We’ve been home from Hawaii for just over a month and already I miss it something fierce. Somehow the desert view out my office window pales in comparison to the white sand beaches of Hawaii. Since I find myself missing that place, I thought now would be the perfect time to share a few blog posts on how we spent our time there. So pack your virtual bags and come along with me to the Big Island. Aloha!
Our journey began bright and early in the Phoenix airport. This was the first time we’d ever flown Hawaiian Airlines and I could not have been happier with them. I did not receive any discounts or freebies to say so, but I have to tell you that the next time we find ourselves Hawaii-bound, we’ll be flying this airline again. Not only were we treated well by the gate agents in the airport and the crew aboard the flight, but also they provided us with a tasty breakfast–included in the price of our fare.
Unfortunately, we were unable to get a flight direct from Phoenix to Hilo, so we did incur a lengthy four hour layover in Honolulu. Some of us managed to make ourselves more comfortable during the wait than others.
When finally our feet hit the ground in Hilo, our vacation officially began. Our first stop was Two Ladies Kitchen. I’d read that they make a mean strawberry mochi. Not wanting to miss out on any of the local specialties, we pre-ordered a dozen. Mochi, for those who’ve never heard of such a thing–is a traditional Asian confection. The strawberry version consists of a plump, juicy strawberry topped with slightly-sweetened red bean paste and wrapped in the pillow-y, chewy, stretchy goodness that is mochi. It looks something like this.
I rather enjoy the consistency of mochi. It’s got a curious texture to it that equates to lots of fun for my mouth. The kids gave it mixed reviews; two of the three loved it. I’ll let you be the judge as to which one wasn’t thrilled.
After enjoying the first of our mochi treats, we set off to explore the town of Hilo for a bit. We went to a beach park right on Hilo Bay and stood in awe under storybook-like trees. Well, at least storybook-like to us desert-dwellers.
All too soon it came time to pull ourselves away and head to dinner. We ate at Hilo Bay Cafe on our first night. It’s a quaint little restaurant that overlooks the picturesque bay. Unfortunately, that was where the high points ended for us. Ambiance was terrible. We were seated on the patio right next to a paper screen. Just on the other side of that screen, the restaurant was hosting what we presumed to be a wedding reception. The adult attendees were seated in a private room inside the restaurant while a table of unsupervised children sat just on the other side of the paper screen on the patio. To put it gently, they were loud. Very loud. And the adult wedding guests were too preoccupied to bring those rowdy kids down a notch or two. My family was unable to carry on a conversation at our table because we simply couldn’t hear each other. Add to that disappointment average food and slow service and, well, it’s safe to say that Hilo Bay Cafe has most assuredly seen the last of us. It’s okay, though; we were on to bigger and better things.
Leaving Hilo behind, we made our way to Volcano, where we would spend the first three nights of our vacation. We chose Volcano as a base so that we’d have ample time to explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Rather than stay in a hotel or B&B, we thought our family would be most comfortable in a vacation rental that we found on VRBO. Indeed, we were. We stayed in a cute, three-bedroom condo smack dab in the middle of the rainforest.
Hale Ma’ukele was located within a five minute drive of the national park. Quite convenient, especially since we would have an early start on day two and already the three hour time difference was leaving us a bit tired. We fell into bed on night one, eager for the next day’s adventures.
Highlights from day 1:
- Hawaiian airlines flight experience
- arrival on the Big Island
- strawberry mochi from Two Ladies Kitchen
- Hale Ma’ukele vacation rental
Disappointments from day 1:
- Hilo Bay Cafe
Day 2 :: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park & Chain of Craters Road
Thankfully, I had the foresight to schedule a tour of Volcanoes National Park–otherwise, I fear we would have been overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. We met Warren Costa, of Native Guide Hawaii, at nine o’clock and spent a half-day touring with him. Warren led us to a lesser-traveled hiking path and that was where our day began. The trail, as you can see, begins under a shaded canopy.
We all enjoyed our very informative and scenic tour of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but we were far from done. After we said our goodbyes to Warren, we set off to explore a bit more on our own. We made our way to the Thurston Lava Tube and were delighted to find that it wasn’t too crowded.
So, what exactly is a lave tube? I thought you’d never ask! It’s basically a tunnel that was once occupied by flowing lava. The walk through Thurston lava tube is about 50 yards long. Inside the tunnel, you can see solidified drips and waves–evidence of the molten lava that once flowed. Just on the other side of the lava tube, you exit into a rainforest. A certain someone I know took advantage of the opportunity to expel some energy running along the pathway.
Leaving the lava tube, we made our way to the park’s steam vents. These are spots where ground water drips down to the hot volcanic rock below and returns to the earth’s surface in the form of steam. The steam vents were a bit stinky. Think along the lines of rotten eggs.
I went into our trip determined to get a photo at the end of Chain of Craters road. The photo opp did indeed pan out, but it was no easy feat. After driving the nineteen mile windy road, you have to park and walk to the spot where the lava crosses over the road. The tropical winds, my friends, were blowing something fierce that day. And the walk was a long one. All for this.
Picture-perfect, no? One of the things I found most beautiful about Hawaii was the contrast of colors. There exists this tropical greenery against black lava rock. When you add in the azure blue of the ocean and the turquoise sky, well, it comes together in one awe-inspiring backdrop. Don’t you agree?
After Chain of Craters Road we went back to our vacation rental to freshen up for dinner. Reservations that night were at Kilauea Lodge, a restaurant that my Hawaii The Big Island Revealed book declared “one of the best restaurants on the island.” Suffice it to say that they must have been dizzy when they wrote that sentence. While the ambiance at Kilauea Lodge was cozy and pleasant, the food was terrible. Between the five of us, we ordered five different entrees and with nary an exception, every item on every plate tasted as though it had been defrosted in a microwave before being served. The $200+ dollars we paid for our meal was by no means money well spent.
Following dinner, we returned to the Visitor’s Center to get a glimpse of the night glow from the Kilauea caldera. Unfortunately it was raining and I was unwilling to expose my camera to the weather so I don’t have a photo to share. Please take my word for it when I tell you that a trip to Hawaii would be incomplete without seeing the night glow.
Highlights from day 2:
- Native Guide Hawaii tour of Volcanoes National Park
- Thurston lava tube
- Chain of Craters Road
- Night glow
Disapointments from day 2:
- Kilauea Lodge dinner
Stay tuned for more from our Hawaiian adventure coming later in the week!