Our Big Island Hawaii vacation as a family was one for the record books. This place had it all. From the clear blue ocean to the white sand beaches we lived inside a postcard for three weeks. And truth be told, it was incredibly hard to leave. We wrote about the first part of our Big Island family vacation in our last post here but now we will venture to the East and South coast as we explored another part of this vast and diverse Island.
hilo and puna districts
First off, the east coast of the Big Island houses the capital Hilo. This city is large and full of rainforests as it rains on this side of the Island almost all year. Although we only spent a day here we did fall in love with the trees and the lushness of the land. Access to Hilo is through the Saddle Ridge Road which takes you between the two volcanoes, Mauna Lau and Mauna Kea. The most impressive thing about this road is the elevation gain as you peak at the top at 2,021m above sea level and begin your descend back down towards Hilo. However, be weary of the drastic change in temperature up here. Not to mention the winds.
As you arrive in Hilo from the west you reach the Kaumana Caves . We were pleasantly greeted in the parking lot by a dozen or so colorful wild chickens. Quite an impressive welcome committee before you descend down a metal staircase into a lava tube. Wear comfortable runners and bring a flashlight. Our good fortune was a previous tourist who purchased flashlights and did not want to take them home as carry on, score for us and for those after us. We handed them off after we were done exploring the caves. Also, do no go in if you have a fear of dark caves and can get claustrophobic.
Waterfalls on the big island
Along with the caves in this region, the East coast boasts some of the most impressive waterfalls. A few were closed but we did get a chance to see Rainbow Falls in West Hilo just off Rainbow Dr. As a matter of fact, we are pretty sure most people don’t actually venture up to the left of the falls where a massive Banyan tree fills an entire forest! Don’t miss it. It will take your breath away more than the falls themselves.
Even more impressive are the ‘Akaka Falls north of Hilo. The best route is a scenic detour through the Old Mamalahoa Highway towards highway 220. Insider tip for parking at the falls, park outside the paid parking lot as you also have to pay per person to walk into the falls. It’s $1 a person and $5 to park so save the other $5 for a fresh coconut at Coconut Willy’s on the scenic route!
At an impressive 442 foot drop there are even fish that can’t stay away. The remarkable species of goby climb these cliffs to reach the fresh water. Sounds like a crazy story your 4 year old might come up with but it’s true and you can find them here at ‘Akaka falls.
Hawaii volcano national park
Have you ever wondered how people can live on an island so close to a volcano? Then you most certainly should visit the town of Volcano and the Hawaii Volcano National Park. The town of Volcano is a small village that sits on the doorstep of the world’s largest active and “drive-in” volcano. Sounds dangerous? Hardly. This place covers over 500 square miles and since we came here there is no lava currently flowing. They keep this place on lockdown and steer visitors away from the danger zones.
This is a must see for anyone planning a Hawaii family vacation. Since this is a World Heritage Site we thought it was a great way for the kids to see first hand the power of nature up close and personal.
Kilauea Iki caldera
If there is one hike you want to do on the Island, this is it! Hands down one of the best places to take a stroll. The Crater Rim Trail takes you around and through the Kilauea’iki crater which was formed over 50 years ago. The trail is roughly 6.5 km and we recommend parking at the Kīlauea Iki Overlook and hang a left on the trail. Go early as the parking lot gets pretty full. We managed to squeeze in early around 9:30am and by the time you reach the floor of the crater make sure you have water. Once that Hawaii sun comes out it can get pretty hot.
the chain of craters road
Another must see is the Chain of Craters Road. This road will take you roughly 45km from the entrance of the park all the way to the coast. As you drive you can see all the numerous lava flows in the park and you really start to feel like you’ve landed on Mars. It’s quite an impressive drive and at the end of you can stop and see the magnificent Holei Sea Arch. This rock formation was cut out by the ocean some hundred years ago and will only last for so long before the ocean crumbles it away. Stunning testament of the power of nature.
Feeling cold? Stop on by the steam vents and get a nice slap of lava steam to tie you over until you find a beach!
Black sand beaches are unique to the landscape of Hawaii. There is something mystical about standing on black sand and feeling the heat beneath your toes. However, the waters on this side of the Island are cold compared to the West Coast and the waves are more violent. We opted to skip swimming here but we did manage to hang out with sea turtles.
the in betweens of hawaii
After all the travel around the Island we did in three weeks we really appreciated the authenticity of Hawaii. Our family vacation came to a close far too quickly but we left knowing that our time abroad would not be forgotten. These islands are truly magical and we are lucky to have spent as much time out here as we did. Till next time, Aloha.