Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Hawaii Big Island Day Four : Helicopter!

Hi everyone!  I'm excited to share my final post on my trip to the Big Island, which included one of the top experiences of my life.  When Dan and I were trying to decide what island to visit, we knew that we had to go to the Big Island while the volcano was erupting.  Not only was this a once in a lifetime thing to see, but the economy was also really hurting due to visitors cancelling their trips (even though the volcano only affected a very small part of a BIG the name suggests!).

We decided to splurge and take a helicopter ride in order to really see and experience the powerful volcano.  I also saw recommendations to go on a boat tour, where you can get really close to where the lava enters the ocean, but I also wanted to see other areas of the island (especially waterfalls)!  So, we purchased the Big Island Spectacular through Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.

Before the tour started, we made our way to breakfast near the heliport (the other helicopter companies operate out of the two island airports, but Blue Hawaiian actually has their own private heliport right by Waikoloa Village!)  We went to Daylight Mind, where I had the most delicious macadamia nut milk latte and their specialty Niu Pancakes (with coconut and haupia syrup).  

Then, we made our way over to the heliport to get checked in and watch safety videos.  We got to meet our pilot, Marco, and the other 4 people on our helicopter.  I was lucky and got a window seat and a great view!  (Pro tip- make sure to wear dark clothes if you're on a helicopter!  Otherwise, you'll see your reflection in the windows.)

Soon, we were taking off to the soundtrack of James Bond and were souring above the island!  We started on the west coast of the Big Island and flew over Kona.  In the Hawaiian language, Kona means leeward, or dry side of the island.  In ancient Hawaii, each island had a district called Kona!  You might also recognize the name because this is a very famous coffee region, with some of the most expensive beans in the world.  This region has an ideal climate and mineral-rich volcanic soil, which comes together to create great coffee growing conditions!

After going up the coast for a bit and seeing a lot of dry land and old volcanic flows, we made our way to the Kohala Coast, where we were treated to the incredible view of the Waipi'o Valley.  This is actually where Dan and I hiked a few days earlier, so it was great to see the same sights from the air!

We were lucky to go on a clear day with just a few clouds-

How amazing are these views!  You can also spot lots of waterfalls all over the coast line, tumbling down the ridges.

We also got to see the Big Island's tallest waterfall- Hi'ilawe Falls.  As you can tell, these falls are only able to be seen from the air, and are 1,450 feet tall!  Since it was raining a lot recently, there were also a number of other waterfalls that Marco said aren't usually flowing in that area.  It was really magnificent!

After we circled around the waterfalls and valley a bit more, we started our journey over to the active volcano in Volcanoes National Park and went by Hilo.  Like I mentioned, Dan and I picked the Big Island because of the opportunity to see flowing lava.  While it definitely was an incredible, awe-inspiring sight, it was also sobering to see the devastation that it caused.  The flow of lava takes out everything in its path- houses, farms, buildings, cars, and more.  At the same time- the islands are all formed by volcanoes, so the Big Island is actually expanding.

Just seeing the volcano constantly erupting moments after seeing hundreds of waterfalls on the opposite coast really put into perspective how powerful Mother Nature is, and how inconsequential we all are.  As you can probably tell, this was really a moving and emotional experience for me!

After making a quick stop at the Hilo Airport to refuel, we made our way back to the heliport, cutting through the middle of the island.  After seeing the volcano in person, it was hard to take anything else in!  I was happy that we ended our trip here, because it would have been impossible for anything else to top this experience.

Have you ever been on a helicopter?
What's the most amazing thing you've seen in person?

Monday, October 22, 2018

Hawaii Big Island Day Three : East

Good morning everyone!  I'm back today to share part three of my Big Island recap.  This was definitely a busy day- starting out with a race and ending on top of a mountain.  This was also our final full day on the island, before heading over to Oahu.  Read on for what we did and where we ate!

Kona Quarter Marathon

One of my 30x30 goals is to complete a race on each birthday (starting at 25).  I turned 28 while we were in Hawaii, so I knew I had to find a race!  Luckily, there was one nearby, in the resort area of Waikoloa Village.  I ran in the quarter marathon, but there was also a full, half, and 5k.  With so many races going on at once (and different start times) I was really impressed with how organized everything was, and we started right on time!

The race itself was ok- we ran a loop around the resorts and then had an out-and-back on the highway.  The weather was beautiful, sunny, and hot, so my goal for the race was to just enjoy it!  I was still sore from doing a bunch of hilly hikes the previous day, so my legs were definitely not ready to race anyway.  I was surprised to check my results later and find out that I won an age group award, but luckily they were able to send it to my hotel in Oahu since I missed the award ceremony!  If you're ever on the Big Island, I would definitely recommend this race (unless one of your requirements is an ocean or jungle view).


After the race, I got cleaned up and refueled, and we made our way east to the town of Hilo.  Fun fact about the Big Island- it is one of the most ecologically diverse places in the world, with 8 different climate zones.  Hilo is a tropical rain forest climate with lots of rainfall, so unsurprisingly we got to see some rain on our daytrip!  It was interesting too, because it would be sunny and warm one minute, then the next there would be a downpour.

While we were in the town, we stopped at Conscious Culture Cafe for lunch.  This is definitely a hipster, crunchy granola type of place (which of course meant that Dan and I loved it!).  There were so many vegan options on the menu, and they make their own kombucha.  I got the tempeh street tacos, which were super filling, and some kind of kombucha mocktail.  Perfect lunch!

Akaka Falls

One of the main stops I wanted to make in Hilo was to Akaka Falls, which are supposed to be the most beautiful falls on the Big Island.  There is a paid parking lot at the trail head, and after a short hike in the jungle you are able to view the spectacular falls.  The entire area is so beautiful, so we spent some time here just walking around.

Lili'uokalani Gardens

In the heart of Hilo is a garden- the largest ornamental Japanese garden outside of Japan!  Everywhere you go in Hawaii, you see influences of Japanese culture, and this is no exception.  The park was named in honor of the last reigning monarch in Hawaii- Queen Liliuokalani, and was dedicated as a tribute to Hawaii's first Japanese immigrants that worked in the sugar cane fields on the Big Island. 

The park is over 20 acres, and has ponds, banyan trees, structures, and lots of pathways to explore.  Like many of Hawaii's other botanical gardens- this one is free to explore!

Coconut Island

After walking around the gardens, we ventured across a pedestrian bridge to visit Coconut Island.  There were lots of families on the island, enjoying the beautiful day and having cookouts.  There were lots of places to sit and relax and swim.  Dan and I enjoyed taking pictures of the waves crashing against the walls of the island and taking a minute to relax and enjoy a bit of sunshine!

Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots

While we were making our way out of Hilo, we stopped at a few more waterfalls.  The first was Rainbow Falls- aptly name because you can see rainbows in the waterfall when you visit on a sunny morning.  Since it was later in the day and not sunny, we didn't get to see any rainbows, but enjoyed the view all the same!  We also explored a few paths that took us through a massive banyan tree (I might have actually enjoyed that even more than the waterfall!) and a view from the top of the falls.

We also quickly stopped by the Boiling Pots, which is further upriver from Rainbow Falls.  This area isn't as much of a waterfall, but more of a stream with ponds of "boiling" water collecting in the eroded lava tubes.  We didn't spend much time here, because it started to rain really hard, and we had to make it to the top of a mountain before sun set!

Mauna Kea

Our final stop of the day was visiting Mauna Kea, which is a huge dormant volcano between Kona and Hilo.  A lot of people visit for stargazing because of the amazing views, and there are a ton of telescopes set up at the summit (including some of the largest in the world!).  Before making our way to the top, we first had to stop at the visitor's center to acclimate to the elevation.  We also put on more layers, since it gets below freezing at the top!

We slowly made our way up the treacherous roads (you have to have a four wheel drive to get past the visitor's center) and were soon above the clouds.  It was so beautiful at the top, and we spent plenty of time walking around and exploring.  We also took a short hike to Lake Waiau, which is the highest lake in the Pacific Basin, and the only alpine lake in Hawaii.

I have one more special post to share about the Big Island, and then it's time for more adventures in Oahu!  

Have you ever gone star gazing?
Do you like to run races for special occasions?

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Hawaii Big Island Day Two - North

It's time for day two of my Big Island adventure!  This day, we ventured up north for a day full of hiking and some beaches thrown in.  We got to see some of the most famous and beautiful Hawaiian sights.  Like the other days we were on the island, the weather cooperated and we got to do so much!

Here's a look at how we spent the day:

Puako Petroglyph Archaeological District

Dan and I started our second day on the Big Island by traveling up to the resort area of the island in Waikoloa to pick up my race packet (coming to my next post!).  I heard about a short hike that we could go on, where we see one of the largest collections of petroglyphs (rock drawings, or in this case lava flow drawings).

The walk was short and easy, and it was fascinating to see all of the petroglyphs that were still in impeccable condition, despite being hundreds of years old.

Holoholokai Beach Park

After we finished up the walk, we stumbled upon the most beautiful beach area, just off the main parking lot.  There were some people getting in the water to snorkel, and it's easy to see why- the water was one of the clearest that I've seen anywhere, there were lots of beautiful fish, and there was coral galore!  This is definitely a hidden gem and ended up being our favorite beach that we saw (we went back right before we flew to Oahu!)

Hawi Town
Next, we were off for the northern coast and Hawi.  You might have heard of this little town, because it serves as the turn around point for the bike route in the Ironman Championship!  While we didn't do any biking, we enjoyed walking the streets and visiting adorable gift shops.

We also stopped for some food at a restaurant that came highly recommended to me- Bamboo!  The food was delicious (I got a tofu Cuban sandwich) and the drinks were amazing.  They make traditional tropical drinks, but add in lilikoi (passion fruit) to pretty much everything!  It takes everything up a notch, and our drinks were very refreshing.

Pololu Lookout
We continued on through the town until we reached the Pololu Lookout!  Just a heads up- this is a very popular area and hike, so it gets VERY crowded.  We went in the afternoon and had to park about a quarter mile from the trail head and overlook, so I would recommend getting an early start.

The trail is really easy to follow, and zig-zags down a steep hill to get you from the overlook, all the way down to the beach.  It was a fun hike down, with lots of photo opportunities and chances to enjoy the view.

Once we made it down, we explored the area a bit and took it all in.  It was so beautiful down there, with a beach area, a little runoff lake area, and towering mountains surrounding us.  Luckily there were lots of clouds out, so the weather felt perfect.

Such a beautiful site!  Luckily for us, in just a few days we would be able to see all of these areas from the air, which was even more breathtaking.

Fresh off the Grid Fruit Stand
There's nothing better than some refreshing fruit after a hot hike, and luckily there was a fruit stand right outside of the outlook.  Dan and I both got smoothies (which tasted amazing and fresh) and visited the horses roaming the fields before we went for our next hike!  Side note- there are so many fruit stands everywhere in Hawaii, so make sure you get as much fresh fruit as you can!

Waipio Valley Lookout

For the final hike of the day, we drove around to the other side of the valley and the Waipio Valley Overlook.  This side looked pretty similar to Pololu- just as beautiful, and we got treated to a sunset.

The beaches down there were beautiful, and features miles and miles of beautiful black sand.  This is a very popular spot for surfing, and we saw tons of families out there having a blast!  I heard there were waterfalls too, but we hiked and climbed for a while and couldn't find them unfortunately.

While it might have been fine heading down the hill, the hike back was definitely a challenge!  The road has an average grade of 25% and up to 40% in some places.  In fact, this is the steepest road of its length in the United States!  While you can drive on the road, it was highly discouraged if you're not a local because tourists have been known to get stuck and have to be towed to the top (which can be VERY expensive and clog up the narrow road).

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Hawaii Big Island Day One - South

Hi everyone!  This post is a long time coming, and one that I've been really excited to write!  Back in December, I took my first trip to Hawaii and had the most amazing trip ever.  When Dan had to go back for work again in June, I jumped at the chance to join him again.  This time, we decided to stop at the Big Island first for a little vacation, then head to Oahu for his work.

When we were planning, we picked a different area to explore each day.  While the island is, like the name suggests, BIG- I decided to focus on different cardinal directions and tackle a new one every day.  While I don't make itineraries for travel, I did have a few items booked (a few of which got changed around which you'll see in a later post) and that helped us decide what to do each day.  Besides that, we played everything by ear and just did what sounded fun!

Today I'll be talking about what we did on our first full day in Hawaii, where we traveled down south to see some incredible beaches, and also ended the day on a very high note.  I hope you enjoy!

Where We Stayed

I love to stay in Airbnb's, and was able to find an adorable house, tucked into the hillside of Holualoa, for an amazing price.  I liked this area because it was located pretty much in the center of all of the areas we wanted to visit, and was also on the sunnier Kona side of the island.

We had a private cottage that was detached from the main house (which I believe the owner also rents out).  There was a kitchen with everything you could possibly need, a bathroom, comfy bed and TV, and a lanai (balcony) that was my favorite spot in the house!  I spent a lot of time sitting in the hammock chair, eating fresh macadamia nuts and fruit from the garden and watching all the chickens and other birds fly around.

Day 1 - South

Coffee Grinds

Before we started a day (and week!) full of adventure, we definitely had to fuel up. Along the way to our beach destinations was a little breakfast spot that had lots of great reviews and vegetarian options, so we decided to stop in.  I ended up getting a veggie burrito that was so delicious and filling, along with some coffee.  In the same parking lot, there's a convenience store, which we used to buy some water and snacks for our day.

South Point

Not surprisingly, the southern-most part of the United States is in Hawaii- specifically on the Big Island!  This is a beautiful spot with perfect, crystal clear water and cliffs all over (which people used to dive into the water).  There's also a coffee shop here (marked as the Southernmost Coffee Shop in the USA- we saw signs like that A LOT!) and a couple of farm stands.

Papakolea Beach (Green Sands Beach)
I've heard a lot about this beach, so I knew we had to give it a try.  The beach is about 3 miles away from a large parking lot, and you are either able to get a driver in a pickup truck to take you, be daring and take the rough roads yourself, or just walk.  We opted for the walking route, and I'm so glad we did.  The hike itself was pretty simple- there were lots of different paths made by the trucks, and you basically just follow them along the ocean until you make it to the beach.  Sometimes it felt like choose-your-own-adventure deciding on a trail, but they always joined back up together eventually.  The views were spectacular, and we definitely took our time to take in the sights.  Plus- we wanted to make sure to drink lots of water since there was no shade on the hike and lots of sun!

We eventually made it to the beach, which was pretty empty (there was one family and two couples there when we arrived, but they left after a while and we had the place to ourselves!).  It was probably one of the most stunning beaches I've ever been to- bright blue water contrasting with the green(ish) sand, and dramatic cliffs dropping you right into the water.  It was unbelievable!

Plus, the water was the absolute perfect temperature and was great to just splash around in after a long, hot hike.  (Side note- if you're wondering why the sand is green- the sand is made up of olivine crystals (whose green color is due to ferrous iron.  There are only 4 green sands beaches in the world!)

Punalu'u Beach (Black Sands Beach)

After we finished the hike back, we decided to drive down the road a bit to visit a Black Sands Beach!  This one had a parking lot right on the water, so no hiking was necessary.  The beach was absolutely packed, which made sense since it was a really large beach, right by a golf course, and was also gorgeous.  There were a few times that I was looking at the white water crashing into the black sand and it just looked like I was watching a black and white film..kind of trippy but unbelievable!  On this beach, we also got to see some sea turtles and go on a little adventurous hike.

And one more turtle pic because they were so cute

Manta Ray Night Snorkeling
For this trip, one activity that I really wanted to do was go snorkeling.  We've done it a few other times, and it's always incredible to see how much activity and life exists beneath the water!  I heard that on the Big Island, there are night trips to see manta rays (which are apparently really rare, interesting creatures.)  It's something that I've never done and might not get many more opportunities to try again, so I had to sign up!  We decided on the company Big Island Divers, and I was really happy with the choice.  While we decided on snorkeling, they also offered Scuba diving as well.  You could rent masks, fins, and wet suits.  We opted to not get wet suits, and while the water was a bit chilly at times, we were fine. 

We met up at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park right before sunset, learned a bit about Manta Rays, then set off for a sunset boat ride to our diving spot.  We had a spot near the airport, which our instructors told us was a favorite spot for the animals.  Before we even got in the water, we saw some dolphins and a monk seal!

Once we got in the water, we all held on to a surf board that had lights all around.  This attracts plankton, which the rays come by and eat (if we're lucky!).  We swam around for a while, seeing lots of interesting fish, while it got darker and darker out.  Our guide said that it might not be a lucky day and we might just  have to head back, when two huge rays came out of nowhere to another group nearby that was Scuba Diving!  Looks like it would be our lucky day!  After the rays hung out with that group, they decided to come over and say hi to us, and one of them ended up doing back flips directly under me.  I think at one point he even grazed by Dan!  It was such an unbelievable experience to see these HUGE, 15 foot, 2000 pound creatures swimming directly at you..sometimes even coming straight at you with an open mouth.  Mantas all have distinct markings, so our guide was able to identify them and tell us more about their history (including the back flipping guy, Koie Ray, who had some scarring and a missing cephalic fin from being caught in fishing line.)

Kona Brewing
Even though it was late, we definitely weren't in the mood to go to sleep after such an incredible experience.  Luckily, Kona Brewing was right down the street, so we stopped there.  This is one of my favorite breweries to visit in Hawaii (there are locations in Oahu as well!) because their beer is many great flavors besides the mainland favorite Big Wave, and the food is great as well!  I decided on a flight of beer as usual, and also got some poke.  When in Hawaii!

Have you ever been snorkeling or Scuba diving?
What color beaches have you been on before?