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Big Family Fun on Hawai’i’s Big Island

by Susan Barnes

Oct 13, 2017

© Jay Beiler | Dreamstime

Destinations / North America

As an Army brat, my family moved every three years or so when my dad was stationed to a different post. When I was in pre-school through second grade, we were fortunate enough to live in Hawai’i, on Oahu. Some of my earliest childhood memories are from Hawai’i, including island hopping to the neighboring islands. I particularly remember going to the Big Island, and how cold it was, or so we thought. For a six-year-old, the difference between a balmy 80 degrees and cooler 60s was quite significant.

On a recent trip to the Big Island, these childhood memories came flooding back, and I found a few more spots I wish we’d visited when I was younger.

Lava bubbles inside the Kīlauea Caldera at dusk.

Photo by: Susan B. Barnes

Volcano

Hawai’i is made of up of volcanic islands, and that’s even more evident with the active lava flow happening from Kīlauea into the Pacific Ocean at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. It’s quite a hike to see the lava flow into the ocean, and steam may prevent any views. On the other hand, boat tours take lava seekers to the ocean entry point at Kamokuna for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

An easier view of the lava activity can be seen from the Jaggar Overlook inside the park. From here, the Kīlauea Caldera is in plain sight day and night, but for more impressive views, plan on visiting after dark to see the orange glow.

In addition to the volcanic activities, the park is full of hiking opportunities, across lava fields and through forests, as well as a chance to look at petroglyphs dating back hundreds of years. Plan on spending at least one full day at the park, though two or three can easily be filled.

Waterfalls

If you’re driving from the Kona side of the island toward Hilo and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, plan some time to stop and chase waterfalls along the way. Two to consider near Hilo are ‘Akaka Falls, at more than 400 feet, and Rainbow Falls in Hilo, considered the easiest falls to visit on the Big Island. A morning visit to Rainbow Falls is the best time to see the rainbows that arch over the water.

A green sea turtle basks in the sun at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park

Photo by: Susan B. Barnes

Turtles

Out of the five days I was recently on the Big Island, I went snorkeling on four of them, and saw sea turtles each time. A few of the island’s popular snorkeling spots are Mauna Kea Beach, Puuhonua O Honaunau and Kahaluu Beach Park. Not only might you spot sea turtles gliding effortlessly through the water as they seek out their next nibble, but myriad colorful fish, the likes of which you may never have seen before.

One special place sea turtle enthusiasts should check out is Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, where Hawai’ian green sea turtles haul themselves out onto the sandy shores to take a break from all their swimming. On a recent visit, my friends and I spotted a turtle basking in the sun, while his friends continued to swim and feed in the shallow waters along the shoreline. I lost count of how many we saw from the beach.

Tip: Take along your own mask and snorkel so you’re ready to hop out of the car and into the water when an urge to snorkel comes along.

A trio from Scandinavian Shave Ice in Kona.

Photo by: Susan B. Barnes

Snacks

One of my favorite things about visiting Hawai’i, aside from the nature and incredible beauty of the islands, is shave ice. In Kona, two to try are Scandinavian Shave Ice in the village, and One Aloha Shave Ice, a few blocks away. Instead of choosing traditional flavors like lime or grape, be adventurous and opt instead for Hawai’ian-inspired flavors like lychee, li-hing-mui or p.o.g. – my favorite combo. Or, ask the person behind the counter to create one for you using their favorites for a truly local flavor.

Giggles are sure to go around when your family stops by Donkey Balls in Kainaliu, south of Kona. The original Donkey Balls are chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, and for an extra kick, try the chocolate covered 100 percent Kona Coffee GOGO Beans. Maybe keep those caffeinated sweets away from the kids, though.

Traveling further south from Kona, the southernmost bakery in the United States is the Punalu’u Bake Shop, a perfect spot to stop for a road trip snack or lunch. Known for its sweet and moist Hawai;ian sweetbread, Punalu’u Bake Shop also has a bakery case filled with malasadas (donuts), plain or filled with tropical flavors such as mango and guava. I couldn’t resist temptation on a recent visit and had one malasada, a cinnamon roll and took a box of Macadamia Nut Shortbread Cookies for the road. Calories don’t count on vacation, right?

#WhereverFamily

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