Travel Itinerary: 5 Days in Big Island Hawaii

Big Island was the fourth Hawaiian Island my wife and I visited. This trip was also our first long distance trip with our 5-month-old son so there was a bit of uncertainty on how he would handle being in a plane for 8+ hours. Fortunately, he was very well behaved and this gave us a ton of confidence in doing future trips with him. During this trip to Hawaii, we did encounter a day of heavy rain and another day where the eastern half of the island had rain so we could not see certain points of interest. This forced us to cancel a couple of sights we had planned to see. However, there was a positive trade-off of being “stuck” on the resort and you will see why as you keep reading.

Day 1: Arrival

We arrived at Kona International Airport on the Big Island at around 3pm. Since we rented a car from Turo (you can read my review on Turo and our experience here), it was a matter of collecting our luggage and walking to the airport parking lot where our car was already waiting for us with the keys inside. The distance to Hilton Waikoloa Village from the airport was about 20 miles and a 30-minute drive. On the way to the resort, we stopped at a lookout point to take in the scenery. If you see a lookout point anywhere, just stop your car and enjoy the views.

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Vegetation growth on volcanic rock at a lookout point.  The Big Island is home to multiple volcanoes, some which are still very active.

Since sunset was around 6:15 pm and by the time we got situated it was already close to 5 pm, we spent the rest of the time on the resort to enjoy the sunset views.

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I’ll have a separate review on the Hilton Waikoloa Village but this was a wonderful property that was very kid-friendly.

 Day 2: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Stops Along the Way

On the second day, I drove from Waikoloa to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park while making a few stops in between. I downloaded the Gypsy App specific for Big Island and it guided me on where to make stops in between Waikoloa and Volcanoes National Park. It costs $9.99 and you do not need to have data for it to work. The most appealing aspect of this app is that the narrator gives you historical context with regards to culture and geology at various stopping points and why it might be worth stopping or skipping. The app serves as a very knowledgeable tour guide and I highly recommend using it for Big Island.

 

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The Gypsy App is available for each Hawaiian Island. I highly recommend it.

Places of Interest En Route To Volcanoes National Park

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A lava field lookout point on the way to Volcanoes National Park.

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This viewpoint is right off the side of the road.

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This is one of the places you should definitely stop by on the way to Volcanoes National Park.

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Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

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Sea turtles basking in the sun at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.

Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Park was the last place I stopped prior to entering Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There are a few other points of interest after this one such as South Point (southernmost point out of all the 50 states) and Papakolea Beach which is a green sand beach. Getting to the beach does require over 2 hours of hiking and I did not want to run out of daylight where I’d be hurrying at Volcanoes National Park. I skipped these two but if you find yourself leaving prior to sunrise from Kona or if you’re staying in Hilo, you’d have plenty of time to see both of these places.

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VNPSign I’ve been asked if I bought my 5-month-old to this park and the answer is no. Since the steam vents emit sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide gas, I did not want to expose my son to potential lung irritants. If you’re pregnant, have heart problems, asthma, or COPD, it’s probably best to avoid the steam vents at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

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One of the many steam vents that are found in the park.

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The Kilauea Caldera. You can either park at the visitors center and take a half mile hike to get here or you can just park on the road and walk a few hundred feet. I chose to do the hike so I would get to see most of the steam vents along the path.

There were some parts of the park that were still closed due to the eruptions from 2018. The lava tubes were also not accessible during this time. As you continue your drive through the park, I highly recommend taking Chain of Craters Road all the way down to to the coast. It’s about 20 miles from the caldera and drive is one of the best you will find in any of the 50 states. Pictures really don’t do it justice so I took a short video so you get a better idea.

You will also find plenty of amazing photo opportunities and other points of interest.

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One of the scenic viewpoints on Chain of Craters Road.

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Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs Field

Closer to the shore, you will find a sign for the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs Field.  This area is considered sacred to the people of Hawaii and you will find many symbols and images that were carved into the hardened lava. It’s 1.4-mile round-trip hike and I highly recommend it. Further down the road, you will see cliffs that are made from lava. This is the newest land on the Big Island and it’s made when lava hits the water and solidifies into rock.

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Chain of Craters Road on the way back also has stunning views.

Day 3: Pololu Valley and Stops Along the Way

On this day, there was rain in the forecast after 2 pm so I made it a point to get this hike done as early as possible. The mornings also have cooler temperatures so it makes for a much more comfortable hike as it is. Pololu Valley is about a 45-minute drive from Waikoloa and about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Kona. You can just park your car on the road and enjoy the views from the look-out but if you really want to get the splendid views of the valley, you should do the hike. The hike down isn’t difficult but it can be slippery at times due to the frequent rainfall in the area. The hike going back up is moderately challenging and you will certainly need plenty of water and some granola bars.

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Pololu Lookout. If you decide not to do the hike, you still can’t go wrong with these views.

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Pololu Valley from the parking area

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The Black Sand Beach once you hike your way to the bottom.

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This is the view you hike down for.

 

Waimea Valley is nearby and also offers spectacular views. However, hiking there does require that you go on private property and that would be considered trespassing. You can also drive down there but you would definitely need an AWD or 4WD vehicle with some clearance.

Day 4: Whale Watching From Hilton Waikoloa Village (due to rain)

On this day, the plan was to go to Akaka Falls. If you are in Big Island, please make an attempt to visit Akaka Falls because it is beautiful from the many pictures and videos I have seen. Unfortunately, a lot of rain moved in and it basically spanned the entire island. But there was a silver lining.  As I’ve mentioned before, winter is humpback whale season in Hawaii. Mothers and calves are near the coasts of every Hawaiian island and this is the time when mothers teach their young on how to be whales. Since our resort was right on the shore, I took my camera and started filming the minute someone pointed out the whales in the distance. Then they started coming closer and closer.

Out of nowhere, the mother whale breached the water and I was lucky enough to have my camera recording. I do want to apologize for the grainy quality.

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Two humpback whales right off the shore of Hilton Waikoloa Village

Whales were seen 4 out of the 5 days we stayed at Hilton Waikoloa Village and it really made it fun and exciting for the kids who were also whale watching.

Day 5: Snorkeling in the Hilton Waikoloa Village Lagoon and visit to Kona

Day 5 was supposed to be a visit to either Akaka Falls or the green sand beach for the second day during our trip both those of places had rain in the forecast while our side of the island was bright and sunny. I used this time to go snorkeling.

 

 

This property does not have an ocean front beach due to the powerful waves and riptide currents that are common along the Big Island. It does have a lagoon with sand that functions as a beach and the lagoon is excellent for swimming and snorkeling. I saw plenty of colorful fish and several sea turtles, one which I was able to follow for almost two minutes.

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For dinner, we were recommended Umekes Fishmarket Bar and Grill in Kona by the owner of the vehicle we rented from Turo. We ordered the Tempura Battered Fish & Chips and Cajun Style Ahi Fish Tacos. Both of the items we ordered were perfect.

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This concluded our trip to the Big Island in Hawaii. A popular question I get asked is among the four islands I have visited, which one is my favorite? I really can’t say I have one. Each island has its own unique charm and offers something different for everyone. The Big Island has a volcanic landscape that’s so vast, it can’t be seen anywhere else in Hawaii. It also has stunning valleys, excellent beaches, and a green sand beach that can’t be found on any other Hawaiian island. Since it is not as heavily trafficked by tourists, you get a better flavor of Hawaiian culture throughout the island. Big Island is also known for its coffee and macadamia nuts. If you have the time, you should visit a coffee or a macadamia nut farm.  But just like the other Hawaiian islands my wife and I have been fortunate to visit, the locals are wonderful. They are some of the nicest and friendliest people in the world. The physical beauty of the islands is certainly attractive and makes for great pictures but it’s the Hawaiian people and their hospitality that keeps us coming back. We look forward to coming back sometime in the near future. As always, thanks for reading.

Travel Itinerary: 4 Days in Kauai

Kauai was the second island my wife and I visited during our last trip to Hawaii. We started off in Maui (you can read that itinerary here) and took a one-way flight from Maui to Kaui on Hawaiian Airlines via JetBlue miles. Kauai is known as the Garden Isle for its lush tropical landscape. Based on my experience, Kauai offers more seclusion than Maui and Oahu and more lush greenery than Big Island. All of the islands are special in their own way so I’d recommend experiencing all four.  Here’s a rundown of what we did during our four days in Kauai.

Day 1: Arrival

My wife and I stayed at Mariott’s Kauai Beach Club Hotel during our stay in Kauai. Great property that wasn’t expensive and located right on the beach just 10 minutes from the airport. We rented a car in both Maui and Kauai and if you want to make the most of your time there, I’d recommend doing the same.  We arrived in the late afternoon from Maui so we spent the evening at Kalapaki Beach, right in front of our hotel and took in the live entertainment that was offered by Marriott.

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View of the beach from our balcony

Day 2: Poipu Beach

On the second day, we spent almost the entire day at Poipu Beach. Of all the beaches I’ve been to in Oahu, Maui, and Kauai (I’ve been to many), this was my favorite in Hawaii. Plenty of space, clean, an abundance of marine wildlife, and a perfect place to snorkel. If you’re in Kauai, this beach is a must see. You also get spectacular sunsets if you decide to stick around until the late evening.

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I was very fortunate to be able to swim alongside a green sea turtle. If you’re going to snorkel in Hawaiian waters, get yourself a GoPro or any underwater camera. You’ll see some really cool wildlife and it’s worth getting on video.

Day 3: Waimea Canyon State Park

Waimea Canyon State Park is another must-see place in Kauai. From our hotel near the airport, it was about 32 miles away to the entrance and took about 45 minutes. You can also take a 3.4-mile hike to the bottom of the canyon and this will take about 3 hours round-trip. The cool thing about Waimea Canyon is that the surrounding area looks like Sedona, Arizona. You’ll find red clay, orangish water, and landscape that almost seems out of place for Hawaii.

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The landscape on the periphery of Waimea Canyon

 

 

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The main lookout at Waimea Canyon

 

Once you’re at the main lookout point at Waimea Canyon, you’ll find local farmers selling local produce such as mangos, star-fruits, and papayas. They are delicious and if you purchase the fruits, you’ll be supporting local.

Day 4: Napali Coast State Park aka Jurassic Park

No trip to Kauai is complete without seeing Napali Coast State Park. This was the setting for Jurassic Park and the minute you get to the entrance, it will all come back to you. My wife and I were dead set on doing the hike and we did about 3/4 of it until park rangers told us we couldn’t go any further due to flooding from heavy rainfall the previous night.  The hike is definitely challenging, particularly the first quarter mile where there is a lot of steep uphill climbing. If you do the hike, bring some solid hiking shoes, plenty of water, and a couple of granola bars. I saw a few people with flip-flops and they were getting killed from mud and wet rocks. Please don’t do this hike with flip-flops or sneakers. You don’t need expensive hiking shoes and a $60 pair would do the job.  I’d also bring a very light raincoat since this part of Kauai gets a lot of rain and the weather can change from hour to hour. Other options to see the cliffs are from a boat or helicopter. I have heard the helicopter takes four people and that if you’re one of the two sitting in the rear, you’re kind of blocked off from the views when compared to those sitting in the front. Just something to be aware of.

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Overcast skies on our way to Napali Coast.

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The weather on this part of the island changes from hour to hour. If you open up any weather app on your smartphone and you see rain for the entire day, take that with a grain of salt. On our drive there, we had mostly overcast skies with drizzle here and there. By the time we started the hike, the clouds started clearing up and gave way to sunshine. Don’t get disappointed if you see overcast skies while you’re driving there. Just wait it out and hopefully the sun will appear.

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A view from the hiking trail. The skies cleared up about 40 minutes after we started hiking. 

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Waiting for a raptor to come around the corner….jk

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The majestic cliffs and a rainbow from a distance

So this was Kauai in a nutshell. A special place and a beautiful island that’s home to my favorite beach amongst the ones I have visited in Hawaii. I really wish we had an extra day here and I know I’d be saying the same thing even we did. If you happen to visit Hawaii, try to include Kauai in your itinerary as well. But only if you are certain you can do the three must-see places above. If you want to read about our most recent trip to Hawaii (Big Island), you can do that here. As always, thanks for reading.