Here is our recommendations on activities and restaurants to visit. You'll always see new content here and also at our official blog site. Enjoy!
Jell-O Mold, a delicious dessert or a brutal hike? On the Big Island it is the nickname for a brutal hike. Puu awaa awaa, the official Hawaiian name meaning many furrowed hill, is a cinder cone created 100,000 years ago on Hualalai. It is the oldest feature on the volcano and a prominent sight when driving north on highway 19. The views from the summit swing from Kona, along the Kohala Coast, and all the way to Haleakala on Maui. This is a great hike to do some exploring, take in expansive views, and get a great work out in before laying on the beach and drinking pina coladas for the rest of the day.
Puu awaa awaa is a close day hike for anyone staying on the Kohala Coast. Driving up Waikoloa Village road it takes roughly 25 minutes to get to. Take a right onto Hwy 190 and little over half a mile past the 22 mile marker is the trailhead (on the left). You will see a white pipe fence along the road until you reach a gate. This gate is open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and make sure you close it behind you. Parking is past the hunter check in station next to a chain gate.
The hike begins on an old paved road. This area used to be, and parts of it still are, a ranch. The ranch has been around for over 100 years. There are two ways you can get to the base of the jell-o mold, walk up the paved road (cone trail) or along the ohi'a trail. The ohi'a trail is slightly longer but it is shaded and has a little more to look at. The paved road (cone trail) can seem extremely long because there is no shade and it is mundane, but it is a shorter distance. Once at the end of the paved road you will see some older buildings to your right. Keep left of these and start to climb the grassy hillside.
As you continue up the hillside you will begin to walk alongside the first of the many furrows (ravines) that create the cinder cone. About half way up the hillside there is a nice bench to take a load off and check out the views. Continue on climbing until you reach a fence with a pedestrian gate, go through but make sure you close the gate behind you. You will notice the grass starting to get higher and denser, you can see why this area was used for grazing. Soon you get to the 100 year old Tamaki Corral built with kauila wood and decorated with a cow skull (to give you the hebe jebees).
Now you will start to wind around the cinder cone to the back side where there will be a trail that goes up to the top. This part of the trail is even steeper than what you have been climbing already, but once at top it will be the views that take your breath away instead of the exertion. You can walk all along the top of the cinder cone, getting different views of ocean and volcanoes. There is a nice bench and a porta-potty to use. Bring a lunch and have a picnic. The grass here is especially soft.
Bring lots of water and go earlier in the day if you can. Clouds tend to roll in in the afternoon, which is nice for the shade but can hinder the views. Round trip the hike is 6.5 miles and gains 1,800 feet.
The stars and a sliver of the moon are my only source of light. I feel as if they aren't just above me but literally all around me. At 13,796 feet, it isn't hard to understand why Mauna Kea is the best place on earth for stargazing. Because of Mauna Kea's height, distance from any other land (which limits light pollution) and climate, eleven different countries have spent billions of dollars to place thirteen telescopes here. But you don't need a Sherpa to reach the summit, just 4-wheel-drive.
From the Kohala Coast it is an hour drive to get to the Visitors Information Station at 9,200 feet. You will want to stop here to acclimate to the altitude before continuing onto the summit. Some people can get altitude sickness because the oxygen level at the summit is 40% less than at sea level. Stopping at the Visitors Information Station for 30-60 minutes helps to prevent altitude sickness. Here you can also use the restroom, watch a film on Mauna Kea and the observatories and buy souvenirs. The employees at the Visitors Center are extremely helpful. They can give you information on weather conditions, the road to the summit, and the telescopes.
To reach the summit you will need a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. The road to the summit is about 8 miles with the first 4.5 unpaved. The unpaved section is extremely bumpy and steep, and traveling back down the road you will need to be in a low gear so as not to burn up your brakes. It takes roughly 30 minutes to reach the summit from the Visitors Information Station.
Once you reach the summit you feel like you are in a sci-fi movie. The area is barren except for the telescopes. I felt at any moment an astronaut would walk out in a spacesuit (or worse, an alien!). The clouds skulk and slither below you, unable to reach your elevation. As the sun begins to sink the temperature drops to 39 degrees (make sure you bring some warm clothing like jeans and a jacket). The moon begins to glow, then one star emerges, then two stars, a dozen, and you are surrounded. At first I see what I think is a haze above me but as the last of the sunlight dissipates I realize it is not a haze of vapor or clouds but the Milky Way. It looks like a river flowing through the sky.
Unfortunately, the rangers make you leave about 30-40 minutes after sunset but as you drive down there are two different parking lots that you can pull over at and view the stars.
Once you are back at the Visitors Information Station you can view the stars and moon through several different telescopes that have been set up outside. Everyone who looks through the telescope pointing at the moon suddenly pulls back and says, "wow". That word isn't even adequate. You can see every crater and alien currently walking around on that thing. The other telescopes look at different stars and galaxies, which are equally amazing.
When leaving the visitor center it is hard not to feel small. What is out there? Are we alone? The universe is so complex and larger than we can ever fathom. The trip to Mauna Kea is so worth your time. Nowhere else can you see this, and isn't that the point of our trips…to have experiences we can't have at home?
4D rides: This is a great way to beat the heat and not have to put sunscreen on (every kid's nightmare). Located at the Shops, these 4D rides are about 15 minutes long and only $5 a ride. You pick which of the 3D movies you would like to see, then "relax" in full-motion seats, get sprayed with water or air and listen to the sounds surround you from every side. I'd probably recommend the kids be at least 4 years old. Anyone younger may be a little scared of its fast pace. After the Hula show they give a buy one get one free deal for the movies. http://www.shopsatmaunalani.com/theater/
Water Fountain at The Shops at Mauna Lani: this is a perfect activity for toddlers and young kids. In the center of The Shops at Mauna Lani there is a water fountain that kids absolutely love. The fountain is made up of several flying water arches with each individual arch going off at different intervals, so when the kids least expect it they get a soaking. It's also a great chance for parents to sit down, take a break, and enjoy a refreshing beverage from Juice 101 or Kimo Bean which are within feet from the fountain. Fountains turn on at 10:00 am.
Mauna Lani Bay Hotel: One of my daughter's favorite things to do is stroll around the grounds of the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel where they have 23 different ponds with over 20,000 fish in all of them. The biggest aquatic life in the ponds are the coy fish, baby and adolescent green sea turtles, two hammerhead sharks, one reef shark, one stingray, and dozens of the Hawaii State fish humuhumunukunukuapua'a. It is so easy to see all of the fish in these ponds that it makes snorkeling feel like a hassle. On Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10:30 the hotel has a guided fish feeding tour where you get to see the "fish guy" feed the turtles their artificial seaweed (lettuce), the sharks and stingrays get chunks of ahi tuna, and the rest of the fish get pellets. The tour is very informational and fascinating to watch.
Also a place to check out at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel is the Mountain Thunder Cafe. Personally I think it is the best coffee on the island. The café has great atmosphere, it looks out onto the turtle pond and is open for the Hawaiian breeze to blow through. At night it turns into a lounge with live music and pool tables.
Petroglyphs: Next to the Fairmont Orchid is Holoholokai Beach Park. Right before you reach the beach there is Malama Petroglyph Trail. Here is one of the best displays of ancient Hawaiian carvings (petroglyphs) in all of Hawaii. At the beginning of the trail is a small sampling of carvings displayed in a circle for easy viewing. The rest of the trail is through kiawe trees for about .7 of a mile. At the end is a large open field of lava with dozens (maybe hundreds) of carvings. You can walk all along the perimeter of the field but don't walk on it. You can see carvings of men, women, turtles, weapons, etc.
Puako: Puako is a residential neighborhood that has about 100 houses and a small convenience store on it. It is a great neighborhood to stroll/run through and dream of when you retire to Hawaii. The fun part about this neighborhood is the diversity of the homes. There are surf shacks that sit next to multi-million dollar estates and each one of them has a location to be jealous of. They either sit on the beach or right across from it. To gain access to this neighborhood you can either drive there or walk along the beach path at Holoholokai Beach.
Historic Fish Ponds: In between the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and the Beach Club are historic Hawaiian fishponds. Hawaiians built these to help catch fish. Small fish could swim in for refuge from the entire ocean trying to eat them, but eventually they would grow to be too big to swim back out and the Hawaiians had an easy time catching them. You can take a nice stroll or run through the winding paths that encircle the ponds. Many fish call this home along with Moray Eels (watch out they bite). You can also find a "secret pond" in the back of them all that is actually fresh water fed.
Rent bikes from Hulakai: Renting bikes is a great way to see all of Mauna Lani and even the Waikoloa Beach area. To rent a bike it is about $25 a day or $95 for a week. They also have trailers for the kiddos.
Fairmont Orchid's beach: This beach is smaller so if the hotel has a lot of guest at that time it might be a little crowded. The sand is perfect: soft, white and has little specks of green in it. The green is olivine crystals, which when in a larger form is a semi-precious gem called peridot. The water is calm and the snorkeling is descent.
49 Black Sand Beach: Who said the picturesque Hawaiian vacation had to have a white sand beach, why not a black sand beach? I expected a black sand beach to be a lot more harsh and rugged than their counterparts, but the opposite is true. The sand feels like butter. The sand grains are so smooth and fine, who knows how many years it took to grind down the lava rock into this silk. You and the kids will be fighting over who gets to be buried in it first. You can also snorkel here but the water is a little rougher.
On South Kaniku Drive take a left at 49 Black Sand Beach, there is a guard there, let him know that you want to visit the beach, if there is enough parking available he will let you through. There are facilities to use and a shower to rinse off with.
Beach Club: The Beach Club is the reason why we bought in Mauna Lani. It is a great beach for pretty much every beach activity. To access the Beach Club you need to be a Mauna Lani resident or guest, so the beach is never too crowded. The little bay is shielded from harsh weather, strong currents, and big waves, which makes it an ideal spot for swimming and snorkeling. The reef is close to the surface and wraps around the bay so you could spend hours snorkeling through all of the fingers of the reef. If you aren't a big fan of snorkeling you can also rent a SUP (stand up paddle) board to view the fish or just check out the coastline. Boogie boards with viewing mask, noodles, water wings, sunscreen and any other beach equipment you need is available to buy or rent at the rental shack. The Beach Club provides lounge chairs and usually there is enough for everyone. Palm trees provide a little shade and the restaurant bar provides the drinks with umbrellas.
Beach Club Restaurant: Napua Restaurant is feet away from the beach with a lovely view of the water. Have lunch/dinner or order drinks to go for the gang who are too lazy to get their own. Good food and drinks. I especially love the Permanent Holiday, nice tropical drink that isn't too sweet. Their Kailua Pork nachos are a good snack (that can feed at least two) and their Oriental Chicken Salad is perfect on a hot day.
Holoholokai Beach: This park has restrooms, a grassy area, BBQs, and a great trail for walking/running on. The beach is full of large pieces of coral and lava rocks so it isn't a great one for swimming or snorkeling. But out of all the other beaches in Mauna Lani this is the one to watch the sunset. Dozens of people come here every night to relax and watch the day slip away behind the waves. Beautiful!
On Tuesdays the Shops at Mauna Lani have a Culinary Festival. The festival consists of chef demonstrations (and most importantly, tastings of that demonstration), fruit and vegetable stands, food trucks, and prepared food items like seaweed infused popcorn, artisan sea salt, gelato, shaved iced, etc. I highly recommend getting a malasadas (Portuguese doughnut). They are made fresh right in front of you and you can choose the filling. The lilikoi cream cheese is "I could eat a dozen of these and not even feel guilty" good.
On Monday and Thursday the Shops at Mauna Lani host a Hula and Fire show. The show is free and is a great representation of the entertainment that is provided during a luau. The show is about 40 minutes long and demonstrates music and dance from different eras and different Polynesian islands. Don't miss the end of the show, where the climax is performed by one brave dancer who throws, twists, spits and manipulates fire.
Many American, Hawaiian or Asian holidays will be celebrated at the shops whether it be President's Day or Chinese New Year. There will be special entertainment, food, and decorations, so check the calendar to see what is coming up www.theshopsatmaunalani.com/events.
Our most recent visit was in February which is peak season for whale watching. Every time we went to the beach we saw whales spouting, tails slapping or breaching off in the distance. You know these mammals are enormous when you can spot their tails from a couple miles away. But to really get a good scale on their size you must take a tour.
The number one spot to go whale watching is in Kaanapali, Maui and the number two spot is Kohala Coast, Big Island. It has to do with the depth, 600 feet is the magical number, but one big difference between the two locations is population of boats. We were one of two boats that were watching the whales, whereas in Maui there would be a dozen boats jockeying for the best position to see the whales.
There are many different outfits that do whale watching tours. We used Ocean Sports. They launch from A-Bay and Kawaihie. The great thing about Ocean Sports is that kids under 6 are free. We took the 8:00 A.M. boat because there is less wind at this time as opposed to an afternoon or evening tour. If you get any sort of motion sickness I would highly recommend you take Dramamine. They say you are not the first and won’t be the last to get sick on their boat but it is a two hour tour and you don’t want to be miserable the whole time.
Our boat did not have to go far, just about half a mile offshore, until we saw some whales swimming towards us. There is a certified naturalist on the boat talking about different facts on whales and calling out their location. For an hour and a half we saw several whales spouting, jumping, and slapping, but the real action started towards the end of the trip. Just as we had turned to head back to shore four whales decided to check us out. They came right up to the boat, swam under us and waved hello with their tails and fins. There was a lot of excitement on the boat from everyone, including the crew.
By law the captain had to turn the engine off. It is illegal to approach a humpback whale up to 100 yards, so if they just show up next to you then you better sit still. Since we couldn’t go anywhere our tour lasted a little longer (I don’t think anyone was upset by this). After about 30 minutes of the four humpbacks doing an underwater and above water ballet they started to move on up the coast, so we headed for shore.
You have probably seen this picture in many advertisements for Hawaii. Maybe it was this picture that inspired you to visit the Big Island, now it is time to visit your inspiration.
From Waimea, the Waipi’o Valley lookout is about 22 miles. The lookout sits more than a thousand feet above the ocean so you are able to get a spectacular view of the black sand beach, a portion of the 5 mile deep valley and the 2,000 foot tall cliffs that surround it. Plaques around the lookout describe the history of this valley which includes some of the first inhabitants of the islands, kings that fought over this land, and a tsunami that devastated it.
To explore the valley you can either hike down or join one of the many different tours. Links to the different tours are listed at the bottom of the article. The hike down to the valley is steep and that is understating the fact. The road is paved and gains 800 feet in about 0.6 miles with an average 25% grade (more in some areas). Let’s just say you will earn that Parker Ranch hamburger on the hike back up. As you descend into the valley you get different views at different points in the road. Once you start getting near the bottom of the road the vegetation will become denser and some of it falls on you, literally. The valley is full of fruit trees (mango, papaya, lilikoi, and star fruit) and when in season you can hear them crashing through the trees and the eventual splat on the ground. Try and catch one, there is nothing like eating fruit that has fully ripened and almost smacked you in the head.
Once at the floor of the valley the road will fork, if you go left you will encounter a patchwork of taro fields, the river, and dense foliage. You can walk along this road, which slowly disintegrates into a muddy path, all the way to Hawaii Island’s tallest waterfall, Hiilawe Falls which cascades down 1,300 feet. Remember that the Waipi’o Valley is home to about 50 residents so be respectful and don’t trespass when private land is indicated. Believe me, they will tell you when you do. Story for another time but it involves me, star fruit, a horse, and a big Hawaiian man. Don’t worry, it ended with the horse enjoying some star fruit.
The fork to the right leads to the beach. The beach is a mile long and cut down the middle with the river that is created by Hiilawe Falls. The surf is pretty strong here which is great for surfers but not the best swimming water. On the other side of the beach is the hike to Waimanu Valley. If you plan to continue hiking bring lots of water.
This valley is amazing, a must do activity on the island. You can also travel along the rim of the valley but only with a tour. If you would prefer to take a tour instead of hiking around the valley check out: www.waipiovalleyshuttle.com or www.ridetherim.com.
I travel to Hawaii a lot…because I love it there and because I own a vacation rental property http://www.yourbigislandhome.com. Recently I decided to look into the different travel reward credit cards to make sure that I was using the best credit card for my particular travel habits. What I discovered is that the credit card that I was using for all our household expenses (Alaska Airlines Visa) was not actually giving me the best ROI. So I have now switched. Here is what I think is the best travel reward credit card out there.
Barclaycard Arrival Plus: First year perk is no annual fee ($89 after that) and, 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 in three months. For every dollar that you spend you get two points. This is on everything not just gas and restaurants like other credit cards. You can redeem your points as cash or by getting reimbursed on your credit card statement for travel purchased within the last 120 days. If you use your points to be reimbursed on your credit card statement then you will receive 10% of those points back. No foreign transaction fees, no restrictions, no blackout dates.
Here is an example of how it all works: I spend $25,000 in one year which equals 50,000 points. I buy an airline ticket that cost me $500. I use those 50,000 points to get reimbursed on my credit card statement. I then get 5,000 of those 50,000 points returned to me. So really I only use 45,000 points to buy a $500 flight.
For those of you who live in a city that Alaska Airlines services it might be worth keeping the card solely for the $100 companion fare that you get with it (or really any other airlines that has a credit card with a companion fare). But remember that there is an annual fee of $75 (usually $99 on other airline cards) so you need to factor that in when you are calculating whether or not to keep the card. You won't want to use these cards for any of your purchases because they only get you one point for every dollar spent instead of the two points that you could get using the Barclaycard.
Here's to more trips to Hawaii!!!!!
The drive up the Kohala coast is an amazing 40 minute transition between climate zones. Driving north you start in the desert of the South Kohala district, this barren land (barren with the exception of the amazing resorts and beaches) only gets 9 inches of rain a year and it shows. As you continue north you start to notice more grasses and wind torn trees. The Hawi Wind Farm with its sixteen turbines welcomes you to the town of Hawi which lies just around the bend of the Kohala volcano. You have now reached the lush tropical side of the island.
Hawi is an old sugar plantation town, but unlike many sugar towns when the sugar left the people did not. They decided to stick it out and reinvent their lovely town. Hawi is now known for its art galleries, knick knack shops, and dining.
When you reach the end of highway 270 you really do reach the end of highway 270, if you kept going you could just drive off a cliff. There is no turn around and not much of a parking lot but there are amazing views. Here the Big Island looks like Kauai. There are dramatic vertical cliffs that are slowly crumbling into the ocean, waterfalls that all the sudden appear after a rainstorm, and valleys that stretch back into the island for miles. The view from the top is movie inspiring (watch Water World, these valleys really did inspire a movie), but if you hike down even just a few minutes you are rewarded with a panoramic view of the ocean, cliffs and valley.
The hike down is not so bad (15 minutes if you didn't stop at every turn to get a new perspective on the Polulu valley), but the way back up can be a little tough. It is very steep, but keep in mind, it is short. My father (who is in his 60s) made it up with our 25 pound child on his back, so it is very doable. The trail can be a little slick if it has recently rained. You can usually find hiking sticks (literally just wood sticks) that folks leave at the top of the trail, grab one, it will help steady you on the trail.
Once down in the valley you can explore a black sand beach, which has been created by the surf mercilessly pounding the lava rocks. Multiple sand dunes that are over 100 feet high and mostly covered in vegetation make for fun exploring and camping spots. On the opposite side of the valley you can start to climb the trail to the next valley, Honokane Nui. There are seven valleys that you can climb in and out of (though the trail can get a little hairy at times) from Polulu to Waipi'o. If attempting this you should read up on trail conditions because storms and earthquakes are constantly altering the terrain here.
After the hike I like to treat myself at the Bamboo Restaurant. It is an amazing restaurant with a quirky history. It was built sometime between 1911 and 1915 as a hotel for the plantation works, and rumor has it, hosted ladies of the night for the businessmen staying. In 1926 it was bought by the Takata Family and turned into a dry goods and grocery store. In 1991 the Takata family built a new grocery store and in 1993 the old building was turned into the restaurant that I now love.
The Bamboo Restaurant is famous for their lilikoi (passion fruit) drinks. The drinks they create are Lilikoi Iced Tea (FYI, you get free refills), Lilikoi Margarita, Lili Mojito and Lili-tini. They make their own syrup with all natural ingredients so you are getting an authentic sweet and tangy flavor with every sip.
The food is Pacific Rim and unbelievable. With flavors like Thai, Vietnamese, Hawaiian and good old American there is something for everyone. I dare you to go out on a limb and try something you have never tasted before, you will not be disappointed. I especially loved their pot stickers and Hawaiian pork sandwich, yummy.
The restaurant has not changed much in the last century, the hard wood floor is the same one. The decorations are Hawaiian knick knacks, Christmas lights, floral prints, and of course bamboo covered walls and screens.