Hawaii: The Big Island

Last year we had our worst travel experience ever on Alaska Airlines. A delay of our first flight from San Francisco to Seattle led us to miss our connecting flight to Spokane. Suffice it to say, we made it to our daughter’s volleyball tournament by driving the 4.5 hours from Seattle to Spokane because there were no other connecting flights available until after the tournament started. The trip was one giant travel headache especially when we found out our return tickets were cancelled when we weren’t on the initial connecting flight. Alaska Airlines reimbursed us for our missed flight by giving us a voucher for the amount of the missed flight. Seattle to Spokane is not a very expensive flight, so the voucher is not worth very much, but it gave us an excuse to think about travel plans. Hopefully, we can turn the negative experience into a positive one. The open-ended question of where to go (wherever Alaska Airlines flies) is actually pretty daunting. My list is really long, but budget and timing is also a big factor. So, with the expiration date for the voucher looming, we’ve been trying to narrow down our choices.

When I think about trips, I can’t help but reminisce about our favorite places. Hawaii will always have a special place in my heart. An extraordinarily beautiful place that always leaves me a little bit sad to leave. It was where my hubby and I went on our honeymoon, where my family celebrated my 40th birthday, where we had our first real vacation with my daughter. I think it’s the beaches and sunsets that we love, but the people and the vibe that keeps us yearning to go back. Out of the three islands we’ve visited, Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, the Big Island remains our favorite. There’s a more laid back feel to this island that just fits us. I wasn’t sure how to post about one of our favorite vacation destinations because when we visit Hawaii, we love that we don’t do much. We make a pact to have no schedule, no pressure and no attitudes. Vacations in Hawaii have consisted mainly of swimming in the ocean or pool, snorkeling, and finding good, local food. Every once in a while we’d venture off and tour a national or state park, souvenir shop or try out a restaurant, but only if we felt like it. Even in our laziness, we’ve found our favorites, places we just can’t wait to go back to. I’ve listed places that we’ve enjoyed in no particular order. We’ve been to Hawai’i Volcanic National Park many years ago, but  I left if off the list since I really want to return and experience the park more fully. A couple of hours was just not enough.

In the Kailua-Kona area –
Scandinavian Shave Ice
This is one of the first places we stop by when we get to the Big Island (although parking is horrendous). Delicious flavored shave ice with soft serve ice cream in the middle, what more can you say?

“This one is mine, daddy”

Kahalu’u Beach Park area for snorkeling
The Outrigger hotel (now closed) was an affordable hotel that was adjacent to Kahalu’u Beach Park and was a great place to have access to one of the best places to snorkel (in our humble opinion). There was an abundance of fish when we snorkeled here and many were very friendly coming right up to you (sometimes a bit too friendly for my comfort). There are many royal and sacred sites in this area, so there are plans to build a cultural center once the hotel is demolished.

Calm waters of Kahalu’u Beach park, perfect for snorkeling
Often saw sea turtles sunning on the rocks
The area has many royal and sacred sites

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park
This site was once royal grounds and a place of refuge that has been beautifully preserved. It remains a sacred and valuable historic site which the national park service maintains. In ancient Hawaii if you broke a law (kapu), no matter how minor, the penalty was death. However, if you were able to reached a sacred place of refuge you could be forgiven and saved, allowing you to return to society.


Hale o Keawe, a sacred temple that housed the bones of 23 chiefs

Da Poke Shack
Small hole in the wall shop, but delicious, fresh, perfectly seasoned poke. 

The Waikoloa area:

Hilton Waikoloa Village
This hotel is where I celebrated my 40th birthday. It is definitely a milestone-birthday-celebration-worthy hotel. This place is so large (62 acres!) that there is a tram to get from the front desk where you check in to your hotel room. They have a canal boat that provides transportation as well, but it goes at a much more leisurely pace. We stayed here three nights and we still hadn’t fully explored all the places on the grounds. One of the reasons we chose this place was because of the many activities that you can do right on the hotel grounds, no need to drive anywhere. There are three giant pools with interconnecting waterways, nooks to explore, waterfalls, water slides, etc… We played a game on a giant chess board, explored the rocky coastline, and even swam with the dolphins at the Dolphin Quest program. What they don’t have is a beach, we had to drive up the coast for that. We had my birthday dinner at KPC – Kamuela Provision Company and the food along with the view will forever be a treasured memory. All on the hotel ground.

Birthday dinner at KPC
Sunset walk along the many paths
Hawaii sunsets are to be savored
Always the views
Hilton’s lagoon
Rocky “beaches” only
Swimming with the dolphins at Dolphin Quest
My daughter’s picture – the dolphin is centered, she’s got her priorities
Plenty of places to view the dolphin even if you don’t swim with them
Dolphin Quest lagoon

We left the hotel to explore some of the beaches along the coast, since the hotel doesn’t have sand beaches. There are many beaches south of the hotel and we snorkeled at the beach next to Mauna Kea Beach hotel. The beach was beautiful, but we didn’t have much luck snorkeling.

Hapuna Beach (Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area)
One of my favorite beaches along the coast (north of the Hilton) is this beach. We have yet to swim there, but if we’re ever back, that is on our giant ‘To Do’ list for the Big Island.

Island Gourmet Markets in the Queen’s Marketplace
We saved money buying food at the markets instead of eating at restaurants for some of our meals.

Whaler’s General Store in the King’s Shops mall
This was a fun place to look for souvenirs.

Fairmont Orchid Resort
This hotel is a splurge hotel, but the grounds of this hotel was incredible. We spent most of our time snorkeling in their protected lagoon. The lagoon’s clear water with interesting marine life swimming around, makes you want to just float in there all day. Everything was easy at the Fairmont… easy to rent water equipment, find a place to sit, find food and drinks.

Fairmont’s grounds were gorgeous
Easy to spend a lazy day at the lagoon
Calm waters for snorkeling and water activities
Sea turtles float by
… and say “hello”
Sea turtles coming ashore at dusk, such fascinating creatures
Morning solitude
Hard to leave Hawaii (my daughter letting Hawaii know that “we’ll be back!”)

Just looking at these pictures and thinking about Hawaii makes me long for those days. Alaska Airlines does travel to Hawaii, but the amount of the voucher would not begin to cover the cost of the flights to this popular vacation destination. Not to mention the cost of lodging, food and transportation will add up. We’ll have to keep researching, but it was fun to take a trip down memory lane.

9 thoughts on “Hawaii: The Big Island

  1. Interesting you mention the Big Island as your favorite as it is so different from what most would think of the traditional Hawaiian vacation with beautiful white beaches, lush vegetation, and modern resorts. We enjoyed the trip up the mountain to the sugar plantation which is somewhat primitive. I was surprised to see cattle grazing and found a lot more diversity than I expected. If I didn’t see the ocean it almost looked like Texas in a few places. We went to the Big Island twice though and thought it was pretty cool. We made an incredible hike and walked under a huge water fall coming off the mountain. The active volcano is incredible. Folks just don’t realize how different parts of the islands can be. As always, great post.

    Liked by 1 person

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