A 45 minute flight from Ohau, the big island (Hawaii) is a different world altogether! Hawaii is the youngest island in terms of geological formation, and the largest of the seven islands and continues to grow due to the fact that it is still an active volcano. The Island has two major towns, each with their own airport, Kailua-Kona and Hilo. The island is really not that large (we drove around it the whole thing in one day) but most people recommend saying in Hilo if you want to see the Volcano. I think with kids, I might agree, the volcano is 1 hour from Hilo, but there isn’t a whole lot going on in Hilo... If you are looking for some nice beach-side dining and a little more of a nightlife, some shopping, stay in Kailua!
We stayed at The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls outside Hilo, which has a waterfall right on the premises. Although Dan loved it, I felt like it lacked a little bit of the luxury I would have expected for the price. It is very secluded, quiet and beautiful, but the website is a little misleading. It is a nice bed and breakfast, but it has some of the associated quirks . However, if being eco-friendly in your travels is important to you, this B&B is run entirely on electricity produced by the waterfall!
If you are active duty military and you are primarily interested in seeing the volcano, book a few nights at the Kilauea Military Camp which is a joint services recreation center located inside the National Park. As the Volcano lodge was closed for renovation during our visit, this was also the only place to get any food inside the park.
While inside the park you can drive the crater rim, and see steam vents, as well as the cloud of vapors coming from the crack in the middle of the crater. During the day it’s cool to see but based on the pictures at the visitor’s center, at night it glows red, so if you can stay in the park late you should try to see that. Be aware that a volcano puts out gasses that are hazardous to your health, so many areas of the park will be closed based on where the wind is blowing and the air quality. Also don’t miss the lava tube, and if you want hike to a place where you can see an active lava flow you must have long pants, tons of water, a flashlight for getting back, hiking boots and lots of stamina and endurance for the heat of the sun beating down on black lava rocks! We walked to the end of the road where an old lava flow had blocked off the rest of the road on it’s way into the ocean, but left the rest of the hiking to the more adventurous types!
Outside of the park, try to plan in advance if you want to go up to the observatory of Mauna Kea, only certain vehicles are allowed, but you can book a tour that includes the use of parkas – it gets really cold up there!! We weren’t able to go because of a brush fire that closed the only access road, but it seemed like maybe booking the tour would have been the way to go anyway.
There is also Parker ranch – home of the Hawaiian cowboy in the town of Waimea. The ranch is very historic and gives horseback riding and even hunting tours! If you stop in the town of Waimea you must go to Merriman’s restaurant, since is it supposed to be the best restaurant in Hawaii.
A note on Island hoping – if I was planning this trip over again I would still absolutely plan to do more than just one island. However, I would have minimized the travel time by going to the Big Island (or whichever island you chose to go to) either at the beginning of the trip, or the end. Between waiting in the airport and waiting in rental car lines, the days that be traveled back and forth to Hawaii didn’t leave a whole lot of time to do anything else. Either plan early morning flights, or plan to combine one end of the trip with your flight back home and you will waste less time in airports and spend more time having fun!!