Just wanted to get a trip report out there because we received so much valuable information from this site while planning our trip! This was our first trip to Hawaii for our family of 4 (kids ages 11 and 14). We had an exciting lead up to the trip with the significant increase in Kilauea's volcanic activity and then hurricane Lane right before our departure (when we departed MN it was still a Cat 2 hurricane)! We had a fantastic trip! What a beautiful part of the world. I felt we did quite a bit, but there is SO much to do on the Big Island that there was plenty we weren't able to fit in. We were disappointed we weren't able to visit VNP during our trip, but glad to hear they have since been able to reopen more of the park. I hope some of this will be helpful to someone else planning a trip!
Friday – Arrived KOA around 4pm (2 hours late due to weather delay from hurricane Lane). Went to Costco for some supplies and everyone was hungry, so I’m embarrassed to say that we just grabbed some food at the snack bar. Drove up to Hapuna Prince Beach Resort to check in. Spent evening in pool and hot tub.
Saturday – Beaches opened up (had been closed due to hurricane for several days prior) and not much hurricane damage found in area. Walked along the Ala Kahakai trail in the morning to learn a bit about the history of the area and came back to spend time at Hapuna beach. Kids loved the surf. Did some snorkeling on N. side of Hapuna. Water pretty calm and saw some colorful fish, so not bad for starters. Left resort and planned to go to Kiholo beach to look for sea turtles, but missed the parking area on the side of the road and found ourselves getting close to the airport, so stopped to check out the lava tube just north of the airport (worth 15 minutes of your time if you happen to be passing). Were planning to go back and find parking area for Kiholo, but saw the sign for Kekaha Kai State park, so went to check that out and walked 5 mins from first parking lot to Mahai’ula beach. Lovely beach, saw a few sea turtles out in the water. Stopped at Lava Lava Beach club for happy hour (food ok, setting lovely) and sunset and headed back to Hapuna for an evening swim and hot tub.
Sunday – found the north parking area for Kiholo just off the main highway and walked about 20 minutes or so to the beach. Then headed north past the private homes and came to an area with a small island with sea turtles! Did a little snorkeling here and saw some more sea turtles under the water. Kept walking to the north and saw more sea turtles. The turquoise water was so beautiful contrasting with all the black lava. Visibility wasn’t great for snorkeling, but saw some sea turtles across the bay sunning on the rocks so swam near them to get a closer look (just from the water, didn’t bother them or get too close). As we were packing up to leave, a sea turtle swam right up to the rocks where we were. Amazing! Stopped at the Malasada truck on corner of Queens hwy and road to Puako. Yum! Went to Waialea Beach beach in the afternoon. Did some snorkeling near the small rock “island” and saw lots of fish and a sea turtle. Kids enjoyed playing on the rope swing (as did the adults )! Drove to Waimea in the evening for dinner at Big Island Brewhouse - good food, reasonably priced and good beer. Wanted to stop and see manta rays on way back at Mauna Kea, but one of the kids fell asleep on the way so we just kept going.
Monday – morning run on the beach and then went swimming one last time at the beach and took a dip in the pool. Packed the car to head to Hilo. Had all of our luggage in the trunk with nothing visible in the car, so stopped at Kaumana caves on the way. Definitely recommend, but bring a strong flashlight! We only had fairly week lights, so didn’t hike as far back as we otherwise may have. The cave on the left had a waterfall running down a slope inside. Assuming that is not always there, but was from all the rains from hurricane Lane. Next went to Akaka falls. Took the scenic 4-mile drive, which was lovely (definitely recommend) and stopped at the Shake Shack for a smoothie. Did the loop hike at Akaka falls – easy and very nice. Dropped luggage off at our VRBO rental then drove around Hilo a bit. LOVED the banyan trees! Everyone was tired, so we stopped at Pizza Hawaii and took a pizza home to eat at the condo. Pretty good pizza!
Tuesday – Went to Honoli’i beach to watch surfers. Clouds were breaking up a bit, so rushed to Rainbow Falls and saw a rainbow for the 5 minutes the sun was out that day!! Loved the banyan trees in the area and walked behind the falls a bit where you could see how much the river expanded from the rains from hurricane Lane and the destruction it did there. Drove up to boiling pots. Wasn’t able to hike around much because everything was fenced off besides the overlook. Went back into Hilo and checked out the Makupapapa Discovery center – lovely little museum! Talked to a VNP ranger and decide to head south as it was raining pretty hard in Hilo by then. We stopped at the Humane society to find a dog to take on a field trip. Jamuna accompanied us to Kaimu beach – it was overcast, so not too hot for her. Interesting to see how the black sand beach was being formed and the paintings on the lava and all the coconut trees that had been planted. We then drove along the coast on hwy 137 (the VNP ranger told us that was the most beautiful drive on the island). It was stunning. We had to turn around and go back the same way out as the road closed where the recent lava flow had been. Stopped in Pahoa for a snack and coffee. Dropped Jamuna back off at the Humane society (sad to say goodbye) on the way back to Hilo. Stopped at the Hawaii Nui Brewery for a beer sampler since it was raining pretty hard. Good beer! Went to the Bayfront and walked around Lili’uokalani gardens, but there was still a significant amount of standing water in the garden. Went to dinner at Ken’s House of Pancakes. Everyone enjoyed their meals.
Wednesday – went to the Hilo farmer’s market around 7:30. Several vendors still setting up. Bought some delicious fruit and went back to condo to pack up. Drove up the Hamakua coast (STUNNING)! Tried to get to Laupahoehoe point, but the road was closed due to the heavy rains. Continued on to Waipi’o Valley overlook. WOW! Then hiked down to the valley. The hike is very steep and it was a bit wet from all the recent rain, but very glad we did it! Our family is quite fit and there was definitely some challenge involved in both the down and the up hike (I found the down hike more difficult). At the fork, we weren’t sure which way to go and ended up going left first. This ended up going toward the valley, but there were 2 stunning waterfalls. We then went back toward the beach and hiked across the beach to a waterfall. Had a picnic lunch near the waterfall and all showered off in the cool water of the waterfall. Awesome! Not sure if that waterfall is always there or if it was a result of the recent heavy rains. Went back for shave ice in Honaka’a. Husband and son decided to check out the small country club in Honaka’a and played a round of golf. It was a funky little place – no one was there, but there were clubs in the clubhouse you could “rent” and just paid on your honor in a small paybox. I think it was $20 or so. My son loves golf, and we weren’t willing to pay $150 for a round, so this filled that need. Back on the road stopped in Waimea for groceries. Drove to our condo at Waikoloa Fairway Villas just in time to walk to A’Bay for sunset. Had dinner at the condo and an evening swim in the lovely pool and hot tub.
Thursday – Morning went to Mauna Lani, walked around fish ponds and snorkeled at Makaiwa beach. Surf was a little rough, but still saw many colorful fish. Back to condo a lunch and a swim and after lunch headed to Kona as we had a night manta snorkel. Stopped at Kahalu’u beach to snorkel. Most people snorkeling near beach, but the best snorkeling was straight out a ways from the rock/lava wall. Went to Keauhou Bay for Manta Ray tour with Hawaii Island and Ocean Tours. Had time to explore some of the cultural and historical sites near the Sheraton. It’s amazing to learn about the rich cultural heritage of the island. Manta Ray tour was great. Our family of four plus another couple on the small boat. Rode in boat for about 5 minutes to where several other boats were stopped in front of the Sheraton. Saw two mantas and one swam literally inches from our face. Very cool experience!
Friday – Drove north to Hawi and Pololu overlook first thing in the morning. Beautiful! Hiked down to the beach. This hike was shorter and easier than the Waipi’o Valley hike and on more of a trail than a road. Would have loved to do the hike that leads to the next valley, but kids protested. Spent some time on the beach and then found a rope swing on a hill up from the beach. Fun. Hiked back up and walked around Hawi for a bit. Cute little town with several restaurants to choose from. Ate a nice lunch at Bamboo restaurant and went across the street for shave ice. Stopped at Lakapahi State Historical park to learn more about the history of the area. Was an interesting short hike and beautiful coastline area. Did not have time to snorkel at beach here. Stopped at Hamakua Macademia Nut factory to buy a few treats to take home and sample some delicious macademia nut items and coffee. Worth a stop! Went back to condo to cool down in the pool for a couple hours before heading to Mauna Kea visitor center. The weather on the mountain was cloudy and we weren’t sure if they’d have the stargazing program, but decided to try it. This was the first day the VIS was planning to have the program in several days, so we were worried it would be really crowded. Arrived around 5:30. Plenty of space in the parking lot. Very cloudy (think that probably kept some people away). Checked out VIS, watched short video and at picnic dinner that we brought. The clouds started to break up around 7:30 to unveil the amazing night sky. We were able to see Jupiter and Saturn through the telescopes. Really wish we could have seen the sunset at the top, but our kids were too young for the tours and we didn’t want to risk altitude sickness for them if we rented our own 4wd from Harpers. The stargazing was amazing, but the whole event did take several hours and a good amount of driving. Drive back to Waikoloa wasn’t bad. Didn’t have any weather.
Saturday – Kids were a little beached out, so decided to check out a coffee plantation in the morning. Drove up to Mountain Thunder outside of Kona. Much cooler up there! Lovely setting. Went on the interesting free short tour to see how the coffee was processed. Sampled several types of coffee and some chocolate covered espresso beans. There was a cloud forest hike across the street that my husband and I wanted to do, but son wasn’t feeling well, so didn’t do that. Headed into Kona for lunch at Kona Brewing Company. Good pizza and beer. Walked to the pier to check out the Queen Lili’uokalani canoe race (thanks for the tip about the race, wahineokawaa) and arrived just in time to see the first finisher of the men’s race. Spent some time exploring some of the historical and cultural sites in the area. So interesting to learn about so much rich history! Afterward, we went to Hapuna beach one last time to boogie board and watch the beautiful Hawaiian sunset!
Sunday – Got up early and drove to kealakeua bay. We had reserved kayaks from Bay Side Adventures and they were ready and waiting for us when we arrived at 7:30am. We paddled out into the bay and saw a large school of spinner dolphins!! We stopped paddling to watch from a distance and soon the dolphins swam closer to our kayaks. So amazing to see them and there were several baby dolphins in the pod! We kayaked to the far side of the bay near the captain cook monument to snorkel from our kayak (kayak was attached to us via an ankle strap). Tons of fish and some coral - was beautiful. Headed back to condo and packed up and spent last few hours in the pool. Luckily, we were able to get a late check out, so we spent a fairly lazy afternoon. Drove into Kona for the evening before our flight. Checked out some shops and watched our last Hawaiian sunset from one of the many beaches. Had a nice dinner at Splashers Grill (food was better than I expected), stopped for ice cream and then headed to the airport for our 10pm flight.