A couple months ago (over 4th of July) my husband and I were lucky enough to find the right deal and have the right amount of airline points to go to Hawai’i! We decided that we would go to Kauai then the Big Island.
I want to preface that our typical style of traveling is pretty much making a loose plan of things we want to see before we go and then making it up when we get there. We generally don’t do too many tours and just do quite a bit of research before our journey. We typically spend our money on doing things rather than food and lodging, so this is not going to be a foodie guide– but does have some honorable mentions.
Here’s an overview of our trip before I get to the good stuff: photos!
Day 1: Fly from Seattle -> Kona -> Honolulu -> Lihue
Day 2: Kauai
Day 3: Kauai
Day 4: Kauai/Kona then drive to Hilo
Day 5: Hilo
Day 6: Hilo then drive to Kona
Day 7: Kona
Day 8: Kona with an evening overnight flight back to Seattle
So we started with our wonderful Delta flight from Seattle to Kona. I watched Moana to get in the mood for Hawaii. We then chose Hawaiian Airlines to travel between the islands. They had fruit juice and the cutest smallest tray tables I’ve ever seen. We flew on 4th of July and watched fireworks in Honolulu while we had an hour layover. It worked out pretty well!
We landed in Lihue pretty late at night and got an airbnb for the night (it was perfect for us, simple and clean.) In the morning, we picked up our Turo car rental and hunted for coffee. Ha coffee bar was amazing. If I lived in Kauai, it would be my go to spot.
We then drove to the Sheraton Kauai where we were staying the rest of our short time in Kauai. We had to drive down this beautiful tree tunnel on Maluhia Rd to get to Poipu Beach area (where the Sheraton is located) The resort was beautiful (and big) and the beach wasn’t deep but the sand was nice and the waves weren’t too crazy.
Before we left on our trip we had made reservations for a sunset Na Pali coast tour with Holo Holo Charters. If you want to see the Na Pali coast the best way is by sea or air. Based on my research the view is more dramatic at sunset because the sun is setting on the coast whereas in the morning the sun rises behind it, but the sea life is much more active and present in the morning time. We choose sunset based on wanting a better view of the coast. Thankfully we were still blessed with a whole pod of dolphins (no pictures of dolphins because I couldn’t look away from them)
Holo Holo Charters were awesome! I’ve never been on a catamaran before and was surprised by how wet you get when up front. We went over some decent waves (huge to me) and Michael got to ride the waves while holding on to the front. It was super entertaining to see.
On Day 2 we decided to spend the morning driving up Waimea Canyon. It featured a bunch of lookouts that you can park and look at the canyon. It is truly stunning to see the canyon and amazing that such a huge one exists on the island. I know there were a ton a hiking trails we could have taken but we were more on an express tour of Waimea canyon. Next time we will do more hiking.
We drove up and down the 1 road. It turned and climbed and was enjoyable to watch the coast line get smaller and smaller. We had our windows rolled down most of the time because, it’s Hawaii.
So funny story about these cars. We had just begun our journey up the Waimea Canyon Road and a fire truck passes us with it’s sirens blaring zooming up the road. We heard the truck for the next 20-30 mins making it’s way along the long road along the valley. It kept echoing even though we spotted it at least 5 miles away on another ridge. When we finally reach the end of Waimea Canyon Road we found the fire truck and these 3 completely torched cars. It was crazy.
After our drive down from Waimea Canyon we stopped at Porky’s Cart. It was so stinking delicious.
Waimea Canyon Drive is on the west side of Kauai and we had made a game plan to head to the North/East side of the island towards Princeville area. On the way we were calling around for helicopter tours to see if anyone had any available for the next morning. One of the places we called told us that they had a flight leaving in 35 mins that needed 2 more people. We plugged in the airport in google maps and it informed us we were 35 mins away. We decided it was meant to be.
We went on a 55 minute flight around the entire island of Kauai with Island Helicopter Tours. We saw the Waimea canyon, Na Pali Coast, all the east coast beaches, and all the waterfalls we couldn’t see from the ground. It was amazing. You should totally do it.
I should also preface that I was not prepared for a helicopter ride and was wearing a bright red shirt. The gentleman working there gave me the big black t shirt so that I would reflect less and get better photos. I see what you did there sir. I tip my hat to you.
After the tour we were heading up the east coast towards a photoshoot (that ended up being postponed to the next morning) but were able to stop at Hanalei Pier but found it a little too crowded for us to sit and enjoy the rest of the afternoon. We continued north to Tunnels beach which is where we stopped, threw a frisbee, watched the water, and walked along the beach. It was perfect.
After the sun had set we grabbed a snack and headed back to the Sheraton.
We decided on Day 3 that we would enjoy the morning at the Sheraton resort. We grabbed coffee & chai lattes along with some breakfast sandwiches at the cute little cafe and ate them with our butts and feet in the sand.
After checking out of our hotel and returning the rental car we made our way via Hawaiin Airlines again to Kona airport on the Big Island where we picked up another rental car and drove across the island to the Hilo side. We drove straight through the middle of the island in between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. As the sun set we decided we would try and drive to the top of Mauna Kea and watch the sun set. Sadly we missed the car cutoff by about 20 minutes and were ill equipped for the vast temperature change that the top of Mauna Kea brings so we drove back down the mountain and continued to our airbnb on the Hilo side of the island. Even though we didn’t get to go to the top the view from the road was amazing. The clouds were so close and sometimes it felt like we were above them. It was definitely a good first impression of Big Island.
Also, I often buckle my camera bag in to the back seat. Safety first.
On day 4 we woke up and ventured into Hilo for some breakfast at a farmers market. We ended up with fancy cinnamon rolls and banana bread. #worthit #whatdiet
Our plan was to spend most of the day down in Volcanoes National Park. Note: there is a fee to enter the park. We stopped and gathered information and maps at the visitor center and then headed on our way. We stopped at lava tubes, steam vents, and of course the active volcano Kilauea. We also drove down the Chain of Craters road for a few hours (took our time) and it was amazing to see the different types of lava and the lava flows from different eras. At the end we saw the Holei Sea Arch. All of it was pretty amazing.
The one thing I will say is to make this an afternoon into evening trip. While the Kilauea volcano was pretty cool from the day it was spectacular at night. We ended up leaving and coming back and it was so worth coming back for.
After Volcanoes National Park we intended to go South to the Papakolea green sand beach and stumbled across Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. After reading about the green sand beach further we found it required quite a hike to get there and decided there wasn’t enough time so we got out our hammock and sat in the hammock at Punalu’u until the sun went down. The black sand at this beach was amazing. It was also grittier than I expected. There were some but not a ton of people enjoying, camping, cooking on the beach There was even a sea turtle hanging on the sand and we spotted another one out in the water.
On the morning of Day 5 I was lucky enough to photograph on another black sand beach in Hilo, more photos to come from that. Afterwards we sadly had to check out from our amazing Airbnb (I still dream of that place) It is literally my favorite airbnb we’ve stayed at to date. If you are going to Hilo I recommend staying at this place.
We began our journey north of Hilo with the end goal being Waipio Valley. We stopped at What’s Shakin and got scrumptious smoothies made from fresh fruit grown on their farm.
While stopped for gas we made the decision that we were going to get fresh cooked chicken at the place on the front lawn of the gas station. We each got a half chicken and it was made on a grill made from an old john boat. While I initially had my hesitations Michael said that they had a health code certificate and multiple locations. I do not regret our decision. We saved the chicken for when we got to Waipio Valley and ate it at the picnic tables over looking the beautiful scenery. It was a perfect low key lunch with an even better view.
After lunch we used our 4 wheel drive vehicle (a MUST for any Hawaii trip) and took the steep road down into the Waipio valley. It was so worth it. From the top you can’t really see them but when you get into the valley you can see that there are a ton of people playing and camping on the beach. We threw the frisbee and hung our hammock between these beautiful palm trees and watched kids playing on their boogie boards.
The black sand in the valley was soft but hot in the sun. We also saw some of the wild horses that call the valley their home.
Not shown in these videos: my death grip on the oh crap handle. It was a steep road.
After Waipio Valley we continued to the Kona side of the island and drove through Kona to see the city. We stopped at local restaurant with outdoor seating overlooking the ocean, sunset, and beach volleyball court. All 3 were very active and enjoyable to watch.
That evening we spent 1 night in the Sheraton Kona Hotel which was a beautiful resort (even though we didn’t use it at all)
On day 6 we got a later start than normal and headed towards Captain Cook bay for some kayaking and snorkeling. Even though it was pushing lunch time we had a hankering for breakfast food. We found Big Rob’s Bakery and boy am I glad we did. His portions were generous and his personality was larger than life. I generally tend to like my bacon cooked really well done and often order it “Can you burn the bacon, I like it really well done” to which he responded “I can burn anything!” We ate our meal on the lanai behind his restaurant.
Since we got off to a late start we were too late to go kayaking and snorkeling. The waters get rougher in the afternoon and the sea life leave the cove.
So we made our way back north to the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel where we would stay the last night of our vacation. This was by far our biggest splurge and it was so worth it. The resort and the hotel was just so cool. The restaurant was yummy, the beach was big, and there were manta rays that came right up to the shore at night. It was awesome. We finished out our vacation lounging on the beach, reading, and throwing the frisbee.
I loved Hawaii and would move here in a heartbeat. If I were to go back to these islands here is what I would do differently:
-Spend more time in Kauai- I could have spent another 4 days in Kauai hiking, site seeing, and swimming. It is a great island for lots of outdoor adventure activities. If we go back I would do an entire vacation just on this island.
-Camp on the beach- if we had known how pleasant it was and not that humid (compared to GA) at night we would have totally camped a night or two
– Captain Cook Bay- I would have gotten up early to go snorkeling with the dolphins and turtles
– Queens Bath in Kauai- we didn’t have enough time to go see this and I wish we had.