Sunset over Hawaii
DESTINATIONS

Jane Sees…The Big Island

Waipi’o Valley Lookout
Waipi’o Valley Lookout

Hawaii is easy. I mean that in the nicest way possible. If you are looking for a tropical destination with minimal worries, then Hawaii is a worthy place to consider. You can plan adventures and island hop to your heart’s content, or you can simply stay at a nice resort and sit on the beach. To each her own. We recently traveled to both the Big Island and Oahu for about ten days. We visited in February and although Hawaii is nice anytime of the year, it is especially nice when your home state is covered in white. Most of our time was spent on the Big Island and let me tell you, it was time well spent. Below are some reasons why you should consider visiting the Big Island.

Southern cliffs on the Big Island, Hawaii
There is so much to see on the Big Island.

Why you should go to the Big Island

  • It is a great place to relax and unwind. Life is busy and most of us are always on the go. Even if you plan a lot of activities, you cannot help but slow down while you are visiting the Big Island. Life just moves slower (as does the traffic). Bumper stickers with sayings like: “Slow down brah, this ain’t the mainland,” are fairly common and pretty darn accurate.
  • For most of us, it will feel a bit like a foreign country. But it’s not. The water is safe to drink and you do not have to worry about a passport (provided you are a U.S. citizen). The street signs may be difficult to pronounce, but the traffic laws will be familiar. There will be new things to try on the menu (loco moco, anyone?), but it will be in English. Like I said, easy.
Palm trees on the Big Island, Hawaii
Look up!
  • The Big Island has less tourists and more room to roam. It will necessitate renting a car. But if you make the effort to drive around and see a good chunk of the island, you will not be disappointed.

Side note: Even if you are traveling on a budget, it is nice to splurge once in a while. Maybe you order that decadent dessert at that fancy restaurant or purchase a necklace that caught your eye—the one you never would pay that much for at home. On the Big Island, we opted to splurge on our rental car and got a convertible. Yes, it was the “tourist” thing to do. But hey, we were tourists! And driving around with the top down was amazing (except for the crazy hair). I highly recommend it.

Ford Mustang car rental in Hawaii
Sally, our ride.
  • Whatever you might have in mind when you picture Hawaii (e.g. pristine beaches, calm blue waters, towering palm trees, etc.), let me assure you, the Big Island is so much more. It has so many different landscapes and it feels like every 20 minutes or so you are driving through a new one. In a very short amount of time you can see rolling green hills, lava flows, pine tree forests, lush jungle and more.
  • It is safe. Sure, you need to exercise a little common sense, but for the most part, you will be able to wander around without overly worrying about pickpockets. In fact, we felt comfortable enough leaving the doors of our house and rental car unlocked.
  • Men will not harass you and/or stare at you. If you have traveled to places like Mexico and Morocco, you will understand what a nice change of pace this is. Because there are beautiful/scantily-clad women everywhere, it takes quite a bit to stand out from the crowd. I very much enjoyed the chance to wander around relatively unnoticed.

Now for the downside: Hawaii is not cheap. You are not necessarily going to break the bank vacationing here (unless you want to), but if you are used to paying pennies for fresh pineapple somewhere in Central America like R is, then you need to know right now that that is not the case in Hawaii. So prepare yourself.

Private waterfall in Hawaii
Horseback rides to private waterfalls are not cheap, but they are worth it.

What you should see/do on the Big Island

This was my second time visiting Hawaii and R’s first so I am not even going to pretend to be an expert on visiting the islands. Besides, there is plenty of information available on the internet and you can research to your heart’s content. What I will do is tell you a little about what we experienced on the Big Island and give a couple of recommendations. Of course, you are always welcome to contact us if you have specific questions.

  • Go to Island Lava Java in Kona and try the Kalaunu Beef Burger with the roasted garlic aioli sauce. If you can, do it while sitting outside, watching the sun set and listening to live local music. But if you cannot, I am pretty sure the burger will stand on its own.
Burger and fries--Hawaii style
The Kalaunu Beef Burger at Island Lava Java in Kona.
  • Visit the Visitor Information Station (VIS) on Maunakea…even if it is raining. It was pouring in Hilo when we began our trip up the mountain and it rained on us most of the way. But by the time you get to the VIS, you are above the cloud line and out of the rain. We did have a little fog at first, but that cleared out eventually. We did not do a summit tour so I cannot speak for that. But the set up at the VIS is very cool. I grew up in a place where the stars at night are pretty incredible and I still found this experience to be impressive as well as informative. I can only imagine how awesome this place would be if you lived in a big city and were not used to seeing the stars. Note: I recommend dressing warm. The elevation is high (9,200 feet above sea level) and once the sun goes down, you will feel it.
The Visitor Information Station (VIS) welcome sign on Maunakea.
The Visitor Information Station (VIS) on Maunakea.
  • Try the shaved iced with ice cream in the middle. It is weird and wonderful. We had some at Scandinavian Shaved Ice in Kona, but there are plenty of places all over the island where you can enjoy this treat. And trust me, it is a treat.
  • Go snorkeling—you are in Hawaii after all. I decided to bring my mask and snorkel from home but R was able to pick some up easily enough. We ended up snorkeling twice: once on the Kona side and once on the Hilo side. On the Kona side, we hiked down to the Captain Cook Monument (about two miles). A friend had highly recommended the snorkeling there and she was spot on with the recommendation. However, although the snorkeling was great, the hike back up was hot. Make sure you have enough water and sunblock. You could also opt to book with a charter boat or kayak company.
Captain Cook Monument, Hawaii
Snorkeling at the Captain Cook Monument.
Tropical Fish and Corral Reef
Looking for Nemo

On the Hilo side, we snorkeled at the Kapoho Tide Pools (officially named the Wai’opae Tidepools Marine Life Conservation District). The tide pools are easy enough to find. But then it was a little difficult to figure out just where to go in the tide pools—especially if you do not want to swim right beside someone else. We finally just decided to drop down into one of the pools (careful so as not to hurt any of the coral) and found ourselves immersed in an amazing underwater world. The snorkeling was equally good at both locations, but the tide pools are much easier to get to.

Kapoho Tide Pools
Snorkeling the Kapoho Tide Pools is a unique and fun experience.
  • Visit Volcanoes National Park. This one is kind of a no-brainer. If you are headed to the Big Island, make some time for the park. You’ll have to deal with a lot more tourists than you have anywhere else on the island, but it is worth it. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the glow from the volcano at night. We accidentally stumbled upon this little phenomenon one night while driving around. I also believe you can visit the park after dark to see it up close and personal.
  • Have breakfast at Ken’s Pancake House in Hilo. I was told Ken’s is a local institution and its busyness can attest to that. The omelet I ordered was massive! But the real winner was the passion-fruit syrup. Remember the word ‘lilikoi,’ It means passion fruit and should be ordered anytime it shows up on the menu.
Picture of Ken's menu, Hilo, Hawaii
An institution on the Big Island.

We did plenty of other stuff during our time on the Big Island (including a little horseback riding—if you dig this sort of thing, then I highly recommend you give it a try), but the list above highlights some of our favorite activities. There really is no end to the number of activities available to you. Or once again, you can choose to do nothing. That is the beauty of Hawaii.

Conclusion

Hawaii is an easy place to vacation. It may not be the cheapest destination, but you’ll get tropical without a lot of effort or stress. Just don’t forget your sunblock. Very few things ruin a trip faster than a nasty sunburn.

Big Island Hawaii sunset
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