If you seek adventure, the Big Island is a perfect destination for the wanderlust spirit! With volcanoes, mountains, waterfalls, green and black sand beaches, endemic wildlife, breathtaking views and the spirit of aloha, how could it not be an adventure of a lifetime?
The Big Island was the last of the Hawaiian islands for me to visit. I absolutely loved Maui, Kauai, and Oahu so I was eager to visit the Big Island to compare them all.
Since I have been to the other Hawaiian islands and had the wonderful opportunity to experience your typical Hawaii excursions (horse-back riding, snorkeling, helicopter ride, luau, whale watching, and surfing), I wanted this trip to be focused on hiking and other unique things you can not do on the other islands.
To begin my journey, my friends invited me for an all girls trip to San Diego, La Jolla, and Palm Springs (blog post to come). Instead of heading back home to Florida after this California trip, I found a great deal on a plane ticket to one of my bucket list destinations, the Big Island. So, I booked the flight and I started researching unique things to do while I was there.
Gypsy Mama Bear Tip:
One of the most expensive and inconvenient things about traveling to Hawaii is simply getting there! The expensive round trip tickets and long flights can be a burden for some. I found if you can do a weekend trip to Cali before going to Hawaii, and fly with different airlines, you may find great deals like I was able to! Also, traveling during the off seasons will save you money and there will be less crowds once you get there. I personally the Kayak website to find the best deal.
While researching different adventures on the Big Island, I discovered that there was a full/half marathon in Hilo during that time. I could do my very first half marathon at age 57, and it would be in Hawaii! I’ve never been much of a runner, more of a hiker, but what a great opportunity to cross another adventure off the bucket list!
I also discovered that one of my previous co-workers owns a Kona coffee and macadamia nut plantation in the Kona Coffee district! Being a coffee fanatic, I knew I had to check it out.
Once I landed on the west side of the island in Kona, Hawaii, I decided to spend the first week of my trip exploring and hiking trails that I researched on the AllTrails App. I figured this would help prepare me physically for the actual race (I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for a half marathon so I would not recommend doing what I did with such short notice).
My 1st hike was the Captain Cook Monument Trail. This is a 4 mile heavily trafficked trail and rated at difficult/hard. I found this trail was one of the best ways to combine Hawaii’s history with the island’s natural wonders. This trail also leads to Kealakekua Bay, which is considered one of the best snorkeling spots on the island.
I thought the trail was not that difficult physically, but it did have a lot of loose rocks, so I would recommend good hiking boots to save your ankles. I wore my bathing suit under my hiking clothes and packed in snacks, a beach towel, and my snorkel gear.
I have to admit, this trail spooked me at a certain area. There was a small section of tall, corn-like stalks that were on both sides of the trail and I felt like I was walking through a maze (I never should have watched “Children of the Corn” horror flick as a child).
It seemed like there were eyes watching me, and as I finally cleared the foliage, I was proven right, but not exactly what I was expecting. Hawaiian Ibex goats had been curiously following me along the trail!
The Kona Coffee District
Near the Captain Cook Monument is Makai View Farm. My previous co-worker/friend and his wife sold their home in the continental US and purchased this lovely farm. This farm land had been vacant for quite sometime before they purchased it and was overgrown with brush and vegetation.
To their surprise, it was previously a functioning Kona coffee and macadamia nut farm long ago! As they began to clear the land, they found many flourishing Kona coffee trees among all the underbrush and decided to continue this unique coffee-making tradition. I was amazed to see that these trees were growing out of the black lava rock!
I had an amazing experience learning the process of how Kona coffee is made. The best part was roasting my own coffee beans. I also learned how to use a French press coffee pot for the first time!
I noticed several coffee farms were all along the highway to their farm and I realized I was in the Kona Coffee Belt! If you love coffee, I would highly recommend taking a tour at one of these plantations to stop and sample the different Hawaiian coffees, macadamia nuts, and local honey.
I had a difficult time choosing my favorite coffee spot because each one was so unique and full of flavor and fun!
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park
Another beautiful stop to make in the Kona district is the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. This is one of Hawaii’s most sacred historic lands and is surrounded by a gorgeous coastline.
You can easily spot the sea turtles swimming in the shallow water coves. The emerald green water and underlying rocks are simply breathtaking!
At the park, you can also watch native Hawaiian craftsman use traditional skills to make cloth and carve wood. Take a break from hiking and listen to the tales about these long ago legendary historical places.
Another must stop in the south Kona district is the Painted Church that was built in 1842. The church is listed on the Hawaii State Register of Historical Places and the National Register of Historic Places. It is currently an active, operating church, and is also a major Hawaii tourist destination.
Pololu Valley Lookout, Kapaau
Before leaving Kona, I picked up my hiking friend, Deb, at the airport and we decided to head north to Pololu Valley. We had a hard time finding this lookout because our GPS was not working and it was not very well marked. We did stop to ask some locals for directions and they were very friendly and helpful in getting us there. I recommend keeping a local map handy because GPS did not work that often on our cells.
The trail is just under 1 mile and rated as a moderate trail. Though we had fun and saw great views, but we were a muddy mess! We often had to use trees to hang onto going down because the trail was very slippery. If you don’t like getting muddy, skip the trail and take the picture from the top. If you want the adventure, go enjoy the journey but be prepared to slip and slide on your fanny.. a little dirt never hurt!
After Pololu Valley, we headed to Waipi’o Valley. There is a 3.8 mile moderate trail, with the first mile a steep and bumpy road. I chose to walk the trail vs driving but I did see a lot of local tour vans giving people rides down. Be prepared, the walk down was easy, but the walk back up was brutal!
Papakolea-Green Sand Beach
We packed up the trusty Jeep and headed south toward Naalehu. I saved the best for last because this was the most unusual beach of all the beaches in Hawaii…Papakolea Green Sand Beach. It’s my absolute favorite pick because I’ve never seen anything else like it! The road down was too rocky for me rental (even a Jeep!) but the hike was well worth the trek. This trail was 5.6 miles round trip. I drove as far as I could and then found a pull-off area to park. If you are limited on time and energy and you do one thing on your trip to the Big Island, I would do this. This is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I still get teary eyed just blogging about it.
I did see many locals there that were willing to drive you there for a fee. They knew where to avoid the pot holes and were willing to risk losing an oil pan. I needed the training for my half marathon so I decided to walk. I’m so very glad I did because the walk went fast, was along the coastline, and I had spectacular views all day.
Hilo Half Marathon
The nerve wracking moment that I had been waiting for finally arrived! After hiking long hikes everyday for 2 full weeks, would I be prepared for my first half marathon? Was that enough preparation? I was very nervous and scared. The crowd was amazing and the adrenaline was flowing! was I stupid for thinking I could do this? 13 miles…
Bang! The gun went off and away I went! I ran past oceans, botanical gardens, and gorgeous parks. I was able to spend a lot of time thinking about how thankful I was for my health and my adventurous journeys.
Unsure how I did it, but I managed to jog for 10 miles without stopping! I did inherit some ugly blisters those first 10 miles and I will also admit every inch of the rolling hills were felt in my calves. The last 3 miles I had to walk because of those pesky blisters, which were pretty much miserable but I managed to keep hydrated and upright (lol)!
Packing tip: Be sure to stick some small strips of moleskin in your pocket for hikes or running your first anything!
I also packed in protein bars for all of my hikes! These are great bars because they are only 110 calories, have low sugar and have 15g of protein!
Once I crossed the finish line, I had buckets of tears flowing. What a great and memorable milestone of a day and one that I will never forget. I completed my first half marathon at 57 in Hawaii.
Would I do it again? No, probably not. But, I crossed it off my bucket list and realized that this Gypsy Mama Bear should stick to what she knows and loves passionately…hiking.
Find joy in your journey…
I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:13
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