The Island of Hawaii (The Big Island)

When I was 23 I found a way to get to Hawaii to spend some decent time there without needing thousands of dollars.  I volunteered as a mission builder at the University of the Nations which runs heaps of Youth With A Mission (YWAM) programs there.  I couldn’t afford to be a student myself—though that was something I was interested in at the time.  I could afford to dedicate 30-40 hours a week working in the kitchen of the campus in exchange for room and board.  I lived at the volunteers base in Kona and met amazing people from all over the world and had lots of adventures during my time off (and on, to be honest.)  It was a great time for me as it had been four years since my last grand adventure and I was due.  I had finished my Visual Arts Diploma the year before and was kind of floundering around in my early 20’s not sure what to do with life yet.  Hawaii was appealing to me because I have never been a cold-weather-kind-of-gal.  That’s my sister.  Me, I’m a summer baby and duly love summer and heat and sunshine and rainbows and the ocean.  As a Canadian I was allowed into the states only for three months so I chose mid-September to mid-December.  Leaving rainy Abbotsford behind right before the autumn was ideal because it meant missing out on the first cold snap of the season and getting back just in time for the festivities of Christmas.  Long story short, I loved my time on the big island and when I was being dropped off to the airport to go back home, I just had this feeling that it wasn’t the last time I’d be seeing the bougainvillea lined streets and the row of palms leading to the airport.  I just knew that one day I’d be back.

It was special to see everything again and even more so through the lens of my family and husband.  They at first asked me lots of questions about everything we were seeing and I felt like I was letting them down because I had no idea about the answers—I even forgot where Kona was located in relation to where our accommodation was, just south of the city centre.  I reminded Cal that it was 11 years later and I barely know where I am at any given moment now, let alone as a green 23 year old.  (Not bagging on 23 year olds btw; I’ve met some and know some with their heads on very straight).  The island was a lot more lush than any of us expected based on my memories of the place.  I remember getting to Kona 11 years ago and thinking “What?! This is Hawaii?! It’s so…black!”  If you don’t know, the largest island of the islands of Hawaii is the biggest and the youngest and is notorious for its black lava fields.  In fact, it is one of the best places in the world where you can safely see actual lava because the island is literally still forming.

For our family trip we focused on a few things: snorkeling, shopping, waterfalls, gardens, and a couple of adventures.  Our first full day we first perused the strip in Kona, revisiting some local places I used to know.  It was so cool to go to the same coffee shop I liked 11 years ago (Lava Java) and to see the old volleyball sand court, the shops, the white church, the big banyan tree, the wall where we hung out and watched the Ironman start.  Ah, Kona.  I liked it.  After coffees and lunch we got ourselves into the water for more snorkeling.  The fish there were amazing!  Plentiful and varied and we saw a few turtles too, which is always so exciting for me.

Day 2 we visited the University campus where I worked and I got to show everyone where the kitchen used to be and the pool mission builders always got thrown into on their last day of work.  We hung out at the beach I used to hitchhike to with my friends: Magic Sands.  I love how everything looked exactly the same.


Day 3 we drove to the opposite side of the island to Hilo which is the rainy side.  It indeed rained but not before we got to enjoy the views at Akaka Falls.  We might have taken a few dorky pictures too, also inspired by my previous visit to the island.

The real highlight for the Hieberts  in my estimation though was the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens.  They were brilliant.  We spent hours there, all four of us snap happy and taking pictures of absolutely everything.  Callum enjoys gardens too, but he could’ve spent half as much time there.  I’m pretty sure more photos were taken of tropical plants that day by Hiebert people than anyone else combined. The stamina levels of everyone that day was unprecedented and we have the wonderful gardens to thank for a great experience.  If you like flowers and plants even half as much as me and my family, then this location is a must-do for anyone visiting the Big Island.

Day 4 Callum and I went on our own adventure leaving in the morning and arriving back about 13 hours later.  We drove down to South Point which is the southerly-most point of the USA.  We saw a couple of people jump off the cliffs but weren’t tempted to do it ourselves.  It’s a long way down and a steep ladder climb to get back up!  I also took Callum to the famed Green Sand Beach (Papakolea Beach) which is a place I never thought I’d get to see again.  It’s near South Point and instead of turning right to see South Point you keep going for a few more minutes until you come to a parking lot where you cannot go on with your rental car.  Here there are locals gathered around the cars, eating fish and answering tourist questions with a bored tone of voice.  Yes, this is as far as you can go.  Yes, this is the trail to the green sand beach.  Yes, we can drive you.  It’s gonna be $20 per person.  It’s 3 miles.  We decided to hike it ourselves rather than pay $40 and the “3 miles” felt a lot more like 3 kilometres so it was very doable.  Just wear good shoes as some of the trail is lava rock and uneven, slap on some sunscreen and a hat and have water with you.  It took us about an hour and 15 minutes to get from our car down to the beach and that was a slow pace for us due to a foot injury Callum sustained.  I’m positive it could’ve taken less than an hour if he was well.  The sand is truly green because of olivine deposits of the lava rock.  It looks so cool!  The water in the bay is lovely to swim in too if you are careful of the strong waves.

After that we were in dire need of some lunch.  Callum was craving tacos.  I thought “Yeah right we’re finding tacos.  It’s the middle of nowhere Big Island.  We’ll be lucky to find a sandwich shop at a gas station.”  Outwardly I said “Okay, we’ll see what the next town has.”  The next town was the tiny Naalehu which is along the Mamalahoa highway and about two minutes long driving slow.  We were going to go to the visitor’s centre for some sandwiches when I saw a sandwich board instead, advertising tacos.  Eureka!  Taco Tita is a bright little “hole-in-the-wall” restaurant with no indoor seating.  The tacos there were so delicious, so authentic, so satisfying, that I swore I’d write about them in this very blog.  We started out with two each and while Callum was eating his second taco, he stopped, got up from his stool and went and bought a third taco because they were just that good.  If you ever find yourself in Naalehu, eat these tacos.  Ignore the restaurant right next door which boasts as being the southernmost restaurant in the USA.  I’m sure it’s great but Taco Tita is where it’s at.

We drove on to Volcanoes National Park to try and see some lava.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to get there after our lunch.  It takes a while to drive to the volcano and you need a good 4 hours to hike down to see the lava.  We saw the glow of the lava from the Kilauea crater instead and even if Callum’s foot was in better shape, we learned too late that we could’ve accessed the lava viewing from the opposite side of the lava field which you’d get to from Hilo following highway 130.  All this learned too late and so is seems we just might have to go back to the big island one day to see the lava properly.  Perhaps even stay in the campground they have in the park.  The drive back to Kona was very long and it was tough to stay awake, but we’re glad we saw what we did.

The next day was our final full day in Hawaii.  Us kiddos just chilled while Mom and Dad enjoyed a glass-bottomed boat tour.  Mom doesn’t do snorkeling but loved seeing the fish on the boat.  In the afternoon we piled everyone into the van for one more adventure and we drove up to the visitor information station on Mauna Kea.  The special thing to do there is to firstly, see the sunrise or sunset (sunset in our case) and then to wait in the freezing cold temperatures to see stars and planets through the telescopes they generously set up there for free.  You have to stand in long lines to get to your turn, but we saw Mercury, Saturn, and some sort of cool nebula which I can’t remember the actual name of.  It was really neat to join in with something that my Dad has been interested in for a long time—the cosmos.

The next day we drove my family to the airport and said a teary goodbye.  It sort of crept up on me all of the sudden and I didn’t feel prepared to say my farewells.  We’ve been pretty good about visiting Canada every couple of years, but that doesn’t make it easier knowing we’ll see them again eventually.  A lot happens in two years.  I wish I was a millionaire so we could visit more often or so we can fly people out to see us in Australia.  Callum and I had another 8 hours or so to kill before our own departure so we drove to another beach I remembered from  my first visit to Hawaii: Manini’owali Beach or, more commonly known as “Mile 88 beach.”  We swam in the ocean, slept on the sand and waved goodbye to every jet that flew over us around the 2pm mark.  Until we see you again, dear family!

We drove back into Kona for dinner and I chose a Hawaiian pizza with a Blue Hawaiian drink and felt a bit sorrowful.  It is always sad to leave a place you have enjoyed.  It was also the end of warm weather travelling for us until we go to Mauritius in January.  Anyway.  I was so proud that Callum was impressed with Hawaii and I’m glad to have so many happy memories there from before, and now with my family.

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