Storypost | 2022.07.11

Hawaii big island post splash image map

We took a family trip to Hawaii for Jes's birthday, linking up with Derrick and fam for part of it. Mom came too.
The plan

Hawaii map Google travel plan

I followed the template that worked for Europe; pins and routes and offline maps. I was somewhat familiar with the Kona side but had to do research for the rest. The key thing was splitting up east-west trip and Volcanos National Park visit by getting a rental on the Hilo side.

The plan worked well; checkout times aligned with nap time, so Danielle slept through the major driving legs.

Child using an Ikelite underwater housing

We started with a couple of nights near a snorkel spot in Keauhou.

Manta dive

Hawaii manta night dive scuba eye gills

The manta dive was challenging both from a diving and photography perspective:
Derrick's GoPro video was pretty awesome:

thumbnail Toddler life aquatic beanie Jessica photo thumbnail Hawaii manta night dive boat sunset thumbnail Hawaii manta night dive Aquatic Life boat giant step scuba
thumbnail Hawaii manta night dive
thumbnail Hawaii manta night dive evening boats snorkelers thumbnail Hawaii manta night dive scuba
thumbnail Hawaii manta night dive scuba mouth
thumbnail Hawaii manta night dive scuba spot pattern thumbnail Hawaii manta night dive scuba Koie Ray thumbnail Hawaii manta night dive scuba
thumbnail Hawaii manta night dive scuba wings gills
Belt road

As mentioned, we took the belt road to our second rental, stopping to see lava along the way.

Volcanos National Park

Hawaii volcanos national park lava bed telephoto

As one of Derrick's kids put it, "We drove two hours each way to see a red speck". True. It probably wasn't the best destination for them. Things were a little different for us:
That being said, it'd have been nice if the weather was more pleasant for hiking - the park itself is very pretty.

thumbnail Hawaii volcanos national park lava viewing area thumbnail Hawaii volcanos national park cliff lavabed thumbnail Hawaii volcanos national park lavabed smoking thumbnail Hawaii volcanos national park lavabed selfie Jessica photo
thumbnail Hawaii volcanos national park eruption viewing crowd

Volcano Winery

Hawaii Volcano Winery bottles lava photos
From Jessica.

Though it seemed like a business largely propped up by volcano tourists, Volcano Winery is just across the highway from the park so we stopped in for a tasting. Yeah, not the best wines, though the fruity ones are okay in small quantities.

Hawaii Volcano Winery lava photos
From Jessica.

The stop was entirely worthwhile though. Dani got to eat some Ritz and chase birds, Jes and I sipped and looked at the awesome lava/water photography.

Hawaii big island ocean porch panorama

On the plus side, the Kehena rental had an amazing panoramic view of the Pacific. On the minus side, it simply was not going to work with a toddler.

Kehena house concrete brutalist

Since we'd later be at the Hilton mega-resort, I was hoping that the Kehena portion would be remote and relaxing. I know that backwater Hawaii can be somewhat hit-or-miss, so I leaned heavily on price point and reviews. They failed me.

Aside: the surrounding neighborhood was interesting to walk around. The house next door was an unexpected specimen of brutalist concrete. The exterior somehow looked simultaneously new and dilapidated - probably due to being rain-streaked. The updated windows and nice landscaping led me to believe it is actually quite nice.

Kehena hawaii google maps
As it turns out, the concrete house is in the gmaps inset for "Kehena, HI".

Other houses in the area run the gamut in architectural style and state of repair. One of the houses looked straight out of a stuccoed Southern California tract home development and was falling apart everywhere. Others were set back from polished gates.

kehena black sand beach shore cliffs

Anyway, as great as the locale and view were, it simply wasn't going to work with a toddler that could bump over a shakily-affixed 60" television. There's a big difference between having a child at arm's reach (closely-supervised) and having one at literal arm's reach.

kehena black sand beach playing
From Jessica.

Even more spectacular than the lanai view was the nearby black sand beach.

Hawaii Kehena Beach black sand Hawaii big island south coast waves cliffs sunset kehena black sand beach cliff descent Jessica photo

Hawaii Hula girl bird sticker Hilo

After keeping the little Meatball at non-figurative arm's reach for a night, we headed into Hilo to stay at the waterfront Double Tree. Well, kind of. We needed to find something to do until 4pm check-in, which I assume is a product of covid-era deep cleaning. I also assume 4pm check-in is going to become the new normal even when the deep cleaning goes away.

So while vacation rentals weren't looking so good at this point, it was nice that the Keauhou place had let us check in as soon as the cleaning crew departed.

Panaewa Zoo

Hawaii Hilo Panaewa zoo gazebo

Where was I? Oh yes, we had some time to kill. It turns out Hilo's Panaewa Zoo is between Kehena and Hilo. The zoo shows up on a lot of travel guides but Jes and I weren't sure if it was worth a stop. From the marketing material, it seemed like the whole thing is showcase for their white tiger, Namaste.

Other info seemed to cast the welfare of Namaste into doubt, and so we wondered if something had happened to their star attraction. That is, we'd be kind of tilted if Panaewa had no Namaste and was just a bunch of zoological also-rans.

Panaewa zoo Hilo Hawaii crocodile Hilo Hawaii Panaewa bird cockatiel Panaewa zoo Hilo grey crowned crane

In the same way that Horizon Zero Dawn is enormous and really good but The Last of Us is small but also really good, the Panaewa Zoo is a great experience for even zoo-smug San Diegans. The zoo won't eat up your whole day, leaving you with blisters and sore quads. It's a short and sweet walk through the park. And the animal enclosures are also close enough to the visitors that there are signs everwhere reminding your to keep your fingers out of the cages.

But what of Namaste?
Panaewa zoo Hilo white tiger Tzatziki

We found the tiger enclosure.

Panaewa zoo Hilo bengal tiger Sriracha mlem

It even had a bonus kitty.

We found Namaste, right? We couldn't access the tiger enclosure placard because the main viewing area was cordoned off for some VIP who needed to ruin a bunch of schoolkids' days.

We weren't going to be deterred. On the walk out we looked it up. Namaste had indeed passed on. We were looking at Tzatziki and Sriracha.

Akaka and Kahuna Falls

Hawaii Kahuna Falls waterfall

Since we had a napping kid and hours til check-in, we drove north of Hilo to Akaka Falls. I'm not a big waterfall guy, so I was happy that the short walking loop went through an impressive patch of rainforest.

Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots

Hawaii Hilo Rainbow Falls

The following day we made the short drive to Rainbow Falls, Pee'pee Falls, and Boiling Pots. Like Akaka (but much nearer to Hilo), you basically drive up, park, and look at the waterfall. It's easy enough that it's not too bad even for those who aren't really into waterfalls.

Hawaii Hilo Rainbow Falls trees grass

Once again, the waterfall-adjacent rainforest was easily as cool as the column of descending water. But neither this spot nor the nearby Boiling Pots had a sanctioned trail through the trees or down to the water. The Eagle Scout demographic has lost out to the selfie demographic. Alas.


Hawaii Hilo Hale Hookah Wednesday frog meme chalkboard

Hilo's downtown is small and worth a visit. There's plenty of non-touristy things like memeing hookah lounges and board game lofts. We got some touristy smoothies and touristy-but-local shirts from a farmer's market.

Hilo Hawaii Roll board games

The Japanese-style Liliuokalani Gardens and banyan (tree) walk near the waterfront were pleasant for strolling.
Saddle road

After two nights in Hilo, we drove the rainy saddle road back over to the Kona side.

Mauna Kea

Panorama mauna Kea view saddle

The Mauna Kea summit is a short drive up from the saddle and a great way to break up the journey. Disappointingly, however, everything past the (currently closed) visitor center is only accessible to 4wd. Pretty sure we had 2wd last time. I would guess it's either dumb tourists or abs/tcs messing up their gravel road.

And so it came to pass that after all the snickering I did at the "rugged" tourists who rent Wranglers with bald street tires, they got the last laugh. We did the short hike at the visitor center parking lot.

mauna kea hike backpack mauna Kea clouds Mauna Kea view clouds

Hilton Waikoloa lobby
From Jessica.

The final part of the trip was uber-haole mode; staying at the Hilton mega-resort in Waikoloa.


Hawaii snorkeling Waiulua Bay

Good Bad
Saltwater lagoon with turtles and fish Brackish lagoon actually; looks like a halocline
Waterslides Pools when you have 80-degree ocean water
Air conditioning Nothing bad here, the June/July heat is rough
Replica art on the long walk from the parking lot to the room A long walk from the $40/night parking lot to the room (or extremely slow monorail)
A snorkelable bay Not a lot to see in it
Well-maintained resort They really try to keep you from leaving

Hilton Waikoloa Kamuela Provision Company table Waiulua Bay snorkeling Hawaii horizon ocean lava rock Waikoloa Hilton statue lizard man

Dolphin encounter

Dolphin encounter posing

The girls (minus Dani) did the dolphin encounter. I hung out with Derrick and took some photos.

Dolphin surfacing dorsal fin Dolphin encounter splash Shooting telephoto with a toddler Derrick photo

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