Big Island Hawaii

I’ve been a little remiss in keeping up with my travels this summer.  A combination of a broken keyboard, lots of trips and what felt like no time.  Plus I’m lazy, so there’s also that.

But now I have a new computer, a long weekend, and nowhere to go!

Back in June, we flew to Hawaii with WestJet, which was easy, inexpensive (relatively speaking), and only involved one layover in Vancouver.  Seeing as our layover was 10 hours long, we decided to head into the city.

The sky train is really quick and easy – there are automated kiosks to buy tickets, and the train seems to run fairly frequently.  We were in downtown Vancouver in about 20 minutes.  From there we wandered around, eventually sitting down to  lunch at a spot along the harbour, watching the float planes land and take off.  We’d been up since about 5 a.m. our time, so we decided to stay where we were, enjoy a pint and a book, before heading back to the airport for our flight to Kona.

We landed close to midnight, and thankfully had no checked luggage, so we breezed through the airport and caught the shuttle to Enterprise Car Rentals, where we’d booked a car.  Their website says that they close around 10 p.m, however a little research and Google-Fu found that the car rental agencies at the Kona airport will remain open until all cars have been picked up – meaning if you’re on a later flight, you don’t have to worry about getting your car.  And for Canadians travelling to Hawaii, your Canadian license is all that is required to rent the car (well, and a valid credit card.) No International License needed.

I’d caution against going with Enterprise – we had rude service (ok, it was midnight, and the guy probably just wanted to go home to bed, but still), and no one walked around the car with us to note damage.  Thankfully we did, and found a massive dent on the front fender.  So that delayed us by about 15 minutes, as we had to go back in, get a card to mark the damage on, and then drop it off inside again.

The Big Island is dark at night.  I’m used to country driving, so the absence of all light wasn’t bothersome to me, until….we say headlights in our lane.  WTF? We’re thinking.  Well, it turns out there was a bit of a brush fire on our side of the road, and several cars had pulled over to try and tamp it out. The west side of the island is incredibly dry, and fires can get raging fast, so brush fires are definitely not a good thing.

After a 20 minute drive, we arrived at our vacation condo rental at Fairway Villas by Outrigger. We had been given the gate code, and the parking spot number, which was right out front the condo.  We had a bottom unit (great for me, as I was going to run a half-marathon in two days, and knew I wouldn’t want to tackle a bunch of stairs after the race.)

View of King Shops from the condo

The condo we had was very well-equipped.  A full kitchen, with every appliance we’d need (including dish washer and dish soap), a rice cooker, slow cooker, coffee pot, toaster, a full knife set and full pots and pans set.  The freezer included an ice pack, we found a lunch bag…this place was well set up to do a self-catering trip to Hawaii.

We had a washer and dryer (with laundry detergent), which made my day – I wouldn’t have to trek around my sweaty race clothes!  The living room had a TV, the bedroom had a TV, the toilet was separate from the rest of the bathroom, which also included a walk-in closet (complete with pool noodle, beach umbrella and snorkelling gear), a tub and a shower.  The condo also had a good wifi signal, and a small lanai that looked over the golf course, small pond, and across to the Kings Shops.

The next day we headed over to Waikoloa for some groceries, and explored the area around our condo – the next day I had my race, so I didn’t want to be too tired, or too sunburned!,

Race day warm up

Race day dawned early – the half-marathon was starting at 6 a.m., so I was up at 4:30, to allow for breakfast, getting ready, and some digestion (who wants to run on a full stomach?).  We had intentionally booked a place that was close to the start line, so it was a short walk over 15 minutes before the start.  It wasn’t as busy as some races I’ve seen (Ottawa race weekend routinely sells out the half-marathon and 10k) but there was a fair number of people.  We started the race a few minutes late, but who cares about a few minutes when you know you’re going to be running for a couple of hours?

7 a.m. and already broiling

The course was hot almost immediately.  Thankfully the race organizers had water stations set up nearly ever kilometre (it helped that the course looped around a bit, so we passed each water station at least twice).  The hardest section was the 8km or so on the highway – no shade, and sun pounding off the asphalt.  But I kept chugging along because what else was I going to do?

The half-way turn-around spot was the most welcome sight I had ever seen (to be eclipsed 10 km later when I saw the finish line).  I had a bit of a spring in my step as I headed back along the highway, past all the cars and people staring at us, as if in shock that someone would voluntarily run in Hawaii in June.  (I now understand that look.)

2 hours and 28 minutes after starting, I hit the finish line, and took my noodle-y legs for a walk around, to make sure I didn’t start cramping.  The BF had slept in, and had gotten to the finish line a half hour before I crossed over.  He had a few snacks for me, more water, and probably would have hugged me if I hadn’t been so sweaty.  We waited around for a few minutes, so I could get my time print-out, then headed back to the condo, so I could shower, eat lunch, and then relax in the infinity pool.

Hapuna beach

In the afternoon (remember, the race started at 6 a.m!), we headed to the beach – taking the umbrella and ice pack from the freezer, along with some snacks and water.  We drove up the coast to Hapuna beach, where we sat, read our books, swam and enjoyed some beach time.

The next day we headed to the east side of the island.  We had been planning on staying at a guest house just outside of Hilo, and while the house was beautiful (and clean), the room we were to stay in was incredibly stuffy, with no breeze coming in the window.  We opted instead to drive back to the west side, and stay in Kona proper.  On the way back, we stopped in at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, along the scenic Mamalahoa highway.

Seeing as I was still a little stiff-legged, we paid the $5 fee to have a golf cart take us down the steep ramp to the gardens, where we wandered around, looking at the birds, flowers, and crashing waves along the coast.  It was fairly cool under all the trees, which was a nice change from the heat on the west.  We spent about an hour wandering around, before heading back over to Kona via the Saddle road.

In Kona we stayed at the Kona Seaside Hotel.  The exterior looks a little dated, but on the inside it was fresh, new and clean.  Our room had a mini bar-fridge, thankfully empty of any drinks or food, so we stored what was left of our self-catering food, before heading down to Splasher’s, the restaurant/bar that the front staff had recommended.  There was live music playing when we sat down, but not too loud to discourage conversation (or reading, which as you may have gathered, is something we enjoy.)  We had a good meal, good drinks, and appreciated the breeze coming in through the open sides of the restaurant.  We found out after the fact that the Kona Seaside Hotel has a half-day rate, so if you fly out late at night, you’ll at least have a place to rest and relax until your flight.

snorkelling at Kona beach

The following day we headed to the “beach”, a small sandy area about The Kona Boys had a hut set up, renting out SUP boards, kayaks, snorkelling gear, and beach umbrellas.  We opted to go for a full-day rental of the snorkelling gear (only about $12), and a beach umbrella.  The great thing about this beach was that there were plenty of fish on the rocks and coral about five feet off shore.  They were completely unconcerned with the kids splashing around mere feet away.  The gear we rented was great – the goggles kept the water out, the flippers fitted perfectly, we had no complaints.  Our second day there we rented SUP boards, our first time trying them out.  It was later in the day when we did, and the waves were quickly getting to be a bit much for us amateurs, so after a half hour we returned them.  If you’re planning to try it, I would recommend a morning rental – the water is really calm for the first part of the day, and would probably be much more enjoyable.
a half block from the hotel.

We had reservations at a guest house in Volcano, Volcano Guest House, so we packed up, headed back over the Saddle road, and had a brief stop in Hilo to do a 45-minute helicopter tour of the active volcano.  Sadly, there was too much rain to see the volcano, although we did still get a 30-minute tour of the coastal areas, before heading back.  We were a little disappointed not to see the volcano, but enjoyed the tour anyway.  From there, we drove down to Volcano, easily finding the guest house.

view from our room, Twin II

The guest house was exactly our kind of spot.  Quiet, and surrounded by nature, we had a private mini-apartment to ourselves – small kitchen with a table, a living room with two twin beds, and a bedroom with a queen bed.  The breakfast lanai (enclosed) also had a hot tub, which we unfortunately didn’t have time to appreciate.  The owners were very friendly, as was their dog, who came to greet us one evening when we were sitting outside.  The guest house is also  very ecologically friendly, composting and recycling most items.  Breakfasts were a serve yourself style, with cereal, fruit, oatmeal, breads, and eggs.  Lots of options, and great coffee!

For most other meals, we ended up at the Lava Rock Cafe, a short 5 minute drive from the guest house.  The Lava Rock Cafe is very low-key, serving your regular fare of burgers, salads, soups and sandwiches, cooked well but nothing fancy.  The staff is fantastic, very welcoming and friendly.  In fact, I ended up getting a few recommendations for new author’s to read from one server!

Thurston Lava Tube


Holei Sea Arch

We spent our last full day in Hawaii at Volcano National Park, which is definitely, in my opinion, a must see and do.  We started off by touring the Thurston Lava Tube, which was (at least to me) interesting.  The tube is lit, so you’re not bumbling around in the dark trying to walk through it.  It was a little uneven, but nothing that should cause most people problems.  From there, we started driving down the Chain of Craters road, stopping every now and then to do a short hike (such as the Devastation Trail), or to view the lava rocks, flows and craters that line the road.  At the end of the road, we spent some time watching the waves crash into the sea arch, before unpacking our lunch at one of the picnic tables.  (As a side note, there is also a small canteen, and bathrooms – not porta potties!! – there as well.)  We spoke briefly with a park ranger, before packing back up and heading back up the road a little bit, to stop off at the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs.

The petroglyphs are a short hike (1.5 km) from the road, across lava flows.  It’s hard to pick out the trail, but there are the occasional cairns to help you find your way.  When we visited, there were enough people coming and going that we either followed them, or walked towards them.  The petroglyphs are surrounded by a raised wooden boardwalk, preserving the petroglyphs from tourists.  There are signs that explain the meaning behind the petroglyphs as you walk around the boardwalk, and a few benches for people to rest.  I would highly recommend bringing a hat, sunscreen and lots of water – the sun and heat can quickly become overwhelming.  The hike itself is probably about 45 minutes, depending on your speed, and age.  If you have little ones with you, be prepared to pick them up.  The ground is definitely uneven, and not particularly suitable to a stroller (although I don’t have kids, and don’t use strollers, so maybe it is and I’m talking nonsense.)

Petroglyph in the Volcano National Park

After that, it was back up the Chain of Craters road, stopping off at various places that we had skipped on our way down. We headed out the next day, back to Kona.  Our flight wasn’t until midnight, so we had reserved a room at the Seaside Hotel for the day. We hit up the beach again, enjoying one last day of snorkelling, before showering, packing up, and returning the car to the airport.

Alas, our flight was slightly delayed, and the Kona airport doesn’t really have much to do, and the restaurant there closed at 9 p.m., leaving at least a plane load of us lounging around in the waiting area.  Thankfully a small convenience store was still open, so we could at least snack of chips and read magazines, and there’s a water fountain for people who have water bottles with them.


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