With the rain coming down here in British Columbia, I found myself thinking about our recent trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. As I mentioned previously, we found it to be a great family destination with lots to do with small kids, even if you’re not really into beaches. There’s too much to really sum up in one post, so I thought I’d divide what we found to do into west side and east side sights.
The west side of the island is the dry side, with much less vegetation and most of the island’s beaches. The vast majority of the tourist stay on the west side, although the island is large enough that it’s still easy to feel like you’re getting off the beaten path. We stayed in the Waikoloa beach resort area, about 30 minutes north of the Kona Kailua airport and spent several days exploring both the Waimea region to the north and coastal area south of Kailua.
We visited two different national historic site on the west coast. Near the town of Captain Cook we visited Puuhonua o Honaunau which is a large complex in a beautiful setting on the water. It has large stone fortifications and was once a place of refuge, where people who broke the traditional laws could come to seek asylum. We were able to see several traditional outrigger dugout canoes and in the shallow waters of the bay we even spotted our first sea turtle. It was a very interesting spot, but I have to say the staff were a bit impatient and didn’t seem very interested in engaging young children, which was a bit of a disappointment considering how much we enjoyed the enthusiasm of the rangers at Volcano National Park.
We also visited a historic site further north called Puukohola Heiau, a large military fortification from the 18th century. The visitor centre is brand new and nicely laid out and there’s a guided walk through the grounds. The kids weren’t really that interested in the history of the site, but they did enjoy going on the walk with us and they were given a workbook to complete and a junior ranger’s badge, which went a long way towards holding their interest.
One of our surprise favourites on this trip was the town of Waimea, about 30 minutes north and east of Waikoloa. It felt like a different world from the beach resorts with cattle ranges and beautiful green rolling hills. We were there on a Saturday and were able to buy fruit at a lovely farmers market followed by a visit to a beautiful playground right in the centre of town. The entire area was very neat and well kept with ranch style houses with lovely gardens and the people were extremely friendly. My husband and I both felt that if we were to come back to Hawaii, we would consider skipping the coastal region and using the Waimea area as a home base.
North of Waimea a good road runs along the ridge of the mountains giving spectacular views in all directions. There are ranches with opportunities for horseback riding, which I would love to do but since my husband is severely allergic to horses that’s not in the cards for us. As you head north to the coast you can feel that you’re getting into the wetter climate that dominates the east side of the island. The northern tip of Hawaii was a sugar growing region until a few decades ago but now it has an interesting artsy/backwoods sort of vibe. We stopped for lunch in the town of Hawa, which was basically a road lined with galleries, antique stores and funky coffee shops. We followed the road east until the end of the line and we could feel the climate getting wetter and the vegetation getting denser with each mile. At the end of the road is a spectacular viewpoint with a long steep hike down to the ocean. We chose to enjoy the view from the roadside lookout which was probably wise since the very next day a group of hikers were stranded when the path was washed out due to recent rains.
The town of Kailua-Kona, or just Kailua is the largest settlement on the west coast and has all the majors stores and amenities. There are several large hotels in the town and the historic centre has a bustling, beachy vibe with lots of restaurants, bars and shops. We didn’t spend much time in the town but we did go to a Sunday morning service at the Mokuaikaua Church, the oldest church in Hawaii built in the 1830’s. We were warmly welcomed there and the kids were given colouring pages and children’s books to look at. After the service a church member invited guests to stay and listen to a brief talk on the history of the church which we found very interesting.
Across the street is the Hulihee Palace, which is really a two story building that must have once been quite impressive but is now dwarfed by larger modern buildings. It was closed on the Sunday we were there but it looked like it would be worth a stop. Between the church and the water is a large pedestrian shopping area which was a nice place to wander and look around without having to worry about the kids in traffic. We stopped for ice cream at a place called Cuz’ns, which had a lovely deck overlooking the water. It was a perfect setting to enjoy ice cream and shave ice while enjoying the ocean breezes.
In total we spent about four of our nine days in Hawaii exploring the sites on the west side of the island and we probably could have found even more to do. South of Kailua there are several coffee farms that do tours and there is also a macadamia nut factory just north of Waikoloa and several other historic sites. But the east side also beckoned us and we spent our fair share of time there too. But I guess that will have to wait for another post!