Contents
  1. 1. Day 1: Flight, Manta Rays
  2. 2. Day 2: Tropical Rainforest, 4200 Meters Elevation
  3. 3. Day 3: Volcanoes National Park
  4. 4. Day 4: The Southernmost Point of the US, Sunset, and Rainbow
  5. 5. Homecoming and Volcanic Eruption
  6. 6. Trip Expenses
  7. 7. Trip Map

This content was automatically generated by gpt-4-turbo-preview (No human review). The original post is in Chinese.

This Thanksgiving holiday, we went to the Big Island of Hawaii (11/21-11/24). The four-day and four-night trip left me with some unforgettable impressions:

  • Manta Ray snorkeling
  • Tropical rainforest vegetation
  • Mountain top at an elevation of 4200 meters
  • Vast areas covered with volcanic lava

Let me quickly walk you through this trip and wrap up this blog post.

Day 1: Flight, Manta Rays

We got up at 5 a.m. on the first day to catch our flight. To save money, we had to take two connecting flights: from SNA - SFO, then from SFO - OGG, and finally, a hop between the Hawaiian Islands from OGG to KOA, totaling 9 hours of flying and layovers. The first night, we stayed in a hostel near KOA, surprisingly, they had cats you could pet. On the first night, we went snorkeling to see the manta rays, joining the Manta Ray Night Snorkel Tour for only 50 minutes. The boat ride was only 5 minutes one way, and we snorkeled for 30 minutes. We were incredibly lucky to see at least three manta rays. Personally, I get seasick, so I chose a tour with minimal time on the boat. Although it was short, the snorkeling experience was truly special and magical, making it the most memorable and worthwhile activity on the Big Island for us. If you have only one night on the Big Island, I highly recommend experiencing the night snorkeling with manta rays; it’s very efficient.

Day 2: Tropical Rainforest, 4200 Meters Elevation

The next morning, we departed from Kona and first took the northern route, making a brief stop at the Waipio Valley Lookout (not really worth the visit), then went to see Akaka Falls and Hawai‘i Tropical Bioreserve & Garden. We initially thought these two spots would be optional, but surprisingly, they became the highlights of the day. The short 30-minute trail at Akaka Falls has nice scenery, mainly lush vegetation which is very soothing and relaxing (similar to Pipiwa Trail but shorter, easier, and suitable for all ages). Spending an hour in the tropical botanical garden wasn’t bad either; it’s very close to Akaka Falls and shares a similar vegetation, featuring huge trees and many peculiar plants, very green, and also a great leisurely place for photography. Both places require an entrance fee of $20 (for two), but it felt worthwhile.

In the afternoon, we went to the rental shop and picked up a four-wheel-drive vehicle (Jeep Wrangler), just for the trip up to the summit of Mauna Kea, so we rented this car specifically for one day. We checked into our hotel in Hilo and then drove to the Mauna Kea Visitor Center, where we stopped for 40 minutes to put on thicker clothes and use the restroom. At the visitor center, staff members checked whether your vehicle could go to the summit and if you were in good condition, ensuring you knew how to use the low-speed four-wheel-drive and how to drive to the top (they would teach you if you didn’t know). It was my first time going above 4000 meters elevation, so I was very cautious, thankfully without severe altitude sickness. Although I didn’t suffer much from altitude sickness, the summit at 4200 meters was quite uncomfortable with significantly stronger sunlight, cold temperatures, and high winds, so it wasn’t very enjoyable. The landscape is similar to Maui’s Haleakala summit. There are many observatories on the summit, and after dark, staying at the top is not allowed (due to car lights causing light pollution) so we retreated to the 2800-meter altitude visitor center to watch the Milky Way. The Milky Way was clearly visible, but without a camera, we couldn’t capture it, and the stars were so numerous they were difficult to distinguish. We had high expectations for Mauna Kea, but ended up slightly disappointed; the scenery was average, and comfort was low, considering the Milky Way can also be observed from San Diego’s Laguna Mountain (though clear, cloudless weather is not guaranteed). It was a unique experience nonetheless.

Day 3: Volcanoes National Park

The main reason for our trip to the Big Island was to see the volcanoes. Unfortunately, by the time I booked the flights and accommodations, I found out that there were no surface lava flows accessible by foot nor lava entering the sea at the moment. The only thing to see was the Halemaumau Crater, which was erupting, but the scale was rather small. Nonetheless, since we were there, we planned to spend a whole day at Volcanoes National Park.

Before heading to the Volcanoes National Park, we first visited the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens, which is free, and spent about an hour there, quite nice. Then we visited several viewpoints in the national park (Uekahuna, Kilauea Overlook, Steam Vents, Sulphur Banks). I must say, having been to Yellowstone National Park before, the Steam Vents and Sulphur Banks here are quite underwhelming; don’t waste your time, it’s very basic/boring. However, walking through the Thurston Lava Tube and Kilauea Iki Trail and Crater Rim Trail was very rewarding. Before sunset, we also drove down Chain of Craters Rd, where the scenery along the route is beautiful, stopping at a few viewpoints which is definitely worth the effort, showing vast expanses of lava left by past volcanic eruptions. By the time we got to Hōlei Sea Arch, it was almost dark. Personally, I found the Sea Arch rather ordinary, not as impressive as La Jolla’s, and not particularly worth a special trip.

Around 8 p.m., we drove to the Devastation Trail parking lot (between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., parking might be hard to find), and from there, we had to walk 1.6 km to the viewing point where you could see the red lava inside the crater from a distance. It was far and small, so not very spectacular, and the photos taken on the phone were even worse. A bit disappointing, but we could also see the Milky Way from here.

Day 4: The Southernmost Point of the US, Sunset, and Rainbow

Having visited several spots we wanted to see, the fourth day was more relaxed. Before checking out in the morning, we first went to Coconut Island, and surprisingly, we could see both Mauna Kea Summit and Mauna Loa (the highest two mountains on the Big Island) from there. Then, we left Hilo via the southern route, first going to Black Sand Beach—didn’t see any turtles, quite boring. I feel like all these red, green, purple, black sand beaches are overhyped; it’s just a regular beach. Next, we went to the southernmost point in the US, the southern tip of the Big Island, where the seawater is exceptionally blue, but the weather is very hot. In the afternoon, we visited Puuhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. There was a very dedicated Park Ranger in traditional attire who gave an impassioned 45-minute lecture; at first, I had no idea he was a Ranger. Finally, we went to Kahalu’u Beach Park to watch the sunset and unexpectedly saw both a rainbow and the sunset.

This day was Thanksgiving, which meant many restaurants were closed; even McDonald’s was only available for drive-through, so we ended up buying McDonald’s, using the restroom in the dark at a beach park, and eating dinner in the car, then went to the airport to return the car, catching the red-eye flight home.

Homecoming and Volcanic Eruption

We got home at around 9 a.m. on Friday. Being Black Friday, naturally, we couldn’t miss shopping. Unfortunately, I started having a runny nose and a slight fever on Friday night, unsure if it was the flu; tested negative for COVID. Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I was quite ill, spending all day in bed on Saturday, and was not very energetic when I went to work on Monday.

Sunday night, 72 hours after we left the Big Island, Mauna Loa erupted for the first time in nearly 40 years!!! We missed the most spectacular volcano eruption on the Big Island, which was a huge disappointment, feeling like a loss of billions. While on the Big Island, I mentioned to cuihao that we would come back to see an eruption/lava entering the sea/hiking to see lava flows in the future. But just as we left, the spectacular show started—is there still a chance for us to go? Considering my recent illness and messy life, we dropped the idea. It was really unlucky timing, so many things just can’t be scheduled. Thinking back on the two trips in 2022, to Yellowstone and the Big Island, it was indeed a year themed around volcanoes.

Trip Expenses

The trip cost us $2300 for a 4 days and 4 nights stay, including 3 nights in hotels and one night on a red-eye flight. The expenses break down approximately to $800 for flights, $100 for gas, $400 for car rental, $450 for accommodation, $200 for food, and $300 for tickets and tours. As it was close to Thanksgiving, the prices for flights and accommodation were relatively higher, and the car rental also cost more due to renting a four-wheel-drive to go up the mountain.

Trip Map

Trip Route on Google Maps

Contents
  1. 1. Day 1: Flight, Manta Rays
  2. 2. Day 2: Tropical Rainforest, 4200 Meters Elevation
  3. 3. Day 3: Volcanoes National Park
  4. 4. Day 4: The Southernmost Point of the US, Sunset, and Rainbow
  5. 5. Homecoming and Volcanic Eruption
  6. 6. Trip Expenses
  7. 7. Trip Map