To round out our two week island-hopping Hawaiian vacation, we spent five days on the Big Island, a.k.a Hawai’i Island, or “the island skipped in favor of Maui or Kauai, but one that you should definitely visit.” Hawaii’s Big Island is nearly twice as large as all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined, and – prepare yourself – you can find all but two of the world’s climatic zones on this magnificent beauty. Cool, right? Be still my beating heart and get ready for molten magma, emerald rain forests, black-sand beaches, and strong-n-savory Kona coffee.
I had won a travel writing contest through the Big Island Visitors Bureau in conjunction with Wanderlust and Lipstick, and my “prize” was a five-night resort extravaganza at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort. This gorgeous nugget of real-estate lies dramatically along the beautiful Kohala coast near Anaehoomalu Bay, or A-bay.
Anaehoomalu Bay is nicknamed the Gold Coast of the Big Island, probably because of the sizable resorts and exclusive golf courses spit out like miniatures from Barbie’s Dream Island Vacation collection. Though I’m usually a quaint Bed & Breakfast or bunk-bed-in-a-hostel type of traveler, I must say that the Marriott knows how to do things…and do it very well indeed. Five pools, expansive stretches of tickle-your-toes sandy beaches, friendly service, and super-comfy rooms with beachfront, sunset-spectacular views – just lovely. And it was nice to be spoiled!
Though there were plenty of activities such as kayaking, paddle-boarding, surfing, and a hodgepodge of island tours, we spent much of our time poolside, catching up on Kindle books and sun-napping. If the mid-day heat became too unbearable or the kids too loud, we opted for beach walks and island exploration. A-bay had a stunning beachfront path bordering pure aqua tranquility. In the early afternoon, sea turtles came to play in the nooks between rocks and coral beds. Watching sea turtles float, dip, and dive can be very soothing to the soul. Add it to your bucket list.
When evening fell, the Sunset Marriott Bar featured a happy hour with half-priced fruity, flowery cocktails. We arrived early and stayed late. One evening, we met two pilots who flew for a private airline specializing in elite clientele. They couldn’t tell which famous person they flew to the Big Island this time, but when asked about favorite past clients, one mentioned Mother Teresa. Really? How does one get that job?
One of the best ways to see Hawaii’s Big Island is to drive around it. The journey through this varied landscape is unlike any other, I promise! Though referred to as the Big Island, one can actually drive around the entire island in a single day. I put plenty of miles on my darling Mustang – the one and only time I will ever drive a sports car. But I did enjoy my once-in-a-lifetime “red carpet” experience.
Our road trip began with a drive north on Highway 19 into Waimea where the upland meadow shows off it’s fertile abundance with cattle grazing and horse ranching galore. I suggest taking your time, rolling back the convertible top, and enjoying the cool mist of the low-lying cloud forests on your cheeks.
Highway 19 eventually turns into Highway 6 along the Hamakua Coast and heads south. This coastal drive down to Hilo is jaw-droppingly awesome. Prepare yourself for gorges, waterfalls, taro fields and luscious, pink impatiens out your window.
Laupahoehoe Point was one of my favorite spots along Highway 6. This was the site of the 1946 tragedy when a tsunami generated by an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands hit Hawaii. One hundred and fifty people were killed, including twenty-four residents from Laupahoehoe. The scenery depicted the mood of the site perfectly; a tumultuous, azure sea against dramatic cliff walls.
Another thirty minutes down the Highway 6 tumbles the beautiful Akaka Falls State Park. A ten minute hike took us through the rainforest, and our reward for working up a jungle sweat was the plunging, 400-ft Akaka Falls.
After winding our way through Hilo and Puno, we reached the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The huge national playground encompasses nearly 520 square miles, covers 333,000 acres, and stretches from sea level to the summit of the earth’s most massive volcano, Mauna Loa. If you have time, it’s worthwhile to spend a night or two in the area in order to tackle some longer hikes or see Pele, the Goddess of Hawaiian Volcanoes, in all her nighttime glory.
The weather wasn’t too cooperative during our visit for it started pouring the moment we drove through the Park’s gates. I thought it was smart to bring a t-shirt and hat, but what I needed was an overcoat, thermal pants, and umbrella!
While waiting for the weather to clear, we drive along the Crater Rim Drive to see the steaming Halema’uma’u Crater. The crater is about 3,000 feet across and nearly 300 feet deep! It’s still active with an underground lava lake and occasional eruptions. And it smelled like rotten eggs.
The road on the southern side of Crater Rim Drive was (and still is) completely closed due to elevated levels of sulfur dioxide gas. Therefore, not wanting to poison ourselves, we doubled back to the eastern side and explored the Kilauea Iki Crater, the Thurston Lava Tubes, and Pu’u Pua’i Overlook. Later in the afternoon, we did get an opportunity to descend into the crater on the Kilauea Iki Trail, a two-hour round trip hike. We walked across an ancient lava bed and got up close and personal with some of the steam vents. I may have left some shoe sole rubber behind when I got a bit too curious.
And at the End of the Day – It was wonderful to get out of the resort atmosphere and see the country side, taste local beer, visit with the locals, swim with sea turtles, and smell the aroma from coffee plantations. All of Hawaii’s islands astounded me with their natural beauty, and I loved exploring the diverse eco-systems of this vibrant, captivating state. However, I learned that sometimes the best thing to do is to do absolutely nothing at all. Saying that, my favorite go-to activity at the end of the day was to simply sit in the gentle trade winds and watch a fiery Hawaiian sunset. Going…going…gone.