I'm back from my trip to the Big Island of Hawaii and am wishing I was still there. Hawaii is the most relaxing and most beautiful place in the world... as my Dad always says, "Hawaii is where God goes on vacation." This was my 3rd trip to the Big Island and it was just as lovely as ever. For those of you who don't know, there are several islands that make up the state of Hawaii. Each island has its own special characteristics, making it worth your while to visit all of them. The Big Island certainly is as its name implies, big. There are two volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa (the largest and most active volcano in the world), which create a very dramatic and diverse landscape. The two main tourist spots on the island are Kailua-Kona and Hilo. Kailua and Kona are within a few miles of each other and are on the dry side of the island. Here you will find the best snorkeling spots, Kona coffee plantations, miles and miles of volcanic rock and sunshine. On the opposite side of the island (about 3 hours from Kona) you will find a very different climate. It rains all the time in Hilo (a gorgeous warm Hawaiian rain) which is why this side of the island is lush with tropical rainforest and the best farmers market in the world.
I spent the majority of my trip in Kona so I could get max sun rays, the best snorkelin' time and umbrella drinks by the pool. The Big Island is a bit tricky when it comes to beaches. If you are used to white powder sand beaches, you might be a bit thrown off when you realize it is tough to find one on the Big Island. The beaches are still breathtakingly gorgeous and the water is amazingly warm but the sand is dominated by volcanic rock, making it a bit tough for those of us who like to throw down a towel and snooze in the sun. For the easiest and quickest snorkel, I recommend going to Two-Step Beach in Kailua. The beach will most likely be very crowded, but within "two steps" you will find that the waters are abundant with sea life and coral. At Two-Step, you will also find a Hawaiian Shaved Ice truck parked on the sand. After an hour or two of snorkeling, you will definitely want to hit this truck up for some authentic Hawaiian Shaved Ice. There are plenty of snorkeling day trips that you can embark on which will take you to coves unreachable by foot, but in my experience, the fish, turtles and coral that you see an hour away at sea are the same fish, turtles and coral that you sea within a few feet of the shoreline... and besides, there's no shaved ice when you are an hour out at sea.
One of the things I love about the Hawaiian Islands are the quaint little towns that you discover while driving around. Of course, this means you will have to leave your hotel and start exploring - which I definitely think you should always do, no matter where you are. You can usually expect to find some delicious fresh baked breads and native Hawaiian foods in these small towns - definitely worth stopping for.
I stayed at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa which sits right at the edge of ancient Hawaiian fish ponds and Anaeho'omalu Bay. I first stayed here about 6 years, right after they had remodeled and it was fantastic. However, it seems to me that they haven't renovated at all since I was there last. The place is still gorgeous and overall pretty nice but there is definitely areas that can be improved. There are three pools on site - one with a water slide, one infinity, and one sandy beach pool. These three pools are elevated slightly, providing excellent views of the ancient ponds and beach. Waikoloa Village is a very small area in terms of nightlife (which I find appealing) but there are two shopping centers with good restaurants and markets within walking distance.
The resort has a small rental shack on the beach where you can rent kayaks, snorkel gear, paddle boards or go out on a glass bottom boat. The beach is beautiful and actually has sand and not rock. I tried snorkeling here one day but found that although there were plenty of sea turtles and other sea life, the water was a bit too murky for me - prime shark attack waters. No thanks.
If you plan on going to Hawaii, I highly recommend you purchase my Hawaiian beach and pool essentials. Here is what you need: Sunscreen (I usually do 30 SPF but 12 SPF was all I had at the time) Be careful because the sun is STRONG. Maui Babe Browning Lotion - this will help you get a nice deep dark tan, keep you from burning, and make you smell like brown sugar but it is NOT sunscreen - you have to use both! Aloha Maid Hawaiian Iced Tea (any Aloha Maid product will do) is seriously delicious and if you have the guava or other fruity flavors add a splash of Malibu rum for an extra kick! Mauna Loa macadamia nuts - they have a ton of flavored ones and of course there is always chocolate covered as an extra treat- they are delicious! Don't forget to take extra precaution from the sun - grab your sunglasses and a big floppy hat to protect your eyes and face.
There is nothing better than a Hawaiian Sunset.
If you have been to Oahu, I hope you have tried Leonard's malasadas. They are the best sweet treat ever! It's basically a Portuguese version of a sugar doughnut and no one makes them quite as good as Leonard's. The problem is that Leonard's is only in Oahu and while the other islands may have malasadas to offer, they are never as good as Leonard's. The Big Island has malasadas at Tex Drive In and even though they aren't the same as Leonard's, it's the best the Island has to offer. Tex Drive In is a cute little restaurant and drive-thru where you can also get traditional Hawaiian plate meals. They also have a big window in the kitchen so you can watch them make the malasadas. It's a good little place to stop for a break if you are driving Hwy 19 from Kona to Hilo or Hilo to Kona.
The Hilo Farmers Market is one of a kind. Here you will find tropical flowers and produce at jaw-dropping inexpensive prices. Of course there is jewelry and touristy items for sale as well but the produce and the flowers are what you will be ogling at. The flowers are what always blow my mind because not only are they gorgeous but they are sooooooo inexpensive! Being a floral designer, I know how much these tropicals cost back at home and it makes me want to buy up the whole lot because the price is so unbelievable.
These beautiful bouquets are $5!!! $5! It's unbelievable to me - If you plan on getting married in Hawaii, have your wedding in Hilo and buy up a bunch of these and it will cost you less than buying a few orchids back at home. I ended up buying one of these bouquets for our hotel room because I just can't pass up a deal that good.
The produce is unbelievably priced at the market - $4 for an ENTIRE box of papayas! Get out of town is what I have to say to that! I am sorry, I get really excited about tropical fruits and flowers - they are my favorite. Walking down the fruit aisles is like heaven - the pineapples are so fragrant and everything is so colorful. I just want to buy it all and make a giant fruit salad.
Downtown Hilo is an old historic town with lots of charming buildings. Look at the little pineapples along the top of this building - so cute. The Hilo Farmers Market is definitely my favorite stop but I highly recommend you take a drive along the 4 miles scenic drive. This route is absolutely gorgeous and welcomes you to the rainforest. Large leaves canopy above and vines are tangled about, winding along the road you will see waterfalls and ocean that you should definitely stop the car for.
On one of my previous visits, I went up to the top of the Mauna Loa volcano so I opted out of seeing it on this trip and explored some other areas in the Hilo area. In the small town of Puna, you will come to a beautiful canopied road that leads to Lava Trees State Park. The "trees" have formed from lava that once flowed through the area. The lava clinged to the trees which now have died, leaving behind a hollow lava casing. The park is full of lush foliage with a walking path that circles around the park.
I am not an avid golfer but I enjoy it from time, especially when the course is ocean side with Hawaiian breezes. The most stunning ocean golf course is at the Kona Country Club. This was the second time I played there and while other courses say they have ocean views, I have yet to find one that has views like this one. About half of the course is truly on the water while the other half is slightly away from the water but still has views in site. The course has a blow hole, a curly palm tree and is better priced than most of the other courses in the area.
I ended my last evening in Hawaii with a delicious cocktail at the brand new Eddie Aikau Restaurant (as in "Eddie Would Go") in Waikoloa. The food was absolutely perfect and the atmosphere was great. It was a great way to close up a wonderful and relaxing vacay. I have plenty of other pictures I plan on sharing with all of you but I wanted to give a broad recap of the trip first before I got more specific. Stay tuned for more pics to come!
p.s. There are plenty of other great things to do on the island that I passed on this trip so if you plan on going, shoot me an email and I can give you the low down.
All Images: Love.Inspire.Create