Looking back, I can’t really remember how the final decision to travel to Hawaii came to be… but I do vividly remember the research that went into deciding which islands to visit! I even took a quiz on what kind of experience we wanted to have to help narrow down the options. But ultimately, my heart has been on the Big Island since my trip there in high school with BELL (Brown Environmental Leadership Lab). I had such good memories of my time there and the adventures I went on, I knew it would be a good fit for the kind of experience Adam and I wanted to have. We love a balance of independent adventuring, low-key town vibes, and educational touristy experiences. The Big Island of Hawaii hit all of these points!
Our first stop in Hawaii was spent in Hilo, the largest town on the Big Island but not as touristy as Kona/Kohala on the west side of the island. Hilo is the wet side, so it rains nearly every day but the result is a vibrant, lush rainforest environment that I absolutely loved! Adam and I loved Hilo most of all. It’s a quirky, casual city with lots of character and some really fantastic bars and restaurants!
Adam loves to try local foods when traveling, a trait of his I really appreciate! One dish he kept returning to is the Loco Moco (pictured above and in my Oahu post). Loco Moco (loh-koo moh-koo) is Hawaii’s original homemade fast food and can be found at just about any fast food joint, roadside diner, mom and pop restaurant or lunch wagon in the Islands. Traditionally it is simply ground meat over white rice and topped with gravy but there can be many variations. This dish is truly unique to Hawaii, and it is a comfort food, or “local grind,” of the Hawaiian Islands. I love this article that describes “Why The Loco Moco Is Hawaii’s Ultimate Comfort Food“.
Floridians, we have been lied to our entire lives. Key West is the southermost point of the continental United States but Ka Lea is actually the southernmost point of the United States period.
Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park encompasses two active volcanoes: Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world’s most massive shield volcano. The park includes 323,431 acres of land, most of that is wilderness area and available for independent hiking. We stuck to the trails but in order to see any active lava flows, we would have needed to hike approximately 11 miles total in unmarked landscape and hope we saw the lava before we fell into it… Active eruptive sites include the main caldera of Kīlauea and a more active but remote vent called Puʻu ʻŌʻō. Kīlauea’s current eruption dates back to January 3, 1983, and is by far its longest-duration historical period of activity, as well as one of the longest-duration eruptions in the world; as of January 2011, the eruption has produced 1 cu mi of lava and resurfaced 148 sq mi of land. (Thanks Wikipedia!)
Pictures do not do the park justice. It was the most “other-worldy” experience of my life. We downloaded the Shaka Guide app on my phone and used it as a tour guide during our drive around the park. I HIGHLY recommend this app. It is run by GPS so it knows where you are and will provide facts and directions along the route. If you stop, it just picks up again where you left off once you get back in the car. We loved it!
After Hilo we traveled around the north side of the island for a day of exploring beaches, parks, small towns, and other highlights. We downloaded a different tour app for this part of the trip (only because Shaka didn’t have one!) and we also appreciated the history and honest guidance along the way. The Gypsy Guide was not quite as easy to use or entertaining but it was MUCH better than me trying to read along with my guide books as Adam drove. I was happy to have read them beforehand, but I really loved just looking out the window while the app told me the high points we were passing.
Kava was a new concept to me. Kava, or Hawaiian Awa, is a natural antidepressant and relaxant. Made from the root of a species of pepper plant known as Awa (Piper methysticum, which is “intoxicating pepper”), Awa has been used by people indigenous to the South Pacific for over 3,000 years. The Kava beverage is a central part of Polynesian Society, and has been used for centuries as a ceremonial, medicinal and also recreational drink.
To make fresh kava (seen above and below) the root of the plant is harvested then washed and pulverized. The resulting mash is strained through a cloth and mixed with fresh water. With sufficient straining, the kava beverage takes on a somewhat thick, kinda oily texture as a result of the kavalactones extracting out into the water. So it is important to keep stirring, mixing and splashing the kava, to keep it from separating and to keep it fresh. I found it to be really earthy and not very yummy but we were told to drink it fast in order to stop it from settling and then sit back and enjoy the calming effects!
I really wanted the opportunity to snorkel in Hawaii and after some reading decided to go with Adventures in Paradise: Deluxe Kayak & Snorkel Kealakekua Bay. We did the early morning trip and I am so glad we did! The reef area was so busy within 30 minutes of us being in the water. I was grateful we had the first few minutes to enjoy it as a small group. We had excellent tour guides and the kayaking was easy, we lucked out with a gentle Bay that morning. The diversity of marine life was fantastic! Adam and I are even pretty sure we saw a shark! (But we were way too freaked out to even attempt at photo documentation!) One of the highlights of our trip, this spot is hyped up but with good reason and the additional historical stories added by our guides made it an even more well-rounded trip.
Adam tasked me with finding excursions during our day in Kona. I deciding on Flumin’ Kohala due to Adam’s interest in agricultural practices, current and historically. While this was a little… underwhelming… it is a really cool concept, the history is fascinating, and the landscape was incredible. We did this excursion immediately after kayaking and snorkeling so the bar was set very high! If you are looking for a low-key and unusual experience, I would check this out! Hawi is at the far north end of the island, so it was a good excuse to go up to this really amazing part of of the state.
Flumin’ Kohala has exclusive access to the Kohala Ditch Company’s century-old irrigation system: the Kohala Ditch. Once used to irrigate vast fields of sugar cane, The Ditch provides a unique means of experiencing the natural beauty of the area and the great engineering feat that is The Ditch itself; a 22-1/2 mile long system of irrigation tunnels, elevated flumes, and open concrete channels hand-drilled and blasted out of solid rock.
Waimea is the largest town in the interior of the Big Island, and is the center for ranching activities and paniolo culture. The Hawaiian cowboy, the paniolo, is a direct descendant of the vaquero of California and Mexico. Experts in Hawaiian etymology believe “Paniolo” is a Hawaiianized pronunciation of español.
I would never have expected that Hawaii had a big cattle culture but it does! 7 California longhorn cattle, 6 cows and a bull, were given as a gift to Hawaiian King Kamehameha I by British Captain George Vancouver in 1793. King Kamehameha created a 400 acre pasture surrounded by a rock wall and placed a kapu on killing the cattle so that they could grow in numbers. By the mid 1800’s, approximately 25,000 wild cattle roamed the landscape. In 1809, John Palmer Parker arrived to the area after jumping ship and over time became employed by the king to tame the population of cattle, which at this point had grown out of control. King Kamehameha III lifted the kapu during his reign and in the following years, ranches were established and spanish vaqueros were brought in to help teach Hawaiians how to manage these cattle.
Adam had one wish for the trip: to go fishing! He planned the trip for Thanksgiving Day morning on a chartered boat. There were 6 of us on the boat, not including the Captain and her First Mate. We had a really nice time on the boat, enjoyed talking to the Captain, appreciated the beautiful weather and water, but unfortunately we had a less than successful fishing experience. The only fish caught was a Wahoo on our way back into the marina and a gentleman from another party reeled it in. It was a fascinating and somewhat unnerving experience to watch. Let’s just say, I will not be posting the video! The boat policy was to divide up the meat evenly, so we had two portions to bring back to the hotel. Adam cut it up as best he could and we had a few pieces but ultimately the concept was better than the result and we opted to go out on the town for some fresh ahi and cocktails!
The afternoon of Thanksgiving Day we spent wandering around historic Kona, stopping into bars, restaurants, and shops. Enjoying the weather and each other on our last day on the Big Island!
Friday morning we slept in before packing up and heading to the airport. We dropped off the rental car and our bus driver asked us which airline we were taking. I said Island Air and he stopped moving my bag and looked at me, “They shut down,” he said simply. I started laughing, clearly the guy was joking. “Ma’am, they went bankrupt two weeks ago. They don’t exist anymore.” He wasn’t kidding. Island Air no longer exists. I quickly pulled up their website and it essentially said, “Sorry, contact your bank to file for credit card charges.” Wow. So… not how we expected to end our visit to the Big Island. Luckily Hawaiian Airlines have multiple flights every day back to Honolulu and the lady at the check-in desk felt so bad that she walked us through the cheapest way to purchase a flight and even put us in the exit row. It ended up costing less than the Island Air flight cost me and was only 50 minutes later than our original flight. While we were waiting I contacted Bank of America and they quickly filed my complaint and I already have my money refunded. So… it all worked out. But how crazy is that?!
I loved the Big Island. I was constantly in awe of my surroundings. The dramatic shifts between the east and the west sides of the island, and the topography of the middle cattle ranches. It was exotic, beautiful, and foreign. It really felt like we had traveled abroad, despite being in the United States. We both had such an amazing time and while I want to go back, I am also looking forward to our next adventure somewhere new and exciting! This trip definitely planted a travel bug inside of me and I can’t wait to see what comes next!
I want to hear from you!
- Where have you been that felt most “other-worldly”?
- What is your favorite part about visiting new places?