This destination wasn’t one that had initially been floating around in my head, but when tickets came across my desk that I couldn’t pass up, the planning was on! We used United and had one connection in Denver going and one in LAX returning home. I have to say since I have been so devoted to Southwest Airlines, I haven’t considered anyone else, but I really enjoyed United and would fly them again. No complaints.
We arrived in Kona Airport, which is on the West side of the Big Island. It was a lovely airport. Small & open air, but easy to navigate, gather luggage and find the car rental shuttles. I am a Hertz Gold member, so our car was waiting for us and all we had to do was walk out to it and get in. My boys were SO happy…exactly what they wanted a silver, 4×4 Jeep. I have a feeling our family may at some point acquiring a Jeep. (Again! Remember my Big Red one? ❤)
We made an easy drive up 19, North to the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort. We walked into a beautiful open air, lobby with a direct 180-degree view of the pools and beach. Lovely!
At check-in we were welcomed with passion fruit/orange juice and wet wash clothes for cleaning our hands. We were quickly assigned room 696 that had 2 queen beds, balcony, and ocean view. The room/space was very comfortable for our family of 3. My son and I agree that our favorite and unexpected aspect to the room was the TOLIET! It was a bidet toilet seat (heated seat, various water temperature sprays, dryer, massage and of course night light). All I can say is see this link for every last AMAZING detail and that this little JEWEL will be delivered to my house in time for Christmas! Ok, I know that is a funny LOVE, but we also really enjoyed the balcony, comfortable, stylish seating areas, pools and beach access the resort offered us too! Ha!
They offered an adult-only infinity pool with hot tub and a second larger family pool with hot tub. The property included a gorgeous garden, fish/lily pond, and several restaurant options.
We were pleasantly surprised to receive a ‘welcome gift’ under our door for a $25 credit at one of the property restaurants as well as a discount card to area restaurants. The Westin does charge a $30/night resort fee, but it included our self-parking, bottled water, beach chair unlimited internet and shuttle service to the sister property next door, Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
On day 2, we dressed in shorts and short sleeve shirts, but the drive in the open air jeep proved to be a chilly ride as we made our way from the Westin thru Waimea & Hamakua and on to Waipi’o Valley. I was happy to have left our vests and our travel blankets in the Jeep. Our first stop was in Waimea at the Parker Ranch. We enjoyed the history and learned about the deep and rich foundation the Ranch has on the Big Island and in their local community. Interestingly just being from Texas, gave me an affinity for the area’s roots in ranching and livestock. You would think you are on a ‘tropical island’ and while parts of it are…there are vast areas of grazing land for livestock. This is one of the trees on Parker Ranch and if you look closely you can see a tiny Sebastian at the base!
On this tree right next to where Sebastian was standing he found this beautiful little fellow!
Next, we stopped at a local health & organic foods store where we were able to stock up on some of our favorite foods. We continued on to Hamakua and made a short stop at Ahualoa Farms where we sampled various macadamia nut treats and took in the roadside flowers. Wild birds of paradise!
Our journey took us on to Waipi’o Valley. THIS is where it was REALLY valuable to have that 4×4 Jeep and BOY was it fun! “The road gains 800 vertical feet (243.84 m) in 0.6 miles (0.9 km) at a 25% average grade, with steeper grades in sections.” All traffic coming up the road has the right of way, so we had to be sure to watch the road ahead and pull over ahead of time or be forced to reverse! Thankfully, we weren’t in that situation as traffic was light. When we made it to the bottom, we found the most beautiful valley and black-sand beachfront. Further up the valley was Hi’ilawe Falls the tallest waterfall on the Big Island. SO GORGEOUS!
After we made the climb back up to the top of the valley, we started back to the Westin and made a brief stop at a roadside fruit stand. Coconut Mike cut us up fresh pineapple and coconut water/coconut meat. YUM! What a refreshing snack! We made the trip back in about an hour and enjoyed swimming and relaxing upon our return.
The next day started off easy. I knew it would be a late night, so we enjoyed the early morning in our room. Sebastian and I walked all over the property and grounds and did a mini photo shoot. After we worked up a sweat, we made our way to the pool to cool off and chill.
We set out just before 2pm for Mauna Kea. “Its peak is 13,802 ft above sea level, making it the highest point in the state of Hawaii. Most of the mountain is under water, and when measured from its oceanic base, Mauna Kea becomes the tallest mountain in the world measuring over 10,000 m (33,000 ft). Mauna Kea is about a million years old, and has thus passed the most active shield stage of life hundreds of thousands of years ago.” We arrived at 3p and decided not to make the drive from the base at 9200 ft to the top. It requires 4-wheel drive, which we had, but the 40% reduction in oxygen at the top can cause nervous system damage in developing brains under 13yo. It is a 30-minute drive up to the summit and you will experience grades of 20-22%. At about 4pm we hiked up part of the mountain that overlooks sunset. I am very glad we went early because from about 4:45p to 5:20p we had beautiful, expansive views and then a large cloud came through and covered sunset. On my way up I had to stop 3 times and take several deep breaths and let my head acclimate. I am not fond of heights, so that plus the altitude was kicking in and making me feel dizzy. BUT it was well worth pushing through for these views!
Afterward, we warmed up in the car and waited for the sky to clear to take part in the star-gazing tour. I was doubtful that the sky and humidity would clear, but it did by 7p/7:30p. This was the second to last night that the star-gazing tour was held. After the 8th they are closing it down for 6 months to do some renovations. When it resumes I recommend adding it to your ‘to-do’ list while on the big island. You need to arrive early as parking is limited. You need to dress warmly or have blankets! We experienced temps down the 40’s. Take a red light or just let your eyes adjust…the white light flashlight and cell phone people were really annoying and constantly interrupting the experience. This will likely be the most stars you will ever see in one night. Absolutely gorgeous from horizon to horizon!
Day 4 started off my 43rd birthday! We started the morning off bright and early as it seems that my body’s wake-up time in Hawaii was 6a. I enjoyed chatting and messaging with many friends and family that reached out with well wishes for a happy day. Birds visited my lanai while I sipped my bday Kombucha and smelled the flowers my boys brought me.
We started to make our way over to Hilo by 10a and arrived just after 11a. We parked and walked around the most delightful farmers market. We bought tea and fresh spring rolls, listened to a local ukuleleist, found Hawaiian clothes for the whole family and chatted with vendors. I would spend every Saturday in this type of environment; it was absolutely food for the soul.
We made a brief stop at local park with stunning views and then made our way to Hilo International Airport to meet our helicopter tour company, Safari.
This was Sebastian and I’s first time up in a helicopter and while a little intimidating, it was FUNtastic! We saw sights all over the Volcano Park and a brief drive-by of waterfalls. Mike, our pilot, and the land crew were all so helpful and friendly.
After changing to our Hawaiian clothes, we left for dinner at Manta on the Westin’s sister property, Mauna Kea, an Autograph Collection Resort. The property and restaurant were gorgeous and we finished the night off observing the natural Manta Rays that swim up near the restaurant’s edge.
Cliff, my husband, thought he was so funny in his Hawaiian shirt that he had me put together this mashup comparison of him and Russell Brand from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Ha!
Day 5 we started with an early morning walk on the beach. The 4 hour time change backward has really worked in my favor as it has allowed me to enjoy several sunrises and early mornings. Times of the day I don’t typically encounter.
Later that day we checked out of the Westin and started to make our way South towards Kona. After brief stops in Kauila-Kona for provisions and lunch at Island Naturals Market & Deli, Kailua-Kona we arrived an hour or so later at the Sheraton Kona. While the accommodations here are a little more dated than at the Westin, the assortment of built-in activities and large family-friendly pool made the property a fun destination.
We enjoyed activities like lei making, a cultural tour of the property, early AM yoga, giant checker games, direct access to the Kona bay from small volcanic rocks and Ukulele lessons. The Sheraton Kona opened in 1970 making it the 2nd or 3rd oldest resort on the Kona side of the big island and farthest Southern resort on the Kona coast. The property itself has several archeological significant sites that have been preserved and maintained.
The large pool has tubes, slides, hot tubs, waterfall and even a ‘beach’ with sand and all.
The Sheraton features a small wedding chapel overlooking the bay and has several open lawns with beautiful scenic views.
Among all the daytime swimming and activities we also attended an evening luau and cookout at the Royal Kona. I got to wear the Lei Sebastian had made that day. ❤
We were fortunate to witness the most beautiful pink sunset to backdrop the luau. Pork was cooked in a traditional Hawaiian sand oven and the buffet included other local Hawaiian specialties like Poi as well as other chicken & beef dishes with sides.
The dancers were talented and skilled. They performed 5 or 6 different Hulas and changed costumes with each performance. I recommend arriving early and upgrading to reserved seating. You get a closer view and first to the buffet line.
The next few days we enjoyed downtime at the pool and local excursions to various farms and factories. We visited Big Island Bee Farm and sampled Macadamia Nut Honey which is currently the blooms the bees are making the honey from. Another type is the raw Hawaiian honey made from the ohia lehua blossom. It known for being the first flowering plant to grow from new lava rocks. We also sampled the vanilla bean, cinnamon, and chili pepper infused honeys that they make.
There are several coffee farms in the area and just driving down the coast, windows down you can smell the beans being roasted…yum! At Royal Kona Coffee we sampled many flavors and various roasts of Kona coffee.
While at Royal Kona Coffee there was a jewelry vendor and she was selling oysters. You picked your oyster and she would open it for you to see if you were lucky enough to have pearls inside. Sebastian had two pink pearls in one oyster! Sounds like earrings for me! 😉
Our last stop was at Donkey Balls, Chocolate Factory where they make many, many types of chocolate balls. White, dark, milk with various center fillings like dried fruit, malt balls, and macadamia nuts.
We ran into a few friends from Texas, Ziggy and Ally. Cliff and Sebastian had fun seeing their family’s beautiful property and swimming off the coast.
We finished our last evening with dinner at Rays on the Bay and another stunning sunset.
Our last morning we stumbled upon The Coffee Shack and their amazing 180-degree, Cliff-side view where we toasted our 100% Kona Coffee to our return to Hawaii.
Overall we, really enjoyed the diversity of the things to do, landscape and weather of the Big Island. We didn’t visit during a high tourist season and it did NOT feel ‘touristy’. I think it helped that we had our own vehicle to explore and leave resort grounds on our own time. I know I priced tours from the resorts and most all activities started at $100/person, so having our car was the more economical, private and enjoyable way to go. Navigation around the island was very simple and we had no issue with our American based, T-Mobile phone & data services all over the island.
In the future, I would stay a few nights in Hilo, visit Rainbow Falls, take a Helicopter tour of the Waterfalls, swim at green-sand & two-step beaches, have breakfast again at The Coffee Shack, hike down to Captain Cook’s monument, take surf lessons, and hike out some of Volcano Park.
Finally, I wrap up with a tip about booking a group event wedding or party outside on the big island. The island North of Kona Airport is windier than the South (and we experienced it!), the East ‘Hilo’ side of the Island is the wetter, rainier side of the island, therefore if you want to have the highest chance of perfect weather, I recommend booking somewhere South of the Kona Airport for your special outdoor event.
Are you interested in traveling to the Big Island of Hawai’i? Contact me to help plan the perfect trip! For all our day-by-day adventures while in Hawai’i, check out our Instagram stories found HERE. If you would like to see all the photos from Hawaii, check out my photography website, LoveCameraEarth.com. If you want a travel-along, family photographer, contact me! We travel!
Natalie, Founding Author
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