We just got back from a forty-eight hour getaway to the beautiful Big Island of Hawai’i. This was my first time to the Big Island, so I thought I should write a few words about what I saw and how I felt about the sights, sounds and smells of experiencing a different island on our first day visiting.
The reason for this quick getaway was one of necessity. Through work, I was given a certificate for a two night stay at the Hilton Waikoloa resort. I was given this gift almost three years ago, but had failed to use it before it expired. Fortunately, I have some amazing coworkers who went to bat for me and citing the motorcycle collision they were able to extend the expiration date to November of 2013. So it was an absolute must that I did not let these free nights go to waste.
When traveling to Big Island, you have two major airports to choose from, Hilo or Kona. Hilo is the wettest city in the Unites States, but is considered to be the more realistic version of “real Hawaii”, while Kona side is built for the tourists (resorts, shopping, dining). Hilo is also closer to Volcanoes National Park, which had just re-opened a few days before we visited the island. Skipping the volcanoes this trip, we landed at Kona, which is the closer one to the resort we were staying at. After a slight hiccup at the rental car agency, we began our exploration of the Big Island.
Along the road from Kona to Waikoloa you have the ocean on your left and hundreds of acres of lava on your right. Not to worry, the lava is not fresh, but it is desolate, harsh and beautiful all at the same time. A favorite past-time of some people is to take white coral and leave messages along the roadside. This is the area of the island that you can see when the competitors are biking the 112 miles during the Ironman World Championship Triathlon. I remember watching the event on television years ago and thinking that people were biking through hell…and I wasn’t that far off. It’s hot, dry and barren…only thing that was missing was the smell of sulfur.
Oh yeah…there’s also designated donkey crossing areas!
As we drove on, the we could see the summits of the many mountains that make up the island of Hawai’i. It was an odd sensation, not just seeing two mountains like we do on Maui. On Maui, we look up to Haleakala, then can look across the central isthmus to the West Maui mountains and we can see everything in between. The island of Hawai’i was created from five different volcanoes which erupted one on top of the other creating more and more land, so you can view more than two peaks, but not all the valleys.
The Big Island is just that…BIG. I had to look it up, but the island of Maui is 727 square miles, while Big Island is 4,028 square miles! It gave me the sense of being back on the mainland and having the ability to get in the car and drive for hours. It was a nice feeling.
I will save the resort for a seperate blog, but the Waikoloa area of Hawai’i was very similar to the Wailea area of Maui. Upscale resorts, shopping and dining all designed to give you everything you need to never leave the area once you check in.
As soon as we checked in, we got the heck out of there.
This was not a “relax by the pool” getaway for us. I don’t know if I’ll ever want to do that. We are adventurers, not content to lounge. We must go and see new sights, taste new food, meet new people, take pictures. These are the things that make traveling so special.
Immediately, we headed upcountry to the beautiful town of Waimea. Steeped in the paniolo culture and historically a ranching area, Waimea is the Big Island’s version of Makawao on Maui. The hills are greener, the weather is cooler…life just seems better up there. Most of the ranch land is owned by Parker Ranch, which is the largest privately owned cattle ranch in the United States. At 250,000 acres, the Parker Ranch is very much a big part of the Big Island.
After moseying through Waimea we stopped at Waipoi Valley lookout to…well, look out.
The lookout gives you the great view of the Waipio Valley below, as well as the waves coming onto the dark sand beach. You can see clear across the lush, green valley floor to the cliffs on the far side and the path that is carved into the cliff face that leads up and over the mountain. For the very brave or adventurous that own a four wheeled drive vehicle, you can drive down into the valley using a one-lane switchback road that is a white knuckle, sphincter clinching experience (from what I’m told).
After Waipio Valley, we stopped in a small town called Honokaa. The main strip of Honokaa cannot be more than a quarter mile long and you can just feel the history of this town as you walk along the cracked sidewalk. A bigger town when sugar production was still around on the island, Honokaa has the sense of a small town that has lost its direction. Not ready to give up the fight for survival, the downtown storefronts host an interesting collection of tourist knick-knacks and local necessities.
The main attraction of this historic town is the eye-catching People’s Theatre, built in 1930. I don’t know why I’m always drawn to old theaters, (Iao Theatre) but I cannot get enough of the look, the feel and the smell they retain. It’s either the romantic in me or the movie buff, but I love imagining what opening night must have been like for this monument to cinema.
After our Hamakua District adventure we drove towards the setting sun and found our way back to the resort. With our first day on the Big Island almost complete, we found a spot to eat and talked about what tomorrow’s adventure would bring.
Stay tuned for part two of our Big Island adventure…coming soon to a really old theatre near you.