My husband, Stuart and I went to Hawaii last month for a week, which was our second time visiting the Rainbow State. However, before I can write about this most recent trip, I would like to recap the experiences we had during our first visit back in 2009 to the island of Hawaii, AKA the Big Island. We took a direct flight from Seattle to Kona and spent 6 nights there. Stuart had been to the Big Island before when he was about 6 years old, so he didn’t remember much of it. I recall being super excited to experience a tropical island other than the one I had called home for 15 years. I was looking forward to great weather, spending time on the beach, swimming in the ocean, and eating fresh fruits that only grow in the tropics. Well, those were all accomplished plus a whole lot more.
We stayed at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel in the Kohala Coast. It’s set right on a stretch of a beautiful golden sand beach. After years of living in the rainy Pacific Northwest, this area was nothing short of paradise to me.
The Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel and the beautiful beach just steps from our room.
We rented snorkel gear for the whole time we were on the island, so we were able to take advantage of the great snorkeling spots. We saw a group of Hawaiian green sea turtles, locally known as honu, frolicking around the reefs near our hotel. Timed around Stuart’s birthday, his parents sent us on a snorkeling tour aboard the Fair Wind II, a well-equipped catamaran for a fun day out at sea. We sailed to the Kealakekua Bay Marine Preserve, which is also the site of the Captain Cook Monument. We had an incredible time observing the diverse marine life and making use of the boat’s 15-foot water slide and high dive jump.
Beautiful Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument
Since it was our first trip to Hawaii together, we felt that we had to experience a luau, and so we did. Everyone told us that these luaus are pretty much tourist traps, so we were sufficiently warned. Our research pointed us to attend the luau at the Marriott Waikoloa, and we were glad we did; they put up a pretty good show, had an open bar serving stiff cocktails, and the food was great. It was where I first tried poi, haupia, and kailua pig. Best of all, this was where I discovered the awesome-ness that is the Hawaiian guava cake. OMG.
A luau is not complete without the thrilling fire dancer.
The youngest of the Hawaiian islands, it’s called the Big Island because it is the largest one of them and still growing! As my birthday present to Stuart, I took him on a helicopter tour allowing us to witness the creation of new land as we flew over the Waikupanaha ocean entry. This refers to the area where lava enters the ocean straight out of the vents. Before getting to this point we hovered over the Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent, which has been active for as long as I have been alive. My fear of heights is no secret, and flying over an active volcano in a helicopter was terrifying. I only held on to my sanity because I found that looking through my camera lens tricks my mind blocking thoughts of impending doom. Oh, the things you do for your loved ones :)!
The Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent reminded me of Mordor from Lord of the Rings
Lava hitting the ocean creating new land
While on the Hilo side of the island, we stopped by to check out Rainbow Falls, but we didn’t see any rainbows because we got there in the afternoon, and apparently, rainbows are more likely to form in the morning. It was still pretty scenic, and it felt like an oasis in the relatively bustling city of Hilo.
Cave beneath Rainbow Falls
We then took the infamous Saddle Road that cuts across the island back to Kohala. This road was used for transporting supplies across the island, and there were definitely rough parts and we only hoped that our rented Jeep Wrangler would not lose any of its parts. There are no rest stops, so if you really have to relieve yourself, you’ll have to do it out there in the wild, so you might as well take it as an opportunity to commune with nature. Driving down Saddle Road offers great views of the gigantic volcanoes: Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.
Somewhere along Saddle Road, where portions of it don’t have any cell service.
In all of the exploring that we did around the island, I would have to say that Waipio Valley is the most scenic. The view from the lookout is breathtaking. It was like looking at a painting. I was in such awe staring at the majestic green cliffs rising above the ocean, and it was impossible not to feel small and insignificant.
Stuart taking a photo from the lookout
Referred to as the Valley of the Kings, we explored the mystical Waipio Valley floor on horseback passing by taro fields and crossing streams. We did this excursion with our friends at Na’alapa Stables. The guides were fun, and took great care of us who had never ridden on horses for a significant length of time. Stuart is not a fan of horses, but I made him do it anyway especially after I went on that helicopter ride with him. 🙂 After all, marriage is supposed to be about compromising, right? Fortunately for him, Sally — his horse — did not run wild and throw him off, and he enjoyed our little trek.
One of the shallower stream crossings that we did.
On our last full day, we drove out to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where we learned more about the volcanic activities that created the island and continues to add more to its area. We stood by the gaping Kilauea caldera imagining how it was filled with hot lava not too long ago. It was a sight to behold. The terrain around the caldera was wild, and we almost forgot that we were in Hawaii because of the volcanic rocks around us and the permeating smell of sulfur coming from the steam vents.
The Kilauea caldera at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
My first Hawaiian experience was memorable. There were certainly other attractions that we missed and activities that we could have done, but that just means we have things to look forward to the next time we find ourselves there. While lazily lounging at Hapuna Beach watching stunning sunsets was something we got used to easily, we knew that our next Hawaiian vacation would be on one of the other islands.