If you’re visiting Pele, you’re right in our back yard

15 09 2009

Mehana_VolcanoRedAleHawai’i Nui means Great Hawai’i. The Hawaiian Islands are a great place to visit, from the Garden Island of Kaua’i to the Big Island of Hawai’i. This is the fifth post in a series of opinion pieces on the question, “What makes Hilo worth a special trip?”

Reason #5. The Big Island is the youngest Hawaiian Island. Kilauea is an active volcano that is adding land to the Big Island every day. You don’t want to miss a visit to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, home of the Hawaiian Volcano Goddess, Pele. If you go to see the Volcano, you’re practically here in Hilo.

Starting out from Kailua-Kona, the journey to visit Pele is a reward in itself.

Ideally, you would beat the traffic by leaving Kailua-Kona around 7am. Don’t forget to take a lei and/or bottle of beer (and opener) if you want to make an offering to Pele.

On the coast road, you will pass below the Kona coffee belt. Kona Coffee is grown only on the Big Island of Hawai’i, in a narrow band of land one mile wide and thirty miles long on the south western edge of the island’s volcanoes Hualalai and Mauna Loa. Mauna Loa is the world’s largest mountain measured in mass above its roots on the ocean floor.

The Coffee Shack on the makai (ocean) side of Highway 11 just south of the town of Captain Cook opens at 7:30 and is a great place to eat breakfast. In any event, don’t miss the chance to taste some coffee along the way, and maybe stop for a snack at the South Kona Fruit Stand in Captain Cook between mile markers 103 and 104. If you’re planning a gift for someone back home, I recommend the Long Montain 100% Kona Coffee, which is available for purchase online. The Vienna Roast is unbelievably delicious.

On a clear day, my friend Kim can see the City of Refuge from her coffee farm, Long Mountain Coffee

In the mornings, my friend Kim can see the City of Refuge and the Captain Cook Monument from Left Coast Farm, where she grows the beans for Long Mountain Kona Coffee. The coffee trees love the afternoon cloud cover typical of the area.

You will pass Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park, the 550-year old Hawaiian City of Refuge. I would not stop here on this trip. It is well worth a visit on its own, and in my opinion is best combined with a swim at Two-Step, right next door to the park.

If you want to enjoy the volcano, mo betta to keep going till you get to Na’alehu, the Southernmost Town in USA. I like to stop and stretch my legs at the Punalu’u Bake Shop, the Southernmost Bakery. In addition to the famous sweet bread, sometimes they have a half guava with cottage cheese — yum!

Once you get to the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, I recommend you spring for the $25 all-Hawaii National Park pass. This gets you into the two parks on the Big Island plus Haleakala National Park on Maui. The side benefit of the pass is that it gets you good parking anytime you want to swim at Two Step.

Yes, it smells like brimstone

Yes, it smells like brimstone in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Ideally, you will stay overnight so you can see the lava flowing into the ocean at night and visit the Volcano Art Center. Stay at the Volcano House or the Kilauea Lodge.

But even if you’re making it a day trip, don’t make that left turn back to Kailua-Kona after visiting the volcano. Visibility will be limited by the combination of the vog and the afternoon cloud cover. You might spend 60-90 minutes in the rush hour traffic between Captain Cook and Kailua-Kona.

Mo betta to take the right turn for Hilo. It’s less than 30 miles.

Exiting Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, don't take that left!  You'll end up in rush hour traffic...  Make the right turn and continue the adventure.

Exiting Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, don’t take that left! You’ll end up in rush hour traffic… Make the right turn and continue the adventure.

The Big Island Pizza  is a great great place to grab a quick bite before heading back to Kailua-Kona. If you take the Saddle Road, not only is it a reverse commute, but you can also enjoy a truly spectacular sunset en route. More on this in a future post.

Enjoy your visit to the Big Island of Hawai’i.  Hope you will make time to visit the fair micropolis of Hilo.

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