Check out our Hawaii Big Island 2021 video here: Hawaii Video
For those curious if travel plans to Hawaii during the current leg of the pandemic is the right move or not, we are fortunate to assist with our experience and share in our blog that it was probably the safest place to steer clear of COVID-19 mania – of course once you’ve made it over the few travel restriction hurdles. We gave it several weeks of serious thought, and with lots of back and forth decision making, we finally decided to bite the bullet and manifest yet another one of our travel dreams!
The Island of Hawai’i
As some may not know, the big island of Hawai’i is called Hawai’i, and is in fact, the largest of the six major islands that make up the state of Hawai’i. Spanning a surface area of almost eleven thousand square feet (about four thousand square kilometers), Hawai’i boasts immensely vast landscapes of volcanic lava rock, lush rainforest greenery, white to black sand beaches, tropical rainforest, massive mountain ranges, and even miles of fertile farmland. There are five volcanoes that make up the island – Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualalai, Kilauea, and the Kohala Range – with Kilauea having the most recent major volcanic eruption in 2018.
It’s important to note that the layout of the island might come as a surprise once you first lay eyes on it. Upon arrival at the Kona airport, the initial sight you’ll see is miles of solidified lava rock from a past volcano eruption. Despite any surprise from this deviation of island imagery, don’t get discouraged because the big island is truly a theme park of natural treasures with countless fun activities and exciting things to do for families, friends, couples, and solo travelers. Just to name a few, you can visit the volcanoes, hike to waterfalls, respectfully greet some sea turtles, snorkel with tropical fish, sunbathe at beaches of various sand colors, and even do an ocean night snorkel swim with the gentle giant manta rays!
Travel from Los Angeles to Hawai’i
From the long lasting two week quarantine obligation being lifted in October 2020, we saw travel restrictions from the United States mainland to the Hawai’i islands varying with Kauai reinstating the two week quarantine soon after and Mauai and Hawai’i maintaining certain softer requirements for incoming non-essential travelers. These travel restrictions included a negative COVID-19 test within a seventy-two hour window of the travelers departure date and time.
We received our test on a Monday night from Clarity Labs at LAX airport with plans to leave on Thursday, the morning of New Years Eve. The test cost us $125 per person, and we received the results within fourty eight hours. During the waiting period, we created our accounts to the Hawai’i Travel Website, through which our test results were uploaded. On the site, you’re required to complete a health survey prior to your departure. We suggest doing some research into the details of their travel requirements to stay ahead of any unexpected issues that might delay your trip.
Upon arrival to the Kona airport, we stood in line for fifteen minutes before providing the airport staff with the printed COVID-19 test results. Once cleared, they had everyone take a secondary rapid test with just a light swab inside the nostrils. The covid test administrator told us if we didn’t receive any phone call within three hours we didn’t have to self-quarantine and were free to roam the island. Fortunately, we were covid free and were able to launch our exploration immediately!
Kickin’ it in Kona!
Rather than have a simple, quiet beach vacation, Jessie and I chose to do the round trip drive around the island and stay in different hotels and airbnb’s along the way. Renting a car with enough space for our luggage was key for this plan, and was simply handled through Enterprise. We chose to rent an SUV, with the favorite of the options being a 2020 Ford Edge. The Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole is just a nine mile drive to the town of Kailua-Kona, where our hotel for the night was located.
For our first night we stayed at the Royal Kona Resort, situated right on the water and just a two minute walk from several restaurants, bars, and souvenir gift shops. Although there is no beach at the hotel, it does have its own outdoor bar near the pool for anyone who prefers to sip their mai tai at sunset without leaving the hotel.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach
The road trip commencement found us headed toward Volcano from Kona, with several pit stops and viewpoints along the way. One of the most treasured of these pull-over prizes was Papakolea Beach, one of the few green sand beaches in the world. The color of the sand is a result of olivine crystal shards from busted lava rock making its way into the sea.
It was roughly four in the afternoon when we completed our scenic drive through the vibrant grass pastures to the parking lot starting point of the hike to the beach. We were offered shuttle service, merely a loaded pickup truck which couldn’t possibly follow COVID-19 safety protocols, by a few locals for $20 per person round trip. We chose to do the six mile round trip hike despite the race against time and the strength of the wind – what an adventure it was!
The scenery along the southern coast of Hawai’i was just astounding and somewhat surreal. The copper dirt hills and trenches cast us to moments on Mars, while the crashing of the Pacific waves grounded us right where we were.
The beach itself was a phenomenal anomaly obscurely tucked into one of the coast’s many curvature carvings. Though it is not accessible to the handicapped due to a short but steep climb down, breathtaking views and photographs of the beach can be taken from all angles. We spent about twenty minutes with our toes in the sand and smiles on our faces before heading back to our car as the sun was setting- and we were spent!
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park
Our experience visiting and staying in the volcano park was awesome and surprisingly chilly with lower temperatures than other areas of the island due to the higher altitude. Our airbnb was a tiki house located just five minutes away from the park’s main entrance. We arrived to the tiki house at night, but Jessie had read we could go in the park anytime since its open 24 hours. We briefly landed and unloaded the car, then shot over to the park where we were able to view the red and orange hues of lava from the Kilauea Volcano from a distance.
We were fortunate to have shared two rare firsts in one day: witnessing a green sand beach and then standing on the brim of an active volcano.The next morning we watched the sunrise at the same Kilauea viewpoint where we caught a spectacular rainbow, and soon after took the two mile round trip Halema’uma’u hike down to the Kilauea Iki Crater. Being a tiny human in a vast volcanic crater was something else, words can’t quite pinpoint the marvel of such an experience.
Hawai’i Island Waterfalls
We were blessed with opportunities to visit three waterfalls during our travels to the big island, one of which was right outside of our hotel room at the Kulaniapia Falls Inn. This off grid retreat in rural Hilo offers a one of a kind intimate waterfall experience to its guests, with complementary amenities of kayaks, paddleboards, and bicycles. Hotel guests are allowed to swim in the waterfall pond but are advised to check with the hotel staff that conditions are safe for the aquatic adventures.
Rainbow Falls, located in Hilo, is one of the easiest waterfalls to visit, as it only requires parking in the lot and walking about six meters to the viewpoint. The waterfall gets its name from the frequent rainbows that are visible most days over the falls. It was overcast and just about to rain when we checked it out which left no chance of a rainbow formation, however it was very beautiful nonetheless.
Akaka Falls, a 442-foot tall waterfall in Honomu, Hawai’i, is also easily accessible to visitors by a short half mile hike along a paved, scenic pathway through giant bamboo groves and lush rainforest.
One of our favorite travel pastimes has to be trying and tasting unfamiliar local cuisines, and Hawaii definitely didn’t disappoint in this regard! Some of our favorite food and drink items that we ate includes kalua pork, poke nachos, local fruits, hawaiian shaved ice, breadfruit, thai pad see ew, and lots of the famous 100% Kona brew coffee.
The local fruits we tried from both the Kona and Hilo Farmer’s markets were delicious, one of our favorites being rambutan, a small gummy fruit similar to lychee. We also tasted some of the locally grown avocados, coconuts, guavas, bananas, and passionfruits.
The Majestic Waipi’o Valley
Quite possibly the most spectacular sight was the view of the sacred Waipi’o Valley, a valley located in the Hamakua district at the northwest side of the island. This majestic place was the childhood home to King Kamehameha, the chief ruler who is known for uniting the Hawaiian islands. Here, tale has it, is where he trained endlessly in his youth to one day be a revered warrior.
The valley is overcoming with natural beauty, and though we only were able to see it from the top viewpoint, the valley floor is reachable by a steep road. We wanted to do the hike down to the valley floor, but we were losing daylight and were already on our way to the northwest side of the island to catch the sunset at Hapuna Beach, one of the few white sand beaches in Hawai’i.
Manta Ray Night Snorkel
Probably the most unique of the many highlights was the ocean swim we did at night with giant manta rays. We booked the tour the same day and were lucky to lock in the last two seat reservations. The boat tour company was only permitted to hold 25% of the normal passenger total, which will most likely remain the case for the next several months so we highly suggest booking your tour in advance. This was truly a once in a lifetime encounter, and we were told there are only two places in the world that this can happen, both being on the big Island of Hawaii.
The boat crew was very knowledgeable and friendly, and provided us with sanitized and fog-resistant snorkel and goggle kits. Once we jumped off the boat into the ocean, the tour group was instructed to hold on to the raft and remain flat and floating so as not to kick or disturb the plankton that the manta rays were joyously feasting on. Once we got situated in our positions, we calmly observed the magnificent creatures dancing and smiling as they showed off their swaggy swirly swim in their natural habitat.
The Aloha Culture of Hawai’i
Summarizing our Hawaiian adventures into a single post only captures a small fraction of the journey, but it is our intention to share it and inspire you to take the leap and go live out your travel dreams. Hawai’i is a vast island with unparalleled geodiversity, and it is without question the sacred home to an aloha culture of peace, love, and respect. We were humbled to be welcomed by the locals of this amazing island with benevolent grace, and we made sure to tread lightly with matching sentiment as to show our appreciation for their land and culture. Mahalo and a hui’ hou!