In a small span of three days, I found myself short of words to describe the magnificence of the volcanic landscape the covers much of the Island of Hawaii. There is no lack of things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. Where there isn’t black volcanic rock, there is lush rain forest or rolling mountains. The beauty of this island is undeniable, and it has so much to offer any traveler. The beauty of our world is at display on this wonderful island in the Pacific Ocean. The evidence of what we lose while living in a heavily polluted city is apparent when traveling. From day to night time, pollution can erode the natural wonder anywhere. From the night skies on Mauna Kea to the beautiful black rock beaches of Kiholo Bay, this is the world we have to preserve for our children because it can easily become much worse.
Things to Do On the Big Island
Destination Name: The Island of Hawaii
Country: United States of America
Destination Type: Nature
How to Get There: Fly into Honolulu, Hawaii, and then take a flight to one of the neighboring islands like the Island of Hawaii.
Cost: Traveling to Hawaii can be costly. Find inexpensive flights and look for an Air BnB to save on costs. Food can easily cost you a minimum of $30 a day per person. A rental car will cost you approximately $100 per day with insurance. You should know how much entertainment will cost you by researching in advance.
Duration: We went to The Island of Hawaii for three days, spending two days in Kona and one day in Hilo.
Summary: After seeing O’ahu and Kauai, we were off to see our third island, the Big Island. The main attraction of this island was to see the active volcano. We found much more to keep us occupied for the three days we were there.
Renting a car and driving around the Island of Hawaii is not only a great way to see as much of the island as possible on a time restraint, but it is also a necessity on any of the islands of Hawaii (O’ahu being the exception with a taxi service and bus routes). The flexibility that having a car creates for you is worth the money spent. Overall, we rented the car for three days and it cost us just under $100 USD per day including a GPS and insurance. One of the highlights on our road trip was beginning with a tour of a Kona coffee farm
Driving around Kona
On our last night in Kona, we took the opportunity to see the incredible night skies from the observatory at the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center. Upon our arrival, we were disappointed to see cloudy skies. However, with a little luck and patience, the clouds cleared, and we were treated to the view of stars. There is no cost to visit the Visitor’s Center. You should dress warm for below 10 degrees Celsius temperatures. This was one of the best things to do on the Big Island, especially while we were staying in Kona.
Mauna Kea Stargazing
On the morning we left for Hilo, we made a quick stop to try our luck looking for sea turtles at Kiholo Bay. This bay gave us some difficulty the previous day trying to search for the road that led to it. We discovered the small, bumpy dirt road that led us directly to a small parking lot just before the beach. Though we did not get to see the amount of turtles we wanted to, we were fortunate enough to see one eating the algae off the rocks in the water.
We spent just one night in Hilo. With less than a full day, we took advantage of having our own car and drove around the Hawaii National Volcanoes Park. It was incredible to see the different landscapes and views of the island’s coast. Truly a magnificent site and a must see whenever you find yourself on the Island of Hawaii. Viewing this park can easily last days if you go hiking, and it is easily one of the best things to do on the Big Island.
Hawaii National Volcanoes Park
At the beginning of this post, I mentioned the loss of beauty when we pollute our surroundings. During this trip, seeing the power and beauty of our world first-hand, it created a feeling within me that the world is far greater and more powerful than I will ever know. However, no matter how powerful it is, we as humans have been taking it for granted. It is up to us as a species to preserve this world for our children to enjoy just as much as we did. If you ever forget how magnificent this world is, we urge you to go to the Island of Hawaii and see it first-hand like we did. You will never regret this decision. There are numerous things to do on the Big Island of Hawaii for any traveler.
Where: Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii
Type: Adventure / Nature
How: We rented a car, which is a necessity when visiting The Big Island, and drove around the island for nearly a full day.
Cost: Renting the car with gas, insurance, and a GPS navigator costs about $100 USD per day.
Duration: We took nearly a full day to just enjoy the scenery and nature of the island, stopping off at various points to admire the views. Take as long as you want when driving, that is the best part of having your own car when traveling.
Summary: Driving around the Island of Hawaii provides the eyes with the ongoing enjoyment of the scenery, landscapes, and nature for any traveler.
The convenience of having your own vehicle at your disposal when traveling makes everything much easier. No time-restrictions, no relying on public transit, no waiting on other people outside of your group, less walking, the list goes on and on with the benefits of renting a car when you can. The disadvantages: the cost of renting a car, though split up between your group can reduce this expense. Really, the advantages heavily out-weigh the disadvantages. When you can, rent a car for your next trip.
When traveling to the neighboring islands of Hawaii, a rental car becomes a necessity. Without one, your trip will be confined to your resort or immediate area that you are staying in. Taxis are hard to come by on the neighboring islands of Hawaii and public transportation, for the most part, is non-existent. For these reasons, on our trip to the Island of Hawaii we opted to rent a car.
To see the various landscapes of the Island of Hawaii, it is important to drive around the island from North to South, East to West. The vast changes of landscapes from these regions is incredible. From volcanic rock deserts to grasslands to rain forested areas, it is truly candy for your eyes on every road.
For our short three day trip to the island, we budgeted half of a day to primarily drive around the island and see what we could see. During this day, we began from the North-Western point of the island and traveled South to the South-Western point of the island. Unfortunately, as it always seems with traveling, we did not have the time we wanted to travel further down South. We reached a point where we decided we needed to turn back in order to make the journey inland towards Mauna Kea for the nightly stargazing.
Nonetheless, our eyes never tired of the views we enjoyed from various scenic points along our drive. Beginning along the highway that passes through Kona and past the airport, the landscape is that of flat volcanic rock plains with rolling mountains in the background. Though the volcanic rock looks to be smooth as the lava hardened from its flow many years ago, the rock is extremely unforgiving if you fall on it. Get out of your car and enjoy the landscape, as clouds roll over the mountains.
Continuing further South, the landscape quickly transforms into lush forested areas. Green surrounds you on all sides and parks are readily accessible to the public. Beaches become more prevalent and the trees help keep the wind at bay from rolling in from the Western ocean. By the time we reached Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Park, it was time for us to find dinner and move on to the next portion of our itinerary.
Renting a car allowed us to see so much of the Island of Hawaii. The following day, we moved from Kona to Hilo, crossing through the middle of the island on the scenic Saddle Road. Our car provided us with a relaxing way to see as much of the island as we possibly could given our time restrictions. Not to mention that having a car on the Island of Hawaii is a necessity for travelers.
Attraction: Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station
Where: The Island of Hawaii
Type: Nature / Space
How: Drive to the Mauna Kea Visitor’s Center on the Island of Hawaii and look up to the sky at nightfall.
Cost: It is free to observe the stars from the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station. However, you do need to get to the Visitor’s Center and that will cost you in transportation.
Hours: We arrived around 7:00 PM and the stars did not start showing until around 8:30 PM. We stayed until 11:00 PM.
Duration: From 7:00 PM – 11:00 PM, but you are welcome to stay for as long as you want.
Summary: If you love to wonder at the stars in the skies at night, there is no better place to do that then at Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii.
All around us was fog. There were no clear skies except for the direction that we came from. Our hopes of seeing stars were dashed upon our arrival to the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station around 7:00 PM, shortly after sunset. We waited. It became darker, but there were no glimmers of hope hanging in the skies. Just darkness and cold setting upon us. It was time to call it a night before it got too cold and we wasted our night waiting for something that would not come.
This began back in Kona on the Island of Hawaii, when after a delicious meal of fish and french fries, we chose to take the opportunity of our last night in Kona to see the stars from the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station. From what I had read and heard from the locals, it was a must-visit attraction to see the stars. So, we took their advice and began the ride to the center.
It is not a treacherous road to the 9,200 ft / 2,800 meter high Visitor Station on the 13,796 ft / 4,205 meters high Mauna Kea. It is fully paved, and there are no requirements for your vehicle. Only when you want to go to the summit of the dormant volcano for a truly unique experience do you need a 4-wheel drive vehicle. From where we were staying in Kona to the center was about a one hour and thirty minute scenic drive.
Upon our arrival, the sun had just set and we were surrounded by fog in every direction. We parked the car and added some warmer layers. Definitely make sure you pack extra clothing as the temperature drops below 10 degrees Celsius at night. As we walked around the Visitor’s Center and the sky became darker, we became increasingly skeptical that we would be seeing any stars. It didn’t take long before we decided we would cut our loses for the night and head back to the hotel to enjoy our last night in Kona. Fortunately for us, the parking lot attendant asked us why we were leaving so early.
He said, “You guys made it all the way out here, stay a little while more and this will be cleared up in no time.”
And those words were enough to give us a sliver of hope to stay around for at most one more hour. If by that time the sky had not cleared up, we would leave. Finally, around 8:30 PM we caught our first glimmer of sparkling hope floating in the sky. Another followed by another, and we knew we were in for a night of glorious stars. In fact, it was my first time photographing stars using long exposure. In addition, it was the most amount of stars I had ever seen in the sky. Often times while camping in Northern Ontario, Canada, I see some pretty amazing night views. But up 9,200 ft / 2,800 meters and the view of the sky is magnified one hundred times again.
You are able to use the telescopes outside the Visitor’s Center, however we chose to stand away from the crowds and marvel at the skies in peace. The sound of people’s amazement at the skies echoed throughout the grounds, people were using their laser pointers to point out certain constellations in the sky, and the milky way was brilliant. I could not have asked for a better time at Mauna Kea.
It all would not have been possible if we rushed out of there and did not listen to the parking attendant. Sometimes when we travel, we can be in such a rush to get things done and make the most out of your time. This can cause a lot of things to be missed. In this case, it was better for us to slow ourselves down and take a moment to be patient. It paid off for us in the end.
Attraction: Kiholo Bay
Where: Kona, Island of Hawaii, Hawaii
Type: Nature / Beach
How: We drove down a bumpy gravel road off of Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway and parked the car in a small lot just before the beach. There is very limited parking here.
Cost: Free entry to the beach.
Duration: We were only there for about an hour before moving on to Hilo from Kona. Our main priority was to find some sea turtles, but you could definitely spend a day here on the beach and looking out for sea turtles.
Summary: Kiholo Bay is a beautiful black pebble beach in Kona on the Island of Hawaii. Spend the day there soaking in the sun and looking for sea turtles.
The countless things to keep your eyes busy on the Island of Hawaii, and we find ourselves on a search for sea turtles in the morning on our departure from Kona to Hilo. Before departing for Hawaii, we searched for things to keep us busy while spending time in Kona. There was no shortage of things to fill our time with. There was one mission we did want to accomplish before leaving hawaii, and that was finding ourselves some sea turtles. During our research, we found just the place: Kiholo Bay.
Kiholo Bay is situated on the western shores of the Island of Hawaii. It is the preferred shores for sea turtles to rest and eat the algae off the rocks on the shores. The perfect place to spot our sea turtles and move on from Kona to Hilo we thought. So, we planned it into our itinerary in the morning we left our hotel in Kona to our drive to Hilo. It gave us a one to two hour window of time to find the bay, walk along the shores, and find the turtles.
Well, we did try to find it the day prior. However, that did not work out as we had hoped. Sometimes that is the way it is with travel. What happened was while we were at a scenic lookout that overlooked the bay, we talked to another family that was also looking to spend a day at the beach. They told us to follow the road down a little where there are a couple other cars parked off the side of the road, get off there, and make our way down to the bay. We followed the directions, found the cars parked in a small clearing at the side of the road, and slowly drove our small car on the small and loosely packed lava rock. A few times it seemed we would get stuck, but the car made its way to where we wanted it. Not before a loud noise sounded from underneath.
I got out of the car, rested my knees on the sharp lava rock, and noticed the leak coming from underneath the car. Panic. Dollar signs flooded my mind. Uh-oh. How much is this going to cost us. I put my finger in the puddle the leak was building, smelt it. No odor. The panic lessens. I taste it. No taste. No more panic. It was just the condensation from the air conditioner.
So, we got our car parked where we wanted it. Now we just needed to find a way to the bay. We followed a path that winded its way back and forth through the lava rock landscape, but after twenty minutes of walking and not feeling we were getting any closer to the bay, we decided to cut our losses and go back to the car. We would try it again the following day.
Finally, we found the correct road we needed to drive down. A narrow, gravel road with lots of bumps off of Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway led us down to a small parking lot to Kiholo Bay. On the road, we could not go any faster than 5 mph without scraping the bottom of our car against the gravel road. We found one of the last parking lots among the ten other cars. Just a few steps from the beach, we felt we were just a few more away from seeing the sea turtles.
We walked along the beach, talked to a local, and we were pointed into the direction where some sea turtles had been spotted earlier in the shallows. Unfortunately, no sightings. We continued on along the beach and looking along the shorelines. Finally, there it was. A lone sea turtles eating away at the algae on the rocks. Our mission was accomplished. Our hopes of seeing more skyrocketed. After continuing on hoping to see more, we got far enough to decide we were not going to see any more than just that one today.
That one sea turtle was enough for us. We just needed one. It was well worth a one hour detour to Kiholo Bay. It satisfied our need to want to see such a marvelous animal. Just remember when you are in Hawaii that these animals are protected and it is not permissible to touch or disrupt these animals in any way. Do your part to keep these animals around forever.
Attraction: Kona Coffee Farm Tour at Mountain Thunder
Where: Kona, Island of Hawaii
Type: Tour / Food and Beverage Production
How: In Kona, there is a coffee farm called Mountain Thunder that offers tours of the farm daily. Free tours include detailing the history and processing of the coffee beans. Paid tours include more detailed and experiencing the processing of the coffee beans first-hand.
Cost: Free tours are offered, in addition to paid tours that last longer.
Hours: Tours begin at 9 AM and last for about an hour. There are longer tours available.
Duration: The basic tour we took explained the processing of the coffee beans and lasted one hour.
Summary: Early in the morning, we drove to higher elevation in Kona on the Island of Hawaii to see how Kona coffee is produced.
We love coffee, and Kona coffee is world famous. Considering we were spending a couple of days in Kona on the Island of Hawaii, we figured we should check out the free tours offered at Mountain Thunder Coffee Farm. If you are a coffee lover, and you find yourself in Kona, we highly recommend taking an hour our of your morning to partake in these tours provided by the farm. If you have enough time to spare, consider joining one of the paid tours that the farm provides.
Beginning our day bright and early to take advantage of the limited time we had in Kona, we drove thirty minutes from our hotel to higher elevation in the mountains where some of the greatest coffee in the world is grown. We arrived at 9 AM for the beginning of the first tours of the day. With about ten other people that had the same idea to come as early as possible for the tours, we followed our tour guide around while he explained in great detail the processing of the coffee from the cherry to the roasted bean. Beginning with a free sample of the Kona coffee and a few bowls of coffee cherries and beans on the table for inspection, we stood around while watching Mike Rowe on the television going through a similar tour that we would be on, but without the hands-on experience.
The tour guide began at the gates of the farm where we never entered because it was not quite coffee cherry picking time. Here at the gates were a few plants that he would explain the history of coffee coming to Hawaii. Coffee was brought to Hawaii approximately 200-250 years ago using Arabica beans. It takes five years before a tree begins to bear beans. Once they are ready for picking, and it is picking season, the ripe ones are picked. The harvesting season is only one season a year, and it is an ongoing process of picking the ripe ones, and leaving the others to continue to ripen. The ripe cherries are red or maroon in color. A good picker will pick 500 pounds of cherries in one day and will receive $100 USD for every 100 pounds they pick. Because of the soil and elevation of the trees, the beans contribute towards the alkaline taste, as opposed to the acidic nature of other coffee beans, which also produces the claim that drinking Kona coffee does not give you headaches or jittery feelings that other coffees may yield in drinkers.
In each cherry are two beans growing. However, in rare cases there is just one bean growing within the cherry. In this case, the one bean holds the caffeine content of two beans and is much more potent. These beans are called peaberry beans and are sold for much more than regular coffee beans.
Once the bags full of cherries are brought back by the pickers, the beans are separated from the cherries. After separation, the slimy coating that surrounds the beans gets washed off at a wet mill and are then dried out in the greenhouse. Next, the beans go through the process of removing the parchment and silver lining around them. To do so, they are spun around a screw to remove these. The beans go through a wind machine that blows air like a tornado allowing lighter trash to be removed and fall down. Good beans get sorted by size in a machine that allows them to fall through screen and get collected. Sizes are separated into different screens that include labels for each size. One size is too big to sell, one size is not good enough to sell, other sizes are separated, as well as a size labeled prime. Beans then fall through a moving screener that shakes the less dense beans away and are wasted. Beans get sorted by color where only green beans get selected by a machine. All of the standards that the farm follows, that include which beans can be sold, are guidelines created by the state of Hawaii. All of the waste gets used as compost.
Following this process that takes place in a small building, the beans are then carried to a separate building which is reserved for the roasting of the beans. In this intricate process, a master roaster must keep a constant eye on the beans as they roast. They are able to take a sample of the bean to smell and keep watch to when they have been perfectly cooked. There is about a fifteen second window that the beans can become overcooked. The beans are cooked at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for a light American roast, 450 degrees Fahrenheit for a medium Vienna roast, and 475 degrees Fahrenheit for a French roast.
The conclusion of the one hour tour allowed for some shopping in the gift shop on site. Within the range of coffee products included chocolates, candies, hand cream, and other things all including coffee ingredients. Other souvenirs included necklaces, bags, and other interesting items.
The Mountain Thunder Coffee Farm in Kona on the Island of Hawaii offers interesting tours for anyone visiting to see the intricate process of creating a cup of coffee. From the plant to your cup, there is a lot to learn about the coffee bean, and where better to start than in one of the places that makes some of the best and sought after cup of coffee in the world.
Attraction: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Where: Hilo, Island of Hawaii
Type: Nature / Park
How: The Volcanoes National Park is accessible by road and is about a thirty minute drive from Hilo. The address is 1 Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii National Park, HI, 96718.
Cost: There are various prices associated with how many are in your group and what vehicle you are parking. For the two of us in a car, we paid $20 USD. This is the base price for a car with a group of people.
Hours: The park is open 24 hours a day, all year round, and it doesn’t close on holidays!
Duration: You could spend anywhere from a few hours to days within the park. There are places to stay in the park overnight. There are multiple day treks available for visitors. We opted to drive around for four hours and see as much as we could while we were there. Visit the website for more information about what you can do during your trip.
Summary: The Volcanoes National Park is a powerful scenic attraction that should be everyone’s priority while visiting the Island of Hawaii for its natural beauty and awe-inspiring views.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes have always fascinated me. The idea of the molten rock below us bursting through an opening in the Earth’s crust creating myths, fertile soil, islands, and so much more. The idea that these incredible natural wonders can both provide life and take it away in a moment is something that is poetically beautiful. Something written by nature itself. Therefore, seeing one up close and personal was definitely a priority on my bucket list. I finally had the opportunity to do just that while on the Island of Hawaii.
Hawaii is a chain of islands created by volcanoes. Though they are mostly dormant now, there is one such volcano that rests on the Island of Hawaii, or the Big Island, that remains active to this day. The molten lava dribbles down the slopes and into the ocean, stopped only by the hardening of it. This adds to the black lava rock landscape that covers the island. The beauty of something like this is undeniable.
Driving from Kona to Hilo
On our last full day while on the Island of Hawaii, we drove to Hilo from Kona. Departing from Kiholo Bay, we drove the scenic drive through the middle of the island on Saddle Road. Though we read much online about not being able to drive your rental car on non-paved roads, and how Saddle Road is sometimes such a place that you are not allowed to drive your rental car (in addition to the summit of Mauna Kea), we discovered from locals that Saddle Road is now completely paved and there are no worries about driving on it.
The drive from one side of the island to the other lasted approximately one hour and thirty minutes. Do be careful though, there are no rest stops along Saddle Road and you should be prepared for any emergency. There are phones placed along the road in case of such emergencies. We had left around 11 a.m. and arrived close to 1 p.m., but before our check-in time, so we continued on from Hilo to the Volcanoes National Park. This drive lasted about forty-five minutes, though we stopped to grab some water and food to prepare for any hiking we would be doing.
Arriving at the Park
To be honest, we did not quite know exactly what we were going to do in the park. We arrived at 2 p.m. without any idea about how to continue. Luckily for us, the visitor’s center is extremely helpful and allows you to plan your trip while you are there. However, we do recommend that you look online for information. The website has lots of great information about hiking trails.
After walking into the Visitor’s Center and seeing a long line up for the information desk, we walked around the gift shop to see what souvenirs we could add to our collection. The information desk attendant called out to see who was interested in information on a short visit to the park. That was exactly what we were waiting for, so we listened in on what she had to say. The best time to spend up to four hours in the park was driving along Crater Rim Drive to see the Volcano, museum, vents, lava flow, and ocean views. This is exactly how much time we had to spare, and we quickly opted to get in our car and take the drive.
Crater Rim Drive to the Volcano
We began our drive westward towards the volcano and museum. Along the way are stops to see the sulfur vents, which we stopped off at to feel the heat from the belly of the Earth. It was the view of the volcano and surrounding landscape that really impressed us. Seeing the Earth blowing a constant trail of smoke into the air. Something so powerful just a couple hundred yards in front of us. It was beautiful to see how much of the landscape this volcano had impacted. Amazing how something so violent could shape something so incredibly beautiful. The scenery is accompanied by information posts, as well as the museum to see the history of the creation of the islands. Truly a unique experience, and one we were sure to check off our bucket lists while on the island.
Crater Rim Drive to the Ocean
Following our viewing of the volcano and short walk around the museum, we drove on towards the coasts of the island to see the scenic viewpoints along the way, lava flows, and hopefully witness the point where the lava flows into the ocean. The drive followed through dense rain forest. The rain forest quickly faded as the lava flows from years past had created the volcanic black rock landscape and craters.
Several scenic viewpoints along the way to the coast include viewings of these lava flows and craters, as well as coastal viewpoints. As you get closer to the coast, the wind increases from the ocean and you can really feel it push your vehicle around. Finally, after reaching the end point, there was no parking space and several cars waiting to park to begin the walk towards the coast. Unfortunately for us, with one of us not feeling ready to walk, we decided to call it a day after nearly four hours of driving, getting out, and walking around. It was one we will remember forever, through our photos, videos, and in our minds.
Luckily for us, we are among the fortunate ones who get to spend some time out of the year to travel the world. We should never forget this. However, sometimes when you travel to a certain place and you are limited for time, it just leaves with a hole that is not filled. You feel that you have more things you wanted to see that you did not know about before you got there. You feel like you want to return to this place in the future, though you know there are so many other destinations out there that you also want to visit. This is the feeling we were left with after Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It is a place we did not get to see enough of and want to return to see what we have not yet. However, there is a long list of places waiting for us to cross of our list. Where to go next?