In last week’s column, I wrote about my recent honeymoon trip to Hawaii. My wife and I had such a great time I thought I would share some of the highlights.
Continuing our theme from last week, here are eight additional highlights of Hawaii’s Big Island:
Snorkeling with manta rays : Hawaii is an absolute paradise for snorkeling and diving. There are seemingly endless tide pools and coral to enjoy as part of a guided trip or independently if you already have the skills. We chose to snorkel with manta rays because it’s an experience unique to the Big Island. For about 45 minutes, we floated in Keauhou Bay, holding onto a platform while the rays fed on plankton and performed endless barrel rolls beneath us – sometimes only inches away. Mantas are stinger-less gentle giants that can grow to 22 feet from fin to fin.
We traveled to the snorkeling site on a boat at sunset, then floated effortlessly in the warm water. The whole experience was unforgettable. Several companies offer manta ray snorkeling. We had a great time with Neptune Charlie’s. The crew was friendly and funny in an enthusiastically hammy sort of way.
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Beaches : While the Big Island may not have the largest or longest beaches, it does have some very nice smaller ones with sand that ranges from white to green to black. Many are easily accessible. Others can be accessed only with a four-wheel drive vehicle and provide a great degree of solitude. Our favorite for easy access was Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. Located a few miles north of Kailua-Kona, this large white sand expanse is easy to find from Highway 19, and access is via a paved road. The water is warm and usually safe for swimming. It can be busy on weekends but is a good choice for a weekday. For more information, go to http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/hawaii/index.cfm?park_id=44.
The three small beach coves at Kekaha Kai State Park require a rough 2-mile drive on an unpaved road, but any vehicle can handle it if driven carefully. Close to Kailua-Kona, Kekaha Kai offers pristine coarse white sand and smaller crowds. The beaches require a 5- to 15-minute walk from the parking area. For information, go to: http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/hawaii/index.cfm?park_id=47.
Sea turtles : Hawaii’s famous green sea turtles can be seen in a variety of places on the island, but we had the best luck at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park. We saw several in the water and two resting on the sand. Growing up to 5 feet in length, they are a truly impressive site. For information, go to http://www.nps.gov/kaho/index.htm or call (808) 326-9057.
Historic sites : In addition to providing a habitat for turtles, Kaloko-Honokohau NPH preserves giant coastal fishponds constructed by ancient Hawaiians to ensure a constant supply of fish. To learn more about the Big Island’s history, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park preserves an ancient royal residence and a temple that served as a place of refuge for defeated warriors and Hawaiians who had broken sacred laws (http://www.nps.gov/puho/index.htm; (808) 328-2288. Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site is the site of three temples, one of which played an important role in Kamehameha’s unification of the islands in the late 1700s (http://www.nps.gov/puhe/index.htm; (808) 882-7218). Lapakahi State Historical Park boasts a restored coastal village (http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/hawaii/index.cfm?park_id=50; (808) 882-6207).
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden : To see the lushness of the eastern side of the island, check out this steep 40-acre oceanside valley. Hundreds of varieties of well-labeled plants and trees showcase the island’s native plants and many of the other tropical species that have been introduced. We spent more than two hours walking the paths and marveling at the beauty. It’s well worth the admission price of $15 per adult. For information, go to http://www.htbg.com/ or call (808) 964-5233.
Akaka Falls State Park : To experience more of the island’s tropical glory, there’s a half-mile loop trail at this state park that winds through lush tropical vegetation (mostly non-native, but nevertheless beautiful) to a waterfall with a drop of 442 feet. There are a lot of stairs on this trail (up and down), but just about anyone can complete the loop if they take it easy. For information, go to http://www.hawaiistateparks.org/parks/hawaii/index.cfm?park_id=2.
Mauna Kea summit tour : As mentioned last week, it can get cool on the Big Island. On top of 13,796-foot Mauna Kea it actually gets cold. It was about 30 degrees when we visited the summit at sunset. Mauna Kea is the highest point in the Hawaiian Islands and one of the highest points you can drive to in the United States. It requires four-wheel drive, which our rental car didn’t have, so we signed up for a guided tour with Mauna Kea Summit Adventures. Their comfortable vehicle took us and 13 other guests to the mountain’s visitor center for dinner, then up to the summit for a chilly but breathtaking sunset, then back to the visitor center level for an excellent astronomy program with powerful telescopes that showed us details of the solar system – including an astonishingly clear view of Saturn’s rings. Mauna Kea is one of the best places in the world to enjoy the night sky. Several major observatories sit at the summit and take advantage of this. For information, go to http://www.maunakea.com/ or call (888) 322-2366.
South Point : The southernmost point on the island is also the southernmost point in the United States. The 11-mile detour from Highway 11 is well worth the trip for beautiful views of the ocean and the opportunity to watch (or join) the brave souls who make a 50-foot plunge from the cliffs into the turquoise blue water. There’s a ladder provided to climb back up if you make the jump.