Big Island was the fourth and last Hawaiian island in our 4-week Hawaii DIY trip. Unlike the other three islands (Oahu, Kauai and Maui), Big Island was much bigger so it was only practical for us to stay in three separate locations so as to explore the entire place.
There were two huge regrets during our visit to this island. First regret was that as of last year after the eruption in mid 2018 Big Island had moved away from the hotspot in the earth-crust which meant no more active lava flow could be seen on the island ever again. The 2nd regret was Mauna Kea, protestors had block off access to the road that lead up to Mauna Kea summit. So we could not experience sunset or sunrise at the summit.
Nevetheless there were still many attractions on Big Island and we took our time visiting them. In the Hawaiian Archipelago, Big Island was the youngest island which accounted for many amazing black, freshly cooled lava coastal beaches.
Touching down at Big Island
We touched down at Hilo Airport on the east side of Big Island at about 4.30pm. After retrieving our bags we took a short walk to the Avis Car Rental Outlet just outside the airport building. This time we picked up a white car. The cost for 7 days was USD$370 which included zero dollar excess CDW. We drove to the nearby Domino’s outlet to get a pizza and drove to our stay for the night which was north of the airport.
Northern side of Big Island
Our 1st Stay was 40 km north of the airport and it was a good base to explore the northern side of Big Island. On the first day when we touch down in Big Island we did not have time to explore any attraction. On the second day we visited Hamakua Harvest Farmers Market, Waipio Valley Lookout, Pololu Valley Lookout, The Statue of King Kamehameha I. On the 3rd day we drove south to visit Akaka Falls and Wailuku River State Park before crossing the island to the east side. During the crossing to the east side we drove pass the “Saddle Road”, the road that lead up to the summit Mauna Kea. The road was barricaded off by protestors, thousands of protestors camped out on both sides of the road before and after the turn off into “Saddle Road. Officially “Saddle Road” that went up to the Summit was still accessable, but protestors stationed at the start of the road “chased” off all visitors.
Hamakua Harvest Farmers Market
On our way to Waipo lookout we were distracted by a farmers market. The farmers market was just outside Honokaa Town, we were on the Mamalahoa Highway when we saw a row of tents set up on a large green field so we detoured out of the highway into the farmers’ market.
From Hamakua Harvest Farmers’ Market to Waipo Valley lookout was about 15.5 km. Parking at the lookout was easy and free of charge.
We stayed for about 20 minutes at the lookout, enjoying the beautiful view of the valley. From the lookout we could see a Waipo Black Sand beach below. Though there was a road that led down to the beach, it was only accessable by four-wheel cars as the road was not well maintained and pretty steep. To walk down to the beach on the same road would be a 45 minutes downhill trek of 2.5 km and coming back up would take more time and definitely more tiring.
Our car was not a four-wheel-drive, so driving down to the beach was not an option. A round trip hike down to the beach would easily take up 3 hours, so we decided against that too. We were happy to just enjoy Waipo Valley from the top.
From Waipo Valley to Pololu Valley was 82km and the trip took about 1.25 hr. On the way we passed another town by the name Waimea. Waimea was such a common name in Hawaii. We did not stop at Waimea but we did stop at Kapaau which was about 9 km before Pololu Valley lookout. This town was the birthplace of King Kamehameha I.
Kamehameha I also known as Kamehameha the Great, was the founder and first ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii. A great warrior, diplomat and leader, King Kamehameha I united the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom in 1810 after years of conflict. In front of the North Kohala Civic Center stands the original King Kamehameha I Statue, erected not far from where Hawaii’s greatest king was born.
We found place by the side of the road to park our car and walk to the lookut of Pololu valley. The view was not as scenic as that of at Waipo Lookout. At Waipio Lookout we looked to the west to see the first valley (Waipo Valley) of the seven valleys sitting to the west. At Pololu Valley we looked out to the east and saw the last and seventh valley which was Pololu Valley. In between the first and the last valleys there was five more, they were Waimanu Valley, Honopue Valley, Honokane Kiri, and Honokane Neu.
These valleys were the seven valleys of Kohala Volcano. The Kohala Volcano last erupted about 120000 years ago and was the oldest of 5 volcanoes that make up the Big Island. Between 250000 and 300000 years ago the Kohala volcano experienced a massive landslide in which a part of the volcano fell into the ocean. During its long lifetime, erosion by rainwater cut multiple deep gulches, gorges and valleys in the flanks of the windward side of the Kohala volcano creating these seven beautiful valleys.
At the lookout we found a dirt path that lead down to the coast below. It took us about 25 minutes to walk down to the coast. The view of the coastline looked lovelier as we descended when more sea cliffs came into view.
At the base of valley was a lovely black beach and a lush tropical forest. There was a stream, Polohu stream that went inland into the reserve. There were not many visitors around and the entire place felt so serene and peaceful.
The beach at Polohu Valley was “black sanded”. The waves were strong and the breeze was good. It was lovely to sit on a washed-up tree trunk, stretched out my legs and enjoyed the peaceful sight infront of me.
Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
After Pololu Valley we drove west to Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site. “Puukohola Heiau” meant “Temple on the Hill of the Whale”, “Heiau meant temple”. At Puukohola Heiau National Historic site was a visitor center. Parking and entrance to the visitor center was free.
Akaka State Park
On the third day on the Big Island we visited two beautiful waterfalls in Akaka State Park. This State Park was located on the eastern side of the island not very far from Hilo Airport. Admission was USD$5 per car (inclusive of the passenger) or USD$1 per visitor.
The first falls we saw was Kahuna Falls, it was the shorter of the two falls. Kahuna Falls was about 100 feet high. It looked small from a distance.
We took a trails that brought us into a beautiful tropical forest. It was a pleasantly cooling walk. The park were full of tall trees and their branches created a shady canopy above the path.
After about 20 minutes of leisurely walk, Akaka Falls came into view. Akaka Falls was the taller of the two falls and certainly the “better” looking one. Akaka Falls was 442 feet high, four times higher than Kahuna Falls.
Wailuku River state Park
After Akaka Falls State Park we drove on to Wailuku River State Park which was about 26 km south of the first state Park. There was no entrance fee to Wailuku River State Park.
A short walk from the carpark was the Rainbow Falls. This was a “low” falls of about 80 feet high. Apparently in the morning a rainbow could be seen on the mist caused by the spray of water from the falls. We saw Rainbow Falls at noon and there was no rainbow in sight.
Driving from east to west
Wailuku River State Park was our last destination on the north eastern part of Big Island before we drove west where we stayed for two nights at Stay-2. On our drive to the west coast we hoped to stop midway to visit Mauna Kea which was the tallest mountain in the world when measured from its base deep in the Pacific Ocean. At 4,207.3 m above sea level it was more than a 1000 m higher than Haleakala. We had such an amazing sunset experience at Haleakala and we wanted to watch the sunset at Mauna Kea too.
A new observatory was to be built on Mauna Kea and the locals were protesting angrily. These protesters had blocked “Saddle Road”, the road that led to the summit. When we reached the junction where we were to turn right into Saddle Road, we found that the road was barricaded. The protesters had set up the barricades and refused to let us past! These protestors were protesting against the building up of the new observatory, they should just block access to construction vehicles and not visitors’ cars!!
western Side of Big Island
We had identified several attractions on the western side of Big Island where we planned to visit. We might visit all of them if we had the time. We were on the last “days” of our “4 weeks Hawaii road trip” and had seen “tons” of beautiful beaches, so visiting “beautiful” beaches had become less “thrilling”. There were plentiful of beautiful beaches on Big Hawaii but we were only picked out the unique ones.
Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark was the first attraction we planned to visit on the west side of the island. It was the residence of Kamehameha I. We arrived at the entrance of the Historic Landmark but found no parking. We turned left into Ali’i Drive which bordered the coast of the bay and found parking along Likana Lane.
From the parking to the historic landmark was just a 400 meter walk. Our walk brought us close to Kailua Bay, that was where we meet Richard Bate who shared with us an unforgettable experience!
Near the bay we saw a couple of men standing on a stretch of rock parapet build by the bay, they were fishing. The waves were strong and “splashing” in strongly and “wetting” the men!
We stood just outside “Kalikala Cuisine” restaurant/cafe observing the “fishermen” and the strong waves crashing in, that was where we met Richard Bate the restaurant owner. Richard was there to do some repair work for his restaurant which was close on that day. Richard was so friendly and when he saw that Yat Thong and I were photographing the strong splashes of wave crashing in, he told us that some months ago he captured a “wave phenomenon” on video at the same location. He pulled out his ipad and showed us the video and Wow! wow!! wow!! the sight of the never never ending waves crashing in like a fast bullet train were unbelievable. Richard sent me the video and was fine with me sharing in on my blog.
Kamakahonu National Historic Landmark
Kamakahonu National Historic landmark consisted of a couple of “straw” (thatched) buildings. The building were small size building and the thatch covered from roof to ground. Among them the most prominent one was the restored temple, “Ahu’ena Heiau”. It was the personal heiau (place of worship) of Kamehameha I.
The Ohia Caves Historic Reserve
Ohia caves were actually a network of lava tubes that was not accessible. According to the information panel at the site, there were a few openings into the network, but they were too small for a person to enter. Since the lava tubes were below ground there was nothing to see we just had to satisfy our curiousity though our imagination.
Papakōlea Green Sand Beach
We decided to take on the 4.3 km hike from the parking to the green sand beach and it was a good decision. The hike was more interesting that we expected. There were many interesting sights along the way, we stopped many times to enjoy the scenes around us. There were a rocky beach, a stretch of windblowed “slanted” shrubs, never ending undulating yellow mud dried trek and a “garbage” beach.
The “garbage” was the debris washed into the ocean from 2013 Japan Tsunami, some of these debris ended up here and according to one of the locals each year some Japanese tourists would organize a trip here to clear the “garbage”.
Finally after 1.5 hours we reached Papakolea Green Sand Beach. The beach from far looked like a grey cliff. It was definitely not green, the only green “stuff” around were the vegetation. I felt a bit disappointed. The beach at the base of the cliff was grey green definitely not the emerald green I had read about.
I squatted down to inspect the “sand” at my feet and picked some up to study them. The sand looked like dull green crystals. These crystals were olivine crystals.
Our trek brought us to the top of a bowl shape cliff and the beach was right at the base of the bowl. It was carved in a 49000 years old cinder cone belonging to the Mauna Loa volcano that contained the green crystals (olivines) that gave the beach its name.
Yat Thong took a hike to the top of one edge of the “bowl” end while I found a place to relax and enjoy the view. We did not want to hike down to the beach as we thought the beach/scenery looked better from the top.
While resting at a bench, one of the drivers of the four wheeled trucks asked me if I would like a trip out to the trail head in her truck. Her truck still had two places in the passenger seat beside the driver. It would be USD$5 per person for the trip out. We took up the offer. After about 15 minutes all her customers came up from the beach and piled into the open-truck. We got into the passenger seats and out we go.
South point of Big Island was the southern most point of USA. It was just 2 km from the trailhead of Papakolea Green Sand Beach. At south point there was light house and a Heiau (temple).
The lighthouse had a couple of names, it was called South Point Light or Ka Lae Light. It was a small and simple lighthouse and looked more like a lifeguard tower on a beach. As for the Heiau it was just a ruin, a pile of black rocks arranged in a circle.
We walked around and spotted a gigantic hole on the ground. The hole seemed connected to the sea as we could see waves washing in and out. A couple of visitors climbed down into the hole and sat on some “jugging out” stones ledge enjoying the waves splashing around them.
Nearby was a green metal structure and around it was a group of young people taking turn to jump into the sea. It was a long way down to the water! The green structure was a boat hoist and below the hoist was a metal ladder that extended down to the crystal blue water. These daredevil “jumpers” after leaping into the sea would use the ladded to climb back up.
Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park
We drove by the road that lead to Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park but did not bother to visit it. From the pictures we seen on the web, it looked pretty similar to Kamakahonu National Historic landmark which we had visited a couple of days ago. The entrance fee was $15 per car which we felt not worth paying just to see a “similar” sight.
On hind sight we should have bought a combo ticket, (“Hawaii Annual Tri-park” ticket) at USD$55 that covered Haleakalā National Park in Maui, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park in Big Island and Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park in Big Island. Buying these three entry tickets separately would add up to USD$75 (USD$30 + USD$30 + USD$15). We did not opt for the combo ticket as we were not too sure if we would visit all three parks.
Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park
Along the west coast we saw a couple of “tasting” places, there were honey, coffee, chocolate etc. We loved coffee so we detoured into the plantation to “taste”. Unfortunately we did not find any interesting product to buy and bring home.
Eastern (South) Side of Big Island
The major attraction on the south eastern side of Big Island was the Volcano National Park. The area was pretty big and visiting it all on one day would be too tight. We took two days exploring the park at a leisurely pace. We also visited Punaluu Black Sand Beach and Mermaid Pond. The south eastern tip of the island was pretty off limit as the place was still not accessable after last year volcano erruption.
Punalu’u Black Beach
Punalu’u beach was a famous black sand beach. We were on our way to Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park when took a break to stop at the black beach. It was a lovely big beach with lovely black fine sand.
Among the black rocks on the beach we spotted several endangered Hawksbill turtles and green turtles! There were swimming in the water.. so amazing to see these widelifes up close.
We were so happy to have make the stop at Punalu’u black sand beach! This was the second time during this trip that we saw turtles in the nature.
Volcano National Park
The entrance ticket into the Volcano National Park was USD$30 per car and the ticket could be used over three consecutive days. When I asked the ticketing staff at the Kiosk about the combo ticket “Hawaii Annual Tri-park” she told me that if I could show her my Haleakala National Park Ticket she could let me have the combo ticket and I just need to top up USD$25.
The cost of the combo ticket was USD$55 and allowed me to enter three parks. I was not able to find my Haleakala National Park Ticket so she told me to purchase the Volcano National Park ticket at USD$30 and when I found my Haleakala National Park Ticket and showed her both tickets she would refund me USD$5. Wow she was nice.
The Volcano National Park was a pretty huge place, there were many highlights and we visited them over two days.
Crater Rim Drive
At the visitor center, it was a huge disappointment when a staff told us that on Big Island there was no more sighting of active lava flow. After the major volcano erruption the year before, Big Island had moved past the “hot spot”. We learned that the Hawaii Archipelago sat on the Pacific Plate and the plate had moved away from the volcano hotspot deep below in the earth crust which meant no more lava would flow out the volcano craters on Big Island. Witnessing active lava flow was a one in a lifetime experience for us but sadly there would be no such experience!
We also found out that a big portion of the park was still close after last year eruption. Crater Rim Drive was a circular route with several attractions but now only a short section of the route was accessable. We were hoping to visit Nahuku Thurston Lava Tube another famous attraction but it was also closed.
We only managed to visit attractions on Crater Rim Drive. These attractions were the only ones that were still accessable to visitors. One was a vapour vent and the other was a view of Kilauea Crater.
The vapour vent was just a rectangular brick hole on in the ground. There was a tiny wisp of vapour coming up of the hole. How unexciting!
From the Vapour Vents we walked into a some bushy path which brought us to lookout. At the center of the lookout was Kilaueau Crater. The crater was huge, it looked like a huge basin with a flat meadow below. No fire or red lava was in sight! The volcano park used to be where tourists could sight active lava flow safely.
Road to Mauna Loa Lookout
We tried driving further down the road on the Crater Rim Drive but soon came to a road barricade. We drove back to the visitor center and drove on toward the direction of Nahuku Thurston Lava Tube, we thought we might get a chance to sneak in. But again we came to a road blockage! So too soon our “Crater Rim Drive” exploration came to an end!
The 2nd route we explored at Hawaii Volcano National Park was the road to Mauna Loa Lookout. The lookout was accessible by car and the elevaton of the lookout was at 6,662 feet. The drive from the visitor center to the lookout took about 40 minutes and on the way we passed an “burnt out forest.” Apparently a bush fire had taken place a year before. We wondered how many years would it take for this forest to recover.
The vehicular road ended at the lookout. There was a rest area cum toilet which looked newly built. There was a trail that lead to the summit of Mauna Loa. Mauna Loa was the world’s largest volcano, its summit was 13677 feet (4169 m) above sea level, unfortunately access to the summit was on foot for 35 km (one way) from Mauna Loa Lookout (as according to the signboard). There was another access starting from Mauna Loa Weather Observatory to the summit, this was a shorter route of 10 km trek one way. Unfortunately the weather observatory was on Saddle Road which was barricaded by protestors.
From the lookout at an elevation of 6,662 feet, the view was beautiful. Looking down we saw a beautiful valley and the sea far beyond.
Chain of Craters Road
The Chain of Craters Road start at a section of the Crater Rim Drive and went south all the way to the coast. Along the route were eight attractions. They were: 1) Lua Manu Crater, 2) Halina Pali Road, 3) Pauahi Crater 4) Mauna Ulu, 5) Mau Loa o Mauna Ulu, 6) Kealakomo Lookout, 7) Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs and 8) Holei Sea Arch.
We did not visit all but picked the more interesting attractions. Our first stop was at Lua Manu Crater. From the parking to the crater was just a short walk. We did not see anything that looked like a crater (bowl shape), we saw many complex holes in the ground. The rock formation around the holes were hard lumpy rock. These were once liquid rocks/lava.
Our next stop was at Pauahi Crater. This was a much larger crater. Its length was about 550m, depth was about 100 m and width about 90 m. This crater was created in 1973.
After Pauahi Crater we stopped at Mauna Ulu. From the carpark it was a short walk to the crater.
At Mauna Ulu we saw more “lava holes” in the ground. I presumed that lava flowed out of them “once upon the time”. These holes were all grey and dried.
The next stop was “Mau Loa O Mauna Ulu” which was just by the side of the road. It was a huge massive uneven grey ground. We supposed this was once an huge “ocean” of lava which had surfaced and making its way to lower ground.
Kealakomo Lookout was sited on the edge of Holei Pali Cliff at 2000 feet above sea level. The view at the lookout was spectacular, we could see the Hawaii coastline and Pacific Ocean.
After Kealakomo Lookout was another 12 km down to the coast. The coastal plain and the hills were composed of shiny black smooth lava rocks that glittered in the sun. This massive plain and hills were once live lava rocks making its way to the ocean. We could almost get a sense of massiveness of the volcano erruption.
Near the coast was another stop. It was the “stories and memories of native Hawaii People” that once lived on this plain. Puʻu Loa was a very sacred and religious place for many of the people of Hawaiʻi and had been used ritually for over 500 years. It was the largest petroglyph field in the State of Hawaiʻi. Puʻu Loa was geologically dated between 1200-1450A.D.
After we reached the coast we had to drive for another 2.5 km east before we reached the famous sea arch. It was Hōlei Sea Arch. The sea arch was about 90 ft (27.5m) This sea arch was cut into the cliff of an ancient lava flow about 550 years ago. It was created due to “differential erosion” where the soften layers of the lava flow was eroded away forming the arch. This arch would eventually crumble and disappear into the angry sea.
The coast was a high cliff with a sheer drop vertically into the sea. A lovely sight.
We visited Mermaid Ponds on the east coast, it came highly recommended by our Airbnb host as one the interesting attractions nearby. The pond could not be seen from the road though it was clearly marked on the google map. The difficult part was to find a path through some dense bushes/strubs/vegetation to get to the coast. Luckily our host was able to pinpoint the start location of the path/trek from the road.
The mermaid pond was a natural pond formed by lava rock that reached the sea. We spent some time explore the surrounding, the landscape was uniquely beautiful.
Nanawale Forest Reserve
To get to our 3rd stay we had to take a road that cut through the northern stretch of Nanawale Park. Nanawale Park was part of the Nanawale Forest Reserve and the forest was stunning. Our stay was just at the fringe of the forest reserve so every day we had to drive across the Nanawale Park twice, to go sightseeing and to return to our stay at end of the day.
We stayed at three locations on Big Island. Unlike the other three islands, Big Island was much bigger, 5.5 times larger than Maui, 6.5 larger than Oahu and 7.3 times larger than Kauai so it was not practical to stay in one location and explore the entire island.
Stay 1 – was Cecily’s home. It was 40 km north of the Hilo airport on the east side of the island. Cecily’s house was a converted plantation church. It was sited in a beautiful green surrounding. We had a room with ensuite toilet and had full use of the kitchen and other common spaces. It costed USD$164 for two nights.
Our room was rather small, just big enough for a queen size bed and space for our bags.
In the center of the house was a huge room and Cecily’s room was on one side and ours on the other side. Cecily only let out one room in her home to guest. There was also a huge kitchen with all the amenities for us to cook our meals.
Since our room was pretty tight we spent most of our time on the beautiful veranda where we also had our meal. One late evening while we were relaxing on the veranda we heard a beautiful musical bird-like call. It was so lovely and we wondered what sort of bird sang at night. I taped the call using my mobile. It was on the next day that we found out from Cecily that the bird-like call was from a frog! Oh Mine! The frog at home (Singapore) only croaked!
Stay 2 – was Jenn’s home. Jenn’s home was a coffee plantation on the west coast of the Big Island. On airbnb it was called the “Mauka at The Hippie And The Rasta Farm” and we paid US$133 for two nights. Jenn accepted guests to stay in the two rooms in mainhouse for a fee or “plantation helpers” who wished to stay for free in her farm.
In the main house were three bedrooms, (one was occupied by Jenn’s mum) and the other two were guest rooms. In the house was a shared toilet/bathroom, a huge sunken sitting space, a dining place and a huge fully equipped kitchen. We took one of the guest rooms and had access to all the other spaces in the house.
The inner guest room was our room, it was small and cosy and comfy. The shared toilet/bathroom was just next (in between) the two guestrooms.
The main house had a huge balcony that ran along three of its sides and it had a view “to die for”. There we could see the sun setting into the ocean. For two evenings we waited patiently at the balcony just to watch the sunset. The fully equipped kitchen was great too, we were able to cook “great” breakfast and dinner and ate them leisurely on the balcony which offered a fantastic view to go along.
On the final morning, Jenn gave us a quick tour and introduction to coffee planting and preparation which was done at the building next to the main house. There we saw new plucked coffee cherry, drying process and a roasting machine.
Stay 3 – was at Paul’s house. It was a beautiful resort like dwelling on the south eastern side of Big island. Paul’s house was listed as “Mangolay, a Garden of Eden in Puna” in airbnb and it costed us US$244 for three nights.
Paul lived with a friend in the main fronted by a beautiful swimming pool. Our room was in a separated building facing the side of the pool. The room was beautifully furnished in “balinese” style. In the room was a microwave, coffee machines, a sink and some crockery. With only a microwave it made meal preparation cumbersome and only simple cooking was possible.
Our room came with a ensuit toilet/shower room. In fact we had two shower rooms, a indoor shower and a outdoor shower.
Even though Paul’s home was huge, it was set up to only let out one room to guests. So we were the only two guests in this beautiful setting. We loved spending time in Paul’s home, it was so private. The only companions during our stay were two super friendly house dogs.