Our second full day on The Big Island was a travel day. We would be heading over to the other side of the island to see the volcano, Kilauea, Hilo, and the Hamakua Coast for a few days. To combat all of the sitting in the car we would be doing, we started out by getting our chi on at the free yoga class offered by our hotel, the Sheraton Kona (10,000 starpoints/night). We stretched out on the grassy lawn overlooking Keahou Bay, shaded by tropical trees surrounding the nearby wedding chapel. Birds chirped, bees buzzed, and our instructor sang an awkward song that put my controlled breathing to the test as I tried not to giggle. We were a diverse group, with my sister, Andrea, probably being the youngest at 22, and other yogis ranging all the way up to their 70’s. There were men too, and a large range of physical fitness levels. The class was easily adaptable to any skill level, although Garren didn’t appreciate when the instructor adjusted him into a deeper squat and he nearly tore his groin! Feeling refreshed (and sore, for Garren), we rounded up my parents from the hotel room and hit the road.
On this trip, the phrase “hit the road” took on a whole new meaning. I normally have pretty low standards for rental cars, knowing they are abused on a daily basis, but this vehicle was something else. Our Chevy SUV had 3 rows of seats, two in front, two in the middle and once we folded a couple seats down in the way-back for our luggage, there was just one narrow seat with a suitcase for an armrest and an entry/exit strategy that involved either climbing in from the trunk over our suitcases or hopping over the middle row of seats to tumble into the back. The Chevy didn’t have the greatest suspension, and every single crack, bump, or pothole was magnified so that it felt like we were driving over a jagged lava field. Think I’m exxagerating? I actually hit my head twice on the ceiling while sitting back there – and I am not a tall person. Every bump was accompanied by an involuntary “ugh!” from the back passenger and a loud bang as the back of the SUV crashed back down on the road. A less painful, but much more annoying quirk of the car was the squeaky brake pedal that let out a high pitched donkey noise every time we pumped the brakes. Not even joking.
We chugged south on Highway 11 zig-zagging our way around the southern tip of the island. We were on our way to the small town of Volcano near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We made an early stop for breakfast and coffee at Island Naturals Market & Deli in search of the St. Patty’s Day soda bread we had been promised after Escaping Death at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau the day before. They had it! We bought two loaves, some coffee, and juice and then hopped, climbed, and fell back into the loaded Chevy. As we drove south, we pulled off warm flaky hunks of the soda bread and popped them into our mouths. It was heavenly – somewhere between biscuit, bread, and scone, with sweet raisins interspersed in the floury goodness. See my full review at Best Food on the Big Island. I gazed out the window, watching the scenery change every couple of minutes from clusters of small, weathered homes tucked in the hillside to barren lava flows to wide grassy fields with large purple-flowered Jacaranda trees. This was Hawaii.
Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
We had been driving for an hour and a half and as we rounded the southern tip of the island we decided to check out the black sand beach at Punalu’u County Beach Park. The beach was a beautiful scoop of dark black sand, pebbles, and large boulders backed by a thick row of palm trees. Waves from the bay splashed against the large volcanic boulders dotting the shallow waters – at least that’s what we thought at first. It wasn’t until we looked closely that we noticed some of the boulders were moving. They were large green sea turtles bobbing in the surf! I quickly scrambled into the water, hopping from rock to rock (I made sure they weren’t turtles this time) to try to get a picture of the bobbing sea turtles. I mostly succeeded in getting dozens of pictures of rocks.
We walked along the shore to the other side of the beach and found one turtle warming itself on the fine black sand, waves occasionally lapping at his fins. The turtles have it pretty good here.
This beach isn’t ideal for swimming but it was definitely worth the quick stop to see all of the turtles. There are also restrooms and a few picnic tables. Sturdy shoes would have been helpful for crossing the beach and not getting the sharp rocks trapped in my sandals. They were surprisingly sharp – a reminder of how young this part of the island is. The water hasn’t had time to erode the beach rocks as much as I would have liked!
As our stomachs began to growl, we continued on toward Volcano. We were clearly gaining in elevation and soon we had reached a cool 4,000 feet as we rolled into Volcano village. The lush landscape took me by surprise. Being right next to a volcano, I anticipated a barren, rocky landscape, but Volcano was full of ferns and large trees, covered in a blanket of mist. We pulled onto the grassy lawn next to the house that would be ours for the next two days. We were staying in the Huanani House, part of Volcano Hideaways, which is a group of 3 guest houses in Volcano. Todd Marohnic, a Minnesota native who runs the place, walked over from his house next door to get us settled. We found ourselves in a cozy home with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, living room, and laundry! ($160/night for 2 people +$15 for each additional person) The décor of Huanani house was kitchy Hawaiian, with several nods to what we recognized so well as classic Northern Minnesota cabin – style. It didn’t matter. The house was comfortable and had everything we could possibly need. We had a quick lunch of leftover bread, cheese, and papayas from Island Naturals Market & Deli and then made the 10 minute drive to Hawaii Volcanos National Park where we would catch our first glimpse of the active, smoking volcano, Kilauea. Kilauea was one of the highlights of my trip and I can’t wait to tell you all about it in my next post!