If you’ve been keeping up with our backpacking adventure, you may have read Part 1 of Ceci and Ever go to the Island of Hawaii.
We arrived on Wednesday in Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii, then drove over to the Hilo side. We had read other websites talking about what to do on the Island of Hawaii, and how to split your time between the two sides of the island.
We chose to follow their advice and stay four nights on the Hilo side and two nights on the Kona side. It made sense as a lot of the really cool things to see are generally more accessible from that side, including the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is a rather incredible place. Among other activities, you can peek into the crater of an active volcano. If you’re lucky, the lava may rise enough for you to be able to see it! (But we weren’t lucky enough.)
There are also numerous hikes you can do. Some shorter ones will take you past old Hawaiian petroglyphs left behind by the Polynesians. Others will take you past some amazing sights such as a walk through the Kilauea Iki Crater. You can also take the scenic drive down Chain of Craters Road where you will have views of the ocean that must span 20 or 30 miles! At the very end of the road, you can find a magnificent sea arch just a 3 minute walk from the road.
After discussing with one of the park rangers, we decided to do a 13-mile hike. We drove down Chain of Craters Road, checked out the sea arch, and prepared for the long walk. We started with the 0.7 mile petroglyphs walk, upon which point we chickened out and decided not to do the long walk. (13 miles?!?! Over solidified lava?!?! In 88F degree weather?!?!)
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Kilauea Iki Crater and Lava Tunnel
Instead, we decided to take the Kilauea Iki Crater and Lava Tunnel hike. This 4 to 5-mile hike begins at the top edge of the crater where the rain forest is lush green with a plethora of ferns and palm trees. Along the way, there are several scenic stops where you can take in the magnificence of the crater, the power of the earth and of volcanoes, and the destructive powers of lava.
As we continued down the green slope, we reached a point where few plants had adapted to survive. The lava had cleared the entire area hundreds of years ago. Now, only the most resilient vegetation that had spread its spores into the cracks where humidity could accumulate could grow. It’s rather impressive to see that life will try to survive in every condition, no matter how tough things get!
The trail then crosses the crater. We walked past the site of a cave in which the weight of the lava that had accumulated had been too much for the cliff to bear, again illustrating the destructive power of nature.
Crossing this massive crater took about forty minutes, bringing us back to the base of the crater. Things got pretty tough at this point. After our descent down to the crater, and the long walk across the crater, it was time to head back up. Switchback after switchback, we made our way up the edge of the crater. Apparently, both Ceci and I are in pretty bad shape. We were huffing and puffing, stopping for water breaks more times than I wish to admit. The great thing was that the rain forest was alive and well on this side, providing plenty of shade and protection from the beaming sun.
Once at the top, we crossed the road (why? to get to the other side!). There, we found a short tunnel created by lava flow. As the molten lava rushed through this section, the outer edges cooled while the center remained molten, allowing for the formation of a tunnel full of rock and signs of the once-erupting volcano. Definitely a cool thing to check out!
We spent most of two days at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HVNP), completing this hike, having lunch, the drive down through Chain of Craters Road to the sea arch, checking out the Visitor’s Center, and the Jaggar Museum which provided loads of information about the formation and mechanics of volcanoes, as well as the six or seven volcanoes that formed the Island of Hawai’i.
They also featured some amazing artwork about the folklore and stories behind the various volcanoes and their respective gods such as Pele, goddess of fire, and her sister Namakaokaha`i, goddess of the sea, including this fantastic piece:
In the Jaggar Museum, we found a cool earthquake meter (seismometer). After a kid was done jumping, it was our turn to jump up and down to make the little needle move. I’m pretty sure Ceci and I created the equivalent of an 8.0 earthquake… Needless to say, Ceci and I had fun at the HVNP.
Papakōlea: The Green Sand Beach, Island of Hawaii
Many websites talked about the Green Sand Beach. The story behind this is that a mineral called olivine that is denser than other volcanic materials does not get swept out to sea, thus leaving one perfect green sand beach.
This was about a one hour forty-five minute drive from our Airbnb, so we knew it would take up most of the day. Based on the reviews, it seemed like it would be worth it! So we jumped in our car and made our way out there. The drive was somewhat scenic, but not nearly as scenic as the drive over the north side of the Island of Hawaii. Regardless, we made the most of the mini road trip. Ceci pointed out all the coffee shops along the way and I quickly drove past them.
We drove past the HVNP, some smaller towns, and several coffee mills before arriving at our destination near South Point, the southern-most point in the United States. From there, we would continue on foot.
As soon as we parked, one of the locals offered us a ride in his 4×4 for $15 each. The walk would be about 1.5 hrs and about 2 miles over harsh trails, so it really wasn’t a bad deal. But many of the reviews told us that the walk itself was quite pleasant, so we politely declined the offer. Without being pushy, he wished us an enjoyable walk.
Reaching the Green Sand Beach
The walk was not easy. We saw several people walking in flip-flops and in their swimsuits. Don’t make the mistake!! Bring flip-flops in a bag and cover up with some clothes. Otherwise, the sun will demolish you!
With that said, I must admit that the hike was not as difficult as many of the reviews we had read claimed. We knew it would be rocky and sunny, and there would be zero protection from the sun in the form of trees, so we came prepared with lots of water, sunscreen, and our trusty Keens.
Side Note: Our Keens have been amazing! While not exactly fashionable, they are like the 4×4’s of shoes (not counting boots). Hawaii has tons of volcanic rock which stands in the way between you and some of the most amazing sights. We’ve had nothing but good things to say about our Keens during each of our hikes. We found them for about $80 at REI during their sale, but it looks like Amazon has them for about the same price ($80 on Amazon as of the time of this post). If you’re going to the Big Island of Hawaii, we definitely recommend them!!
Back to the story…. We made our way over the rocky terrain, stopping often to admire the beautiful coastline that had been created by the lava flow. The sun was really beating down on us, and there were no trees and few clouds to provide relief. Many 4×4’s could be seen driving past us with many of the people who had decided to pay for the convenience. We were a little jealous…
But we did not regret the walk. It was gorgeous! And, after about an hour and a half, reaching our destination was that much more satisfying.
A well-marked train down the side of the steep cliff led us to the ultimate destination: Hawaii’s Green Sand Beach. What a sight to see!
There were some thirty other people who had either made the trek or paid for the ride. Only about fifteen of us were in the water. The water was not so calm, so unexperienced Ceci got roughed up a bit by the waves. But no big deal; we spent about forty-five minutes in the water and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.
Ceci’s advice: bring a good, supportive swimsuit. Being roughed up by waves while having to keep your show in place is no easy ordeal.
After relaxing and eating our homemade chicken salad sandwiches (hey, we don’t have jobs!), we made our way back to our car and went home. I used my towel as a turban to cover up my head and neck. But it was too late. The sun had done its deed.
Just before we reached the highway, I decided to give Ceci what she had been asking for the whole drive over: a nice cup of coffee. We stopped at a really cool little coffee shop that was within the confines of a property that is apparently a commercial orchid farm. This entrepreneurial family built up a quaint little coffee shop as well as an ahi pokē shack. Unfortunately, they were out of pokē, so I wasn’t able to try it.
We did, however, have two big cups of iced coffee, as well as a massive chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookie. We chit chatted with the nice lady, learned a little bit about coffee, and were on our way. We had to move quick as our next stop was a drive up to the Mauna Kea Observatory!!
If you are ever on the Island of Hawaii, I highly recommend you make the effort to see this beach. If hiking is not your thing, pay the locals for a ride. After all, it’s their job and they could also use our support. Regardless, do not miss this gem! You will not be disappointed.
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