Written by and photos by Michael A.
Are you figuring out what to do and where to stay in Hawaii? Here’s the perfect guide to your Hawaiian adventure for both the thrillseeker and the maxin’ and relaxin’ type of vacationer.
Exploring the Hilo Side of Big Island
Where to stay while Visiting Volcanoes National Park: Volcano Mist Cottage
Look at these pictures!!!! Talk about three perfect days in Volcano Village! Volcano Mist Cottage makes you feel like you’re in a private massage and spa treatment sanctuary for your entire stay. Volcano Mist Cottage is one of the coolest places I’ve ever stayed. Situated a mere seven minute drive from Volcanoes National Park and only five minutes from local restaurants, this is the perfect place to stay when visiting this side of the island. Although many of you are familiar with both Kona and Hilo on the Big Island, the main reason people go to the “Hilo side” is to check out Volcanoes National Park because there really isn’t all that much to do in Hilo itself. If you were to stay in Hilo, the national park is about an hour away. You won’t want to spend the time driving each day so try to stay closer to the park. With that being said, there really aren’t too many hotels near the park (I mean very slim pickings). So, you’ll end up at a B&B or something on the smaller side.
If you’re smart and truly want to enjoy your vacation to the maximum level possible, don’t waste any of your time searching for places to stay in Hawaii and reserve your stay at Volcano Mist Cottage immediately. Volcano Mist Cottage’s location is as good as it gets because you’re right next to the national park. Additionally, Volcano Mist Cottage isn’t on a main road so you truly have complete privacy in the beautiful rainforest. Volcano Mist Cottage is a single cottage so you will never see any other guests or hear any neighbors, except for the natural sounds coming from the forest, of course. This is your place, your stay, your dream for the entirety of your booking.
As soon as you drive up to Volcano Mist Cottage you will realize all of the chirping and sounds coming from the rainforest. It almost feels as though one of those relaxation cd’s is playing on repeat your entire time there. It’s hard to pull yourself away from the beautiful outside patio and comfy chairs. The big gorgeous fireplace lends itself to one of the most peaceful places to eat dinner or share a glass of wine as you hear the rain fall. #HEAVEN!
As you enter the cottage, you quickly feel that the owners wanted you to feel the earthly vibe even while inside as all of the walls have a beautiful wood finish with very high ceilings and large windows so that you can always feel the nature. Volcano Mist Cottage provides Internet and cable TV if you want to lounge inside and they even have a beautiful, remote controlled gas fireplace.
As you make your way though the kitchen, you’ll notice that special Volcano Mist Cottage touch. They not only give you a great itinerary and suggestions for things to do and places to eat when you book with them, but they also leave you fresh fruit, cereal, milk, and an AMAZING banana bread so that I could start off each morning on the right foot. I definitely wasn’t expecting this and it was a very nice touch. At the same time, they really do leave you alone so that you can make this your sanctuary and really relax without having to feel as though someone is going to be checking in on you while you walk around the cottage wearing one of their most comfortable robes you’ve ever put on.
From the minute you wake up, to the beautiful sounds and view of the rainforest, this place makes the decision to leave and explore even harder. If you do happen to make it outside after enjoying breakfast in this sanctuary, make sure to check out what’s behind the house as this was my favorite part of the experience. As you walk out of the indoor shower, you’ll see a beautiful outdoor shower. I actually exclusively used this as it really made me feel as though I was showering with the clouds’ rain. But, don’t stop at the outdoor shower. Keep following the path through the beautiful rainforest and you will find a gorgeous jacuzzi about 20 feet from the house, once again secluded from all surroundings other than the beauty of the rainforest. Above the jacuzzi hangs a beautiful chandelier and an awning above that. The spacious jacuzzi has a setting on it that shines different colors of light and it really gives a neat atmosphere at night as you listen to the noises of the forest.
Volcano Mist Cottage is a real gem. It’s a true heaven on earth experience and your magical Hawaiian experience deserves to include Volcano Mist Cottage in your travels.
Touring Volcanoes National Park
Apau Hawaii Tours with Scott Wiggers
Scott gives one of the most unique private tours that you will ever find. The Volcanoes National Park is one of the very few places in the entire world where you can actually see an active volcano and the lava spewing out of it. Volcanoes National Park is why you’ve heard of Hilo and why so many people take the day trip from Kona or spend a few days in Hilo so that they can visit this special park.
When you make it out to Hilo, make sure you give Apau Hawaii Tours a call to reserve a tour with him. Apau Hawaii Tours only gives private tours (usually max of 4) which is so incredibly cool! Once you start arranging a tour with him, he’ll point out the main things that most tourists want to see and should see. The uniqueness of Apau Hawaii Tours comes in right after the introduction when Scott actually asks the guests what they’d like to do and see so that each guest can really get as much out of the tour as they want. I’ve gone on private tours in the past, but Apau Hawaii Tours takes personalization to another level. With most private tours, there is definitely an itinerary and set times for when you will start and when you will finish. Apau Hawaii Tours let’s you decide this as they want to make this YOUR tour which is unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
A good example of this was the fact that I wanted to see the lava glow and you’re really only able to see these at two times: the night and the early morning. Although the nighttime surely would’ve been easier for Scott, he got up REALLY early and met me at the park at 5AM because he thought it’d be a better experience for me if I saw it in the morning as there aren’t crowds at that point. Let me say that again; he met me there at 5AM!!!! This was unbelievably nice of him and we got to see the lava boiling up out of it’s crater.
Being that this is a private tour with such an extremely knowledgeable and friendly guide, you feel more than free to ask a ton of questions as it really can be hard to comprehend the magnitude of how these volcanoes impact the land. Simply going to visit the national park and seeing lava rocks, lava tubes, and the destruction that these volcanoes have done might be cool, but Apau Hawaii Tours makes it unforgettable with the vast amount of knowledge you leave with. For instance, a lava tube is a pretty cool thing to see, but once you actually are taught why and how they are formed, your amazement just shoots through the roof. Walking through an area where lava has completely destroyed all living plants is also pretty fascinating, but to have Scott point out how new life is growing out of this destruction and magma simply makes you appreciate the thriving life cycles that are taking place right before your eyes. You will come across natural cycles like this time and time again but will really miss out out on the significance of what you’re seeing without someone as knowledgeable as Scott pointing these things out. Scott points out the roses that you can’t see on your own, and once you’re able to see them, you’re now finally able to stop and smell the roses to truly get the most out of your Volcanoes National Park visit.
Lava Ocean Tours out of Hilo
Although the big attraction while on the Hilo side of Hawaii is definitely a visit to Volcanoes National Park, make sure you don’t miss tours with Lava Ocean Tours. I was lucky enough to go on the Lava Ocean Tours’ Waterfall tour that pretty much turned into a bonus Whale Watching tour. Lava Ocean Tours is the only company to take customers on this side of the island so you’re really seeing something unique that most travelers don’t get to see. Lava Ocean Tours’s boat is based out of Hilo and they take you up the coast in a spacious boat so that you can see the beautiful waterfalls pour off of the cliffs of Hawaii into the ocean. You will see tons of these waterfalls — like over 30! Most of the cliffs that you are passing are a part of Hawaii that is untouched and therefore all natural which is starting to be very uncommon of Hawaii and sadly of the world in general. However with this tour, you’ll be one of very few people to get to see Hawaii in its natural state — gorgeous and untouched.
What’s really cool about this tour is that nobody else is around this area of the ocean. You won’t see tons of fishermen or any other tour boats out here. Now I’m not sure if this has anything to do with what I’m about to talk about next, but I’ve never seen so many whales in my life. Whether this is because marine life feel safer in these areas because they know a bunch of ships aren’t going to be around or not, I saw more whales on this tour than in all my actual whale-tours combined. For those of you who enjoy photography, Lava Ocean Tours not only keeps an eye on where the whales are so that you can constantly be around them to get that perfect shot, but they even angle their boat perfectly so that you’ll have the beautiful backdrop of the waterfalls pouring into the ocean as you’re taking your pics of the majestic humpback whales come up for air.
Lava Ocean Tours’s guides are really friendly and knowledgeable and they’ll give you the rare opportunity to see a part of the island that very few get to see. Make sure you check them out and book a reservation with Lava Ocean Tours.
Exploring the Kona Side of Big Island
Looking for a place to Stay in Kona? Check out Ka’awa Loa Bed and Breakfast!
Relaxing at Ka’awa Loa is what Hawaii is all about. This beautiful B&B is close enough to Kona where you can hop over to beaches in a jiff, yet far enough away where you don’t feel like you’re stuck with the tourists with everything you’re trying to do.
Ka’awa Loa is about 40 minutes south of the Kona airport and is in a very quaint town. As you enter Ka’awa Loa, you immediately feel the welcomed presence of incense burning and peaceful music as you enter the large living room. As you enter, your curiosity will get the best of you and you’ll have to immediately check out the porch that overlooks the beautiful and well-maintained lawn and the ocean down below. Although the rooms, which some offer ocean views, are all very lovely and spacious, the veranda that wraps around the entire house and the lawn were definitely my favorite places to hang out and relax at this B&B. The veranda offers ample seating all the way around to ensure that you have the perfect view and set up for whatever type of lounging you’re up for on that day. They have rocking chairs, the most comfortable lounging bed, lawn chairs, a bench in the sauna, and a swing that hangs from a beautiful old majestic mango tree. The best part is, with each of these options you will have an amazing view of the ocean and Hawaii’s gorgeous landscape.
Stargazing is at its peak at Ka’awa Loa. Although you can’t see the ocean at night, each night I would go outside to the jacuzzi and just stare upward at the stars. Being that Ka’awa Loa is outside of Kona, light pollution doesn’t kill the atmosphere for all of my fellow stargazers. At all points throughout the day and night at Ka’awa Loa, you are certainly surrounded by the natural beauty that you sought on your get-a-way trip to Hawaii.
Now this review of Ka’awa Loa wouldn’t and simply couldn’t be complete without discussing the customer service of Greg and Michael (and their AMAZING meals)! Greg and Michael as well as their very personable innkeeper make Ka’awa Loa feel like a home. From the time you entire Ka’awa Loa to the time you leave, they are pretty much there to ensure that you not only feel like a guest in their home, but also a member of their home. They are all very easy to talk to and have great stories to tell about the community and the Hawaiian way of life. They are great resources to help you plan out your days and are always more than willing to help in any facet of your travel plans. Additionally, each morning Michael makes a delicious breakfast for their guests. Each morning was something different and there was always a ton of healthy varieties. Make sure you request the Macadamia Pancakes while there. These were by far the best Macadamia Pancakes I’ve tasted anywhere in the state of Hawaii. On two of the nights, they even treated us with desert at night.
For a true Hawaiian getaway on the Kona side, definitely make sure you stay at Ka’awa Loa so that you can maximize your relaxation time while still enjoying the beautiful nature of Hawaii.
Amazing Scuba Experience
Kona Honu Divers Black Water Dive
Kona Honu Divers offers two of the most unique dives that I’ve ever heard of. First, whether you’re a scuba diver or a snorkeler, make sure you don’t miss the Manta Ray dive/snorkel. It’s a dive known worldwide where you’ll get up close and personal with tons of gigantic 15 foot manta rays as they feed on plankton right by you. Very few dive shops offer this dive, so make sure you book this well in advance as this is one of the top things to do on the Big Island.
The dive I ended up going on with Kona Honu Divers was the thrill rushing Black Water Dive (which is a type of dive I’ve never heard of). After doing around 50 dives this year, I really wanted to do something a bit different. Shipwrecks, night dives, and regular drift dives started to lose a bit of their appeal despite doing them in different parts of the world. This Black Water Night Dive was definitely a different type of dive that I didn’t even know I was looking for but I’m certainly glad I found it!
Most of you, like myself, have never heard of a Black Water Dive. I figured it was going to be at night, but didn’t really know too much other than that. If the thought of diving at night is already scaring you, trust me, this is something you HAVE to do! Before I elaborate on how cool and unique this Black Water Dive was for all those scared of diving at night, just take yourself back to your very first scuba dive and remember how amazed you were by the quantity of sea life and beauty that you saw. Scuba diving allows you to sea (pun intended) a whole new world that you couldn’t properly comprehend without seeing it in person and night diving is a whole new world with all new creatures than day diving.
For all of you that have already fallen in absolute love with night diving, Black Water Diving is that same jump of allowing you to see an entirely different world. This is some straight up Planet Earth type stuff here where you’re hanging out with all these beautiful bio-luminescent organisms in the ocean as they light up the sea. It’s truly an experience you won’t see anywhere else as these creatures look like they have electric pulses going through their body as they float less than a foot away from your eyes.
On Kona Honu Divers’ Black Water Dive, they take you a few miles off shore around 9 p.m. You’ll get a flash light and hook up to a rope. Unlike normal night dives, you aren’t going down to check out any reefs and your goal isn’t to see fish, eels, rays, or lobster. Instead, they take you to an area where the ocean floor is around a mile deep. They’ll have a weighted, 60 ft. rope attached to the boat for each person. They’ll then clip you onto that rope with an additional rope so that you can decide at what depth you want to hang out and then you’re off to see some of the coolest things you’ve ever laid your eyes on in the ocean. It is important that you are decent with your buoyancy control though as it is a bit tougher to manage your buoyancy without having any visual markers here as you do in the daytime or when you’re night diving on a reef.
Before taking that plunge into the ocean, your guide is going to go over how to properly enjoy a Black Water Dive and what you should be looking out for as this is unlike anything you’ve ever done. My guide Jeffrey was great and I learned so much about the ocean and the bio-luminescent organisms before hopping into the water. He made the experience absolutely fascinating before even entering the water by not only explaining the types of organisms we’d be seeing, but also how these organisms coexists with one another and even thrive off of each other. Jeffrey explained that this dive is very unique in that we are really going to have our own experiences once we’re in the water which was cool in its own right. Jeffrey told us that there are multiple layers of the types of bio-luminescent organisms to see depending your at surface level. Jeffrey explained what kinds of organisms we’d see at each depth, how they lived, and who eats them so that we could decide exactly what kind of experience we each wanted by going to that particular depth. Let me tell you, each depth truly felt like a different dive as the bio-luminescent organisms changed completely making this experience feel like I was seeing three different types of marine life all in one dive. Jeffrey taught us to look small rather than big (definitely the best advice of this entire dive) as this will open up our eyes to so many beautiful bio-luminescent organisms that oddly enough, you can’t see unless you’re looking this way despite them floating right in front of your eyes.
Aside from all of the beauty that you will come across (or rather that will come across you as they float by), floating somewhat alone in the pitch blackness of the night’s ocean has to be one of the most surreal feelings I’ve ever experienced. You just don’t quite get this cool “alone” feeling with night dives as you aren’t floating like you do here and you’re always with a group “touring” and heading down a certain path. It almost made me feel as though I was floating alone in space which was pretty damn cool.
Kona Honu Divers seems to be the most respected dive shop on the entire island. When talking to anyone about going diving, Kona Honu always seems to be the first place people recommend. After diving with them, it is clear why this is the case. The customer service is so incredibly helpful, knowledgeable, and extremely quick to respond to any inquiries, especially for those of you trying to plan before getting to Hawaii. If you’re looking for a unique dive and/or thrill of a lifetime, give Kona Honu Divers a ring!
Side note: If you’re in Maui, make sure that you check out the underwater Cathedrals as these are also pretty well known dives as well. Maui Dive Shop is a really friendly company and is recommended by many including myself. I dove with them and they were a very fun group to be around.
For Food in Kona, check out Lava Lava Beach Club
A stay in Kona wouldn’t be complete without a sunset dinner at Lava Lava Beach Club. Conveniently located near the most of the major hotels and main beaches on the Kona side, Lava Lava Beach Club offers some delicious food and cocktails while enjoying a beautiful location on the beach so that you can watch the sunset as you listen to live music and eat that delicious meal.
Lava Lava Beach Club really has a wide variety of food from burgers, ribs, steak, fish etc. I personally had the ribs and found them to be quite delicious. The portions are quite large as well so make sure you take that into account as you’ll definitely want to save room for their famous desert. So, whether you go in starving or just want to find a beautiful spot to watch the sunset and drink a cocktail, make sure you place a reservation at Lava Lava Beach Club well in advance as I’m sure this place consistently fills up quickly.