Hawaii travel tips for the Big Island

Aloha

Hawaii is one of only two places I return to again and again.  From the minute the airplane door opens and the warm, floral, salty air floats in an instant calm sets in.  There is a simplicity of life here for me.

PlumeriaTropical flowers are eye candy on a grand scale.  Plumeria against a big blue sky burst open following a rainstorm.  Hibiscus of every color of the rainbow flourish abundantly.

Happiness here for me is in the mundane.  A hammock stretches across the lanai and I cherish lazy afternoons swaying slowly while getting lost in a book or doing nothing at all. Listening to the ocean lap against the shore is hypnotic and calming.  Isn’t it ironic that life and joy can be that simple until we try to make it so much harder?

For me, I relish every sunset for its uniqueness and those my loved ones and I share together are always better.  Each visit there is no exception.  As the sun sinks we gather on the lanai usually with a mai tai or wine and appreciate the day behind us and the gift of sharing one more sunset ahead of us.

Hawaii Big Island Sunset

In my lifetime I’ve traveled to the Big Island dozens of times.  My parents now live on the Big Island having made a quantum leap to minimalism and the joy of a simpler life by downsizing from a 4000 sq. ft. home on 7 acres in the mountains of Colorado to an 860 square foot condo in Keahou-Kona.

Located on the Islands’ west side, they are more than 100 miles away from the now very active volcano, Kilauea, and shielded by the mountains of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Fortunately this area on the western coast of the Big Island has not been affected by recent eruptions of Kilauea.

Recently my friend, Scott Wilson, Senior Advisor with Edward Jones, asked me for some travel tips for an upcoming trip he and his wife, Jennifer, were taking to the Big Island.  This was before the heightened activity of Kilauea, however, I’ve modified the recommendations below to include caveats for this evolving situation.  They also had reservations at the reputable Fairmont, so my directions are from the general area that includes both the Fairmont and the Waikoloa.

 

Suggestions for places to stay:

Higher end properties:

The Fairmont Orchid www.fairmontorchid.com and the Hilton Waikoloa www.hiltonwaikoloa.com are both beautiful properties and open for business as well as unaffected by recent eruption of Kilauea.

Moderate property:

The Sheraton Keahou www.sheratonkona.com is located further south on the western coast and is a more affordably priced option.

Inexpensive options:

Because I often stay with family my housing is sometimes free, however, in keeping with the theme of simpler living, there are many inexpensive options for places to stay on Airbnb, VRBO and even numerous hostels.

Places to visit and things to do:

Hawi

There is a little town at the northern most point of the island called HAWI (pronounced Havee). This is an off the grid location that has tiny shops and is the Northern most point of the Big Island.  You can get to Hawi by driving north from the Fairmont on 270 for about a half hour.  Be sure to take 270 to the scenic lookout on the end of the road.

Hawi has a couple of restaurants and a tiny little coffee shop where I’ve seen live music usually a single slack guitar player in the coffee shop.  Quaint place with a bit of a step back in time.  Also there is a shop that sells artisan’s wood bowls.  The most beautiful bowls I’ve ever seen.  One of the few material things I covet!  Expensive but exquisite.

Hapuna Beach

For a partial day visit to the beach, go south (from the Fairmont or Waikoloa) about 15 minutes to Hapuna Beach.  Gentle surf and clean white sand.

Continue further south on 19 and for a local experience stop at the Honokohau Harbor and have fresh catch of the day and a beer schooner. Walk through the restaurant and turn right.  Continue walking through the marina and back to a public, though little known, beach behind the marina.   There are huge turtles back there.

Kailua-Kona Town

Bruce and Christy riding bikes Kona TownFrom Hapuna Beach travel south another 45 min.  Kailua-Kona is a charming town with historic landmarks.  Park and walk the main street going in and out of the shops and restaurants.  Go to Huggos for lunch or dinner huggos.com   Get a table on the water.  Kona Inn www.windandsearestaurants.com/konainn  is also a very good alternative to Huggos and has views of the ocean and the bay where the annual iconic Ironman triathlon competition begins with the swimming event.

Leaving Kailua-Kona, keep driving south on Alii drive it’s very scenic with views of the ocean and little beaches along the way.  Avoid late afternoon ‘rush hour’ traffic cause it’s a two lane road and there can be traffic when people are making their way home at the end of the day.  Take Highway 11 north toward your Fairmont or Waikoloa hotel.  Sunsets along the seawall in Kailua-Kona and  along Alii drive are  excellent.  From the hotels along the western coast they are spectacular.

Kahalu’u beach park

Located south of Kona on Alii drive there is Kahalu’u beach park.  This is where you’ll find the famous “little blue church” on the ocean.  Picturesque.  They also rent surfboards and snorkels in this area. It can get crowded at peak times and esp. on weekends, so go during the week or earlier in the day.

Keahou Bay

Yet further south on Alii you will find Keahou Bay.  At the Sheraton is a bar overlooking the bay and you can swim with the Manta Ray’s at night OR just get a cocktail and watch the Manta Rays’s and the boats taking the swimmers out.  The tours usually go out every hour 7pm, 8pm, 9pm and 10pm.  Very popular.

My parentsAlso snorkeling and other boating and kayaking excursions go out of this bay.  Popular snorkeling boats such as the “Fairwinds” is one my family has been on several times and I believe is still operating.  Keahou Bay is a special place for me as it’s where my sister’s ashes were spread in a traditional Hawaiian ceremony.  My parents now live within walking distance of this bay.

Volcano National Park

Depending on volcano activity and whether they are allowing flights, consider seeing the Volcano National Park by Helicopter.  I prefer Blue Hawaii tours www.bluehawaiian.com  though there are others.  You can fly out of Waikoloa Village area (near the higher end properties mentioned above) or out of Hilo which is less expensive although involves a 1.5 hour drive from Fairmont or Waikoloa.

Hilo

Depending on volcano activity and visibility, see Hilo.  You have two options to get there:  1) take the northern route via 19 from your hotel which is a very scenic and partially coastal drive.  There are places to stop ie Waipio Valley via route 240, et al, OR 2) take a more direct route past Mauna Kea (and stop at the visitors center there) and then go onto to Hilo.  Both routes are approx. 1.5 to 1.75 hours from the Fairmont or Waikoloa.

In Hilo there are two interesting things to see.  Akaka Falls state park has beautiful waterfalls and/or you could see the Botanical Gardens.  The terrain and tropical rainforest of Hilo is much different than you will find on the western coast.

You will love the western coast of the Big Island and my prediction is this will be the first of more trips to come!  Mahalo for reading this far.  


Which of these places sound like the experience you are looking for?  Do you need specific recommendations?  Or have you been since the most recent eruption of Kilauea and do you have thoughts on modified travel?

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