The flight from Maui to Big Island was a short but pleasant one. We enjoyed great views along the route in our small plane!
After landing at Kona and picking up our car, we decided to start with a scenic drive to the south of the island, before driving back up via the eastern side to our jungle cabin. This way, we could drive around the active volcano already. We stopped at some lookouts, and at a black sand beach. As we walked towards the beach, we saw that a large local family was having a Luau there! We saw a group dancing the hula, and long lines of tables with flower bouquets. It looked like the end of a wedding, with the some of the barbeques still smoking and smelling nicely.
We walked further on the beach, and saw that there were turtle nests here! Apparently, turtles also like to come ashore here to warm up on the hot sand. We didn’t see any, however.
We continued our drive, and started to see cracks in the highway, and smoke plumes in the distance from the heat of the lava. However, we didn’t see anything of the actual lava. Just a slight egg smell sometimes. The Volcano National Park, which is why we came to this part of the island, is closed due to the eruption. So there’s no way to hike the area and see the lava spewing. But you could get a little bit of a feel of the volcano, driving through here. We then drove a part through the jungle to arrive at our cabin for the next few nights.
The next morning, we decided to stay in for once, and have a literally lazy Sunday. Our cabin is in the middle of the jungle, so all you hear are jungle sounds, and you smell the sweet smells of jungle flowers. It’s extremely relaxing, and we felt right at home. We started the day off with a lovely home made breakfast at our porch overlooking the hammock.
Laying and sitting on our sunny front porch, we enjoyed our surroundings for the rest of the day, and updated the blog. This place is amazing!
The next day, it was raining, so we started the day late. After booking the world trip some more (yes, we do have to do this every now and then. Even in exotic places…), we drove to the zoo. On our way, we got our first poké in Hawaii. It was spicy and delicious. Poké, which are freshly cut raw fish blocks with various sauces, are originally from Hawaii, but now found all over the world. Back home, we used to eat it a lot. Here, it tastes even better, and is (although still pricey) a lot cheaper.
We reached the zoo and walked around. As it’s free, it’s not a big zoo, nor has many animals. But it was nice to roam around, see the many birds and frogs they have, and spot the white tiger.
We continued onwards to the Farmer’s market in Hilo. As it was Labor day, most stalls were closed. But we still got our veggie supplies for our first home-cooked dinner since we started our trip!
A little out of Hilo are the Rainbow falls. We had a quick stop there (the waterfall was right at the roadside, so no need to hike this time).
We returned home and bought a fresh fish along the way for our dinner. I wouldn’t call our dinner a complete success, but it was nice to have a proper meal for once. It’s really hard to bake a fish on a small cabin stove;)
After dinner, we went out to try and spot signs of the volcanic eruption. We were hoping to see the red glare of lava. We drove to places around Pahoa, where up to recently, you could see the lava reflecting red in the clouds above. We then drove further over highway 130 that had metal hot plates covering parts of the road where lava streams flowed underneath. However, the eruption had calmed down and we didn’t see anything. We did smell the lava gasses though: rotten eggs mixed with smoke and who knows what… Intense! We drove all the way to the closed off areas, but even there we didn’t see anything. Still, we stayed on edge as it was a little scary to drive around at night in an area prone to lava flows. There were warning signs everywhere telling us to stop and turn around:) Finally, we did so. We drove back the same way we came. Suddenly, dense fog covered the highway and we couldn’t see much ahead. The road seemed almost covered in clouds! Ten seconds later, the fog disappeared as sudden as it came on. We saw what caused it: a stream of gas shooting up from between one of the metal plates covering the lava. It was too late to stop, so we just drove over it. We were sitting up straight in our seats! Looking back, we’re glad we didn’t slow down a lot when we entered the fog. If we had, the heat could’ve popped our tires, and that would’ve been a horrible scenario.
We decided that was enough excitement for one evening (and this whole week), and continued straight home.
The next day, we slept in to recover from yesterday’s events. After checking out of our beautiful cabin, we drove to Mauna Loa to hike to its top for a lovely view. Unfortunately, that road turned out to be closed due to the eruption. So instead, we decided on a scenic route to Kona, where we would be staying for the next few nights.
Driving first to the north of Big Island, we stopped at Waipio Valley lookout. It had a gorgeous view of the valley and it’s waterfall spouting from the mountain into the ocean.
Then onwards to the top (or nearly top) of Mauna Kea volcano.
Mauna Kea is a famous place for star gazing. Due to its remoteness (hello Hawaii), its altitude, and being 40 minutes away from the closest city, it’s one of best places to see stars in the world. We arrived at the visitor centre (which is the highest you can go without a 4WD) at 2’800m. After taking a quick tour of the centre, we decided to do a sunset hike to Sunset mountain, which is really just a crater 15 minutes from the visitor center. You can see we enjoyed some breathtaking views!
It was getting dark on the way down the crater, and we decided to eat our dinner (noodles we cooked with the hot water they provide here), while waiting for the darkness to settle in. It can get pretty cold here, so we added some layers of clothing to stay warm. When we finished our food, it was just about time for the stargazing talk to start. In about half an hour, we learned all about our planets, the Milkyway, and even about some nebulas and constellations we saw! As there was no moon, we had a crystal clear sky. We’ve never seen so many stars together anywhere on earth!
After the talk, we walked to the 3 telescopes people were lined up for, looking at the Laguna nebula, at Jupiter and its four moons, and at Saturn and its rings. Incredible!
Frozen, we returned back to our car, cranked up the heat, and drove to our new place.
The next morning we drove to a snorkel place near the Kona harbour where there was a traditional fishpond (used in ancient times to cultivate fish. They still are a breeding chamber for new fish), meaning we could see dolphins if we were lucky. We weren’t. But we did see many sea turtles just near the shore. We didn’t even have to go into the water!
We then headed to our dive shop to register for today’s manta dive! An hour later, we were again in the harbour to get on the dive boat and start our dives. We rode to the south side of the island, as there the chances of seeing mantas are higher.
We started with a reef dive at the place where we would be diving with the mantas that night. The reef itself wasn’t so special: there’s little coral, but it had some cute fish.
We came back up to watch the sunset on our boat and chill until it was dark enough to see the mantas. In the meantime, the divers ignited the strong lights they placed at the bottom on our first dive. The lights attract krill, on which mantas feed. When it was dark enough, we went back in the water, and descended to the bottom. We were to lay still, shining our torches to attract even more krill for the mantas. The first manta came about 5 minutes in, and it was completely unexpected, as he came in from behind! The did a couple loopings through the krill, and then flapped away again. The manta (we had only one tonight) came around every 5 minutes for a flyby. It was magestic and an unforgettable experience!
In between the main act, we had “Frank”, the moray eel, hiding himself in the light box, and waiting until enough fish were circling the lights before sudenly snapping at them. We were told that until now, Frank’s had little luck hunting. But this night, we saw him snap a fish 3 times! His first catch was quite brutal. Frank managed to only bite off the tail of the fish, and then the fish just flopped around the divers for 5 minutes before finally dying. Fortunately for the other two fishes, their fate was more acute.
All in all, it was a great night dive, and with both Frank and the manta, we weren’t bored for a second!
The next morning, we got up… and discovered Jos was covered in bed bug bites. Yikes! We’d had bed bug bites once before in Nepal, when doing the Annapurna base camp trek. But those were extremely basic accomodations in a developing country. We didn’t expect to get them in the US, in Hawaii of all places. The accomodation wasn’t cheap either. We were very pissed. We called for the owner, and he gave us back the cost of two nights, and apologized. Apparently, we were the first one to ever get bitten here. Yeah right. With the amount of bites that would become visible in the next days (they don’t show up right away), we knew he must’ve had an infestation there. So, after meticulously checking each piece of clothing and our bags for these buggers, we were on our way.
We booked a stay at a luxurious plantation home for our last night on Big Island. On our drive there, we stopped at several places. Our first stop was a petroglyph park, where you can hike a route on old lava flows in the blazing sun, with many petroglyphs (old carved symbols) cut into it.
Next we went to a beautiful beach park. It had the best sandy beach we’ve seen so far. After chilling there for a few hours, occasionally swimming in the crazy blue water, we went onwards to our next stop.
This lava tube was just off the side of the road. On Big Island, you’re often driving through old lava fields. It makes the landscape look very alien.
We stopped at Da Poké Shack, which has the best poké on Big Island. Chef Gordon Ramsey even came here after his Ironman 2 years ago!
Then late afternoon, we arrived at our best place yet: Ka awa Loa plantation. From the moment you step out of your vehicle, you feel at home. The large, open plantation home feels cozy yet so luxurious. There were outdoor showers, a jacuzzi, a drop dead gorgeous view over Cook bay, and a swing! We were welcomed with home-baked pineapple tart with coffee from the plantation itself. It was delicious!
We spent some time on the swing watching the sunset.
Then after dinner, we went for a dip in the jacuzzi, while watching the stars come out.
After a proper soak, we went into the outdoor showers (without lights so you had to shower in the dark) with a view of the stars. Wonderful:) Needless to say, we slept like babies!
On our final morning in Big Island, we enjoyed a home made breakfast full of fresh ingredients from the plantation. We felt very relaxed, eating our tasty breakfast outside on the porch with gorgeous views over Cook bay. We even had some special guests:)
We packed our bags, and left for a final snorkel in Cook bay. There are normally spinner dolphins resting there, and we were hoping to see them before we left. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any dolphins here either. But the bay had crystal clear waters, and snorkeling here was a good workout after this big breakfast. We drove back to the plantation for a final outdoor shower and some more pineapple tart with coffee, before heading on our way to the airport. After returning our car and taking a transfer shuttle, we found the most basic airport so far. We were waiting outside in the heat for the security to scan our bags, which took forever. Finally, we made it into the airport itself, which was just an open air space where you could then walk to your plane.
Onwards to Oahu, our final island in Hawaii!