Just a note that “Hawaii Day One” mostly refers to Day Two, since Day One of any trip to Hawaii is taken up by the long flight to get there. The first time I visited Hawaii was in 2002. We only went to Waikiki, and we took a direct flight. Ten long hours. Usually I am all about direct flights, but this time I decided to break it up by choosing a flight with a short layover in Phoenix each way. In the end, the layovers were too short. I forgot they board the plane half an hour ahead of the flight, so we barely had time to eat or pick up snacks between flights.
As soon as we landed in the Kona airport, I realized that my experience in Waikiki did not prepare me at all for the Big Island. I had been confidently telling Mike all about Hawaii based on my earlier trip, but I discovered that Waikiki and Honolulu are very different from anyplace else in Hawaii. We drove all around the Big Island while we were there. The biggest cities are no more than towns and the majority of it is rural. The tourism industry is concentrated around Kona on the western side of the island, which has better weather. The eastern half, centered around Hilo, we were informed gets rain approximately 360 days out of the year. We stayed at Volcano House in Volcanoes National Park, and it seemed to have its own ecosystem. It was at a high enough altitude that the weather stayed cool and the hotel didn’t even have air conditioning.
I was struck immediately by the undeveloped landscape, and as we drove along, by the contrast between the dark black volcanic rocks and the bright yellow grass on the side of the road. But I was also exhausted so we did not stop for photos. We got lunch at the Kona Brewing Company, and then we drove to Volcano House, checked in, and went to bed.
The lady next to us on the flight in from Phoenix was a Kona resident and she couldn’t believe we were going to drive the two hours to Volcano House after the flight. Later on other people said the same thing – you drove to Kona and back in one day? I thought it was funny that the locals made a big deal of what to me are fairly short distances. I make two-hour day trips all the time on the East Coast. Most days with traffic, it takes half an hour to get to the grocery store in New Jersey.
The first thing I had noticed upon getting out of the car at Volcano House was the pleasant scent of burning, like a campfire. But I realized later that it wasn’t a campfire, since there were no nearby campgrounds. It was the scent of volcano. But that first morning, and the night before, we weren’t able to see the volcano from the hotel because of mist, clouds, and rain. We weren’t sure what to do because of the weather, and we ended up driving back to Kona along the south end of the island.
We stopped at the black sand beach at Punalu’u. There was a sea turtle asleep in the designated sea turtle spot. As we watched, she slowly made her way to the water and dove in. It seemed to take so much effort. She must have been happy to get back to the water where movement was a million times easier.
We continued on the way to Kona, passing through a bunch of small towns and signs for coffee plantations. We stopped when we got to the resort area at Kailua-Kona, where we parked and walked down to the beach. It wasn’t raining, and the weather was 20 degrees hotter and more humid than at Volcano House. We had lunch at Huggo’s on the Rocks and then browsed around the touristy stores. Mike was looking for tiki figurines to give our friends back home, in the hope that one of them might be cursed like in the Brady Bunch episode. One of the employees at the coffee shop we stopped at recommended looking for them at the Farmer’s Market, so we went there, too.
We drove back to Volcano House, and the weather had cleared so we could finally see it from the observation deck.
We had dinner in the Volcano House restaurant, and we scored a window table to watch the sun set and the volcano glow. We both ordered drinks to celebrate, and this was the beginning of a trend where I preferred whatever drink Mike ordered to the one I got myself.