Home / Other Things / Adventures / Travel Planning: the Big Island
Published on August 16, 2013, by in Adventures, Featured.

I think I’ve mentioned this before: I love to travel.  Any chance I get to go somewhere new, I take it.  Travel truly enriches the soul.  But I also enjoy the side effect (pre-effect?) of distraction for my brain.  In a sense, my vacation starts as soon as I start planning a trip because the research and excitement give me a break from day-to-day stress.

So what’s distracting me today?  HAWAI’I!

Travel to Maui

I’ve been to Hawaii twice before, both times to the island of Maui.  The first was with a good photographer friend of mine – we stayed in a hostel, went to a different part of the island every day, picked up a hitchhiker (!), and tried to eat like the locals.  It was what I think of when I think Travel.

Maui Vacation

The second was with Tim’s family and it was a whole different kind of experience.  We stayed in a really nice (like, way fancy) hotel and spent quite a lot time just staring at the ocean or reading on the beach.  We went snorkeling, we went to a luau, and generally played tourist.  It was what I think of when I think Vacation.

This time, I’m headed to the Big Island of Hawaii with Tim’s family and it’s likely that it will be more vacation than travel.  And let me tell you, that is perfectly fine with me.  This is our first big trip since New Orléans last August and it will be great to just hang at the beach and relax.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t plan!

Kona Coast Map

I covered flights in my last post and hotel is a non-issue for this trip because we’re staying at a resort with Tim’s family.  The Kona Coast Resort in Kona looks lovely and Trip Advisor reviews tell me that it’s well-maintained, close to the beach, and within walking distance of some stores and restaurants.

But let’s face it, hotel is one of the least exciting parts of the trip, at least for me.  I’m way more excited about the food, the beaches, and the little adventures we can have each day.


Whenever I plan a trip, I always start with the food.  Remember when I said that Anthony Bourdain has the perfect job?  Food is at the heart of culture, so there’s no better way to get to know a place than to eat the local cuisine.

Much like food on Maui, food on the Big Island is described as ‘mediocre.’  I think this is true of all places that tend to cater to tourists.  During my first trip to Maui, I ate ridiculously well because we were often off the beaten path.  The second time, when we spend more time at the resort, it was about 50/50.  I think finding good food anywhere is just a matter of doing research, occasionally going out of your way, and being next to an ocean.

Dinner at Mama's

Yep, you can’t go wrong with seafood.  Da Poke Shack has the best reviews on the island – it’s fresh, it’s local, and it’s affordable, so it’s definitely going on my list of places to try.  If we want to eat some place super fancy, both of the restaurants at the Four Seasons get rave reviews.  Fish Hopper and Don the Beachcombers are more mid-range and would be good for those who aren’t super adventurous.

If we venture out of Kona, Da Fish House looks like a cheap local fave, Blue Dragon is fancy pants, and Sushi Rock is top rated for sushi on the island.

Hawaiian Meal

Since it’s hard to find anywhere else, I’ll want to eat some ono Hawaiian food.  In Kona, we’ve got a bunch of 4 star places to choose from: Umeke’s, Kanaka Kava, Pine Tree Cafe, Broke Da Mouth Grindz, and Big Island Grill – all affordable, none of them fancy.  The best of the rest of the island is Kaaloa’s Super J, another cheap, local joint.  It looks like it’s in someone’s house, but I think that’s part of the fun.  Minnie’s in Kapaau, Kawaihae Kitchen in Kawaihae, and Annie’s Island in Kealakekua look like good choices as well.Shave Ice in Maui

No culinary adventure would be complete without dessert!  When you’re in Hawaii, you gotta try the shave (no ‘d’) ice.  In Maui, it doesn’t get better than Ululani’s.  None of the places I looked at in Kona sounded nearly as good, but there’s positive buzz around Scandinavian Shave Ice and Moo Bettah Frozen Fun.  In my search for dessert, I happened upon a supposed Big Island specialty called ‘Donkey Balls’, available at Keoki’s Cafe.  I’m not entirely sure what they are but that doesn’t mean I won’t eat one.

Maui Street Tacos

It’s also important to know what’s within walking distance of our resort.  We lucked out on our last trip and found a street-side taco stand just a few blocks away from us.  This time we’re near Peaberry and Galette, a creperie that’s a must-try for me, at least for dessert, Bianelli’s, a pizza place with decent reviews, and… that’s about it.  Still promising!


At The Beach

The Big Island is known for its volcanoes, not its beaches.  This isn’t the island that you go to if you want miles and miles of white sand but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few amazing beaches to be seen.  Beaches come in two flavors – the swim-and-lay-on-the-sand kind and the snorkeling kind.  Kahalu’u Beach Park is the closest beach to our resort and it’s the latter.  It’s rocky, choppy, and shallow, but it’s filled with fish and sea turtles.  For a beach of a different flavor, Kua Bay looks absolutely beautiful. Clear water, white sand with big black rocks, and even the occasional dolphin sighting. Other notable beaches in Kona are Makalawena, White Sand, and Kiholo.  You have to work to get there but they’re supposed to be worth it.

Sea Turtle

Around the island, the best spots for snorkeling are supposed to be Kealakekua Bay (which seems very hard to reach), Two StepBeach 69Mauna Kea Beach, and the Kapoho Tide Pools.  For playing in the waves and laying on the sand, I’m hoping to check out Hapuna Beach, Kekaha, and Hookena Beach Park.

Black Sand Beach

There are two notable beaches in which it’s not recommended to swim or snorkel, but I still want to visit.  This first is Punalu’u Beach.  Take a look at blogger Alex in Wanderland‘s pictures and you’ll know why.  They’re amazing!  The other is Papakolea Green Sand Beach because it looks otherworldly.


Remember that thing I said above about volcanoes?  Well, some are still active.  Lava actually flows on the Big Island and rolling piles of fiery goo sound pretty adventurous to me.  If Halema’uma’u is active while we’re there, we’ll be able to see it from the Jaggar Museum in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  There’s also a Kahaualeʻa flow that we could see from a viewing area in Kalapana, though much of that flow goes into lava tubes below ground.  If any of the flows reach the ocean, we might be able to see them by boat, too.  (If you want to see the lava flows right now, the National Park Service has some pretty sweet webcams.)

Tim on a Volcano

Not that the lava has to be active to give us an adventure . Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has a lot to offer – stunning scenery, trails to hike or drive, and lava tubes to explore.  High on our list of things to do is the Kilauea Iki Trail, a 4 mile hike through rain forest into an old volcanic crater.  Tim’s excited to go to the Mauna Kea observatory for a closer look at Saturn – it looks like we may have to book a tour to get there, but reviews say it’s worth it.

Three Bears

When we come down from the volcano, there are a bunch of activities to choose from, like horseback riding through Waipi’o Valley, visiting historical sites like Pu’uhonua Place of Refuge or Hulihe’e Palace, or taking in a free hula show.  And why go to Hawaii if you’re not going to see a waterfall or two?  We saw many on the Road to Hana in Maui but none as large as Akaka Falls, plus it includes a walk through a beautiful rain forest.

Yep, we’ve got a lot of options for adventure – but if we end up just chillin’ on the beach for a week, that’s fine with me, too.  We leave in just TWO WEEKS and I can’t wait!  I hope to have lots of pictures and stories to share when I get back.  Until then, check me out on Instagram at @corgisaurus.

(Research notes:  To find out more about a destination, I always start with my favorite travel blogs.  Unfortunately, that’s gotten a lot harder since Google Reader killed itself, since it was the only reader with a decent search function.  After that I hit up Trip Advisor / Yelp / Lonely Planet, then I’ll look at travel books.  There are two great summaries I recommend checking out if you’re planning a Big Island vacation – Ottsworld’s Big Island Hawaii Itinerary and Budget Travel’s Tips for Visiting the Big Island.  Check out that first link for some truly stunning photography and find out why Sherry Ott is one of my favorite travel bloggers.)