After Ohau we jetted off to Hawaii, aka The Big Island. Because the island is so big, we flew into Hilo, drove across to Kona and flew out of Kona. This time we tried to rent an SUV, but much to our surprise rental SUV's don't seem to come with a trunk cover! Not that we were storing lots of stuff in the trunk, but it's nice to have somewhere to keep your snorkel gear and towels or an extra change of clothes. Fortunately we were able to switch into a ford mustang convertible again. Sweet!
In Hilo we stayed at the Volcano Village Lodge on the recommendation of my parents. This place was awesome! Truly beautiful. We spent one night in the Hale Kilauea room and one night in the Haleakala Lodge. Both rooms were so beautiful. I photos and descriptions don't do them justice, but I'll try with a photo. First Hale Kilauea second Haleakala Lodge.
After checking in we headed to Kiawe Kitchen for lunch and then off to Volcano National Park. Kiawe Kitchen was pretty good. We stopped there one day for lunch and then for dinner. Lunch was some pretty good pizzas with amazing homemade pesto, but dinner was pretty slow and terrible. Go for lunch, skip dinner.
When we arrived at the park I was so excited to see lava. I wanted to view it from anywhere and everywhere I could. Unfortunately, since the new eruption in August of 2011 there isn't much lava flowing on the surface anymore. The normal viewing points are mostly cooled off and the only thing you can really see from those is a faint glow. Also because of the latest eruption in August, 2011, over half of the crater rim drive and all of the extension off the Thurston lava tube are closed due to toxic gasses and unstable rock. So we decided to first start by walking the Thurston lava tube. Even though the part we really wanted to do was closed, we were still amazed by it. We even walked it twice. Right across the street from the lava tube is a trail that wanders around a rain forest and then down through the Kilauea Iki crater and back up. It's about 3 miles and took us around 2.5 hours. Really an awesome hike, highly recommended. The details are on page 194 "Kilauea Iki Hike" in the Big Island Revealed book. We spent a lot of time on the floor of the crater walking around and feeling the heat coming out of the steam vents. Around 4:30 we headed up to the Jagger Museum to watch the sun set over the Halema'uma'u Crater and catch one of our very few changes to see lava coming out of the Pu'u'O'o vent. It was pretty cold up there, but we came prepared. As the sun set you could slowly start to see the glow from the lava light up the area around the crater. It wasn't the flowing lava that I had hoped for, but it was still beautiful.
The next morning we woke early and drove up to Hilo to take a helicopter ride over Hilo and the Volcano National Park. We flew with Paradise (aka Tropical) Helicopters and flew with no doors! It was awesome. Only 4 people plus the pilot and everyone gets a great seat. The only person in the middle is in the front. We loved it so much that we took a second, no doors, flight on Kauai, but more on that later. Our helicopter pilot flew right over the Pu'u'O'o vent and over the huge lava field. We got to see some lava flowing on the surface and then some waterfalls over near Hilo. It's pretty amazing to see the lava destruction from the air; where the flow stops and the tree line begins.
After the helicopter tour we drove around to some waterfalls and took a drive on a 4 mile scenic route on the old highway. We headed to Akaka Falls, a 400 foot waterfall, and spent about and hour walking around the small park. After grabbing some ice cream in the small town near the falls, we drove back toward Hilo and stopped at the Hawai'i Tropical Botanical Garden. I'm really glad that we picked this one, because it was beautiful. So many different flowers and plants and orchids, plus it meets right up with the ocean. Also interesting is the story of how it became a botanical garden. There is too much to tell here, but lets just say you should read about it HERE. That night we had dinner back in Volcano (yes, it's the name of the town) at the Kilauea Lodge & Restaurant. It was so good, I wish I was there right now eating. Highly recommended, but you better go early or make reservations.
On Saturday, I think, we headed out of Volcano and over to the drier side of the island: Kona. Along the way we stopped at the Volcano Winery. Although Hawaii isn't exactly a wine producing mecca, they had some pretty decent wines. We bought a bottle of their macadamia nut wine and some other little goodies. We also stopped at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach on the way. This beach is very accessible and pretty awesome. The sand is really really black, and genuine. That is to say, it is created when the chunky 'a'a lava flow meets the ocean and shatters into small pieces. Overtime those pieces are tossed by the ocean so much that they form sand. And guess what else we saw there... a turtle! Just chillin on the beach, getting slightly annoyed every time the water came in to soak him. Guess he should have moved up beach a little more.
After passing several "farmers markets" that were more like crap markets, we arrived in Kona. The next two nights we stayed at the Sea Village #3214. The view was nice, but we weren't too impressed with the rest of the place. It seemed really dirty and just dingy. Fortunately we were there for only 2 nights. Oh yea, and the other guests were weird. Every morning we woke up to a new sign in the parking lot claiming one of the parking spots for a particular unit. I think there was a little infighting between some of the units while we were there. There was also a coffee shop just outside the complex called Green Flash Coffee. The first two days I couldn't figure out why I never saw this place open. The last day I got my answer. When we drove back to the condo to get our stuff to leave, we saw the coffee shop wrapped in plastic being fumigated! Not just sprayed, I mean the whole thing was covered in plastic wrap. I'm so glad we never went there.
After checking in we decided to do some snorkeling and relaxing on the beach. But first, food. We stopped at this place Jeremy found on Yelp called 'Da Poke Shack'. AMAZING. So so good. If you don't know what poke is, well look at the picture to the right. Think tuna tar tar but with bigger cube like pieces and different types of sauce. I liked the simple sesame myself. They also serve it as a plate with rice and a side, or you can get ahi tacos which were also pretty good. We stopped here every day we were in Kona.
After lunch we headed to Kahalu'u Beach Park for some snorkeling and then over to White Sands Beach (aka La'aloa Bay, Magic Sands, etc.) for some relaxation. The snorkeling was pretty good, but the waves at White Sands were awesome. We didn't bring boogie boards this day, but we did come back the next day with them in hand. We had so much fun boogie boarding on this beach. It was also our first experience swimming with a turtle! The "little" guy just floated up right behind us and nearly made us jump. How cool is that, swimming with turtles! That night we headed to the first place Jeremy wanted to eat dinner, Kona Brewery of course. They have so many brews on tap, probably 20 or more, and I think we sampled over half of them. I wish they bottled more of their brews so we could enjoy them in the states. BTW, did you know that Kona beer that you get in the states isn't made in or by Kona at all? They are apparently part of a coop with Craft Brewers Alliance and have all their beer bottled, packaged, and distributed in California; though they claim that it is still their beer since it is their recipe.
The next day we took a kayak trip out to the Captain Cook Monument and had some of the best snorkeling that we did all trip. The waters are so blue and so pristine around the monument. It really is some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii. However, it gets really really crowded by big boats, so get there early if you go. Also, it's protected land, so if you want to go you'll have to get a permit from Hilo to land your kayak, or go with a large boat, or pick one of the two or three companies out of kona that have a permit to land there. We went with Adventures in Paradise. Our kayak guide was really fun and we got there super early so we had the place to ourselves for a while. They also supplied us a nice snack. After kayaking we were craving a burger, bad. So we stopped at Annie's Island Fresh Burgers. Amazing! You have to go here if you are in kona.
The rest of our time in Kona we spent walking around, relaxing, and boogie boarding, of course. We had dinner at Jackie Rey's Ohana Grill one night, which was pretty tasty, and also stopped by Island Lava Java for breakfast, though the food is good, the servers weren't the nicest, or maybe it was just ours. We also took the brewery tour at the Kona Brewery, limited to 15 so go early if it's the weekend. That tour was very informative, and I appreciated that they limited the tour to 15 to make it easier to walk around and listen. While in Kona we bought some clay orchids from CC Whisper Gallery. We had them shipped back to the US and they should be here Tuesday! While the hours on the shop aren't very reliable and the shipping slow, the products are so beautiful and realistic it makes up for the hassle.
After 3 days in Hilo and 2 1/2 in Kona we jetted off to Kauai!