The Big Island

The Big Island

Of course we did explore Hawai’i in a visitor’s way, too, getting to know all of its landscapes, along with many other attractions. But before you even ask, we did not dance the hula, or watch anyone else do so; we did not attend a luau or a ukulele concert. We didn’t zip line, paraglide or surf. We felt our way through, letting Hawai’is ways soak in, letting the islands reveal themselves, just as much as we recreated and claimed and conquered. Many of our experiences were subdued and subtle, low-key and under the radar. (Except for Atlantis’ undersea tour of the coral reef and wrecks and ocean floor.)

Some of our other favorite and memorable places and experiences on The Big Island …

We flew into Hilo (on the east coast), but stayed up near Hawi, about as far away from Hilo as you can get, in environment if not distance. The volcanoes/ mountains lie in-between the two, and make a rainforest on their windward side, and a rain-shadowed dry landscape on the leeward side. In the tropics the Trade Winds blow east to west, so Hilo is hot and humid – tropical – while Hawi is arid and serene. The drive from Waimea to Hawi is exalting, as you rise up 4000 feet, in ranch land strewn with boulders and cactus. Looking back along the edge road you can see all the way to Kona district, Mauna Kea’s and Mauna Loa’s peaks in the clouds and their immense and graceful slopes reaching down to the sea. Breathtaking. Humbling.

  • kona
  • hill
  • maui
  • cottage
  • flower-plant-2


Hawi is a sweet town, but many of its main-strip shops are run by transplants and cater to visitors. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the excellent and adventurous maki at Sushi Rock, and the friendly folks at the Sweet Potato Kitchen and Bakery, and the chi-chi organic produce at Kohala Grown. We stayed in the next little hamlet over, and Kapa’au is just east enough of the divide, and low enough to put us back in the jungle. The property had fruit trees galore, full of limes, banana, papaya, breadfruit, and myna birds, chattering, twittering, fussing all day long. The next door neighbor had an arbor/trellis covered in orchids! One lazy afternoon it rained, and we sheltered on the lanai, listening. There was rain overnight too, a few times, a lullaby that blanketed our sleep.

One afternoon we went to the Wildlife Rescue Center in Kapa’au. The patients are mostly birds – Pueo (owl), ‘Ua‘u kani (shearwater), Nēnē (goose) … but a bat (‘Ope‘ape‘a) was there too recuperating. There are videocams on all the healing creatures, and we got to see the ‘Ua‘u kani exercising in the saltwater bath, strengthening its once-broken wing. The center is staffed by friendly, caring volunteers. and funded by donation, so help out if you are so inclined.

We drove all over the island getting to and from the places we wanted to see, and two side trips are worth a mention. The first is a short, four-mile scenic drive, just south of Honomu Town on the east coast. Not one especial event or view, just a lovely, peaceful ride through flowering jungle and birds and ocean. The other drive we found up into the hills near several waterfall stops (a little less than spectacular in the dri-er summer) on Highway 19 near Umauma Falls. A one-lane road takes you up gently, over narrow bridges to grassland pasture hosting incurious cattle, bounded by dense forests of the most splendidly straight tall-trunked trees atop resistant crags. It put me in mind of Asplund’s cemetery, and its perched copse.



We went to Volcanoes National Park, and I’m sorry to say we were mostly disappointed. The offerings at the visitor center are basic, redundant, and boring (if you can believe it, the topic of the educational film was the 2008 eruption, not the recent one in 2017 and showed next to nothing anyway – ??!?), and the natural features of the park were so much less than Wow. Despite the setting, it was impossible to be awed by process or scale. There was no lava flowing at the time we were there, which no doubt contributed to my disengagement. We picked the only plum of the park, hiking down from rim to floor of Kīlauea Iki crater (now inactive, natch) and wandered over the cracked uneven surface to investigate active steam vents – yes they are hot! – and then climbed back up. Somewhat interesting, and a good workout. If I were to go back to the park, it would be to hike other trails, but I’d probably rather spend time exploring Puna. We were hungry after our hike, and stopped for a (large) splendid meal at ThaiThai restaurant in the town of Volcano. The kitchen was appreciative of our appetites! Probably the most adventurous volcano-related thing we did was drive back to Hawi – a two-hour ride – through the deserted saddle between the peaks. In the blackest night. A nice new highway named for Daniel K. Inouye connects route 11 with another north/south road (Highway 190) on the west side, Rather than streetlights, the roadway is lit by reflectors set in the pavement which mark lanes, verges and the middle. But the spacing of the widgets, OMG, it was hypnotizing, and I was fully – tensely – engaged just keeping Bruce from zoning out and nodding off. A good jazz station on the radio helped for a bit, but then it took me elbowing him and shouting and anything I could think of to keep us from crashing. But we made it, obvi.


A better sense of Nature’s Volcanic Power was had on the drive from Hawi to Kailua in Kona district, along the coast. On a clear day you can see Maui’s cloud-fringed peaks floating to the north. As you drive south always in view to your left are the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The landscape is arid, and indescribable – it looks like no other desert I have ever seen. Side roads to the beaches are intermittent. In-between them you cross repeating landscapes of pahoehoe (ropy lava) and a’a (its jagged cousin) that extend all the way up the slopes and all the way down to the sea. Many are still severely un-vegetated, and they contrast vividly with those that have been reclaimed by brush and grass and small plants. Here was the scale and process revealed that I had been hoping for in the park. It is easy to envision the enormous eruptions and flow that laid down this rock – new land – in simultaneously creative and destructive events. Awesome.

We did swim, along the west coast in Kona, early mornings with serious paddle-boarders, canoe-ers and snorkelers. Our favorite spot was a sheltered small beach near Hapuna beach (shade so much appreciated!). We floated and swam so effortlessly, it seemed the Pacific Ocean had to be saltier and denser than the Atlantic …. could this be? I’ll have to find out.

  • arid
  • beach
  • beach-2


It was from Kailua (in Kona district) that we took our submarine ride, and then went upslope to the Hula Daddy coffee plantation for a tour through the grounds and facilities, plus a tasting. Our guide was wonderful (and graciously fielded all of our group’s nerdy q’s), and I (we) do recommend a visit, and especially HulaDaddy’s coffee. There is a lot to learn about coffee growing, harvesting, and processing and also what makes Kona coffee unique (if you are into that kind of thing). Laura the roaster was just finishing a batch of (award-winning) Kona Sweet when we toured, and she passed some freshly ground beans for us to smell. Irresistible! We bought one half of a pound to enjoy during our visit. $$$$$, but we were celebrating our fortieth wedding anniversary, so we splurged. Delicious and unregrettable. In a lucky turn of events our last rental place on Kaua’i had no coffee grinder, so we brought Kona Sweet beans home, and reveled in memories as we relished every drop of the last pot.


On the way back from Kailua we took the high road, closer in elevation to Waimea (below Hawi) and so saw other natural environments and also more of everyday life, all of it engaging, compelling. I was surprised to learn that the Big Island features ten of Earthʻs fourteen climate zones 1. A beautiful sight that I did not think to capture in a photo, were the wild goats perched in silhouette on jutting crags. I swear they were posing. {But, snails, and pigs, and Nēnē I do have}

  • big snail
  • pigs
  • nene


I loved the Big Island, and I’d like to go back, if life allows. For more of Hawi and Kohala, and Kona district, Hawai’ian string music, and the sea. To see again the forested uplands, and for the first time The Painted Church in Captain Cook, all of Puna, and Waipi’o Bay. To go horseback riding, out-rigger canoe-ing, paddle-boarding. To drink Kona coffee, and settle into Hawaiian ways.

Oh, did I tell you about the stars?


error: Content is protected !!