Eat, Pray, Lava in Hawaii’s Big Island
This blog post is about top spots to do time-lapse photography, where to eat good food and do a bit of Yoga. First and foremost, I invite you to view the stunning time-lapse of Big Island extending from Kailua-Kona in the west to Hilo in the east.
If I you are ever given an option to live on an island and never to return to the conventional world, which one would that be? Leave your answer in the comments below. For me, being a city dweller (sort of because I consider Bay Area a concrete tech village and nothing more) I would like the energy of London, rustic charm of the European village, exquisite food of Vancouver and relaxed nature of a tropical island, I would certainly pick Hawaii. The island is still coming to terms with the tsunami devastation occurred about 50 years ago and constant threat from the active Volcano. Despite all the adversities, people are courageous, welcoming and ocean lovers.
Flight from San Francisco – Kona International Airport (Big Island Hawaii).I guess, I really had the good juju on my side because during the 4-day vacation a lot went wrong starting with a delayed first flight to Hilo then being put on stand-by to Kona which is about 3 hours drive to our original destination. After reaching Kona on Thursday night, I said to myself, let the holiday begin but we got a somewhat scary welcome by flying roaches in the car. Yes, you read it right....Cockroaches coming out of the car dashboard. Spent another 5 hours the next day in getting the car exchanged but we finally embarked on our journey to Hilo via the southern route of the Big Island.
Fun Facts & Tips
- The airport has an uncanny resemblance to a coconut shack with an open-air arrival lounge and baggage claim belt. Very unique and fun.
- Check your rental car thoroughly and ensure it’s free of pest infestation.
- If you are arriving late at either side of the Big Island, just grab something from the airport to eat as everything shuts down early.
Since Hawaii is 3 hours behind Pacific time, I woke up refreshed and went for a stroll on Ali’i drive. Had lunch at El Maguey in Kona. Eat here if you are looking for a decent Mexican grub. It’s a no frill restaurant but certainly pricey ($50 for 3 dishes with no drinks). A lot of our time was wasted as we had to exchange our pest infested car to a cleaner option from Thrifty car rental. Hence, we started our drive towards Hilo later in the afternoon via Hwy 11.
Fun Facts & Tips
- Drive through Hwy 11 and make pit stops at the places I mentioned below. Although the best time to photograph landscapes is either during sunrise or sunset but this part of Hawaii witnesses fleeting clouds which work as your natural diffuser. So, don’t be afraid of an overcast day and shoot long exposures using a tripod or just bump up your ISO if shooting handheld.
- No snakes on the rocky beaches of Hawaii as I was a bit sceptical after watching BBC’s Planet Earth documentary which was by the way shot in Fernandina, Galapagos in Central America. So, you can be 90% assured if you too have the snake phobia. The only snakes you might encounter (if you do) are imported illegally so do inform the authorities and save the fragile ecosystem of the island.
- Watch out for the black A’ama crabs and urchins on the sea shore and tide pools. Very common sight around the Bay.
This beach is a little towards north from the Kona airport and not very popular. So a perfect picture spot with fewer tourists around.
Magic Sands Beach
Perhaps the only sandy beach on the south-east side of Big Island. It was pretty clean and perfect for families with little kids.
Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park
Sacred place for natives and a peaceful one too. Greeted by a lovely security woman guard at the entrance, we only spent less than 30 mins here as we had to go back to Kona to pick up our phone. This adds to the list of silly things that happened to us so another 2 hours taken out of our already snappier trip.
Punalu’s Black Sand Beach
Punalu’s Black Sand Beach for some turtle watching- While I couldn’t watch the turtles, I did a bit of yoga to continue my daily routine.
Coconut Island in Hilo
Stayed at Grand Naniloa by Double tree Hilton, this place does have an advantage of being located on the ocean adjacent to coconut island. If you love to wake up early in the morning and capture sunrise, you could either walk down to the coconut island or just hop on to the oceanfront area of the hotel. It’s stunning, safe and accessible. Before grabbing lunch, we went to Rainbow falls look out area which is literally in the town of Hilo (about 3.5 miles from the Coconut Island). Lunch at Consciuos Kombucha Café was light and healthy. Try their Kombucha (probiotic tea) smoothie for your healthy fix of the day. Day 3 was particularly thrilling as today we were going to see Pele, Hawaiin goddess of fire and in our world lava flowing out of the active volcano of Kalapana.
Kalapana Lava Fields
I highly recommend lava bike and walk tours. There are many local companies organizing these hikes and we went with Hank from Lavaland Ocean hikes. If you choose to do this hike yourself, you can but please be mindful that you will be walking on lava fields and as a first timer you don’t really know which side has active lava tube and which side has magma flowing under. So be safe and don’t scrimp on spending $99 per person with a reputed local company. The other reason I am thankful for going with Lavaland ocean hikes is because my husband stepped on a sharp ridge created by frozen lava. The cut was so deep that if Hank didn’t have first aid with him, he would have bled out on our way back. Day ended around 3 am at Hilo Medical center after getting sutures done on my husband’s leg by two amazing medical professionals. Phew What an adventure!!
Fun Facts & Tips:
- Did you know the flowing lava cools down in less than a day or two? The light grey lava rock layer means it is new and still has hot lava flowing underneath. DON’T step on it.
- The only kind of animal you will see here is the volcano spider which is a rare sight
- Footwear- Even though people say, you can wear regular sport shoes, I highly recommend hiking shoes / boots.
- Wear shorts, carry plenty of water, gloves, headlamp or a torch, a seating pad if you plan to do time-lapse or just enjoy the mother nature.
- Coordinates to reach Kalapana Bike rental area is 19.357000, -154.985082 as Google maps has wrong markings. You can rent a bike here and ride until the entrance of Hawaii’s Volcanoes National Park in Kalapana or hike. It’s a straight graveled road so I suggest take a bike even if you are just planning to see the lava entering the ocean.
- The lava hike is strictly not advisable for young kids and people with any kind of heart / asthma disease.
- DON’T take the rock back. It’s the local superstition that if for whatever reason you take the lava rock back with you, you are bound to have bad juju in your life ahead. So respect the tradition and please don’t take the rock. Apparently there is a place in the Volcano national park which has a pile of rocks being returned by people from around the world.
After sleeping for just 2 hours, we headed to the Hilo airport for our pre-booked helicopter doors-off ride. For some, it might be an exciting adventure but for me, it turned out extremely disappointing. The sole reason for me to do the chopper ride was to be able to capture the Volcano crater from above but sadly I was allotted a seat between the pilot and a co-passenger offering little to no view. It is unfortunate when you specifically inform the companies like Paradise helicopters about your intention and they still manage to mess up. This mess up cost me $600 for 2 as their policy of seat allocation is subject to weight balance of all the passengers on board. I gave an instant feedback to the company and they did get back to me offering a 50% refund on one ticket + 25% discount for the next trip. I really appreciate the gesture and thankful to the company for listening and acting on the problem albeit a bit late as I am now back in SFO. Therefore if you do decide to choose Paradise Helicopters, please bear my incident in mind and have an open conversation at the very onset. On the other note the pilot and other crew members were really good.
The same afternoon after catching up on some sleep, we explored the town and tried a couple of really cool cafes. One of them is Just Cruisin Coffee and the other one is Café Pesto.
Fun Facts & Tips
- Hilo & Kona side have mainly young and smart women working in the cafes, hospitals, airports, hotels etc. They eat healthy, do yoga and stay relaxed unlike many other places in the world.
- if you are planning to do helicopter ride, try to do it on an overcast day or in the evening to see the glow of lava clearly.
Richardson Ocean Park
Sunset in Hilo- Even though Hilo is on the extreme east side of the island, you can still watch & capture the sunset. I did a lot of research on the internet to find the top spots for photography as I really didn’t want to miss on sunset pictures. Then I did what I should have done in the first place, asked a local at Café Pesto and he recommended Richardson Park offers great sunset view of the Mauna Kea mountain and the ocean. I can’t thank him enough as I not only got really cool sunset time-lapse videos but also spoke to local students of Hawaii University. What a great way to end my Day 3 on the shortest yet almost perfect trip to the paradise.
Last day and we were supposed to be flying back to SFO later in the evening so we intentionally kept the falls among last places to visit. You can either begin with the closest i.e. the Rainbow Falls > Akaka Falls > Laupahoehoe Point but we started from Laopahoehoe and then work our way back to the town.
Banyan trees on top of the rainbow falls look out area
- Park on the roadside curb just before entering the Akaka falls state park and save $5 on parking.
- This part is very humid and hot so carry a bottle of water with you.
- Don't forget to grab buckwheat pancakes and Hawaii's favourite green smoothie for breakfast available at Sweet Cane Cafe.
- DON'T carry any fresh fruits or veggies to the airport. The security is very strict and will send you back. However cooked meals or packed fruits are allowed.
Laupahoehoe Beach Park
This place is one of the best spot to watch sunrise over Pacific ocean, tide pools, a'ma crabs and other marine life. Since I was on a very short 4 day trip, i could only make it during the day.
This picture below is reflective of my new found love for yoga. Special thanks to @corepoweryoga studio in California for inspiring me to do Yoga anywhere, anytime.
I would love to hear from you if my love for photography, food and yoga inspired to plan a trip to Hawaii's Big Island. Share your story of Hawaii here or mail on priyanka (@) afewgoodclicks.net