I spent a week on the island of Hawaii in 2016 and was blown away by this magical wonderful place! While I of course intend on visiting the other islands, honestly my expectations were far exceeded and would be very much happy to return time and time again. I'd like to share with you of my some experiences, must see spots, favorite highlights and helpful hints! I will preface by letting you know that as far as vacations go, I am more interested in doing and seeing things vs. hanging out on the beach and relaxing. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy lounging but when I'm in an exotic place I want to get the most bang for my buck and experience all the destination has to offer. For most of my career in the travel industry I worked for an escorted tour company. The trips I experienced had pre-planned and included activities and touring throughout. The upside to this type of travel product is obviously not having to plan or evaluate the must-see places and just go along for the ride. This trip to Hawaii was quite the opposite as we rented a car and condo and conquered on our own. Much of my commentary and guidance is based on the popular guide book Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed by Andrew Daughty & Leona Boyd – HEREon Amazon. While I HIGHLY recommend this guide book it is very long, very detailed and I was not crazy about how it was organized. True to my procrastinating form I didn't start looking at the book until the flight over. I was quickly overwhelmed with the amount of information and countless must-see places (Real Gems is what they call them) to visit according to the book. Here is my quick overview, favorite places and tips from our week. Enjoy and please leave questions & comments below!
Please refer to the corresponding GOOGLE MAP
The Kailua-Kona Area:
Most tourists spend the bulk of their time on this side of the island and there are many accommodation options such as hotel & condo rentals. When you arrive at the airport in Kona, don't be alarmed by the landscape as it looks a bit dreadful! Lush bounty is aplenty as you move around this volcanic landscape. There are mind-boggling idyllic coves and beach paradises hidden and peppered along the coast.
In general, the guide book makes very good recommendations for restaurants. I will say the exception is in Kailua. They are pretty critical of the touristy restaurants right downtown. Yes they are all fairly pricey but we never had a bad meal. When I say pricey, I would compare the prices to any touristy hub in the US like Vail and Colorado ski towns, major cities, coastal hot spots, etc. Don’t concern yourself too much with picking one that doesn’t have a good review in the book. We REALLY enjoyed the spots with great views for happy hour & sunsets. There is a free parking lot right downtown and is close to everything. We never had trouble parking.
Restaurants we liked:
If you've rented a condo - try to eat at home or picnic 2 meals a day and that will save you some $. We did that and splurged a little on nice meals and mai tais for dinner & happy hour!
Get up early and get there if you can only spend the day. The better option is to plan one or two nights on the other side in order to make the most of your visit to the Volcano. The Kilauea-Iki Crater hike is ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. This is literally one of my most favorite things I've done in all my travels. Not kidding. It is about 3 miles and takes a couple of hours. We started from the main visitor center but drive over to the parking area near the crater and start your hike there. You can get a little guide book for the hike at the visitor center for a couple of bucks and it’s worth it. There are other awesome things to see at the park but we were so tired after the hike we didn’t do much else. Checked out the overlooks to the big crater and the steam vents and drove around but that is about it. You could really spend a whole day here! Bring picnic food, the only restaurant we found was fancy. UPDATE: there have been major eruptions and lava flow since I was there. Probably a lot more to see and a lot more that is inaccessible!
GENERAL TIPS, PACKING & RANDOM STUFF: