As the jet makes its arching descent across Hilo Bay on the Big Island of Hawai’i, we’re mesmerized by the tropical tableau below – translucent blue water fringed with green rolling hills. The couple across the aisle compares the scenery to Ireland. But when my husband and I step off the plane the floral fragrances and warm trade winds leave no doubt that we’re in Hawai’i.
Exotic birds soar from palm to palm as we wind our way down the drive to a plantation-style inn located 14 miles from Hilo. Every room at Palm Cliff House has views of the ocean below, where humpback whales and spinner dolphins frolic in the waters of Pokakumanu Bay. I eye the two-person sunken Jacuzzi win views to the ocean, the four-poster bed and the comfy chairs on our private porch. But we don’t linger. We lace up our walking shoes and hike up through ferns, wild orchids and thick bamboo of Hawaii’s tallest waterfall in the nearby Akaka Falls State Park. It’s just the beginning of our Big Island adventure.
Find the “Old Hawaii” in Hilo
Hilo blossomed from a village centered around the mission church to a boomtown when sugar production flourished. Businesses came and went — whaling, coffee farms, sugar plantations, the occasional cruise ship and a budding tourist industry. Surfing and family time are celebrated recreations in Hilo and the pace on this side of the island is slower than in the more populated tourist destinations.
Plan your trip to Hilo to visit the Farmers Market, open daily until 4 p.m. except Friday. The 23-year-old market features more than 200 island farmers, honey-makers, local goat and feta cheese producers, floral artists and crafters who display their goods in a space covering two blocks.
Bike the Rim of the Volcano
The 45-minute drive from Hilo to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park leads us to one of the 21 World heritage sites in the United States and one of two in Hawaii.
we joined an easy, three-hour, nine-mile “Bike Volcano” excursion. We cruised through thick forests and volcanic rock fields, stopping to hike through a lava tube and watch ash and gas spewing from the Halema’uma’u Crater. Don’t miss the nearby Volcano Garden Art Center and make time for lunch in the organic gardens of Café Ono.
Paddle on the Kona Coast
Leaving the rainforest and volcanoes behind, we traded our backpacks for fins, goggles and paddles on the Kona Coast. A world of difference separates the east and the west coasts of the Big Island. One side is wet and verdant; the other side is dry and volcanic. We moved our base to the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort, perched dramatically on black lava cliffs amid 22 green acres of oceanfront gardens.
Imagine paddling into the Kealakekua Bay where Captain Cook is said to have landed in 1779. Now picture gliding past steep cliffs dotted with ancient burial caves of the Hawaiian royalty and landing on hard lava rock where a picnic awaits you. And then snorkel for hours, face planted in the clear water of the lagoon, in the kaleidoscopic world of the marine sanctuary. That’s marine adventure on the Big Island.
And maybe you’ll be lucky, as we were. On the return trip across the bay, dolphins surfaced close to our kayaks and then as furtively as they arrived, they disappeared into the depths of the Pacific Ocean.
Bliss Out with a Chocolate Body Wrap
The Hawaiian phrase lomilotni means to rub, knead, massage. Practitioners of this ancient Polynesian healing technique use not only their palms, but also their forearms, fingers, knuckles and elbows. Let your body and mind melt into the soundtrack of waves and birdsong during an open-air massage at The Sheraton Ho’ola Spa. Zen out with a Chocolate Body Wrap; warm Hershey’s chocolate is brushed all over your body, and a soft Vichy shower completes the decadence. It sounds other worldly because it is.
Cover photo: Tropical Rainbow, byDebcha