After living in Hawaii for almost a year and being able to visit almost all of the islands, I am always astonished at how very different each island is. We live on Oahu and have done everything here a million times (or at least it kind of feels like it some days). So we like to go island hopping occasionally. We have been to every major island except Maui. That will be our next adventure.
I got the amazing priveledge of going to the Big Island last month. It is such a beautiful place. Nowhere else on Earth can you see the diversity that this island has to offer. There are beautiful beaches, lava deserts, an active volcano, snow covered mountains, breath taking sunsets, and pristine rain forests. Its beauty truly takes your breath away. The island is quite large, about the size of Connecticut, and you can fit all the other Hawaiian islands inside of the Big Island. So it’s no wonder there is so much diversity and so much to see.
First off, if you are planning a trip to the Big Island or any other island, I highly recommend these books:
Molokai and Lanai are great too, but I recommend making those a day trip. I’ll be doing a post on Molokai in a few weeks.
The Big Island is SO big that I’ve decided to break this post up into multiple sections, otherwise it would be a mile long and you’d be sick of looking at my pictures! We stayed a week on the Big Island in various parts. We spent half of our trip in Volcano.
Since we were traveling with kids and the island is SO big, I am going to highlight my top 3 attractions in Volcano. First, let’s talk weather. It can get quite chilly in Volcano. Especially at night. It was a nice change from Oahu’s leeward coast where it is nearly a constant 76-82 degrees! It got down into the forties at night. The house we rented had a fireplace and hot chocolate machine and we sure used them both! Bring pants and hoodies, especially if you plan to hike or be out at night.
1. Kilauea Volcano
The one attraction that the Big Island is most famous for is the Kilauea Volcano. This is the most active Volcano in the world. There is something magical about being able to look into the soul of the Earth. It’s an extremely spiritual experience, which I hadn’t expected. When viewed at night, there is an almost tangible reverence in the air as onlookers watch the lava churning within. The red orange glare is just mesmerizing and it’s difficult to look away.
Head to the Jagger Museum to see this scene at night. You will not regret it! You can go during the day, but all you’ll be able to see usually is smoke.
2. Thurston Lava Tube
When you enter Volcano National Park you can drive along Crater Rim Road and see TONS of lava formed over many decades. It is really an incredible sight. I recommend doing this drive during nap time!
You can take lots of little detours off this road for hikes, different craters, different lava flows. There seems to be a new story about every mile or so. Our favorite stop was to the Thurston Lava Tube. This is the easiest way to see what the inside of a natural lava tube looks like. The tube is lighted, safe and generally kid friendly, albeit spooky for my 5 year old.
Although Technically part of the Puna area of the Big Island, I am including it since it has more to do with volcanos than Puna. In 1990 Kilauea erupted, destroying the town of Kalapana. The loss of the quaint fishing village with the most famous black sand beach in the world, Kaimu, was a devastating blow to the locals. The eruption covered the town under 50-70 feet of lava.
It’s really a trip to drive there and have the old road flat and the new road built over the top of the lava. I wonder about all the houses underneath. We got out and walked around for a bit. There are still dangerous fumes coming from the lava, so take care if you have asthma or allergies. We all felt like we had a cold while in Volcano. It was probably from the vog (Hawaiian term for the sulfuric fumes and volcanic ash in the air).
All around this lava graveyard you can see baby coconut trees. From Hawaii The Big Island Revealed:
The campaign to bring the plantings was begun by a local resident. She encouraged others in the community to take trees out to the new black sand beach…to begin the process of rebuilding their precious beach. Even as she was dying of cancer, residents and school children continued the tradition in her honor. Today there are vast numbers of sprouting coconuts along the new black sand beach, a testament to the vision of one resident who refused to let her community die, even in the face of her own death.
The ground here is covered in beautiful lava rocks. This might be a good place to pick some up and take home for souvenirs. No idea if this is legal. Steal rocks at your own risk!
There are not many places to eat in Volcano. If you’re splitting your trip between house and hotel, like I almost always recommend doing, I would rent a house for this stage of your trip and get some food at the Walmart or Farmers Market in Hilo before checking in to your house. There are some nice restaurants in Volcano, but most of them are not great or really fancy and not kid friendly.
- Kilauea Lodge: This place is fancy-shmancy. We actually sort of got kicked out the first time we tried to eat here. We walked in with 4 hungry screaming kids and they told us they had no room. We tried to make reservations for the following night and…surprise….they had NO availability the whole entire day! So we snuck back the next day and I had my husband go set up a table for 6 (no kids) before we walked in. Haha Kilauea Lodge! Joke’s on you! To my kids’ credit, they behaved very well! Our waitress was fantastic. She brought my 9 month old a carrot to chew on during dinner. We just had a bad experience with an uppity hostess. So avoid her and you’re good! But seriously the food here is worth a try. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever had, but they had weird stuff I’ve never tried before like Elk, Antelope and other strange animals I’ve never tried. The baked brie was fantastic!
- Volcano House: This was a really fancy place as well, but I thought it was worth it for one reason. During dinner, they turn out all the lights and you are treated to the most fantastic view of the Kilauea Caldera at night. The house which is also a hotel has huge windows facing the Caldera and you can watch it glow while you much on some Taro chips and eat fancy fish. Yum!
My kids really enjoyed the Big Island and I think that was in huge part due to Volcano. It’s really something that you can’t see anywhere else in the world and something completely new and different. Stay tuned for my next post on the Big Island!
Have you been to the Big Island? What was your favorite thing to see there? Tell us here or on Facebook.