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where to spot them
Of all of the major Hawaiian islands, The Big Island is the last visited. The largest of the Hawaiian Islands is somehow overshadowed by more popular Maui, Oahu or Kauai. The Big Island is rarely ever an island visited on first or even trip to Hawaiian Islands. But everyone is really missing out here! Endless lava fields, numerous waterfalls, impressive natural scenery and, above all, still active volcanoes that are forming new pieces of land right in front of your eyes.
If we started our vacation on a high note in Maui, in Hawaii my friend Katka and I will spin things up even more. The roads on this island are straighter and significantly wider, so as soon as we land at the airport in Hilo with Hawaiian Air, we head to the car rental office and make our dream come true – we rent a beautiful white convertible! And then, with the wind in our hair, we leave for our hotel on the opposite side of the island. We booked the colossal HiltonWaikola Village Hawaii resort for our entire stay (although I’m not a fan of these huge American resorts) for four reasons: good location, good price, dolphin bay, and most importantly, free Hawaiian Hula dance lessons. Katka steps on the gas and in two hours we are standing at the hotel reception. Although there is another Kona airport at the Big Island, which is closer to most of the resorts, the Hilo airport is less busy, and what is more important, on the last day, we are planning a helicopter flight from this airport…
DAY 1 & 2
At the Hilton
Our resort is so huge that we have to take a train to our hotel room that runs through the property every 15 minutes. It resembles a city within a city. But it is really beautiful here. What gets me the most are bathroom amenities, which smell wonderfully like coconut and mango! By the time we finally check in, it’s quite late, so we just pop in for dinner at a local Italian restaurant, book a helicopter tour for the last day, and leave exploring the nooks and crannies of the resort for another day. A new day starts with a pilates class followed by breakfast. The restaurant is huge, but the buffet tables are not as rich as in the Fairmont Kea Lani in Maui. After breakfast, we are going for a sightseeing walk. We can’t miss the dolphin bay, where the breeders are currently training the clever dolphins. Then there is a time for a pinacolada in the hammock by the pool, and in the early afternoon our first Hula dance lesson is waiting for us! The great thing about colossal resorts like the Hilton Waikola Village is that you can spend weeks there and not get bored of the place. Various activities and even workshops where you can learn about Hawaiian culture are available for free. We won’t have time to learn how to make a typical Hawaiian flower lei, but we can’t miss the Hula dance lessons.
The traditional Hawaiian Hula dance is not just an ordinary dance, but a complex art form. The hips of the dancers undulate like the surface of the ocean, the hand motions represent the deep words in the song, all accompanied by beautiful sounds of ukulele. With hula dance, you can beautifully express aspects of nature, such as the swaying of a tree in the light breeze or a wave in the ocean, as well as human emotions such as fondness or yearning. In our first lesson, a Hawaiian woman introduces us to the meaning of the local dance and then teaches us step by step the beautiful choreography to the famous Hawaiian song Hanalei Moon. I’m already looking forward to how we will try it later somewhere on the beach accompanied by the ocean and fully connect with the music of nature.
Before sunset, we want to go to the nearby Fairmont Orchid hotel. We pretend to go out for a drink, but in reality we want to check out local beaches. We heard from locals about a beach next to the hotel that sea turtles come and sleep during sunset. It’s slowly getting dark outside and the sky once again plays with an unreal palette of orange, pink and purple shades, when we finally manage to locate a tiny public beach called Mauna Lani (the first turn off the road behind the Fairmont Orchid resort). Apart from us, there is no one on the beach at all. Unfortunately, we don’t even see any turtles. And so at least we decide to take advantage of the beautiful environment to shoot a hula dance video. However, at the moment when we stopped hoping that we would come across any turtles, Katka suddenly notices how one turtle is resting inconspicuously among the black lava stones. After a long day swimming in the ocean, it’s their time for rest on the beach. They need to recharge so in the morning they can go for another adventurous journey. What an indescribably magical moment!
The best places to see turtles
1. Kahaluu Beach Park – a popular place for snorkeling
2. Kiholo Bay
3. Honaunau Bay
4. Punalu’u Beach
5. Mauna Lani – our secret spot next to the Fairmont Orchid Hotel and to the right of Holoholokai Beach Park which is a popular sunset picnic spot
The most beautiful sunset in the world
After breakfast and morning yoga class, we are going for a trip to Waipio Valley. Above the valley there is a viewpoint with a beautiful view of the valley and the black volcanic beach. However, we can’t get down to the beach because there is a steep, narrow path and they won’t let us go there with a convertible. Only 4×4 cars are allowed to enter. And we don’t even want to walk in this heat. The way down may be easy, but what about the way back all the way up? And so we are just enjoying a girl road trip in our rental convertible. With a scarf in my hair to keep the wind away from ruining my hair, I feel like a Hollywood star in old movies. After lunch, we are visiting a town, where we are looking for a typical Hawaiian flower crown. We haven’t learned how to make one, so at least we want to buy one. However, it is the weekend and similar flower shops are unfortunately closed. For the last dinner in Hawaii, we go for the most expensive and most beautiful resort on the island – Four Seasons Hualalai, Kailua Kona. We settle down in one of the restaurants right on the beach and order a light dinner. When the sun starts to fall, it shows us what it can do. A romantic band plays on the beach decorated with flaming torches and the sky turns into incredible shades. This sunset will be remembered as the most beautiful one not only here in Hawaii, but in my entire life. We couldn’t have wished for a more touching farewell party…
Volcanoes and lava
What makes Hawaii unique are its active volcanoes that play with hot stones from time to time. Many people come here to see with their own eyes the red-hot lava making its way across the island, pulsating and bubbling, or flowing into the sea and forming new pieces of land. There are four active volcanoes on the Big Island (Kīlauea, Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Hualalai), with Kīlauea being the most active. Between the years 2008 – 2018 in the crater of the volcano called Halema’uma’u it was possible to see a glowing lake of lava. Kīlauea even erupted several times during this time frame, causing severe damage and major changes to the surface of the island. However, if there were no volcanic activity, the Big Island would not exist today at all. After 2018, Kīlauea quieted down for a while, only to become a little more active again between December 2020 and May 2021. Observing and tracking flowing lava is one of the most attractive activities on the island of Hawaii. If a person is lucky enough to experience a slightly more active period, they may see a view that is nothing to compare with. How close to the lava an ordinary person can get depends on what stage of inactivity the local volcanoes are in and what danger they pose. Fortunately, Hawaii’s volcanoes are not among the most violent and most of the time they erupt very discreetly.
Trip to the volcano
There are two or three ways to get closer to the lava. The first is a boat trip to the places where the lava flows into the sea, which is always an incredible sight. However, boat trips are organized only when there is really a lot of activity, and that certainly doesn’t happen every day. Rather, it is an exceptional experience. The second way is either an organized walking tour with a guide or a tour on your own. Prepare well before visiting The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It is recommended to follow the website “What’s going on with the Volcano” with detailed information on the exact location of the places where the lava penetrates the earth’s surface. Or come to the park’s visitor center for advice. Booking an organized tour to the lava with a guide it doesn’t pay off too much ahead of time. It’s hard to predict in advance when the lava will appear. And the third, in my opinion, the most interesting way is a helicopter trip. A helicopter guarantees a view from a completely different perspective. You can get very close to the lava, and at the same time from a safe height, and that’s exactly the way we end up choosing.
In helicopter over the crater
Our convertible car without a roof we are going to replace with a helicopter without doors, so that we can watch the volcano from the immediate vicinity. The best helicopter tours start at the airport in Hilo, which is exactly where we are heading. After a short safety briefing, we get into the small five-seater dragonfly. Two young men will fly with us. I’m the one with the lightest weight out of the crew, so they put me on the middle seat between Captain Matt and Katka. I’m little sad that I didn’t get a place by the window, or rather by the missing door. However, I will not let my mood to ruin the trip. Phones and cameras are securely hung around our necks, all things from our pockets must be stowed. A bunch of keys in the air could seriously damage the propeller. A few minutes later, we are already flying over a deep crater from which there is a lot of smoke coming out, but the volcano is just blowing it off and basically resting. We did not catch it in a more active phase, there are no traces of lava anywhere. Nevertheless, it is an incredibly interesting sight, as if we flew over hell. And Captain Matt tilts the helicopter for us to get a closer look at the vapors. One of the best experiences ever, because how often can one brag about having flown over an active volcano? Then the captain takes us over forests and waterfalls, and after an hour of ride, our $300 per person trip with Paradise Helicopter Tours ends at the runway in Hilo. However, the lava is still tempting us, and since we still have a few hours until our flight back to Honolulu and we don’t have to rush to return the convertible yet, we take a quick trip to the lava fields in the national park. As a final destination, we set a place that Google refers to as “lava viewing area” in the navigation. We will walk through the lava fields as if on some completely different planet, all around us is just a strange surface created by dried lava.
Ho’o Pono Pono
Before the dinner time we are flying back to Oahu, where we booked a small hotel near the airport for an overnight stay before our morning flight to Japan. Initial plan to go to Waikiki beach for a piñacolada eventually loses the battle with fatigue. We need to sleep. Before going to bed, I’m repeating Hawaiian prayer called Ho’o Pono Pono. Three short words in translation mean: “how to do things correctly”. Hawaiian prayers are simple but have deep meaning. Ho’o Pono Pono is practiced in four steps. Say: Please forgive me. I am sorry. Thank you. I love you.