Hawaii Post 3: Hilo Sunrise to Volcano Village

The next leg of our trip takes us out of Hilo and down to Volcano Village to explore Kilauea.

We all got up super early to catch the sunrise at Liliuokalani Gardens and Coconut Island Park. It was really beautiful. This area (and Volcano Village) are more tropical than the west side of the island which meant for more clouds and occasional rain, but this made for a beautiful sunrise complete with rainbow.

Since it was super early, we decided to stop in at Ken’s House of Pancakes for some of their famous mac nut pancakes. It was fun seeing the breakfast usuals, who I’m sure come to Ken’s every Tuesday at 7a to meet their buddies. Old people are awesome like that.

After a yummy breakfast and a quick nap at the hotel, we packed up and hit the road. We made one stop into Bear’s Coffee before we said goodbye to Hilo. The owner was a hilarious man who actually used to own Akbar in LA. I’ve attended Craft Night at Akbar in the past and was facinated to hear what he had to say. He sold it to the now owners of Akbar and eventually moved to Hilo to open Bear’s Coffee. Such a character, he was.

After chatting and caffeinating, we left town to head south west (45 min drive) to Volcano Village. This was our day to spend in Volcano National Park so we went straight in to their visitors center. It was here where we learned what was worth doing for our one day in the park. The volcano also changes frequently because it is active, so for example, the road leading around the southern side of the volcano was completely closed down due to poisonous gasses. If you are visiting the park, start here because they will plan your day for you.

We followed the rangers instruction and then moved to the most west spot open to the public, the Jaggar Museum, which is full of information about the history of the volcano. It is also the best lookout point for the active caldera.

We then headed east stopping at each of the sights. Here was saw the steam vents and sulfur banks.

We did a hike around devastation trail and a few others that were short (around a mile long) before we had to take a break for lunch. There were no places to get food within the park, so we followed the rangers suggestion and went into Volcano Village (the closest town) for a bite to eat at Volcano Garden Arts’ Cafe Ono. This all vegetarian place looked like a home that was converted to an art shop and cafe. The food was so delicious and the price included soup and a salad. We all really enjoyed the meal and indulged in a brownie with homemade ice cream.

Did I mention they have a goat named Ernest? We played with him after lunch.

We drove back into the park to have more volcano fun. We went to the Thurston Lava Tube, which is now hollowed out, but used to be filled with lava. I’m glad I packed my headlamp. You know me, always be prepared!

Across from the entrance to the lava tube is the start of a 4 mile hiking loop that takes you through the volcano crater. So cool. Do this hike. It’s not too challenging, but wear closed toed shoes. This is the closest I will ever be to walking on the moon (which is what this hike feels like). There are even still steam pockets along the hike. It makes you feel like if you took one wrong turn you could fall through. A little scary, but what an awesome experience. If you only have time to do one thing in the park, make it this.

We continued to the end of Chain of Craters Rd. The road ends where lava actually took out the road back in 2003. It wasn’t even that long ago. The road even looks newly paved, with solid lava seeping out into it. I love the shot of the “road closed” sign. This was a windy ride with steep drops, but it was worth it. This is also where the lava meets the ocean, so it’s a very different sight than the rest of the park.

At this point the sun was setting and we wanted to see the volcano at night (from the Jaggar Museum lookout) so we had to drive the hour back north to the first place we started. It was worth the drive to see this clearly active volcano glowing. The moon and venus were also out. It was a beautiful night.

Once we had our fill of photo taking, it was 8:15p and we needed dinner. Most everything closes early in Hawaii, so we raced into town to get to the only dinner restaurant we knew of, Kiawe Kitchen. We got there just as they put out their closed sign (they closed at 8:30p) but still let us sit and eat. Thank goodness because there weren’t many options to go anywhere else. The meal was fabulous. We split asparagus, pizza, and a veggie pasta dish. The three of us were stuffed and so impressed with the food we had in Volcano Village. Coincidentally our hotel was right next door.

We had a great stay at Aloha Junction B+B in Volcano Village. We were so nervous about booking it because it had lots of availability and was significantly cheaper than all the other options. Suspiciously cheaper. But we wanted to save money and figured it was one night, how bad could it be? It was awesome. Why it was so cheap? I have no clue. The room was adorable and full of amenities. Since it was a B+B, it was a large home with additions put on to it. We had a room in the back with a large deck around it. Such a cute place, and then the next morning the owner had made us a giant feast! He made mac nut pancakes with fruit picked from the garden. Each of our plates had a fresh papaya with more fruit. He provided bacon for the meat eaters and tons of juices and coffees. We were spoiled rotten. This was also one of our top meals of the trip. I normally don’t love pancakes and I had three they were so good! If you stay in Volcano Village, spend the night here. You will be so glad you did.

Hawaii Post 2: Waikoloa to Hilo

Happy Memorial Day! Hope you all got your bbq on. I left off when we said our goodbyes to the glorious Hilton. We were sad to go, but excited to see the real Hawaii. These maps show you the scale of our day move to Hilo. We stopped off at several places… but more on that later.

About fifteen minutes up the road is point “B” on the map, Hapuna Beach. This public beach is the epitome of what you picture when you think of a Hawaiian beach. White sand, clear blue bath water, and even a smoothie stand. At the end of the trip we all agreed this was probably the best beach we visited. We only had an hour and a half to spend here, and it was a cherished 90 minutes. The smoothie stand was a tad pricy, but worth it.

The landscapes on the Big Island are so varied. We went from extreme desert to lush rolling hills of greenery. Such a small distance to see such a drastic change in landscape.

We drove the next hour to Honokaa (near the “C” on the map) to eat lunch at Tex Drive In. This place was recommended to me by everyone who heard I was going to the Big Island. Given it’s reputation, I thought it would be massive and packed with people and I was wrong. It’s like a little diner stop, where you order food at the counter and sit at picnic tables. It was small, low-key (like most everything in Hawaii, as I learned) and delicious!

Tex is known for their malasadas. Get a malasada there. It’s like a donut, but a square puff pastry of heaven. I’m not big into pastries, but it was so good. I got the cream filled.

After I finished a fish sandwich and malasada at Tex, we realized only 10 minutes away was Waipio Lookout which was on our “if-you-have-time” list. This is point “C” on the map. This lookout is well worth the added 10 minutes in the wrong direction. This lookout gives you such dramatic views of the cliffs, and gives you a peak into Hawaiian history by letting you look onto the remote village deep down below.

We opted not to hike down into the valley, as we still had so much to see along our trek to Hilo. We retraced our steps to Tex Drive In, and continued for another hour+ to get to point “D” on the map. This was a beautiful drive along a green hillside with water views. This was so different from our time in Waikoloa and equally valuable to our Hawaiian experience.

Point “D” is Akaka Falls. This super short (.5 mi?) loop is really easy and a great way to jump into the tropical climate. We paid a dollar? or maybe two, to a man guarding the entrance. I like to hope he worked for their parks department, but I have my doubts. It was worth the couple dollars, as you see many waterfalls along the loop. The most awwing is Akaka Falls. The path is very well maintained and I would barely call it a hike.

Once we completed the loop, it was about 5:30p and we still needed to get into Hilo. This was our day in Hilo, and we got into town so late that not much was open. We checked into our hotel around 6pm. We stayed on what locals might call “the wrong side of town”, but we enjoyed our hotel, The Dolphin Bay Hotel. Here we booked a 2 bedroom (practically) apartment, with it’s own full kitchen and balcony. While the neighborhood isn’t great, this hotel is very nice and a good price. They grow their own fruit, so they keep fresh papaya and bananas in bowls for the guests. Their lobby is packed with free amenities like bug spray and umbrellas to take on walks into town. When we arrived we indulged in a papaya from the garden and some homemade cocktails on the balcony.

The owners of the hotel told us about a super cheap and yummy sushi place walking distance from the hotel, Ocean Sushi. They warned us it was nothing fancy (card tables and chairs) but that the sushi was amazing. Best recommendation ever. When you hear “cheap sushi”, it’s easy to worry, so we decided to walk to the restaurant and if we didn’t feel like it was for us, we had some back-up options. When we walked the 15 minutes to the place we saw it was packed with locals. This is always a good sign. Everything was around $5. Wow. What a deal. And these weren’t boring rolls, they were creative and unique. They had mac nuts in them (which is what Hilo, and Hawaii, are known for). Have you had a tuna roll with a mac nut in it? Genius. We were all blown away! I think that meal cost us each under $15 (including tax and tip) and we ate so much food. The photo below was just one round of sushi (and we had a couple rounds). We even got dessert, fried mochi. This was also voted our favorite dinner given the deliciousness and cheap prices. If you are in Hilo and eat sushi, this is a must. I could go on all day about this place, but I must continue.

We walked around town after dinner and then headed back to the hotel. We knew we were going to wake up early to catch the sunrise the next morning (which is best from this side of the island). We felt safe walking back to the hotel because there were three of us, but if you are planning to go by yourself I would be careful walking around this area alone at night. Hilo in general was much less touristy than the Kona (west) side of the Big Island and it was also a great experience seeing how locals live in paradise.