Big Island welcomed us with sun, breeze and a resounding aloha! to enjoy our first day.
Big Island, Hawaii Road Trip in 15 Days (Itinerary Overview)
- Day 1-5 – Kailua-Kona and the Kohala Coast (West)
- Day 6-10 – Hawi, Kapauu, Waimea and Hilo (North and East)
- Day 11-12 – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Southeast)
- Day 13-15 – Captain Cook and The Painted Church (Southwest)
Day 1-5 Kailua-Kona and the Kohala Coast
Day 1 – Kailua-Kona, prices and reliable transportation routes
Aloha! Welcome to Big Island, Hawaii!
After a trip of more than five hours from Los Angeles, the first thing you notice is the tropical climate of Hawaii. Kona International Airport has no platforms, so when you get down the steps of the plane a pleasant temperature of around 68-77 degrees Fahrenheit welcomes you.
The second thing that caught my eye was the schedule. Five hours earlier than in Austin, Texas! My 12-year-old daughter and I immediately stored our sweaters (the plane cabin was very cold) and adjusted our clocks to the local time. Big Island welcomed us with sun, breeze and a resounding aloha! to enjoy our first day.
We rented a car and headed to what would be our lodging over the weekend: a beautiful house located on a hill north of the Kona district, a few minutes from the airport. Its lush vegetation confirmed our arrival to an amazing tropical paradise.
I was grateful to have friends who generously welcomed us into their home. And I also thanked the existence of the GPS, which became my great companion during this trip. But the roads were easily accessible and did not pose any problems during the trip.
Our first stop was to Kailua-Kona, the main commercial and touristic city to the west of the island. Very soon we discovered that our tropical paradise came with a especial label: high prices! Paying between 6 and 8 dollars an hour for parking was one of the many surprises that we would have due to the high cost of living that characterizes Big Island, Hawaii.
But as walking does not cost, we strolled along Ali`i Drive, the main street along Kailua Bay. We enjoyed the sunset on the beach and pampered our hungry stomach with a hearty dinner at Quinn’s, one of the best and least expensive seafood restaurants in downtown Kailua.
In the evening, we returned to the airport to pick up my best friend. She, my daughter and I would tour the island in 15 days. The next stop was Safeway, the local supermarket chain where we bought groceries for the weekend. The second surprise of the day: nothing cost less than $ 5!
Day 2 – Atlantis Submarine
Atlantis Submarines is a fun activity for children and was the choice for this day. We boarded an ecotourism passenger submarine that took us about 80-100 feet to the bottom of the sea to explore the natural coral reef and marine life in Kailua Bay.
An auxiliary ship sailed from the quay to the center of the bay. There we waited for the submarine with capacity for 48 people, which is powered by batteries and during its operation does not release any pollutants in the water or in the air, according to a brochure.
The submarine sails above the natural coral reef, which covers about 25 acres and was formed thousands of years ago on lava that ran to the ocean millions of years ago. We couldn’t see many large fish, but we enjoyed the two sunken ships that are a haven for many marine animals.
The ride lasts one hour and if you pay a higher rate you can combine it with a snorkeling session or a luau, a Hawaiian party or banquet where there is usually food, music and traditional dances from the Pacific Islands.
A luau to remember in Big Island, Hawaii
I wanted to attend a luau (in Hawaiian: lū`au), so in the afternoon we returned to the pier. The party was held at dusk and continued under the stars until dusk at a historic site that now occupies the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel.
The welcome was with a necklace or lei of small seashells (instead of fresh flowers) and the obligatory souvenir photo. Then followed a hula (Polynesian dance with songs) for women and children. Next, the Imu ceremony (word for a furnace underground) was held and a kalua pig (cooked in the Imu) was shown and offered during dinner.
Later there was a representation of the arrival of the royal court of the ancient King Kamehameha I, who unified the islands of Hawaii and ruled until his death in 1819. Afterwards, the buffet dinner and a show with traditional Polynesian dances were offered.
The night singer and master of ceremonies instructed us on some dinner dishes such as poi (a viscous liquid made from roots of the taro plant), considered as a staple food in the Hawaiian diet and poke (a raw fish salad) which is served as a starter or main dish in Hawaiian cuisine.
To be honest, I did not try any of those two dishes. First, because the poke ended very fast and second, because the appearance of the poi did not seem appetizing. But the kalua pig, the haupia (coconut milk dessert) and the tropical fruits (papaya and pineapple) were delicious.
That night I went to bed very happy remembering the master’s explanation of the meaning of the words aloha (a combination of love, compassion and peace used to greet or say goodbye), ‘ohana (family), mahalo (thanks) and kama`aina (son of the land or villager).
Day 3 – Dolphins in Waikoloa Village
One of the most enjoyable and fun experiences for most children is interacting with animals. My daughter is happy when she is around or surrounded by them. What child is not?! This day I had a nice surprise for her: Swimming with the dolphins!
The surprise was at the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort, located on the Kohala Coast, about 30 minutes (20 miles) north of the Kona airport. We took Highway 19, also known as Queen Ka`ahumanu Highway, and drove to Waikoloa Beach Drive.
My daughter’s face lit up as we crossed the lobby of the hotel and down the grand staircase leading to a lagoon fed with ocean water and the section where the dolphins were awating. Once equipped with a life jacket and a water visor from Dolphin Quest, we both entered the lagoon and joined a group of four people.
An expert guide on marine mammals described some of the characteristics of dolphins, such as its fusiform body, adapted to swim at high speed. And she also showed us the abilities of 3 or 4 of the dolphins who interacted with us and who live in an area bordering the lagoon.
Instructed by our guide, the dolphins approached us so we could touch them, watch them swim above and below the water and feed them with fish at the end of their routines. We could not stop applauding with each of their jumps or when they caught the ball or did tricks. You just fall in love when you are near them!
To feel their heart beat, kiss them on the “nose”, listen to the typical sound they emit and see them open their mouths to receive food were undoubtedly the best moments of our encounter with these friendly and intelligent mammals.
In front of us a photographer and a videographer captured those “unforgettable” moments. I couldn’t resist buying a couple of photos and the video (ouch! for my pocket). But since such an experience was not likely to happen again soon, I thought it was worth absorbing the expense.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the lagoon, which also has its own white sand beach, there was another kind of fun: Kids and adults riding bikes and jet skis, kayaks and boats, and sunbathing on the sand.
At the southern end of the hotel two large pools with waterfalls and slides made another big group of people happy. It was simply impossible not to have fun in this huge resort. In 2015, Travel & Leisure magazine gave it the fourth place as the best family resort.
Day 4 – Kailua beaches and king Kamehameha I
You can’t travel to Hawaii without visiting its beaches, so we spent our fourth day placidly in Kailua-Kona Bay. My daughter enjoyed playing in the sea, building sand castles and exploring the rocks on the beach in search of marine animals.
Meanwhile, I dedicated myself to sunbathing and catching placid photos and videos. It was then that I discovered that the structure that was in front of me on Kamakahonu beach was nothing more and nothing less than the last abode of King Kamehameha I.
The Ahuena Heiau temple, a structure located on a small artificial island opposite the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, was built between 1812 and 1813 during the reign of Kamehameha, and was used as a temple of peace and prosperity in honor of the goddess of fertility.
King Kamehameha, who is credited with uniting the Hawaiian Islands, spent his last years in that temple and is believed to have died there in May 1819. According to the belief, his body was prepared following an ancestral ritual and led to a secret tomb at Wawahiwaa Point, north of Kailua.
The halls of the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel show a series of paintings about the life of the monarch whose reign extends from 1782 to 1819.
The Ahuena Heiau was as a background in some of my luau photos from the previous day and I had not realized its importance. I noticed then that I knew practically nothing of the history of Hawaii. So, I started studying right there on the beach!
Day 5 – The beach of Hapuna Bay
Before continuing our trip to Hilo, we decided to spend another day at the beach. This time we headed to Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area, about 30 minutes (20 miles) north of Kona International Airport on Highway 19 or Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway.
The area measures about 60 acres and the beach is perfect for swimming, snorkeling and practicing various types of surfing. The water is relatively quiet, but there is a lifeguard service because sometimes the currents can be strong.
The park has parking, picnic areas, restrooms and showers. There is also a food place, water and beach equipment rental, and permits can be requested for camping. Admission is free for residents and $ 5 for visitors.
It was practically a day of relaxation. The next day we had a long drive to the city of Hilo, on the east coast of Big Island, Hawaii.