The Other Hawaii

I didn’t really want to go to Hawaii. Most of my previous travel has revolved around exploring countries like Turkey, India and Morocco on a shoe string, finding the local’s local and avoiding the tourist traps. So why would I want to visit one of the most holidayed tourist islands in the world? Well, to be honest it was a combination of a family holiday and a ‘why not’ attitude. I visited for 10 days and was very, very pleasantly surprised.

On planning to go to Hawaii you will learn there are 8 main islands to choose from, I didn’t know this before and it immediately opened my eyes to the many options that Hawaii may have to offer a visitor.

After careful research, we landed on spending the majority of our time on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is the largest of the islands but only has 13% of Hawaii’s population. It is not the most visited tourist island, (that would be O’ahu and the city of Waikiki), with it’s main attraction being the diverse natural landscape.

We flew directly from Australia to Honolulu, and got straight on a second flight to the Big Island. We spent most of our nights in the sleepy little down of Hilo, over on the ‘non tourist side’ of the big island. We very much discovered that the big island is the place to go for nature lovers, there is so much to do. You can’t fit it all in a week or even a month! So allow enough time especially if you want to see more than one of Hawaii’s islands.

The Big Island offers rainforests, hot springs, black sand beaches, green sand beaches, volcanos to climb, lava to watch pour into the ocean. The list on goes on. Oh and of course you would just lie on a beach and relax under some shady palms, which was what I thought you did on a trip to Hawaii.

So I want to tell you a little of the other side of Hawaii, the side that is greatly connected with nature and definitely isn’t as shiny or developed like you have seen in most of the photographs and movies.

The Big Island has two main towns, Hilo and Kona. It is biodiverse (home to 8 of 13 climate zones in the world eg snow in winter all the way to tropical rainforests as well as hot deserts!) It also has 5 volcanos on the island, one of which is the Kilauea Volcano, one of the most active volcanos in the world. The island is still expanding or growing because of the active volcanos spilling lava into the ocean (which turns into rock).

The town of Hilo on the east coast is the capital of the island, it is an undeveloped little town on the quiet side of island with no high-rises, charming post, war mid century architecture which gives the town its character and it’s beautiful laid back pace.

There are plenty of restaurants, a few bars, and places for a drink but not much happens after 9pm on a school night (which can be a lovely thing).

There are a lot of locals who live and work and students who study in Hilo. We spent about a week here, taking day trips to the island attractions as much as we could.

Best way to get around is to hire a car. We visited Kona which is the main tourist town on the west side of the island (about a two hour drive). There you will find a lot of shops and novelty eating, as well as attractions close by like the Captian James Cook Monument a short drive away in Kealakekua Bay.

Back over the east side Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is a must see, not only does it have beautiful glittering black sand but it also is home to green turtles and endangered Hawksbill turtles. There are lifeguards on the beaches so swimming is possible but there are frequently strong currents. This beach is easy to access with plenty of parking available.

If you’re as ocean crazy as me you will also want to visit Papakōlea Green Sand Beach. This beach is carved in a 49,000 year old cinder cone belonging to the Mauna Loa volcano that has the green crystals (olivines) that give the beach its name. This beach is a fair drive from Hilo (3-4 hours), and isn’t completely accessible by car, you can hike from the carpark the rest of the way which is about 1 hour one way but it’s worth it! Best visited early to save the heat and the foot traffic. It’s very remote, rugged and isolated landscape is like nothing else.

While you’re driving around in the car, stopping off at Kona Tea and Coffee Company is worth it. They grow world class coffee and offer dark roast – light roast beans through to an unusual peaberry coffee. It’s great to bring some home and reminisce of your Hawaiian adventures while sipping a cup at home. I would recommend a takeaway to go with your Malasadas (Portuguese sugared fried dough snacks) a tasty snack you can find at bakeries around the island.

By this point you probably want to see some of that lava right? There are two ways you can do it on the big island. If you want to see it in it’s crater, head up the mountain to Jaggar Museum and overlook. The best time to see the glow of lava is at sunrise or sunset, as during the day it can just look like a grey plume of smoke.

My recommended way (if you’re only going to do one) is to drive down to Kalapana and follow signs to the lava viewing area. Park your car and rent a bike for $20 (includes all the things you need) and do the easy ride out to where the lava meets the ocean.

Make sure you’re there at sunset. You can see the lava glowing in the hills as it creeps mostly underground down to the ocean. It’s one of most magical travel experiences I’ve had, moon rising over the volcanic rock with the ocean in the distance! It’s a strange and beautiful moonscape, there are tiny houses peppered on the volcanic rock to see on your ride out.

After 30 mins of so you will get to the end of the gravel road where you park the bike and walk down to see what is making the plume of smoke that you have been riding towards. It’s spectacular! As the sunsets the red lava becomes clearer and clearer, and if you’re lucky the wind will be in the right direction fanning the flames for you to see. Make sure you check online frequently as nature does have a mind of it’s own and at times it may not be viewable.

Another great half day trip is Kapoho Tidal Pools, they are like a fish tank! Warm water seeps out of the lava rocks and mixes with the cold sea water. Hire some snorkel gear and make sure you to at the right tidal time to ensure the most out of the experience. There is a bit of a walk to get to the pools, but it’s well worth it! I could have spent many more hours there stalking Nemo and his friends around the hundreds of natural pools.

These are just a few recommendations of the many awesome things you can do and see on the Big Island of Hawaii. I cannot recommend it enough, and it is definitely a world away from the typical Hawaii you have been imagining.

Next time there are sale flights, jump on it and try somewhere other than the road well travelled in Hawaii. The Big Island delivered so much more than I ever imagined, I was fascinated with way it reconnected me with nature. After spending one week there I did feel more in awe of the earth and nature’s powers. I couldn’t help but think about what it would be like living in a place with an ever-present threat of a volcanic eruption, or having to rebuild after your home and belongings taken by an eruption.

The Big Island of Hawaii comes highly recommended as an alternative Hawaiian travel experience from an experienced traveller.

See more images from Yasmin’s Hawaii trip and many other destinations


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