Work has been busy, busy, busy this year for hubby and me! We both still work for the same companies we got jobs with nearly six years ago when we moved to Denver. Hubby works for an engineering company in downtown Denver, whose streets are constantly boasting of new construction projects, one after another, which means companies like hubby’s have been kept quite busy.
And I work in the President’s Office at a university, which recently just saw the retirement of one president and welcomed a new one. Needless to say, my office has been quite busy as well!
Come mid-August, both hubby and I couldn’t wait to get away for a much-needed relaxing trip!
Our Big Island vacay would include four days in the town of Kona (on the dry/west side of the island), two and half days backpacking on the Muliwai Trail (on the north side of the island), and three and half days in the town of Volcano (on the lush/east side of the island).
Day 1 >> August 15
Hubby and I were able to get seats on the left side of the plane with our early morning flight from LAX to KOA, which afforded us (literally) some amazing aerial views of the island we were about to set foot on. Amazingly, one of the first glimpses we were able to see of the island were of the Waipi’o and Waimanu Valleys on the north side of the island, which were the valleys we would hike to in the middle of our trip. From the air, the hikes in and out of these valleys up the steep cliffs actually didn’t look too bad…in comparison to Colorado mountains that is.
As the plane quickly descended on the west side of the island, the terrain turned from undulating green valleys to flat dry desert and finally, to jet-black lava fields. It was fun seeing how the Big Island terrain compared to the other islands we have visited, including Maui and Kauai. Just as online descriptions claimed, the Big Island truly looked “younger” than the other Hawaiian islands and had tons of volcanic rock. This was evident on our flight in, as we only saw a handful of sandy beaches, all of which were completely surrounded by old volcanic fields with practically no clear roads to get to them.
For a brief moment, I wondered how we were possibly going to have fun on an island that had few beaches and tons of hot, jagged lava rocks… but then less than 60 minutes later, I was reading three simple words on a menu that would change my Debbie Downer attitude and convince me that I actually might not leave the island at all: mai tai flight.
For twelve months out of the year, hubby and I live in a city that boasts of having one of the most number of microbreweries per capita, and that’s exciting for hubby, who looooves craft beer, but not so exciting for this girl, who loves margaritas and any other fruity drink. Hawaii is paradise for me, simply from their drinks options alone.
After our mid-day island happy hour and some grocery errands to kill time before check-in, it was finally time to see the long-awaited views of our Kona condo.
Although beachside condos are impossible to find on the Big Island because… well, there are no beaches, we still searched hard to at least find an oceanside condo.
We weren’t looking to do much exploring on the Big Island due to the adventurous two-night backpacking trip we had planned in between our stays on each side of the island, so having an oceanside condo would allow us to still feel like we were getting in the island sights, even on the lazy days that we hung out at the condo.
Case in point: our condo had unexpectedly entertaining views of surfers riding waves all day long from pre-sunrise to post-sunset. For our first day, we didn’t venture out of the condo after getting settled in, and instead, we simply watched the surfers and sunset before heading to bed early.
Day 2 >> August 16
On our second day, it took us until almost 10 o’clock before we got our jet-lagged butts out of the condo and on our way to our first activity.
One of the latest and greatest things to come out of the amazing world wide web is Google reviews of beaches. This option to read about a beach, not just from one person’s experience in a blog from six years, but from recent and multi-person perspectives, was especially helpful on the Big Island, where we felt the beaches weren’t so straightforward and required lots of research to find out if they were crowded, sandy vs. volcanic, shaded, and/or required a tough trek/drive. On the other hand, with all this information at our fingertips, it took a lot of time and research just to pick something as simple as a beach to sit on!
After a long morning of debating about which beach to visit, we finally settled on Honomalino Beach. The beach was a 30-mile, one-hour drive south of our condo in Kona, so we made an obligatory stop to get our first taste of authentic Kona coffee and then hit the road!
Although the beach required a .75-mile trek through rocky terrain to get to it, the reward was three things that Big Island beaches rarely have: solitude, shade, and sand! We weren’t going anywhere any time soon after that trek!
In fact, we stayed so many hours at this beach that hubby ended up getting a mean sunburn, even though we were camped out under palm trees and partially shaded skies most of the time, and high tide ended up coming in just in time for our trek out.
We also stayed just long enough at Honomalino Beach that we were still able to catch happy hour on our drive back to Kona at a country club restaurant overlooking the ocean before calling it a day.
Day 3 >> August 17
Day three of our trip was our wedding anniversary and I woke up early enough to catch a view of the sky at sunrise with cotton candy hues accompanied by a glowing full moon hanging high above the horizon while I wrote an anniversary note for hubby.
We decided to splurge and celebrate with a special activity on this day: a helicopter ride! Since there was no active lava flowing on the island, we figured a helicopter ride along the Kohala Coast on the north side of the island (where we would backpack in just two days) would be more interesting than a helicopter ride over the volcano.
Before our mid-afternoon helicopter ride, we had time for one short, morning activity and we opted for a beach that was a short car ride away from our condo called Kahalu’u Beach, which thankfully didn’t require a trek to get to.
This rocky, crowded, and shade-less beach wasn’t anything too special, but hubby and I took turns snorkeling, with one of us (it won’t be too difficult to guess who) losing our orientation out at sea and ending up finishing the snorkeling excursion almost a quarter of a mile down at another beach! Whoops! The snorkeling on the Big Island also didn’t seem to live up to the hype that people spoke of in online forums, so we weren’t too sad to leave this beach soon after we arrived.
We booked our helicopter ride with Blue Hawaiian, which took flight from the north side of Kona. Although our pilot wasn’t as chatty or informative as the pilot we had for our Kauai helicopter ride a few years ago, the scenery on the Big Island almost required no words, nor would any be possible to describe its awe and varied beauty.
Although we went in and out of a few valleys along the coast, we were particularly fascinated by the up-close views of the Waimanu Valley, which is where our backpacking adventure would end. The thick foliage that covered the entire landscape of our backpacking route from the Waipi’o Valley to the Waimanu Valley provided more questions than answers of how it would be possible to hike from one valley to the next, but we couldn’t wait to find out!
The rocky, dry, west island views from land definitely paled in comparison after seeing such spectacular north island views from the sky of green valleys and cliffs accented with unbelievably tall waterfalls cascading to the valley or ocean below, but we couldn’t get road-side goats and beach-side libations with a helicopter ride and we like those things, too! We spent the rest of our evening enjoying happy hour at Kuleana Rum Shack in north Kona and dinner along Kailua Bay.
Day 4 >> August 18
On our final day in Kona, we did one of my favorite activities on the island (next to our backpacking trip). We chose to drive to the south end of the island again for a hike to an extraordinary beach with green sand. Papakōlea Beach is supposedly one of only four green sand beaches in the world, so it was a must-see, even though it required a five-mile roundtrip trek in full sun!
From the few reviews we read of the hike, we noted two things: 1) The hike was windy, hot, and long and 2) We could hitch a ride from locals in a 4WD vehicle (for a certain price) and bypass the windy, hot, and long hike.
After taking the turnoff for the final road to the hike, we could begin to see tall, white windmills not far off from the road and we instantly knew the reviews were definitely not exaggerating about how windy the hike was going to be.
Although hubby and I had a long hike ahead of us the next day, once at the dirt parking lot and trailhead, we opted to hike to the beach rather than hitch a ride in order to soak in the scenery along the way. The hike started off with typical Big Island landscape of volcanic rock, but quickly turned into a wide pastureland with dry, red dirt underneath.
Along the hike, it was disappointing to see that the trail wasn’t just one straightforward trail, but rather several eroded route options over the pastureland (which all led in the same direction) that had been created by the many vehicles that traveled to the beach with truckloads of tourists too lazy to walk. Unfortunately, the overuse of vehicles in this area will probably accelerate the erosion and devastation of this delicate, beautiful landscape.
After traveling more than 2.5 miles on foot in full sun, we could finally spot the signature towering green tuff rings of the beach in the far distance with turquoise waters below that appeared past the hilly, dry, red dirt landscape in front of us. It was almost like seeing a mirage or finding a lost gemstone on a beach sparkling in the sun. Not only that, upon reaching the famous green sand beach, up close, the sand appeared not so much green as an incredible glimmering gold!
Papakōlea Beach ended up being the only beach during our trip on the Big Island that was decent enough to swim in because it was almost purely sand (as opposed to lava rock) and tucked away calmy in a bay. Although there was absolutely no shade and truckload after truckload of tourists continued to arrive at the beach, hubby and I enjoyed several hours playing in the bouncy, blue waters before we finished our 2.5-mile trek out.
On our way back up north, we had to make one quick pit stop at a coffee farm we spotted earlier in the day that had my [literal] name on it. I certainly couldn’t pass up the opportunity to snap a pic at my very own farm in Hawaii! Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the farm because we were both starving and on a mission to get some grub!
Luckily, we found a cafe nearby on the south side of the island and somehow, they were willing to look the other way when we walked in with the dirtiest feet on the planet. After getting food and finding the cutest chameleon hiding in the trees outside the cafe, we were ready to hit the road and get washed up!
We didn’t have motivation for much else on our last day in Kona, but at the same time, it also felt like we hadn’t checked off half the sights we had wanted to see or even hung out in the pool to our condo building… and most tragic of all, we also hadn’t taken out Mingo, who we almost had to pay an extra baggage fee for!
One of the sights on our list that was easy to check off was a place called Rivi’s Saltwater Pool. This place was a man-made pool off a rocky beach and it was located just a few blocks down the street from our condo. We didn’t have intentions of really swimming in the pool since we had had a long day, but rather just wanted to take some quick pics at sunset with Mingo.
Unfortunately, some old, party-crashing dudes hanging out by the saltwater pool drinking bud light and smoking cigarettes were hypocritically trolling visitors to the area and insisting that no one get in the pool, lest they wanted to get a staph infection and die. More likely, they probably just wanted the area to themselves for their lame beach party.
Trolls aside, Rivi’s Saltwater Pool wasn’t as glamorous as we thought it would be, so we snapped a few pics and headed back to our condo’s staph-free pool where we could watch the sunset without old dudes killing our vibe. We didn’t stay up late because we finally had our big and exciting backpack adventure to head out on the next day!