By Amy Suski
When your vacation starts with dragging 3 kids out of bed at 4:30 a.m. to make a mad dash to the airport, one of them is car-sick, and you use up your whole trip’s worth of handiwipes cleaning vomit off your luggage even before you check-in, you know you’re in for a special kind of trip. And our trip to The Big Island of Hawaii didn’t disappoint. From that moment forward there were plenty of ups and downs, from which I draw the following hard-earned travel lessons:
1) Dramamine is your friend.
2) Handiwipes are your friend.
3) However frustrated you may be with an airline after a flight is cancelled for the second time, the lady at the counter is your friend. If you and your kids look pathetic enough she just might take pity on you, bump the nasty guy in pointy leather shoes, and get all five members of your family on the next flight. (Thank you, thank you nice lady!!)
4) The hotel mini-fridge is your friend (and so is Costco). Stunned by the high price of restaurant dining in Hawaii, we alleviated some of the sting by stocking our trusty mini-fridge with breakfast food and snacks from the local Costco.
5) Don't attempt to check a laptop computer, however well-cushioned it may seem. Baggage handlers are not known for their gentleness. (The screen cracked on mine.)
6) Make sure your rental car is in tip-top shape (i.e. all 4 tires have air) before driving off into the night tired, disoriented, and with 3 jet lagged kids.
7) Don't buy swimsuits with pockets. Our 11-year-old “forgot” his ipod touch was in his swimsuit pocket when he jumped in the hot tub.
8) Seriously consider not checking your emails at all. As a result of stupid curiosity both my husband and I got entangled with disputes with our house contractor and problems at work that sucked valuable time away from the trip and left us pretty aggravated.
9) DO make your children eat Hawaiian poi. It’s disgusting and if they get unruly you can threaten them with it for the rest of trip.
10) Don’t bring children to an unmarked, off-the trail crater in the ground with a name like “Devil’s Throat.” It appears suddenly, has a 165 drop, and has no barriers. It’s dangerous. (And is not on any of the official guide maps for a good reason.)
11) Ask the nice people at the hotel which beaches are ok and which are not. The surf is treacherous at some beaches and certain remote spots are better left to the locals.
12) Don’t leave your luggage in a rental car for any extended period. If leaving valuables in your car is unavoidable, we found that a child's semi-circle of vomit around the car is 100% effective in deterring break-ins.
13) However desperate you are, don’t pee on, around, or anywhere near a volcano. This seems obvious, but apparently not to the menfolk in my family. By disrespecting the sacred site, they most certainly incurred the wrath of the volcano goddess (see items #7, #14, #15, and #16).
14) Don't gorge yourself on Taco Bell burritos after peeing on a volcano and before a long windy car trip home (see also #1, #2 and #12).
15) Don't wear a loose wedding ring while snorkeling. You’ll never see it again – especially after alerting the local dive shop where you lost it and lamely leaving your contact info.
16) Don't speed on an open highway across the dessert on the way to the airport. Not only will you get a speeding ticket, but the cop with a chip on his shoulder who sneers at your out-of-state license might even pile on a few extra bogus violations that you’ll be defending against long after you’re gone. (Mahalo.)
Brady Bunch-like curses aside, our the trip was simply amazing: the kids had a fantastic time, we learned so much about the history and geology of the island and we'll never forget it.
And we certainly weren't cursed with our hotel…it was STUNNING. As soon as we arrived at the Mauna Lani Bay we knew we were in for something special. After passing waterfalls and crossing a koi fish pond we were greeted in a tropical courtyard with shell necklaces and guava juice. The staff gave the kids fish food and the fish would swarm take it right from your hand -- which was a lot of fun no matter how old you are. Our room was lovely and included a balcony view right out of a travel guide:
Although the open-air restaurants at the hotel were amazing (The Canoe House below was the nicest), for even more dining options, the resort's nearby shopping center had an eclectic collection of restaurants, free performances and craft activities like lei-making. The kids liked these informal cultural experiences just fine, so we chose to forgo the full-blown pricer luau experience.
Another special feature of the Mauna Lani is that it is built on a large site containing Kalahuiupua's historic fishponds (below). The kids loved looking for eels, turtles, and even baby hammerhead sharks. The hotel is also on the drier side of the island, which means that most every day was sunny and breezy.
The beaches along the shores of the Mauna Lani were also just perfect for families. The sheltered beaches (below) offered a safe place for the kids to snorkel and try out the paddle boards.
Rockier spots and more secluded coves were good spots for adult snorkeling and for the kids to check out tide pools.
Gorgeous beaches aside, The Big Island is the perfect place to teach your kids something about the Earth's climates, geology, and volcanology. The Big Island contains 11 out of the 13 world's climatic zones, so its possible to travel from sunny beaches, scrubby desserts, rainy jungles, and right up the side of some of the most massive mountains in the world in the span of a few hours. [In terms of volume, Mauna Loa is the world's biggest volcano and Mauna Kea is the world's tallest mountain measured from its base. At over 33,480 feet tall it is even taller than Mt. Everest, but unlike Everest, only the top 13,840 feet of Mauna Kea is above sea level.]
A coconut sprouting on a newly created black beach was the perfect illustration of how vegitation populates volcanic ground and land masses grow. It's really neat to be able to see the island growing right before your eyes. The kids were very impressed by the fact that they were standing on some of the newest ground in the world!
To get to the black sands beach, however, we had to park in a remote dead-end populated by a few sketchy bar/restaurants, abandoned army vehicles, and ganja-smoking-jewelry-hawkers. Making our way down the long path to the beach we saw contents of presumably stolen suitcases strewn across the hardened lava fields and so we didn't linger long. We were probably lucky to get out of there with all of our suitcases (which we naively left in the trunk of the rental car). Still, the black volcanic sand was really neat.
Another cool site we visited was a petroglyph park adjacent to the resort. Using bikes borrowed from the hotel, we took a fairly long ride to see interesting ancient petroglyphs like the ones below.
Unfortunately, the bike ride proved too long for my youngest and so after a skinned knee Dad and the boys rode back to the hotel to get the car for us. A mom and her daughter alone in the middle of a remote area at dusk turned out not to be such a great idea either. After it was clear locals also gathered there in vans to drink beer, I forced her to get back on her bike and continue towards the hotel. And that's when we were hit by swarms of mosquitos and she really lost her composure. When we were finally picked-up by Dad we were a little worse for the wear, but nothing a little mango ice-cream couldn't cure.
Fortunately, the next day we were in for a big treat. We booked a snorkeling trip to Kealakekua Bay (Captain Cook Express) and had a thrilling trip. [The picture to the left is of a different tour group, the boat we took was more substantial and had fewer people.] The story of Captain Cook's doomed visit to the bay was fascinating for the kids (a monument to the slain Captain stands prominently at the waters edge) and we were all thrilled to watch spinner dolphins as they continuously swam around the boats. For kids not ready to snorkel, the captain provided boogie boards with see-through windows so that the kids could watch the fish without putting their faces in the water. Of course I forgot to bring my underwater camera, but trust me -- the fish and coral were beautiful. After snorkeling we were offered drinks, snacks, and fresh fruit. On the way home, the captain expertly maneuvered us in and out of sea caves and told us stories about Hawaiian history and ancient superstitions.
Intrigued by the stories of ancient Hawaiians, after the boat trip we drove further south to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park, the site of Hawaiian temples and ki'i (wooden images like the ones below). Long ago, it was a retreat for Hawaiian royalty and sanctuary for their people (Hawaiians sentenced to death could receive clemency if they reached this remote and sacred spot).
Unfortunately, it wasn't long before we had our own brush with Hawaiian superstition. It was a long drive and by the time we reached the volcano site, the menfolk really had to "go". In spite of my protests they ducked into the bushes to relieve themselves. Something just told me this act of disrespect would not go unpunished and in hindsight I think I was right. But in spite of the imagined wrath of the volanco goddess, what we saw at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park was truly awesome. It's not what we expected, but amazed us in so many other ways. The Big Island was made by volcanos, several of which are still active. Hualalai last erupted 200 years ago, Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984, and Kilauea which has been erupting continuously since 1983. During the day, the Halema'uma'u Crater usually looks like this….with plumes of steam and gasses rising from the earth.
At night the glowing heat is more visible and under a clear starry night being on top of the mountain was one of the most memorable experiences I've ever had. [The Big Island provides some of the best sites in the world for star-gazers and is home to one of the world's largest telescope facilities.]
But the volcanos are just the beginning. Driving along Crater Rim Drive and then down towards the ocean on the Chain of Craters Road, there are dozens of fascinating stops, like steam vents, trails with ancient petroglyphs carved into hardened lava, the lava tube below which you can walk right through --
With so much geologic activity, you'll have to pay attention to air quality warnings in certain parts of the island to avoid elevated sulfur dioxide gasses and roads cut-off by lava. Danger signs and warnings abound. And as a parent, I have to say that seeking out the unmarked, off-trail Devil's Throat was NOT a smart thing to do with children. There were no barriers and the stability of the surrounding ground was unknown. It was only by reaching a hand out with a camera that my husband got close enough to capture a picture. [Meanwhile I was 10 feet away clutching all three children to my body in a vice-like grip.] Of course, its these moments of danger that the kids found so thrilling!!
On our last day, we set out to explore the wet, tropical side of the island. Although we didn't have time to visit any of the botanical gardens like I wanted to do, the scenic drive itself was gorgeous with spectacular views like the one below:
On route to Akaka Falls State Park we stopped at a roadside sandwich shop with wonderful smoothies and local fruit salads. A table under the banana trees was the perfect spot for a snack.
Although we were pressed for time, it was a short jog from the parking lot to Akaka Falls and well worth it. After all, how can you go to Hawaii and not get a picture of this??
All in all it was a fantastic family trip. Beyond the walls of idyllic resorts a wild a wonderful island awaits for you to explore. If we have a chance to go back we would love to visit the Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo, the botanic gardens, and take a helicopter ride over the island. Final tip: a good guide to the island is Andrew Doughty's Hawaii the Big Island Revealed. We used an ebook version on my iPad that really helped us to navigate the island and discover local gems : )
The opinions expressed are entirely my own and do not reflect those of the businesses and organizations mentioned. We did not receive any special discounts or benefits on this trip. With the exception of the picture of The Canoe House, all photographs were taken by me and all rights are reserved by KidTrips © 2014.
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