Big Island Revisited
This was the third trip to the Big Island for Beth and I. This time though, for the first time, we would not be traveling alone. Dan and Kara joined us for the duration in Hawaii, also celebrating Dan's 30th birthday.
Beth and I caught a 6am flight out of Logan, had a brief layover in Phoenix and then had a straight shot to the Kona airport where we met up with Dan and Kara. We picked up our Ford Explorer, did our mandatory massive shopping at CostCo, grabbed dinner at Kona Brew Co and went back to the hotel for the night. 12 hour total flight time and a 6 hour timezone shift we were all ready to get some sleep. Zero pics taken...
Our first full day consisted of beach hopping to show Dan and Kara the lay of the land and we wanted to visit Mauna Kea.
Beach 1 was Mauna Kea beach. This is a quiet and calm beach with very limited parking so packed the cooler up with drinks and snacks and got on the road early. We stayed at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott (again) so this was a short drive
We saw single turtle and some basic fish at while swimming and snorkeling at Mauna Kea. It was nice to be there early when most people were sleeping, had a good part of the beach all to ourselves with some nice palm tree shade. After relaxing for a few minutes we decided to keep moving...
Beach 2: Hapuna State Park. This was a quick stop. We checked out the beach and went for a quick swim and decided to keep moving due to the number of people at the beach and lack of shade.
After the two beaches we decided to look for honu (sea turtles) at Puako Bay. This is one of my favorite coast lines on any of the islands. There is a great mix of sand, coral, lava rock and tide pools. There were numerous turtles in the shallow waters snacking on seaweed.
After checking out the turtles and just barely making it back to the car dry due to the quickly moving tide, we head to 69 Beach.
Beach 3: 69 Beach. This beach has started charging for parking since we were here last... but it's well worth the few dollars to park for this one. This beach is great because you walk along the coast under trees and can just find a spot that appeals to your needs. You can have sun, shade, sit on a tree, lean on a rock or just park it in the sand. We've come here multiple times each time we've been to the Big Island, one of our favorites.
After the beaches we went back to the Marriott to change, grab some food and get our warm clothing because we were going All the Way Up... to Mauna Kea Observatory. This is something Beth and I hadn't done before and read a bunch of reviews to figure out if the Explorer would make the trek up.
Due to the summit being 14,000 ft above sea level we left early to make the drive up to the visitor center at 9,000 ft. We stopped there had some dinner from our cooler and tried to avoid altitude sickness before making the remaining 5,000 ft climb on the unpaved portion of the road. The Explorer didn't mind the terrain at all and drove straight up without issue.
At the summit Dan, Kara and I braved the cold and wind to walk up to the true peak. We were blown away by the view and landscape. It was literally like being on another plant. We watched sunset from above the clouds, something that was an unforgettable experience.
Mauna Kea Observatory
The ride back down was a little more nerve racking than the way up. When the sun goes down it just turns pitch black. We cautiously started the 5k ft decent to the visitors center, using a 4 wheel decline mode on the Explorer but the fear of over heating brakes was real.
Down at the visitors center we had a brief lesson in astronomy and got to view some planets through telescopes. I saw the moon and Saturn, possible due to the elevation and lack of light pollution found in Hawaii. I had to snap a photo of the night sky with my camera also to show the visibility of the stars.
The Milky Way
iPhone Capture through Telescope
We left the visitors center and drove straight back to the hotel and instantly fell asleep. This was an extremely extremely long day and truly went form sea level to 14,000 ft over the course of 3 hours.
Full Day 2 started with a trip to Kua Bay aka "pretty beach". This is one of the nicest beaches on the island and just a few minutes down the road. The sand is pure white, the water is a great range of blue and greens, very few rocks and lots of water life. The lot is free to park in and as such fills up early. So we got up and out early again to enjoy this incredible beach.
Dan then decided he couldn't live without finding the perfect sun blocking hat... So we went to Kona to find a hat for Dan and sunglasses for Beth. After going in literally every shop in town looking for the ideal hat we stopped at Don the Beach Comber for lunch and a Mai Tai sampler.
Classic Mai Tai Sampler
After finding a hat, sunglasses, food and some drinks we headed to Kihilo Bay. It was a little late in the afternoon to start the hike but we were ambitious at this point... but after a couple of miles were loosing steam to make it to the lagoon at the end. Despite not making it to the end we were able to see the rougher but dramatic coast line and a large number of honu (sea turtles) soaking up the sun.
The shore line is a mix of white coral and black lava rock. The waves were a little rough but I got to mess around with filters to extend the exposure time and smooth out the water.
We decided to head back to the car before sunset. We grabbed a few drinks from the room and hung out by the pool for the night. Our friends that live on the island, Julie and Brett, joined us at the Marriott which has 3 pools all of which are open 24 hours a day. Swam, played games, drank and had a lot of fun.
Beth and I were told that some people sleep in and relax on vacation... so we got a late start on Day 3. We'd only been on the Big Island for 2 full days but had traveled, explored and driven a ton. Today would be no different.
We were heading to Green Sands (Papakōlea) and South Point today which is over a two hour drive without traffic... but we wanted to enjoy the day and make a few stops along the way.
First order of business brunch. Since we were heading south we stopped at Humpty's in Kona for a good breakfast and a really good cup of coffee. Then we hit the road south... which was heavily congested and it's a single lane each way road.
We decided to stop at Greenwells Farm Inc and take the short coffee tour and tasting. This is a small historical one stop farm that does everything from seeding to harvesting to drying to roasting. They distribute their coffee all over the island and you can even order it online also.
Drying before roasting
In addition to the coffee experience at Greenwells Farm, they had a variety of colorful flowers on the grounds. I only captured a few but with the mix of predictable sun and rain daily, this side of the Big Island is known as the "coffee belt" and has the weather and soil that promotes growth.
After a few sample cups of coffee we got back on the road because we were still over an hour from Green Sands. Realizing now we were going to be pressed for time before sundown, we drove slightly past Green Sands and make a quick stop at Punalu'u to see the pure black sand and honu (sea turtles) lounging around.
Beach 5: Punalu'u Black Sand Beach
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach
After a quick look around at the scenery and sun bathing turtles we drove the 45 min back to Green Sands. At this point it was only an 1.5 hours before sunset and we'd never make the two mile hike from the parking area down to the cove in time....
So we decided to truly be tourists and pay one of the local "people transporter" companies for a ride down to the beach. I think it was $20 a person round trip and with the intense winds along the coast, we didn't know it yet but we made the right decision.
The ride down is rough. Period. Even in a lifted truck with an experienced driver. We tried to grab some cell phone video and pictures when possible but for the most part just enjoyed the view along the coast and appreciated the relatively cheap transportation.
The coast line is a mix of deep blue water, pure white caps from the huge crashing waves, green vegetation and deep red/orange sand color. Beth and I have walked this our past two solo trips so we know we were missing by taking the ride but it was the only way we wouldn't be walking back with just our flash lights to guide us.
Below are a couple select pics and videos and the obligatory photo of green sand in your hand once you've scaled down the cliff to the beach. A mineral called Olivine gives the sand the green tint, there are only a couple of beaches in the world like this. The video is short but shows the deep ruts from previous paths used; the driver has to know which ones are safe because no tow truck or help (other than friends) can reach you down here.
Eventually I'll make a post from our last trip to the Big Island during which we hiked here for sunrise and I captured some amazing pics with the sun shining on the sand.
Beach 6: Green Sands
Papakōlea Green Sand Beach
Sand filled with Olivine mineral
Dan shared his cell phone pics also... which look very different than my iPhone ones. Dan and Kara also showed up in Hawaii with a selfie stick... officially tourists.
I'll admit it was nice to get a few group photos and give some context to our location. The wind was insane so I did not take out my real camera. We were covered in the fine sand (silt) and the wind coming off the water was soaking us with sea spray.
Rough Ryders with a new hat
The cliff you climb down to reach the beach
The green tinted cliffs and sand around the cove
This area is called South Point for a simple reason, it's the southern most point of the United States. Beth and I had never actually went to the point itself so we decided this would be the last thing we did before it got really dark. Dan and I ventured down some paths to edge of a cliff. We two local trucks driving down with kayaks and it looked like they were either night fishing or camping out until the morning. Either way we watched the last bit of light disappear from the edge of this beautiful scene.
We promptly started the 2 hour drive back to the Marriott which always feels quicker than the drive out. We crashed early because we had an early start planned for the next morning also.
South Point Sunset
Today was Saturday and we booked a "Ride the Rim" ATV tour at Waipi'o Valley (translates to "curved water") which is a solid hour drive from the hotel. We tried to schedule our week so we did the beaches popular with the locals during the week and moved our more touristy things on the weekend.
We had never done the ATV tour but it had really good reviews online and sounded like a fun new adventure. Due to my back, our gear and wanting to ride "2 up" we opted to get the Polaris Rangers instead.
After a brief safety overview and some "running rules" we were off in a group to get a history of the valley, the historical significance to the Hawaiian culture and take in some views not accessible to the public.
We stopped to overlook the valley but it was a misty and foggy morning and the view was completely hidden. While our guide was talking the fog in the valley burned off before our eyes; which was a truly amazing experience, almost as if it were on queue.
Waipi'o Valley Fog Burning Off
After this brief stop and talk about how much the locals hate the Coqui frogs we went up to the head of the falls. Again, this is a spot you can only access through the tours which have permission to use this protected section of land. The weather still wasn't cooperating but we heard the history of the kings and the origin of the waterfall and rainbows. Waipi'o History.
We stopped at the head of the falls where you could swim in a protected pool.
We rode through more paper trees that had only been planted less than 8 years ago. We were 30 minutes away from civilization and it again felt like we were on a different planet.
Pics and videos captured by Beth's iPhone which was safely in a waterproof bag.
Driving Through the Paper Trees
Ride to the Rim
We continue to an overlook again only accessible via permission from Kamehameha Schools who own the land. This is one of the best valley views we have seen. From the lookout you can drive to you can't see the waterfall at all. This view provided a nice perspective of the whole valley. The guides gave us another history lesson on how many people lived in the valley and how the method of taro crops had evolved over time.
Hands down one of the best views on any of the islands.
Panoramic Valley View
After taking in the view we rode back to home base to drop off the ATV's. We had been riding for a few hours and took our tour guides advice to head to Grandma's Kitchen in town for lunch. While waiting for our table we grabbed some local fudge and coffee, which turned out to be from Greenwells Farm.
Our lunch was amazing, granted we were starving. It was a large home cooked meal and the prices were great, highly recommend if you're in the area.
We drove from lunch back to the regular Waipi'o Valley look out spot. On a previous visit we were lucky enough to visit the base of the valley.. but the Ford Explorer was NOT rated for this and we did not want to end up as another stranded vehicle on the side of the road descending down. You hear the walk to the valley is "1 mile down and 10 mile back" because of the incline.
We opted to just take in the view before taking off.
After the lookout we decided to make the hike to the Botanical Gardens which was on Dan's must do list. We stopped at some lookouts, random vantage points, and didn't realize what time the Gardens close... which was 7 minutes before got there. Along the way we did stop at Akaka Falls to do the super quick and easy hike to a very beautiful waterfall.
With the Gardens closed, us tired and a long ride back to the other side of the island, we called it a day and started the 1.5 hour drive back to Waikoloa for the night. Julie and Brett came by for another night of 24 hour pool access and some drinks.
We had another early start on Sunday. Had to be on the road by 8am to make it to Fair Wind Cruises in Kailua-Kona before our 9am check in for the Captain Cook snorkel tour. Beth and I had already done this tour a few years prior but loved it so much we happily signed up for second time.
This would be the maiden trial of my camera's waterproof housing which had only been tested previously in a pool... and I'm happy to say worked without any flaws. Below are a handful of shots from the 2 hours in the water.
iPhone Shots of Coastline
Waterproof Fuji Shots
In order to try and capture a good set of images and stay mobile while on vacation, I started planning & packing months before the trip. I wanted a travel size tripod, good set of filters and a bag that can fly and hold up to an active vacation.
I packed my beloved Fuji x-t1 mirrorless camera with a 18-55mm kit lens and the 10-24mm landscape lens. I love this camera and the 10-24mm lens was mounted more or less the entire trip. Fuji X-T1
I also cashed in some gift cards I had for Amazon to purchase an under water housing for the Fuji. Rather than a just being a bag, this housing is designed specifically for the Fuji X-T1 with the kit 18-55mm lens mounted. The housing provides access to ~75% of the controls/features while remaining sealed and rated for depths of 130 ft. I can't say I went more than 10 ft below with it but it worked well and my camera remained dry. CamDive Waterproof housing.
Lee Seven5 filter system is a 75mm designed for smaller mirrorless lenses. Smaller, cheaper (still not cheap!) and able to fit all the Fuji lenses with a set of cheap adaptors. Lee Seven5 Filter Kit
MindShift Backpack 26L. This bag is amazing. It was comfortable all day due to the flat back design and large capacity. The waist belt is very well designed for hiking and not by choice, but the rain cover was tested a few times (including while biking in the rain) and worked perfectly while staying put. I can't recommend this bag enough. MindShift 26L
For a tripod I went with the Sirui T-025X 52" Carbon Fiber Tripod. I've owned this for a couple years with very little to complain about. Most likely not sturdy enough for a dSLR but for a mirrorless camera it works great. Light weight, compact and fits in a water bottle holder on a backpack. Sirui Tripod