At the beginning of June my wife Lily and I along with a friend from Peru and her daughter, took a nine day trip to the big island of Hawaii. My wife and I like to try new placed when we travel and since we had visited the island of Maui on a previous trip, we decided to check out the big island on this time.
We arrived in Kona late on day one and collected our car, which we rented through Turo, for those that may not be familiar with Turo, it is like Airbnb but for vehicles, so you are renting someones private vehicle. We had rented a car through Turo in Miami and it worked out well so we tried it again, and again everything with the car rental went well, so I would recommend this app for those needing a vehicle when they travel.
For this trip we used our time share points and stayed at Diamond resorts Sea Mountain resort, which is within walking distance from the Punalu’u Black Sand beach, but is also a bit isolated from most services so we decided to do our grocery shopping on the way (our unit had a full kitchen). One minor miss calculation was in the size of car we chose, we booked a compact car which had enough room for the 4 of us and our luggage (1 carry-on per person and a bag or small backpack), but we did not think about the groceries which made the roughly1-1/2 hour drive a little uncomfortable, but we managed.
We arrived late and their self check-in process went smoothly and was fairly simple, there is a phone and lock box, you call a number and are given a code to the lock-box which has an envelope with your unit keys and other information. The only complaint that I have about the arrival was that no where out front does the sign say “Sea Mountain Resort”, there is a sign across the street for the Sea Mountain golf course, but the resort sign actually says something like Colony 1 Condominiums, so we went passed it a couple of times before deciding to check it out.
The unit we rented was a 1 bedroom that sleeps 4, I don’t know if I would really consider what we had to be a one bedroom, to me a separate room should have a wall and door, the bedroom area in the unit was separated, but had no actual division between the bedroom area and the rest of the unit. The unit itself was clean, comfortable, and well appointed for 4 people.
Our first full day on the island started off foggy and rainy, but by the time we were ready to get moving it was clearing up. We decided to stick close for the first day and just went to the nearby black sand beach at Punalu’u, which is really close enough to walk to if you wanted. The beach here is nice, there are areas to lay out on the sand and there is some shade, the beach has life guards and some stalls selling souvenirs and snacks. The main draw here is the black sand, which is rather coarse but is jet black in color so it gets hot if it is sunny. During our time on the island there were also turtles that were visiting the beach, feeding off the vegetation growing on the rocks and sunning on the sand and rocks. There is fresh water entering the bay here as well which not only causes temperature variations in the water, but also makes the water appear cloudy if you are snorkeling due to the different densities between the fresh and salt waters.
Day three we had planned to visit the beaches to the East (SE section of the island), but most of the travel sites we used to research our trip have not been updated since the last eruption, consequently they do not tell you than many of the beaches along the Southeast coast are now under fresh lava flows. We did have a nice drive this day, got to see the new flows, made our way up to Hilo and did some snorkeling at Richardson Ocean Park, which was a nice location, and we were able to do a little more shopping.
For day four we opted to visit some beaches along the Southwest cost of the island. Honaunau Bay was our first stop and ended up being my favorite snorkeling location of the trip, there is not much sand, but the reef is close and has some good deep areas. There is a nice shallow bay near the sandy beach that gets a good variety of smaller colorful fish, but just off the rocks to the right (looking to the water from the beach) the water drops off fairly quick to a depth of about 12 – 15 feet or more, making it a good location for seeing some larger fish but care should be taken when entering or exiting here as the waves can make things difficult. One down side to this location is that there is limited parking in the area, mainly just street parking, with a small church run parking lot near the beach that charges $5.00.
The other beaches we visited on day four were Kahalu’u Beach Park and Ho’okena Beach park, both of these were nice with adequate parking, sandy beach areas and life guards, but their reefs were further out than at Honaunau Bay and the currents at Ho’okena Beach were a bit stronger when we were their, making it less suited for novice swimmers, but this may have just been due to the time of day that we visited.
On day five we started by checking out the Kona Inn Shopping Village and then had lunch at the Kona Canoe Club. Lunch was good, we hit happy hour so the drinks were almost ½ price and I had a Mai Tai and a tuna melt. The tuna melt was small but good and was served open faced with tuna, avocado and cheddar cheese on top. After lunch we went to Walmart for more shopping and then went to the Royal Kona Resort in the evening for a luau. For the luau we paid the extra $7 per-person for VIP seating (up front) and had some good seats, but we felt that the actual show was a little shorter than the one that we saw when we were in Maui, but the show and food were good and overall we enjoyed the evening.
One of the more unique beaches that we read about when planning was the green sand beach, and this was our destination for day six. The day started out clear and sunny and it was not a very far drive to the parking area from Sea Mountain where we were staying. The initial plan was to walk, but the terrain looked rough and dusty and did not appear to have much shade at all, so we opted to take one of the local shuttle trucks. These are mostly 4wd pickups that are not likely street legal anymore as they were not in the best shape, but they get you there and back. The locals charge $10 per-person each way for this service and some of the people that walked to the beach, chose to use the shuttle trucks to return, saying that it was well worth the cost. Based on discussions with some of those that walked, hiking times seemed vary between 1-1/2 to 2 hours one way. One couple that arrive at the parking area the same time as we did had also returned at the same time, they indicated that they did the round trip in 1 hour, I do not see this being likely as I saw them at the beach and I doubt they were there for more than 30 min at the beach, we were there for about 3 hours. Overall the green sand is interesting but I do not think it was worth the $20 round trip cost, nor the time spent visiting it. The green color is not that pronounced and at least when we were there, there area was not good for snorkeling, so there was not much more to do than tan and swim, which can be done on any beach on the island.
We chose to make day seven a relaxed day and made a second trip to black sand beach, the water ended up being more choppy this day, making the snorkeling not so enjoyable, so I only spent about an hour in the water, but I got some good shots of what I believe were hawk beak sea turtles. Lily and our friend enjoyed the sun and sand until about 3pm when clouds started to move in and light rain had started. Shortly after the ladies returned to the resort it started raining hard and continued on and off for the remainder of the day.
A trip to the big island would not be complete with out visiting the volcano and seeing lava right? This was the plan for our last full tourist day on the Island, but spoiler alert, as of June 10, 2019 there is no flowing lava on the island. We did though visit the volcano cone and the visitors center and found the center to be informative, and the volcano offered some nice views and a few steam vents. The visitors center has a nice video about the history and formation of the islands, which is well worth the time watching it (about 15 minutes I think).
We had to check out of the resort at 10:00am and our flights were not until 10:00 pm that night, so I dropped Lily off at the beach (she can never get enough beach) and I went with our friends to Walmart so they could do some final shopping before leaving. Due to the cost of some things in Peru, they purchased a new luggage set and filled it with vitamins, clothing and other assorted items and souvenirs. After several hours of shopping we picked up Lily from the beach and then made on final stop at Costco (and got ice cream) before going to the airport where we left the car in the parking lot and checked in for our flights.
The flights home were uneventful, we flew Hawaii to LA, then on to Las Vegas (our friends had a longer and more complicated route back to Peru). I enjoyed our trip to the big island, but like Maui the best so far, still have a couple more islands to check before I say that any one of them is my favorite.
Authored by Lyle Walker, Photos by Lyle Walker