Why You Must Visit The Big Island of Hawaii!
Ever since college, I wanted to visit the Big Island of Hawaii. Why this particular island you ask? Well, I always dreamt of seeing an active volcano and Kilauea is one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Since Europeans arrived, there have been 62 eruptions in the last 245 years, so I thought my chances of seeing an active volcano would be good this time around, even though my trip to Hawai’i was rather unplanned.
Because of lack of planning on my part, I ended up pushing my flight back to New Zealand while my working holiday visa stalled in the approval process for an undetermined amount of time. This gave me the chance to travel to the Big Island of Hawaii since Hawaiian Airlines let me fly the first leg of my trip from Phoenix to Oahu and push my flight date back a month, giving me 4 weeks to explore. The problem was I already explored most of Oahu last year with my wife while I worked at Pacific Skydiving Center in Oahu as a parachute packer. I lived on the beach in a tent, worked days at the drop zone, and did yard work after my skydiving job finished for the day to pay for my stay on one of the most beautiful beaches in Oahu, Mokuleia Beach. Oahu was great and all. I enjoyed the illegal hikes, Stairway to Heaven, Sacred Falls, and even the legal one’s like hiking up Ka’ena Point, and Mount Olympus, but Oahu was my least favorite of the islands I hitchhiked around in 2016. It was the third on my list behind Kauai and Maui, but I already explored most of those islands too, and I still had not explored Hawai’i.
So I used Island Air and found a cheap round trip ticket for $150 bucks to fly to Hawai’i and hitchhike around the island to see the volcano and then search for work. I knew wwoofing was big in Hawaii, and I had an Internet friend from STP whom I had talked to repeatedly, who offered me a place to stay and food in exchange for work. Both of these gigs were right up my alley as I only wanted to see the volcano and then save as much of my money as possible for traveling around New Zealand.
I started from the airport and hitchhiked for the next few days taking all sorts of random rides, sleeping on beaches, on church doorsteps, and in the jungle, until Cassidy and Holiday dropped me off at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. This took several days of hitching in the rain. Now do not forget, the Big Island has its name for a reason, because it is HUGE, just shy of the size of Connecticut, so that is why it took me a while to get from Kona Airport to the volcano.
Regardless, they dropped me at the entrance – which even if you walk in is freaking $12.00…so walk in to the park via a trail instead to save some bucks for food. And man, I cannot tell you what I was missing out on all those years I dreamed of seeing such an interesting piece of the world. Between the sulfur lava tubes, the hiking trails along the calderas and actually standing a mile from the belching lava, sputtering its glowing guts up into the air and leaving behind smoke. It truly felt majestic even with the load of people flashing their cameras by the Jaggar Museum and Overlook.
But, to avoid this I took advantage of the night time, when most tourists go in for the night to their warm beds in their fancy hotels and I stuck around by the overlook. I walked down as far as I could until a cliff drop off and waited for the darkness to paint the sky. The clouds of night canvassed the sky with pastels of reds, oranges, and yellows like a phoenix spawning from her ashes. It was truly an immaculate experience. That night I slept by the volcano just a few miles away as the hand of God colored the sky with every waking hour of my eye.
If you are planning a trip to the Big Island this is truly a MUST see travel destination. Even if you are not hitchhiking, it does not matter. Get out there and see it, rent a car, take a vacation, get your hiking pants on, get out in it.
Best of the Big Island
Kilauea and Kalapana
If you decide to travel to Hawai’i then you definitely want to make the time to see the active volcanoes. Whether you drive up to Kilauea and stand by the Jaggar Overlook at nighttime or go on a guided hike to see the magma up close in the Kalapana Viewing area (an hour-long drive from the park entrance, near Hilo), it is definitely worth the trip.
If you want to find the lava on your own it is a 3-mile walk by foot to the end of the road and then you must find the lava flow. Your best bet is to contact the National Park to ask them where the lava flow is…it should be self explanatory if you go towards night, but during the day time it is a bit more tricky to find if you have not done proper research prior or just check out the updates on lava flow here!
Even if you do not have means to rent a car you can still hitchhike and tramp it to the viewing area it is still worth getting out there to see it once in your lifetime.
Despite my horrible wwoofing experience in Honomu, the only good that came from working on that farm for a week was a good friend and hitching a ride up to Akaka Falls. I did not take a picture, but I will leave it to you to trust me on this one. It truly is beautiful and worth the visit if you are in the area. The waterfall measures 442 feet tall, and is the tallest waterfall in all of the Hawaiian Islands.
The park is located at the very end of Akaka Falls Road past the two fruit stands, in Akaka Falls State Park. Last I visited the 0.4 mile-loop hike was under construction so you could not complete the whole loop due to a fallen tree that mangled the trail, it is more than likely fixed now.
The entrance fee is $5.00 per car and the best place to view the falls is from above on the edge of the gorge. I visited around sunset and found this to be an ideal time as foot traffic was super low and the view was spectacular through the colors of the sky.
Waimanu Valley Hike
I ended up here randomly with Jan since his buddy Ravi gave us a lift early morning to hike in the Valley on his way to work. Typically, you need a permit in order to camp in the Valley, but we never bought one. We hiked the trail in two days as it was 16 miles round trip and when we reached the beach by the ocean, Mother Nature presented us with tremendous views of the waves and verdant mountainsides while we camped at a campsite for the night.
Getting to the trail head is tougher than you would imagine:
From Honoka’a take Highway 240 West to Kukuihaele. Once the road comes to a dead end at the Waipi’o Overlook you will have to traverse down an insanely steep 25% grade, narrow roadway until it opens up to beach. Follow the beach and cross the river, continue to follow the beach down until you can cut back into the woods. You will see a signage for Muliwai trail to enter the Waimanu Valley. Follow her 8 miles into the beach and enjoy the hike of lush dense forest and fruits. It will be very damp and wet so be sure to bring a change of a few pairs of socks, bring plenty of water and two days worth of food.
The hike is over a mile in vertical elevation gain, 7000 feet to be exact, so water is the most important. It is steep, slippery, and wet jungle conditions as you would expect. But most importantly, that first climb in the early section of the trail should be done well before dawn as you will be in direct sunlight with the rays blitzing your skin with all sorts of sunburn.
Keep in mind this hike is a bit on the extreme side. You cross about 12 streams along with actually crossing a river where you WILL GET WET.
I enjoyed checking out Richardson Beach, the black sand beach closest to Hilo. The sand is comprised of both black sand from lava and green sand (olivines) which I found rather interesting. But, the best part of the beach was all the sea turtles.
There are rules in place to protect the sea turtles from human harassment so obey the signage.
I roamed around on the rocks by the shoreline and found a whole group of turtles bathing in the sun and chilling in a tide pool. This made Richardson Beach one of my favorite places to go during my stay on the Big Island because it was a local beach with little tourists and I saw more turtles than I ever imagined in my lifetime.