Hawaii – The Big Island (Part One)

I just returned from an 8-day trip to Hawaii. I have been to Hawaii twice before, but this was my first visit to The Big Island. I made this trip with 3 objectives in mind.

  1. Witness lava flow from a volcano
  2. Watch the sunset and the stars from Mauna Kea
  3. Snorkel

My wife’s key objective was to see humpback whales. As you will see from this report, we didn’t achieve all of these objectives but still managed to have a great time. A key element of success for any vacation travel is to stay flexible and determined to have an enjoyable time no matter the circumstances. If you travel enough, eventually things won’t go your way and you will need to adjust your plans. A positive outlook goes a long way to ensuring vacation success.

The Big Island is aptly named, it is a big place. We opted for 4 days in Kona, 2 days in Volcano National Park, and 2 days in Hilo. Part one of this review will cover our time in Kona.

From Houston we connected in Los Angeles and flew directly to Kona. You need a rental car on the Big Island. As mentioned previously, it is a big place with limited mass transit options. FYI, Uber and Lyft have recently arrived on the Big Island. We stayed at an awesome Airbnb location near the airport just outside of Kona. Not only were the accommodations great, the host supplied all the beach accessories we needed for a wonderful time by the ocean. This was my first time using Airbnb and I was impressed.

Kona is typically drier than the rest of the island with more options for ocean activities. We visited several of the beaches north of Kona that were very good. They were not the best beaches in Hawaii, but good by any other standard. The Big Island is dominated by lava with long sandy beaches being a rare sight.

The snorkeling near Kona was some of the best I have experienced. Two highlights were Kahalu’u Beach Park and Kealakekua Bay. Kahalu’u Beach Park provides easy access to a calm inlet full of beautiful fish. Entering the water from the lava rocks can be tricky, but it is manageable. Kealakekua Bay was simply awesome. This bay is near the location of the statue commemorating Captain Cook’s demise. Access to Kealakekua Bay is not straightforward. You can either hike almost 2 miles, kayak across the bay, or take a boat. The hike seemed too far to carry snorkel gear. The kayak option was tempting, but I discovered you must stay attached to the kayak while snorkeling. We opted for the boat tour and went with Sea Quest. Sea Quest performed well in getting us to our snorkel location in comfort and we saw a hammerhead shark along the way.  Kealakekua Bay offered 150-foot visibility along with an incredible variety of fish. I even saw a sea turtle swimming near the shore. The bay is calm, and the hour of snorkeling passed quickly. I recommend wearing a wetsuit as the waters were a bit chilly.

Our next quest was to see some humpback whales. We were at the tail end of the whale’s Hawaiian season, so we knew the odds of a sighting were low. We chose Captain Dan McSweeny’s Whale Watch Learning Adventures. Our first tour was canceled due to the illness of one of the crew members. We rescheduled and made the trip the next day. My wife and I were able to sit in the bow of the boat which I highly advise as the visibility is much better. The boat was comfortable and the crew very attentive and informative as we searched the waters off Kona for the elusive humpbacks. We managed to sight some pilot whales, spinner dolphins and a large manta ray. While we never spotted a humpback, the trip was enjoyable. If you really want to see humpback whales near the big island, I recommend going in December or January. Also, for the best whale watching, the waters of Maui are a better choice.

I set up a sunset and stargazing tour to the top of Mauna Kea. At 13,800ft, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in Hawaii. When considering its actual base under the ocean, Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain on earth at over 33,000ft. Due to the remote Hawaiian Islands and a lack of light pollution, the top of Mauna Kea is one of the best places on earth to study the stars. Our agenda was to be picked up in Kona and driven to the Mauna Kea visitors center at ~9300ft. After dining at the visitor’s center, we were slated to drive to the top of Mauna Kea for a sunset/star viewing. The morning of our tour we received a call informing us the Mauna Kea summit road was closed due to 60mph winds. Our event was canceled with no hope of rescheduling, I was disappointed, but imagining myself at 13,800 feet in 60mph winds made me glad the event was canceled.

That is all for now, in part two of this report, I will cover Volcano National Park and Hilo.


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