The Big Island of Hawaii
Now is the perfect time to experience the Big Island’s impressive volcanoes, adorable sea turtles, black-sand beaches, and amazing helicopter rides.
Day 1: Kona Airport to Keauhou Bay
The warm breeze as we walk across the tarmac is a godsend. Yesterday, we flew from the East Coast to Oakland, Calif., spent the night, and boarded a morning flight to Kona. My wife, Jessica, is pregnant, as we discovered a few weeks ago. Our 2-year-old son William's days as an only child are numbered, and I threw the trip together in a hurry, knowing we won't have a chance to get away like this anytime soon.
The Big Island is Hawaii's most volcanically active, which is obvious from the moment we leave Kona Airport. Bizarre, craggy piles of black lava run from the hills to the water, interrupted only by the slice of road and the occasional palm tree.
Ten minutes south of the tourist hub of Kailua-Kona, past a mishmash of condos, thick greenery, rocky coast, and strip malls, we arrive at theOutrigger Keauhou Beach Resort, an off-white high-rise that kind of resembles an ice-cube tray on its side.
We briefly admire the ocean view from our sixth-floor room, then head right back down, past the pool area, toKahaluu Beach Parknext door. It's a black-sand beach--my first ever, which is thrilling, even if the "sand" is actually gray and feels a lot like gravel. I'd heard the snorkeling was good, and sure enough, dozens of people are floating face-down in the water, occasionally popping up to point out something to their neighbors.
I hold William's hand and approach the shoreline to dip my toes in next to a statue of a sea turtle--only it's not a statue. The turtle opens its eyes a crack and quickly shuts them, like any other sunbather. I manage to pull my son away before he has a chance to hop on the turtle and ride it like a horse. We stroll over to the edge of a concrete barrier wall where we can watch turtles fishing in the shallows. As they angle their jaws deeper, one flipper pops up like they're waving, and Jessica and I can't help comparing them to Crush fromFinding Nemo.
A park vendor rents snorkel gear for $8, and I wrestle the mask over my eyes and the fins over my feet while awkwardly skipping across the beach and into the water. Fluorescent, oddly shaped fish are everywhere. I experience 15 of the most peaceful yet exhilarating minutes I've had in a long time, then swap positions with Jessica, who has been kneeling in the water while William tosses pebbles and splashes around.
William and I sample the resort's kiddie pool, and then we all change clothes and drive back toward Kailua-Kona as the sun inches toward the horizon. From his car seat, Will stares at the water and says, "Beach?" Jessica tells him it's dinnertime, which prompts him to reply with "Pool?" followed by "Pool!" and "Beeeach!" His mood changes when I draw his attention to the enormous cruise ship floating offshore. However, he couldn't care less about the gorgeous sunset behind the ship, which we get a great view of from our picnic table atIsland Lava Java. We share salad, pork tacos, and fries, all of which hit the spot, as the sky turns orange, then black. The homemade blueberry cheesecake ice cream I order is so good that once Will gets a taste, he loses interest in his bowl of chocolate. We trade, and everybody's happy. Stuffed and exhausted, I strap William into his car seat. "Beach?" he mumbles, eyes already at least half closed.
- Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort78-6740 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona, 808/322-3441, outrigger.com, from $149 (EDITOR'S NOTE: Since publication, we've been notified that this location is closing on October 31, 2012.)
- Island Lava Java75-5799 Alii Dr., Kailua-Kona, 808/327-2161, islandlavajava.com, pork tacos special $11
- Kahaluu Beach ParkKeauhou Bay, snorkel gear $8 per day
Day 2: Keauhou to Volcano
Even as Highway 11 drifts inland and up into the mountains, the amazing ocean views keep on coming--because the drop-offs to the water are so dramatic. I'd love to stop and appreciate the scenery from the patio of a roadside coffee shop, but Will is sound asleep in the backseat. Besides, before I have time to consider the repercussions of pulling over and waking him up, giant raindrops are pounding the windshield.
The sky remains gray and spooky as we turn off forHawaii Volcanoes National Park. About one quarter of the way around Crater Rim Drive, the 11-mile loop circling the 400-foot-deep Kilauea Caldera, we stop to check out the Thomas A. Jaggar Museum. There we learn that back when Mark Twain visited, the crater regularly spewed orange lava into the air. Today, the crater is a forbidding black hole, nearly three miles across--pretty impressive, even without the lava show.