Sample Itinerary for 5 days on Oahu and 5 days on the Big Island
Day 1: Arrive in Honolulu, Oahu
- Walk around Waikiki and down Ala Wai blvd.
- Swim at Ala Moana Beach
Day 2: Honolulu
- Hike Diamond Head
- Explore historical sites: King Kamehameha’s statue, Iolani Palace, the State Capitol and Kawaiaha’o Church
- Swim and dine at Waikiki
Day 3: Honolulu and the East Coast
- Hanauma Bay
- Makapu’u hike
- Waimanalo (for lunch)
- Pearl Harbour
- Dinner in Waikiki
Day 4: North Shore and Polynesian Cultural Center
- Haleiwa (for breakfast)
- Laniakea Beach (check out the turtles!)
- Waimea Beach
- Sunset Beach and Turtle Bay Resort
- Polynesian Cultural Center (including the lu’au buffet dinner)
Day 5: Kane’ohe area and Honolulu
- Byodo-In Temple
- Lanikai Pillbox Hike
- Pali Lookout
- Ala Moana Beach to watch sunset
- Fly to the Big Island
Day 6: Kona on the Big Island
- Walk around town
- Swim at Magic Sands Beach
Day 7: Kona's Surrounding Sites
- Snorkel at Two Step Beach
- Visit Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park
- Check out Kealakekua Bay
Day 8: Drive east to Hilo
- Manini'owali Beach/Kua Bay
- Lunch in Waimea
- Chasing waterfalls: Akaka, Umauma, Rainbow
Day 9: Volcanoes
- Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
Day 10: Back west to Kona and fly home
- Botanical World Adventures near Hilo
- Mountain Thunder Coffee Company near Kona
- Stroll around Kona and watch sunset at Magic Sands Beach
Where to Stay
- Honolulu, Oahu: Wyndham Vacation Resorts Royal Garden at Waikiki
- Kona, Big Island: Airbnb
Where to Eat
- Nanding’s Bakery near Diamond Head – the best macadamia nut cookie you’ll ever have
- Duke’s Waikiki Restaurant - great salad buffet, and right on the beach
- World Famous Hawaii HotDogs beside the State Supreme Court - hot dogs pair well with lilikoi (passionfruit) soda
- Hawaiian Island Café in Waimanalo - the gorg sandwich is amazing!
- Coffee Gallery in Haleiwa – mocha freeze was a great way to wake up
- Koa Pancake House in Kane’ohe – excellent macadamia nut sauce on the pancakes
- Fish Hopper Restaurant in Kona -- beautiful view of the water, and tasty breakfast
- Annie's Burgers in Kealakekua -- award-winning burgers
- Humpy's in Kona -- good food, better view of the beach volleyball court right next door
- Waimea Coffee Company -- good caffeinated beverages
- Cafe Pesto -- best restaurant in Hilo, hands-down
- Papa Pa'aluo Bakery -- amazing apple bran muffins
- Island Ono Loa Grill in Kona -- creative burgers
What to Bring
- Sunscreen, dressy and casual clothing, swimsuit, flip flops, hat, sunglasses, umbrella, hiking boots/running shoes, USD cash, assistive devices, etc.
My Travel Diary
Departing from Chicago for Oahu, the Hawaiian island with roughly two-thirds of the state’s population, we had to fly through Oakland. When we arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital city, we were both exhausted from our 10+ hours of flying so we promptly picked up our Alamo rental car and headed straight to the Wyndham Vacation Resorts Royal Garden at Waikiki. Unfortunately, the parking there was pricey, so instead we parked about 20 minutes away where the street parking was free and available. As it turns out there is free parking right beside the hotel on Ala Wai blvd., but it’s rarely available since it’s such a hot commodity. Tiredness aside, we were both really happy to feel the Hawaiian heat (yes, even at night you could feel it!).
Since we were in Hawaii for such a short time and had decided to explore two islands, our itinerary was packed. This approach is not for everyone, and if/when we go back we'll likely try for a longer trip so that we can spend more time relaxing, and also budget time for more islands: Kauai and Maui. Back to Oahu! As soon as we woke up on our first day in Honolulu, I was already pushing us both out the door to hike Diamond Head. In my rush, I forgot to bring cash – big mistake! You can’t enter Diamond Head, whether you’re walking, running, or driving, without cash. Our delay had a plus side though: it meant more time to savor the baked treats we’d purchased at Nanding’s Bakery. Once we finally got our cash (we only needed $1 USD per person to walk in!) and made it back to Diamond Head, it was already packed. We still managed to find a free parking spot on the way in, and save ourselves slightly more cash… to later spend on cookies, clearly. When you arrive at the base of the trail, you’ll notice some explanatory signs. That’s where I learned that Diamond Head was named such by explorers in the 1700s who thought the calcite crystals there were actually diamonds, but in Hawaiian it’s known as Le’ahi because its profile resembles the ahi fish.
The trail is open every day from 6 am to 6 pm, although you can’t enter after 4:30 pm. It’s only a 1.3-kilometre hike to the summit, but you’re climbing up 560 feet. The hike itself wouldn’t have been too challenging compared to what I’ve done in the past, but compounded with the lack of sleep, my underlying conditions, and heat, it caused my body to react in strange ways. I felt lightheaded, heavy chested, and nauseous to the point where I made it about 10 minutes from the top and had to turn around. I get really upset when I set goals that I don’t reach. My boyfriend kept going and showed me photos, but that’s just not the same. It seems that I turned around at a popular spot because I ended up hiking down with some other Canadians (whose accents were just as absent as mine). When I reached the bottom, I purchased one of the many pineapple products available to drown my sorrows. I also took a look in the mirror, and realized that I resembled the lobster from the Little Mermaid. Not a good look.
Keeping with the diamond theme, we drove by the Diamond Head Lighthouse, which was first built in 1899 and later rebuilt in 1917. After our brief drive southeast, we returned to Honolulu to see King Kamehameha and Queen Liliuokalani’s respective statues, Iolani Palace, the State Capitol and Kawaiaha’o Church. The church was the first built on Oahu, in the early to mid 1800s and continues to use Hawaiian in parts of its service. It’s made of coral rock, which I found really visually appealing. The most beautiful building though, to me, was the Iolani Palace. Surprisingly, it was only finished in the late 1800s but the site had already served as residence to multiple Hawaiian kings (in another building that was later demolished), and was considered a site of worship prior to that. The last monarch of Hawaii, Queen Liliuokalani, was actually imprisoned there for months after her ousting from the throne. There’s a lot to explore at the palace, and it’s open Monday to Saturday 9 am to 3:30 pm with admission set at $20 USD using an audio guide, which is available in nine languages.
Right behind the palace are huge, graceful banyan trees, a statue of Queen Liliuokalani and the Hawaiian State Capitol building, which is open to public visits. I’d recommend taking a tour if you’re interested in architecture – particularly if you like Bauhaus or 1960s architecture.
While you’re in the area it’s worth paying homage to King Kamehameha who united the islands we now call Hawaii in the early 1800s. His bronze statue stands tall at 18-feet in front of Aliiolani Hale (Hawaiian Supreme Court Building). History doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I think it’s a crucial part in understanding the current societies you’re visiting. In any case, all of these sites were in short walking distance to each other, so the only real challenge was finding parking. The consistent issue on all of our road trips – unless we’re headed to rural areas, like the Maritimes, or small-town Georgia – was definitely the availability and cost of parking.
Honolulu has a number of beautiful beaches, including Waikiki. Our favourite spots were: the beach that Maita’i Catamaran launches from and Ala Moana Beach. Both had beautiful views, but the Ala Moana Beach definitely had less available space when evening came as it turned into a prop for engagement photos. In fact, the one evening it looked like a factory farm of engagement photos as about six couples were lined up in a row taking up most of the shoreline for their “unique” photoshoots.
I understand the hesitation in visiting Waikiki because of all the crowds, but I actually enjoyed the strip. Then again, I like Vegas, so what do I know? As we were walking toward Waikiki for the first time, we were caught off guard by the number of SWAT team vehicles and men with machine guns hanging out in front of a hotel. What further confounded us, was that tourists were still freely milling about… If there were an emergency, wouldn’t the area be cordoned off? Or are Hawaiians just that laid back? As it happens, we had accidentally walked onto the set of Hawaii Five-O. Feeling pretty VIP after that, we got ourselves a fancy corner seat at Duke’s Waikiki and ate our hearts out with my boyfriend’s Hawaiian friend. After the feast, we took a stroll past the Moana Hotel, which was Waikiki’s first hotel (opened in 1901), and savoured all the Christmas festivities in the outdoor malls and streets. The beauty of a busy area like Waikiki is that there are always events happening – from live quilting lessons to matcha tastings in the Japanese Market to ukulele concerts on the streets. From the get-go, Honolulu had me feeling all the aloha.
Honolulu was great, but our favourite moments were in the southeast and north of the island. We were happy to explore the more rural areas of Oahu. We drove east along the H1 exploring all the stops we could along the way, including a seaside park where my boyfriend tested his Tarzan skills by climbing a tree. We also drove past Hanauma Bay, Halona Blow Hole, and Sandy Beach Park. Parking was fairly tough along the way because there was so much tourism. We were still able to stop a few times to take brief strolls by the water and climb the chunky rocks. The most stunning views, hands-down, were at Makapu’u Point. We arrived on a beautiful day, so we could see 26 miles across the Kaiwi Channel to the island of Moloka’i. Roughly 20 000 years ago, Maui, Moloka’i, Lana’i, and Kaho’dawe were a single island when sea level was lower. Nowadays humpback whales are able to swim through the channel between November and April. Anyway, the hike itself was about 1.5 miles with no shade, restrooms or water but it was paved which means it’s still a good place to visit on a rainy day. Apparently the trail (before it was paved) was made in 1909 for mules/horses to reach the previous lighthouse property. As is the norm, the lighthouse was automated in the 1970s meaning that the families who lived there had to leave. It’s amazing when you think about how the places you visit have shifted in time and place – from the geological changes, to the human footprints.
Driving around Oahu was breathtaking, from the seaside views to the journey through the Ko’olau Mountain Range which stood like noble green gatekeepers bowing for us to travel through. I also enjoyed our drive through the interior, past the Dole pineapple plantation (which was closed, unfortunately!) up to Haleiwa. Driving around listening to local radio was fascinating – from all the casual conversation about Filipinos (I'm not sure why?) to the ongoing pop music obsession with “Hot Girl Bummer”. It felt like the whole island was a tight community, which wouldn’t be surprising given the size. Although, when we delved a bit deeper we found out that there is some resentment toward perceived foreigners; so, when we saw the Hawaiian flags flying upside down, we came to understood it’s a form of visual protest.
The North Shore is a very different vibe. It was even more relaxed, if that’s humanly possible. We loved watching the massive waves crashing into the land, but unfortunately didn’t have many opportunities to hike because of the windy, rainy weather. We stopped briefly at Laniakea Beach where we sought out giant turtles. Sadly, we saw none but later on the Big Island my boyfriend was lucky enough to swim with one at the Magic Sands Beach. Next, we jumped out at Kawela Bay Beach Park to visit the secluded beach and incidentally stumbled upon huge banyan trees that were used in scenes from the TV show “Lost”. Right next door is the Turtle Bay Resort where “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” was filmed, so we continued our Hollywood tour. To be honest, it didn’t seem worth the cost to stay there so I’m glad we just paparazzi’d and left. The natural beauty is so bountiful that you don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars to stay at an exclusive resort in order to soak up the scenery.
Some of the strangest experiences we had on this entire trip were at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC) in Laie on the northeast coast of Oahu. The city’s history is interesting because it was a sanctuary for fugitives until the early 1800s. Since the 1860s it’s become the Hawaiian Mecca for Mormons. Unbeknownst to me when I purchased our tickets, the PCC is owned and operated by the Mormon Church. They've stated that the profits all go to daily operations and the student-employees from Brigham Young University (the campus is right next door). I wasn’t aware of any of this when I purchased tickets – all I knew was that the prices were high ($123 USD each), but the reviews were excellent. When we first arrived, we felt like we’d hit Polynesian Disneyworld – cultural presentations, activities, and a lu’au! We set out to learn more about Fiji, Samoa, Hawaii, Tahiti, Tonga, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Rapa Nui (Easter Island) before the 4pm lu’au began. We started at the Polynesian Football Hall of Fame, which was an eye-opener into the traumatic effects of concussions on these football players, including suicide. We then moved onto lighter things, by engaging in a ukulele lesson. I’ve been meaning to learn to play for years, so I really appreciated the introductory lesson. I’ve committed to buying one before 2021. There were plentiful activities, including a canoe ride through the grounds where we learned about patterns of migration through the islands and started learning some local lingo. I’m a much better linguist than spear thrower, as we learned in Tonga. We also tragically learned that I’m unable to board a Tongan outrigger canoe without dropping my phone in the murky Polynesian lagoon. A man reached in quickly and grabbed it for me but it was soaked by that point. I can’t pretend that I didn’t mope about it; all my photos were on there, not to mention my point of contact with others around the world through social media, etc. We still continued on our canoe ride but it all felt like a blur until we hit the lu’au where I was given a real orchid lei, which made me feel ok… until I started having terrible allergic reactions to it! It turns out a small percentage of the population has allergies to orchid sap. Count me in.
The most enjoyable games at the PCC were definitely from the Maori area. We played Maui Matau, which is a stick game requiring rapid hand-eye coordination and an astute ability to predict others’ behaviour. We also really enjoyed the Titi Torea game. After I deemed myself the big winner, we agreed to get matching Fiji warrior (temporary) tattoos. We also ate some celebratory Tahitian coconut bread, which was made in the ground. Surprisingly, it was even better than the lu'au food - although that's not saying much. I was fairly disappointed by the lu'au meal, but the people were very helpful – bringing me rice in a Ziploc bag to help my battered, drowned phone recover. The show itself was wonderful. We learned all about Queen Lili’uokalani, the last ruling monarch and only sovereign queen of Hawaii (who also happened to be a skilled composer!). She ruled until 1893 when the US overthrew the monarchy, and she was then placed under house arrest. This gave us greater context for why there’s still ongoing contempt of “foreign interference” for some people there.
Speaking of interference, it became clear fairly early on that the cultures being shared were more than just Polynesian when all the staff there kept asking if we’d yet visited the Brigham Young University campus, or seen the Mormon temple. While staff were wandering the audience at shows trying to convince people to go on a Hawaiian mission settlement tour, we just didn’t engage. We just consistently shut down any of the missionary talk, in favour of questions about the Polynesian islands instead. It’s neither here nor there really because the place was fascinating, but if you’re not interested in supporting the Mormon church then you should probably be aware of who’s running PCC. We were happy to enjoy the PCC in our way, sticking to ourselves, and enjoying the entertainment. We had a lot of fun watching the Huki Canoe Celebration, which showed clothing and dances from all the islands. Later, we appreciated the skills it took to perform the Ha: Breath of Life show. All the seats had fairly good views, but you’d probably need to reach out in advance if you have accessibility needs. The show had incredible pyro displays, like men even sitting on fire! The music was great too. Although I was irritated at myself for breaking my phone, it probably made me more present in enjoying the shows. There’s often a silver lining to frustrating situations…
The next day we explored the area around Kane’ohe, including the Byodo-In Temple. It’s located in the Valley of the Temples Memorial Park at the foot of the Ko’olau Mountains. The Temple was established in 1968 to commemorate 100 years since the Japanese landed in Hawaii, and it’s modeled after the 950-year-old original temple in Uji, Japan. Unlike the PCC, there was no one actively trying to convince you about anything regarding their religion, so I felt more comfortable initiating engagement with an elderly gentleman who prays there. I had used the last of my cash to get us into the temple grounds, so we couldn’t make any purchases in the restaurant on the grounds, but we built up a bit of an appetite walking the grounds (and by that, I mean following the black swans around).
We were relieved to find out there was no cost to do the Lanikai Pillbox Hike, although I hadn’t expected it to be as rugged as it was. It had started drizzling by the time we arrived, so I was confused about whether to put on sunscreen, bug spray (not necessary on Oahu), or take an umbrella. It ended up being an uncomfortable, but beautiful hike. It was very steep at the beginning with no clear path, and the drizzle had made the path slippery. Fortunately, the rain didn’t last long but the skies broke open with fury. We beat the windy assault to make it all the way to the top. We were then blown away by the rich colours of the water, grass, and sky. Once we made it to the top, the challenge felt worth it: my concerns about what happened at Diamond Head, the lack of infrastructure, the bad weather – it drifted away with the waves. The reason it’s called the “pillbox” hike is because at the top there’s a concrete pillbox, which soldiers used to hide in to watch for incoming enemies during the war. I'm not sure how anyone could focus on approaching enemies with such gorgeous views.
I found myself inappropriately dressed when we stopped at the Pali Lookout. Due to high winds, my loose t-shirt became a liability. Every two minutes the wind would hit and my hair would attack my face, while the t-shirt would fly up like it was trying to escape this world. Suffice it to say, the pretty views couldn’t keep me away from the car for very long. The expensive parking also helped keep me anchored to my car seat because we decided to leave almost as soon as we came. The only photos we got were utterly ridiculous, but we still enjoyed ourselves regardless. If you have accessibility issues, Pali is a good option because you can just park and then the views are a couple of minutes away (on paved ground), there’s no hiking required.
Before leaving Oahu, I’d recommend taking time to pay respects at the Pearl Harbour Visitor Center, which also serves as a memorial site. I will warn that it can be tricky to secure tickets because it’s done online and it’s a matter of first come first serve. The moral of the story: check early and be vigilant! There are multiple options, and we chose the free one – the USS Arizona Memorial. It entailed a 75 minute program with film and boat trip to the memorial. The memorial itself was built on top of the shipwreck of the USS Arizona, which made it eerie but meaningful. It’s simple and calming: white rectangular blocks with wide slits on top and at both sides, where it also sags; it’s higher on both ends to represent victory sandwiching the sagging defeat of lives lost in the middle. It was powerful visiting the memorial for many reasons, including the constant stream of leaking oil which reminds us of the ongoing impact of the previous devastation. I wasn’t surprised to hear that many survivors of the attacks on Pearl Harbour on that fateful day of December 7, 1941, felt guilt in the aftermath because I think that's a common response to tragedy; I was surprised that many of them have been cremated with their lost brethren. It turned out that a number of ships were destroyed that day, and over 2400 people were killed – many of whom remain lost in the waters below. The site also served to educate people by explaining the history of the Japanese attack on Hawaii, and how it led to America’s involvement in World War II. In fact, Japan attacked Pearl Harbour to reduce any potential challenges to their own intentions of taking over Southeast Asia, e.g. The Philippines. Of course, there are many theories about how things played out – many centered on the fact that Japanese planes (forming the largest aircraft carrier strike ever up until 1941) were able to attack in spite of active Hawaiian radar monitoring the airs, and also sail their fleet over 4 000 miles undetected. In some ways visiting Pearl Harbour becomes an academic exercise in studying political and military strategy, historical context, and current culture; but, it’s still a site of great loss and conduct should reflect that.
For me, it’s important to reflect on how the tragedy impacts our individual and collective actions nowadays. How do we memorialize? How do we identify as communities and nations? How do we protect our most vulnerable? And how do we come to share the narrative of caring, in spite of political difference? Overall, Oahu felt like paradise. We were able to learn about Hawaiian history and current culture, explore incredible hikes and take in beautiful scenery, eat all the macadamia nuts we never knew we needed, and soak up the sun. I kept wondering why we don’t live there, but then I realized the fatal flaw: the sense of isolation would surround me. It was hard for me living on an island on the west coast of Canada, and I was relatively close to the mainland (I could do a day trip, if needed!) – knowing myself, I don’t think I could handle being such a distant flight away from family and friends. Travel helps you push yourself, but also makes you realize your limits.
Travel between Hawaiian islands isn't as cheap as I expected, but the diversity of experiences is great. As soon as we arrived on the Big Island, we realized that it would be a much more rural experience than Oahu. The lack of light meant that it was slightly challenging finding our Airbnb, but once we did arrive we were happy with how private and spacious it seemed. At the end of the day, each couple is different but I like to have as much alone time as possible with my boyfriend on our trips given that we're already in a long-distance relationship which means limited face-to-face. It's been wonderful traveling with him because we like to do similar things: physical activity, cultural exercises, and delicious dining. As usual, we started our time in Kona at a restaurant. We chose Fishhopper because they had a nice view of the water and a good selection of food. The guava jam turned out to be terrific! I love visiting tropical destinations because the food reminds me of my family, and the meals we would have when visiting them in South Africa. Travel is always about taste.
Kona is the big city on the Big Island apparently, but its population only sits at about 15 000 people according to locals we spoke with and it can't compare in size to Honolulu which is home to around 70% of Hawaii's total population. Thinking Honolulu is like all of Hawaii would be a problem though. It's like considering Toronto representative of Ontario, or Canada - it's not, in the slightest. We really enjoyed Honolulu, but we were also happy to see the smaller towns and more recent volcanic scenery. That being said, my boyfriend loves the beach. So when our local host suggested Magic Sands Beach, we were happy to follow his advice. We had a lot of fun frolicking in the waves, but I don't enjoy turning into a prune quite so much. Unfortunately, my aversion to wrinkles meant that I missed the giant sea turtle that was swimming by us in search of Nemo. One girl screamed and ran out of the water. According to my boyfriend, the turtle was giant and looked prehistoric, so I can understand why she ran for land. I wouldn't be interested in coming face to face with Jurassic World either.
The other beach we enjoyed was called Two Step, although it's more of a snorkeling spot than anything else. My boyfriend actually borrowed snorkel gear from our hosts and so he was able to see the underwater world surrounding us. Instead, I observed the social dynamics surrounding me. Suffice it to say, there was blood, gore, and drama. Literally, there was a woman with a bloody hand. It turned out she had stuck her hand flat onto a sea urchin, and it was full of black spikes and dropping blood. Let this be a lesson to anyone who's visiting that area, please be aware of where you stick your hands. In fact, that's a good life lesson overall! Just south of that site is Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park, which was a place of refuge and royal grounds. It also functions as a cemetery of sorts as 23 chiefs are buried there. Hawaiian islands have been populated since around 900 - 1100 CE and people continued back and forthing to Tahiti til the 1400s when chiefdoms flourished on the islands. We continued our history tour by visiting Kealakekua Bay where James Cook first had contact with Hawaiians in 1779. After all the learning, we had to do some eating so we conducted a burger tour around Kona. As a former vegetarian, I have to admit that burgers were one of the few things I missed, and I definitely made up for lost time while in Hawaii.
We went north of Kona to visit Kua Bay and Manini'owali White-Sands Beach. I was really touched seeing a woman use her hands and arms to move herself to avoid the waves because she had no control of her feet and legs. It was great that she was able to enjoy that beach on her own terms. Traveling in spite of chronic illness or accessibility needs can be challenging, but it's so important to remember that modifying an experience doesn't diminish it. I lose sight of that myself sometimes, like when I can't complete a hike (i.e. Diamond Head) I get really angry at my limitations but in those moments I forget my abilities. Anyway, we continued east to Waimea where we had a coffee stop before continuing east to get to the Umauma Falls near Hilo. The area wasn't well-maintained, but you still have to pay an admission fee. I enjoyed the scenery so much that we kept chasing waterfalls. We were going against destiny though, and the rains started coming down hard to halt us. We made it to Akaka Falls, but couldn't get out of the car due to the rain storms. We shouldn't have been surprised though because Hilo is on the wetter side of the Big Island, and we were visiting during the wet season. The only thing dry was our sense of humour.
I found Hilo very troubling. It had more dilapidated buildings, and a very visible problem with drug-use and lack of shelter. Hawaii is a study in contrasts: some of the most gorgeous scenery (and beautiful houses) I've ever been privileged enough to visit, but also some deep poverty. It turns out that much of the poverty is concentrated in the Hilo area. There is an active campaign to prevent drug abuse with slogans like "smoke salmon, not drugs". I can't really comment further given that I'm not part of the community. I can say that I felt very lucky to be visiting and I tried to really make the most of it, and support local businesses all over. I also loved the scenery close to Hilo, which included black sands beaches, waterfalls, and botanic gardens. Waterfalls really ground me: I find peace watching their powerful fall. My favourite waterfalls in the area were probably Rainbow Falls. The waterfalls were supercharged, but there weren't too many colours - just murky brown. I loved the shrubbery and trees though. It all felt like we had walked into a magical kingdom; all that was missing were the talking animals.
Our day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park continued in the otherworldly vein. The rock formations, and colours were so unbelievable they felt like they were literally out of this world. The park has over 150 miles of trails and you can go as high as the Kilauea Summit (at 4000 feet). We started at the most popular trail: Kilauea Iki Crater. It was about 4 miles and took just over 2 hours with photo stops, of course. We actually did it "backwards" because we ascended the 400 feet on the stairs rather than the graded slopes. If you're interested in doing it that way, you start by going left from the parking lot instead of right. We had beautiful solitude for the first quarter of our hike with views of the lava fields from the rainforest. The lava spewed in 1959, but some areas still seem fresher than others. It was amazing to see how the ground has cracked yet vegetation has sprouted from it. The Kilauea caldera was beside us and includes lava flows from 1924 (and even before) until 1982. We couldn't really see it from our hike, but drove by later on the Crater Rim Drive and saw all the steam vents. It felt like the earth was opening up to prove its power. There's an angry boiling world below us, and occasionally the cracks reveal its potency. Honestly, the black cracked ground reminded me of Toronto's roads: although, I'm not sure which actually has more potholes.
We drove down Chain of Craters road about 20 miles to get to the Holei Sea Arch, which reminded us of the Hopewell Rocks we saw months before in New Brunswick. It costs $25 USD to enter the park, and it's all well worth it because the parking is included as well as a useful map, and the roads are well-maintained. The lava flow sites from the 1970s along the way and the 1.4 mile hike at Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs allowed us to really get a feel for how the area has changed over time. You can also look to the mountains and see the black, brown, green, and grey which is like a map for how lava flows have changed the landscape over time. If we had been there 30 years before or if we visit again 30 years from now, it'll be a different outlook altogether. The petroglyphs highlighted how cultures preserve themselves and their legacies over time. In the etchings we saw people and tiny circles, which indicated where placenta and umbilical cords were buried to represent birth and life. It's interesting how many cultures use imagery to represent their most sacred stories. It's amazing how the images weren't covered in lava flows when just 1 mile west all the lava from the 1970s covered the grounds. The most recent eruption was in 2018 and drastically changed the landscape of the park - shutting down the lava tube and museum. It also ended up destroying 700 homes nearby, creating a new black sand beach too. Most importantly, the visitor center is still open. We found many useful resources there. They also confirmed that there are no longer dangerous sulfur dioxide gases in the environment. I wonder if all of the 400 national parks in Hawaii are as well-run.
Although we both preferred Oahu, we really did appreciate the geology and also the flora on the Big Island. On our last day there we visited Botanical World Adventures where I spotted the incredible Rainbow Eucalyptus Tree. I've never seen such a colourful tree in my life; it almost looked like an homage to the 80s with its green and orange neon hues. The grounds were really large so we were also able to admire all kinds of flowers and trees. We also saw more waterfalls. I'm starting to think Hawaii may be called the Rainbow Nation because there are so many waterfalls that play backdrop to the rainbows above them. Even the spiders in Hawaii were colourful; which made it easier to spot them, and then promptly run in the opposite direction. Apparently the huge spider with yellow markings that we saw a few times wasn't actually poisonous, but still scary for me. I really appreciated that Hawaii brings paradise without the trouble: no bears or giant cats to beware of, and even the snakes and spiders are generally fine. This was a far cry from our recent trip to Costa Rica where every day I learned about a new predator: from jaguars to tiny bullet ants, whose bite makes you feel like you've been shot.
There's an incredible amount of spirituality and symbolism on the Big Island. We happened to visit while there were protests around the mountain, Maunakea. I had heard about the protests and seen the signs as we drove through Oahu and the Big Island saying "Ku Kia'i Mauna/We are Maunakea". I had even followed the movement online. I still didn't really grasp the full significance of more development on this sacred site until we drove by and saw it. It's a huge area, and just driving through you feel the weight of its significance. In fact, it's earth's tallest mountain - yes, it's taller than Everest - but so much of it is submerged below water that you wouldn't realize its height from base to summit. It's also already home to thirteen telescopes (built on the mountain), and even an army base. This wasn't supposed to happen though. As the land is very meaningful to Native Hawaiians - it's considered the center of the universe - it was supposed to be held "in trust" for them after Hawaii's Queen was overthrown. The land was later leased to the University of Hawaii which was supposed to request approval before developing it, but instead they went ahead and built multiple observatories. It's a familiar narrative: colonized peoples losing sacred lands to development. It's an ongoing struggle in Canada too - especially when there's discussion about more pipeline development. In this case, there's an alternative option for development. Apparently the project could be built in Spain with similar scientific results.
On a less political note, after our Costa Rican adventure we both became curious to learn more about coffee so when we returned to Kona we visited the Mountain Thunder Coffee Company. We learned about the history of Kona coffee, and also enjoyed plentiful taste tests. Their grounds weren't as large as I anticipated, and each tree only produces about 1 to 1.5 pounds of roasted coffee per annum so surrounding farms actually bring their crops too. I also hadn't realized how much of the raw coffee beans aren't even viable. In order to sort the beans, they first look at size and weight before moving on to colour. The tour consisted of us and one other couple: the other man and I ended up throwing a lot of questions at the very knowledgeable guide. We even got into a discussion about insurance policies for business near volcanoes. Interesting stuff! The guide's mom is Japanese, so she also made a point of telling us about how the Kona coffee industry wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for hardworking Japanese people who committed to it flourishing. Hawaii's largest ethnic group is people of Asian descent, even greater than people of Native Hawaiian background, so I wasn't surprised to learn about the influence of the Japanese community on the Big Island.
Before leaving the Big Island, we made sure to spend more time strolling by the water and soaking up the sun (away from the coffee plantation's cloud forest base). We also had to have another burger because they had just been so delicious everywhere we went! We followed that up with a dole whip, which is an absolute must if you're in Hawaii. I hadn't ever tried pineapple flavoured soft serve ice cream before, but I really hope I get to try it again one day! I'm glad our final memories in Hawaii were so peaceful and happy because our return flight was an absolute nightmare. You have to take the bad with the good, I guess. We flew without interruption to Seattle, but then returning to Chicago we hit scary windstorms. In fact, a number of flights had been grounded and I'm not sure why ours wasn't. A high wind warning was in effect, and it seems really irresponsible for them to have continued flying even though they already had that information before taking off in Seattle. The wind gusts got up to 60 miles per hour, which caused turbulence like I've never experienced. Even once the plane had landed, the winds were so bad that the plane was being rocked side to side. I got through three airline sickness bags, and felt absolutely humiliated when I even ended up throwing up on myself a bit too. Thankfully, my boyfriend was really supportive and quick-thinking. He asked the flight attendants for a cloth for my head, and also some water so that I wouldn't get too dehydrated. He also got them to bring a wheelchair because I actually lost feeling in my feet. I've had motion sickness my entire life, and it can legitimately be debilitating but this quite possibly was the worst experience with it that I've ever had - I had even take tablets before the flight, as always! I was incredibly disappointed to find out that there was no first aid area in the airport where I could lie down in the dark - instead we were told to just sit in a boarding area until I felt well enough to leave, at which point an attendant could come wheel me out. After some sips of Gatorade, and many dirty looks (no, motion sickness is not contagious!), we were finally able to leave the airport. Worst ending to the best vacation. All I can say is, what a trip!