Help me have a great trip to the Big Island!
August 17, 2014 10:01 PM   Subscribe

My husband and I will be traveling with two friends of ours to Big Island of Hawai'i the first week of October. We went around the same time with the same couple in 2012 and spent most of our time on the Kona side. Now we're planning to spend most of our time on the Hilo side, and I'm looking for all the advice/tips/recommendations you have to offer! Specific questions inside.

We fly into the Kona airport. Our first night, we're staying at an AirBnb rental near Waipio Valley. The next four nights we're staying in a rental in Mountain View, near Volcano, and the last two nights we're staying on a coffee farm near Captain Cook. The only activity we have scheduled so far is that our first full day, we'll be taking the AM horseback ride through Waipio Valley with Naalapa Stables. We are also planning to go up to the Mauna Kea Visitor Center for stargazing one of the nights, and to visit the Place of Refuge when we're staying in Captain Cook.

Our last trip was kind of a whirlwind, and we didn't get to spend nearly as much time in Hilo and in and around the volcano as we wanted to, which is why we're spending the bulk of our nights in Mountain View.

Specific questions:

1) I quit eating beef several years ago, but occasionally I crave it. If I want a really excellent local flank steak while we're there, where's the best place to go? I'm kind of assuming this will be somewhere up in the north, probably in/near Waimea.

2) Favorite bar in Hilo to just hang out and have a few drinks?

3) We're planning on buying a cheap cooler and a fair amount of our own food, since all of our rentals will have full kitchens. For example, we'll be driving from Waipio Valley to Mountain View via Hilo on a Wednesday so we plan on stopping at the Hilo Farmer's Market to buy a bunch of fruits and vegetables. Any tips/suggestions on getting the most bang for our buck when it comes to making our own food?

4) The volcano park was the most amazing place I've ever been on the planet so far, and I'm so excited to go back! Last time, we pretty much just saw the visitor center, the Thurston lava tubes, and the Jager museum at sunset. What else there is an absolute must-see? (There so many trails/hikes listed on the website that it's kind of overwhelming. I am not a big hiker - a couple hour walk is probably my max, unless there are bathrooms somewhere along the way.) Also, is it worth it to have a meal at the Volcano House?

5) Any and all restaurant recommendations!

6) My husband really wants to go to a beach with some wave action - he's not a surfer, so nothing crazy, just some place with more surf than a lot of the popular snorkeling spots. Any suggestions?

7) Just generally, what other recommendations do you have for things to do? I personally am pretty ambivalent about beaches (I can't swim) but the other three members of the party all want to swim and snorkel, and I never mind going along as long as there's some shade.
posted by skycrashesdown to Travel & Transportation around Island of Hawai'I, HI (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
It's been over a decade since I was there so I have no idea if my restaurant recommendations would still be good. We did, however, take great advantage of Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed, which we found very useful.

In Volcanoes National Park the Kilauea Iki hike was memorable and well worth it: across the hardened lava floor of a volcanic crater. Its National Park Service page describes it as 4 miles, 2 or 3 hours, which is about what I remember. I was there in late September and it was pretty hot out in the sun, so bring a hat and plenty of drinking water.

I also recommend driving down Chain of Craters Road to see past lava flows, as well as trying to get close enough to see current volcanic activity. On our first trip we were able to see glowing lava flowing into the sea at night from about a mile away. On our second trip, two years later, the lava flow had cut off part of Chain of Craters Road but we were able to get within feet of oozing lava by day, under the watchful eye of a park ranger. I have no idea what's changed in the last ten years of activity, but you'll be able to find out in the park.

From Captain Cook you might want to have a look at South Point, and I definitely recommend going to see the black sand of Punalu'u Beach.

I hope you have a wonderful trip!
posted by Songdog at 6:26 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

This botanical garden near Hilo was the neatest thing I did visiting that part of the Big Island. We also very much enjoyed a helicopter tour as well. But it's quite expensive and the two hour whole-island tour we did was a bit much. A quick flight over the volcano or the Waipiʻo Valley would have been enough.
posted by Nelson at 7:13 AM on August 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I came in specifically to recommend the botanical garden. Gardens aren't particularly my thing, but it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the entire trip.
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:37 AM on August 18, 2014

I found the petroglyphs at the Pu'u Loa site in Volcanoes National Park absolutely amazing. They're carved in lava. How on earth could anyone do that?

Seconding the Punalu'u Beach and the Hilo botanical gardens. Stop by the Punalu'u Bakery if you have time (yum!).
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:38 AM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

We took a helicopter ride out of Hilo and that was an amazing way to view the new land the volcano had created and to possibly see lava flowing. Unfortunately later that day the rain poured down and we didn't stop at the visitors center. I'm jealous. :)

Down at South Point there is a wonderful green sand beach that you can walk to or drive to, but I'd recommend letting one of the locals lead you there. They work for tips, and hopefully you are renting a 4-wheel drive. At Capt. Cook there is the monument to go see. Either rent kayaks to paddle across the bay (easy and beautiful) or hike down. The snorkeling there is incredible. Another close by snorkeling location is two steps. You won't be disappointed. There is also a nice fruit stand along the road and I'd recommend stopping.

I also second the black sand beach.

What a great time! Also, hit Costco before you leave Kona for basics. It'll save you some money.
posted by OkTwigs at 7:58 AM on August 18, 2014

If you go to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, make sure to stop at What's Shakin for smoothies.
posted by steveminutillo at 9:22 AM on August 18, 2014

We just got back from the Big Island (where we got to experience Tropical Storm Iselle). I highly recommend having a late dinner at the Volcano House, as you'll be able to see the glow from Halemaumau crater. But you don't have to eat at the fancy restaurant--the less posh "cafe" is quite worth it. We were there the night before the hurricane so it may have cut down on the number of diners; we didn't need a reservation. I would suggest making a reservation, especially if you want to try to get a seat right by the window.
posted by cyclist99 at 9:44 AM on August 18, 2014

Kilauea Iki was a great volcano hike, so, seconded.

Here is what's currently going on in the park.
posted by craven_morhead at 4:13 PM on August 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

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