In the spring of 2018, I went to the Big Island of Hawaii for the second time in my life. It was practically the first time because my real first time was when I was about five years old on a family trip to visit my cousins, aunt, and uncle.
This time, I’d be visiting family, too, but also checking out places that I didn’t even know existed when I was five years old. The year before this trip, I had gone to the islands of Kauai and Oahu. I had heard that the Big Island didn’t really feel like Hawaii, and that rumor was true. The beaches were not a prominent feature of all the places I visited on the Big Island, but that didn’t mean I didn’t have a great time.
The Kona International Airport is not as grand as its name suggests. It is rather a quaint, open-air place, which is unique among international airports, I suspect. Surrounded by lava rock, you know you’re on the Big Island.
The main road from the airport to Kona was as straightforward as it could get. I wasn’t sure where to turn off to get to my hotel at first, but after a short detour I finally made it to my hotel, the Royal Kona Resort. It was an older hotel and I could feel how old as I stepped into the room. It gave me the feeling of the house I grew up in in the 80s, but it was clean and it would serve its purpose of being a home base during my week-long stay.
That first night, I found the pillows to be almost all air, making them too soft to support my head. I woke up tired with a strained neck. I improvised and used the back cushion of the room’s chair as my pillow from then on out. There were a couple of other hotels I could have chosen, but I was doing this on a budget; I booked my entire trip on Costco.com.
It was great to see my cousins and aunt and uncle whom I haven’t seen in decades, but I won’t bore you with family stories.
Kailua-Kona was a nice place to walk around; it’s chock-full of restaurants, shops, art galleries, a couple of small beaches, and one day a craft market. There were a couple of historical buildings, too. I’m a big time walker, so it was great that I could spend a big chunk of the day wandering around Kona.
I’m also a big time reader (my other website is dedicated to writing and books: StoriedWorlds.com), so I was happy that there was a bookstore in town. Whenever I travel, I like to check out the local stores. Kona Bay Books was quite large, and I found the staff to be very friendly. Almost all of the inventory was used books, and that was quite alright with me. I bought a couple of out of print paperbacks and saw even more books I wanted to purchase, but I didn’t want to weigh down my luggage on the trip home.
Also, in Kona, was the Kona Brewing Company. Yeah, it was a bit touristy (and a bit of a walk from my hotel), but I had to try it. It was kind of as I expected, good not great, a little overpriced but not too expensive. They serve pizzas and the other typical bar & grille fare. It was packed for lunchtime and the service was fine, too.
Honestly, I enjoyed the other local restaurants in Kona much better than the Kona Brewing Company, but I would’ve regretted it if I didn’t try it. Plus, they make good beer. Unfortunately, I wasn’t taking many notes or pictures for this trip, so I can’t recommend anything specifically. Just wander around Kona and you’ll find something good.
The highlight of my trip was the Mauna Kea Tour. the tour I took was offered by Hawaii Forest & Trail. (For me, Viator.com is the place to go to book any tour.) The tour guide (sorry, I forgot his name) was informative, friendly, and considerate for all aboard.
I learned a lot about the island as we made our way to and up the mountain. The food served was fine. The view from the top of the mountain was spectacular. With all the warnings they gave, I was afraid I might get lightheaded up there, but I had no problem. Actually, no one in our group had any problems with the high altitude. The only thing I didn’t like was the rumbling, bumpy road on the way up.
The best part of the tour was after sunset. We headed down the mountain just a tad, and then we did some stargazing. Our group stayed the longest, and it was the right time of year to see the North Star and the Southern Cross in the same sky.
I’m not an astronomer by any stretch of the imagination, but I always loved looking at the stars, and the farther from the city, the better because the more stars you see. City skylines at night can be great, but nothing beats the stars in the heavens. Our guide, explained and pointed out so much to us. I really appreciated it.
The other big feature of the island is the volcano. I drove there with my cousin and he showed me some impressive holes in the ground. (No joke.) We walked through a lava tunnel. And we saw the erupting volcano from a distance. This all happened about a month before the large eruption that caused so much destruction.
Two more quick highlights:
Big Island Bees was a wonderful little excursion. It was about a thirty minute drive from Kona to see the bees. The people were so friendly and casual there. It’s best to book in advance, but if you don’t and there’s no room in the tour for you, you’ll at least be able to enjoy the small gift shop. The “tour” is more of a demonstration of what a beekeeper does and what bees do. Fun for kids of all ages. Make sure to take some honey home while you’re there.
Big Island Bees is not going to take up the whole day, though, so nearby is quick highlight number two: Pu’uhonua o Honaunau. It’s a National Historical Park. You can see some native huts and the like. It didn’t blow me away, but it was an enjoyable.
The best part of going to the Big Island was seeing family. As a trip or vacation, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did Kauai and Oahu. However, Mauna Kea is a must see and it’s an experience I carry with me for a long, long time.
Get some walking shoes, too.
Happy travels everyone.
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