Hawaii, The Big Island - Part 1

 Relaxing in a banyan tree. Photo by Peter Constantinople.

Relaxing in a banyan tree. Photo by Peter Constantinople.

My fiancé, Pete, and I just returned from our trip to The Big Island of Hawaii. First of all, I have to say, if you don’t already have a trip to Hawaii planned for some point in the near future, I would seriously start to think about planning one! I’d love to share a taste of what our adventure was like, and maybe, my words will sway you further to experience the magic and excitement Hawaii has to offer for yourself. I’ll be posting this recap in three parts, as we squeezed a heck of a lot of adventure into such a short period of time!

 

Day 1

Our flight landed in Kona around 12:00pm. We hopped off the plane, grabbed our rental car, and realized we were quite hungry. So, we asked one of the rental car employees if there was a good place to grab a quick bite nearby. He recommended a little local joint called the Pine Tree Cafe, just a couple of miles up the road. OH MY GOD, GUYS. SO. GOOD. I got an Ahi Poke Bowl and just upon opening the box it was in, I was smacked in the face with one of the most glorious smells I’ve ever smelled. The most perfectly seared ahi cubes lay atop a deliciously sweet bed of brown rice smothered in garlic aioli, limu (seaweed) flakes, sesame seeds, and homemade pickles. I know it might sound a bit weird, but, honestly, I’d definitely say it was one of my favorite meals that I consumed on this trip, and it was only $6.50!! Plus, in the same plaza, some of the most delicious coffee and caffeinated beverages in the world can be found at Kona Mountain Coffee’s cafe. As a massive coffee lover, myself, I say this place is a must for a seriously yummy recharge. If you get the opportunity, definitely make a pit stop to this little gem of a plaza!

After we were properly fueled, we made the hour long drive to Waipi’o Valley. This place is an absolute MUST when visiting The Big Island. Be prepared, if you want to get the full Waipi’o Valley experience and not just glance down in the valley from the designated lookout point, you’re in for quite a hike. The road down to the valley gains 800 vertical feet in only 0.6 miles and has a 25% average grade! Because of this, only vehicles with 4 wheel drive are allowed to drive down. All others must park at the lookout point and hike their way in and out. Let me tell you something though, what you undergo and learn on the hike makes the assimilation of Waipi’o way, way more incredible. (Basically, even if you do rent a 4 wheel drive vehicle, do this hike, folks!!) 

On the way down, surrounded by lush, magnificently green vegetation, gravity urges you along to the valley floor. From there, continue about another 1/2 of a mile along a dirt road to discover a black sand beach and the most gorgeous valley views. When facing valley side, give your eyes time to drink up the sloping valley walls saturated with green plants and trees. When facing ocean side, glance to your right to see one of the island’s tallest waterfalls. This place cracked my heart wide open. My soul felt alive running my hands and feet through the deep black sand. I could have stayed there, wrapped in the loving, awakening embrace by nature, and feeling perfectly at home in my bones all day, but soon, the sun slowly began to make his daily descent behind the mountains.

The hike back up to the car was certainly something! The challenge, though, was really what sealed the whole experience. There was no way you could be anything but present. The only thoughts I could possibly think were, “Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. One foot in front of the other.” Every inhale brought with it a deep sense of gratitude for my body, my mind - my whole existence, really - and the existence of Mama Earth and this experience we call life. Every exhale took with it any doubts, any insecurities, and any resistance I was carrying. By the top, I was totally empowered, humbled, and awed.

Day 2

After an early bedtime and restful night’s sleep, we woke up at 3:30 the next morning to watch the sunrise from the top of Mauna Kea, which come to find out, is actually the tallest mountain in the world. (Mauna Kea stands 13,796 feel above sea level, but when measured from the sea floor, Mauna Kea’s total height adds up to a staggering 46,796 feet.) I understand if you may be reading this and thinking, “3:30am?! On vacation?! You are crazy, girl!” But honestly, the early morning was more than worth every moment. 

As the winding road slowly led us up the mountain and above the clouds, the sky began to turn the most extravagant hues of red, pink and orange. Once we reached the top, we were happily surprised to find that there weren’t too many other people there, which allowed for the scene to be felt much more intimately. Pete captured the transition from night to day through his camera lens, while I captured it through my eyes, and through my heart. As the sun casually made his way toward the horizon line, shades of red and orange began to make space for the appearance of yellow. Soon, all of the colors of the spectrum could be seen in the early morning sky. Every single day this incredibly powerful transformation takes place in our sky without any expectations or attachments. The earth just goes on, turning and turning, as it does, revealing the sun to us. The sun naturally takes the opportunity to nurture all existing and new life on this planet. Being a witness to this event brought awareness of how simultaneously significant and trivial we are as human beings. Significant, because as beings of nature, we too have a weighty purpose, just as the sun. There is nothing about our experience that is unintentional - nothing. Yet, at the same time, we are just teeny tiny pieces in the grand puzzle that is the universe. Our existence on Earth, heck, Earth ITSELF, is so small compared to the vastness of the cosmos. What a fascinating, multifaceted reality we live.

After an enlivening morning, Pete and I grabbed some breakfast and coffee, and then made the journey to Volcanoes National Park. On our way, we stopped to check out Rainbow Falls, a popular waterfall to view and photograph in Hilo. The waterfall was absolutely magnificent, especially when viewing it from the side, with the sun to our backs, which allowed us to see the rainbow amongst the fall’s mist that gives this attraction its name. Although to be honest, my favorite part about this little stop on our journey was the forest of banyan trees to the left of the falls. These trees, immense in both physical size and energetic presence, awakened the inner child in me. Their many solid, winding roots and limbs encouragingly whispered “Come, sweet child, and play.” I climbed and danced amongst their bountiful branches. I laid on a particularly dense branch and glanced up at their extravagantly green leaves. I felt utterly free and totally connected to the wild soul that inhabits my bones.

We had plans to hike the Kilauea Iki Trail and check out the Thurston Lava Tube at Volcanoes National Park that day, too, so eventually, it was time to say “Aloha” to my beloved banyan trees and continue on our way. At 4,000 feet, the cool air in the national park was both refreshing and welcoming. The 3 mile trail begins with expansive views at the ledge of the Kilauea Iki Crater. From there, the path winds its way down to the crater floor, engulfing you in lush vegetation and the melodies of native birds, instilling a feeling of total peace as you stroll along. Upon reaching the crater floor, the trail cuts almost straight through the center of the crater. Walking across the cooled lava of the crater floor was so interesting. You could feel a sort of hollowness as you stepped on the ground below. Every once in a while  you would feel and hear a “crunch” beneath your feet. It was like crunching down on a recently baked brownie with a perfectly crisped outside. In a few spots, you can see steam rising up from the earth below through cracks in the ground’s surface, giving the scenery a bit of an apocalyptic vibe. After crossing the crater floor, the trail leads you back up through more lush jungle, after which, you can choose to head back to the car, or check out the Thurston Lava Tube. A lava tube is a tunnel within solidified lava, formerly occupied by flowing molten lava. It feels pretty darn crazy to stand inside a lava tube, so, I personally would recommend choosing this option. Plus, it doesn’t add too much distance to your hike, or take away too much time from your day, as it’s only about a 1/2 of a mile long. In the darkness of the tunnel, cool air brings a bit of chill to your bones and lights guide your way as you meander along where lava once whisked by. Last year, when Pete and I visited Maui, we made a pit stop along the road to Hana to venture to a lava tube. That lava tube traveled further into the earth, and had just one (the same) entry and exit point, which gave it more of an adventurous, almost spooky feeling. To be totally real, I enjoyed the lava tube on Maui more. So, if you happen to be visiting both islands, that would be the only case I would say you could skip the lava tube in Volcanoes National Park. If The Big Island is the only island on your agenda, definitely carve out an extra 15 minutes for it.

That evening, we checked into what is one of my favorite - maybe my absolute favorite - Airbnbs that we’ve ever stayed in. It was an off grid, eco-friendly treehouse just a short drive from Volcanoes National Park. The house was completely immersed in the surrounding luscious Hawaiian jungle, solar powered, with wood floors and walls, the water was provided from a rain catchment system, and there was a floor to ceiling window in the shower that gave the feeling of showering outside amongst the trees. I absolutely loved all the thought and intention that went into making this home earth-conscious, and, it was stunningly beautiful and relaxing. We slept so well in that treehouse as a light rainfall gently rocked us to sleep that night.

 

(To be continued….)