Island Hopping in Hawaii – Part II: Hawai’i

This is Part II of my series Island Hopping in Hawaii. Part I is about my time in Maui and Part III will discuss Oahu. This part explores the Big Island of Hawai’i. 

Hawai’i (Big Island) Lodging and Transportation

I talked about the living arrangement, transportation, and work experience in-depth here: WWOOFing in Hawaii. In short, I camped out in a rainforest for two weeks and hitchhiked everywhere except for the last day where I rented a car and drove to the Kona side.


The best thing about Hawaii is the abundance of beaches so it was easy to find a secluded one. Kiholo Bay is one of those slightly off the beaten path places where green sea turtles come to bask in the sun. I spotted at least two in the brief time I spent on one afternoon and sat within arm’s length of one. You can get there from highway 19 by turning into a dirt road that lacks proper signage. Let these GPS coordinate 19.8493283,-155.9309297 be your guide. There is is also a queen’s bath if you want to take a quick dip in a freshwater pool.

Northern Coast and Central Hawaii

Pu`ukoholā Heiau, more magnificent in pictures than in person.

Pu`ukoholā Heiau, more magnificent in pictures than in person.

I took care of most of my gift shopping at the Hamakua Macademia Nut Company (or go to Mauna Loa factory if you are in Hilo). There you can see the factory, crack open a nut, and sample different flavor nuts and coffee. A short drive down is the historic Pu`ukoholā Heiau and a beach people camp out at but there is not much to see here.

Waipi'o from the Lookout

Waipi’o from the Lookout

There are two incidences I encountered where an AWD might be useful: Waipi’o Valley and Mauna Kea. You can get to the Waipi’o Valley Lookout by passenger car but you need AWD if you want to drive down the steep decline. However, that does not mean you cannot hike down or get a ride on horseback. Stargazing at the summit of Mauna Kea presents the same challenge although you can get to the Visitor Information Station without AWD and more stars are actually visible there. So think twice before you give in to the car rental company trying to upsell an SUV.

Hilo and Food

Rainbow FallsHilo is one of the rainiest cities in the U.S. and waterfalls are one of the main attractions. Rainbow falls and Pe’epe’e falls/boiling pots are just a hop skip away from each other.

Most of the restaurants I visited were in Hilo. I sampled the local dishes such as Saimin (noodle soup influenced by various Asian cuisine) from Kuhio Grille and Loco Moco (combination of rice, spam, egg, gravy, or whatever) from Cafe 100. I was not impressed with either. I realized that spam and fried eggs were more representative of Hawaiian cuisine than ham and pineapple. One place I did enjoyed was Hilo Burger Joint. I ordered the teriyaki burger, which sadly included only half a slice of pineapple, but the Fire and Ice Fries (ranch and hot sauce with bleu cheese and bacon) made up for it.

SaiminLoco MocoTeri Burger with Fire and Ice Fries
Saimin, Loco Moco, and Teri Burger with Fire & Ice Fries

Tiny painting from Small Scale Magic in Hilo.

Tiny painting from Small Scale Magic in Hilo.

Within walking distance of the burger joint is the Lyman House Memorial Museum, which I would only recommend as a rainy day activity. You can learn about the history with a bit of religious overtones but there was no point in looking at plastic nature exhibits when you can explore the real thing outside.

I went to several farmers’ market; Maku’u for produce and Uncle Robert’s night market for crafts but the Hilo Farmers’ Market was abundant in both. I love the papayas which at 5 for $1, were deliciously sweet and cheap.

Puna District

Uncle Robert’s Wednesday Night Market is worth checking out when in Puna. Aside from various craft and food stands, there is also a live band and a dance floor. Maku’u on the other hand I would skip if you are going to the Hilo Farmers’ Market.

Getting down at the night market.

Pencil Slate Sea Urchin

Pencil Slate Sea Urchin

Kapoho Tide Pool is a place I would recommend for beginner snorkeling. Bring a snorkel mask but fins not needed and may actually damage the environment. I was still learning to swim when I came here and survived just fine albeit with a few cuts from sharp rocks. Best come here during high tide when the ocean water cleanses the pool water and you will not risk getting stuck on a rock when the tide comes in. If you just want to swim, there is the nearby geothermal warm pond at Ahalanui Park.

Ahalanui Geothermal Warm Pond.

Ahalanui Geothermal Warm Pond.

I liked the hike through Volcanoes National Park but do not count on seeing a fiery volcano erupting. Go there for plants and walking through the Thurston Lava Tube. If you want to see lava, you have a better chance seeing it on southern end of Pahoa. Last I heard there was nothing visible so check conditions before getting your hopes up.

Lava once ran through here.

Lava once ran through here.

Continue to Part III: Oahu
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