Big Island, Little PeopleOctober 5, 2010 1 Comment
The Big Island is, well, big. And its climate and attractions vary greatly from coast to coast. Dry, warm beaches, resorts, rocky coasts, and beautiful snorkeling opportunities await you on the west side. On the east, lush tropical forests, water falls, a jungle atmosphere. In the southern middle, you’ll find Volcanoes National Park, and moving further south the beautiful raw coastline of K’au and South Point, which is the southernmost point in the non-continental U.S. To the north, cattle ranches, incredible cliffs and hiking trails, and art filled small towns.
We’ve headquartered at all ends of the island, but one of our favorite spots is the Kalaekilohana Bed & Breakfast outside of Na’alehu, HI; a fairly remote location on the South side of the Island, but close enough to the small town for a quick dinner run. Featuring beautiful, hand crafted and thoroughly Hawaiian breakfasts and huge rooms, several with three large beds, perfect for our family, this plantation style house is a real treat. For breakfast expect a spread of fresh, locally grown fruits like mango, papaya, pineapple, Asian pear, apples, and lychees. Large lanais offer stellar sunset and star watching, authentic Hawaiian decor and materials are used throughout. The large veranda is a restful spot with a porch swing and rocking chairs over looking a broad, flat lawn perfect for children to roll around, run around, or nap upon. There’s even a washer/dryer for guest’s use. On the west side, the family friendly Sheraton Keauhou Resort and Spa has large ocean view rooms and suites, several pools, one with a water slide, a kids club and discounted kids meals. Closer to Volcanoes National Park in the Central Eastern part of the Island you’ll find Kilauea Lodge & Restaurant, with a spacious cottage house and full kitchen available in a quiet, cool, wooded area. The restaurant at the lodge has beautiful, organic cuisine and is accommodating with ingredients and preparation for young appetites.
Where ever you stay, you can head in any direction and find activities the whole family will enjoy.
But let’s start at the center of the island and one of its most unique and heralded attractions: Volcanoes.
First, a few caveats – a few of the active vents have a sulphur smell. You’ll know it as you drive by, and there’s plenty of other spots to stop for a family outing – the smell may be too strong for the smallest members of your group. Second, recently the in-park concession has been closed, so bring along snacks or a picnic – Kalekilohana or Kilauea Lodge will accommodate you with a pre-prepared feast, or make a before visit stop to a grocery store. In the town of Volcano, the Volcano Golf and Country Club has a family friendly restaurant and will pack up to-go orders.
Now to the natural beauty: the national park showcases two active volcanoes, and reveals some dramatic volcanic landscape views. There’s steam vents, lava tubes, enormous and astonishing craters, smoking lava. The otherworldly landscape is great fun for kids of all ages and honestly jaw dropping for adults. You can make your trip to this special park into a brief but rewarding circular drive stopping at lookouts along the way. Or you can take Chain of Craters Road to the end, where there’s an easy hike over recently formed lava beds that lead all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Kids will enjoy short scrambles over the bumpy black surface. The temperature down here is warm and tropical; take the sun-screen.
Another easy hike can take you to astonishing petroglyphs within the park at Puuloa that may remind your kids of the ones they created on your kitchen wall. Just kidding. These beautiful petroglyphs depict travel around the island and aging, well being, and celebratory events. The large concentrated cluster of these petroglyphs make the walk to see them well worth doing; although a bit up and down in terms of stones in the path, it’s all one level, slightly more than a mile round trip, and features an easy to traverse boardwalk around the petroglyphs themselves.
In the upper portion of the park you’ll find temperatures are often cool; bring sweatshirts! Trails are well maintained and very short walks can take you to spectacular views. As long as you hold on to little hands there’s nothing here that’s alarming for parents.
The Jagger museum, about one third of the way around the famous Crater Rim drive is a good place to start and learn about volcanoes, wild life, different forms of lava – all in simple to understand and interesting exhibits. And from the view point just outside the museum, you can look down into the caldera and see steam rising from the depths. Spectacular for all viewing ages. Along the drive back up to the rim, Kilauea’s environment turns into a lush tropical rainforest. A well known, short and exciting walk is to the Thurston Lava Tube. With small children in tow it will take you about twenty minutes to traverse the third of a mile, all paved, into a fairy-tale like tree fern forest and then into a lighted prehistoric lava tube. Like entering a long cave – with a lot of people, as this is a popular attraction. It’s also popular to check out the echo here – which our kids definitely enjoyed. Where several hundred years ago a river of lava stormed the tube, now you can walk through the center of this once molten part of the earth and sing Katy Perry’s latest. Coming out on the far side, there are spots to rest and contemplate the lush vegetation and the tube itself, and maybe do a little bird watching. The bright red one is called an apapane.
And when you’ve had enough volcanic exploration, you have beaches, waterfalls, and mountain vistas to enjoy – coming up more Big Island Overview of Beaches, Parks, Hotels and Restaurants in Part 2.