Big Island activities
January 6, 2006 1:19 PM   Subscribe

So, I'm going to Hawaii. What should I do there?

Based on the very good recommendations I got in my earlier question on the subject, we've booked two nights at the Volcano House. We've also gotten a copy of The Big Island Revealed, as suggested.

However, the information about what to do/see is a bit overwhelming. Now that we have the lava viewing taken care of, what else should we do? We're thinking snorkeling around Kona, and rain-forest hiking around Hilo. We have two nights at the Volcano House at the end of our trip, so I'm looking for suggestions for 4 more nights--location, lodging, activities, restaurants, all that. We're a hippy-ish hetero couple in our mid-to-late 30s. Pretend money isn't an object.
posted by MrMoonPie to Travel & Transportation around Hawaii (20 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Driving across Saddle Road, which runs through the middle of the Big Island, was pretty cool. It felt very surreal: cool temperatures, rolling hills, mist and fog. A neat drive. Made my wife sick, though, so bring some dramameine.
posted by xmutex at 1:24 PM on January 6, 2006

Do the Kilauea Iki hike.
posted by kenchie at 1:29 PM on January 6, 2006

Response by poster: Maui's a different island, right? I didn't say so in the question, but I'd like to restrict our travels to the Big Island. And we do intend to rent a car.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:34 PM on January 6, 2006

Yes, Maui is another island. Before you go, get Google Earth and take a virtual tour of the island. Hawaii is one of the places where the elevation views work in G.E.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:41 PM on January 6, 2006

Are you flying in and out of Honolulu? If so, I definitely recommend trying to get to Pearl's an unbelievable experience. It only takes 2-3 hours, so you can just fly into Honululu a couple hours before your flight leaves for the mainland.
posted by elquien at 1:50 PM on January 6, 2006

Best answer: I already told you to see the lava flows at dusk in the previous thread. Another recommendation would be to go to the Hilo Farmers' Market, which is on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Some of the most delicious fruits you'll even eat, and it's bizarre and wonderful for a mainlander like me to see things like cherimoyas and longans outside of a supermarket and not exorbitantly priced.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:19 PM on January 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

You will have to fly in to Honolulu, then take a puddle jumper to the Big Island.

For your time on Oahu, people like to see the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Waikiki Beach (it's just a beach), and Hanauma Bay. If you like to snorkel (or ever wondered why people would like to snorkel), I *strongly* recommend Hanauma Bay. Bring a package of frozen peas from the supermarket, and feed the fish in the bay while snorkeling (and take your trash with you when you go!). It is magical. At the bay, start walking around the left side of the bay, staying on the rocks the whole way, and get flushed in the toilet bowl.

On Hawaii, see the volcano. Can't recommend anything else, don't know enough.

On Maui, there's Haleakala. Take one of the bike tours - they drive you up to the top of the crater, you watch the sunrise, then coast all the way down on mountain bikes. Awesome.

Kauai has a wide assortment of beautiful waterfalls and so on.

Go into a greasy spoon diner at some point during your trip and order a plate lunch involving spam, a scoop of macaroni, and a scoop of rice.

Do look into to spending some time on the other islands. May not be time-effective, given travel time and the overall time available for your trip, but at least consider it. At least you can spend some time on Oahu at the beginning or end of your trip.
posted by jellicle at 2:31 PM on January 6, 2006

Response by poster: Johnny Assay, that's the sort of thing we'd really like. Food, local color, stuff like that.

On the other end of the spectrum, we're considering spending two nights at the Kona Village Resort, but, wow, that's pretty pricey. Worth it? Alternatives?
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:47 PM on January 6, 2006

Best answer: I really wanted to complete the Pu`u `O`o hike suggested in the Big Island Revealed, but I only had time for an hour (the whole hike takes 3 according to them). It was pretty nice, very ominous, since I knew I was hiking towards the PIT OF HELL ITSELF!!!11!

Check out this awesome cam of the vent. Of course you could never get that close yourself without a Half-Life-style hazard suit, but I imagine it's really awesome from a safe distance as well.

Make sure you get some mochi from the Two Ladies Kitchen in Hilo as well. It's some of the best in the world.
posted by breath at 4:16 PM on January 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The road from the Kona side of the island to the volcano area goes thru some amazing elevation changes and there are some little towns. They struck me as being potentially full of "local color". We went thru on July 4th and everything was closed so I can't confirm that.

As you get closer to the more populous areas of the Kona side of the island there are the coffee and chocolate plantations. That always struck me as a neat thing.

On the side of the island, north of Hilo, you will find the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden (self-pics). I'm not a flower person and it was a bit pricey but it was truely stunning. Further north, is some water falls and lastly the breathtaking Waip`io Valley (self-pics). Photographs do not do this justice. It is shockingly pretty even from the lookout. To get to the bottom you need a 4x4 vehicle because the road has a 25% grade! Also, unless you rent from a speciality place, your car rental place probably explictly forbids you from going down there (or across the Saddle Road for that matter).

Lastly, I thought dinner in Waimea was really neat. It felt very much like you were in Texas. Lots of flat land and fences but the fine dining choices were plenty.
posted by mmascolino at 4:20 PM on January 6, 2006 [1 favorite]

Relax! Bring a book you've been dying to read. Sit on beautiful beaches, enjoy snorkeling in the warm water, watch the people, talk to each other and enjoy. The Big Island has some awesome beachfront 4 and 5 star resorts, and I'd choose one of those, like the Mauna Lani, for your remaining nights if money really is no object.

I would not spend time on any other island on a trip of 7 nights or less. The travel time is not worth it, IMO, unless you're doing an interisland cruise or something. I also wouldn't assume you can't fly direct into Kona from the mainland. From the west coast, it's definitely possible, even from smaller airports.

If either of you get cold easily in water under 75 or so, you might want to get an inexpensive "shorty" wetsuit. And for the love of God, sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen... a t-shirt or tank top while snorkeling isn't a bad idea, either (another good part of the wetsuit). Also, the mosquitos can be fairly vicious at night, so I'd bring some insect repellent if you're the type they tend to enjoy noshing upon.
posted by whitearrow at 4:32 PM on January 6, 2006

Have some manapua.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 5:20 PM on January 6, 2006

Best answer: I live in Hawaii, born and raised here, and while I'm a Honolulu kid, I love the Big Island. I'd move there in an instant... if there was a decent living to be had in media or web development.

Basically, my advice would be, see as much as you can, but take your time. The Big Island is a spiritual place, full (mostly) of small, reflective, slow-moving communities. Linger a little longer everywhere, rather than rushing to make the next spot.

The Kona side is the bustling side, the touristy side, with the most nightlife, fanciest resorts, most traffic, most tourists. You'll find a lot to do, and if you like spas and pampering, and if money really is no object, hey, go to town.

As a local, I love the Hilo side, the east side, the wet side. Still not exactly a tiny town, with its share of traffic (and a WalMart and a big mall, and...), but closer to the "real" Hawaii -- if that's really what you want. Lots of little areas to visit. Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, Onomea Bay (and the botanical gardens), historic Hilo town (small shops, a great farmer's market), Liliuokalani Gardens (a nice Japanese-themed park on the bay, right next door to Banyan Drive, the hotel strip in Hilo)... you could even visit the University of Hawaii-Hilo campus. Well, I do, but that's 'cause I went there and met my wife there.

Two Ladies Kitchen? Absolutely. Ken's House of Pancakes is impossible to avoid. When we visit, we eat there for breakfast every single day. Blaine's Drive-Inn for some heart-stopping plate lunches. If you've got hippie leanings, try Hilo Bay Cafe -- a very nice place with an emphasis on local, organic produce. Lots of Japanese, Chinese, and other holes in the wall everywhere.

If you're a hiker, or a meanderer, or a sit-and-thinker, of course the volcano could easily take up a few days. Also check out South Point (a bit of a drive), the Lava Tree park between the volcano and Hilo, spend some time in Waimea (a cool, wet town high up above Kona)... See the small, small towns, like Honokaa, even Hawi/Kapa`au on the northern point, the birthplace of King Kamehameha.

Oh. Accomodations? The Volcano House is great. I don't know too much about the big resorts (though the one on Hapuna Beach -- the biggest white-sand beach on the relatively young island -- is supposed to be nice). The two largest hotels on the Hilo side are the Naniloa and the Hilo Hawaiian. We prefer the latter. Note that both, like Hilo, are kind of like hotels that time forgot. They're not Motel 6, but you will feel like you've been transported to a hotel in the late '70s!

I hope you have a great trip.
posted by pzarquon at 5:31 PM on January 6, 2006 [3 favorites]

I also want to endorse the Kilauea Iki hike, the botanical garden north of Hilo, Waipio Valley, the Saddle Road drive, the summit of Mauna Kea, the visitors center partway up the summit road, the dining in Waimea, the coffee grown and sold in South Kona, and the black sand beach near South Point. And The Big Island Revealed and its siblings are the best guide books I've ever used.
posted by Songdog at 7:42 PM on January 6, 2006

If you have a digital camera, check out your manufacturer's website or and pick up an underwater housing for it. Then do some snorkeling, or (if you have the time to do a certification) some scuba. You'll be amazed at how much fun it is to swim around and look at the stuff you normally only see on the Discover channel, with your own eyes. I just got back from Jamaica, followed a similar tip from a friend who has spent some time traveling to warm watery places, and am amazed at the pictures and video that I brought back.

If you're staying at a resort of some kind many of them have a resort scuba program that will take you a few hours to complete and the you'll get a half hour or so of dive time, usually at an extra cost. Well worth it. After doing this myself I really want to get certified and then hit some more tropical reefs.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:52 AM on January 7, 2006

Bear in mind that you can't visit the summit of Mauna Kea right after you scuba dive, just as you can't fly right after. I'm not sure whether it would affect lower-altitude excursions such as the Kilauea Caldera, but I expect it would not. I'm not a diver, but I'm sure someone here is and would know how long you have to wait before ascending to a given altitude.

We had our Canon digital in an underwater housing when we snorkled and we got some great pictures, especially after a little color correction back home. I wonder whether any amateur digicams have a "diving" white balance setting.
posted by Songdog at 12:01 PM on January 12, 2006

Response by poster: Hah--I said "pretend" money's no object. It is, but we've come up with a pretty good trip, I think. We've booked most of it already; here are the details:

Flying into Hilo, staying 2 nights at the Hilo Hawaiian. We're planning on hitting the Saturday farmer's market there, then bopping around some of the other mentioned sites. We'll be renting a 4wd from Harper, so we can then travel to Kona on Sunday, via the Saddle Road, stopping along the way whenever our fancies are striken. Next, two nights at the Outrigger, south of Kona, snorkeling/kayaking at Kealakekua Bay, probably taking a snorkel boat trip sorta thing. Then, ending with the aforementioned two nights at the Volcano House.

Thanks for all the advice! Lemme know if anyone thinks of anything else--I'll be checking this thread periodically until our trip this summer.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:25 AM on January 17, 2006

we spent our time in the park with warren costa as our guide. he was completely great, and we definitely saw, learned and understood a great deal more about what we were seeing than if we'd headed out on our own.
posted by judith at 7:21 PM on March 6, 2006

Best answer: I really cannot recommend the big island revealed enough. That book is essential.

Seeing the lava is definitely a highlight. I highly recommend walking out across the lava fields at night. I would suggest starting around 3:00 in the afternoon and take a flashlight and plan on being out there until well after dark. There seems to be a group that leaves from arnotts lodge that sees skylights when they go. They update photos on their page once or twice a week of what they see. It seems to be you could just follow them instead of paying for their guided tour. For weeks leading up to our trip, I was constantly checking out the volcano observatory to see what was happening on their eruption updates to see what we were in for. By using the photos on both of those sites, we were able to make a fair guess at what direction to head to see lava (that, and the red glow at night made it easier to find).

You cannot see the actual vent (volcano) where the lava is coming from. The one trail I would without a doubt, 100% recommend to get close to the volcano is the kahaualea trail (page 71). Its 4 miles each way, but at the end of the trail, you are a mile or less from the actual volcano where you can watch it smoking and glowing. Truly an awesome site. Was totally the highlight of our trip.

Other things would be go swimming with the turtles. I would not recommend the hotel, but the lagoon next to the keauhou beach resort easily had 20 turtles swimming in it. We just waded out in the lagoon and it was amazing.

We had a four wheel drive jeep which helped. I'd recommend that too.
posted by HoopsMcCann at 6:47 AM on March 16, 2006 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: We're back! We had a great trip. I'm updating my blog with a full account and pictures. I guess it's lame to link to the blog post here, but you can get to it via my profile. I didn't get to poke lava with a stick, but I did have a great 40th birthday--thanks, all!
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:44 AM on August 3, 2006

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