THE BIG ISLAND, HAWAII
Here we go again…
I’m calm, grateful and for the first time in a while EXCITED!
Today I’m going to Hawaii, and not just for travel but for Ironman 70.3 experience. How many people get a chance to travel to the Big Island 🌴 and experience its beauty with their own eyes, not from the movies or the pictures? If you told me few years ago about all the places I’ll have the opportunity to see including Hawaii, I would laugh into your face. Impossible! I would say…
Toronto ✈️Chicago ✈️San Francisco ✈️Hawaii
All the people I met on my way to the Big Island 🌴 were really nice. Starting with the Uber driver, airport staff and border security officials – everyone met me with a smile and were really nice.
I passed all the security checks in no time and there were barely any lines holding me back.
Mr Gonzales – the USA immigration officer was so nice and kind. We even had a little chat about the Ironman race, after which he awarded my passport with a fresh US stamp and handed it back to me.
⁃ “Safe travels Sir!” He wished me.
⁃ Thank you mr. Gonzales!
Beginning of the trip looks promising. I thought to myself.
My flight to Chicago ✈️ got delayed, cutting the layover time down to 30 minutes. I better be fast. And I was. Running through O’Hare International Airport I was amazed by how pretty the airport is. Made it to the gate on time. 4 hours until I’m in San Francisco.
KOA airport is one of a kind. The are no roofs, no windows – it’s all opened under the bright clear sky. Planes, like cars are parked just outside of the gate.
I loaded my spaceship with all necessities, fueled up and headed onto discovery mission. In 3 days I drove around the entire island and explored pretty much all of the most attractive “touristy” places. I did not feel rushed and was able to keep my monkey mind still.
Out of pressing curiosity, I crack-opened up the visor on my space suit… and figured that there is O2 on this planet! It is so much richer and cleaner that my head got slightly dizzy. You can actually breathe it and not die! I de-compressed my suit…
I don’t need to carry heavy tanks with compressed stinky air on my back so I threw them off my shoulders.
I felt lighter, I felt taller! I need to to report back to the base about my discovery, I need to tell everyone how great it feels, how beautiful it is here! I need… I have to….
“No Service” on my tracking device did not give me a chance to ping back my world. It remained still for two, three, four…. eight hours. I put it away. Wait, do I really need to report back? No. I’m here on my own, there is no chief, there is no boss. I might be even dead and no-one will know. I am FREE! I felt it before, this is freedom.
For the first time in a while I felt I could finally breathe out and sit back. I felt playful and more opened to people. I did not want to listed to any of my smart-ass gurus on podcasts I’m subscribed to. I did not feel the pressing need to read any sophisticated books I brought with me. I did not want to think at all. I did not care…
Scary! I am lazy! Holly smokes, I need to get my shit together and get back to work. Think of everything you need to accomplish, think of your “duties”. I am missing out. I am falling behind the bus.
Wait, Do I?
“What?! How can you even question that? Are you insane? Of course you do”, the ego has woken up and put its heavy claws on my shoulders, pressing me to the ground. It felt uncomfortable.
Quietly I began question everything that seemed so important to me in the past. Every step I took, everything I did, every thought I had, every food I ate under. I felt that I found a place to escape. I can hide here and no-one ever will hear a word from me.
I can hide from my ego that been breathing so heavily over my shoulder, pushing me hard.
As I was getting deeper and deeper into the tropics, anxiety was also failing to keep up with me. The needs to prove, to show, to be recognized and validated had softened its grips on me…
HILO: Rainy ☔️ side of the island 🌴
North and east sides of the island are pure tropics. Deep forests, rich wildlife and rain…never stopping rain.
Waipiʻo Valley Lookout
My IronMan buddy whom I met on a shuttle bus to the race suggested visiting this place, specifically for its beautiful sunrises 🌅. On the island 🌴 sunrise starts at 5:40. Got there on time, but face a 4×4 vehicle only restriction sign. Left the car and proceeded down the steep hill on my feet. Shortly I realized that I couldn’t go all the way down due to increasing pain in my knee after yesterday’s injury. Disappointed, I turned around and went back up. Had a breakfast up at the lookout point and enjoyed the view from the top.
My next stop was the Akaka Falls. Admissions: $5 per car / $1 per person.
Young man at the register kindly notified me that they accept all forms of payments, from all major banks, besides the one that has “TD” logo on it. Guess which credit card I had?What were the chances that I would have only TD cards in my wallet?
I got lucky. An older gentleman behind me in line payed my admission of $1. Thank you Sir!
It’s a short 20-30 minutes walk through the rainforest and the waterfall is worth seeing. You might also want to bring an umbrella with you’re afraid to melt.
Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden
From the falls, I continued driving along highway 19 for about 30 minutes to get to Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden.
$20 will got me on a ~1hr 30min walk averaging about 1.25 miles long.
Absolutely gorgeous place. Plants and flowers are outside of this world. It almost feel like they can bite you if you get too close.
Icing on the cake is the endpoint of the walk – the scenic view of the ocean from the rocky beach. I have no words to describe how beautiful it is up there. Unbelievable!
20 minutes drive from botanical garden is another falls that caught my attention. It is located in the town called Hilo, on the east side of the island.
Whats the best way to explore a new city? On bike or by feet. Pulled out my bike off the trunk and went on the ride around the town up to the falls and back. Got caught up in a pretty bad rain, but it only added to experience. The rain was warm and the town was wondering. You can get from one side of the town to another in less than 30 minutes.
Got to the falls, completely wet. No hiking, no admission to pay.
Stripped down to my shorts and went into the rainforest to find the spots worth remembering.
Lianas hanging down from huge-huge topical threes. Following the waterfall sound, I shortly found the way out to the falls on the other side.
Waterfall is a-ma-zing. Upstream, there are some little ponds with clear water which I had to swim in.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park
The more south you go, the less of the greens you see. Landscape rapidly changes from leafy green to rocky black.
Admission into the park is $25 and it’s valid for a week, meaning you can go in’n’out as many times as you want for 7 days from the purchase date.
Kīlauea Shield Volcano is one of the very few active volcanoes 🌋 in the world and major tourist attraction in this park.
A scenic view of the crater reminded me Grand Canyon in Arizona, but in a smaller scale. Steam comes out of the cracks inside the crater, reminding people that this is an active volcano.
I also got lucky to witness the full rainbow over the crater.
Kīlauea Iki Crater
The next stop at the park is Kīlauea Crater. Trailhead is about 20 minutes down, 30 minutes up. It’s a 4 miles moderate-easy hike. Easy on the way down and respectively hard back up.
When you reach the bottom of the crater you find yourself on another planet. It is unbelievable! This hike definitely worth the time and energy. At the bottom you continue walking throughout special hiking signs right on top or hardened lava.
Holding Sea Arch
It’s been a long day and I found myself about 2 hours away from hotel, on the opposite side of the island. I’m tired.
I’ve got some food on me. I’ve got gas and water. I don’t have any kids, commitments or anyone waiting for me back, therefore there is no need to go back to hotel. I decided to proceed exploring the island and sleep in the car tonight. I just need to find a good spot to park and figure out the plan for tomorrow.
Constant “No service” made me go back to the roots and pull up the park map I’ve been granted at the entrance. After careful consideration of all potential overnight spots I headed towards the ocean. I picked the Holding Sea Arch as a good spot for overnight stay because I can meet the sunrise 🌄 there in the morning. It’s a slow, scenic 40 minute drive along the road called “Chain of Craters”.
Woke up at 5 to meet the sun. 20 minutes hike through the lava took me closer to the pacific ocean, where I patiently waited for the sunrise 🌄. Unfortunately weather had a different plan and washed my face with warm tropical rain. Still, the view was outstanding. I’ll be back for more.
KONA – West & Sunny 😎 side of the island 🌴
About 2 hours driving away from volcano park and you’re on the west side of the island – the sunny side. I stopped at the town called Captain Cook. Air temperature rapidly increasing and the sun puts its warm rays on my face.
Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park
Captain Cook has the landmark called by the name outlined in the headline that I can’t even pronounce. It’s a national park and my first stop of the day.
The park is gorgeous! White sands, tall palms and crystal clear water makes you feel like you are back in the summer. One day entrance fee is $25 per car and $7 per person.
The park has about 10 km hiking trail that goes along the beach. You are on the wild goat’s land here 🐐. To keep my blood moving I went on an easy 7 km run through the park and hiking trail. I’ve seen at least two dozen goats jumping back and forth across the trail. I was looking at them, they were starring at me.
Jaw-dropping Snorkeling: Honaunau Beach
Right by the park is the beach called Hōnaunau and it is known for its snorkeling. Exactly what I needed after the hot run.
A little beach grants free snorkeling access to the public. All you need is a pair of goggles and the ability to stay on top of the water for at least a few minutes.
Pacific ocean is so warm! The water is crystal clear. You can see all the tiniest fish and corrals from tens of meters above.
Do not just jump straight into the water!
There are a lot of dangerously sharp corals on the bottom that look like the balls full of needles.
There is a non-official designated spot for entrance. People call it a “Two Step” place. Ask the locals if you can’t locate it yourself.
The second you put your head down into the water you feel yourself as a french explorer Jacques Cousteau. Fish 🐠 and corals I have previously seen only in documentary movies about wild ocean life. A-MA-ZING!!! And it’s totally free.
Captain’s Cook Monument Hike
20 minutes drive north from snorkeling place was my next stop. Swapped my swimming gear for sneakers 👟 and continued exploring Kona by feet.
3.8 mile hike with challenging 1400 elevation gain on the way back. This is what the sign said and it didn’t sound too good considering my knee injury.Going down was fast and easy. At the bottom you will face another scenic view straight from the movie of a perfect life.
Make sure you bring your snorkeling gear. Right by the Captains Cook Monument is a fantastic snorkeling place. The place is quiet and deep, hosting a wide variety of wildlife.
William was the name of a guy I met at the spot. He was undoubtedly convinced that he met a really special fish that he had a conversation with. He also mentioned he is a fish himself and that was a reason why he could talk to his aqua friends. The size of his pupils gave me an idea of what was going on.
Going back up was not as bad as I thought it would. In fact I barely broke any sweat and made it to the top quite fast and easy. Garmin showed 9 km worth of 1200 feet elevation gain.
Magic Sands Beach Park
The sun goes down as well as my energy level. I’m 85 km away from my bed, which is about 1 hr 20 minutes drive.
I’m facing the same question as yesterday: Go back to hotel or camp elsewhere?
What will I get going back?
- A shower 🚿
- Few tomatoes, chicken breast, rice or oatmeal with peanut butter on top
- A human bed with pillow and a blanket
What will I get for not going back?
- Experience of camping at the beach like a homeless man
- Free hypnotizing sounds of the most expensive waves in the world
- Fresh ocean breeze
- Save about 1/3 of tank worth of gas and 3 hours of my life driving
Decided! Sleeping at the beach 🏖
Pu’u Wa’awa’a Cinder Cone State Park
Round trip took me 2 hr 33 minutes and put 17 km on my body’s odometer. It’s not the easy hike. Elevation gain is about 2000 feet.
First 30-40 minutes you hike up the paved road with about 10% incline. Enjoy, thats the warmup. Next, you step on a black unsaved road filled with volcano rocks and sand. Hiking boots would come handy here, but regular sneakers also worked out good for me. (changed my mind later…)
There are 12 markers on the route, which will lead you to the top. It’s a bit hard to navigate some of them. Just keep in mind that if the trail you follow flattened or going downhill, you are on a wrong trail. On a way there its all uphill.
*CAUTION! Don’t watch if you eat!
Due to its popularity around the world and limited living space on the island I developed two major assumptions about the life on the Island.
I assumed that the job market is really competitive here and it’s nearly impossible to get employed even as low-skilled employee. I assumed that you need to be a highly motivated and qualified professional to get hired at one of the local businesses to at least make a living.
I believed that the rent and real estate prices are sky high. This assumption let me to believe that a regular, mid-class person, could not afford to buy a piece of property here.
None of my assumptions got validated. Any here is why:
- The most demanding skills or qualifications are responsibility, self-management and motivation. This observation I borrowed from the guy who lived on an Island for quite a bit and went through the job hunting process himself. He said that employers are hungry for people that would simply show up.
“Those who have at least a little bit of brain and discipline worth more than gold here.”, were his words.
- Real estate market IS expensive. However it’s not much more expensive than in some major American cities. If you have at least $50k in your savings for a down payment, you can can afford a decent condo, or even a house in the area that is not too far from civilization.
It looked, sounded and felt that local inhabitants simply don’t care. They are truly chill and laid back. They are different than people in big cities. People value money much less here.
You don’t move to live in Hawaii for big houses, expensive cars or fancy clothes.
You come to the Big Island for fresh water and clean air.
You come here for life.
I am sad to fly back to Canada
I really enjoyed my time in Hawaii and I changed my view on a lot of things that were important to me.
I hope to return sometime next year and when I’m back, I will not book a hotel stay. Instead I will camp throughout my entire visit. I will also rent a bigger car, preferably a Jeep or any other 4×4 vehicle that will allow me to explore more remote locations.
For now I want to leave me thoughts and feelings about this adventure as is. They will be different next time, I will be different…