The year 2017 was a birthday milestone for our family – celebrating 30, 40, 60 and 65 (and of course, 6, 28 and 33). To commemorate, we took our first EVER all family vacation! After carefully selecting Hawaii as the destination, we booked, planned and patiently waited for what felt like forever.
September 16, 2017 – Travel Day
We arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii via Hawaiian Airlines flight from Honolulu. Traveling between the islands is quick, easy and typically inexpensive.
Upon landing, we went straight to the Kona Brewing Company and linked up with the rest of the family before enjoying their wide selection of food and beer. They are known first most for their beer and secondly for their pizza. I enjoyed the beer, wasn’t a huge fan of the pizza but thought the relaxed ambiance was perfect for our first big dinner in Hawaii.
September 17, 2017 – Volcanoes National Park
After breakfast at home, we drove two hours south to Volcanoes National Park (entrance fee is $20/car). After a quick stop at the Kilauea Visitor Center, we continued along Crater Rim Drive to see the Steam Vents and Jaggar Museum & Overlook. After that we split off from the group and took off for Kalapana to see the current lava entry point into the ocean.
[Note: It is much cooler at the Volcano Summit so make sure to bring layers. Apparently my entire family knew this but didn’t warn me. I showed up wearing a tank top and was FREEZING!]
Interesting fact, Kalapana was a historic fishing village and residential area that was swallowed by a 1990 Kilauea Volcano eruption. Today new life is starting to sprout and you can find eco-friendly and ‘tiny’ homes built on the hardened lava.
[Note: The other half of our group visited the Lava Tubes.]
To get there, take Route 130 southeast until the road dead ends at a parking lot (approximately one hour from the Visitor Center). From here, you can continue on foot or rent bikes ($20 / bike + poncho, bottle of water and granola bar). Choose wisely because it’s an eight mile trip along a gravely emergency access road to the lookout point and back (Note: this road is technically open from 3-9PM daily but we arrived around 1PM and had no problem renting a bike or accessing the road). The route there is relatively easy and mostly downhill.
Once you arrive at the end of the road, you have two options. Left will take you down a short path to the Kamokuna Viewing Area where you can see lava entering the ocean from a distance of 900′ feet. Right is definitely the path less traveled (Note: Supposedly only 1/100 visitors opt to go right) and leads you out onto endless hardened lava fields. Take this route if you’re interested in seeing and feeling actual lava flow up close and personal but be sure to take proper safety precautions.
Naturally, I wanted to see the molten lava so we ventured right and hugged the safety rope line through the uneven lava fields. Everything we had read and heard said it is approximately two miles inland to where the lava is flowing. What they don’t tell you is how and where to find it in the vast lava expanse – and it changes every day! After walking west all the way to the Chain of Craters Road we turned around and zigzagged our way back attempting to follow plumes of smoke. I’m certain we found areas where the lava was flowing nearby or beneath us judging from the Volcanic fumes, increased air temps and white coloring of the hardened lava however, we never actually saw “the red glow.”
Disappointed and tired, we eventually gave up and made our way back to the Kamokuna Viewing Area. At least here we could see lava entering the ocean, even if at a great distance. Just as we were mounting our bikes for the return trip, the rain clouds rolled in and the wind picked up. Not sure if the return route is truly that much harder, if it was the rain or we were simply tired but I found the bike ride back to be significantly more difficult. Back in the parking lot, we purchased smoothies from a small stand before jumping back in the car for the two hour drive to Kailua-Kona.
Note: If I were to go back, I would definitely take an organized tour. It’s probably the safest and most efficient way to see the lava if you’re not familiar or comfortable with the landscape.
Soaking wet from the rain storm and exhausted from our long trek through the uneven lava fields, we opted to stay in for dinner. We picked up pizza from GetSum’ Pizza and spent the night swimming and lounging in the pool and hot tub. The pizza was good, nothing ground breaking but tasty enough.
September 18 , 2017 – Hapuna Beach State Park
Our second full day on the Big Island was designated as a Beach Day! With no shortage of picturesque, white sand options located just north of Kailua-Kona – Makalawena Beach, Manini’owali Beach (or Kua Bay), Kekaha Kai State Park, Mauna Kea Beach, Waialea Bay, Hapuna Beach and more – it’s hard to go wrong.
After a family vote, we loaded the cars with coolers, beach chairs, towels, umbrellas and water toys and took off for Hapuna Beach. The beach was certainly beautiful but also very windy so we spent most of our time in the warm water trying to avoid being pelted with sand. Regardless, everyone had a great time and the day passed quickly while we enjoyed the beach.
On our way back to town, we stopped at Kiholo Bay, a black sand beach off of HI-19 that is popular for snorkeling and turtle sightings. To my disappointment, there were no turtles on the beach that day so we didn’t stay long. For dinner we opted to stay in again and picked up burgers and hot dogs from the local Safe Way to grill back at the house.
September 19, 2017 – Ka Lae & Papakōlea Beach
My brother’s one request on the Big Island was to cliff jump off the southernmost point so Kevin and I agreed to escort him on his mission. We set out early, with a quick stop at Basik Cafe for an acai bowl before making our way south.
When we arrived at Ka Lae, the southernmost point on the Big Island and the 50 United States, it wasn’t exactly what I had envisioned. Off the beaten path (literally through the countryside off of South Point Road), the area is marked by an old boat hoist and rickety ladder. In fact, the place was practically empty when we arrived and no one else was jumping. Tristan was not deterred though, and had his shirt and shoes off ready to jump within minutes of our arrival.
Ka Lae is said to be the landing point for the first Polynesians who arrived in Hawaii between 400-800 A.D. and is considered sacred to the locals. This National Historic Landmark is a popular fishing spot and pastime for many Hawaiians. Conflicting records report varying cliff heights but most say it’s a 40′ foot jump to the water.
[Note: the actual southernmost point is located a short walk away near the black and white light beacon.]
When Kevin and I set out that morning, we had zero intentions of jumping ourselves but once there, YOLO and FOMO kicked in hard. We watched Tristan jump and then another guy who showed up after us, both without incident, and decided to go for it. To me, it was equal parts exhilarating and scary and I definitely had a few false starts before actually leaping. In hindsight and after reading more about it, I don’t know if I would do it again. Don’t get me wrong, it was an incredible and memorable experience but can be risky depending on the winds and water currents. I highly recommend doing your research if you’re considering jumping.
Located nearby is Papakōlea Beach, one of four green sand beaches in the world, and our next stop on the south shore. To actually drive to the beach, you need four wheel drive as there are no paved roads. Most people park and pay a local for a roundtrip ride to the beach (roundtrip ride is $20/person). Feeling invincible from our jump, we opted to walk the two miles each way to/from the beach. (Note: Beach access by foot is free and takes approximately one hour each way. If I were to go back, I would pay for a ride.) The terrain varies and includes everything from sharp lava rocks, deep tracks of dust and thick brush so be sure to wear proper shoes – we wore flip flops and were miserable.
Even at a distance, the green sand is quite the sight. It comes from a mineral called Olivine which is a common component of Hawaiian volcanoes. Over time, the water erodes the Olivine leaving green colored crystals. Since the crystals are more dense than the other ash fragments, they remain on land thus creating a Green Sand Beach!
Whether you arrive by car or foot, it requires a small climb to get down to the beach but it’s not difficult and there’s a clear path worn by previous visitors. Once down on the beach you’ll likely have the place to yourself as this beach is almost never crowded due to its distant and logistically challenging location. We hung out for about 30 minutes before climbing back out and hoofing it back to the parking lot.
Starving after an action packed morning, we stopped at Punalu’u Bake Shop, the famous southernmost bakery, for a lunch plate and Malasadas. Recharged, we decided to make one more stop at Punalu’u Beach, another black sand beach known for turtle sightings. Again, there were no turtles on the beach but there were several tumbling in the waves as they broke on shore. We stayed long enough to see if any would make it on land but after 30 minutes gave up and made our way back to Kailua-Kona.
For our last night in Hawaii, we went to dinner at Splasher’s Grill. I wasn’t overly impressed by the food but the ambiance was nice. We sat outside on the lanai which has ocean views during the day and live music at night. In general, Kailua-Kona is a small, sleepy town. There aren’t a ton of restaurant options and most things close early so it’s important to plan ahead.
The next morning we were off to the Garden Island of Kauai!
Accommodations & State Specific Details
Stay: VRBO House Rental
We love, love, LOVED the house we rented through VRBO.com on the Big Island. Located right off of Alii Drive in Kailua-Kona, it’s centrally located and backs up to the Pacific Ocean with incredible sunset views. Besides sleeping, we spent 100% of our time outside enjoying the ocean views, pool and hot tub.
The house itself is clean and spacious, the perfect size for our group – seven adults, two children. The house and kitchen are well equipped for anything you might need. My one knock on this rental is the lack of air conditioning in the Guest House which we addressed with several fans.
To Hawaii (Big Island): By air via Hawaiian Airlines from Oahu. [We flew United from San Diego to Oahu]
Around Hawaii (Big Island): We rented a car through Avis. Recommend getting a four wheel drive vehicle for this Island as many of the parking lots, beaches and other attractions are often off the beaten path or covered by lava.
Currency: US Dollar (USD)
Outlet Adapter: The standard voltage is 120 V. The standard frequency is 60 Hz. The power sockets that are used are of type A and B. Standard United States adapters.
Passport/Visa Requirements: No U.S. Passport required as Hawaii is a US State.
Weather: Weather in Hawaii on the Big Island is pretty consistent year round with August being the hottest month and January being the coolest. Temperatures vary between 70 and 80 degrees. We visited in mid-September and temperatures were in the high 70’s, low 80’s with plenty of sun but at least one quick rainfall a day.
Additional Recommendations: We didn’t have time to do everything but we also heard great things about these restaurants and things to do!
- Frenchman’s (breakfast) – Kailua-Kona
- Da Poke Shack – Kailua-Kona
- Holuakoa Cafe – Holualoa Town
Things To Do: