Big Times on the Big Island, Part 1

We went to the island of Hawaii because our parents told us to. Not that we were given strict instructions to follow, but the people who showed me how to travel have a good idea of what I like to see and do, and having themselves visited years ago, they knew I’d like this. In the maddening manner of good parents, they were, of course, totally right.

Beaming in the Puna district of the Big Island

The island of Hawaii is often called “the big island” because people get easily confused when you say you’re going to Hawaii, in Hawaii. It’s the biggest island by far, and the youngest. It’s made up of active volcanoes that are still playing around with geography, knocking out a village here, adding miles of black coastline there. Its 4,000 square miles contain 4 of the world’s 5 major climate zones, which didn’t mean much to me until we drove from the east side of the island to the west, and saw tropical rainforest give way to lush farmland, which turned into bone-dry desert, all in just a few hours’ drive.

A palette of blues and greens

We flew into Hilo from Honolulu, and after some car rental shenanigans, we set off to see a couple waterfalls. The area around Hilo has many waterfalls, and if you go further northwest in the Waimea region, there are even more, although those require more of a hike to see. We went to two: Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls. Rainbow involved parking the car and walking 10 yards down a concrete path to a lookout. Voila! Instant gratification waterfall, as my guidebook put it.

The grin of a waterfall enthusiast

I don’t care how little effort it required; I was just happy to see the water rushing down the rocky face of the hill. Waterfalls are about my favorite thing in the world, and I could have looked at that one for a good hour, but we had a more impressive one to visit while the sun was still bright.

on the approach to Akaka Falls

By the time we’d parked near Akaka Falls, it had started raining, but that only lasted a few minutes. Heather and I split up to take different paths to the falls. I took the longer loop, which gave me a glimpse of Kahuna Falls in the distance and plenty of green canopy to gawp at before I arrived at Akaka. The sound of water rushing over a cliff and plunging into a river below is thrilling and soothing all at once, and again, I could have just stared at it all day. I’m glad we started with a short hike in the rainforest. This, more than anything else I’d seen so far, impressed upon me that I really was far from home and well on my way to new and exciting places.

Bamboo canopy on the trail to the falls

We went on to our house rental, which was one of my best finds on Airbnb. It’s in the Puna district of the island, right off what is sometimes known as Red Road, named for the color of the pavement years back. Heather and I toasted our drinks on one of the two porches and watched the sun set with the ocean visible in the distance.

Sunset from the balcony

The next day, we drove down Red Road in an exploratory mission. We discovered it is harrowing driving. It’s a super narrow road that twists and turns, as well as goes up and down in dozens of little blind hills, and of course natives drive it like it ain’t no thing, so just as you’re starting to feel confident about a stretch of road, a 4WD comes barreling down from the other direction, and you’re swerving and hoping you don’t put the rental car into a tree, especially as you declined the damage coverage. Or at least that was my experience.

Red Road

Roadside gravesite, looks like for one family

It’s a beautiful road, though. We stopped for lunch on a volcanic rock beach, watched surfers at Isaac Hale Park, walked around Lava Tree Monument, and cruised through downtown Pahoa.

Isaac Hale Beach Park

Lava Tree State Monument

Our final full day in Puna, we went to the tidal pools out at Kapoho. These apparently are great for snorkeling, but we didn’t have any equipment, so we just got in the water and paddled about. Heather and I are both water babies, so we don’t really mind where we are, as long as we get to float and play around. The tidal pools were pretty enough, but they were painful to get in and out of, since there’s no real entrance point and you just find a rock that seems less sharp than the others and creep down that into the water, then repeat the process on the way back out. I was so worried about slipping on our way in that I had Heath and I sit down and scooch in on our butts. We both tore up our hands and knees crawling back out again. Not really what I’m looking for in a relaxing swimming experience.

The treacherous tide pools of Kapoho

We had an ice cream at what used to be Kalapana. In 1986, the Kilauea volcano erupted and wiped out almost the whole town. We saw a few dilapidated structures and a sign explaining about the eruption, then just black rock far out into the ocean. It was eerie to see a reminder of how unpredictable and powerful the island remains.

Okay, that’s it for the Big Island, Part 1. Part 2 will cover our time at Volcanoes National Park, and Part 3 will be the drive to the Kona side of the island, and the luau we went to there. You’ve already seen the snorkeling we did over there, which was another amazing part of our time on the Big Island.

I’m off to tour Uluru and Kings Canyon tomorrow (so exciting!), so I’ll be away from internet for a few days. Please comment as usual, but if your comment gets caught in moderation for some reason, that’s why I can’t get to it right away. Have a wonderful week, y’all.

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9 thoughts on “Big Times on the Big Island, Part 1

    • I was on the Big Island in the first week of September, and it was gorgeous! Rain on the Hilo side for a half hour every day, and for one scary ride down from the volcano at night, but otherwise, sunny and warm.

  1. Pingback: Big Times on the Big Island, Part 2 | Stowaway

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