Island Adventure on the Big Island in Hawaii

For our wedding anniversary, we traded our warm clothes and went to the sunny island of Hawaii. We spent nine days exploring the Big Island, discovering its beaches, mountains, communities, and culture.

The luau dinner was a perfect way to cap our first night on the Big Island. There was music, dancing, storytelling, great food (cooked the traditional way), and the people were all smiling and having a great time.  The host went around interviewing guests, and many are couples about to get married, or were celebrating their wedding anniversary. The night we went to bed, I thought, Hawai’i is a celebration of nature, love, and spirit.

What a beautiful place to be in.

What We Brought: Swimming clothes, hiking boots, jacket, rain jacket (important if you’re going to Hilo), sunscreen, lots of water, camera, binoculars, and our super smiles.

Here’s a diary of our nine-day adventure on the Big Island.

Day 1: Seeing a lot of honu at the Kaloko-Honokohau National Park

Near Kona airport is the Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. Here you can see so many honu (sea turtles) just chilling by the beach. Word of caution though, people are not allowed to get near the turtles. They are protected by law. As there are a lot of them, make sure to look where you’re going cause you don’t want to trip on them.

The Park is massive. There are fish ponds on one end, a lake and a restoration project on the middle, and a swimming area on the other far end. It was not really advisable to swim when we were there due to strong waves. A lot of people were swimming at the far left side of the beach though, where it was much calmer. We attended a free Geological Tour which I highly recommend if you’re interested to know a bit of how the Big Island was formed.

Day 2: Snorkeling at Kealakelua Bay (Morning) and Holualoa (Night)

The one thing that I was so excited about when we went to Hawaii are the beaches. Much as we have beautiful beaches in the Bay Area, they’re too cold for my tropical body, and the idea of being able to swim in Hawaii (with a life jacket since I really can’t) drew me in. We spent our second day doing the most touristy-thing, snorkeling. Morning, we did a spur-of-the-moment decision and booked a snorkeling adventure in Captain Cook at the Kealakelua Bay, which they say is the best spot on the Big Island.

After that, we did the Mantaray Night Snorkel in Holualoa. For the activity, we held on to a floating board with blue lights. The blue lights attract zooplanktons, the mantaray’s favorite food. So it’s basically watching the mantaray munch on zooplanktons about three feet away from you.  I did not see the mantaray.  I had to be rescued back to the boat early in the session. The waves were very strong that night and I am not a confident swimmer. Larry was very hyped up about the adventure though (he was the guy on the left-most, bottom of the board), and it’s one of the things he remembers most about our trip.

Hiking at Palila Forest Discovery Trail in Hawaii

Day 3: Hiking in Pololu Valley, Birding in Palila Discovery Trail, and Stargazing in Mauna Kea

For our third day in Hawaii, we hiked down the Pololu Valley to experience one of its black sand beaches. The trail could be a bit steep and rocky for some people so be prepared. The hike down is worth it though. Don’t just stop by the beach, walk further and discover the forested area. We saw some campers there too. After the valley hike, we braved the clouds and went hiking at the Palila Discovery Trail. There we saw endemic birds – Palila, Amakihi, and the Hawaiian owl.

We ended the night by stargazing and learning about astronomy at the Observatory in Mauna Kea, the world’s tallest volcano and mountain. There were telescopes set up by astronomers, and people were encouraged to look through them to see the stars.

Day 4: Discovering Hilo’s Akaka Falls and Coconut Island

Our fourth day was a chill day spent with our couple friend who moved to Hilo recently. They took us to Akaka Falls in the morning. It was probably the shortest “hike” that we did, 45 minutes maybe and we walked super slow. The park also has a paved path so it’s more friendly to tourists.

After that, we walked by the famous Lili’uokalani Gardens to get to the Coconut Island. The area seems to be a family favorite for swimming and having picnics as there were a lot of them when we went, which was surprising cause it was raining a little. By the way, Hilo is the rainiest city in the United States.

Day 5:  Family Fun at Rainbow Falls and Imiloa Astronomy Center

We met with another couple friend (with their mom and daughter too) and they took us to Rainbow Falls and the Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii. It was a quick stop at Rainbow Falls because it was raining so we did not really see any “rainbow”. We had a blast at Imiloa though, practically because we love learning and places like it will always be fascinating to us.

Just look at Larry (photo below) getting all nerdy with Rich, my friend Sheila’s husband. This is what happens when scientists meet. We also loved their planetarium which reminded me of the Samuel Oschin Planetarium at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California.

Seeing stars at the Imiloa Astronomy Center

Day 6:  Crater-watching and Walking through a Lava Tube at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Dipping at Carlsmith Beach

It’s our wedding anniversary! What best way to celebrate the La-Va (Larry + Iva) anniversary than to see  actual lava! We went to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park where we saw the Kilauea crater bubbling with lava. At the Kimpuka Puaulu, we even walked through a lava tube and did a little birding.

After our lunch at the Volcano House, we went swimming at the Carlsmith Beach. We really went out of our way to look for this beach after seeing it recommended on a website.  It did not disappoint. There was even a honu swimming with us which I thought was the coolest thing ever.

Swimming at the Carlsmith Beach

Day 7:  Hiking at the Pu’u o’o Volcano Trail

It was drizzling at the start of our hike to the Pu’u o’o Volcano Trail.  That did not stop us though, and it probably made it even more cool (literally too!) because we were the only people there. The trail was very easy, mostly flat, and you don’t have to worry about having to do a lot of uphill climbing. It’s also an amazing spot for birders. There was a mini rain forest in the middle of the trail where Larry went all nerdy listening to the symphony of birds. On my part, the whole trail seemed like we were under the ocean. The plants, the mistiness, the rock formation – everything was just great.

After our hike, we went for a short stop at the Wailuku River State Park, and then checked the Pacific Tsunami Museum in downtown.  The humble museum is “a living memorial”, a place to learn from the past, particularly what to do when tsunami strikes. Incidentally, the month of April is Tsunami Awareness Month and the museum has special activities you should check out.

Day 8:  Understanding Communities in La’akea

For our eighth day, we visited the La’akea community to learn more about intentional permaculture living. We had a great time picking fruits and veggies from their organic farm, and even helped cook the community dinner for the night. After dinner, we joined in a session on tribal technology at Lolia, and learned more about building trust-based, non-violent communities. I won’t talk about it much as we already had written a separate post about it, Permaculture on Hawaii’s Big Island. It was truly beautiful, and is my most favorite experience in Hawaii.

This cute gecko wanted to have lunch with us!

Day 9:  Slow Walking at Whittington

As we were set to spend our last day in Hawaii with another of our couple friend, we took a quick stop to the black sand beach at Panalu’u and then at the nearby Whittington Beach Park. It was beautiful and quiet there, it seemed empty compared with the other beaches. This is quite understandable as the waves seem bigger there. I guess it is better admired from the shore, for safety reasons. There is a picnic area too, if you want a quiet space to just admire the ocean.

Around this time, we did not really have anymore plans. We originally wanted to check the green sand beach, but we no longer have enough time. So our last day was a quiet night spent at our friends’ cabin at the top of a mountain at South Point.

Aloha means Oneness

It was wonderful celebrating our wedding anniversary in Hawaii as it felt like a marriage between the island and city life. Ours is like that, two worlds as one. Ours is a blend of the modern and traditional, science and the arts, a balance of dependency and independence, of youthfulness and adulthood.  In the luau dinner on our first night in Hawaii, the host asked all couples to stand and dance, and just feel each other’s breathing. He said that is the meaning of aloha – the oneness of energy, of life. To me this means love.

If you too want to experience the warm hospitality and grace as we did, say “Aloha” in Hawaii.

What’s your Hawaii dream? Share your thoughts on our Comments Area


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  2. Sonja 5 years ago

    Aw this sounds so lovely! And the night snorkelling would be so much fun! I’d love to visit here someday 🙂

  3. Annie 5 years ago

    Oh my goodness, something about being in the water in the dark gives me the heebie jeebies. The Manta ray night snorkel seems like such a cool idea but I probably would need to be rescued too!

    • Iva Maurin 5 years ago

      The waves were just too strong that night, other night snorkel tours even canceled. Early that day, we met a woman who said she vomited all over when she did it and I thought she was exaggerating but no, a guy in our group vomited, and one hyperventilated. It’s really just the waves. I guess, if it was much calmer, none of those would have happened.

  4. So I was born and raised on the Big Island and did not know that Hilo was the rainiest city in the US! Haha! Now it all makes sense! Also started crying at your explanation of Aloha. There’s so much meaning in every Hawaiian word and the culture it’s attached to. This was a beautiful post.

    • Iva Maurin 5 years ago

      Awww thank you 🙂 The culture in Hawaii reminded me on life in my home country too, where it’s all about family, love, helping each other, laughter, nature, culture. I wish we can bring back those days when people put more value on these above other things.

  5. Lia 5 years ago

    What a beautiful place! You had quite an adventure. I’ve never heard of night snorkeling before – that sounds so awesome!! Definitely going to check it out next time we’re in Hawaii.

  6. Gabby 5 years ago

    great post! I have never been to the big island but would love to visit.. the nature here seems so different from the other islands!

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