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Hawai’i Trip, Part 2

The island of Hawai’i (also known as the Big Island) is pretty darned big — who would have known? It takes around 6 or 7 hours to drive the loop around the entire island. The island also has very different characteristics in different areas: hot, dry, and barren on the west coast, lush rainforest on the east, and snow-capped peaks in the middle. We are staying on the west coast — the Kona coast — where it rarely rains, and vast fields of black lava rock make up the landscape. Most of it doesn’t look like what you’d expect of Hawai’i.

Map of Hawai’i

Not a big surprise, but we woke up very early Saturday (3:00am early), due to the 6-hour time difference between Hawai’i and Virginia. After trying to sleep some more, then reading books for a while, we gave up and decided to make the best of things and get an early start to the day. We headed to the nearby town of Kailua-Kona and enjoyed a very good breakfast at Island Lava Java.

Kathie on the beach

Kathie checking out the beach after breakfast

We decided to drive to Hilo on the other side of the island, via the northern route, and see some sights along the way. So by 7:30am we were heading North on the Māmalahoa Highway, and continued on, climbing steadily in altitude, until we reached the town of Waimea. There, we decided to take a detour and turned onto Kohala Mountain Road, a steep winding road that took us up to around 3,500 feet and a view of the western coastline.

On the advice of some locals who were also at the overlook, we continued on our detour to the northern tip of the island, and to another overlook, this time above the Pololū Valley. After admiring the view, we decided to attempt the hike down the 420-foot cliff face to the black sand beach, knowing that the hike back up would be an even greater challenge. There’s a zig-zag path cut into the side of the cliff which makes the hike manageable for us amateurs, but I was still impressed that we made it (mostly, that we made it back up). Think about climbing to the top of a 42-story building… in the hot tropical sun… on a steep rock and dirt trail. At the bottom, we got to check out the very fine black sand, and watch a few locals surfing, swimming, and fishing at the beach. Back at the top, we gulped down our water, turned the air conditioning on full-speed in the car, and retraced our route back to the beginning of our several-hour-long detour.

After hiking down to the black sand beach

Shortly after turning East again, we crossed over to the rainy side of the island — rainy means it gets 130 inches of rain per year — and the Hāmākua coast. Because of the rain, everything grows huge and dense here. Our next detour took us to Waipi’o Valley Overlook, which was so similar to the Pololū Valley Overlook that for a few minutes we thought we were looking at the same valley from the opposite side. Luckily no downward trail for us to hike down this time. There is a meandering drive one can take to the bottom of Waipi’o Valley but only with a 4×4. This valley was once (13th through 17th century) the center of Hawaiian life, with 20,000 Hawaiians living here.

Looking out over Waipi’o Valley

Our next stop on the journey to Hilo was Laupāhoehoe Point Park. This local watering hole was full of kids swimming and diving off rocks. The waves crashing on the rocks were sending up giant plumes of ocean spray, and Kathie was thoroughly enjoying sitting on the pier and watching the show.

Watching the waves at Laupāhoehoe Point Park

We were quite hungry by now (no doubt due to the strenuous hike earlier in the morning, and the many hours since breakfast), but decided to make one more stop on the way to Hilo. This time we drove to ‘Akaka Falls State Park, where a 10-minute walk on a paved trail took us into the rainforest to witness two giant (over 400-foot high) waterfalls: ‘Akaka falls and Kahuna falls. Kahuna falls was further away from the trail and cut into the mountain surrounded by trees, so it almost looked like a very fast waterslide. ‘Akaka falls into a large basin so it’s very open and visible. The water falls so far that much of it turns into mists and fine sprays.

‘Akaka falls

Finally exhausted and hungry, we pressed on until reaching the city of Hilo around 3pm. Hilo is considered less touristy and more “Hawaiian” than Kona. Most of the locals live on the Hilo side and commute to Kona. We stopped on the main drag and grabbed some food from Café Pesto. After feeling refreshed and ready to see more sites, we walked towards the Big Island Visitor’s Bureau. Unfortunately it was closed on the weekends so we decided to walk around further and see some of the shops. Shortly after walking around we realized something very odd: many of the museums and shops were either closed on Saturdays or closed early on Saturdays so we were unable to actually visit many of the sites. Since we were tired and still had a 2 ½ hour drive back to the hotel, we decided to call it a day.


1 Comment

  1. Edward
    September 10, 2008

    If you get back around to Hilo, check out Rainbow Falls, it is pretty much right in the town, not too tall, but still has a lot of water in it. Hopefully you will make it to Volcanoes National Park I really like the end of the road where it just gets covered by lava.