Visiting the Big Island of Hawaii

Avid Everything Everywhere reader Danyelle Overbo provided today’s guest post on her trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. Her experience on the Big Island was very different than mine, which just goes to show that different people can have totally different experiences in the same place. I had the luxury of visiting the Big Island for the first time with a geology group from the University of Minnesota, so I was able to see it in a different light than most people.

Hello fellow readers of Gary’s wonderful travel blog Everything Everywhere! When I read that Gary wanted guest bloggers to help out, I jumped at the chance to be a part of his great undertaking. Now, I haven’t been to nearly as many places as Gary, but I did have a little adventure of my own on the Big Island of Hawaii during a week long vacation there from March 22-29 last year. I asked to write about it because I wanted to share my experiences as they were not the same as Gary’s. They weren’t entirely positive. I’ll try to be as accurate as possible about the specific places and times I was there.

The trip started off with a full day of airplane travel. I flew out with my family from the Las Vegas, NV airport on Hawaiian Airlines early Saturday the 22nd. It was a five and a half hour flight from there to Honolulu. Right off the plane we headed to the gate at the airport for the small plane that would take us to the Big Island. It was dirty and smelly and we waited there for hours with only a little bar and a snack stand for food. Once past the gate there were no shops or anything. Just a big dirty room we sat in for hours.

In order to get around the Big Island, you need to rent a car. It is named the Big Island for a reason. It’s huge. The drive, going across the island on the bumpiest road I’ve ever been on in my life, is a good 4 hours. The road around the island and from the airport is better kept, though longer. However, to get from Kona to Hilo on the better road is still only 3.5 – 4 hours since the road across the island isn’t well taken care of. This is a big downside for a vacation. Going back and forth across the island at least three times, I calculated at the end of the trip a total of at least17 hours spent driving in the car alone. That doesn’t include the normal day to day driving around we did either.

I stayed in a time share in Kona-Kailua. There are a few things you should know about Kona before you stay there. First off, let me say, that this was still Hawaii, so the weather the entire trip was incredible. It was warm and humid, but not too humid, and it only rained a couple times I was there. Even the rain is beautiful. I loved the weather. With that out of the way, let me describe Kona-Kailua. It is a tourist spot, no doubt about it. There are lovely shops, but nothing authentic. Everything is made for tourists. There are tons of great restaurants, I remember there being an Outback and Bubba Gump Shrimp along with a smaller sushi place and more, a supply shop to rent gear from in the middle of the shop area next to Outback Steakhouse with a huge pool in the back for scuba lessons, clothing shops, jewelry shops, a huge gallery of art store with beautiful and extremely expensive island art, two tattoo parlors that I saw, and tons of souvenir shops. The thing to remember though is that everything closes very early in the evenings. There wasn’t anything to do at night at all. I suppose if you are over 21 there are bars, but that’s it. At least while I was there in March anyway. Kona also has all the regular city stuff, blockbuster, IHOP, etc., but the place you mean when you say “I stayed in Kona” is the little area on Kailua Bay where all these shops are.

The other thing to know about Kona, and the Big Island in general, is that there are very few beaches. What I mean is that the damn things are small and scattered all over. It’s not how you’d picture Hawaii, miles of beautiful, bright blue waters with white sandy beaches. There are barely any beaches at all around Kona. I spend a total of 3 ½ hours on a beach the entire week I was in Hawaii. Partly, this was my group’s fault as we never made it to the northeast part of the Island with all the expensive shops where, I was told, had some lengths of beach. We also never made it to the black sand beach. If you do go, and you want to visit this, make it a priority because driving to and from it is a trip on its own and, as I said above, we’d spent enough time driving around. The one beach we spent time on is one of the tiny, wave-crashing, overcrowded beaches in Kona-Kailua called Magic Sands beach. It was small and, apart from the water being warmer and bluer, it was no different from any beach I’ve been to in California, except maybe smaller.

The first day I was there we all walked along the shops and, in addition to the regular shops, there is a great little outdoor market set up in the mornings. It isn’t every morning, I forget how often it was there, but it was there a good number of mornings. A bunch of stalls are set up like an outdoor swamp meet and you can go and buy tons of things. There was a lot of fantastic fruit for really cheap sold by the local farmers there along with clothing stalls, jewelry stalls, tacky souvenir stalls selling the same stuff as the shops like wooden bookmarks and ukuleles. I got a dress I really love at one of these stalls.

Wherever you are in Hawaii, no matter the island, you must experience a luau. I went to a great luau at the King Kamehameha hotel. There was great food, leis made of fresh flowers (for an extra fee), and great entertainment. The one I was at had dancers from all different islands in the area, even Maori dancers from New Zealand, doing performances.

I had two snorkeling experiences, one good and one terrible. We rented our own snorkeling gear one day and drove to this beautiful, pristine bay that the place we rented from told us about. Now, I looked up places to snorkel online and its not there. It was a bit of a drive from Kailua-Kona, it didn’t have a beach, and it didn’t have any boat docks. I would highly recommend renting your own gear and finding a recommended bay from locals and diving right in. This was the highlight of my trip. The other time we went snorkeling, it was a paid for tour, traveling to a spot by boat with a big group, and it was terrible. They took us to a part of the island where its some sort of preserve, they mentioned something about it being set aside for the children of the island. We had a tiny rectangle of space between the boat and the waves crashing dangerously onto the rocky shore in which to snorkel. I could literally watch the fish being swept back and forth as the waves moved. I’ve never gotten sea sick in the water before, but here I did.

The last experience I want to talk about is visiting the volcano on the Big Island. By far, this was the biggest waste of time of the entire trip, including the day we drove all the way to Hilo only to find out that the path to the waterfalls was closed. The hikes in the volcano park are really beautiful. You can look down into the crater from one of them, which is impressive. You can hike down into the crater in one long hike, and there is some beautiful rainforest to see. That being said, rainforest is rainforest. While beautiful, it’s not exactly exciting to stare at all day long. Really, the reason to go is to see the lava flow! Well, this isn’t always possible as lava isn’t exactly controllable. After hiking around the park, we were directed to another area, far away, where they were letting people walk to to see the lava drop off into the ocean. To make a long story short, hours of driving and waiting for the path to open up later, we got to hike to the cliff and look at a tiny speck of bright lava flowing into the ocean through a telescope.

If you have any questions about my trip feel free to email me. There was lots of stuff I couldn’t cover. I had some good times there too!

5 thoughts on “Visiting the Big Island of Hawaii”

  1. Hawaii is absolutely beautiful, the Mauna Kai resort in Kauai was amazing, they recommended us some of the best bike paths, visit Hawaii.

  2. Thanks Matt. I hope. It's actually a great time to visit the Big Island of Hawaii. Deals everywhere minus the crowds. The few tourists we have that I talk to are getting unheard of bargains. Many seem happy to be getting far away from the troubles at home. There are plenty of guide books available that will make your visit here go smoothly and be completely enjoyed. Like you said, Holidays are what we make them. No matter where you go not everything will go as planned or hoped for. But, those mishaps don't have to be a negative. Many times they lead to the highlight of a vacation. Posts like Danyelle's are the last thing this island needs in this economic slow down. Tourism is our livelihood. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a fascinating place to visit.

  3. I enjoyed reading Bryans comment on the blog, more than the blog itself.
    I think if an article dwells on the negatives, it will often be read that way.
    Holidays are what we make them.

  4. Interesting perspective! I'm actually surprised you haven't gotten flamed more. I've only been to Oahu but I loved every minute and plan to do some of the other islands in the future. Did you know that Waikiki is an artificial beach? All the sand was shipped in from Australia and California. Go more than a few feet out in the warer and you are walking on sharp volcanic rock.

  5. All I can say is you definitely didn't do your homework before visiting the Big Island. Sounds like you were expecting some type of Carribean island. You did the typical tourist stuff or worse. We have great hidden beaches that hopefully stay that way. The adventurous visitor is rewarded with secluded beauty. The volcanoes activity changes hourly. The ocean entry you visited was just starting after 8 months of only flowing at the high remote elevations. It's not in the park and the county has control of the viewing area. Something their not used to. Your beach experience at Magic sands is typical in the winter months. It's called disappearing sands for a reason. The winter swells take all of the sand away. It returns during the spring and summer. This island is full of hidden treasures. I'm wondering why it took 4 hrs to drive to Hilo. 2 1/2 is normal. The bumpy road you mentioned is called saddle rd. If you read your rental car agreement it says to stay off of that rd. Much of it has been realigned and repaved as of now. It's always been an extreme secondary rd that locals use as a shortcut. The Kona side is still under construction. The beach you talk of to the north is on the northwest side in Kohala. That's Hapuna beach. Many times voted the # 1 beach in the world. This is a young volcanic island and our coast is mostly rocky cliffs. This island has so much to do and see. Yes, Kona is commercialized. The people who live here do need places to shop and they need jobs. You only have to drive a very short distance and your out of town and in rural areas. I live 4 miles mauka (up the mountain) of town and it couldn't be any more rural. Holualoa. If you only wish to go somewhere warm and lay on a beach, the Mauna Kea beach resort will do just fine. If your into what this island offers like diversity and adventure then rent a condo and get out early and enjoy. Always best to visit the beaches early in the day as we get our usual afternoon clouds. The volcano has been putting on a great show since Feb of 2008. Get direct flts to Kona and avoid HNL airport. All of your bad experiences were easily avoidable. Best to tell your good experiences too.

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