Our cruise was doing two stops on the Big Island – Day 6 stopping on the eastern side of the island in Hilo and Day 7 in Kona on the western side of the island.
Day 6 – Hilo
The Big Island is known for being the island with active volcanoes, with the most recent eruption being Mount Kilauea over the summer. So of course one of our Big Island must-do’s was to visit Volcano National Park, which fortunately just re-opened a few weeks prior. It had been closed during the eruption from May – August 2018, and even when we visited in October there were still several sections that have not yet reopened due to destruction or land instability.
To be completely honest, I was not expecting Volcano National Park to be the most exciting attraction. It’s not that I didn’t want to go, but due to the timing of our visit being so close after the last eruption I figured there would not really be too much to see – lava was no longer visible from the park, which is the first time since 1983 and the lava tubes which I wanted to explore were closed. However, I am happy to write that I was surprised on how much I really enjoyed the park and viewing the old lava flows from past decades. We took a few hikes around the steam fields and sulfur fields (which don’t worry – we checked to make sure were at levels safe for pregnancy!)
In the park you can drive from Kilauea down the “Chain of Craters” road right down to the ocean. Along the way, you see old lava fields and it kind of transports you to another world. I know the pictures won’t do it justice.
We tried to stop at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut farm on the way back after the Volcanoes, but one of the uber drivers we used to get from the cruise port to our rental car place earlier that day told us it was closed down due to e.coli contamination. I guess there was a huge recall – I think I’ve definitely seen that brand at BJ’s so I guess be aware. Although this post is coming out months after we traveled so not really a good warning I guess. Anyway – the point of this note was just to say Macadamia nuts are a huge export of Hawaii if you didn’t already realize.
Anyway, back to the cruise ship. There was a great view of it from our drive.
Day 7: Kona
The week that we were in Hawaii happened to be the few days leading up to the world famous Kona Ironman triathlon. Just in case you didn’t know (or if you want to feel worse about skipping a workout today, the Ironman consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a 26.22 mile run – all without a break. UGH. I know two people that have completed the Kona Ironman, and I have infinite more respect for them and the dedication it takes for training and endurance. Of course while the athletes were passing us while we were walking up a giant hill to get our rental car for the day I was a bit embarrassed huffing and puffing. Need more cardio.
About Kona: So we are now on the western side of the Big Island, which is known for some great beaches. We did our research to continue our turtle hunt (clarification point – not to hunt turtles but to swim with them) so we planned to call it a beach day. However, before we could do that, we had to check off one MAJOR thing on Sean’s must-do list. What else is Kona internationally known for… their coffee!
We took a drive through “coffee valley” which is a little 20 mile area of scenic roads on the Hualalai and Mauna Loa slopes with more than 650 coffee farms. Even if you don’t have a full coffee farm, most of the families in this area grow coffee plants and sell the cherries (ripe coffee berries) to the farms for full production.
We took a tour of Greenwell Coffee farms, which was super interesting. I didn’t really know anything about coffee production prior to the tour so learning about the amount of work that it takes to produce (mostly by hand) 1 lb of coffee is incredible. Greenwell coffee compares their process of coffee production similar to what it would be like to produce a nice craft beer. Just like craft beer, real 100% Kona coffee per lb is definitely more expensive than a commercial brand of coffee, but it’s definitely worth it. Only 2 lbs of coffee is produced annually from each coffee plant, and their berries are picked by hand to ensure that only ripe berries are used. In mass-produced coffee, they have machines that take all the berries off the limbs – ripe or not – and once picked coffee berries do not ripen, which leads to the bitterness coffee can have.
After berries are picked, they sun dry the berries then de-hull them to get to the coffee bean. Greenwell farms specifically ships out their coffee bean to other coffee companies to roast and sell as 100% Kona coffee under their brand, but they roast small batches to sell under their brand locally on the farm.
Sean was in heaven.
After the coffee tour, we went a little farther driving to a beach called Two-Step. It’s known for good snorkeling and the name comes from the way the lava has made a natural two steps into the water for easy-ish access. Like I said, we were on a turtle hunt, and this place was known for it, but unfortunately we did not see any during our snorkeling. Two strikes. Although we didn’t see any turtles (or pink dolphins which also frequent this area), we did get amazing snorkeling. I think this was the best coral reef I’ve ever snorkeled – so many fish. We also saw an eel, which Sean was not a fan of.
Back on the boat – we were heading off to Kauai that night to spend two days docked in Nawiliwili bay.