Big Island is the most spectacular island, especially because of the active volcanoes.
We landed around 11.00 h in Hilo and picked up our Alamo jeep. Then we went straight to Volcano Village, about 45 minutes drive.
we deposited our luggage in our nice accommodation, the Volcano Village Lodge, and drove – already very excited – to the Volcanoes National Park. This is just 5 minutes from the small town, ideal starting point.
Volcanoes National Park
You pay $ 10 per vehicle (valid for 3 days) and drive to the information center first. There very dedicated rangers explain the park and its sights and give daily tips.
We could not do the loop around the crater, it was closed because of the volcanic fumes. Otherwise all roads were open and we explored the whole park area. Numerous spectacular viewpoints offer great views of lava fields and unreal landscapes.
The first attraction is of course the huge Kilauea crater. On the Crater Rim Drive you will reach the Kilauea Outlook and the Thomas A. Jagger Museum with its large observation deck. After learning about this volcano and its characteristics, as well as its devastation and eruptions, you get to see the crater and the clouds of smoke tangibly close up.
When we were here again in 2015, we stayed at the Volcano House Hotel described below, which is located in the park area.
You can go to the park anytime and 24 hours a day, but if you stay here directly at the crater rim, you will experience this volcano even better and at all times of the day. Especially after dark the bubbling lava lights up the sky.
Kilauea morning and evening
Now we go back to the park entrance, because the road is closed because of the volcanic fumes.
Shortly before the Visitor Centre the Sulphur Banks Trail leads through a varied nature past many steaming ground holes. Warning signs point out that the vapors can be harmful to health and pregnant women and people with heart problems should be especially careful. But there is always a light breeze, so you can easily avoid the steam clouds.
You walk a good 500 meters on a narrow but well-maintained path, first through dense vegetation, and then you reach a heath-like plain on wooden footpaths.
And then it starts to smell like rotten eggs, you reach the Sulphur Banks. These are stone boulders colored by the sulfur steam as well as colorful rock layers. This is a nice short walk to start more volcano adventures.
You also have to drive the 20 km long Chain of the Crates Road to the sea. On the way there are numerous craters, different lava fields, extraordinary lava formations and smaller hiking trails.
Here you can see very well how the lava masses pushed towards the water and how they solidified in different forms.
Thurston Lava Tube
After a short drive there is a turnoff to Thurston Lava Tube. This is a 500 years old lava cave, which can be visited.
A short walk leads through dense greenery to the cave entrance, which is reached by a short bridge. Then it goes 180 meters through the sparsely lit darkness. One can hardly imagine that exactly here the lava flows flowed through. A cave of this kind is formed by the cooling of the outer layers, while the hot lava mass is still flowing in the interior. When the activity of the volcano then stops, a cave remains. Partly this is up to 6 meters high, impressive.
At the end a path leads back to the starting point.
Lava at the sea
The drive continues and after 3-4 km you can turn right towards a viewpoint called Kulanaokuaiki. This is a nice route and at the end of the road there is a nice view and the possibility of further walks.
Stopping points and hiking trails are plentiful and one inevitably takes time for this trip, so impressive is this lava landscape. At the sea then the road stops, park the car and walk for about 20 minutes down the road. Then you stumble over a huge lava field that has literally taken over the road. There you can walk on the lava rock and feel the forces of the earth under you. Great.
When we were here again in 2015, we missed the "lava roadblock", because the road was made passable again in the meantime, but only for emergencies.
Crater Rim Trail
The park is a blast, there is so much to see like different lava flows, underground lava caves and great views. It steams from the ground, you can feel the earthly heat and descend into craters, of which there are many, and hike through varied vegetation. You can spend 2-3 days here and we could fill an own website with this topic.
Finally we would like to mention the Crater Rim Trail. This one leads along the northern rim of the crater and opens wonderful views. From here you can also walk on a great path down into the crater.
Crater Rim Trail
We went to dinner at Kilauea Lodge, a small hotel with a restaurant that we highly recommend.
This is directly in Volcano Village and one sits very comfortably in a living room atmosphere and open fireplace. Delicious dishes are served at fair prices.
Well satiated we went back to the National Park (this is open 24 h) and to the Jaggar Museum Outlook.
This is a must do after dark. Now you can see from the play of colors how it is down in the crater. Brightly lit are the clouds of smoke coming out of the 2.climb up the 200 degree hot crater.
Close to the volcano heat
After the delicious breakfast on our private bush terraces we went again to the park. You can't get enough of these diverse legacies of the forces of nature.
For lunch we stopped at Lava Rock Cafe, a simple but friendly place with tasty small dishes. A small institution in the place.
Here you can get "Tsunami Salads", Steak sandwiches and fiery beer. In the evening live entertainment is offered.
Strengthened we drove to the airport of Hilo, in order to undertake a helicopter flight. We were very lucky and could take off with only 2 hours waiting time (usually advance reservations are required).
We decided to go with Paradise Helicopter Tours, they don't have the nicest machines, but had the best offer, per person just under $ 200. The flight takes about 60 minutes.
At check-in the question: Do you want to fly without doors?? We answered immediately: Of course! For a surcharge of $ 25 we started without doors, a real adventure.
First you fly over huge lava fields, some green islands spared by the lava flows and smaller smoking craters. Then the active, huge Pu'u 'O'o crater appears and our pilot circles several times and quite low over the volcano.
Feel the heat . yes you can clearly feel the rising heat from the over 2.000 degree hot crater and can see the bubbling lava very well.
A great experience, you should definitely indulge yourself. We did not experience any volcanic eruption or flowing lava masses during our two visits to Big Island, but especially during our flight over the volcanic cone with the truly palpable heat, we could well imagine how this force of nature can act.
Another recommended excursion is the Lava Tree State Monument on the eastern tip of the island near Pahoa. On an around 1.On the 000 meter long round trip you can see the remains of solidified lava trees and learn on information boards about the origin of these formations.
Lava Tree State Monument
From here, a narrow and romantic road continues towards the sea until you reach MacKenzie State Park. Here one experiences the rough part of this area with a rugged coastline.
A few kilometers further you reach Kaimu Bay with the possibility to take a short walk to a small beach with black sand. The special thing here is that one moves on a lava land newly created by the volcanic eruption in the year 1990.
Above: MacKenzie Park – Below: Kaimu Bay
After so many volcano experiences we went to the other side of the island, to the Kohala Coast to our beautiful Fairmont Hotel (2011) and the equally beautiful Mauna Kea Beach Hotel (2015).
Kohala Coast – The contrast
While the southeastern part of the island is very volcanic, the western and northern part offers a lot of greenery and beach fun.
After breakfast we drove to North Kohala, a beautiful route to the north coast of the island. It is a scenically varied route with dry, almost parched areas, densely overgrown regions with lush vegetation, small bays and beaches like Hapuna Beach. The road ends at Pololu Valley Lookout with a beautiful view of the coastline.
On the other side of this Kohala Forest Reserve there is another beautiful lookout called Pololu Valley Lookout. From here you can walk a quite steep descent to the dark colored beach.
After lunch at the hotel, we had a delicious fish sandwich at the beach bar, we drove to Hapuna Beach, the most beautiful and largest beach here.
The Life Guard tells a young woman that turtles have been spotted nearby. We speak to him and learn where exactly we have to go. Not 3 km further, between noble villas we go to smaller beaches and discover there numerous turtles, about one to one and a half meters large. You can get very close to them, beautiful creatures.
Kona – Experience Hawaiian history
The next day we drove south to Kailua-Kona. Again south of here we went into the coffee region, here the beans are grown and roasted, a wonderful smell accompanies us along the beautiful and partly narrow road.
After another 10 km we reached the Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (you have to be able to remember that) . ). Here you can see original reconstructed huts and carved figures, how the Hawaiians lived in former times. A ranger leads through the village and explains very clearly the former life of the natives. Very interesting.
Experience Hawaiian history vividly
On the way back we drove to the town of Kailua-Kona. Along the coast road you can find numerous restaurants, stores and markets. An architecturally beautiful city center.
We stopped there at the Fish Hopper. Local food in Hawaiian-Polynesian style, very tasty and beautifully arranged. You sit casually on wicker chairs or semi-circular benches with a view of the bay and the sea.
About 4 km after the airport of Kailua-Kona we turned left on an inconspicuous, easily overlooked and unpaved road.
If you have an off-road vehicle, you should try this extremely bumpy and adventurous road into Kekaha Kai National Park to Mahaiula Bay. It goes through a lava field to a lonely beach. This is fun!
The tropical east
We made another day trip to the northeast coast via Weimea and the aforementioned Waipo Lookout. Here at the Hamakua Coast there is the biggest and worth seeing Akaka waterfall to admire. On the way there you cross some bridges, the views to the left and to the right are great, dense jungle with species-rich vegetation. It is worth to stop and enjoy the view.
From the parking lot of Akaka Falls a 30 minute roundtrip leads through dense jungle with all kinds of tropical plants. Between the green thicket the 135 m high waterfall appears, which falls down a moss-covered steep face.
RESTAURANT TIP for Fairmont Hotel Guests
Later in the afternoon we enjoyed ourselves at The Beach Club, right next to our Fairmont Hotel. This is a private club, as a guest of the hotel you have exclusive access. Here you can enjoy delicious snacks with nice live music and you sit directly at the private beach. Very dignified, but not at all stiff.
From here you should take a walk along the coast and the small lakes, which were created by the original Hawaiians for fish farming.
The Beach Club and Waipuhi Fishpond
We still had some time until we started our return flight from the airport. So we visited the Lapakahi State Historical Park at the northern tip of the island.
Scattered in a beautiful coastal landscape there are some ruins of an old Hawaiian fishing village to see. Not too exciting, but OK for a short side trip.
Lapahaki State Park