We visited Kauai and Big Island in December of 2012. Hawaii and Alaska are surely the most beautiful landscapes US has to offer. These are lesser explored islands compared to Oahu and Maui. Kauai is my most favorite island and here is my preference in order of beauty. Kauai > Maui > Big Island > Oahu.
Here is our brief itinerary:
Day 1: Arrive in Big Island around noon. Mauna kea visit.
Day 2: Drive around the island.
Day 3: Day trip to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
Day 4: Snorkel Day.
Day 5: Arrive in Kauai around noon. Spend time at the hotel beach.
Day 6: Drive to Waimea Canyon and visit beaches on the way
Day 7: Beach day. Na Pali coast tour
Day 8: Drive to Princeville and Kalalau trail head. Fly back late in the night.
This is the biggest island in the archipelago. It has a variety of things to offer. In the south is the Hawaii volcanoes national park. On the east is the rainforest region and on the west are the huge lava fields.
Where to fly?
- Kona(KOA): On the west side of the island and a more popular airport. Plus, it was a unique kind of airport. It was an open area with some booth like huts cordoned off for security reasons, but you land here and you feel you are in Hawaii.
- Hilo(ITO): On the east side of the island. You can take your pick depending upon the flight options you have and where you prefer to stay, but I think both the airports and areas are perfectly located for tourists. We stayed at Kona.
Where to stay?
Plenty of options on the island. We stayed in Kona as we were flying in to Kona airport. Plus there were a lot of snorkeling options close to Kona. All other day trip to Mauna Kea and Volcanoes National park are about equidistant from Kona and Hilo. We stayed at Courtyard King Kamehameha beach hotel in Kona. A pretty good choice.
|Sunset at Mauna Kea|
Where to eat?
Plenty of restaurants on the island. Our favorite was a falafel place on the Ali'i drive. There were many thai options as well.
What to see?
|Clear skies! Spot Orion!|
One of the highest peak on the island. It is a dormant volcano which is now used as an observatory. The light pollution on this island is very less and the peak is high, which makes the conditions ideal for observation. many countries have their telescopes mounted here.
It is a day trip from Kona. We left after lunch. It is a long drive up to the observatory and information centre open for public. Here you can get beautiful views of the island and witness a heavenly sunset. The information centre has info sessions in the evening and sets up telescopes for you to observe various planets, nebulae and stars. This was a lot of fun as we had been taking a course on Astronomy on coursera those days.
You can drive further up to the peak to the observatories. They are closed as they are remotely monitored. We ditched driving further up.
Snorkel and beachy stuff
There are a few beaches very very popular for snorkelling. I don't remember the name of the beach we went to. This is where even I felt comfortable snorkelling. Water wasn't very deep, but the bottom was very rocky. We got our snorkel gear and that made life easier. Many Many beaches to explore and waters are really warm and welcoming.
We did a loop from Kona to Hilo and up north and back to Kona. We stopped at some scenic spots. What I especially liked were Akaka falls. Plus this side of the island gets a lot of rainfall so it is lush green and beautiful. We also stopped at the Waipio valley.
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
|Magma in the evening|
Jaggar Museum/Overlook: Here is where you will see some fumes and may be some lava depending on your luck, weather and volcanic activity. There may be a short trail to get a better view and your best bet would be to talk to a ranger on that very day.
Also, remember that this place will give you best view during dawn or dusk. This is when you will be able to see the faint orange magma glow in the fumes and get some photo ops.
Crater rim drive: Pretty much everything that this park has to offer is on this drive. Drive by and stop for sulphur banks, steam vents and definitely for Thurston Lava tube. This is the highlight. I loved this for some reason and it gave us some amazing photo opportunities. As you drive down, there are a few overlooks where you can stop by.
Chain of craters road: This was the highlight for us. As you drive by, you come across huge fields of lava beds. Lava that has flown over the years and is now solidified. This leaves you awestruck at nature's beauty! So, drive down till the end of the road. Here you can walk up to point where lava flows in to the water, or where the road ends. There is a huge arch by the oceanside as well. All in all a beautiful drive and a must must do!
Trails: You must ask the rangers for the best options available on that day to go see the lava. Heads up though, it isn't a bulk of orange colored fluid flowing by. Lower your expectations as on regular days, you may just see fumes and some dark rock with orange tinge.
Helicopter ride: We took a helicopter ride to get a good view of lava and well, I would rate it about average. We used the blue hawaiian helicopter tours. Some of my friends who did loved it and highly recommend it. S The rides mostly depart from Hilo airport and last for about an hour or so. I loved the top of view of the island and the waterfalls as seen from the helicopter. That was amazing I think.
|A choppy chopper ride!|
|Top view of the falls!|
|Magma - up close and personal|
Map: Here is the park map.
Where to eat: Well, you will be spending the entire day in the park, and I remember there were not many options to eat inside the park. Only option was volcano house restaurant, but that was closed when we visited. As you get out of the park, just about a couple of miles towards Hilo, there is a small volcano village(take directions), which has some good options. Where we ate was Thai Thai restaurant and it was really good. So much so that I even yelped about it
Before you go:
Check for weather conditions. Weather varies from rainy to sunny from east to west on the big island. It may be bright and you may have scorching sun on your head in Kona, but when you get to HVNP, it might be pouring cats and dogs! So, you have to be lucky and weather gods have to be generous :-) So, at least try and pick day when the forecast is for a better weather.
Check for volcanic activity forecast as well. Most/Some of the park is cordoned off depending upon the volcanic activity. So, as soon as you get in, go to the visitor center, and ske them for the best spots to see the lava/magma on that day.
Rent a 4 wheel drive if you plan to drive to Mauna Kea and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
It is my most favorite Hawaii island and the prettiest one too. If I have to go to just one island again, it will be Kauai.
Where to fly?
There is pretty much only one option to fly in. The Lihue airport(LIH).
Where to stay?
Poipu is the most popular area for the tourists. Plenty of resorts available. Next is the Princeville area, which is up north. We stayed towards the east of the island at Aston Islander resort. Our hotel had direct access to the beach and we enjoyed walking by the beach at night and taking some pretty pictures here. In general it is a very small island so getting around isn't very difficult.
What to see?
Na Pali coast
|Na Pali coast|
Undoubtedly the highlight of this island. Very beautiful. There are two ways to see it. By air and by a cruise or on foot via Kalalau trail. Since we did not make reservations well in advance, we were left with the option of taking a boat tour. It was quite worth it. Spotted 4-5 humpback whales just about 10 feet away from our vessel. And the views were breathtaking. We booked our sunset tour with Blue Dolphin Charters.
This is the only trail that takes you just along the Na Pali coast. It is a tough hike, but you should easily be able to manage the initial 2-3 miles. Look online for details. We had to skip it as the trail was closed by the police as some killer was let loose in the area. There are several other trails on the island and hiking should be a must do on your list!
It is a mini version of the grand canyon and worth a visit. An hour long drive from Poipu and easily accessible.
The island has a lot of waterfalls and they are all quite pretty. I have a liking for waterfalls, so I am biased here. I remember Wailua and Opaekka waterfalls and they have some amazing views of the valley.
Poipu beach is very popular, especially for snorkeling. Not all beaches on this island are accessible and it is the northernmost island and the wave are quite high. You might want to check with the concierge in your hotel for the best options on that day.
We just drove around the island and stopped over at some beaches to take pictures and enjoy the views. The northern most beach, at the trail head of the Kalalau trail, has very very high waves and they are worth watching. There is a famous Kilauea light house close to Princeville which offers great views.
You have an option to snuba dive on this island. Google for it. We couldn't do it as we did not make any reservation and they were quite full because of the holiday rush. But it a good option between snorkeling and scuba diving :)
|Courtyard at hindu temple|
There is a hindu temple located very close to Poipu. It was quite fascinating to visit a hindu temple in Hawaii and attend their prayer session. beautifully kept and very soothing place.
- Make reservations well in advance. We didn't, so missed on some things, like Snuba diving.
- We used Costco for our car and hotel bookings. Cars aren't easily available for renting, so Costco turned out to be a good bet.