It is quite an experience to go to Mauna Kea for a sunset! I went on one of the tours, as we were just tourists and the tour companies have experienced drivers who take those roads all the time. Also, I don't believe our car rental company covered us to go on Saddle Road, let alone to take it further up towards the summit, so we felt it would be preferable to take one of the tours up to the summit, and I was very impressed. Besides the incredible sunset we witnessed, there was an interesting star viewing after the sun went down thanks to the informative tour guides and perfect conditions due to the high elevation and lack of light pollution.
This place is definitely off the beaten track. When I went here in August it was just my family, some cliff divers and I. The southern most point is this big rock face that overlooks the ocean. There is a blowhole right at the point, and if you look to your right you see this magnificent rock face carved by the wind. It's a very neat place. Also, a peculiar sight on the way there. The only way to get there is to drive down a road for 20 minutes from the highway. If you look on your right driving down you'll notice a massive wind farm that has these large windmills. However, this farm looks as if it has been left to rot by the company, and you'll see these big, rusty white towers with windmills with one, or maybe even no blades on it. This sight is a little of the route, but it is definitely worth seeing. There is also a beach with Green Sand if you turn left at the last fork in the road.
You will not find much to do on the top of Mauna Kea. If you came here yourself, you had better have rented a four-wheel drive vehicle for your descent. You will need to lock it into 4WD-low range so you can use the drivegears to slow your travel down the mountain as opposed to dragging your brakes. Dragging brakes cause heat build-up and, eventually, brake failure. You may just end up making a straight path at the next turn in the road. Besides, every car rental contract I have signed while on this island forbid the vehicle to be operated even on Saddle Road (the way you get to the observatory access road).
On top of that, the peak is almost at 14,000 feet. The air is thin and you may suffer oxygen deprivation. So be sure to stop at the turn-off from Saddle Road for about 30 minutes. Then stop at the visitor's center for about the same. You may climatize. If you cannot acclimate at this altitude, do not attempt to go further.
The tour companies that come up here bring oxygen just in case. Since it takes about two hours for emergency response to this remote area, it is better to go with one of them. On your own? Be careful.
The Keck Observatory has twin domes that house twin 10 meter optical telescopes. These scopes have scanned the heavens and have been instrumental in locating planets revolving around other stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy. Because of distance and atmoshere interference, they are only able to discern planets as small as 4x the diameter of the Earth. And with 200 billion neighboring stars in our home galaxy, there are plenty of places to make discoveries.
Although us common folks cannot tour the Keck Observatory, you can tour the Subaru Telescope. Just view the tip below.
You can see the product of Keck's work at the Onizuka Visitor's Center and in the lobby of the Keck observatory headquarters in Waimea.
Cont'd in next tip...
On the northern side of the island, it can easily be missed. It is not off the main highway. From HWY 19 approaching Waimea you could take 250 or 270 and there is a quaint little town where the 250 and 270 meet at Hawi Road and Akoni Pule Highway (270). A few artisan shops, galleries, restaurants and pretty good ice cream from the Kohala Coffee Mill shop.
Worth a visit if you have the time!
So, preparing for my upcoming trip and scouting out things I may want to see and/or do, I came across this interesting place. The Hawaiian Vanilla Company. Lunch, dinner, tea, gift shop, garden, tours all surrounding the idea of vanilla. Located on the northeastern side of the island. The luncheon sounds delectable!
Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to seek it out. If I ever get back to the Big Island, I use this tip as a reminder of something I missed out on last time.
We chose this option to see the lava flows is by sea! I found this tour at $150+tax per person. You can get much closer to see the lava flows than by air. This is a sunset tour because the lava flows are much more impressive to see towards the evening.
Located at Isaac Hale Beach Park, Pohoiki Road and Highway 137. Check in 5:45pm, depart Harbor 6pm, arrive at Lava flows 6:40pm, Return to Harbor at 8pm.
Sometimes, Captain Roy will do a second trip after he returns from the 6pm trip. I think timing is all dependent on how many people make reservations and during what part of the year it is that the sun might be starting to set.
I highly recommend the tour by boat. We were able to get really close. See my Lava Flow travelogue for more pics and details.
Considering viewing the active volcanoes on the Big Island via helicopter. There are several helicopter tours to choose from with various lengths of time, premium seat observation, combined tours with ocean, waterfalls, etc. Sometimes those extra frills can add up to a costly excursion. I found one I may consider that was reasonable priced. So, I have noted this in my tips. $136.00 per person for 40-45 minutes in an ASTAR 350 B2-7 (I have no clue if this is a good or mediocre helicopter).
Near Mile Marker 19, Off Highway 137, Near Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii
One of Big Island's unofficial yet very private nude beaches - not well known to tourists but very popular with the locals, especially of the 'counter-culture' variety. Located just off Highway 137 in a residential district, a climb down the cliffs, to a beautiful hidden black sand beach with places to sun as well as to hang out in the shade. Nude beaches are technically not legal or official, but this is one of the many places it is tolerated and overlooked. Its protected by shade trees and steep cliffs. The turf is a bit rough for swimming, even though people do. Be careful though, I was unaware, and my first dip in the buff into the waters met to some thrashing around on sharp lava rocks in the crashing waves. Its a beautiful beach and people appear to be friendly. Drumming and music in the background hints that there are some festive activities by locals. Reminded me of a miniature version of Wreck Beach (Vancouver, B.C.). Definitely my most favorite beach on the Big Island for sunning and just relaxing. While we didn't view any dolphins on our visit on 8/7/09; Kehena Beach is also known as "Dolphin Beach" because it is a great place to view dolphins (and for the risky swimmers - to actually swim with them). Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5.
Mauna Kea is the highest mountain on the island, and it takes awhile to drive there, so not many people do it. It's an inactive volcano. When we drove up there we felt so high above everything else, way above the clouds, that it felt very surreal, like being on another planet. It's rather desolate that high up (almost 14,000 ft.), with lots of red rock, with amazing views of sister mountain Mauna Loa. There's an observatory that's not open to the public, but for me it was worth the drive for the one-of-a-kind view. Many months out of the year there's snow up here.
A Little Warning: you do need to be cautious about getting light-headed at this altitude! And about getting altitude sickness. Don't think that if you're in good shape you'll be okay - it has nothing to do with your physical fitness. You've probably just gone from sea-level to 14,000 ft. in about two hours, so have some respect for your body's ability to adapt to that. Stop at the Visitor Information Center at 9,200 ft. on your way up and stay there for at least half an hour - it will help you acclimate. They have books and food and stuff for sale as well as informative information and restrooms, but check the expiration date on any food before you buy it - lots of it was well past the date when we were there.
Also be prepared for nearly five miles of rough, unpaved road after the visitor center. If you prefer, you can find a star-gazing tour where they'll drive you up here for sunset and then let you look through the telescopes they bring. I'm sure with the very thin air up here the sky must be brilliant, but we prefered to see the view from the top in the daylight. Even the drive, which starts out along Saddle Road (which is rather infamous for being very poorly maintained) going through the heart of the island, was very enjoyable, with all kinds of different landscapes that you'll never know about if you stick to the coasts.
I'd actually never ridden a horse before, but I thought this would be a fun, interesting way to see another remote part of the island, and it was. A number of ranches around Waimea and Kohala offer guided horseback rides for riders of varying skill; the one I picked is called Paniolo Adventures, and is in the heart of the Kohala Mountains on the northwest Kohala Peninsula. It was great! They had a wide range of boots for you to borrow, and I enjoyed the views of the Kona and Kohala coasts from up there. Since I was a first-timer we only did a short two-hour ride that was really just a walk - they call it the "City Slicker" ride - and our guide gave us a crash course in directing our horses. They ask for your weight ahead of time (and there is a weight limit) and choose which horse you'll ride according to that and your skill (or lack of the same, in my case).
I think the key to a good experience is to be very vocal about your ability and what kind of ride you're looking for. One of the things I loved about Paniolo Adventures' website is that they have a page called "Meet our Horses" with pictures of all their horses - that really sucked me in. : )
Waipi'o is an amazingly beautiful, lush valley, all the way at the end of the Hamakua Highway, well off the beaten path. The view from the lookout at the top is tremendous, and many people just come here for the view alone. I come back to see it every single time I've been on the island (three so far).
We've hiked down into it twice, and it was the steepest hike I've ever done - a 25% grade and very hard on the knees - but well worth it. At the bottom it's thick with tropical vegetation, and the Waipi'o River flows out to the sea past a black sand beach. It's about a mile wide at the coast, and if you walk across the shore you can hike all or just part way up a switch-back trail on the far side for different views of the valley. The sides are close to 2,000 ft. high. We ran into a local man on the far side trail who was backpacking over into the next valley with his son to hunt wild pigs.
Thousands of Hawaiians used to live here before the most devastating tsunami in Hawaiian history flooded it out in 1946. It's quite a remote area now, with only a few dozen people here now who treasure their isolation.
You can't drive down into the valley unless you have a 4-wheel drive vehicle; several tour companies will drive you down there if you don't want to do your own thing. There are also options for horseback riding in and around the rim, which sounds more appealing to me. It's on the Hamakua Coast, on the Northeast side of the island off route 240.
A short, easy but awesome hike in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the 2-mile round trip dash to the Rim of Helemanu Crater on the west fork of the Devestation Trail. If you hike it in May, you'll not only see the geologic wonders of an areas recovery from Kilauea Iki's 1959 explosion, but also a riotous flower show, full of blooming ohia trees and ground flowers. Since the hike was so short, we had the extra energy to climb to the top of a nearby cinder cone, which gave us a view of both craters. The landscape here is surreal, and the ground is crunchy, criss crossed by the old seered tree trunks left behind by the 50-year-old cinder shower. It must have been spectacular!
Do you love snorkeling but hate to be in the water so long that you shiver? Don't worry about that at the Kapoho Tide Pools, were geo-thermally heated fresh water warms the salty ocean tide pools to create a unique and beautiful snorkeling experience. When the tide is out, the water is so clear and shallow that you really don't even need to snorkel to see cool fish (the fish picture here was taken from above the surface). When the tide comes in, you can swim through a labarynth of smal, fish cluttered pools out to a lively coral ocean -- the best coral I've seen in Hawaii!! The pools are bounded by interesting lava formations, but bring reef slippers, as it's very hard to walk on!
Kapoho Tide Polls are a Marine Sanctuary, so don't collect marine life and be careful to leave no trace. This off-the-beaten path Hawaii wonder needs to stay wonderous.
The Kapoho Tide pools are located in the Puna section of the Big Island, about 30 miles southeast of Hilo, not far from Pahoa.
Driving south from Kona, you will see a turn off for Ka Lae, also known as South Point. We followed the drive just to say that we have been to the southern most point of the United States. I guess I really wasn't expecting much, maybe a sign for the tourists, saying "You're here!"
When we finally got off of the dusty road and to Ka Lae, there was some locals donning wetsuits. After talking to them, I found out that they climb down to go fishing. There are wooden platforms with hoists at the edge of the cliffs for pulling small boats (canoes) out of the water. Right next to the platforms is an old ladder that goes down the side of the cliff. The locals also told us that it was a great place for cliff jumping. BE CAREFUL! Currents are strong here.
I would guess that it was about 30 feet to the water's surface, however, I am not a very good judge when it comes to distances so don't take my word for it. For those don't want to jump, but can't resist saying "I've swam at the southern most point of the United States!", There is also a way to walk down to the water's surface only a few feet from the platforms. Once again, be careful. The currents here are strong.
Once you arrive in this part of the big Island you will find every single place called something like “The Southernmost bar in the US”, “The Southernmost grocery store”, “The last beer in the South” etc, just because this place really is the southernmost point of the US. But, one tiny store had the name “Will & Grace”. I was curious and went to see who would name a grocery store after a TV show.
What I found out was one of these local experiences that we all travel for. Will and Grace Tabios are real, and have been known in this area for their coffee.
Hawaii is the only state in the US where coffee is grown. The climate is just perfect for coffee plants and the lava mixed soil apparently affects the taste of the coffee. Grace told us that, 9 years ago, Will decided to become coffee farmer and they never looked back ever since. Over the years they won several awards and became quite famous, not only in the US. In Hawaii, you will find several restaurants that serve only The Rising Sun farm coffee, which said to be unique in its taste.
If you’re driving to the Green Sand beach from the Hilo side there’s no way you’ll miss Grace’s tiny shop. Make a short stop, taste the coffee and enjoy some of her homemade Filipino sweets.
The hotel room I had, had a balcony. When I looked to the right, I had a view to the ocean.more
We stayed at Arnott's Lodge since there really isn't much in the way of lodging in Hilo, but we were...more
When we were here, this hotel was closed for remodeling. It might have needed it - my sister visited...more