While I was studying just south of Los Angeles, I seized the chance to visit Hawaii. I never thought that would happen, as the trip from Denmark takes more than 26 hours with two stopovers, while tickets cost at least US$800. From L.A., it’s only a 5-hour flight and tickets cost around US$300.
I went with a friend from one of my classes, a German guy called Daniel, who also had some time left in the States after our classes had finished and exams were over. We had no plans for New Year’s and decided Hawaii was a pretty decent place to celebrate it 😉
The thing with Big Island is that it isn’t actually very big! You can drive around the whole thing in a few hours. And in spite of that, the landscape is extremely diverse, and you can actually experience 8 out of 13 climate zones!
The eastern side is lush and green, there are volcanic beaches, often with lots of rocky cliffs, black sand and large waves. On the western side, much of the area is covered in solidified lava and the beaches are flat, white and has some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen. I’ve never experienced so many different types of landscape in such a small area – it really is something!
We found a great room in a house via Airbnb – a little remote, but easily accessible by car and in a quiet neighborhood. It was cheap and the perfect base for exploring the Big Island, but the best thing was that we were living with the Hawaiian hosts, who were some of the kindest, most generous people I’ve met while traveling. One night, they cooked us the most amazing, traditional Hawaiian food and sang songs for us and on the following day, they drove us to the top of an inactive volcano, which was only accessible by a four-wheel-drive (as with many other places on the island).
If you only visit one black sand beach in your entire lifetime, make sure it’s this one. I can’t stress enough how amazing this place is, and it will forever be the best memory I have from Hawaii.
Getting there is best by four-wheel-drive – otherwise you have to walk. No normal car can handle the steep gradient of the narrow, winding road leading down there, and walking is tough. My asthma nearly got the better of me when walking back up, and I didn’t know if I was still wet from the swim or sweat!
The beach starts right after the forest ends. There’s a very short distance with some big rocks, and from there to the water, it’s just pristine, soft, black sand. We got there pretty late, so most people had left and there was this mist in the air while the sun was setting behind the rocky cliffs covered in greenery. At first, I was a little iffy about swimming in water that I couldn’t see the bottom of, but as soon as I learned that there was nothing but sand, I relaxed. Local kids were surfing or fishing in the distance, the water was warm and gently lifting us off the ground, and I think it’s one of the most spectacular moments of my life.
Papakolea / Green Sand Beach
An amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience! The beach is not accessible by paved road, but only via three miles of rugged landscape. You either have to bring your own four-wheel-drive, pay a ridiculous amount of money for someone at the parking lot to drive you there (in their four-wheel-drive) – or walk for 45 minutes to an hour. We chose the latter, which was so beautiful, but trust me when I say that you want to make sure that you: a) get back to the car before the sun sets or b) have Google maps installed on your phone. I have the worst sense of direction, and if it hadn’t been for my guardian angels telling me I needed to turn around, I’d probably still be searching for the path back up to civilization.
We spent the last day of 2015 here.
Upside: Picturesque, soft sand, hardly any people, sea-turtles
Downside: A little difficult to get to and apparently our host had seen a shark here (yikes)
Mauna Kea Beach
Upside: Tiny waves, nice sand, lots of parking, amazing sunsets
Downside: The beach belongs to a hotel, so there’s a lot of people
Upside: White sand, nearby parking, close proximity to the airport if you wanna squeeze in a quick swim before your flight (which we did)
Downside: Lots of people, hardly any sand to lie on, massive waves (on that one day)
Kahalu’u Beach Park
I don’t even have any pictures from this place, it was that bad. Too many people, hardly any fish, no comfortable area to lie on.
Upside: Aloha written in bricks in the sand, easy access to the water.
Volcanoes National Park
Big area with lots to see. Notice the patterns that the flow of lava has made in the landscape, see the massive crater of the active volcano, walk around the smelly but colorful sulfuric grounds, enter the tunnel that once led lava to the ocean.
Upside: Lots of parking, reasonably priced, geological museums, easy-to-read map,
Downside: Hardly any food, and whatever there was was so expensive. Be sure to pack your own lunch!
Akaka State Falls Park
Beautiful, lush area with long walkways taking you through the landscape. The best part is definitely the 129 m / 429 ft waterfall.
Situated right outside Hilo is this pretty little waterfall and its surroundings. You can only see it from above, but if you walk through the little forest on the left side, you can get to the water pools just before the fall. Be careful, though – do as I say, not as I did, please.
Mauna Kea Observatories
You have to visit this other-worldly natural phenomenon that’s a combination of Rainbow Road and Mars. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that reaches 4,2 km / 9,200 ft. at its summit. The view from driving around the red, hilly “desert” above the clouds is something you don’t get to see often. There are a few observatories on top, out of which one is open to the public.
As previously stated, and as with most other things in Hawaii, this volcano is only accessible by four-wheel-drive. Daniel and I, along with our host’s son, sat in the back of one, which was so cool (literally and figuratively). Beware of the altitude – with my asthmatic lungs, I nearly fainted from jumping off the truck.
A cute little market on the fringe of Hilo town. They have lots of fresh fruit, including fresh coconuts, as well as souvenirs.
New Year’s Eve
Rather unimpressive – seems like this event is only big on Times Square, NYC!
We had some sushi for dinner, found the world’s smallest fireworks show, shared a bottle of cheap bubbles, lit up some sparklers and that was it.