Why am I writing about travel during a pandemic? Because I cannot wait to travel again. This was the last big trip we took as a family before the lockdown. I am sure some of you are planning on a Hawaiian trip once it is safe to do so, so I thought I'd share our itinerary that worked well with our kids at a variety of ages (16, 14, and 8).
And why the Big Island? My husband and I have been to Hawaii a number of times, and we have been to all of the islands expect Nihue. Mike had taken the boys to Oahu a few years ago, so we wanted to build on that experience by taking everyone to the Big Island. It is my favorite of all the islands. It’s amazing to think that there are five different climates at the same time on this island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. And that it has an active volcano. It’s pretty cool.
Where to Stay:
We knew the kids would enjoy the Hilton Waikoloa Village Hotel. But instead of staying at the resort proper, we stayed on-site but at one of the time share condos called the Kohala Suites. This worked out much better than squeezing all five of us into a single hotel room, and was less expensive than having to get two rooms. Plus, it had the added advantage of a kitchen with a full-sized fridge, microwave, stove and a dishwasher. Resort living is nice, but we also enjoy shopping locally and making some meals on our own. We also like to get an early start each day, so the other advantage was being able to make an early breakfast each day on our own.
Day 1: Travel Day: Arriving from Atlanta, we arrived in Kona around 8:30pm after a brief stop in Seattle. It was a long day for everyone, especially the kids. We arranged for a rental jeep ahead of time, and it was waiting for us in the airport parking lot. The drive to the hotel was about 45 minutes.
Day 2: Explore and Beach Time
On the first day we wanted to explore our immediate area. We made a run to the market to stock our fridge, and stock a cooler for lunch. Then we made a quick stop next door at the main part of the resort so the kids could explore the lagoon, the pools, the rope bridge and see the dolphins. But then we loaded back into the car and headed to the beach. That’s what we were there for - sandy toes and snorkeling.
Our first stop was Hapuna Beach for some boogie boarding and sand castles.
Then after lunch we headed out to a different beach - Holoholokai Beach park - for some snorkeling. We appreciated the trees on the beach here for their shade. And there are a lot of tidal pools in the lava rocks for exploring.
We had dinner at Lava Lava Beach Club. This quickly became one of our new favorite spots on the island. The location was beautiful, the food was terrific, and they have lot of cool things to do while you wait for your table. Like take a million photos of the sunset while playing ping pong.
Day 3: Volcanoes!
Getting to Volcanoes National Park is a fascinating drive / climb through the middle of the island. The landscape is like nothing you’ll see anywhere else, if you can even see it at times through the fog. Once entering the park itself, I highly recommend stopping in the visitors center not just to get your parking pass, but to explore the exhibits and watch the short movie. It is very informative and gave the kids a greater appreciation of what they were about to see.
We hiked two different trails around Kilauea that day – the Sulphur Banks Trail and the Crater Rim Trail. Before leaving this area and driving down toward the coast for the Chain of Craters, you have to check out the view from the Volcano House. This historic building was built in the 1930s and has a great Western vibe to it. Plus it has a great view of the crater itself.
While driving down the Chain of Craters to the ocean we made three stops along the way.
And after getting all of our photos of the Lava arch and the ocean (beautiful!) we headed out of the park.
By this time of day, my kids were getting hangry. We stopped at a supermarket and got Poke bowls and sushi. It is amazing to me to variety of marinades of poke that are available to choose from – at the supermarket!! You pick your flavor of poke, if you want white or brown rice, and if you want seaweed on top. Done. And Yummy.
Our next stop was the green sand beach at Papkolea at Mahana Beach. It’s one of only 4 green sand beaches in the world. We got there late in the afternoon and we should have just taken our jeep on the trail. Instead we hiked it. Three miles each way. Not our brightest move. So glad we had a big, healthy lunch to carry us through. We got back to the car right after dark.
It was getting super late, so on our way back to the resort we stopped for dinner. By accident we discovered the fun Coconut Grove Marketplace in Kona and had the perfect late evening meal at Ocean’s Sports Bar & Grill. There was something on the menu for everyone – no complaints – which is always a win!
Day 4: Snorkeling at Mahukona Beach Park and the Black Sand Beach at Waipio’o
Mahukona Beach Park is unusual in more ways than one. For one, it is not a real beach, but an abandoned commercial harbor run by the Kohala Sugar Company (the harbor was closed in 1956). Remnants of the area's commercial past can still be found under water and are in fact one of the main attractions. This is not what you imagine when you picture a typical Hawaiian paradise, but it's super cool. The water here is calm and clear, and the snorkeling is awesome. Underwater you’ll find some old mill equipment and machinery and even a shipwreck nestled in between beautiful coral reefs. Be sure to bring an underwater camera.
After snorkeling we headed on to the cute little town of Hawi in North Kohala. This cute little town is very charming and full of art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants. It is also the bicycle turnaround for the Ironman World Championship in October. We got some mango shave ice and then lunch at the Bamboo Restaurant & Gallery. They told us it was once voted the best restaurant on the island and I believe it.
Then it was on to Waipio’o Bay and the Waipio’o Black Sand Beach. The road to get down to it is just to the left of the Waipio’o Lookout, and it is steep and a bit intimidating. But it’s definitely but worth the drive.
For dinner we cooked fresh fish and pasta back at the condo. Which was perfectly relaxing after an adventurous day.
Day 5: Beach Day
We started the day early at Kekaha Kai State Park. The sand here is great and there is a lot of room to spread out. There is a cool rock tunnel at the far left side of the beach for the kids to explore before the tide comes back in.
For the evening we had tickets to the Legends of Hawaii Luau that night at the Waikoloa Resort. We had to get cleaned up and get there a bit early so we left the beach with time to relax and read back at the condo before heading over. But we highly recommend the Legends of Hawaii Luau. I’ve attended a Luau on almost every trip I’ve taken to Hawaii, and this was by far the best one. Plus, before the show started they had lots of tables with local artists showcasing and selling their work. I always try to support local artists on trips like this.
Day 6: Seahorse Farm!
We started the day at the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm. This was a must visit for me, and the tour was fun and very informative. The Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm is an organic Hawaiian based aqua farm that also works to save endangered species.
All tours are led by naturalists and biologists with special training in ocean conservation. Everyone gets to hold a seahorse in the touchtanks. And if you wanted to, you could even order your own seahorses! They have resident seahorse and aquarium experts to provide you with guidance in setting up your own healthy and happy seahorse tank back home.
Just down the road is Wawaloli Beach Park – we spent some time climbing the rocks and exploring the tidal pools here. It is just south of the airport and the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm.
The highlight of the day was Snorkeling with the Manta Rays that evening with Fair Wind Cruises on the Hula Kai Night Manta Snorkel Vessel. Mike and I had dove with the Manta Rays on our Honeymoon 24 years ago (!) so it was fun to do the snorkel version with our kids. And can I just say that at 9 years old, Liam was incredibly brave and trusting and jumped into the dark ocean with us. He was fearless! And we were rewarded with multiple Manta Ray visits. It was different than our first Manta experience, but just as exciting.
Since check in for the Manta snorkeling was at 5:15, dinner would have to be afterwards. So for Dinner we stopped for pizza on the way back to the resort at Kona Crust. We totally felt like locals here, and the pizza was terrific.
Day 7: Resort Day and Thanksgiving
On our trip, this day was also Thanksgiving. So clearly not a lot was going to be open. I spent the morning exploring the Waikolao Petroglyph Field with my boys. They loved it, and the best part is that it that actually runs through the middle of the resort. At the end of the trail, you are very close to the King’s Shops shopping center. Some shave ice and mini golf there is always a hit. But a word of caution - definitely wear sneakers or something Teva or Keen-like. You don’t want to be on this trail with just flip flops.
We spent mid-day at the resort since we had not really spent any time there up until this point. We had lunch by the lagoon, then swam and snorkeled in the lagoon, and had a series of very competitive Jenga games with the giant sets they had outside.
For late afternoon and sunset we headed to Kekaha Kai (Kona Coast) State Park for some beach time. Not only was the beach beautiful, we had it mostly to ourselves, and we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset and a lot of sea turtles.
For our Thanksgiving Dinner, we grilled out using one of the outdoor pavilions at the condo. This worked out perfectly. We had a sushi appetizer, then grilled some fresh fish and vegetables, and served it along with some tropical fruit and enjoyed it outside in the beautiful weather. It wasn’t your traditional Thanksgiving Dinner, but it was perfect.
Day 8: Snorkeling
The kids really wanted to do some adventurous boating and snorkeling. We booked the day with Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides, and had a great time. Their boat is a giant, double decker boat with two spots up to jump off of, and two 15ft slides off the back. So once you’re done snorkeling there is still lots of fun to be had. They have snorkel equipment if you don’t have your own, and they have tubes and floatation devices if you want to just float around. My older kids also did SNUBA so they could get a feel for what scuba diving is like since we’d like them to get certified ad go diving with us. The instructor was great and encouraged them to throw up some shakas if they were having fun. On the boat they served fruit and pastries for breakfast and then grilled out for lunch. It was all good. Even my picky eaters asked for seconds.
Our trip was a morning trip that took us to Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook monument, The British established the Captain Cook monument in his memory on the site where he was killed in 1799. It can only be reached by hiking to it (which takes 2-4 hours), or by boat. The tall, white obelisk was erected in 1874 and then deeded to the United Kingdom. The chains around the monument denote the land that belongs to the UK. Since the area was designated a Marine Life Conservation District in 1969 and fishing is restricted, there is abundant fish life in the bay. As a result, the snorkeling was amazing.
That night we decided to visit our favorite Lava Lava Beach Club once more. This time we got a table on the sand. The food was great, the weather was perfect, and our toes were in the sand. It was a perfect way to end such a great day.
Day 9 Hilo and Umauma Falls Zip Lining
We started our day driving to Hilo where stopped to grab a quick early lunch from a food truck at the farmer’s market, and we did a little shopping there too. The handmade quilts and bracelets were popular with my crew.
From there we headed onto Hakalau to go to the Umauma Falls Experience Zip Linline. Fourteen waterfalls, 9 longlines, and amazing views. Flying through the air at 65mph is a great way to experience the falls. The scenery was beautiful and we all had an amazing time.
From Hakalau, you aren’t far from two more beautiful stops. The first stop is Akaka Falls State Park. Akaka Falls is a stunning 442 ft tall waterfall. There is a very accessible loop trail through the park with beautiful views of the falls along the way. The trail was its own little photo safari because the rainforest itself was beautiful.
The second stop is Wailuku River State Park and Rainbow Falls. It is 80ft tall and flows over a lava cave. The lookout is only 0.3 miles into the park. As is implied by it’s name, there is a good chance that you’ll see a rainbow here, especially early in the day when the sun is behind you. The size of the falls depends on how much water is falling on the watershed above the volcano. If it’s been raining for a few days, it’ll be roaring.
After viewing the waterfall from the lookout near the parking lot, walk around to the left to go to the alternate viewing area. The alternate view higher up on the falls is also beautiful. And then to your left is the other highlight of this park. It is a massive, ancient Banyan Tree. It is over 600 years old, and is It is covered in fig vines. It’s canopy is so massive that it is hard to actually capture the scene in a single photo. It is eerie, beautiful, and serene.
If you want to follow the trail by the water a little bit further, you’ll arrive at Peepee Falls and the Boiling Pots (terraced pools that bubble like they’re boiling).
After all this adventure, we headed into downtown Hilo to find a place for dinner. We decided on Café Pesto, and it was terrific. We could also tell there was something going on in town. A parade maybe? It turns out that we had amazing timing. From our table at the window we could see the start of the Hilo Christmas Light Parade. Once we finished, we found a spot on the curb and watched the beautiful parade go by, the harbor in the background, and with floats and boats covered in lights. It was a wonderful surprise that we’ll never forget, and it totally got us into the holiday spirit. Even though it was 80 degrees outside.
Day 10: This was our last day. And since the flights back home don’t leave until very late in the evening (9:35 in our case) there is plenty of time to have a fun and memorable last day on the island. We decided to go horseback riding.
We went riding with the Dahana Ranch is Waimea. It is family run, and been in their family for generations. It goes on and on - further than the eye can see. The vistas were beautiful. The staff was super patient and kind, and the horses were very well tempered. It was a rainy, foggy day up in Waimea that day, but we had a fantastic time. I highly recommend going riding on the big island. If you didn’t know, the Big Island has a long history of ranching and horses. The first cattle was introduced to the island in 1793 by Captain Vancouver, and the first horse was brought to the islands in 1803. The ranches of Hawaii have played an important role in the economy and culture of Hawaii.
We had checked out of our room that morning, but had packed a quick change bag for after horseback riding. We spent some time at the resort pool after cleaning up, and then headed into Kona for dinner before continuing on to the airport. We went back to the Coconut Grove Marketplace and had dinner on the upstairs deck of Humpy’s Big Island Ale House. We were rewarded with a perfect view of a beautiful sunset, and enjoyed watching the beach volleyball games in the courtyard. It was a perfect ending to our Hawaiian adventure.
I hope this trip outline is helpful. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have as you plan your own itinerary - I'm happy to share what we know. #shaka and Aloha!
I know I am not alone in missing the ability to travel this past year. I have always craved travel, but now it feels like I need it to breathe. So to make myself feel a little bit better, I am going to share a few photos from some of our favorite recent, pre-covid trips.
The photo with the pink umbrellas? That was from Puerto Rico. We went there for a second time and loved it more than the first time. I don't know what took us so long to go there. Both trips were amazing, but I loved this piece of street art in the middle of Old San Juan.
Next to that is me on a rainy, cold December day in London. For me, London is always a good idea, too. I had never been there during the holidays, so I was pleasantly surprised by all of the Christmas Markets and the mulled wine. We went out to the Cotswolds for a few days, and that was such a romantic excursion for that time of year. It was a fabulous trip.
To the right of that is my favorite photo from Paris. Which is always a good idea. And I have gone on my own little photo safaris throughout the city and have tons of photos. But this is the best - My little one, dressed as Spiderman, throwing webs and keeping us safe. And if you need a Parisian fix like I do, I highly recommend following @raphaelmetivet on Instagram for a bird's eye view of the city.
The next two photos are from Munich. We did a Munich and Innsbruck, Austria ski trip that was better than any ski trip we've done out to Colorado. It was incredibly more affordable, the food was fantastic (my son could not get enough currywursts), and our side trips to Bregenz and and Lindau were beautiful. Plus, we had mango gelato on the street in Munich as it started to snow. For my southern babies who don't get a lot of snow, that was super cool.
The last four photos are from the big island of Hawaii. One is of the black sand beach, and the other is of us killing time while we waited for our table at the "totally-worth the wait" Lava Lava Beach Club. The third is of my kids next to the crater that is now erupting, and the last is a turtle that came to sleep on the rocks next to the Lava Lava Beach Club each night that we were there. While most people go to Oahu and or Maui, we wanted to share the beauty of the big island and it's 5 climates in the middle of the Pacific with our kids. This was my fourth trip to Hawaii and I can't get enough. We snorkeled with the Manta Rays at night, visited Volcanoes National Park, rode horses on one of the largest ranches in the US (in the middle of the Pacific!), visited green and black sand beaches, and ate a lot of poke.
I cannot wait to travel again. But in the meantime, I'll start working on some new itineraries so I can be ready. What's on my list? A camping trip out west with the fam to go to Zion, Arches, Capitol Reef and the Grand Canyon. Maybe with a quick stop in Vegas. And an African Safari. And Japan. How many vacation days do I have again?
Kris Delaney is a marketing executive, foodie, travel enthusiast, and book nerd based in Atlanta, GA.