After an incredible 3 nights on Oahu, we were ready for a new adventure on another island. I had no idea what to expect of the Big Island and, looking back, I can’t even remember what it was I was expecting, all I know is that the Big Island wasn’t what I had in mind. It was nothing like I imagined and it was everything I needed in a place on earth. This place is everything to me and I struggle to even speak about this island without getting choked up so I’m sure writing this will bring on some waterworks. Here we go!
Before we chat honeymoon, I want to address the Kilauea eruption and new lava flows currently occurring on the Big Island. For info on what is happening and ways you can help those displaced by the new fissures and lava flows, check out my Instastory Highlight. I’ll also include some information below. Madame Pele (In the Hawaiian religion, Pele is the goddess of the volcanoes and the creator of the Hawaiian islands.) has been quite busy these past two weeks.
Okay, back to the honeymoon…
We left this:
And landed in this:
Island of Hawaii (Big Island)
I legit had this moment of “what have we gotten ourselves into?” when we got off the plane and “into” the airport (I use quotes because you don’t go into anywhere. The airport is basically a bunch of little outdoor huts.). I looked at Justin and said, “well, this is different.” While I was a little wary, he was just excited because all he wanted out of this honeymoon was volcanoes and here we were on the Big Island which is basically just five volcanoes, two of which are currently active.
Some notes on the Hawaii volcanoes:
- The active volcanoes on the Big Island are shield volcanoes. The name comes from the fact that they look more like a warrior’s shield than they do what we normally think of when we hear the word “volcano.”
- Shield volcanoes have relatively gentle slopes (they just look like regular mountains to me) and their eruptions tend to be non-explosive, with lava that gently slopes down from the volcano vent.
- Kilauea, the volcano that is currently making headlines, has been erupting non-stop since 1983.
- Mauna Loa, considered the most massive volcano on earth, is still active but hasn’t erupted in over 30 years.
Mindy arranged for us to pick up our rental car at the airport and then we were on our way to the hotel that would be home for the next 6 days. After stopping for lunch at a place Justin found on Yelp (incredible food, btw), we decided to make a pit stop at a coffee plantation before heading over to the Fairmont Orchid (we’ll be returning here in September!).
Hula Daddy Coffee Plantation
Justin called Hula Daddy Kona Coffee before we drove up the mountain to make sure they’d be able to give us a tour. Lucky for us, we had about 30 minutes before they were going to start a tour for another couple and we’d be able to hop on with them!
The ladies at Hula Daddy welcomed us and set us up with some coffee to taste while we waited for the tour to start. I said it in my Oahu post but the coffee in Hawaii is AMAZING. Seriously, I don’t drink coffee (#teaforever) but I had a cup every morning.
As someone who knew nothing about coffee, all the information was new and surprising to me. I’m not sure what is common coffee knowledge but I was blown away by the fact that coffee comes from a fruit (red berry looking photo above) and that the darker the roast, the less caffeine (I always assumed the opposite!).
Hula Daddy was the perfect welcome to the Big Island. We left with lots of goodies (chocolate covered coffee beans, medium roast coffee grinds, and tea made from the coffee fruit) and we just might have to stop in again to refill our stash.
Fairmont Orchid and Surrounding Area
While Mindy showed us a few options on the Big Island, she was very clear that she truly thought that of all the options, the Fairmont Orchid was actually the only option for us – and she could not have been more right!
The hotel and grounds are beautiful, the dining options are fabulous (Justin-approved is a big deal!), and the staff is beyond helpful. We had so much fun exploring the Fairmont Orchid and the area surrounding the resort. I’m extremely glad we peppered in some “free” days into our time on the Big Island to allow for lots of relaxing and mini adventures at the hotel.
One morning, we decided to take advantage of a free culture “hike” and walked over to the beach hut nice and early. We ended up being the only guests to show up so we got our own personal tour! We walked around the grounds for about an hour and learned so much from our guide about Hawaii and the Big Island specifically.
Shown above from our culture hike:
- Flow hive “hotels” that are home to thousands of bees making honey!
- Ancient petroglyph
- Fresh guava straight from the tree (I finished the whole thing before Justin even got a bite – whoops!)
- Ahu a Kupuna – a sacred Ahu (stone altar) built in the 1750s, during the reign of Kamehameha 1. People will often leave a single flower as an offering at the ahu or come and say a prayer. Facing east toward Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa (volcanoes) will pay tribute and respect to elders and ancestors.
While we were in Oahu, I continued to have the “omg I’m in Hawaii” feeling but the Big Island gave me more of a “omg this is what I’ve been missing” feeling. The landscape, the ocean, the sunsets, the people, the adorable sea turtles – everything just felt like home. I had been looking forward to Maui; this island took me by surprise.
Puako Petroglyph Park
On one of our “free” days, we decided to do the short hike to Puako Petroglyph Park, right next to the Fairmont.
This archaeological park is a state and national historic site. No one is completely sure what all of the symbols mean but they do speak to the history and culture of Hawaii (there are pictures of deities, animals, paddlers, dancers, and families). According to the sign when you enter the park, ancient Hawaiians traveled across harsh lava flows to reach this spot.
The trail to and from the park is well-maintained and marked clearly. We went mid-morning and saw maybe two or three other couples along the way. I’d love to go back with someone who can speak more about the history and significance of these particular petroglyphs – I’ll definitely be looking into that for September!
Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo
One day we decided to take a drive across the island to Hilo to visit the Panaewa Zoo and Gardens. Panaewa is the only naturally occurring rainforest zoo in the United States so we decided it was something we definitely wanted to check out!
It was a great morning at the zoo but we didn’t linger too long because it was so hot! Justin kept going back to certain animals and I kept complaining that he is the slowest human ever. Humidity makes me an absolute delight, dontcha know.
Some info about the Big Island and its’ two sides:
- The two main areas of the Big Island are referred to as the “Kona side” and the “Hilo side.” There is an international airport in both Kona and Hilo.
- The Kona side is definitely the dry side, averaging about 18 inches of rainfall a year. Hilo is essentially a rainforest, averaging about 130 inches of rainfall a year.
- Hilo is the city closest to the active volcanoes and Volcanoes National Park. Hilo is about 35 miles from the current lava flows on the Big Island while Kona is about 100 miles away. The eruption and lava flows are currently affecting only a small fraction of the island and life is continuing on as usual in other areas.
Big Island Touring & Volcanoes National Park
What Justin was most excited about and what ended up being one of the major highlights of the trip was our small guided Big Island Twilight Volcano Tour with Viator. We were picked up bright and early at the Fairmont and began traversing the island via the very scenic Saddle Road.
I was immediately at ease with our guide for the day and the small group of travelers in our van. Our first stop was Rainbow Falls near downtown Hilo!
Rainbow Falls is over a lava cave that legend says is home to the Hawaiian goddess, Hina, the goddess of the moon. In the morning, it is most likely you will see a rainbow and see a rainbow we did!
Also, atop Rainbow Falls is one of the largest banyan trees in the world. These trees are insane – they look like they are multiple trees because there are multiple trunks. These trees grow roots from the top and when they fall to the ground, they dig in and become new trunks. Seeing these trees never got old for us. We definitely don’t have these in NY!
Next up was Richardson’s Black Sand Beach. I had been waiting for this! Black sand beaches form when a large lava flow enters the ocean and basalt fragments are created. The black sand beaches in Hawaii were built extremely rapidly due to the violent reaction between the hot lava and the ocean water. I had just assumed they were from erosion of lava but NOPE!
We were able to see a few endangered sea turtles swimming in the water – one even got super close to me while I wasn’t paying attention. It was all absolutely breathtaking. FYI – don’t ever ask someone to bring you back sand from a black sand beach – it’s illegal (and very bad luck)!
Upon entering Volcanoes National Park, we took a trip down Chain of Craters Road where we made multiple stops to walk across past volcanic eruption and lava flow sites and take in the amazing cliffs and Holei Sea Arch.
We spent quite a long time exploring here and soaking in all the interesting stories from our guide. One of my favorites was about Hawaii officials who kept trying to build a road and the lava kept overtaking it so finally they just gave up because obviously Pele did not want the road to be built (see photo above).
We did an afternoon stop at the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum to see the Halemaumau Crater during the day. This crater contains the lava lake of Kilauea that dropped so much earlier this month that it caused the recent explosive eruption of ash. Luckily, Volcanoes National Park was closed and evacuated in anticipation of this event so no one was/is in immediate danger following an eruption.
We had dinner at the Kilauea Military Camp and I had an extremely cheap (but extremely tasty) sangria. I completely approve of this use of my tax dollars 🙂
Before finishing our evening back at the Halemaumau Crater, we hiked through the rainforest to explore the Thurston Lava Tube and got free facials at the steam vents. The lava tube is exactly what it sounds like – at one point several hundred years ago, a river of hot lava ran through and created what now resembles a cave.
The natural steam vents were a really cool experience because it was completely dark when we walked up to them and I really had no idea where I was supposed to go or if I was supposed to look somewhere. Turns out I needed to do nothing because you essentially walk right into a rush of the most intense steam you can imagine. The steam is naturally created when ground water seeps down to the hot lava rocks and comes back up to the surface in the form of hot steam.
And then there was Halemaumau Crater at night. My God was this incredible and I am so glad we got to experience this miraculous show from Pele (the crater is believed to be Pele’s home).
Visiting Volcanoes National Park was one of the best experiences of my life, let alone of my honeymoon. I am praying that Pele gives the island a nice reprieve so others can enjoy the park the way we did (I also selfishly want to be back there again to explore some more in September!).
Mauna Kea Sunset & Stargazing
Mauna Kea, considered by many Hawaiians as the most sacred place on all the islands, is a dormant volcano and the highest point in the state of Hawaii. Mauna Kea is over 32,000 feet from the ocean floor to the summit and is the tallest mountain on Earth! We rode with Hawaii Forest & Trail to the summit at 13,796 feet above sea level for some spectacular views and some seriously cold weather.
The parkas and gloves were provided by the tour and THANK GOODNESS because I do not own anything that would have been able to protect me from that level of cold. Ooph!
After an unbelievable sunset and some spectacular views, we moved down to 9,000 feet to set up a telescope and enjoy the sky with some hot cocoa and warm brownies. Believe me, you wanna look up this view.
Pele truly outdid herself with the Island of Hawaii (and continues to both destroy and create as I type this). What is truly astounding is how many of those currently displaced by the new lava flows mention respecting Pele’s wishes with the land in interviews. It’s astounding but not completely surprising, given what I learned about Big Island natives and residents while on the island myself.
This island means the world to me and it is so incredible to read how residents are reacting and adapting to the current situation. The love and spiritual connection Big Islanders have with the land is inspiring and even though my body and the majority of my heart is always on the island of Manhattan, there is now a huge chunk of my soul on this island of volcanoes in the Pacific. #LevineKonaRetirement2052
I love you, Big Island. See you in September.
Ways you can help those who have lost homes or are currently displaced by the new Kilauea lava flows:
- Kolten Wong, a St Louis Cardinals baseball player, has started a GoFundMe with every dollar going towards helping the Big Island rebuild.
- The Food Basket, a food bank in Hawaii, is providing food, water, and supplies to affected residents.
- The Salvation Army has pledged that all donations will support disaster operations.