It’s been just over a month since coming back from my Hawaii adventure! Brad and I chose to go to Hawaii as it was a halfway point between Sydney and NYC. I’ve always been about the hustle bustle of the city (excl. Jeju Island), but I love being away from the city (the irony!), so this was one of my first real holidays.
Hawaii is not your one-off holiday destination. Despite my freaky Excel-sheet travel plan preparedness, I totally underestimated the sheer size of it and what you’re able to do there. It’s a wonderful place that you could return to again and again, and still experience new things each time.
This is not a postcard. Diamond Head Lookout @ Honolulu, Oahu
Which island to pick?
For my first time (here’s to hoping there’ll be more), I visited the Big Island and Oahu. Oahu was almost a default option as Brad and I both flew into Honolulu as a meeting point. If it’s your first time in Hawaii, you’ve got to experience Honolulu, right? I still can’t help but think if it would have been better to go to another island though.
I chose to fly to the Big Island simply because it had the Volcanoes National Park. Who can pass that up!? I researched the Big Island to death and I knew the Kona side of the island was the “sunshine side”, but I’ve seen the sunshine side (e.g Gold Coast) of something before and opted for the Hilo side (closer to the awesome volcanos), which is always raining. I’m like any human/fairy and I love my sunshine over rain, but I fell completely in love with Hilo.
Further adding to your list of why Hilo is the best. Rainbow Falls @ Hilo, Big Island
Reasons why Anna loved Hilo
- It was not as touristy as other places we visited in Hawaii. Brad and I totally felt like we were living the local life (minus the driving on the wrong side of the road). We could literally envision ourselves retiring in Hilo.
- Everyone is so bloody nice. Pretty much all the locals in Hawaii are lovely, but they are something else in Hilo. I wanted to marry all of them.
- FOOD. I will explain later.
- You get at least one rainbow per day.
- The rain is fucking cool. It’s almost like a wall of rain coming towards you. I don’t know about you but I usually run like a rabbit when it starts to rain in Sydney, but in Hilo…I wanted to run towards it and prance like the village idiot. If you didn’t notice, the featured image (first one) of this post has the wall of rain behind the rainbow.
…case in point — go to Hilo. Don’t go to Kona, you’ll be considered as crossing to the dark side.
My feet got to some pretty awesome places in throughout my trip and it was incredibly hard to narrow down the list. Here’s what I thought were the best bits.
NB: Touristy things up ahead. Somewhere along the way in Honolulu, I did get chatting to a local and had told him of my adventures so far. Although he didn’t have much to offer about Hilo, he noticed all the places I visited in Oahu were very much for tourists. When I travel, I love to do things that the locals would do but it’s quite hard to avoid in Hawaii (especially in Honolulu). It doesn’t mean these places weren’t awesome, but it’s just a note for those who are looking to do things like a local.
Road Tripping in Hilo
If you’re planning on staying in Hilo, you definitely need a car. We lived just out of downtown Hilo and with the places we wanted to explore, we wouldn’t have survived without one. There’s virtually no public transport here, but there are heaps of hitchhikers.
This was probably not the most glamorous part of the trip, but I really enjoyed just driving around Hilo. We simply drove & drove and listened to the local radio station (all island music!). It was lovely to explore the roads and see what this island was like for ourselves.
We didn’t just drive aimlessly though!
Kehena Black Sand Beach
This little sweet spot was less than an hour away from where we stayed, so we had a good 40 minute drive. It is a nudist beach, but if you’re okay with that sort of thing then this could be one of the most relaxing spots ever. I wish I was more prepared with a relaxation kit before arriving. Everyone else was. This one guy even brought his own hammock.
If you’re planning to head here, make sure you wear proper shoes because I was stupidly in thongs. To be fair, my shoes had broke the previous day. You need proper shoes as there’s no trail down. You have to hop down the jagged rocks to get down to the black sand. I still survived with my itty bitty Havaianas, but I would try with a pair of Nikes next time.
One thing that stuck with me at this beach were the number of “Ahu”, which are rock piles. People stacked them everywhere! Traditionally these are used as markers or as a memorial to a greater deity in Hawaiian culture, but I think most people who stacked them up at the beach just wanted to leave their own mark.
Also, rocks can be sharp so be careful when heading down to the water!
Volcanoes National Park
Halemaumau Crater with two rainbows!
Before making our way to the Volcanoes National Park, I had a lengthy debate to see whether we needed a paid tour or not. I’m very glad that we decided to explore for ourselves in the end. We did get a few little hot tips from some locals which helped!
I loved the Kilauea Iki Trail. You will literally go through all four seasons during your trek though so be prepared. It doesn’t take too long at all and it’s just a little muddy. We paid $1 for an extra guide book to have a bit of commentary with each of the stop/look out points.
Biggest Ahu I’ve ever seen! It’s taller than me!
Brad hiding in a crack of the earth!
We also visited the Steam Vents and Thurston Lava Tube. Both of which we probably could have skipped, but we had visited the Mauna Kea Macadamia Factory beforehand and that didn’t leave us much of the day to explore more of the park.
We weren’t able to get to all the sites, but we did stay after dusk to see the red glow of the Halemaumau Crater. As majestic and beautiful as it was, even with two rainbows, it was so bloody cold. Since the park is more elevated than Hilo in general, you should
If I could do it again, I would choose to go a little earlier to be able to explore — especially driving around the crater, but it still one of my favourite spots.
Mauna Kea Observatory
Most breathtaking sunset ever. Pictures just don’t do it justice.
BEST PLACE EVER. I love stargazing and this was one of the must-go-places for me. I booked a group tour at Arnott’s Lodge and they were wonderful really wonderful. The owner of the place is actually from Australia. Although we didn’t stay at their lodge (which is located in Hilo), it seems like a lovely little casual place. We booked for their Sunset & Stargazing tour, and even though it’s a little pricey, it’s definitely worth every cent! Brad drove us to the lodge to get picked up for the tour and we had two guides for our group. Our group was also very small, it was just us and another Japanese tourist on his own. So it was much more intimate than expected. The tour guides knew so much about the history, stories and everything you could think of and they were real locals as they also had their own day jobs outside of the tours.
Clouds rolling over at the Visitor Information Center.
They drove us up towards Mauna Kea and we stopped at Rainbow Falls along the way. It is a bit of a drive and I fell asleep along the way, but between my snoozes I heard some great tidbits on how the land was formed by the lava. :D
Haleakala Silversword patch at the Visitor Information Centre.
Along the way, we stopped at the Visitor Information Centre where you can get souvenirs as well as snacks. The snacks (instant noodles! hot chocolate!) were a lifesaver since we didn’t bring anything with us for the long ride, There are also locals there which are protesting against the construction of an additional observatory, but they are super peaceful and lovely to talk to.
We were really, really lucky as we came to visit on a day where the weather was super clear. As I mentioned before, the weather is always rainy in Hilo and even though Mauna Kea is much further up, it does cop a bit of the rainy weather a lot of the time too. The shot above is when we almost arrived at the top. It was so clear that the sun actually reflected off the ocean and even the tour guides had never seen the horizon so clearly.
Us in our potato sacks provided by the tour. :)
I don’t have any pictures for the end of the night since we were stargazing in pitch black and looking through telescopes set up by fellow stargazers, but it was still amazing. It’s such a perfect place and anyone who heads to the Big Island should also take this tour!
Island Vintage Coffee
This place is located in Waikiki, at the heart of the all things touristy. I had heard so much about it and I was extremely cautious since as soon as I walked in, there were just so many tourists! To the level that makes you think that it must be overrated. We had the island breakfast and infamous açai bowl. Best breakfast ever! Definitely a place to drop by. We ended up going here twice because of my enthusiasm.
The Perfect Piña
You can find the Perfect Piña at Tropics @ Hiltion Hawaiian Village — can’t pass it up!
This little island is perfect for relaxing, a bit of a swim or even a barbecue. It’s good to great real close to the coast. If you have a bit of time, drop by and check it out.
One of the more local restaurants we went to that I was really impressed with. Everything was in such massive portions and had a lovely local twist. The pancakes are the most impressive but any breakfast dish there is simply worth a try.
Pineapple Restaurant @ Hilo
It seemed like the popular place to be in downtown Hilo. They served pretty nice food and I loved their coconut themed desserts. Overall it had a really nice vibe with the live band playing and crowd buzzing. It was very busy and I didn’t know you could make reservations so we got pretty lucky by popping in just before the rush and grabbing two seats easily.
Sansei Seafood Restaurant @ Waikiki
Another touristy spot, but who cares?! As long as they serve good food, it’s all good with me. This place is pretty busy so be sure to make a reservation online. I don’t think a lot of people knew you could reserve a spot because I definitely got a few stink eyes from people who were waiting for a while. They are masters at fusion sushi! All their dishes were so incredibly interesting and it really kept us on our toes. We also got to sit in the outside area and was able to look over Waikiki, so definitely ask for a table outside if you have a chance to.
What’s Shakin’ @ Papaikou (Big Island)
We had no place to go right before our flight from Hilo to Honolulu and we decided to just go for a little drive outside of Hilo. We kept driving for a while, going over a few bridges, through a waterfall, but finally made it to a little shack that served fresh coconuts amongst other things. It’s such an awesome place as they grow all their ingredients out the back. In addition, I found Brad in a children’s book. Haha.
It’s taken me about two weeks to finish up this post and I realise it’s because the trip was so, so, so…big! It’s impossible to recount every happy moment I had. I enjoyed a lot of places which I haven’t even mentioned, such as Pearl Harbour or having awesome udon at Marukame Udon.
It really was one hell of a holiday. I’ve gotta head back.
But never again with such a big post though.