Updated: Nov 2, 2022
Visiting the 50th State is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. The island chain of Hawaiʻi is simply stunning, from a vast canyon to pristine beaches there is a little of something for everyone. The beauty of Hawaiʻi is difficult to capture in one post which is why I'm going over it a series of posts. I wanted to stary with my favorite island. Although I lived on the island of Oʻahu for three years I'll never forget how the Big Island took my breath away and really invoked the feeling of what my idea of a tropical island is. In this post, I'm going to share why the Big Island is my favorite island.
The Big Island is the most volcanic islands in Hawaiʻi, it is home to Kīlauea, Maunaloa, Hualālai, and Maunakea. Maunaloa last erupted in 1984, and Kīlauea has been continuously erupting since 1983 with the most recent eruption being in 2018 when fissures opened in residential areas. Currently, Kīlauea has been relatively quiet. This is not to say that it there isn't still magma flowing under the surface, because there is, it is just experiencing a pause right now. As such visitors to the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater will note that the lava lake is dried up. This simply means that Kīlauea will erupt again, just where and when remains to be seen. Don't let this active volcano deter you from visiting, however, the Big Island has so much to offer! Loihi is located underwater off the southern coast of Hawaiʻi Island. Erupting since 1996, this emerging seamount may eventually break the surface, adding a new island to the Hawaiian island chain.
In particular, we loved visiting Volcano National Park. Kīlauea is sometimes called "the world's only drive-in volcano.” There is a 10.6-mile drive that circles Kīlauea Caldera. Driving around this loop will take you to the park's main attractions: the Kīlauea overlook, Devastation Trail and Kīlauea Iki Crater Overlook. During our visit, we got to hike, which is really a gentle stroll in Nāhuku - Thurston Lava Tube.
As of this posting, the Thurston Lava Tube has opened back up. We enjoyed the 1-mile hike and it is fairly easy for children to visit. I would suggest bringing a flashlight with you however, we made the mistake of not bringing one inside the lava tube. This mistake lead to our oldest son tripping over a rock and scraping up his knee. It put a damper on the day but not enough to end the fun at the park. Thursdton is a fairly easy hike and before the scraped knee incident our son really had a lot of fun in the darkened lava tube. There are some gorgeous sites to see along the hike and it is one you will regret if you decide to skip it. We opted to drive the 10.6-mile loop because our oldest son was so young and wouldn't be able to safely hike. Regardless he had a blast. There is an open space for kids to run around and explore at the visitor center. We stopped to have a plate lunch near the visitor center and learned a lot about all the volcanos on the Big Island. There were some interactive exhibits that our son could have played with all day if we'd had more time.
Maunakea is about a 1 hour and 30-minute drive from Kona. Just please be careful when driving up there, you are going from sea level to 14,000+ and as such altitude sickness is a real possibility. If you feel any symptoms at all immediate seek a lower elevation. We decided to stop at the visitor information station rather than go to the summit of Maunakea. I was personally concerned about the possibility our young son could getting altitude sickness. Additionally, you have to have a 4x4 vehicle to get to the summit. This rule is strictly enforced by the very hard working park rangers at a checkpoint before driving the summit. I would be more than happy to book you a 4x4 rental car if you wish, there are several other places on the Big Island that require much the same, however, I don't encourage you to drive to Maunakea and assume because you are there that you will be allowed to go to the summit in a standard vehicle.
The stop at the visitor information center is very much a rewarding site that offers unobstructed views of the Big Island. I was blown away at the sheer beauty that we beheld when we reached the visitor center. We weren't as prepared as we should have been due to the higher elevation but it was manageable with the jackets we brought with us. We were able to see star gaze at the visitor center which was a lot of fun for our oldest. It's a fond memory he talks about drink hot chocolate and looking through "the giant microscopes" as he calls it. There is a small gift shop which I feel we spent the most time due to all the stuff you could tinker with. I think the highlight of the trip up to Maunakea was drinking hot chocolate.
Punaluʻu Beach is the immensely popular Black Sand Beach. It is a breathtaking beach in which the black sand is made up of basalt that is created by lava flowing into the ocean which explodes when it reaches the ocean it cools and forms the black sand. Punaluʻu is frequented by hawksbill and Hawaiian green sea turtles. Many are very lucky like we were to see them taking a nap on the beach. Just note that they are typically roped off because it is illegal to touch, ride, feed, move, or otherwise harass the sea turtles. Just observe them and move on. We got the unique chance to see 4 of them lounging on the beach with a 5th slowly making it's way to the shore. The water at the beach can be pretty choppy, there were no lifeguards on duty when we went so I would say swim at your own risk, but I would really recommend reconsidering it. I don't think I've ever visited there and the water wasn't rough. Sometimes there are food trucks or a shave ice truck in the parking lot. On that day we found a shave ice truck and enjoyed shave ice while relaxing on the black sand. There is a small freshwater lake nestled up to the beach that is home to nēnē (Hawaiian ducks) and coconut trees.
This Big Island is really big. As such, you are able to see so many different ecosystems all contained on one island. From the frigid heights of the top of Maunakea to the warm sandy shores of Hapuna Beach. For me, it feels like completely fits the idea of what island living is all about. From the slow pace of life to the unending gorgeous views. We island hopped from Oʻahu and enjoy moving at an even slower pace. There was so much to see and do but at the end of the day, it didn't matter if we didn't make it to see everything because it was just relaxing to go there. Overall, the Big Island is an extremely family friendly island that is full of adventure, fun, and thrills. There is seriously something for everyone and I highly recommend you consider visiting the Big Island during a trip to HawaiʻI.
Are you thinking about planning a trip to Hawaiʻi? If so, fill out my trip planning form or send me an email and let's get to planning your trip to Hawaiʻi!