Friday, July 31, 2009

Fall Road Trip on the Big Island of Hawaii

Your road trip planner will be as overstuffed as your return suitcase if you try to explore all that the Big Island has to offer in one week. I know, because I just spent eight days there on the Kona Coast and didn't even get to explore the Hilo side. But, with a little help from the locals, here is a two-week road trip that will give you the ultimate Big Island Experience.
I'd recommend staying one week on the Kona Coast and the next in Hilo to have a great jumping off point for your many explorations. We'll start our road trip planning on the Kona side, the sunnier region. We stayed in the Kailua-Kona, site of the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon (scheduled for October 11th this year) and home of the revered King Kamehameha, the leader who united the islands. It has a great waterfront and pier, where you could enjoy dinner each night with a view of the sun dipping behind the water horizon. My favorite was the Kona Brewing Company (baked garlic, home-made focaccia & melted gorgonzola dip).
Make sure to include plenty of beaches in your road trip planner. Snorkelers should go to Kahaluu Beach Park, surfers to White Sands Beach, privacy buffs to Kona Coast State Park, and beach lovers can choose from Anaehoomalu Bay, Hapuna Beach, or Mauna Kea Beach.
Other places to consider in your road trip planning in Kailua-Kona: The Hulihee Palace, Kokuaikaua Church, and Kamehameha's Compound at Kamakahonu Bay. I found souvenirs and affordable wine at the Kona Wine Market. Include one Luau in your trip; I went to the Island Breeze Luau because it was right on the beach in the King Kamehameha Compound at the Kailua Pier.
Along the Kohala Coast, your road trip takes you north into some quaint towns like Hawi. Beyond Hawi is the Pololu Valley Lookout (very dramatic!). But first, catch a tour at the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm at the Natural Energy Lab, the only seahorse farm in the US. Stroll through the Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site, the temple Kamehameha built to the war god to insure his success in battle. Keep driving up Highway 270 in North Kohala to the Lapakahi State Historical Park for a view of a typical 14th-century Hawaiian village and the Mo'okini Luakini Heiau. The original Kamehameha Statue is along this route, as well as a view of Maui. A mile from the Pololu lookout, enjoy a picnic at the Keokea Beach Park. On your way back, check out the Puako Petroglyph Archaeological District.
Along the southern coast on the Kona side, you'll find Captain Cook, Kealakekua Bay, the Place of Refuge and Honaunau Bay. All of these make for a perfect full day's exploration to add to your road trip planner, with historical places and monuments, great scenic shots of the bays and snorkeling/swimming at Honaunau Bay, considered the second best place to snorkel or scuba with turtles, fish, and huge coral growths!
Now it's time to move your home base to the Hilo side to give you plenty of time to explore the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Leaving Kailua-Kona, include in your road trip planning, stops at South Point (the southernmost spot in the US), the Punaluu Bakery shop in Naalehu, and the Punaluu Black Sand Beach.
We didn't spend nearly enough time at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park because the ranger told us the current lava flow was outside the park (in August, 2008, drive one hour to the end of Highway 130 in Kaimu, then hike 20 minutes over lava beds to the viewing area). Schedule two days in your road trip planner to fully explore the Kilauea Visitors Center, Halemaumau Crater, Thurston Lava Tube, Devastation Trail, and a Crater Rim drive as well as make the sunset trek to the lava flow. Local Shannon Cormie says, "Seeing the ribbon of red lava snake its way down the side of the mountain and then thunder into the ocean is a sight you will never forget".
One reason to place Hilo front and center in your road trip planning is because it's so lush! David Carpenter, a local, recommends the Akatsuka Orchid Garden for its large assortment of orchids. It's situated about halfway between Volcano and Hilo. Shannon recommends Banyan Drive, Liliuokalani Gardens, Lyman Museum & Mission House, the Pacific Tsunami Museum, and the wonderful botanical gardens like Nani Mau Gardens Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, and World Botanical Garden.
From there, you road trip takes you north to the Hamakua Coast with stops at the Akaka Falls and lunch in Honokaa. Then check out Waipio Valley, the birthplace of Hawaii's kings, before heading for Waimea, a cowboy town with the Parker Ranch Visitor Center & Museum as the focal point.
Pencil in a full day in your trip planner to explore Mauna Kea. Rent a four-wheel drive vehicle to climb to the top (13,796 feet) or book a full-day tour where guides will take you to hidden waterfalls, sacred spots and an observatory, treasured by astronomers around the globe.
All of the above will fill your Big Island Road Trip to the brim. And you're sure to discover some new places as well. But take heart, if you don't get to them all this round, you'll have a perfect excuse to fill another road trip planner for your next visit!

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