The Big Island – Hawaii – Day 1 & 2


We found a great deal on flights to the Big Island ($280 roundtrip using Flights From Home), so we decided to take the whole family on an adventure. Jeri and I have been to Oahu and Maui and love the Hawaiian Islands, and jumped at this opportunity to see another island.

Traveling to Hawaii during Covid restrictions is a challenge. You have to get Covid NAAD test within 72 hours of leaving the final departure to Hawaii from one of the approved testers. Since we are leaving SLC Sunday morning, but not leaving LAX until Sunday afternoon, we could be tested on Thursday afternoon. We felt getting a normal Covid test would be risky since many of the labs don’t work on the weekend and they don’t guarantee getting the test results in any specific timeframe. We chose to use Walgreens because they offer the Rapid NAAD test that is approved by Hawaii. The challenge is the tests fill up almost instantly when they become available 3 days prior to the testing date at 6pm. On Sunday, we were able to reserve two spots out in Tooele, the nearest location we could get. On Monday, we were able to get two more spots out in Tooele, but we reserved the spots since our only other option was going to be getting tested at the airport on Saturday, which apparently costs $200/person for the rapid results. We felt truly blessed when I checked mid-day on Tuesday to see if there were any closer cancellations and found that Walgreens in Springville had just opened up a new site to do testing. I was able to book all five appointments, back to back, Thursday afternoon! We did the tests, and we all came back negative! We uploaded all the test results to the travel Hawaii website in preparation for our trip.

Our flight left SLC at 8:30 am, had a 4.5 hour layover at LAX, and arrived in Kona just after 5 pm (9 pm Utah time). After landing in Kona, I hadn’t yet received a confirmation that we were approved to enter Hawaii. After some scrambling, we figured out that you also have to fill out a survey within 24 hours of landing. After completing that, we received our QR code from Hawaii. They took our temperatures – we waited in a decently long line, then they scanned our QR code, and let us enter. Hallelujah! Honestly, I’m not sure I would recommend others travel to Hawaii right now – it’s a complicated ordeal.

We picked up our Avis rental car (they gave us a free upgrade to a Buick Enclave – thanks Avis) and drove to our first hotel – Castle Waimea Country Lodge. This was a very affordable hotel (just over $100/night) in a good location for exploring the North end of the island. We payed a little bit more for a room with a kitchenette, but it didn’t have a couch or any bar stools, so the only place we could sit was on the beds or a single chair (they do have some really fun outdoor seating options). They offer a contractor key box for late check-in since they only have someone there during normal business hours. We had to email them all our negative Covid test results so it’s good I had a digital copy of all of them. We basically use our lodging as a place to sleep after a long day’s adventure, so we don’t usually need a lot to be happy. We grabbed a quit bite to eat at Subway since most restaurants in the area aren’t open this late and the one that was, was very pricey and had a long wait time.

We are doing a clockwise loop around the island staying in multiple (four) locations. This isn’t how most people travel, so I understand your raised eyebrow(s). This island is big enough that we didn’t want to spend hours traveling in different directions that could be spent actually doing things. A happy medium would be to split your time between Kona & Hilo so that you can see both sides of the island and everything within a reasonable drive to either location.

Day 2 – Monday April 5th. First on our agenda is to drive to Polulu Valley lookout (a 48 minute – 28.3 mile drive). We hiked the Pololu trail down to the black sand beach (1 mile loop). The views into Waimea Valley are beautiful. This is the lush side of the island and where the Hawaiian Kings would come on retreat. The steep cliffs were caused by an earthquake.

This beach isn’t a great place to swim with it’s high surf, undertow, and rip tides, so I told the boys that they could only go in waist deep. They were having a great time, but on their second time out, they started going out further and further into the big crashing waves. I flagged for them to come back in, and they waved back. I started feeling uneasy and decided to swim out to them and make sure everything was alright. When I got out to them, I could tell they were exhausted, not making any progress back to the beach, and having a really hard time. My prayers were answered when we were all able to make it back to the beach. Caleb told us he was about ready to give up and thought he was going to die. It was pretty traumatic for all of us. Luckily, Jeri had walked down the beach and wasn’t there to witness the ordeal. The rest of the beach was watching in anticipation. One lady brought us food and water after we got back, she seemed really concerned for us.

After hiking back up the cliff, we drove a short distance to the original statue of King Kamehameha (the ruler who united the Hawaiian islands)

Nearby, we got lunch at L&L Hawai’i – they sell very reasonably priced Hawaiian style meals across the islands. They have numerous locations like McDonalds or other fast food chains.

Next we drove to Lapakahi State Historical Park to see the ruins of an ancient fishing village, however it was closed due to Covid. We then snorkeled at Mahukona Beach Park where an old sugar mill used to be. The boys were still a little shaken up by the last experience, but the water was calm on this side of the island. We saw some beautiful and bright yellow fish. There was also some remnants from the sugar mill like a huge chain at the bottom of the water. This was an easy place to snorkel with a few stairs and small ladder to help you get down into the water. There isn’t much of a beach here, those not snorkeling will likely be sitting on the rock or edge of the parking lot on the wall.

Next we drove to Puukohola Heiau National Historic site which has the remnants of a stone temple build by King Kamehameha in 1719. The visitor center normally has a video to watch but was closed due to Covid. Depending on when you are visiting take a look out into the ocean as whales pass by here from October through April. We didn’t see any whales, but we did the the fin of one shark in the bay.

After a lot of historic sites and hiking we went to Mauna Kea Beach, which is one of the prettiest white sand beaches on the island. You have to enter the resort property and go through their guard station. There are 40 free parking spots, so just let them know you’re heading to the public beach and they’ll give you a pass. If the parking lot is full they also have paid parking available. We were told that at night the hotel turns on the bright lights which brings the plankton out which brings the Manta Rays out. We brought waterproof flashlights so we could see them swim beneath us in search for food. Manta Rays, unlike Sting Rays, do not have poisonous stingers and are safe to swim with. When we asked about this to two different workers, both told us that we are supposed to leave 30 minutes after sunset and that swimming with the Manta Rays is for hotel guests only and/or paid tour groups. Apparently they don’t want the liability of all the public swimming at night. We enjoyed our time swimming, walking, and playing in the sand and then we back to our hotel to complete our day.

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