Gail and I are back from our 12-day vacation on the big island of Hawaiʻi. We had a great time. We snorkeled with strikingly colored tropical fish and manta rays. We saw colorful birds and humpback whales. We visited historic sites and volcanoes. We ate well and drank Kona coffee, and lost a couple of pounds in the process.

We decided to go to Hawaiʻi this year because the the Maho Bay Campground, where we'd stayed during our previous visits to St. John in the Virgin Islands, had to close because they lost their lease. Forced with having to relocate, we thought we would try snorkeling in a different ocean for a change. We selected the Big Island of Hawaiʻi because of the numerous locations for good snorkeling on its west coast. This was our first trip to Hawaiʻi.

During the trip, I took more than 1,360 photos. Not all of them are here.

Kahaluʻu Beach Park
We passed the first eight days of our vacation on the west side of the island near Kailua-Kona. We snorkeled at Kahaluʻu Beach Park, Honaunau Bay (also called Two Step), Waialea Beach (also called Beach 69) and Kealakekua Bay near the Captain Cook Monument.

We were impressed by the variety of fish we saw at Kahaluʻu Beach Park even though it is only five miles from the center of Kailua-Kona and is crowded with sunbathers, surfers and other snorkelers.

Kealakekua Bay also was great, though we had to take a boat tour with Fair Wind II to get there. The alternative was to hike 1,300 feet down to the bay on a 2-mile trail, and then back up again. A bonus of our taking the boat was that we saw humpback whales on both legs of the trip.

Waialea Beach had lots of fish too, but we got there in mid afternoon on a day when hazy clouds obscured the sun and after winds had stirred up the ocean so the water was murky. A photo below shows how murky it was.

Our guidebook (Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed) said that Paiwai Bay, located just north of the Old Kona Airport Beach Park, featured exciting snorkeling. We walked the half mile from the park over jumbled lava boulders and decided that getting into the surging water amidst the boulders and coral would be too exciting for us.

Raccoon Butterflyfish at Kahaluʻu Beach

Threadfin Butterflyfish with two Yellow Tangs
at Kahaluʻu Beach

The state fish of Hawaiʻi - a humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa,
or Wedgetail or Picasso or Reef Triggerfish at Kahaluʻu Beach

Teardrop Butterflyfish at Kahaluʻu Beach

Gail photographing fish in Honaunau Bay

Waialea Beach

An Ornate Butterflyfish being serviced by a
Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse in the murky waters at Waialea Bay

Breaching Humpback Whale seen from the boat
to Kealakekua Bay

Spotted Puffer at Kealakekua Bay

Gold-Ring Surgeonfish at Kealakekua Bay

Belly of a Manta Ray at the night feeding area near Kona airport

We went on a manta ray night snorkeling adventure with Ocean Encounters. The tour operators shine powerful lights into the water. The lights attract plankton, which attracts manta rays. And manta rays attract tourists.

There were maybe 20 boats at the site the night we went, each with perhaps 15 to 20 passengers. We slipped off our boat and hung onto PVC railings that had been bolted to surf boards. Then we kicked with our fins to move into the center of the viewing area. There were snorkelers on the surface, divers near the bottom, and manta rays and other plankton-loving fish in between. On the surface it was crowded with people bumping against and sliding over one another.

The manta rays swam through the lighted area, doing graceful barrel rolls to scoop up plankton. I took many photos but because of the low-level of light and the dark backs of the rays, most were very blurred. The one here shows the light-colored belly of one of the rays. The next time I do this, I'll try making a video. It might turn out better.

We did not spend all of our time in the water. We visited Puʻuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, South Point, the green sand beach at Mahana Bay, the 420-feet high ʻAkaka waterfall, Rainbow Falls and more.

Green sand beach lies 2 1/2 long miles past where you would want to drive a car. We had the option of walking or of riding in the bed of a pickup for a $10 or $20 fee, depending upon how many passengers were available. We chose the pickup. It was a jolting, half-hour ride each way.

Temple guardians overlooking Honaunau Bay at the
Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park.

Petroglyph at the
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park.

Gail and me on the bluff above Mahana Bay.

Green sand beach at Mahana Bay, colored by olivine

The kitchen area of the great room where we lived
in the Kaloko Mauka district above Kailua-Kona
On the west side of the island, we stayed in a vacation rental about 3,000 feet up the side of Hualalai, an extinct volcano. Evenings and nights were comfortable there and it was a lot less expensive than at one of the seaside resorts. A big bonus was that our rental was on the second floor above a workshop so in the morning we could sit in front of the picture windows, sip our coffee and watch the birds darting around in the ohi'a-lehua trees.

On the east side we stayed in an inn in Volcano Village, near the 4,000-foot summit of Kilauea volcano. There our room and the dining lanai were on the second floor, and we could again watch the forest birds while enjoying our breakfast of papaya topped with pineapple, macadamia nuts, yogurt and banana.

We saw colorful birds at the beaches, in the craters and during our walks through the forests as well as from our breakfast tables. Most, such as the kalij pheasant shown below, were imported from other parts of the world. But we did see some endemic birds, birds occurring nowhere else in the world. One of them, the ʻapapane, was fairly common in the mid elevation forests, though usually on the other side of a branch or behind me.

Kalij Pheasant, a non-native bird, that hung around our vacation rental
but also in the Kipukapuaulu in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

An ʻApapane, one of the honeycreepers endemic to Hawaiʻi,
seen from our breakfast table at the Volcano Inn

An ʻAmakihi, another endemic honeycreeper,
in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park near the Jaggar Museum.

A Nene, the state bird of Hawaiʻi, standing on a lava cliff
above the Pacific Ocean in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

The Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park runs from sea level to Mauna Loa, 13,677 feet high. The area we visited is centered on the Kilauea, an active volcano, which is about 4,000 feet high.

We hiked through the Kilauea Iki Crater, a four mile trail going 400 feet into the crater and 400 feet back up again. In 1959 this crater contained a lake of molten lava and a fountain of lava, which created Puʻu Puaʻi, the cinder cone in the center of the panorama below. Now the lake’s surface has solidified and the subsurface lava has cooled, but it is still hot enough that rain trickling into the rocks emerges as steam from vents in the crater floor.

Kilauea’s Halemaʻumaʻu Crater held a lake of lava when we visited. Fumes rising from this eruption can be seen just to the right of Puʻu Puaʻi. Tourists were not permitted near the crater because of the danger from the fumes, but the glow of the lava reflected off the fumes can be seen in a picture I took at night.

Mauna Loa dominates the skyline on the right of the panorama. Getting to the summit is a multi-day backpacking adventure. We did not try it.

Reflection of molten lava off the fumes coming
from the Halemaʻumaʻu Crater of the Kilauea volcano.

Al at Steam Vents above the Kilauea Caldera

End of the Road: where lava buried
the Chain of Craters Road in 2003

Holei Sea Arch

After leaving the national park, we drove back to the Kailua-Kona area, stopping at a black sand beach on the way. On our last day in Kailua-Kona, we visited the Mountain Thunder coffee farm, sampling some of the brew and buying some souvenirs.

The Punaluʻu black sand beach

A coffee blossom at Mountain Thunder
After 12 days on the island, we had to head home. We took the red-eye flight Monday night, January 20, but did not get home when expected. Our final leg, from Charlotte to BWI, was cancelled due to a snow storm, and we had to spend the night in North Carolina. We did finish our journey on Wednesday morning.

We left Maryland on January 8 when the temperature was 7°F, and when we returned it was 7°F again. Not much progress here!


Created: 30 Jan 2014; Updated: 31 Dec 2014