Revisiting Favorites And Finding The New
This December, we were fortunate to escape away for two weeks on Hawaii’s Big Island. We’ve done a fare bit of the popular (e.g., Manta Ray night snorkel) and less popular (e.g., Hiking out to the lava fields) over the course of many years. The plan for this trip was to take things slow with a mix of snorkeling, hiking, and enjoying the tropical Polynesian environment.
Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the US States, but Costco can help ease the pain. A stop at the Costco in Kona can save you hundreds of dollars for purchasing things like Hawaiian bread, meat for BBQ, snacks, beer/alcohol, gifts, and beach supplies. This location also has a gas station and given its proximity to the airport, it’s worthwhile to plan to do a final top off here before returning a rental car.
If renting out a unit, check to see if beach accessories are included. Tommy Bahama chairs, umbrellas, and a wagon to carry all of it can make a huge difference when visiting beaches that aren’t at your doorstep.
Also if renting a unit, try to book directly with property management companies or owners. Many have existed long before the rise of short term stay apps and their direct rates can save you substantial sums depending on your length of stay.
Identifying Flora and Fauna
Use our own iOS app – CrossPrism Nature – to help identify the various new animal and plant species you’ll encounter!
The Kohala Coast, north west of Kona is popular for its dry weather and its proximity to Kona. For this trip, we rented a condo in the Waikoloa Beach Resort, close to the Queens Marketplace and Kings Shops. This location is convenient for its restaurants, shops, and groceries. Hilo is about 1.5 hours away via the Saddle road, and Kona is approximately 30 mins south. The main downside is that it’s the furthest away you can get from the Volcanoes National Park at ~2hrs distance.
The Royal Kona Resort, situated in the middle of Kailua-Kona is an older hotel on the south end of the main Kona strip that can provide bargain prices for oceanfront rooms. From this location, you’ll enjoy sunsets over Ōneo bay, the sound of crashing waves, and easy access to the many tourist shops and restaurants along Ali’i Dr. Tip: They charge $25/day for parking but free parking is often available along Kahakai Road towards the south side (heading away from Ali’i Dr).
Anaehoʻomalu Beach/Waikōloa Beach
Situated next to the Marriott, this popular beach is a good choice for its many amenities including boat tours, equipment and cabana rentals. The calm waters make this beach good for sun bathing and swimming, but it’s not the best for snorkeling.
If you’re not staying within walking distance, there are public parking lots available next to the Marriott and next to Lava Lava Beach Club that necessitate a short walk along mostly paved paths to the beach.
A quiet beach with few public amenities (bathroom, shower), we spent most of our snorkeling time here. Ensuring that it never gets too crowded, it’s situated in a private development that has 18 spaces allotted to the public. The entry/exit is controlled by a gate attendant making it best to arrive early.
The beach can be a little rocky and the surf slightly rough making entry/exit a little tricky at times. But the snorkeling here is good with plenty of coral and fish.
Hikes and Walks
Ōhi’a/Pu’u wa’awa’a Cone Trail (Kohala)
The Ōhi’a Trail is relatively new and offers an alternate, slightly longer, path to the Pu’u wa’awa’a Cone through former cattle ranch lands inhabited by ōhi’a trees. They share the same starting point, but the Ōhi’a trail forks off to the right, whereas the Pu’u Wa’awa’a Trail proceeds straight along a paved path. The trail eventually returns to the Pu’u Wa’awa’a Trail but the turns are not well marked (use GPS!).
The rest of the way, along the Pu’u Wa’awa’a Cone trail ascends an old volcanic cinder cone and offers all-around views of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and the Kohala Coast. My GPS recorded 1800ft in elevation gain for this intermediate hike with one very steep sections climbing the crater.
Makāula ‘o’oma Trail (Kona)
With this hike you’ll experience the lush rain forest environment of the Honua’ula Forest Reserve. It’s a loop trail approximately 3.8 miles long with an elevation gain of almost 700ft. The Makahi St trailhead is at the end of a sparsely populated residential street.
An easy 1.5 mile flat walk from the nondescript visitor center to Honokōhau Beach and back, you can experience ancient Hawaiian structures, petroglyphs, ponds, and turtles.
Places to Visit
Mauna Kea Visitors Information Station (Saddle Road)
Famous for its astronomy observatories, Mauna Kea is a perfect stop when traveling along Saddle road between Hilo and Kona. See the sunrise in the early morning, the sunset at dusk, or join other stargazers at night. The visitor station is only partway up the volcano and is easily accessible. The summit, on the other hand, requires a 4WD vehicle.
Tip: Bring cold weather gear, as the temperatures in the morning and evening here can be close to freezing.
Offers various tropical fruits, vegetables, home made sweets, and crafts.
Big Island Candies (Hilo)
A favorite stop while in Hilo, you’re guaranteed a warm welcome (free chocolate and Kona coffee samples) and great cookies/candies/sweets.
This off the beaten track stop has exhibits highlighting Mauna Kea’s telescopes, Polynesian navigation methods, and a planetarium with a regular schedule of educational shorts. Admission is $19 for adults, $12 for children, and $17 for seniors.
Original Hawaiian Chocolate (Kona)
Chocolate enthusiasts should make an effort to visit this small chocolate producer. Featuring locally grown chocolate, they specialize in the forester and criollo varieties. They offer free tastings, educational videos in their lobby, and tours around their property.
Restaurants and Food Stops
Lava Lava Beach Club (Waikōloa)
This favorite sadly no longer has happy hours, but the beachside location (right next to Waikōloa Beach) and good food is still hard to beat. They’ve also added a dedicated lot, making parking here a breeze.
Broke Da Mouth Grindz (Kona)
We tried the “Pork Belly Fat” Adobo plate, the Bi Bim Bap with Kalua Pork, and the Ube Ice Cream Mud Pie. All were excellent with the Ube Ice cream being a standout if you like gargantuan ice cream desserts.
Tip: Because there’s no dining space, try bringing your food to the Old Kona Airport Recreation Area. The park has picnic tables and walking paths and provides the perfect atmosphere along the ocean.
Island Java Java (Kona)
Another old favorite, they serve wholesome breakfast and Kona coffee with a view of Ōneo bay. They’ve moved locations by a few feet since we’d last been there with a new upstairs area and greatly expanded seating. The Luau Omelette, Island Eggs Benedict, and Lava Java Breakfast (w/waffles) didn’t disappoint!
Basik Açai (Kona)
This small breakfast shop is located upstairs of Snorkel Bob’s Tours, next door to the Royal Kona Resort. It’s remained surprisingly similar to our last visit in 2018. The “bowls” are pricey, but the portions are generous and tasty.
Rainbow Cafe (Kona)
If you’re doing a Costco run, try this place for lunch Instead of the Costco food court. The Rainbow cafe is a restaurant offering an extremely large menu of Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, and breakfast items.
Kanoa Grill (Kona)
Located in a strip mall, the popular “Rodzilla” with lobster crab cake fulfilled my seafood cravings! Food is cooked to order, so expect to wait ~10mins.
El Mercadito Rincon Mexicano (Kona)
Getting Mexican in Hawaii seems like a bad idea, but it’s not! Located in an international food court, there’s plenty of alternative neighbors (Tenkatori directly across from them had me wavering) for mixed tastes. Their standard burrito with carnitas turned out to be perfect with a Longboard Lager.
Reuben’s Mexican Food (Hilo)
We were saddened by the closure of our usual favorite in Hilo, Lucy’s Taqueria, back in 2021 (even though as of this writing, their website is still running!) Because we were at the farmer’s market, we decided to give Reuben’s a try and it appears to be a worthy successor. The pork tamale with chicken enchilada plate was as good as any I’ve had in California.
Aside from the restaurants, Hawaiian markets can be a great source for portable lunch and snacks.
- Poke is particularly good with some delis carrying multiple varieties (e.g., Salmon, soy sauce, mayo, etc).
- Spam Musubi. Seaweed, rice, and SPAM.
- Bento. Japanese style lunch combinations usually carrying a protein, rice, and pickles or veggies.
- Baked Goods. Malsadas. Doughnuts.
KTA is a common local supermarket chain and can be cheaper than tourism oriented markets.
Until Next Time…
After writing all the above, it feels like we did a lot, but we really spent most of our time lounging on the lanai, beach, or balcony. The main attraction of the Hawaii’s Big Island is that it’s, well, BIG. There’s always something interesting to do and in the meantime, the constant 70 degree weather (during December) makes it very easy to simply do nothing.
Have you been to Hawaii’s Big Island before? Any recommendations we should try for our next visit?