All Fifty States Club

Hawaii Five 0 – Big Island of Hawaii

February 27, 2024


Every state has its unique food, culture, and history, however Hawaii is definitely one of a kind. I am excited to share my family's experiences as we traveled to 3 islands in Hawaii in December 2023. This is Part 3 - the Big Island of Hawaii.  Alicia, All Fifty Club President

Family of 6 trip to Hawaii in December 2023

Part 1 - Hawaii Planning and Preparation

Part 2 - Maui (2 nights)

Part 3 - Hawaii (4 nights)

Part 4 - Oahu (3 nights) 

Part 5 - Completion of All 50 in Hawaii!

Part 6 - Hawaii Packing List



Day 1 - Hilo

Our flight left in the late afternoon for Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii. We flew during daylight and booked window seats on the plane's right side in hopes of a nice aerial view of the islands. Although we got some laughs as the 6 of us climbed into our window seats in separate rows, it was worth it. We could see the many valleys and waterfall areas along the coast, some of which we would later see from the ground.

The Hilo airport is indoor/outdoor, with a large waiting room, comfy seats, and interesting historical displays. It seems out of the 1970s and outdated, but I hope it never changes and keeps its charm. We stopped at a local grocery store, KTA, to purchase some food to cook at our Airbnb. KTA is a grocery chain of just seven stores, all located on the island of Hawaii.

We drove 30 minutes up the northern coast to Papaaloa to our Airbnb. Lush Paradise - Luxury Eco Getaway  It was dark, so the drive in seemed mysterious as we drove up a narrow driveway with rain forest on either side. We were met by our Airbnb host, who showed us around the beautifully decorated large cedar home with a swimming pool and a wrap-around lanai. It is located on a working chocolate farm in the Maulua Gulch on 12 acres of fruit trees and lush rainforests. The upstairs bedroom had a distant view of the ocean. The best, though, was going to sleep listening to the sounds of the coqui frogs and the rain.



Day 2 - Hilo

Waking up to rain in the rainforest was a wonderful surprise! The rain wasn't enough to stop us from exploring the Airbnb grounds and picking oranges and starfruit. We made freshly squeezed orange juice using the juicer on the counter and enjoyed cracking macadamia nuts using the nutcracker on the lanai.

We left our luxurious abode to check out some incredible waterfalls in the general Hilo vicinity - Akaka Falls, Peepee Falls, and Rainbow Falls.  All were short hikes; you view them from afar (versus swimming). There was a group of incredible banyan trees near Rainbow Falls that were perfect for climbing. My son confused everyone when he started making realistic monkey noises up in the trees. (There are no monkeys in Hawaii - except at the zoo.)

The historic part of Hilo has many gift shops with friendly salespeople. We were there on a day when a cruise ship was in port, so there was a lot of activity, including an outdoor craft and food market.

A short drive away was Richardson Beach Park, a relatively small beach with black and green sand with TURTLES!  Three turtles were lying in the sand right in front of us! We got in the water nearby to snorkel, and there were even more turtles. We were the only people in this small bay snorkeling - we felt like we had a one-on-one turtle experience. Later, we went to Honoli'i Beach Park and watched surfers from a road high above the water, giving us a great vantage view of the surfers past the reef break.

We returned to the Airbnb to cook Hawaiian Portuguese sausage and drink beer from Hilo Brewing Company and Ola Brew. To cap the night off, we watched Hawaii Five-0 episodes until we fell asleep on the couches.




Day 3 - Waipio, Waimea, Hapuna, Pahoa

We awoke to a rainy mist in the rainforest, which made it perfect for a morning hike. The Airbnb host told us that multiple waterfalls were accessible by walking up the stream on the property but we were warned that it was for experienced hikers only. My boys were up for the challenge. It was definitely a rock scramble, but they were rewarded with the adrenaline rush of going off the beaten path to swim in the waterfall pools. Meanwhile, the rest of the group relaxed on the lanai and walked around the house. I came across (from a distance, thank goodness) a family of wild boar.

We had a long driving day ahead of us, so we packed up and headed north from Papaaloa to the Waipio Valley Lookout. The valley is currently closed to visitors unless you go with a guide due to rockfall and erosion. I assume the 'dangerous' road conditions still exist but are entrusted only to people familiar with the area. We enjoyed the lookout from above and can see why it is known as one of the most picturesque places in the world. Having a guide may have helped us learn more about the Hawaiian history and culture of the Valley beyond the signs at the lookout. We had to backtrack a little to our next destination and couldn't pass the beautifully decorated Waipio Fruit Shack a second time without stopping for some cold, fresh coconut.

We headed from the Big Island of Hawaii's east side to the west. Little did we know how drastic a landscape change it would be! The east side is very green and tropical, and the central area is farmland and cowboy country. We stopped to eat at Ippy's Hawaiian BBQ in Waimea, which hit the spot. Hawaiian dishes are offered with a side of rice with everything which seemed funny because we aren't used to it. Hamburger and a scoop of rice? I opted for a side of macaroni salad, which is also popular. As we continued across the island, the landscape became desert-like and dry. The Hilo (east) side of the island reportedly receives 130 inches of rain a year, and the Kona (west) side only receives 18 inches! Sure enough, we went from rainy weather on the east coast to a sunny day at the beach on the west coast. We spent some time at the beautiful Hapuna Beach and then continued our road trip around the island on Saddle Road, back across the island. It is called Saddle Road because the Mauna Kea volcano is on one side of the road and Mauna Loa on the other. This drive also went through different landscapes as we changed elevation and drove through lava bed areas.

We went through the outskirts of Hilo and then to the city of Pahoa to search for our next Airbnb. I say 'search' because even though we had precise directions, this wasn't an ordinary Airbnb. The Airbnb description warned, “This isn’t for everybody” and “This isn’t the Hilton.” The directions read, "Go until the road ends," then "Drive 15 seconds".  I was excited, knowing this was my kind of place – how the rest of the family would feel about this, I wasn’t sure!  After a very close call of hitting a wild boar dashing across the road, we made it to the community built upon hardened black lava and to our Airbnb, the Magical Lava Temple. Our unique stay had so much character - candles lighting the way up the stairs, lava rock shower, and beds theme-decorated like "Blessed" and "Loved." Yoga mats, incense, and carpet squares were stacked in the open-air structure for classes run by the Airbnb host. Each bed was covered by mosquito netting. however, there were no bugs out and about during our stay. The homes in the area run on solar power, so after dark, we were asked to use limited electricity, which added to the aura of the area.

Although we could have stayed tucked in our "temple," we were hungry and ready to dance! Just five minutes away was what ended up being one of our favorite memories of the trip. Uncle Robert's is a local music and food 'awa' bar that has been family-operated for decades. In an open-air covered area, the local musicians sang and played reggae and popular songs with a Hawaiian twist. Locals and tourists enjoyed conversation and dancing together. I had some incredible ahi that was sauteed and seasoned right in front of me on a Coleman stove, with the fish taken right out of a cooler. Leah had a fresh fruit smoothie. Matt had a big bowl of chili. Trevor and Carsten had Hawaiian bagels.  And we bought a bucket of Hawaiian beer. Yes, we sampled just about everything. We danced until the last song at 10:30. The cover charge was $10 a person, but we read that it could range from $0 to $20 depending on the night. Food and drink prices were comparable to other restaurants. It operates as a farmer's market most days, but the music is only on Wednesday evenings. I will plan our next trip around making sure we are here on a Wednesday - it was that much of a trip highlight!

We made our way back to the Magical Lava Temple and went to sleep, hearing periodic voices that carried across the otherwise quiet lava terrain.




Day 4 - Volcanoes National Park, South Point, Captain Cook, Manta Rays, Kona

We woke up feeling like we were in another world. Strewn across the lava beds were temporary-like structures built on the uneven lava. We were in the path of the active volcano Kīlauea, so I'm not sure what else I would have expected. The people live there knowing they might have to leave at a moment's notice. I tried not to think about this too much as Karina and I made use of the yoga mats by stretching as the sun came up.

We drove through misty weather to Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park. Our first stop was the visitor's center. We then walked through the Thurston lava tube and witnessed the volcanic activity as steam continues to vent from the ground. It was raining, and our clothes became soaked. Apparently, there is a difference between rain jackets and windbreakers! The park ranger joked that it isn't a question of whether it will rain but how hard. If we had more time, we may have spent more time hiking.

From there, we made our way to the very southernmost place in the United States - South Point. We also saw the southernmost fence, the southernmost house, and the southernmost cow (road trip game). Surprisingly, despite this area not being touristy at all, quite a few visitors were there,  as well as several groups of fishermen dropping their lines off the tall cliffs. There is a metal launch pad to cliff jump into the water, which, fortunately, our adventurous kids didn't press us to make the jump. They recognized that the waters might be too rough to swim back since we were there in December. I think they secretly vowed to come back and jump someday. The detour to South Point added about an hour to our drive, but we felt like it was worth it to go as far south as one can go in the U.S.  Hiking to the Green Sand Beach nearby would have added another couple of hours, so we skipped it, although it seemed pretty cool.

We stopped at Royal Kona Coffee Center, a small museum and cafe with a lanai looking over coffee production buildings, and sampled some free coffee variations. We changed into our swimsuits in the bathroom as the parking area for our upcoming hike was along the side of the road with no amenities. Our hike was to the Captain Cook monument, known as one of the best places to snorkel on the Big Island or even in all of Hawaii. There are only three ways to get to it: kayak, boat, or by foot.  Some friends of ours had been to Hawaii recently and kayaked. They said the snorkeling was excellent, but keeping a hold of their kayaks while snorkeling simultaneously was challenging. The rule is that if you come by water, you can't go on the shore - so tying up their kayaks or putting them on land wasn't an option. So, we opted to hike the Captain Cook trail.  The hike was easy early on, with lovely views of the ocean below, but it was quite a ways below,  2,000 feet within the 1.8 miles. Return hikers passed us with exhausted, red, "I don't think I'm going to make it" faces.  With every step-down, it was harder to take in the beauty as we were concerned about the steps we would be making to go back up. However, in not much time, we made it to the monument and got in the water for some incredible snorkeling. My limited aquatic expertise can only describe them as bright yellow, blue fish, and long fish along the reefs. Although there were about 100 people in the area snorkeling that either hiked in or took a tour boat in, there was plenty of room to spread out. Someone said, "Shark," and the reaction was the opposite of what I expected. The snorkelers and tour guides went directly in the direction of the 'shark.'  It was confirmed that it was a whitetip reef shark. Their tour guide must have given them a heads-up that sharks frequent the area and that they should not be alarmed as they are rarely aggressive. Even though I should have been scared initially, I, too, swam closer to get an excellent snorkel view of the shark. We wore reef shoes as the area was rocky, and there was potential for sea urchins. A sea urchin found Matt's foot anyway, and some spines impaled in the bottom of his heel. It was not terribly painful in the water, but we anticipated it would be highly, highly uncomfortable to hike uphill 2 miles to the car.

Since a tour boat of people conveniently happened to be in the bay with us, we saw it as a sign of potential rescue. Trevor swam out to the boat and asked if they would take pity on his parents and give us a ride back to shore. The captain was willing, but we hung our heads in shame as we boarded, knowing the crew was informed of us being stowaways. However, we were assured that no shame was needed; it has happened often before, and none of the crew recommended taking the uphill hike either; the boat was the way to go.

Matt asked if they had any tweezers but was told they would be no help because the spines break apart. The remedy is to wait until they disintegrate in the skin, which can take up to three months. (Matt's were gone in about three weeks.) The crew did offer him some vinegar spray to help speed up the disintegration process. We were told he was given a 'Hawaiian tattoo" - ok, was that supposed to make him feel better?

The kids took in some more snorkeling and then headed up. The hike was exhausting, but they were entertained, or slightly spooked, by many goats along the way that apparently came out of the woodwork/lava at dusk; many were black like the lava. Devil goats?

Matt and I enjoyed our cruise to the harbor and could see why some tourists take a boat tour to snorkel at Captain Cook. As we pulled into the dock, our rental Yukon was pulling into the parking lot with the windows down and our kids hanging out the window. The crew on the boat shouted, "You made it!" and the Rovey kids gave them a thumbs up and a hang loose. We thanked the captain immensely (and got his Venmo for a tip) and went on our way.

It was a short drive to the Kona area to check into My Hawaii Hostel, located right on the main street of Kona. We wanted to stay at a hostel sometime on our trip because hostels are such unique and fun places to visit.  Hostels may not be luxurious accommodations, but our experience is that they are a clean and convenient place to stay for a night and often a whole lot more fun than a typical hotel. It usually does not make economic sense for families because you pay per person, but it is a bargain for solos or individual travelers. Many hostels offer perks, like local tours and experiences, beach equipment, and shared food in the kitchen. People are friendly and want to interact with others. And something always odd happens. During this hostel visit, we encountered the 'Broom Sweeper,' a young man who told us that he sweeps the street wherever he goes. So here he was in Hawaii, just sweeping away. He was sweeping when we arrived at 6 p.m., sweeping at 10 p.m., and still at it in the morning. We had hoped to grab a poke bowl at the Poke Shack across the street, but it was closed already and found out they close whenever they run out of food for the day. Instead, we picked up food to go to Island Ono Loa Burger. Again, burgers were served with rice!

We had just about finished our burgers by the time we made it to the harbor for a Manta Ray night tour with Kona Coast Boat Tours. It was a smaller company I found on Groupon with great reviews. Multiple tour companies take tours around 7 or 9 p.m. to view manta rays in two areas along the coast. Our boat only had 8 of us on it; other ships may carry 30 people, but they go to the same areas. The captain explained everything and made us comfortable going into the ocean at night.  We clung to lighted floating devices as manta rays were attracted to the light to eat plankton. They seemed completely unbothered by people. We only had two manta rays feeding near us that night, but it was an incredible experience. They came unbelievingly close to us, so close that some brushed our skin as they swam elegantly by. After about 45 minutes, we headed back to shore and to the hostel to sleep. We were in an eight-bed mixed dorm room. We went to sleep, and two other travelers that we met earlier in the evening snuck in (with keys) sometime later.


Day 5 - Kona

After walking a bit along the beach across the street, we loaded up the car and found the Kalikala Cuisine restaurant a little farther up the beach. We had some amazing guava, papaya, pineapple, and tasty French toast, then headed to the airport. The island airport was another small indoor/outdoor airport. We enjoyed going out on the tarmac and walking up the stairs to the plane. The flight was very short, only about an hour to Oahu, and went directly from the airport to Pearl Harbor for a tour  and Part 5 of our Hawaii trip - Oahu.

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