We are a crazy couple who decided to vacation in Hawaii with our 16 month old this summer. Our vacation completely exhausted us, sent me back to the mainland with an aching back, and sent both Dan and me home with multiple mosquito bites. But…but we had a great time together, made so many special family memories, and experienced all sorts of new things/places.
We originally decided to go to Hawaii with Vivian because 1) her daycare was closed that week and it was either go on a vacation with her or have my mom fly in for the week to watch her while we worked (boring) and 2) we insanely thought that Hawaii would provide us with some tropical relaxation. Ha ha ha ha. We chose to go to the Big Island because none of us had ever been there before and we really wanted to explore Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (more on that later). I had floated the idea by Dan that perhaps my mom could fly in to watch Vivian and he and I could go to Hawaii together, but he didn’t feel like that was right – we should all vacation together as a family (and I’m so glad that we did!). When our kids get older, we will have opportunities to vacation without them, but Vivian is still so little (and still nursing) and it would be a shame to miss out on the opportunity to spend a week with her. We both would have regretted not experiencing Hawaii with her and I, for one, would have felt very selfish. So…we packed our suitcases and boarded a plane to fly 5 1/2 hours across the Pacific Ocean to Hilo, where our adventurous week began.
We spent the first four nights of our vacation in a VRBO rental in Hakalau, just north of Hilo. This carriage unit rental was very private and situated on a piece of land butting up the ocean. We couldn’t get any closer to the ocean unless we were on a boat!
Our VRBO Rental – On a SUNNY Day!
When we arrived on the island it was raining cats and dogs…and when we woke up on day 1, the weather had not improved. You can’t control the weather though, and it didn’t stop us from getting out of our rental to explore the area. We spent most of day 1 driving around the immediate area and checking out the nearby waterfalls. Interestingly enough, there are no waterfalls on the Kona (leeward) side of the island. So, if we were going to see waterfalls, they had to be seen now on the Hilo (windward) side of the island!
In between waterfalls, we ate lunch in Hilo at Ken’s House of Pancakes. This is a well-known Hilo restaurant that is, frankly, disgusting. We checked the box – we were there – but I cannot recommend it and would not eat there again.
We also checked out Onomea Bay (and the scenic drive to get to it) and Boiling Pots and Pe’ep’e Falls upstream in the Wailuku River, before rounding out our day’s adventures by checking out Kaumana Cave.
Walking to Onomea Bay
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Part 1
On our second full day in Hawaii, we had reservations to go on a helicopter tour over the nearby volcanoes and waterfalls. But, the sky was still pouring down rain, so our tour was rescheduled for the following day. No worries! We simply started our volcanic exploration via land a little earlier than planned. We drove to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park and checked out the Kīlauea Visitor Center. We watched a few short videos that they had playing in the theater; Dan and I took turns sitting in the comfy seats, pushing Vivian around the theater in her stroller (wishing she’d fall asleep!), and chasing her up and down the theater aisles. Vivian’s energy meant that soon we would need to get outside and so we embarked on our first rainy/hot/cold/wet/muggy/dry hike around the park’s highlights.
On the Sulphur Banks Trail En Route to the the Steam Vents
After our first short, 1.4 mile hike around Sulphur Banks and the steam vents, we ate lunch in the Volcano House at Uncle George’s Lounge. We ate one of the better meals of our trip here and it refueled us (physically and spiritually!) for our afternoon adventures.
We hopped in our rental car and drove down Chain of Craters Rd. towards the ocean, stopping at interesting points (mostly, craters!) along the way.
Lava, Lava, and More Lava
Vivian quickly fell asleep in her car seat. By the time we made it to the end of the road, she still hadn’t awakened. So, Dan and I took turns checking out the Holei Sea Arch before backtracking on Chain of Craters Rd. By the time we stopped for our next 1.4 mile day hike, Vivian was awake and ready to run!
Hiking Over Hardened Lava to the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs
Our Little Hiker at the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs
Our pattern while in the park was drive-hike-drive-hike. So after hiking to the petroglyphs, we drove down Hilina Pali Rd. to the very beautiful and quiet overlook. In all honesty, I did not want to drive 9 miles (one way) down this one-lane road just to check out the view. Vivian had fussed enough in the car for me for one day and it was only late afternoon – we still had a lot of required driving ahead of us. But, I am so glad that we ventured into the depths of the park via this road. There were only a few other people at the overlook and the peacefulness and quietness of the area was refreshing. It’s actually what I needed after listening to all that toddler fussiness!
Hilina Pali Overlook
By now, it was nearing dusk, so we drove to the Jagger Museum & Overlook at see the glowing and erupting Halema’uma’u crater inside the Kīlauea Caldera.
Family Volcano Picture Near Halema’uma’u Crater
Finally, we were beat. We drove back to our rental in Hakalau, put Vivian to bed, and then put ourselves to bed after eating a homecooked pasta dinner.
Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Part 2
When we woke up on day 3 of our vacation, the sun was shining! Praise God! We left our rental early and made our way to the Hilo airport for our rescheduled helicopter tour with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters. None of us had ever been on a helicopter before and so we were very excited. Vivian was considered a free “lap infant,” which is why we took her on it with us. The best view you will get of the volcanoes (most notable, the Pu’u O’o vent) and waterfalls on the Big Island is via air. For some unknown reason (we never asked), we were upgraded to one of Blue Hawaiian’s Eco-Star helicopters. Vivian was initially frightened by the lifejacket and headphones that she had to wear, but it wasn’t too long after we took flight that she fell fast asleep. She slept through most of the ride! While she was sleeping, Dan and I and the other passengers got an up close view of the most recent lava destruction, the current lava flows and eruption site, and lushly landscaped waterfalls. The helicopter ride was smooth and our pilot was very informative. This was definitely a trip highlight!
Vivian Still Fast Asleep After Our Helicopter Tour
After we’d gotten an aerial view of a volcano in action, we went back to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to finish our exploration of it. First, we stopped by the Kīlauea Overlook to peer into the Kīlauea Caldera once again. Then we ate another one of the better meals of our trip at Kīlauea Lodge in the town of Volcano. Refueled for our afternoon adventures, we went back into the park and walked through the 1/4 mile Thurston Lava Tube.
Outside the Thurston Lava Tube
We saved the best park of our park adventure for nearly last – a 4 mile hike around and through the Kīlauea Iki crater. Vivian started our hike on foot; moved into the Ergo carrier on my chest to take a nap; switched to my back to hike back up the crater rim; and then moved between her own little feet, Dan’s shoulders, and my hip for the last mile of the hike. Whew! Luckily, the scenery was well worth the aches and pains of carrying Vivian for 4 miles. How often do you get the opportunity to walk through the floor of a volcano crater?
Before Hiking Across the Kīlauea Iki Crater
Overlooking the Kīlauea Iki Crater
Our very last hike and sight that we saw in the park was the Devastation Trail. This short, 1-mile trail was gentle enough to walk on with Vivian in the stroller, which gave our backs a much needed break!
We left the national park feeling like we had truly seen all of it – or, well, as much as we possibly could in two days with a toddler in tow.
To wrap up our day – and our time on the windward side of the Big Island – we went out for sushi in downtown Hilo and gave Vivian her first bites of yellowtail (sadly, she wasn’t a fan of it!).
Baby’s First Sushi
Drive to Kona, Waipio Valley Lookout, & Pooltime
After three very full days in and around Hilo, we checked out of our rental in Hakalau and drove north towards Waimea. Within minutes on the road, Vivian was in hysterics, even with me sitting in the back seat of the car with her. We pulled over and I nursed her and we attempted to let her run around outside, but the mosquitoes were out in full lethal force. Further down the road, we couldn’t bear to listen to her heartbreaking cry any longer, and so we made an emergency stop at a small town’s public library. She was able to read, color, and calm down, and we were eventually able to continue on our journey to the Waipio Valley Lookout.
Waipio Valley Lookout
Back on the road, we finally rounded the bend to the leeward side of the island and checked into the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa for our last two nights on the Big Island. We ate a delicious (and expensive!) lunch at the hotel’s Hawaii Calls Restaurant and then enjoyed some much needed pool time. One of the pools had a water slide and we both took turns taking Vivian down it, which she loved. (We tried to take her on the water slide again two days later to take some pictures, but the security guard wouldn’t let her on it and said that the previous day’s security guard had been fired for not properly enforcing the slide’s rules.)
Baby Sand Pool
Exploring the Fish Ponds by the Hotel
We ended our night with fish and chips and some live Hawaiian music at the Kings’ Shops across the street from the hotel. When we returned to our hotel room, we were more grateful than ever for the cool air conditioning in the room that would help us sleep soundly (our rental in Hakalau didn’t have air conditioning!).
New day, new adventures! First up, a Kona coffee farm tour and tasting at Greenwell Farms. Dan and I may have liked the coffee tasting the best, but Vivian’s favorite part of the tour was the farm hen and her nine chicks living under the coffee trees.
Greenwell Farms Coffee Tour
While near Kona, we also visited the famous Painted Church and toured the historical Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau (AKA, Place of Refuge) site. We admit that by the time we got to the Place of Refuge, we were plum tired out with vacation learning. We both laughed at all of the “re-creations” of historical artifacts. After our self-guided tour, we were very happy to get back into our air conditioned car and find a yummy and relaxing place for lunch.
Painted Church (The inside is painted, not the outside, as I originally thought.)
Touring Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau
Walking Through the Old Gates at Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau
I was hoping the kayak across Kealakekua Bay to the Captain Cook Monument, but the ocean was too choppy at the late afternoon time that we arrived to rent kayaks. So, instead, we turned our rental car north towards our hotel and briefly stopped to pick up a treat of Donkey Balls in Kealakekua.
We spent the rest of our afternoon at the pool before taking a walk to the nearby Hilton for a boat ride on their lagoon and dinner at one of their restaurants. At the end of dinner, we walked back to our hotel in the pounding rain. Maybe we shouldn’t complain about our never-ending sunshine in SoCal…
Sunset Boat Trip
Ocean Adventures, Massages, & Kona Brews
On our last full day in Hawaii, we finally got in some ocean play. We took Vivian kayaking and swimming in the ocean for the first time. Dan did a little stand-up paddleboarding (there were no sea lion attacks this time!). And we all went on a little boat ride in a glass-bottom boat to get a glimpse of some underwater tropical marine life.
Family Kayak Trip
Baby on a Boat
Dan Stand-Up Paddleboarding
After a fun morning in the sun, we showered and checked out of our hotel room. Then Dan and I took turns getting hour long bamboo massages at the Mandara Spa. As luck would have it (for Dan!), Vivian napped the entire time that I was getting my massage, so he was able to roll her down to the hotel bar in her stroller and get a few drinks. By the time it was my turn to watch her during Dan’s massage, she was well rested and ready to run, run, run. Such is life as a mom, though!
Before leaving on our red eye flight from Kona back to LAX, we ate pizza and tasted local brews at the Kona Pub & Brewery. It was clear that we were at the end of our
rope trip at dinner. Vivian was not content to sit and eat and we were content to let her run around the restaurant and crawl around on the dirty outside steps. After a fun and full trip, it was time to go home!