For this take on the Wander Series, we’ll explore the Orchid Isle of Hawai‘i Island - also known as The Big Island. As per usual, whether you're distantly dreaming, or counting down the days until you board the plane, make sure you come with an aloha state of mind and take care to respect both the ʻāina (land) and the people that call Hawai‘i home.
Onomea Bay, April 2021
The Hawaiian Islands are named for the largest and geologically youngest island in the archipelago. This makes sense if you know how the islands of Hawai‘i came to be unified under King Kamehameha and know that this is an island with volcanic activity (I mean.. who doesn’t think volcanoes are cool?!) If you didn’t already know those things, then this is your intro!
The geological formation of the Hawaiian islands is due to the tectonic plate shifts over an oceanic hotspot over millions of years. Approximately 1000 meters below the ocean surface, the Seamount, Lōʻihi, is forming, and expected “due date” could be anywhere between 10,000-100,000 years from now. More volcanic information in the Volcanoes National Park Section.
King Kamehameha the Great was a known warrier and great ali‘i from Hawai‘i Island who joined the islands of Hawai‘i together under one kingdom. Had a chief from another island joined the islands together under one kingdom, we would know the islands as the Maui Islands or O‘ahu Islands perhaps. Linked in the previous Maui Wander Series post, click here for an animated history of Hawai‘i.
King Kamehameha Day celebrated June 11th
How to Get There
Deciding where to stay on Big Island is definitely a choice you’ll have to make on your own, but you’ll likely decide between spending the majority of your time in Kona or Hilo or driving above the clouds on Saddle Road between the two. As far as flying in, there are airports on either side. The Kona International Airport (KOA )is the main airport located on the west-side of Hawai‘i Island, and on the east-side is the Hilo Airport (ITO) which serves interisland flights.
Depending on when you venture to the islands in relation to reading this post, this may or may not affect you in the same way, but current status in Summer 2021 means rental car shortage. It’s best to look into rental cars as far in advance as plane ticket purchasing. So far searching anytime within Summer 2021 with Enterprise is SOLD OUT. When tourism came to a halt in 2020, the rental car businesses across the islands had to make decisions for their fleets. Wear and tear on cars in Hawai‘i is significant, even when they are running normally. When cars sit in the hot sun, soak in the sea-salty air, and traverse rough roads, significant damage can occur which means many fleets were sold off or shipped out.
Here is some alternative inspo for checking out rental car options!
Please remember to check into Safe Travels Hawai‘i and Hawai‘i County’s protocol for the most up to date information related to travel related processes and requirements. We want to make sure our visitors and residents are safe! Mahalo!
Where to Stay
If you’re more interested in the dryer, sunnier side of the island, Kona will suit your needs. Kona has a variety of shorelines for snorkeling with sea-life or lounging on beautiful sandy beaches. Kona’s downtown area is perfect for shopping along for small souvenirs, finding ono food, checking out art galleries, and breathing in the fresh salty sea air. Yes, please!
- Beach Villa
- Fruit Orchard Getaway
- Royal Kona
- Night Snorkeling with Manta Rays - for the adventurous spirits!
- Kona Coffee -Did you know Hawai‘i is the only state that grows coffee?
If you’re interested in experiencing tropical rainforest vibes, Hilo may be more your style! With an average of 130 inches (mind you, that’s 10+ feet) per year, you’re likely to experience some rainy weather. In that rain, you can experience lush vegetation, stunning waterfalls, and when the sun comes out, you’re practically guaranteed a vibrant rainbow.
- Lotus Garden Loft
- Private Plantation-style Home
- The Inn - Kulaniapia Falls (Off-grid cabins available!)
Black Sand Beaches! Punaluʻu Beach is a beach between Pāhala and Nāʻālehu. The black sand is beaten down lava rock and is absolutely stunning. You’re likely to see a honu (turtle) swimming in the water or resting on the sand. (Please do not disturb!) As beautiful as the sand is, it’s meant to stay in Hawai‘i. Taking lava rocks or black sand is a strict no-no, not only legally, but also due to Pele’s Curse of misfortune that follows tourists home.
One of the biggest draws to Big Island are the abundant reef structures and the countless colorful reef fish that accompany them. We don’t blame you for wanting to spend some extra time with a mask and fins looking in the water. If you do want to catch some waves, check out some of the spots listed below! So long as you paddle out with good vibes, proper surf etiquette, know your abilities and share some aloha, you’re in for a good time! Keep in mind Big Island shores are often quite rocky, so keep care of your feet! (Perfect time to pack your First Aid Surf Soap Tins - check out our last post!)
Kahaluʻu (Kona) Also a stellar snorkeling spot. Good for beginners, and rental boards and lessons nearby !
Pine Trees Spot Guide (Kona)
Banyans Spot Guide (Kona)
Honoli‘i Spot Guide (Hilo)
Need a lesson in Hilo? Check out Huaka‘i for SUP, surf, canoe and more
*Note: Keep in mind Pipeline and Waimea (Eddie Aikau Contest) held on O‘ahu’s North Shore, up next in our Wander Series!*
Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park rocks! Geological jokes aside.. Taking a solid day to spend in the park is highly encouraged. The vast size of the park takes some time to traverse around, but there are also activities to suit everyone’s interests.
Pu‘uloa Petroglyphs : 1.5 mile (round trip) hike, fairly easy, but uneven trail over a lava field
Hōlei Sea Arch: short walk on a paved path to viewing location!
Nāhuku (Thurston Lava Tube): Lava. Tube. Enough said. Recently reopened, but not a bad idea to check for closures for maintenance.
Steam Vents: Some people are surprised by the cool temperatures of the park. Stand next to the steam vents to warm up, but remember, steam is water, so you might get a little wet!
Wherever you find yourself in Volcanoes National Park, or around any of the islands of Hawai‘i make sure to look into the mo‘olelo, or stories, of those places. Pele is the Hawaiian volcano deity, and is said to make her home at Halemaumau Crater. Stay in the park after dark, and you can see the glow from this crater illuminate the night.
There is no short description on the significance that Mauna Kea represents to the people of Hawai‘i. If you have the opportunity to trek up to the Visitor Center 9,200 feet above the sea, make sure you have warm clothes, and intentionality for the sacred place you get to visit. The view of the sunset above the clouds is breathtaking. Be sure to pack out any trash, and take only photos.
Had I not lived in Hawai‘i during the summer of 2019, and worked on a community college campus, I may never have had the opportunity to listen and learn the stories and struggles of the conflict around TMT (thirty meter telescope pending construction atop Mauna Kea). What I had understood was a conflict between placement of a large telescope, and the desecration of sacred lands. What I saw was a rise and fight for the rights of indigenous peoples' voices to be heard. All that Hawai‘i may be in terms of paradise and peace, has layers of colonialism, environmental injustice and inequities.
When the voices of Native Hawaiians, Kānaka Maoli, are no longer heard for decisions, āina is no longer in Hawaiian hands. No Hawaiians? No Hawai‘i.
Whenever we travel, we should be looking into the native lands in which we visit. How can an easy-going vacation dig a little deeper, and mean a little more? You eat the food, you drink the water, you breathe the air, you are sharing the place and aloha āina .
Jam 4 Mauna Kea - Kū Haʻaheo - Hawaiʻi Loa Medley (Youtube, 4 minutes)
Maria - Staff Writer
Surf Soap Co. Hawaii