Updated: Mar 8, 2020
If you follow me on social media you probably recently saw that I traveled to the Big Island of Hawai'i with Ben and my best friend, Bree. Since Southwest recently started flying to the islands the price to get out there was a lot cheaper and made it easier to do a trip out there from California before moving. Ben and I wanted to jump on that chance and get a little tropical get away and see what the Big Island has to offer.
Many people have asked why we did the Big Island. I don't know why people seem to not want to go there because first off it has Hawai'i Volcano National Park. Unfortunately the 2018 eruption has caused any lava flows to stop and there wasn't any flowing lava to check out, but I was still very much interest in the area and to see how the volcano has changed the landscape.
The park is pretty large but easy to get around with a car. Before the most recent eruption there was a round road to circle the main crater. The eruption took part of the road so it is now blocked off at a couple points. There is also a lot of hiking in the area. It's more jungle like so it's not all in the sun which was nice since it's also humid. Kilauea Iki Crater is right next to the caldera and it's awesome because you can easily hike into this crater. It's a steep climb into it but there are stairs and once inside it's pretty flat. Standing inside was a bit weird to think what once existed there. You can see the waves and flows in the lava as it hardened and it really reminds you that it was once liquid.
There's also Chain of Craters Road which weaves down the side of the volcano 3000 feet to the ocean. The route is only about 45 minutes down and 45 back. It's pretty quick but at one point you start to drop elevation fast. You also pass through various past lava flows from an eruption in the 1970's. It's really interesting to see the parts of the forest that were not taken out and then open into a field of hardened lava. Even though it's been some time since the flow, nature is just starting to pop out in a lot of spaces. It's an remarkable view into the overall creation of the islands and vegetation that exists in the aftermath of destruction.
Near the end of the road it's open into the ocean. It has some beautiful views and once at the end there is a nice path to walk along the cliffs and watch the sea. We took this as a good picnic spot and laid some towels to enjoy our lunch. Little did we realize that it was also a spot whales and dolphins breach. We happen to just catch several sightings of whales out in the water. It was the perfect show to go with our PB&J's.
Heading back up the volcano we stopped at the Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs. This was a great way to see some more Hawaiian culture. These carvings in the lava flow were left behind hundreds years ago by the first natives. Most are round circles and dots, but there is also some of men and women. It's a sacred sight to native people so there was a path to follow as to not disturb the site. It's amazing that they were not taken out by previous lava flows.
The park also does monthly cultural events by the Arts Center. We were fortunate to be there during the one in February where we could watch some traditional hula. It was really incredible to hear the stories and watch the dances with a view of Mauna Loa and the caldera right behind. I was happy that we had to opportunity to witness this part of the native culture in a better setting than ones that take advantage of their culture for profit. Yes I'm talking about resort luau's. Most luau's are at resorts that cost up near $100 or more and the money goes back to a large resort company when it's a native celebration. Although they seem fun and I will admit my family did one years ago when we went to Hawai'i in the early 2000's, but it's 2020. It's time do better and support native people.
Living in Volcano was a nice spot to stay at and I'm really happy with the choice. It was a little but away from Hilo where there's more people and far from Kona where a lot of the tourist spots are. We wanted to do more hiking in the rain forest and the spot we stayed was in the middle of it. Although we did a lot of nature exploring, there were a few excursions we decided to do around the island.
The first couple that we did was visit and vanilla farm and a cacao farm. Both were great days and as a chef I had so much fun, too much to even talk about here so I'll give each of them their own posts. The big event we had planned though was night snorkeling with manta rays. Hawai'i is said to be one of the best places in the world to experience the mantas feeding so we figured it was a great time to do it. We went through Hawai'i Oceanic (https://www.hawaiioceanic.com/). They are a green-listed activity provider which means they do more to advocate and protect these gentle giants so that they are not harmed.
The night of the swim we drove over to the Kona side where the boat launched. We went a little early to see kona and the more touristy side of the island. And man was it touristy. It was really cute along the water and there was a small market in the street with a lot of nice products but you could tell it's the main part of the island for visitors and I wasn't too interested in that. We did find a really nice spot to eat, though, at Herbivores. It's a small stand with a little seating in the middle of a parking lot just off the main road. It's also completely vegan. Although none of us are 100% vegan we do try to eat more plant based and this was a great spot to get a meal. Ben got a BLT, I got a Hawaiian Taro Burger, and Bree was able to get jackfruit nachos. We all sampled each others meal and it was all to die for. The nachos tasted just like non-vegan nachos and the cheese sauce was perfection. I highly recommend checking them out if you are ever in Kona.
After dinner we started to drive to the harbor but stopped at a small beach to enjoy the sunset on this side of the island. Since we stayed mostly on the Hilo side we didn't get a lot of ocean sunsets. Once it was dark it was time for manta rays. When we arrived, we were met by Aaron who gave us wet suits to change into before sending us to the boat. On the boat we met Captain Frank who explained a little more about snorkeling and how we would be viewing the mantas in the water.
Once everyone arrived and were on the boat we set out. We only had to go a few minutes off shore to see the mantas. Arron said that they started feeding off the shore when the hotel nearby started shining lights into the water for the seaside restaurant to enjoy views after sunset. The lights attract plankton that are then eaten by fish and manta rays. The mantas have learned that light equals food so when we were out there we held onto a large floating light that brought thee mantas right up to us.
There were other companies doing the same thing in the area so it wasn't like our small group was the only ones out there, but Hawai'i Oceanic talked a lot about how to be kind to the creatures and conservation to protect them and allow them to keep coming. If the mantas are touched or rubbed by human hands we can leave rash-like rug burns on their skin. They do rub against you sometimes in the water while feeding but they mostly will hit the wet suit and be fine. Now these creatures are massive. Their wingspan can range from 6 feet to 16 feet. They swoop and fly through the water catching plankton going upside down right in front of you. At times you are staring them in the eyes as the swim to the surface heading right for you before curving away and going back down. It truly is a once in a lifetime experience that is incredible to watch.
We got back to the shore about 9:15 where we heading back to the car to get into dry clothes before the almost two hours drive home. The drive was the cherry on top of the day though. We took the southern route driving near south point to get back to Volcano. The entire time there would be small villages and towns we go through but once we reached further south, there was almost no one. At one point I looked out the window and immediately told Ben to pull over. On the side of the road looking over the guardrail was nothing but darkness, but when you looked up you could see everything.
I don't remember the last time I saw the Milky Way in the sky. Probably on the coast north of San Francisco on a family trip to Sea Ranch. But this view was so different. Looking south, east, and west were thousands of miles of ocean, North was Mauna Loa, barely visible once your eyes adjusted. Above you could see so many stars. Just looking up at home the past couple nights I realize how lucky we were to be there and how small we really are in the universe.
The last couple days we had in Hawai'i were spent relaxing and last minute things. We drove down to south point (most southern part of the 50 states), went into a lava tube, saw Rainbow falls, went to the best beach, and ate some food. We discovered Carlsmith Beach Park in Hilo and went the last two days. It's not so much a beach since there isn't a lot of sand, but it was the best. There are plenty of spots to go into the water where rocks protect the shore and create a calm lagoon that is really shallow. I never had water up to my neck although I didn't go to some parts of the area. The best part though it the sea turtles. Yes, sea turtles. They come into the lagoon and just swim around. You actually have to keep watch to make sure they don't bump into you, which happened to Bree while we were just standing in a circle talking. It is illegal to pet or touch them but you can walk around and watch them swim and get really close. It was very surreal to be that close and they be completely wild.
After the beach we got a bite to eat at Verna's Drive in. This was a walk up eatery that served local cuisine. I always question places but once we got there we saw a lot of locals coming through so I knew it couldn't be bad. They had a wide variety on the menu with some Hawaiian flare. The food took about 10-15 minutes after ordering then we sat at the nearby tables to eat. The meal was to die for. The macaroni salad, the sauces, it was all so good and we loved every bite that we got seconds the next night.
We also found the best shaved ice in Hilo. Kula Shave Ice (https://kulashaveice.com/) is right downtown Hilo next to the farmer's market (also a great spot for local produce that you have never seen before!). The best part about Kula's is they make their syrups in house and make everything as naturally and local as they can. So rather than other places with shipped syrups full of sugar, their's used the actual fruit and flavors that you wanted. It was the best way to say goodbye to this island. If I'm ever back in Hilo you know where I'm going first.
Over all this really was a magical trip. It seems cliche to say but it truly was. The island had so many gorgeous views all over. It wasn't hard to pass time driving just to watch everything go by as we drove around. The island is very unique because of the various climates and micro ecosystems. Just driving from Volcano to Hilo is a complete change in vegetation in a short 30-45 min drive.
If you ever find yourself on the Big Island you need to take your time to see the whole island. It's the biggest one and there is so much to do. Renting a car was a really great choice for us and it was a fuel efficient car so we barely had to get gas. It made the whole island easily accessible to explore and we got to see so much in this trip. I don't plan on heading back to the Big Island anytime soon, I want to check out the other islands, but it was a great start to getting to better understand the Hawaiian culture and how to live that island life.
Now to figure out where to go next.....