Exploring the Big Island: Volcano

Poolside cabanas, decadent luaus and mai tais on the beach are all standards of a traditional Hawaiian honeymoon. What follows is the opposite (well, except the Mai Tais). On our grand adventure, we opted to explore some of the rugged and raw parts of the Big Island, peppering in the must-see attractions.

We hiked in the rain, saw some big insects and put in 600 miles on an island that’s 230 miles around, but by taking on the less explored areas, we found secluded beaches and sunrise vistas often missed by the resort-going crowd.

Because the Big Island is so, well, big, we’re breaking our travels into 3 distinct regions of the island: volcano, jungle and sea.

PART 1 // VOLCANO

See: Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, Kīlauea Iki Trail, Chain of Craters Road, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach

Dine: Cafe Ono, Flyin’ Hawaiian Coffee Truck, Uncle George’s Lounge at Volcano House

Stay: Volcano Rainforest Retreat

The features that dominate the landscape are evidence of the island’s creation. Sheer black cliffs, fields of crumbling rock piles and steam rising from the ground – yep, you’re standing on an active volcano.

For a closer look, we hiked across the floor of an old lava lake on the Kīlauea Iki trail in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Still steaming in parts, it looked like we were walking across a giant brownie. To see the glow of the still erupting Kīlauea, we grabbed drinks at the bar in the Volcano House and then drove out to the Jagger Museum for an even closer, if not crowded, look.

Bernadette hiking along the Kīlauea Iki Trail
View of the Kīlauea Volcano from the Kīlauea Iki Trail
Thick rainforest on the trail
Crumbling volcanic rock at the bottom of an cooled lava lake
Lava rock composed of black basalt and green olivine
On the floor of Kīlauea Iki (looks like a brownie, right?)
Bernadette surveying the crater floor
Off onto the Kīlauea Iki Trail
Still steaming vents on the crater floor
Ryan looking into the steam vents (not afraid)

Into the Rainforest

For this stretch of the trip our home-base was right outside the park – Volcano Rainforest Retreat, a secluded B&B tucked into the misty rainforest. Our hexagonal cabin was crafted of all cedar with glass on all sides. There was no privacy issue though as it was surrounded by thick bamboo and ferns. An added bonus was the handcrafted o’furo, a Japanese style soaking tub, as it got surprisingly cold at night.

Bernadette in the bamboo forest
On the deck of the cabin in the rainforest
Private bathhouse with o’furo (traditional Japanese hot tub)
Bernadette in the rainforest, repping her day-job with a Society6 tank.

On the Black Sand Beach

Outside the park, heading south on the one main highway, are miles and miles of volcanic rock fields, broken up mainly by nēnē crossing signs. This area features the famed Kau coffee beans – we stopped wherever we saw a tasting. And then we came upon the famous Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. Swimmable, but a little rough as it was winter, we wound up mostly lounging on the sand just like the sea turtles that frequent this beach.

Bluffs of black volcanic rock from the Chain of Craters Road
Bernadette scurrying across lava rock (impressive feat in sandals)
Bikini on Black Sand Beach
Definitely don’t see sand like this every day, Punalu’u Black Sand Beach
Sea turtle coming onto the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach at dusk
Aerial view of a snow-capped Mauna Kea
  • Incredible adventures! “For a closer look, we hiked across the floor of an old lava lake on the Kīlauea Iki trail in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. Still steaming in parts, it looked like we were walking across a giant brownie.” Okay, now I’m hungry.