The Big Island of Hawaii is a vacation like no other.
This past October we were given an amazing opportunity to travel to the Big Island of Hawaii for three weeks as a family. Time away from the chilly fall days of Calgary and imminent snow was a blessing. Soaking up the sun of Hawaii was a dream come true in more ways than one.
Plan, plan and continue to plan
Like so many vacations that involve so many moving parts like kids, a dog, work schedules, extended family and unforeseen circumstances it takes time to plan. We knew we would have to be on the Big Island during a certain time so we started planning early. Our best tip is to start looking early for accomodations first! This will always be your most expensive portion of your trip so having a clear idea of where and how much you want to spend is crucial.
Being a type A personality meant we started shopping around 10 months before our departure. We found an ideal condo through homeaway.ca which fit most of the criteria on our list. And as we were planning on travelling during slow season we saved a bundle too!
Our condo was situated in the picturesque Village of Waikoloa in the South Kohala district about 6 miles from the Waikoloa resort area. The resort area houses the main hotel chains along with it’s shopping complexes but the village east of this area was perfect for us. Less traffic, less people and less tourists. If felt more like home away from home than a fancy hotel chain.
Flights and car rentals
Once the condo was booked, flights was second on the list. Searching daily, sometimes three times a day for flights proved time consuming but worth the effort. My go to ended up being FlightHub.com. Here we were able to find tickets 5 weeks before our departure date. Although it proved to be a lengthy layover in San Francisco we didn’t mind. San Fran is one of those places we look forward to going every time even if it’s just a layover!
Our car rental was easy to get as we managed to save enough points with our Aeroplan card. This was the biggest savings we had and being on the Big Island you need a vehicle. With over 10,000km you’re gonna need a car to see the whole island or even a small portion of it.
When we arrived early in the afternoon we knew we had stumbled onto a place like no other on this planet. Flying into Kona airport you really get a sense of how different the Big Island really is. As you descend you leave the lush palm trees and arrive in the middle of a 150 year old lava flow that has hardened and created new land. It really takes your breath away and you start to wonder where the hell you’ve decided to vacation!
The whole Island is literally carved out of lava which continues to add hundreds of acres each year. This is the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian islands and it by far leaves much to be discovered. Which begs the question, what do you see while you’re here? EVERYTHING!
South kohala District
Although the whole Island is comprised of 9 districts, South Kohala was definitely the gem for us. Situated on the west coast of the Big Island this part has some of the best beaches scattered amongst lava fields and sparse palm trees. Even the water on this side of the Island is the warmest and calmest of all the Islands. The world renowned Hapuna Beach is located just 5 miles north of Waikoloa resort area along the Queen Ka’ahumanu highway. This beach has over a mile of white sand and has some amazing boogie boarding along with some killer sunsets!
Further north about a quarter of a mile sits Mauna Kae beach resort which is a smaller beach but just as picturesque. The good thing about Mauna Kae beach was the small parking lot which only allows 40 cars but that also means you need to get there early. Otherwise you can walk from the Hapuna beach parking. We chose the former and went early and were not disappointed!
Even better yet is the Anaeho’omalu Bay (or A Bay) for some of the best sunsets. Located in the Waikoloa Resort area, this is a place you can sit and watch the sun every night and always wonder why you don’t live here.
A little further north is also the Mauna Lani resort. We found the most amazing pathway here located in the Kalahuipua’a Historic Park. This short 20 min walk will take you through some amazing lava tubes which lead you to fresh water ponds. This pathway was one of our favourites to explore.
This is where you will find the majority of the population as well as the tourists. Kailua-Kona (or simply just Kona) is located in the North Kona district. There are some pretty amazing beaches here too like the Old Kona Airport Beach. Located at the old kona airport you can literally park on the tarmac and walk to the beach. Used by locals and usually quiet during the weeknights. It’s a great beach for some kid snorkeling and just dipping your toes into the ocean. From this beach you can see the weekly arrival of the massive cruise liners that come into the harbour every Wednesday.
Heading further south from Kona on highway 11, veer off onto Napo’opo’o Rd and you will find a very small and secluded beach. This beach is located at the Napo’opo’o Park which is a great spot for snorkeling and sunbathing away from the hustle and bustle of crazy Kona. We ventured here almost by accident and found a lovely and very peaceful beach. From this point to you can actually look across the Kealakekua Bay and spot the Captain James Cook monument.
Our Big Island Hawaii Vacation led us even further south on Puuhonua Rd where you can witness the chaos that lava can lay to the land. This small stretch of highway will take you to the Place of Refuge, also known as Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park. If you have the time, stop here. It’s well worth the $20 to enter the park. Lots of great history here and a nice place to see some sea turtles.
north Kohala District
Going the opposite way to the north coast on the Big Island of Hawaii you are greeted with yet the most sparse but tranquil land. This part of the Island is home to Hawi and our favourite spot, Pololu Valley. There’s not much happening in Hawi as it’s a small town filled with a handful of shops and some ok ice cream. We know a lot of the locals raved about hitting up Tropical Dreams but we found it over priced and small in comparison to what we have back home. Nonetheless, worth a stop just to see the guy with his goats hanging outside having coffee.
Driving east on highway 270 towards Kapaau, you will literally reach the end of the highway. There is nowhere else to go but down a steep 1 km climb to what is paradise on earth. If you have time, take a full day here. You won’t regret it! Also, pack light, because there are no facilities and what you bring in you take with you. We managed to hike down in sandals so don’t listen when people tell you it’s a crazy hike. It’s not that bad. Not ideal for people with knee or ankle problems but we saw smaller kids than our own make it so you’ll be fine. This was the highlight of our trip. Next time we bring hammocks and spend the night!
Of all the places we have travelled, this was paradise for us. We were sad we couldn’t spend more time here but the time we did have was filled with great memories. The hike down was worth it (you descend 420 ft in 1 km) and the black sand beach that awaited was not tranquil but fierce and not very forgiving. We spent most of our time in a real jungle gym filled with swing ropes, swings and all sorts of neat contraptions in the trees. Kids loved it here and so did we.
Another added bonus of this place is how quiet it is as not many people will venture down here. Remember, what you bring in you take out. Zero facilities, just raw and authentic Hawaiian landscape. It was perfect.
Big island continued
Part two of our Big Island vacation continued on here.