off of the Big Island of Hawaii.
idea of staying at a giant resort in Hawaii sort of gives
can have my slot in the traffic jam of recliners on a
crowded beach; you can take my place in line at the
tourist-packed luau. I prefer low-key, old-school and
what we found on the Hilo side of the Big Island of
Hawaii, where my husband and I, along with my two sisters
and their husbands, traveled in May for a birthday
celebration we dubbed the "Hawaii 5-0" trip.
came back sunburned. One of my sisters stepped on a sea
urchin and still has pieces of its spine embedded in her
foot. I strained my back boogie boarding. All in all, we
deemed it a rousing success.
stayed part of the time at a three-bedroom house along a
lava cliff off a dirt road in a beachside neighborhood
about 45 minutes south of Hilo. We stocked up on
groceries, picked up fresh fruits and unfamiliar veggies
from local farmers markets (winged beans, anyone?) and
cooked in most nights.
the days, we explored. We snorkeled, visited parks and
sampled local food. We rambled over dirt roads on old
cruiser bicycles we found stashed in the garage. I went
for long, solitary runs. I gazed at dolphins surfacing in
the sea. We napped. We sipped wine and ate fish grilled on
the back deck.
created the chain of Hawaiian islands, and they’re still
adding land mass. At Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park,
about 45 minutes from Hilo, you can see an active one.
you’re there, take time to stroll through a lava tube so
big it feels like you’re in the New York subway. Check
the seismic equipment, which constantly monitors the park
for pending eruptions. Hike across desolate terrain
carpeted in fine gravel. Marvel at "lava trees"
created when hot lava encases trees in its path, killing
them but leaving behind hollow shells. After the sun sets,
see what looks like molten red biscuit batter at the
center of a glowing crater.
park covers 380,000 acres, including Mauna Loa, the single
biggest mountain in the world if you measure it from its
base beneath the sea to its peak. For a good overview,
drive along Crater Rim Drive, stopping at the pull-outs so
you get an up-close look at this ever-changing place. Then
get out and look for a bit of Pele’s hair, which is what
the locals call the fragile strands of volcanic glass that
cling to plants around volcanoes.
day, head for the hippie-dippy town of Pahoa. We strolled
its funky streets, buying fish jerky (not so good) on a
street corner, poking our heads into a few eclectic shops
and dining at the amazing Kaleo’s, which serves
Hawaiian-style Asian-influenced dishes.
June, a lava flow began encroaching on the town, moving at
a clip of 440 yards a day but threatening to cross roads
and take out homes. According to recent reports, a finger
of molten lava is headed toward the Pahoa Marketplace and
could reach the shopping center sometime in late December.
Some residents will likely have to move.
got to get in the ocean, too, and the Kapoho Tide Pools
will make you feel like you’re swimming in an aquarium.
A protective reef curls around a patchwork of pools that
range in size from pickup trucks to grocery stores, and
they’re teeming with butterflyfish, tangs and
parrotfish. Even beginners will feel safe on all but the
roughest days. The area is protected — officially, it’s
known as Wai’opae Tidepools Marine Life Conservation
District, although everyone calls it Kapoho after the
learn more about local history, we spent a morning at Pu’uhonua
O Honaunau National Historical Park, situated southeast of
Kona along a sheltered bay. The site once served as a
residence for royal chiefs. But just across a massive wall
lay the Place of Refuge, where defeated warriors and those
who violated sacred laws were banished.
you can listen to storytellers, learn about old Hawaiian
customs and stroll among the remains of the structures.
You can also go for a spectacular hike along the adjacent
coastline, picking your way along the lava cliffs, dodging
huge blasts of water that burst through gaps in the cliffs
like huge, belching washing machines. Tread cautiously.
the other, northwestern side of Kona, we liked Hapuna
Beach State Recreation Area, although it’s not exactly a
secret beach. We frolicked in the waves alongside several
hundred of our closest friends, and even said hi to a
tire-sized sea turtle that swam within a few feet.
tips? Stop frequently for caffeine. I’m not even a
coffee drinker, but I joined in the fun as we paused for
taste tests at roadside coffee stands.
for poke (pronounced po-key), too. It’s a local
specialty — marinated raw fish, seasoned different ways.
We liked Da Poke Shack, which has several outposts around
the island. Eat it on the picnic table outside.
better, stop for a malasada. These heavenly bits of fried
dough are the Portuguese equivalent of a sopaipilla —
yeasty, deep-fried and rolled in sugar, then injected with
fillings such as Bavarian cream, guava, apple or apricot.
When driving from Hilo to Kona, look for Tex Drive In,
which is famous for its malasadas — for good reason.
of all, go little, not big. Take it slow, not fast. Take
off your shoes and wiggle your toes in the sand. Stay
curious. Try new things. Explore like a kid.
don’t stay in a big, touristy compound.
Volcanoes National Park is located 30 miles southwest of
Hilo on Highway 11;