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.
Honokaa's main street is cute, with a handful of cafés and secondhand stores, but we get back on the road in the hope of putting William to bed by nightfall. As we zip through Waimea and see plenty of places to stay, I regret booking a room in Hawi. But the drive north of Waimea is another marvelous one, with lime-green hills and cactus-like plants around every bend, and 13,796-foot Mauna Kea rising above the clouds to the south.
A shuttered restaurant in front of our inn has handwritten signs that read KEEP OUT! and DANGER! Odder still, the parking lot is lined with mounds of rocks and what appear to be tombstones. In the lobby, a woman named Annie explains with a warm smile that the hotel restaurant is being renovated and recently served as a haunted house for local kids. The plantation-style hotel, with palms and grass in the courtyard and wood floors and ceiling fans in the rooms, is more charming than I thought possible for the price.
That evening, a cloud parks itself in front of the sun, and rays of light dramatically shoot around the cloud in every direction. The scene is improbably beautiful, like one of those posters with an inspirational line of scripture at the bottom.
- Hotel Honokaa ClubHonokaa, 800/808-0678, hotelhonokaa.com, from $61
- Kohala Village Inn55-514 Hawi Rd., Hawi, 808/889-0404, kohalavillageinn.com, from $65
- Bear's Coffee106 Keawe St., Hilo, 808/935-0708, cinnamon roll $2.50
- Blue Hawaiian800/786-2583, bluehawaiian.com, 45-minute helicopter tour $199
- Hilo Farmers Market, 400 Kamehameha Ave., Hilo, 808/933-1000, hilofarmersmarket.com, Wed. and Sat.
Day 4: Hawi to Kona Airport
For breakfast, we walk 50 yards from the inn to the main drag of Hawi, an old sugar-industry town that has been rehabbed in recent years but still feels hidden and unspoiled. In another setting, I'd probably find the section of dilapidated, vacant storefronts west of Highway 250 depressing; on this quiet morning in Hawaii it somehow seems quaint.
We sit outside with coffee and muffins at theKohala Coffee Mill, then drive west to road's end and the Pololu Valley Lookout. A horse is posing in a meadow speckled with purple wildflowers, with the dramatic lookout--sheer, hunter-green cliffs, with waves crashing between a few rocky islands--in the distance. The trail leading to the water is too steep for my sandals, let alone my 2-year-old, so we settle for hanging out and watching the surfers.
With a view of Haleakala, Maui's volcano, to our right, we round the Big Island's lush, green northern tip. We have a few hours before our flight and stop atHapuna Beach State Recreation Area. They don't have state parks like this where I come from: The beach is wide and the water's a translucent blue, but what stands out most is the sand--as soft as flour, it massages my soles as I chase William toward the mellow surf. Later, Will shamelessly stares at a pail and shovel until Lilli, a 2-year-old Hawaiian girl in a pink bikini, shares.
No one wants to leave, but with our departure time approaching I drag Will from his new friend and strip him naked as we all rinse off in the outdoor shower. The road to the airport slices through black fields where, tradition has it, people use white coral to spell out messages: everything from BILLY LOVES JENNIFER to the symbol for the band Weezer. I consider leaving a message but don't have any coral. Besides, Will is yet again sound asleep in the back seat.
- Kohala Coffee MillHawi, 808/889-5577, coffee $2
- Hapuna Beach State Recreation AreaHwy. 19, north of Kona, free
Finding your way
Most Big Island visitors stay in Kailua-Kona town or at nearby resorts, and make a day trip to Volcanoes National Park. The drive takes about two hours each way, so consider spending the night at the park instead. Other than the Saddle Road (Rte. 200), a dangerous cross-island stretch that's off-limits to most rental cars, roads are easy to navigate but slow going because of hills, traffic, or both. Factor in extra time, and use it to savor the views.