Friday, December 30, 2022

Big Island!

This trip was absolutely not planned. We had planned to visit Peru for two weeks and the news exploded with the unrest in Peru due to the government change and had to cancel all plans very last minute. We had plans to visit Big Island sometime in 2020, and we had cancelled our plans then due to covid-19 and now seemed like the right time to go there. We booked the flights, the hotel, the tours and the car in a span of 3 hrs! Of course, we made sure the Volcano eruptions in Big Island was done and there was no cause for concern there.I am sure we paid at-least $2000 extra than normal due to last minute bookings. But we were happy we were able to fly somewhere, in-spite of the Peru nightmare.

Here is our rough Itinerary, a few recommendations and tips


  • To fully explore Big Island leisurely - you need about 8-9 days., We felt we were a day or two short. 
  • We rented a 4WD. But unless you plan to drive to the summit of Mauna Kea, a normal SUV is more than enough. We took the 4WD to drive to green sand beach, but we realized that we cannot off-road there with rented car.
  •  In Kona, we took the Holiday Inn, as it was a very late booking and this was the only place with reasonable rates.The location was perfect, but next time I would try to book an airbnb for a more homely feel. With the hotel, there was everyday room service, and it was a blessing to get the sand cleaned up and the beds done and towels replaced. If it was an airbnb, there is zero room service and we would have to have done all the cleaning up ourselves. So this turned out to be an ok decision since there was a lot of beach visits.
  • I followed the Big Island revealed guide book to the T. It is a well written guidebook with many tips and pointers and also context provided about history.
  • Definitely recommend the Manta Ray night snorkel! This was my highlight of the trip.
  •  Consider a day to explore north of Kohala - Pululu Valley, Waimea etc. We did not have time for that drive.
  •  Keep bandages, drammamine with you at all times.
  • If you are snorkelling, highly recommending getting into water with flippers, or water shoes if its shallow waters. I got multiple tears on my feet, due to stamping on the reef.
  • Do the Kililua iki trail in Volcanoes National Park, early in the morning. Its around 3.5 miles, and not shaded for the major part, and it gets hot around 11 AM.
  • Most restaurants are closed by 9 pm. So consider stocking up on some soups and salads from safeway for a quick dinner if needed.
  • Carry cash for the off roading ride, $20/ head if you are planning to go to Green Sand Beach!
  • Download the offline maps for Big Island. You will need it.
  • Big Island groceries, food and gas is expensive! So don't be surprised!


  • Day 1 : Flight : SFO to Kona and drive to Hilo. Airbnb in Hilo
  • Day 2 : Volcanoes National Park - We did Kililua Iki trail, Petroglyphs trail and also visited sulphur banks and steam vents. We drove all through the chain of craters road. We did not do the thurston tunnel, as it was crowded, and we have done the lava tubes in Oregon so was ok to skip. Back to 
  • Day 3: Akaka Falls, Rainbow falls, Boiling Hot pots, Hilo's Banyan Drive and Black Sand Beach and drive to Kona and stay at Kona (Holiday Inn)
  • Day 4: Kona Coffee Tour at Greenwell Farms, Visit Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, and Hapuna Beach
  • Day 5 : South Point, Green Sand Beach and Whittington State park
  • Day 6 : Ali'i Drive, Captain Cook Snorkelling, Manta Ray Night Snorkel
  • Day 7 :  island Java Lava breakfast, Mauna Kea Sunset hill hike - Sunset and star gazing 
  • Day 8 : Walk around Alil drive and Flight back to SFO

Restaurants we tried

  • Punelulu Bake shop ( near black sand beach)- they have Taro bread, Guava bread and Masaldas and lunch plates.
  •  Coffee Shack - In Kailua Kona, great sandwiches!
  • Kona Wave Cafe on Alil drive - very nice acai bowls.
  • Island Lava Java - great brunch place on Alil drive 
  •  Kona coffee and tea 
  • Krua Thai : Amazing thai food. Loved everything we ordered.
  • TK Noodles : Just ok food.
  • Cool Runnings : Jamaican food truck in Kailua Kona - great food.
  • Killer tacos : Kailua Kona 
  • Misc
    • Tried Donkey Balls from Donkey Ball store - macademia nut covered with chocolate.
    •  Banana breads from random stalls 
    •  Paradise Meadows farm - on the way to Green Sand Beach - great chocolate and honey tastings 

There are many other places which are recommended in the guidebook, which we did not have the time or space in our tummies to try. 

Day 1 : Flight to Kona, and drive to Hilo

We had a 9 am flight from SFO to Kona. We left home around 6:00 and reached SFO and parked the car in long term parking. With TSA Pre - the check in process was smooth and we were soon having coffee, and some light breakfast - eggs, and croissants.We waited at the gate, and boarded the flight soon.

After boarding, there were issues with the entertainment in the United flight. The kids spent their time playing games in their iPad. I slept a bit, and read the Big island guide book on my kindle. 

The flight went through  lot of turbulence and it was not exactly a smooth. 

We landed in Kona, and we realized it was raining heavily. Kona airport was very wet. We collected baggage, got our 4WD. Our first stop was lunch at killer tacos for some lunch. We had chicken and fish tacos and a taco salad. Kids had cheese quesadillas and rice and beans. The food was good, and price very reasonable. After this, we went to Kona Coffee and Tea and Sree tried their pour over which he was not too impressed but I loved my Matcha. Pastries were ok. I just wasn't blown away.

Rainy Drive 

Matcha Latte

We started our drive to Hilo. It was raining heavily. But we still enjoyed the drive when the rain provided gaps. The terrain changed from black rocks to lush greenery in Hilo. We were essentially driving the Saddle Road.

We entered the property of our Airbnb, and it was such a beautiful property with lush green grounds with fruit trees all over. There were dogs who greeted us. Dino and two other dogs Luna and Tikki. The Airbnb cottage was also very nice and charming and had everything. 

AirBnB grounds 

Enjoying Hot soup

We decided we would call it a day and ditch plans of going to Hilo downtown for dinner.

So sree went and got some groceries for tomorrow and tonight and we had some hot soup and crackers and settled in for the night with some TV. We called it an early night as we knew we might have to get out earlier tomorrow. 


Day 2 : Volcanos National Park

Today, after we woke up, me and Sree took a stroll around the property, looking at the fruit trees and chickens that they had. We also discovered a beautiful tree with a swing on it. It was like a painting or so. The kids also strolled the grounds a bit while we got ready and made breakfast.

We really enjoyed just waking up to this greenery

Found this beautiful tree and swing 

Play time!

We left for the Volcanos National Park around 8:30. We reached the visitor center around 9:30. The main agenda for today was to do the Kililua iki trail.Our  first stop was the Kililua overlook from where we started the trail. It was a pain to get parking, but we got one with a little bit of a hussle.

The trail was a total of 3.5 miles. We started through a path which was well shaded, and then it opened up into the walk through the Lava. This was a great experience. The kids got a bit tired because of the heat and the length of the trail, but they continued on. Me and Tara walked together and Pranav and Sree were a team. Finally after around 3 hrs, we reached the parking lot, and drove to ‘The Rim’ in the volcano house. This is the only place for food in the National Park. 

We got a table with a view of the Kililua Crater very quickly. The food here was great and I would highly recommend trying the edamame starter. We ordered pizza and pasta for kids and burgers for us. The kitchen messed up our order, but they were graceful to apologize and not charge us for the food. The kids did get hungry and were famished by the time the food came.


After enjoying our lunch, we got a small earring for Tara as gift, and some chocolate and left. I decided to see the Sulphur banks which was close to visitor center. I started walking while everyone else took a break in the car. There wasn’t anything much to see, and since I missed the sulphur banks board, I walked until the steam vents and then turned back which was around a mile walk.

On my way back, I met an elderly gentleman named Frank, who told me he also works at the park, but is now taking a stroll. We exchanged pleasantries and he also asked me where I am from, and why I wear a bindi etc. In all my trips, we have met folks who are warm and nice and these conversations have always been a highlight to our trips.

I went back to the car, and we took the chain of craters road with an aim of driving through it to explore and maybe do the petroglyphs trail.The drive as it went more south was stunning.

The petroglyph trail was 1.4 miles round trip. Me and Tara did it, and it was so pleasant with the sun almost setting, a gentle breeze etc. We were chatting and walking and we saw some petroglyphs. After some sunset pics, we quickly walked back to the car as it was getting dark.

Sunset at Petroglyphs trail

Back in the car, we drove down to Hilo, got some snacks and soup for tonight. Groceries are insanely

Expensive here! Came to the airBnb, watched a series, had dinner  which was soup and crackers and called it a day!  Our second day of warm soup :)

Day3 : Waterfalls, Black Sand Beach and drive to Kona.

Today, we woke up at 6:00 am, and took our time to sit on the benches having our morning coffee. We later checked out and were telling our byes to our owners. The owner mentioned that he can do an ATV ride to his property take us around it if we liked. The property was a mile away, and it was 76 acres!

We gladly accepted, and all of us were taken to his property, we fed some fishes, and then took a ride around. The cutest thing was his dog Luna was running along the ATV, and it seems he is inseparable from the owner, and always accompanies him for these trips. We found that Luna was injured and mentioned it to the owner, and once we were back, he said he was able to take care of it.

The kids and us enjoyed this ride a lot.

Luna behind me

Feeding fishes 

After this, we drove to Akaka falls. This was a beautiful stroll, and the falls were stunning. It was so green and lush, and I loved walking this trail.

After Akaka falls, we stopped at a local stall to get some coconut water, and a mix of coconut meat and pineapple.

Akaka Falls 

Coconut water

We drove down to rainbow falls, which was again wonderful to watch, and also took a look at boiling pots and Pee Pee falls. Pee Pee falls did not have a trail to it, as it was closed. So the look out of boiling pots, if you look further, you will see Pee Pee falls. But the boiling pots area, had a nice ground, and picnic spot. It was really pretty.

We then left to the Banyan Drive, and went into the Botanical area, where there was this huge Banyan tree. It must be a 100-200 yrs old! We sat here for a bit, took some pics of this huge Banyan tree, and then went back to the car.

I would recommend coming to this botanical garden for a picnic, and spending some time here.

Rainbow falls

We drove down to the highly recommended Punanlu Bake Shop. This took about 1.5 hrs. By the time we reached the bake shop, it was 3:00 PM. This bake shop came highly recommended. We tried their Taro bread, Masalas, Lunch plates and Taro Smoothie. We liked the food, but again was not blown away. Taro bread was nice and different.

After this, we drove down to the Black Sand Beach, and spent the rest of our time there. We decided we will hit the Green Sand Beach on another day.The kids loved it here. I was more impressed with the Black Sand Beach in Maui than here. But again, it was really different to see Black sand. 

After collecting shells and playing for sometime, we started back to Kona where our Holiday Inn is.

Black sand beach

We reached Kona by 7:30 PM, then checked in. We decided to order food in, but none of the restaurants were picking the call. So we went to the near by Thai restaurant, and they mentioned, there is no more seating.Sree then decided to go to Safeway, and get some soup that we can have for dinner. Mind this is our 3rd day of soup :)

We came back, kids had the soup, and watched some TV, while me and Sree were trying to resolve our refunds from LATAM airlines.

After which we made a high level plan for tomorrow and called it a day.

Day 4 : Kona in and around 

After breakfast from the hotel, which was really so-so, we got ready and left to explore Kailua Kona sights. The first one - was the Kona coffee tour at Green Well Farms. This was a 30 min drive and we reached there and had 45 mins to spare before the next tour. We tasted Kona coffee samples. Unfortunately none of it appealed to Sree that much. We also checked out the gift shop, and also rested under the avacado tree. 

Green well Farms 

Waiting for coffee tour

The tour started and was led by an English teacher from San Jose who lives in Big Island now. He mentioned the Monday rains were the worst they had seen, which led to the farm being closed for two days and we were lucky it was open today. The tour consisted of mainly folks from California, Denver etc.


The tour covered the basics of coffee - like beans, how they wash them, dry it, and how they filter the good ones and process them. The farm also had pepper, vanilla and cocoa that they produced. It was a bit hot, and the tour was 1 hr long. Pranav was bit by an insect, so he and Sree went back to the car half-way, and me and Tara completed the tour.


We left green well farms, and stopped at the donkey balls store to try what it is. I got some of these chocolates and they turned out pretty decent. 

Donkey Balls 

From here, we stopped at Kealakekua bay - saw the stone structure (Hikiau Heiau) which stood for the worship of captain cook as god Lana by Hawaiians. 

And from here we got some yummy chicken sandwich, and pizza from the coffee shack, and left to the place of refuge called Punnahoe- honanua. Here we spent some time watching the movie that was made so well about this place in an outdoor theatre. Then walked around the grounds which was so beautiful and serene with the palm trees, and watched the marine life in the tide pools. That was wonderful. 

The two step beach which is a good place for snorkelling, is right next to this place. We saw many folks using the beach.

Enjoying marine life 

After some time we left to Hapuna beach. We reached Hapuna beach around 3:45 and spent around 2 hrs there until sunset. We saw a beautiful sunset! The kids enjoyed the beach. This was when we realized our Manta ray snorkeling trip  planned for tonight was cancelled due to high surf. We were all a bit disappointed, but we came back to the hotel with some yummy Krua Thai food ordered. The food was so so yummy! I cannot explain how happy it made us all feel.

Hapuna Beach


We watched an episode of the recruit and drifted off to sleep. 

Day 5 : South point and Green sand beach

Today, the kids and Sree had breakfast downstairs, and I went to Ali'i drive and got Kona wave bowl from Kona wave cafe. It was really yummy! I also enjoyed the walk along Ali'i Drive. Ali'i Drive has all the shops. The vibe was very relaxing, with people jogging, having breakfast and the holiday mood was prevalent.

Acai bowl from Kona Wave Cafe

We started our drive to Green sand beach around 10 AM. On the way we stopped at paradise meadows farm. This was a lovely farm shop with yummy chocolates, honey and macadamia nuts to taste. We ended up buying some stuff from here. The staff Julie was so nice. We then used their restrooms and left to explore south point. This is the southern most point of USA. 

Paradise Meadows 

South point 

After south point, we drove to green sand beach. We parked and we took the off-roading shuttle to the beach. We met another lovely malayali family during this trip, who helped us a lot with kids and our bag etc while we hiked down to the beach.

The off-roading was really thrilling and I would say is as exciting as the green sand beach. And totally worth the $20/person. You need to take cash. I would not recommend anyone driving their car to the beach. This was a good 3 mile drive. 

Then we hiked down to the beach, and I am glad I told everyone to wear their hiking boots/shoes. We spent 45 minutes at the beach, the beach itself is small and secluded and it was interesting to see the olive color sand. The surf was rough and you had to watch the kids.

We had our lunch which we had picked up from the coffee shack earlier on our way, and after sometime hiked up, where the off-roading vehicle brought us back to the car.

There were lot of corals on this beach, which the kids loved collecting.

Green Sand Beach

Lunch from Coffee Shack

The malayali family with us recommended Whittington beach for snorkeling for kids. We went there, and it was a less crowded beach, which had a pretty large secluded calm area where we could see so many marine life.

We snorkeled here for a bit. Initially with bare feat, it was hard as it was hitting the reef a lot. And then I brought our water shoes and that helped. 

The kids loved seeing all the fish here. 

After this we drove back, we caught a quick glimpse of the evening sky which had these beautiful sunset hues.

We got food from TK Noodles which was next to our hotel. After a quick bath and food, we did our laundry and called it a day. 

I got 3 big cuts in my leg due to my barefoot walk on top of the reef area, so this is a lesson that we should always be with water shoes on. 

Day 6 : Ali’i drive - Captain cool snorkeling - Manta Ray snorkeling 

Christmas Vibes 

Today, we started very relaxed. Sree went for a walk to get a coffee in Alil drive. Me and kids got ready and we all went for a walk there, and to have the açaí bowl in Kona wave cafe. After which, Sree had to come to the hotel for something and while we hanged out at Ali'i drive.On enquiring Manta ray, at an activity booth next to the restrooms, they told me they have one tour open tonight at 11 pm. We did some shopping and then finally we decided me and Tara will do the Manta ray today, and after checking it out, Sree and Pranav can do later tomorrow as there was a spot for tomorrow too. 

The kids played in the beach nearby there for around 2 hrs. In between Sree went to the hotel to get all the beach towels etc and snorkel gear etc. he also had to manage the laundry. This was tiring. 

Captain Cook Snorkelling 

Afterwards, we took the kids, went to the hotel, rested and then changed for snorkeling. 

Snorkeling was with Sea paradise. The water was choppy, and the boat rocked. This gave a migraine for Sree and he decided not to snorkel. I went in first and panicked and the captain told me not to go in again. But I was able to convince the captain that we will be fine, and he told a life guard to be with us and I was able to take Tara and then later Pranav to snorkel too. I am glad we all did the snorkeling as otherwise, if the captain had not agreed, the kids would have been truly disappointed.

Night trip to see Manta Rays!Mom-Daughter 

Night Snorkeling to see Manta Rays

By the time we reached back, everyone wanted to rest. So we rested for 4 hrs. Me and Tara took an uber to the Manta Ray snorkel at 10:45 PM. 

The uber driver was friendly, and he stayed with us till someone came. He loved Indian movies and played Bollywood music and also knew many actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Karena Kapoor. Later a family who came by was also in the same canoe tour as us. So we chatted a bit while we waited. It was amazing to see that this was an all girls trip! The canoe came in, and we signed the wavers and then me and Tara got onto it. This was a 5 min ride into the open sea. They gave us wet suits. The crew Kai was in water and set up the lighted floating bar. We jumped into the ocean and caught onto the bar. We also had our life jackets on. 


We held onto the floating light and and soon saw the Manta Ray swimming towards us and flipping in front of us!This was the most amazing thing I have ever done!

Tara was serene in the ocean and was the perfect child. She managed herself really well. After 40 minutes of seeing the Manta Ray  we got back into the boat. It was so beautiful the experience, the night snorkeling, manta ray under a clear sky full of stars! I will never forget this Christmas Day.

I had reserved an uber back, and he came and dropped us at Airbnb. He spoke about Christmas. How the Ali'i drive church had a 7 pm candle light service. He told about his 3 girls - Rejoice, Hope and Miracle! And was kind enough to invite us to lunch! Of course, we cant make it the next day, so I had to kindly decline.Anyways, after we got dropped back, we came into the room changed and slept off. 

My heart was full by seeing the Manta Ray. I so wished Sree and Pranav could have also seen each. 

Day 7: Mauna Kea 

Today morning we took a walk to Island Java Lava on the Ali'i drive. Had a yummy breakfast there and came back to the room. It was a relaxed morning. 

Brunch at Lava Java 

I was thinking we can drive up-to Polulu valley see what’s up there and then, go to Mauna Kea.

However, everyone else wanted to take it easy. So I went for a walk around Ali'i drive checked out the small farmers market there and some other shops. 

After which, came back to the room, we got ready, and started to Mauna Kea around 2 pm. We got some Jamaican food from cool running’s food truck that was at the gas station. 

We drove the saddler road which we could see more clearly now than Monday when we drove it in the rain. 

First was Mauna Lua - and that was closed. So we went to Mauna Kea visitor center.  We had our packed lunch there. It was so yummy! Definitely recommend checking this Jamaican food truck called 'cool runnings'. Many folks were driving to the summit. The kids under 13 are not advised to go to the summit, so we parked our car and hiked up the short 20 min hike up sunset hill. 

As we waited for sunset

The sunset was at 6:00 pm and we were there well on time to watch the sun above the clouds. 

We also waited an additional 30 minutes after sunset to watch the stars. It was a very clear sky and we could see the Milky Way band. Its always lovely to do star gazing.

After this we hiked down, and met the same family we met at the Manta Ray snorkel yesterday! What a coincidence! We drove back and called it a day.

Beautiful sunset 

Day 8 : Flight back 

Today, we had a relaxed morning where we packed, and had the hotel breakfast. We were all feeling a little bit sad about leaving Big Island. We also had some pending food from yesterday which me and Sree had. We walked over to Ali’i drive one last time and went to the area where there was a place to sit and watch the waves. 

We left to the airport, returned our car and checked in. The flight was delayed by an hour or so. And the Kona airport after a point do not have any good food options. I first got a mochi. Then some chips and brownie. We finally boarded the flight. This flight was also turbulent. We landed, picked up our car, and then drove back to home sweet home.

Big island was a trip we planned in 3 hrs when we had to cancel our Peru trip completely.  The place did not disappoint and we enjoyed it thoroughly! 

Bye Bye Big Island