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Your Weekend Adventure Guide To The Big Island

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September 8, 2017
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When you hear about Hawai’i aka the Big Island to most, you think of volcanoes and the outdoors. Yes, you will be seeing a lot of those components on this island, but there is so much to explore. I’m going to take you along for our jam-packed weekend, in hopes that this adventure guide to the Big Island will assist you with planning!

Fun fact: The Big Island of Hawai’i is twice the size of all of the other Hawaiian Islands combined. It is also home to 11 of the world’s 13 climate zones. Unreal! With that said, I highly recommend seeing as much of the island as possible. Every Hawaiian island has a dry and wet side, due to the trade winds. The most rainfall is going to typically be accumulated on the elevated windward side, which is the Hilo side for the Big Island. Hilo is actually America’s wettest city, which I never knew!

For travel purposes, we flew into Kona and out of Hilo. That is what made the most sense for our travel itinerary. Typically, I found that Kona is the cheaper airport to fly into, should that make a difference for you. We flew into Kona in the morning, with lots of time to spare before our evening activity. Our first mission was to find a cute brunch spot, and we did just that at Under The Bodhi Tree. They are an awesome establishment with a ton of vegan options, and amazing coffee on nitro. It is a great stop if you are in the Puako area. From there, we ventured to Waialea Beach or “Beach 69” to locals. It is a well-known public beach with a tranquil atmosphere and beautifully blue water, perfect for some rest and relaxation. Remember to bring some snorkel gear!

After the beach, we hopped back in our car to venture down to Kailua-Kona, which is the sunny and touristy side of the island. Kona is home to a lot of the island’s activities, which included our evening manta ray snorkel. John and I still had some time to enjoy the sights and sounds, so we walked along the infamous Ali’i Drive, packed with shops and restaurants along the water. We found a killer happy hour at Kona Canoe Club, and set up shop there for a bit. It is a super casual place that is right on the water, which is exactly what we wanted. Once we took in our view for a while, we had one stop left…Kona Brewing Co. This is a favorite of ours, living in Hawaii their beer is obviously everywhere, but John has been drinking Kona for quite some time. We served it at our wedding! We were excited to check out their Kona location, which is home to the brewery itself. They are actually in the process of constructing a brand new facility. The location didn’t disappoint, however, I would still recommend the Hawaii Kai pub over Kona’s. It’s all about the view for me, and you cannot beat the marina’s location on Oahu.

 
 
 

We left Kona Brewing and headed to our snorkel location, one of the things we were most excited for! I chose Fairwind Cruises after some research, and mainly because I saw they had the largest boat for us to go out on. I am NOT a boat person ☺ I can only say amazing things about our entire evening! Snorkeling with manta rays is hands down one of the coolest things I have ever done. The experience itself is indescribable, but I will try my best. We boarded the boat, adorned with our gorgeous wetsuits. Our staff provided us with our snorkel gear and fins and in about ten minutes we were at our docking spot, “manta village”. We entered the water and swam up to a flotation in the water. From there, we laid flat on our bellies and just floated. It was dark at this point, so there were lights shining down, attracting plankton, which attracts these glorious mantas. All of a sudden, one came out of nowhere and was swimming directly under us. What happens is that the manta rays (who are completely harmless with no teeth or stingers) swim underneath and then flip over and open their mouth to feed on the plankton. It is absolutely incredible! Many tour companies describe them as graceful creatures that glide through the water, their movement looking like a ballet of sorts. I was in complete awe. Our staff let us know that Manta Rays can be anywhere from 3-12 feet, from wing tip to tip. If you ever find yourself on the Big Island, this is NOT something to miss!

 
 
 

Another highlight from our trip was our accommodation. Airbnb never disappoints, especially this weekend. We stayed in one of my favorite digs ever! The Bananarama Cottage is a stylish, modern cottage located in Pahoa. It is a nice distance away from both Hilo, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We found it was the perfect location to be based out of! The tranquility and location of the cottage is a great home base to return to after all of your adventuring.

 
 
 

Our next day consisted of enjoying a fresh cup of Kona coffee, while overlooking the ocean on our scenic porch. We had a lot of things we wanted to cross off of our list, so we headed out after visiting the Seaview Farm stand that is run by the cottage owners. You MUST try the banana bread, so delicious! After our sweet tooths were satisfied, it was volcano time! The drive from the cottage to the National Park is right around an hour. We made a pit stop for lunch, knowing we would spend a good portion of our afternoon hiking. Thanks to Yelp, we found Eagles Lighthouse Café that has delicious homemade sandwiches and chili. Beware: their portions are HUGE and very inexpensive. A huge win!

Upon entering the park, there is a $25 fee/vehicle, which is good for 7 days. The entire park is well marked, and has multiple scenic spots, points of interest like the Thurston Lava Tube, as well as the Jaggar Museum which takes a detailed look into volcanology. After some research, I knew that I wanted to do one of the hiking trails...Kaluea Iki to be exact. It is highly recommended by many, and it did not disappoint! The trail is a 4-mile loop, which is moderately trafficked (depending on what time of year- we had no one around!) and yields some incredible sights. It takes most around 2-3 hours to complete, and winds you through an incredibly lush rainforest and across the crater lava lake, formed from a 1959 eruption. I was blown away by it all! The $25 admission fee is more than worth it for this hike alone, just my opinion.

 
 
 

Upon finishing the hike, we wanted to grab some food returning to the cottage and continuing the evening’s plans. A great option to stop at for lunch or dinner is in the town of Pahoa, which is an old plantation town filled with some shops and restaurants with all types of cuisine. Again, we went with a recommendation and tried Ning's Thai Cuisine. Thai food is definitely one of my favorite types of food, with each restaurant putting their own spin on the best signature Thai dishes. Ning’s did not disappoint. I got the pumpkin curry (yum!) and John ordered the pineapple shrimp curry. A sweet family runs the restaurant, and it’s a wonderful choice if you find yourself passing by or around Pahoa!

Our last activity for the day was going to see the lava flow! Just a 10-minute drive from the cottage, we parked our car by the bike rental tents and got ready for the journey. You have the option to walk to the lava, or rent bikes. I recommend the bikes! We only paid $20 for a 3-hr rental for the two of us. Most of the bike rentals will have a bike lock and headlamp for you, which is very important and very much needed. If you leave any later than 5:30pm from the entrance you will be walking/biking back in the dark. It takes about 30-45 minutes to bike, and twice that for walking. Once you get to the lava spouting into the ocean, you may sit along the coast and watch there. Or, you can take it one adventure further and walk another 45 minutes to see surface lava. SO cool!! I know, I know…it is a lot of walking, but how many times can you walk to an area where lava is literally flowing just a few yards away from you?! You can go as close to the lava here as you’d like, crazyyy stuff! It was a bit interesting finding our way back across the lava rock, in the pitch black. You just have to be patient and take your time, with your headlamp guiding the way. In the end, you have to make sure to try to get here, if your schedule permits. It truly is such a unique experience.

We ventured to Hilo the next day, after I had to be carried away from my favorite little yellow cottage. Hilo is where the majority of the island’s residents live, and it is an eclectic town center. There are a few “must stops” within close distance of Hilo. Two of them are popular waterfalls. The first is Akaka Falls, a 442ft waterfall that is a beauty. Many would say this is the Big Island’s most photographed waterfall. You can see why!

 
 
 

We also stopped over at Rainbow Falls, and unfortunately missed the rainbow. Your best bet is to try early morning on a sunny day! I also want to pass along a recommendation to see the botanical gardens near Hilo, I have heard they are fabulous. If you are in town on a Wednesday or Saturday be sure to check out Hilo’s Farmer Market.

Unfortunately, we passed through the town on a Sunday so a lot of the restaurants and cool shops to stop in were closed, but we still got a good feel for the town. My last food recommendation is Lucy’s Taqueria. John and I LOVE us some good Mexican food, and it is pretty hard to come by in the middle of the pacific. Lucy’s is a great, casual spot for a massive burrito, fish tacos, and a margarita on the side.

We only skimmed the surface of the Big Island, but I would say we got in as much as we possibly could for the amount of days we were there. It is the island for the adventurous nature lover, never knowing what you are going to see next. There are so many sights to see, and never enough time. My favorite part of our celebratory weekend was checking another Hawaiian island off our list. I absolutely love seeing the uniqueness and diversity with each new spot we discover. I know, that is a lot squeezed into one weekend, but I hope this adventure guide to the Big Island will assist you with at least some aspect of your planning! Send me a message, or email with any travel questions, I am happy to help! Happy Adventuring!

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