December 2017 – We spent our first day on the Big Island by visiting Carlsmith Beach Park and then exploring the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We were hoping to see sea turtles at the beach park, but we unfortunately didn’t get to see any. We then hit the road to spend most of the day at the national park.
Although I loved most of the park and found it to be a unique experience, parking at the visitors center and the first couple of sites was horrible. Beyond that, traffic thinned out and parking got much easier. We spent the day hiking over old lava beds and driving down to the ocean and back.
A little before dark, we drove about 45 minutes northeast of the park to the lava viewing site. After parking (port-a-potty’s are available here; no other public restrooms for many miles), we rented bikes and rode a couple of miles down a dirt road. We then left the bikes at a designated spot and hiked over the old lava bed for quite awhile. It was dusk when we started hiking, so we just headed in the direction of the glow of the lava. The bike rental provided lights, but they were weak and died quickly. Luckily, we brought our own headlamps, flashlights, and water. We weren’t expecting the hike to be quite so long, but it was definitely worth it. This was a unique experience we would have regretted missing and definitely a bucket list checkoff!
We finally reached the site of the flowing lava. None of this was regulated, so we had to be careful where we stepped as there were active lava beds beneath us. The lava was warm, crackling, and constantly moving. The warmth found great as the evening cooled around us. We spent around an hour sitting on cooled rocks enjoying the view before heading back the long way in the dark to the car.
We spent the night at the Leilani Bed and Breakfast on the southern end of the island. Our short stay there was great and very comfortable, with a wonderful, fresh breakfast in the morning. We then drove about an hour to meet our kayaking our at the Keauhou Bay. Our group kayaked across the bay, into a small cave, snorkled a bit, and paddled back to the start. The highlight was seeing a whale breach on the horizon. Other than that, the tour was a bit boring and the group overall was very inexperienced (one couple flipped three separate times). We were both a bit under the weather and not able to snorkel well, plus the water was a bit rough.
After our tour, we took our time exploring the island and various shops. Our rental was due at the airport, and we had planned to get Uber or a shuttle to the pier. Unfortunately, Uber was unavailable and no shuttles went to the pier. We took a shuttle to the terminal and got a taxi from there. Traffic was terrible, and we were very afraid we would miss our ship. We joined the tendering line just at the time that tendering was supposed to end, and we were able to reboard.