After a few days in Oahu we took flight to the Big Island. It only takes about an hour so the plane flies at a lower altitude. As a result, we were able to see Maui and the volcano Haleakala from a bird’s eye view. Make sure that your seat is on the left hand side of the plane to get this amazing view.
After a rather scenic flight we landed at the smallest airport I had ever seen, Kona airport. The best and only mode of transportation on the Big Island is by car so we rented one, and started our trip.
When traveling west on New Year’s Eve, it’s possible to celebrate New Year’s a few times, due to the time change. Just after landing, we celebrated the European New Year, then 6 hours later, the New York New Year’s and finally at the end it came time for Hawaiian NYE. We welcomed in the New Year on a cliff near our hotel. It was just the two of us and the bottle of champagne. Because most of the parties are close to the coast, we saw a ton of fireworks and felt right in the middle of the party. I must admit, that it was my best New Year’s party ever.
The next day, we were ready to explore. The big island is larger than all of the other islands in the archipelago combined and is the largest island in the United States. The island is home to the world’s largest volcano on the earth, Mauna Loa, which is also the tallest sea mountain in the world. It rises more than 33,000 feet from the ocean floor. On the Big Island you can get a great volcanic experience because of Kilauea, the most active volcano on the Earth. It erupts continually, and has since 1983. Both of the volcanoes are making the Big Island bigger and bigger. If you have enough time we really recommend to take a boat and go to see how hot lava is fighting with the cold ocean.
There is plenty to do on the island so a good itinerary is essential. We started slowly with driving around the island, but after just a few minutes we saw the first places worth seeing. There are plenty of lava rock beaches where you can admire the beauty of the amazing blue ocean. Of the small parks we found Pu’uhonua o Honaunau the most interesting. Learning some history of the ancient people, you can admire great wood sculptures of their gods. It’s also great place to just walk around the shore, admire nature and if you are lucky see some sea turtles lying on the rocks. We found some in Pu’uhonua but the biggest one we found in Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Park. Yes, the sand there is really black because of the interaction between hot lava with salt water. When driving from Pu’uhonua to Black Sand Beach, make sure you stop by the most southern point on the Island as it’s also the most southern point in the United States.
Finally we get to the main attraction of the Big Island – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. You could easily spend a couple of days in this park and that’s why the entry fee lasts for a week. It’s really hard to point out all the hikes and other attractions, so just make sure that you spend few days exploring the park by yourself on foot. When you drive all the way down, prepare for the road to potentially end, because of passing lava. Right now you can drive around to get on the other side and see still flowing hot lava. It’s better to go there when it’s dark for better view of red hot lava.
Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa are not in the park but you can still drive to the top of both of them. When you drive on Mauna Kea, “beware of invisible cows”. Remember that you drive over 13,000 vertical feet and most of the road can be in the clouds or a fog. In weather like that it’s hard to see the front of your car not mention cows that walk on the road. Getting to the top is not an easy thing but our rental Dodge Caliber did it! A few times we had to take a break, not only to stop and see the amazing views, but because our car couldn’t go further at this altitude and the engine needed a break. But as I said we did it and what did we see on top? Snow! Yes, there is snow in Hawaii. I even saw pictures of people skiing there in good, snowy conditions. Standing at 13,803 ft (4,207m) we had a little difficulty breathing. It is very high for the human body, and you don’t have time to acclimate properly. You just drove your car for two hours from the sea level to the top. Mauna Kea’s summit is one of the best places in the world for astronomical observation.
Mauna Loa, (13,679 ft) as I mentioned, is the largest volcano on our planet by mass and volume. You can drive there, but the road does not go all the way to the top. You have to hike the last part. The hike itself on large lava rock fields is very beautiful, but is also very demanding.
You can see a lot of the Big Island by car or on foot, but it’s still not enough. You should really take a boat to see lava flowing into the ocean, and don’t forget to take a helicopter trip as well. I bought this trip as a gift for Derek. The surprise was booking a helicopter without doors and windows. It was an amazing experience flying above the lava and still feeling how hot it is.
Undoubtedly, Big Island has a lot of places to see. You can just drive around and find beautiful vistas. But what I really liked the most? Where is the place where I said “WOW”? Waimanu Valley. I cannot explain how beautiful this place is. Even pictures don’t show all the beauty so just pack your bag and go.
This marks the end of our Hawaiian trip. I will definitely go back to see the other islands as each one is different. Right now it’s time for me to beat 12 time zones and get back home. That will be long and lonely flight. We still don’t know where our next date will be… but we know it has to be soon.