stone wall built in 1550. The place of refuge meant a second chance for many in tribal life. If they had been condemned for breaking a tribal law they could try to make it to the place of refuge (it wasn’t easy). If they made it, a priest would perform a ceremony of absolution and they would be free to return to their home without retribution.
Our trip to Hawaii came to an end just as tropical storm Flossie threatened to make landfall and set us back a few days. Luckily, we were spared and encountered no delay. What we did get was a spectacular sunset rich with color. It was the perfect ending to a perfect trip.