Continued from here
My last full day on the island, and the last chance to really explore – time to check out a volcano (again!) The Big Island has its fair share of them, and while the Volcano National Park is the most active, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea are much taller. And like the Volcano on Maui, Mauna Kea has a road right up the side. You can only go part way up with a normal car, but a 4×4 will get you all the way up there, saving you about 6 hours in hike time. At this point, I was really starting to wish I’d gone for the 4×4 upgrade when I’d picked up the car.
On route to the Volcano though, of course I stopped off at a couple places, then first was not too much, just a beach campsite and park without much to see (other than the gorgeous Hawaiian coastline of course) but further along on the West coast is the Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park with the monument to Captain James Cook, memorialising the place where he was killed in a conflict with native Hawaiians. The walk down is not too long, although always make sure to take water with you, and once you reach the end there is a very pleasant rocky beach area. There are a few basic walls and remains, but the ocean is what is so nice about this spot. Beautiful blue sea, calmly splashing against the shore, fish swimming right up close clearer visible, the trees reaching over the edge and soft sand between the rocks. It would a great spot for a family picnic or a sunbathe if you’re into that sort of thing. There are tourist boats that come out to the bay, that takes away a little of the charm, but it’s still well worth the walk. Back up is a little less fun, being uphill and all, but still nothing to worry about.
I grabbed a poke bowl from a market on my way through Kona, which was delicious and I ate it the top of a little mound opposite Mauna Kea before scree running back down again. Then up the Volcano I went. Not to the top sadly, as I said my vehicle and my planning were not up to scratch to reach the peak, but from the car park, both a little visitor centre and a cinder cone are a short distance walk and it’s good to take the time to explore both. The views from the cone are pretty epic, I think it would be possible to see the ocean on both sides if the weather was just right. The day I was there the clouds were forming just at the saddle of the mountains below me, blocking the view in one direction but the views the other way were incredible, the flat-ish landscape disappearing down into the ocean, with just one little peak poking out. I think a sunset from there would be very impressive, framed by the two volcanoes as the sun dips below the horizon.
The size of the island is quite deceptive, it looks like it should be much smaller than it is, but driving distances are pretty far, and be prepared to pay out some for fuel. While the roads are very good, they don’t have any highways so getting around took a little longer than expected. As such it was getting a bit late as I came back down into Kona, too late to book on to an evening manta ray snorkel trip like I had been planning. So I improvised and headed straight to the dock. After a little hanging around a boat arrived and some staff started preparing. I took my chance and managed to get on the boat, with all the gear I needed as well. The concept is simple, take some soft lights out to a spot already popular with rays, light up the area and attract some plankton AKA manta food, and wait. I had read plenty of reviews and it does seem like a mixed bag as far as viewings go, but that’s the way it goes with wild animals. My trip was a little disappointing to be honest, while we did see some rays, they were at the ‘campfire’ a couple of larger lights at the sea bed, and didn’t come up to try any of the floating lights. I think with so many people floating up there, many of who failed to follow the instructions and keep their legs out of the way, the mantas have learnt to keep it simple and stay lower down. If I were given the chance again, I’d definitely choose the scuba rather than snorkel. The staff were great, really positive and fun while keeping it professional and making sure the guests were all comfortable.
Finally the last day came and so came the endless transport back around the island. I had to drive the car back to the Hilo Airport, bus into town, then take the trans-island bus back over to Kona. While there I found some nice spots to hang out, and very nearly got another tattoo, but a little later I was Uber-ing back to the airport and was ready to get gone.
A great trip overall, although I did feel under-prepared for island restrictions. I hope that maybe my experiences can help you to prepare more effectively. If you’re a fan of hiking, take your gear, book your campsites and enjoy the amazing landscape. Otherwise, rent a car and go drive! Unless you’re a fan of the resort style holidays you really need transport on these islands.