The second week of our 5 year anniversary trip was on the Big Island! It was both of our first times on this island and it was kind of unexpected (but I should have expected) how different it was from Kauai. Kauai is small, homey, local, high on surf culture and shave ice. Big Island is huge (it’s name suits it) and vast and at some points feels really lonely (with no hint of surf culture or shave ice!).
Kauai is access (seeing or jumping into) to the ocean no matter where you are. Big Island is not seeing the ocean for 4 days. Kauai is gorgeous and predictable lush greenery with a hint of colorful desert. Big Island is a mix of flatlands and hearty plants, cracked lava rock piles, and lush plant life pretty much only existing around the edges.
When we first got to the Big Island we drove for two hours through what felt and looked like a completely different planet. Piles of black lava rocks, sparse to absolutely no plant life, misty rain and looming cloud shadows. Flat flat flat… and then a MASSIVE mountain (volcano) crept into view. The island of Hawaii really surprised me with its variety and its uniqueness. We called it ‘Weird Moonland’ all week because it’s just so WEIRD! I’ve never seen anything like it – and it’s exactly how I picture the moon.
For the first 3 nights we stayed south of Hilo, on the east side of the island. When I saw this tiny treehouse listed on Airbnb, my first thought was “Nate would never” but I bookmarked it anyways. I mentioned it to him a while later and he said “Really? Ummm..” so I took that as a yes and booked it right then and there.
This sweet, cozy, rustic, gorgeous, handmade, off-grid, homey treehouse was my favorite place to be for our three days on the Hilo side of the Big Island. We did lots of sightseeing (volcanoes!), but ultimately I just wanted to hang out in this little space. It reminded me of my family’s lake cabin, without the lake of course. I’ve also always wanted to live in a tiny house, so this kind of fulfilled some dreams. I still think I totally could make a tiny house work. Nate does not believe me 😉
The first floor was 16 feet off the ground, so we used a pulley to get our luggage up! We arrived in the dead of night, so THAT was an adventure 😉 I loved the lofted bed, because that meant we woke up even higher up in the trees. Oh and there was a 12×12 foot hammock that was pretty fun to hang in. Outdoor shower, minimal available water, frogs singing us to sleep, brisk mornings, the whole situation was dreamy.
Hilo town was pretty cute and mostly stuck in the 60s. I was a fan. Their farmers market was incredible! We got mangoes and fresh coconut juice and taro chips and locally made black bean hummus and ate lunch in the park.
So despite what I said previously about Big Island being flat and sparse – I do have to mention that the north east and the southwest edges of the island are pretty hilly, green and jungly, which is my favorite kind of vibe. At Rainbow Falls, there was a muddy path down to the top of the waterfall where people were fishing, exploring, ect. I was wearing flip flops and Nate was in his boat shoes, but I knew that this misty, adventurey adventure could not be missed. So we slipped and slid our way down to the rocky, rivery area and I danced in the rain on top of the waterfall and I’m crying just thinking about it. This is Akaka Falls! It was HUGE! Volcanoes National Park: Probably the most unique national park there is (though I haven’t been to many). But like.. VOLCANOES, MAN. That’s cool. This was cool. We really enjoyed our day here. Here is Nate walking through a tunnel carved by lava 103 year ago. Or like, 80 years ago. I don’t know, look it up. We then took a 2 hour hike ACROSS THE MOON. It was the moon. It was a volcano, but really, this is exactly what the moon looks like, I bet. Didn’t I tell you Big Island is actually Weird Moonland? Here is extra proof. Hot sun, a steep path down, a steeper path up, and lots of moonland in between. This was a very, VERY cool experience. Truly, the whole reason we decided to visit the Big Island is because Nate has been dreaming of seeing REAL lava for his entire life. The whole time he’s so pumped to see lava, so after our hike across the mostly-dormant thankgod volcano, we get to the viewing center of the mostly-active-though-not-too-active volcano. We stare down into it and notice the smallest little hint of orange. We squint and look closer and realize it’s lava, bubbling and splashing up over the edge! So we admire and are in awe. BUT THEN we overhear a park ranger telling someone “It’s only been doing this for about an hour, and it hasn’t done this in about 4 months, so it’s very rare to actually see lava.” Nate and I look at each other and I tell him that he is the luckiest human on earth. The #1 reason he wanted to come to the Big Island was to see lava, and we are seeing it, and it only happens for an hour every 4 months?!!! Seriously the LUCK.I.EST. (See the tiny speck of orange?) We’d heard that the night view of the active volcano is pretty epic, so we decided to check it out that same night. Maybe there would still be lava! (There wasn’t. The ranger said it had stopped at about 4:00, which was like 5 minutes after we left the first time. GUYS IT WAS A MIRACLE WE SAW IT). Anyways, we sat on the stone wall and watched the sun go down. The glow from the volcano got brighter as the sky sky darker and it was very, very cool. (That orange isn’t lava. It’s glow FROM lava that is wayyyy down below. The rarity is seeing in the daytime because it’s so far down.) Another “Nate loves his life” moment was when we got to go to the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory. Learned some MacFacts, tried some new flavorflavs that aren’t on shelves yet, it was cool. I’m not a macnut fan but this dude is. To balance it out, he stuck with me while I did a tour of a small batch coffee farm in the Kona coffee region on the other side of the island. For our last 3 days in Hawaii, we stayed at a resort. We both have lots of thoughts about resorts, and our conclusion after this trip is that they are not for us. We didn’t completely enjoy it. Maybe we didn’t embrace it enough, maybe we did ‘resorting’ wrong, but for us it was way too much of nothing. The pool and ocean access was great, the clean towels everyday thing was nice, the pool’s proximity to the bar was ideal… but overall I was mostly bored. And though I wouldn’t do it again, I have to admit it was not a bad way to end our go-do-explore-go-see-neverstopmoving trip that most of the two weeks were.
thats me^ just swimming inside a sunset 😉
Verdict: Kauai is my favorite, but Big Island surprised me in a good way. Thanks for reading these stories and looking through these pictures!