The Big Island: Full of Big Adventure!

There is so much to see and do on the Big Island but with only two and half days, I had to make the most of them.  I decided to take a volcano tour and go scuba diving with the manta rays, two experiences I could only get on the Big Island.  First, I’ll tell you about the diving in Kona….a must do!!  Or if you are not a diver, you can usually go out as a snorkeler on the dive boat and just stay above the water, but still see many of the magnificent sea life including the manta rays.  I decided to go diving with KonaHonu Divers and I couldn’t have picked a better dive operation.  I went with them because in addition to the single manta dive that they had in the evenings, they made it a two’fer and did a reef dive at the same spot prior to the manta dive.  It’s amazing what a few hours can do to bring out other creatures of the sea. 

KonaHonu’s dive shop is in town and easy to get to by rental car or SpeediShuttle. Since we were only there for two days, we opted for the SpeediShuttle, which is the easy, no hassle way to get around the island.  We made the mistake and didn’t reserve the shuttle upon arrival, so we had to take a cab to the resort which is more expensive than the shuttle, so definitely make your reservation before flying into Kona.  Once there, I made a reservation to take me to the dive shop as well as back to the airport.  I really liked the drivers for Speedishuttle.   Not only did you get a ride, but also a very informative tour about the people and the island.  Making the reservation was easy, as there is a SpeediShuttle desk inside the Hilton, or you can do on their website.

Once I was at the dive shop, everything was made so easy.  My dive gear was already on the boat, so all I had to do was fill out the waiver and be on my way.   I usually bring my wetsuit and fins with me, but this time decided to travel light.  The service on board the boat was impeccable and I felt spoiled compared to some of my other dives in the past.  Everything was set up with your name label on it.  They came around to make sure everything was good with your integrated weights…that’s right…integrated, so no weight belts!!  The crew on my boat was John, Jason and Jack and they were so diligent in giving us a briefing of the site we were going to dive both before the first and the second dive.  You can tell they are very thorough in their safety checks while also running a top notch operation and making sure everyone has a great time.  They explained the creatures we would see and when it came time to talk Mantas, Jason talked all about how long they’ve been there, how they reproduce, the various ones we’d see, etc.  In between dives, they fed us sandwiches, animal crackers and chips…more than your typical oranges and cookies!

The manta ray dive has been written up as one of the best in the world and I can certainly see why.  When I tell you this is an experience you don’t want to miss, you definitely don’t want to miss this!   With all my diving over these past few years, I had never seen a manta ray, let alone one so close.  It was basically a light show underwater full with 13 mantas swimming up  and over our heads.  Everyone had a flashlight and as the mantas were attracted to our light, they would come right to us as if they were going to eat us with their big but harmless mouths, and then swim right over us, almost in a choreographed fashion with the other manta rays.  I couldn’t believe how beautiful and large these creatures were.  One can just sit there and watch the show they put on for a 45 minute dive.  After the dive was complete,  the crew took care of all of your equipment, so all we had to do was put on our clothes and watch the video the professional videographer took underwater.   They really made the dive so effortless and enjoyable.  I can now see why one of the couples on our trip has been diving with them several times.  If I were to go back, there’s no question, they would be my dive operator of choice.

One of the main reasons I chose to visit the Big Island was for the volcano that keeps on erupting.  I figured this was a site you would only see in Hawaii, so it was a must do.    What I didn’t realize was that there was a company that would take all of the guesswork out of hiking the volcano.  One that would pick us up at your hotel, provide an extremely informative tour on the ride there, and choose only the best spots to stop throughout the day.  Hawaii Forest and Trail was started by Rob Pacheco who saw there was a void in Hawaii tourism…the ecotourism aspect of Hawaii.  So he started Hawaii Forest and Trail, a full service company that provides a variety of tours to view the volcano and the amazing astrology one can see on a clear night.  We chose the Twilight Volcano Tour, as we were hoping to see the lava lit up at night.  The trip began with a pickup in their van which has a capacity to sit twelve, but we were a more intimate group of six, which really made for a personal tour experience.   Ethan was our guide for the day and from beginning until end, he made sure we were comfortable and safe.  He was always monitoring our happiness from the temperature of the van, to how much we enjoyed the lunch and dinner that came with the tour, and each stop we made along the way.  We first traveled between two of the world’s largest mountains, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on Saddle Road.  Along the way, Ethan pointed out some of the rare plants and trees of the world and explained the science of the volcano and how it forms new land.  On the way into Hilo, we stopped at Mauna Kea State Park and the Kaumana Cave, which was probably one of the coolest part of the trip.  We trekked through the lava tube and saw first hand the various types of lava that once flowed through the tube and settled into different textures depending on how quickly it cooled.  While walking through the tube, we could feel the ground water drip through the lava.  Next on the trip was the summit of Kilauea inside Hawaii Volcanos National Park.  Since there is so much to see and do inside the park, it’s really nice to have a guide show you the best spots and take you there in a methodical fashion so you can get the most out of your day.  On our tour, we visited the sulfur banks, steam vents, a pit crater which is only accessible if you’re with Hawaii Forest and Trail along the Chain of Craters Road, hiked a lava field, and before our dinner, drove down the coast and took in the awe inspiring view of the coastline and ocean from a lava bench.  This is a truly romantic spot and would make for a great place to propose above the arches!  After a healthy, delicious dinner in the park, we drove back up around 3000 feet and paid a visit to Jaggar Museum and saw the awesome site of the Halemaumau Crater, which contains hidden molten rock that glows after dark.  It was a magnificent sight to see.  After our full day of exploration, Ethan got us home safely while most of us dozed off on the two hour drive back.  It was a wonderful day and I’m so glad we chose to take the tour with Hawaii Forest and Trail.  They took all the planning out of the equation and left us with a day filled with magnificent memories and new knowledge.  This trip gave new meaning to the volcanoes I used to make with baking soda in grade school!

Kaua’i = Paradise

Kauai is a magical place.  It’s an island that welcomes you with warm alohas, gorgeous blue skies filled with little puffy white clouds, but not enough to take away the sunshine, a fascinating coastline, and a remarkable canyon.  Kaua’i will sweep you off your feet with its beauty and romance.  If you are celebrating an engagement, wedding, anniversary, or just a special getaway, Kaua’i will enchant you with its beautiful hotels, hiking, sailing, scuba diving and perhaps one of the most breathtaking ways to see the island, by helicopter.   The oldest of the Hawaiian islands, Kaua’i is beautiful throughout, but has a different flare depending on where you are on the island.   My trip took me around the island with the opportunity to explore different properties.  Below is a suggested itinerary if you’d like to do what we did, or you may choose to plant yourself at one resort and explore the island each day by car.

Start off in the north at the prestigious St. Regis.  You’ll enjoy a magnificent view of Hanalei Bay.  Eating their delicious and comprehensive breakfast buffet overlooking the mountains and water each morning does wonders for your soul.   Plus, you can feel a little less guilty about how much you eat, because the morning boot camp class will give you an invigorating workout on the beach.  With the view of palm trees and the ocean, you’ll be motivated for any workout, no matter how challenging!  Their spa is also a great place to unwind and enjoy treatments utilizing organically grown products from the island.   If you choose to stay on Poipu Beach, the Sheraton Kauai Resort is a great choice.  With an oceanview room, you will enjoy gorgeous sunsets on your own private terrace.  The beach is beautiful and if you like relaxing at the property, they have two great restaurants, which also provide great sunset views.  After dinner, hang out with friends at the bar or relax on the beach with your loved one and listen to the sound of the waves and feel the tropical breeze around you.   Another option for accommodations is the Kaua’i Marriott Resort and Beach Club.   This is a great property if you’re looking for something close to the airport.  They provide a complimentary shuttle and also provide free parking, which is a nice perk if you rent a car.  You can also get some great souvenirs at unexpected stores like Walmart , Kmart and Cosco, all very closeby.

When in Kaua’i, there are many activities from which to choose.  I would recommend choosing activities that enable you to see the amazing scenery of the island by sea, on foot and by air.   Kayak Kaua’i  offers hiking and kayaking tours as well as surfing and paddle board lessons, which are very popular in Hawaii.  Hiking the Na Pali coast will provide you with sweeping views of the ocean from above.  We hiked the first two miles and stopped for lunch on some rocks at the beach.  It is a great hike, but can be slippery at times and a little challenging at others.  However, I saw people of all ages and body types on the trail.

Taking a sail up the coast and looking up is equally breathtaking.  Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures will take you on a half day sail up the Na Pali coast and  if you look close enough, you can see the hikers climbing the mountains you were climbing the day before.  You’ll pass by caves, and if you choose to take a zodiac ride, they will take inside some of them.  After a great sail, you’ll stop to snorkel and possibly see some nice sized turtles swimming around with you.  After working up an appetite, you’ll come back on the boat for a freshly cooked bbq lunch and drinks.

You’ll also want to spend part of a day exploring Waimea Canyon.  Even if you don’t have a chance or want to hike it, there is an easy drive up to 4000 feet in elevation with a few lookout points along the way for some great picture taking.  The Allerton Estate Tour of the National Tropical Botanical Gardens is a beautiful place to stop as well.

If you’re a seasoned scuba diver or even a beginner, SeaSport Divers is a top dive operation located in Kauai with multiple locations, with the main store in Poipu Beach. Their other store is on the east side of the island in KAPAA.  Seasport Divers is a multiple Rodale’s Readers Choice Award Winner.  They were Voted #1 on Kauai, #5 in the Pacific and Indian oceans and rate as one of the 10 Best Scuba Diving Operators in the US, with a straight “A” rating.  Seasport Divers is the only scuba Diving Company on Kauai with multiple locations.  I had such a great dive experience with them.  From the moment I walked in the door, Frank was extremely welcoming and set me up with everything I needed.  I felt a sense of confidence with this company, especially during the safety briefing.  They were extremely thorough before even getting on the boat.  A lot of dive companies do not explain as much as he did or go into such detail.  While on the boat, divemasters James, Meghan and Frank, made sure all of our gear was set up and working properly.  Captain Andrew led us to the amazing dive sites of Nukumoi and Sheraton Caverns.  While down under, they always made sure everyone was together and when one diver decided to take off on his own, Frank took measures to find him immediately.   James was great with the new divers and took them in a separate group so they didn’t feel the pressure of keeping up with everyone else for their first time out.  Meghan took us down for the second dive in which there were huge turtles everywhere!  I’ve never seen so many turtles in one place, so it was a real treat.  She captured everything on video so one could take it home to always remember the dive.  Frank, James and Meghan were not only a skilled group of divemasters, but also a fun one, and made the Kauai dive a memorable one.  

Perhaps the most spectacular way to see the landscape of the island is by helicopter.   Island Helicopters offers an exclusive Jurassic Falls Landing Adventure.  In addition to your hour and half ride over the island, you will land at the Manawaiopuna Falls, the falls used in the movie Jurassic Park and only accessible by air.  As we rode deeper into the Waimea Canyon and along the coastline, I was overcome with emotion by the sheer beauty.  With everything we had seen while hiking and from the water, I couldn’t imagine it could get anymore gorgeous.  But it did and I think I had a huge smile my face for the entire ride.  If you’re looking for romance, do not leave this out!

All of the food on the island was delicious with lots of fresh fish.  However, one restaurant is an absolute must visit.  Joesslin’s Tapa’s Bar and Grill is a favorite among locals and tourists and for good reason.  The world renowned chef, Jean Marie Josselin prepares organic, fresh dishes in with impeccable style and creativity.  Many of the dishes we tasted included ingredients I had never had before, but were local to the region.  The dining experience was incredible and you should definitely make a dinner stop here.

I’ve seen some places over these past few years, but I can definitely understand why so many people visit Kaua’i for their honeymoons.  It exudes romance without even trying.  As soon as you step off the plane, an air of relaxation will fulfill you and you’ll realize you’re in Paradise!  As they say in Hawaii, Mahalo for reading my article and I hope I’ve inspired you to begin or renew your relationship in Kaua’i!