I have experienced something magnificent and unique in every place I have ever visited. Throughout my most recent trip, spare maybe the Grand Canyon, I was more moved by nature than I have ever been. For my mom’s fiftieth birthday, my family traveled to the big island (Hawai’i Five-O, get it?). Where else can you experience the power of the ocean, witness glowing red molten rock sputter out of a crater and be humbled by astronomy?
If you find yourself heading to Oahu or the Big Island, I’ll breeze over some favorites, hoping you find my experiences useful. If you’re not going anywhere for awhile, I hope the pictures provide a quick escape or motivation to start planning your next getaway.
After spending an afternoon at Punalu’u Black Sands Beach, we grabbed lunch at the Ohelo Cafe on the way to Vocanoes National Park. If you’re short on time, walk through the Thurston Lava Tube and stop at the Jagger Museum overlook where we saw lava sputtering out of Kīlauea crater.
We rounded out the day with a guided night snorkel with manta rays. I hope to add photos of the dive to this post soon, but I used a waterproof disposable film camera, so they are currently being developed. I feel like I time travelled a decade just typing that.
One evening, we drove to the Mauna Kea visitor center in hopes of having the stargazing time of our lives. Unfortunately, there was too much cloud coverage for visibility and too much moisture in the air for the telescopes. Regardless, this was a highlight of the trip for me, and I have since added a trip to the summit to my bucket list. For blog related purposes, I’ll avoid talking about how astronomy might cause you contemplate the complexities of humanity and how miraculous it is that microscopic organisms exist in an infinite universe.
The morning the guys went on a deep sea fishing excursion, the ladies took the opportunity to visit Hula Daddy Coffee Plantation. I highly recommend a quick, free tour and tasting. Since it was nearby, we drove down Kaloko drive, in hopes of spotting some rainbow eucalyptus trees before reuniting with the unsuccessful fisherman.
Many of the Big Island’s beaches are rocky, so I was delighted to see white sand when we visited Hapuna Beach. If you don’t make it to Vocanoes National Park, there is a lava tube near Hapuna, on the east side of HI 19. The “seas the day” hats were a DIY labor of love, crafted for this trip.
My favorite meals in Kona were from Da Poke Shack and Broke Da Mouth Grindz. Poke is definitely one of those “when in Rome” Hawaiian must-eats. There are few places in the U.S. to get ahi as fresh. Broke Da Mouth makes melt-in-your-mouth short ribs that you must order.
Our last night in Hawai’i, we went to a lu’au to formalize the birthday celebration, complete with a whole kalua pig, hula lessons, fire dancers, and all-you-can-drink Mai Tais. This would finish the “When in Rome” phrase with, “do as the tourists,” but I loved every minute of it.
Before catching our flight home the following day, we perused the Kona Farmer’s Market for trinkets and souvenirs. My bag was nineteen pounds when I left for Hawai’i and somehow it gained six pounds. Since I didn’t buy anything over $5, I’m calling it a mystery.
Though we stayed in Kona, Anthony and I booked our flights out of Hilo. It is quite a drive, but it gave us the opportunity to explore a part of the island we wouldn’t have otherwise visited.
When we arrived in Hilo, we stopped at Two Ladies Kitchen. My only prior experience of mochi was the premade frozen variety you can find in grocery stores or Japanese restaurants. Two Ladies Kitchen makes fresh mochi in tons of flavors from lilikoi to brownie.
We also made a quick stop at Rainbow Falls.
On the way out, we visited ‘Akaka Falls state park, which is as picturesque as Hawaii gets, though the misty rain didn’t allow me to get any great shots. Anyhing you read that says it is a half a mile hike means that it is a very short, paved path with railings, tourist in flip flops level “hike.”
Anthony and I arrived on the islands a day before the rest of the family and opted to extend our layover to squeeze in a day on Oahu. After a lunch of Laotian fried chicken at The Pig and The Lady, we headed to Leonard’s Bakery for hot malasadas. If you’re not familiar, good Malasadas are the Hawaiian equivalent to a hot Krispy Kreme. My grandpa Kekahuna took me there as a child, and it was just as I remembered it.
Paying our respects at Pearl Harbor was on our short list of things to do during our approximately 24 hours on Oahu. I was fascinated to learn that to this day, some survivors of the attack choose to be placed inside the USS Arizona with their shipmates after their death. December 7, 1941 remains etched in my mind, though I wasn’t born until nearly 50 years later. How much more in the memories of those who were there, on that harbor, that horrible day.
After Pearl Harbor, we drank obligatory Mai Tais at one of the many ocean-side bars with a friend of Anthony’s who recently moved to Oahu. We spent the rest of the evening wondering around Waikiki, stopping for dinner and to buy the best shortbread from Honolulu Cookie Company. Before getting on the plane to Hilo the next morning, we took a stroll down Waikiki Beach.
There are few things as magical as enjoying a sunrise barefoot on the beach while your body still thinks it is 10 A.M.
Find my personalized map of Oahu and Hawaii on Google Maps.
Have you been to Hawaii? What islands? Leave some of your favorite memories and places in the comments below!