Traveler: Breonne Eberhart
Where: Big Island, Hawaii
E Komo Mai (Welcome) to the largest island in the Hawaiian chain. The big island boasts a very unique terrain ranging from lava fields to jungle to one of the tallest snow covered mountains in the world. Who knew there was snow on a tropical island?
I have lived in Hawaii for some time now and the Big Island is one of my favorite places to have an adventure. One day I will hopefully own some land on this beautiful island but until then, long weekends will do! If you are visiting Oahu or any of the other Hawaiian Islands you may want to island hop for a few days. I recommend choosing the Big Island. I am going to show you everything you can accomplish in 48 hours! It is impossible to see everything in two days but this itinerary highlights some of my favorite activities. Starting in Kona and finishing in Hilo you can dive with manta rays, snorkel with wild dolphins, visit green and black sand beaches, cliff jump at south point, go sledding on Mauna Kea, and visit an active volcano.
I use Hawaiian airlines to fly inter-island which will typically cost around $160 round trip depending on the time of year. I recommend flying into Kona and flying out of Hilo if you are island hopping for the weekend, it is more expensive but will save you a lot of time. If you are coming from the mainland flight prices vary but you can fly into either Kailua Kona or Hilo. Renting a car is a must on the Big Island. The description is in the name. This island is very big and can take six hours or more to drive around in entirety. There are numerous hotels and air bnbs. It really depends on where you want to stay and what activities you have planned to determine which side of the island and accommodation to book.
I flew into Kailua Kona airport and stayed at the Sheraton Keauhou for the first night. This hotel is a little outdated but has a nice pool and views. They have a bar called Rays on the Bay where you can watch the manta rays feed at night or you can even jump in with them if you are felling brave. In Hilo I stayed at the Kilauea military camp. You or a friend will need military access but they offer cute little one or two bedroom cabins with fireplaces. Bring your cold weather clothes because it is pretty chilly up there at night. Kilauea camp has a restaurant that overlooks Halemaumau, which is the active volcanic crater. It is pretty amazing to be able to see the glow from the lava while sipping on a Mai Tai.
Diving with Manta Rays
This is a once in a lifetime experience to swim with a creature that has an average wingspan of 22 feet! You can book through many different sites but I always use Big Island Divers. This dive company is extremely friendly and very knowledgeable about mantas. They supply you with refreshments and gear as well. You meet the company at the Honokohau boat harbor (in Kona) for a brief safety lesson and then you are on your way to either scuba dive or snorkel with the most majestic creatures I have ever seen in the deep blue.
This tour does go out at sunset and takes place in the dark. The company will provide giant Maglite’s for two reasons. 1- Obviously to see in the pitch black water and 2- These bright lights actually attract plankton which is the manta rays primary food source… they eat quite a bit….approximately 60 pounds daily! Despite having teeth Mantas luckily don’t bite anything or anyone …so no worries jumping in the water with them. Once in the water the divers head to the ocean floor and the snorkelers hang onto a platform made from some PVC pipe.
Since the lights attract the plankton you can expect up to a dozen of manta rays to make an appearance for dinnertime! You will notice them gently doing somersaults directly underneath your stomach scooping up all the plankton that is floating near the lights. It is slightly terrifying at first and heard many people screaming through their snorkels! But after a few minutes you are immediately captivated by their beauty and quickly forget you are floating in the middle of the ocean at night.
Honaunau Bay “Two Step”
Every time I visit Big Island I always make a stop at this bay aka “two step”. It is famous for its crystal clear bay water perfect for snorkeling. Once, I was there with some friends and after jumping in the water I saw some fins and immediately freaked out thinking it was a shark. I got a bit closer and realized it was a pod of wild dolphins! I swam closer and was greeted by approximately 20 dolphins and their babies….it was truly magical and best of all its absolutely free! I can almost guarantee you will see dolphins if you go between 9-10 am. Definitely bring your GoPro for some epic pictures and if you don’t have snorkeling gear, Snorkel Bob’s in Kona can rent it to you for a nominal fee.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach
A mineral called olivine deposited by the lava creates this green sand. To get to Papakolea, turn south off of Highway 11 between mile markers 69 and 70. The road is clearly marked with signs that say South Point. After you make it to the parking lot, getting down to the beach is the adventure. You can either walk in which is a rocky 2.5 mile hike one way or get a ride from one of the locals in the back of their pickup…. empty your bladder and finish your drinks before hopping in…it’s an extremely bumpy ride! Once you get to the beach you have to walk down some stairs and will eventually get a panoramic view of the bay.
Ka Lae “South Point”
I know everyone thinks of Key West as the southern most point of the United States but actually Hawaii claims that title at a place called South Point. This is very close to the green sand beach so you can head here after Papakolea. South Point is known for its epic cliff jumping…so why not take the leap? There is a platform that you can’t miss which is where you jump and a set of stairs on the side of the cliff to get back to land. As we all know the power of the ocean is perilous so please make sure the conditions are nearly perfect before taking the 40-foot plunge. If jumping from a cliff into the unknown isn’t exactly your cup of tea you can still say you stood on the southernmost point of the US!
Punaluu Black Sand Beach
I grew up in Pennsylvania so black sand pretty much just reminds me of playing in the coal mines when I was younger. However, it is a rarity and this particular beach is considered the most beautiful. If you are lucky you might see a few Hawaiian sea turtles catching some rays.
The Big Island is one of the only places on the planet where you can get up close and personal with an active volcano. Lava from Kilauea has been continuously flowing since 1983. At times the lava forms a hole in the sea cliff resulting in a lava hose that crashes into the ocean. You can literally witness in real time the creation of new Hawaiian real estate. And it is by far the cheapest oceanfront property you can buy!
There are two ways to view the lava flow. You can hike in or take a boat tour. Hiking in is an 8-mile round-trip hike through the lava fields in Kalapana. Kalapana, which used to be a fishing village, is now completely buried by lava. You will trek through the lava fields to the sea cliff where you can hopefully see lava flowing into the ocean. The lava flow changes daily so make sure you check www.nps.gov to see what the conditions are like. It depends on where the flow is to determine the best vantage point. However, I prefer taking the boat because you get to see the beautiful sea cliffs and coastline of Hawaii and are eventually rewarded with striking views of the lava.
The boat takes you so close to the fiery lava exploding into the pacific that you can actually feel the heat emanating and hear the falling embers striking the side of the boat. The ride is not for the faint of heart. It is rough, you will get wet, and if you are prone to seasickness I would take some Dramamine a few hours prior. Oh and bring a rain jacket…I have learned that a rain jacket anywhere you travel is a vital piece of clothing! On the boat you are almost guaranteed to see lava as opposed to hiking…which is hit or miss. I have done this twice and used a local guide named Kai. He has a brand new boat which seats 6 so it is a more personal experience than the larger tour companies. You can contact him at 808-640-0806 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. I recommend going at sunrise (it is the prettiest) but anytime during the day is sure to impress. The only downside is the boat tour is not cheap it will run you around $200/person but it is a once in a lifetime adventure!
Mauna Kea is a 14,000-foot dormant volcano on the big Island. This mountain is said to be very sacred to the Hawaiian people and is one of the best sites in the world for astronomy. I was doing some research before going and found that Mauna Kea is actually the tallest mountain in the world surpassing Mount Everest. Ok so that’s only true if we are measuring base to summit (most of it is in the ocean) but I thought it was still a neat factoid. Getting to Mauna Kea requires a 4×4 vehicle. I didn’t really believe I would need one on the way up since it didn’t seem very treacherous. But going down is a different story. Make sure you put the vehicle in 4 low and do not touch your brakes if possible. I made that mistake and could smell something burning which come to find out was my brakes. After panicking for about 5 minutes thinking the car was going to burst into flames it went away. I realized what I was doing wrong and the rest of the trip down was smooth sailing!
Mauna Kea does gain elevation pretty quickly so be prepared for some altitude sickness. You are literally going from sea level to 14,000 feet in 45 minutes. I felt very short of breath, dizzy, and COLD. It is very cold up at the top! I could only get out of the car for about 5 minutes at a time because I thought my fingers were going to fall off. I am also a big baby when it comes to anything under 75 degrees….Hawaii ruined me! With that said, I promise it is all worth it! Mauna Kea is simply beautiful!! If you get the chance stay until nightfall…. the stargazing is said to be phenomenal.
I always thought it would be neat to snorkel and play in the snow all in the same day! The Big Island checked that off my bucket list. I went snorkeling at Kapoho tide pools in Hilo, got changed out of my bathing suit to my winter attire… in the car …and began the drive to the summit. The only thing I would change for next time is not going into 30-degree weather with wet hair. I’m pretty sure it was frozen solid when I stepped out of the car! Also bring a sled….which I am not even sure exists in Hawaii. But something to sit on and slide down the hills instead of your okole (butt), like I did, would probably work better. Someone mentioned a tray from McDonalds, which seemed like a genius idea to me!
If you have never been to Hawaii before you definitely need to try the local fare. Poke is a staple here. It is cubed raw tuna mixed with various different types of spices and sauces. Poke is a signature dish of the islands and is damn good! I recommend Da Poke Shack in Kona for a poke bowl.
Spam musubis are my favorite especially on the go. You really can’t go wrong with spam, rice, nori, and furikake all rolled up into a perfect little handheld snack. Try the deluxe spam musubi from 7-11. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Hawaiian food might not be the healthiest option but it is delicious! Poi, lomi salmon, lau lau, kalua pig, and squid luau are among my favorites. Try Broke Da Mouth Grindz in Kona or Kuhio Grille in Hilo for a Hawaiian plate lunch. And don’t forget to grab a Kona Big Wave and enjoy the sunset.