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  • tiffanypriscilla15

Hawaiian Islands-Big Island

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

Ah the Big Island. Born of the fire, born of the sea. If you are renting or know anyone who is please let me know because I need to live here. This is one of my favorite islands. I may be biased because I feel very much connected to Mauna Loa and Hawaii Volcano National Park. While this island is larger than Oahu, it is actually less developed. Which I love. Now I only had the opportunity to check out Kona and Hilo. Two different worlds but both very worth visiting. Kona is mostly dry and beach city while Hilo is cooler in temperature, experiences more rain, and where you will find your rainforest destinations alongside the national park. Below I am going to list out the hotspots I highly recommend for you to see, where to stay, and how to get around.


Hotspots:


-HAWAII VOLCANO NATIONAL PARK: I deliberately put this in all caps to relay that I am screaming that this needs to be seen. The park houses three volcanos (two of them being active). One of which Kilauea, is currently erupting and Mauna Loa just finished hers. They do warn that the park can close if sulfur counts are too high but none of that occurred in my time here. It's $30 to enter but this is valid for seven days. Military gets in for free. The map they give you is super outlined and even identifies hikes you can do based on the amount of time you have available for the park (i.e 2 hours, 4 hours etc.) My favorite trail of all was Kilauea Iki Crater (pictured below). Hello! You are literally hiking in a damn crater. When I tell you I felt so small compared to the universe here, it is a humbling experience I will never forget. This hike is moderate to difficult. You either go down rocks or very steep paths depending on what side you choose. Either way you are going to be doing steep climbing at some point but its worth it. You go through lush forest before you hit the crater. There is a lot of foot traffic so if you are solo, don't worry. From here you can go to Nahuku (Thurston Lava Tube) pictured below. Its a small hike but really cool considering you are inside a 500 year old lava tube. Go early though because it can get dark here and pay mind to the park website (this site recently had a closure due to cracks in the overhead formations. It is open as of right now though.) Also parking is limited in this area so try to get in early. Other walks of course include the sulfur vents, which are cool, you see smoke coming out of the ground, devastation trail, and much more! I would also suggest you check out the Volcano Art Center. They have beautiful works of art by local artists. I bought my fair share of pieces. My favorite being this piece entitled "Pele" by artist Linda Rowell Stevens:



Disclaimer: Hawaii Volcano National Park is at elevation. So if it is 80 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level, understand that it will be 20 degrees cooler at the park or more. It could also rain here and not at sea level. Dress accordingly. There are places to eat here but I just recommend you bring your food in your backpack. They have plenty of picnic areas and you will be starving by the end of your chosen journey.





-Punalu'u Black Sand Beach (apart of Hawaii Volcano National Park): I felt this site needed to be described separately. You reach this at the very end of the national park. It's so cool! I went here in June though and I will say the surf was a little rough and there are a lot of rocks in the water. You will need water shoes for sure and I would personally not swim out too far. Maybe wade along the shoreline to be safe. The black sand here looks like it glitters in the sunlight and you can climb the rocks for amazing views. Just be careful because it can get slippery but they were easy to climb. Walking along the shore you will see a habitat of sea turtles. This area will be roped off for their protection so please do not disturb (pictured below). I did not personally spend to long here because I didn't swim but you can easily spend an hour or two here. Legend has it that this beach is home to Kauila. Kauila was a turtle with a special power, she could transform into a human and watch over the children playing along the beach. You will see a monument dedicated to her here. Also, this is the beach that you cannot take a stone from (not that you should touch or take away anything on Hawaiian lands out of respect) or you will be cursed by the volcano goddess herself, Pele. Considering people return thousands of rocks back to Hawaii each year due to sudden bad luck and turn of events, I wouldn't mess with her if I was you. Returning items to Hawaii that you took from the land also costs Hawaii tax money. So please leave things as they are, take away only the peace in your spirit that these islands give you, and leave only your foot prints.


-Stargazing on Mauna Loa: This is where I connected the most with this island. Stargazing on Mauna Loa especially. I can still picture standing on her rocky paths in the dead of night under a blanket of galaxy and stars. A silence and peace you will never feel anywhere else. I have never felt so embraced by her and the universe more than this moment. I cried literally. There are many ways to stargaze on Mauna Loa but I recommend this guy here: https://www.airbnb.com/experiences/232756

James is an Analog-Astronaut and Pro Astro-Photographer. So one cool human being if you will. He is super sweet and tries to ensure conditions are best for you to see the stars. If not, he will cancel your trip and you can work with him to reschedule I believe. Cancellation didn't happen for me but he responds quickly so feel free to contact him with any questions that you cannot find answers to on his site. You can drive up to the viewing spot with him ( you will need a 4 wheel drive or a jeep/truck in my opinion if you want to do this because it gets real uneven and rocky), or just drive to the meeting location and he can take you up in his van. Driving to the meeting spot (that he will send you the day of because it may be on Mauna Kea or Mauna Loa) is along saddle road usually and that road is pitch black. Not a lot of cars come through here at once and you will want to ride your brights the whole time ( no street lights). Also, make sure you have a full tank because once you are at this area, there is not a gas station for 20-30 miles. The experience is him showing you amazing galaxies and stars through his telescope and teaching you about the sky, then it is time to have your picture taken under the milky way. Look at her, ain't she pretty?


-Sunset and stargazing on Mauna Kea: Okay so for stargazing, go with James but unfortunately if you want to do a sunset tour on Mauna Kea, you will star gaze again because I could not find a company that just did sunsets. When I say unfortunately, its not bad, its still a good experience but I did not feel as close or connected to the stars as I did with James. James does smaller groups and he takes you off the beaten path so you don't have large crowds around you. Mauna Kea is okay to summit but please understand this place is sacred land. RESPECT IT AS SUCH. I am so happy to say the native Hawaiians have won the battle against having another telescope placed on Mauna Kea (don't get me started on this but I stand with the Natives). I made sure to ask a native if they were okay with me summiting Mauna Kea to see the sunset and they said it was okay. They are just upset with the government (there is a lot more to why they are upset but I cannot fit this on this post). Totally understandable. Leave nothing but your footprint up there but that sea pictured in the below? Yea....those are clouds. I went with Mauna Kea Sunrise Sunset and Stars tour. You can do hotel pickup or meet them at the takeoff location. I chose to meet them since I was coming from the national park anyway. They are super sweet and give you a goodie bag of food (do not carb up to much before you go into high altitudes, it will make altitude sickness worse. Obviously don't drink alcohol or even caffeine really. That can also make symptoms worse. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!). They do give you a jacket too since the summit can be around 20-30 degrees Fahrenheit at least. So bundle up. Same for James. He will give you jackets too but make sure you have warm clothes underneath. There is no bathroom after you leave the visitor center on Mauna Kea. There is a just a port a potty. Bring wipes since there will be no toilet paper and hand sanitizer since there will be nowhere to wash your hands. They do give you hot chocolate on the Mauna Kea tour too which was nice. I do recommend them since the tour guide was knowledgeable and very friendly. He always checked up on us and offered to take our pictures if we needed.



Other hotspots:

-The coffee fields. They grow a lot of coffee on this island (Hi Kona Coffee), and they all have their own fields that you can tour. I am not a huge coffee lover so I didn't do this but I heard you learn a lot about the process and the grounds are just pristine. They have alottttttt of coffee plantations so google to see which one is right for you.

-Rainbow and Akaka Falls: I didn't get to see these two lovely falls but I will do so when I go back. You cannot swim in these but I heard the hikes are easy and its unreal nature. If you get there before me, let me know how you like it!

-There is so much more to this island that I didn't get to see, so please do some additional research to this blog to see what other sites you would like to check out.


Where to stay and transportation:

-Royal Kona Resort: Please keep in mind when they say this is restored, I only find the main building where check in is restored. The other buildings had an older feel to them but still just as good. The property is unbelievably beautiful. They have a gorgeous view of the sunset from their oceanfront restaurant too (see below). It is also close to a strip of restaurants and nightlife but if you are female, be a little cautious walking through here on your own at night. Nothing happened while I was there but I did feel uneasy at certain points.




-Volcano House: Hear me out. I did not stay here but I dream to when I go back. This hotel is right in the national park so you can just walk outside and see all the park has to offer. The restaurant downstairs has views of the current erupting volcano too. Please stay here if you can but book very well in advanced as it fills up quickly. It is not a very big hotel. Also, legend has it the ghost of Pele walks here. She can be seen in a human form or a dog guarding the hotel. I didn't see her but you do feel her presence when you are at the park.


There are other hotels to stay at too but like Oahu, please do not stay at chains like Sheraton or Marriott. The money they make does not go back to the Hawaiian Islands.


-Like Oahu, please rent a car through Turo. To learn about the Turo app, check out my Oahu blog post. Not only are you giving back to the locals but the line at the rent a car chain at the airport was two hours long when I arrived. Lyfts and ubers are easily accessible from the airport to the hotel but that's about it. You will need a car here like the other islands if you plan to explore the whole place and the tours I suggested. Also, if you want to summit Mauna Kea without a tour you can but a 4 wheel drive is required. There are guards at the visitor center that will not let you through if they see you have car that doesn't have 4 wheel drive.


Other pro tips:

-Their airport is not very developed. It is all outdoors and little huts. You actually walk on the tarmac to your plane. I find this adorable but a lot of people were agitated. Understand they will not be your JFK or MCO. Please do not expect this of them and have patience when it comes to your luggage, boarding, and landing. If you really want a stress free process then do a carry on and make sure you sign up for TSA Pre Check. TSA precheck is your best friend and is available at participating (most airports) throughout the United States. It is only $85 for 5 years and you coast through TSA in minutes. If you are interested find out more here (not sponsored by the American government): https://www.tsa.gov/precheck

-Mauna Kea snows during the winter month. Sometimes it can get crazy ice storms, Because of this, they will close the access roads and roads to the summit. Plan your travels accordingly.

That's a wrap folks! I love this island and it will forever have my heart. I hope it captures yours. Buen Viaje!


Love,

Tiff

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