Island of Hawaii
By far the biggest and youngest of the islands in Hawaii, the Big Island has two of the most active volcanoes in the World, Kilaeau and Mauna Loa. As ardent students of geology and environment, we could spend two weeks here and still be hungry for more. But we were just content with what we saw in mere three days.
Learn more about the geology and environmental implications of the volcanoes here.
We landed in Hilo airport and drove to Kailua-Kona through the new ‘saddle road’ cutting through the middle of the island. During the westward drive, we caught glimpses of the setting sun with the full gamut of the hue in the sky.
Post multiple stops to capture the stunning sunset, it took us 2 hours to reach our hotel (Sheraton K by the ocean. Read my review on the hotel in TRIB here.
The Kailua-Kona area does have a ton of attractions nearby with recent volcanic activity, fresh young lava mixing with the ocean, fascinating landscapes all around. Facing a six hour jet lag, we chose to relax in town for the morning and catch the tour shuttle for Mauna Kea Summit Adventures in the afternoon. It was a 8-9 hour activity to climb up the Mauna Kea volcano (now dormant) and watch the galaxy from one of the darkest nights I have seen. Read full trip details in our post.
Next morning, we started driving along the Hwy 11 along the south side of the island towards Hilo airport. See map below for the destinations we stopped at along the way.
First stop – Honaunau: Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Just about 15 minutes south of Kailua-Kona, this is a quaint little village from the old days that is preserved as a heritage site. There is a small gift shop/visitor center where you can rent audio devices to listen to commentary on the history. We went early in the morning, so there weren’t many people. We took a good look at the
village and took photos. Learned a little bit about the history, albeit only ~100-200 years old, so won’t be thrilling for the history buffs.
Second Stop – Punalu’u Bake Shop
After driving through multiple sites for great vista points with expansive views of volcanic rock for about 1.5 hours, we reached our first pit stop for refreshments. And boy, what a stop it was! The southernmost bake shop in the USA, however corny it sounds, is indeed a gem for quick bites. We devoured on the Malasadas/Donuts, hawaiian bread and coffee before leaving for long hikes. Read more reviews of the shop here – Yelp/Tripadvisor.
Third Stop – South Point and Papakolea Green Sand Beach
Post all the sugar and caffeine rush, we pushed our powerhouse muscle car through the country roads in search of the southernmost point of the Big Island. After driving through dirt roads for 40 minutes, on our way to the green sand beach, we reached a
surreal place that is probably the southernmost point of the 50 states. From here, the ocean is a vertical cliff of about 100-150 meters. From the top of the cliff you can hear the holler of the Pacific waves crushing into the rocks and white foam and mist covering all the visible rock. Standing here alone for a few minutes, with the vastness of the ocean and the dark clouds of the sky, will surely elevate you to a level where the word ‘moksha‘ might start making sense to.
We never made it to the Green Sand beach because of the 2 hour roundtrip hike but we heard it was worth it on a bright day.
Fourth Stop – Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
We made a quick stop at the black sand beach and it was worth the stop just because
it is a fine piece of geological marvel where the sand is actually created from fresh volcanic lava (or igneous rocks). The normal brown sand has a lot higher mix of silica, but the black sand, formed from the fresh lava rocks that are devoid of silica, can be found near the volcanic islands.
Walking over the sand was so interesting that we could feel that some of the youngest rocks and sand in the world is deposited here.
Last Stop – Hilo Airport (Helicopter Tour of the Kileau Crater)
From the black sand beach, we headed towards the Hilo airport (ITO) through the Volcano National Park, for our Helicopter Tour of the Kileau Crater. The drive through the volcano national park was in short thrilling. With signs everywhere about possibilities of earthquakes, and split roads, trees falling, sink holes, the scene started feeling like one from a Michael Bay Sci-Fi movie. Although an event like that is rare, the thought of witnessing (and being in it) something like that is eery.
Regardless of all the ominous signs, we reached Hilo without much of a fuss. Disheartening as is, we hopped on to one of the most awaited tours of the trip – Doors off helicopter tour of the Kileau Crater.
It was slightly cloudy with rain punching holes in the skin at the high altitudes. After flying over years’ of lava flow into the ocean, we reached the cliff of the current lava tube, and boy.. that was a view we will not forget before another scintillating view
replaces the memory.
Bright orange stream of fuming substance, carrying the promise of new land, nosediving into the Pacific. Pretty no doubt, the fumes of sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide surround the inflection point creates a veil of deception.
Although the dark rain clouds kept the elusive crater away from our view, the wrath of Pele was abundantly on display in the ground underneath. Remnants of destruction were everywhere with remnants of old houses, yard stayed buried under a pile of lava flow, merely 10-12 years old.
Having opened the floodgates on the Volcano, Lava, and obviously the legend of Pele, we made our way back to the Volcano National Park before dark. We parked ourselves at the historic Volcano House inside the park, and treated ourselves to a Crater facing room.
We were promised a view of the crater and the glow of the eruption. But the veil of dark rain clouds kept guarding the secret from us all evening. Eventually slumber overpowered our will to beat the rain clouds. A few hours later, I dreamt of watching a dark orange glow through the windows. In a pitch black background, from the dark room, it seemed surreal. It was not a dream. I woke up and sat for hours soaking in that feeling of watching a crater from so close.