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  • Elle Sten

10 days on the big island (with 2 toddlers!) An *honest* itenerary.

Let's all laugh together at my dedicated Kona Pinterest board and notebook filled with planned activities and itineraries. Here's what we did, what we loved, and didn't, How we survived and even thrived.

Let me preface by saying we went hard during our time here. On California time, bed time came much earlier for the kids. Not wanting to waste time each day for naps, they were all on the go in the car and stroller. They never matched up or were long enough but enabled us to keep moving! I thoroughly enjoyed all the fun and family time here, along with planning our outfits and itineraries. My mid to plus size Hawaiian outfits and packing guide found here.

Day 1: We flew Hawaiian from LAX to Kona. It was direct and the Hawaiian vibes start as soon as you board the plane! They will be the only ones I fly with for future trips. They play Hawaiian music as you board and land. They pass out Hawaiian drinks (hello Koloa breeze) and snacks along with the meal. They also have coconut soap in the bathrooms, and I appreciated all the extra tropical touches they provide. The flight attendants were very kind and we chatted with several being seated near the back and slow to deplane with our kids.

Hawaiian Aitrlines here:

Checked in to an outdoor airport! The black rock and crystal blue water was a trip to see flying in. My son leaned up to look out his window and excitedly excalimed "there's a rainbow!" Instantly greeted by muggy weather and warm air. Rental car, check. Walmart stock up, much needed caffeine and ibuprofein, check. Perusing the aisles of things we don't have mainland was fun, but not as exciting as seeing native Hawaiians sitting in a truck bed driving in the parking lot. Sitting on buckets with their pet dogs in tow, instantly brought the island vibes.

Now to cruise the highway. First observation, this island is indeed BIG. And tall, every view is elevated and the highway overlooks the ocean. Many of the houses as well, despite being inland with the elevation you can see the beautiful clear blue sea. Turning in to the neighborhood we were staying in was the most wide eyed experience seeing all the foliage. Lush green surrounded every narrow street. Tall vines, plants, bright fuschia and scarlet and every shade of flower and bougainvillea with depth that I had never seen. A mainlander tetrachromat's fever dream! I was in Heaven. As we turned I came inches away from HUGE Monstera leaves. I thought of the ones growing in the pot hanging in my kitchen, tiny, a couple inches maybe compared to these, several feet long!

Checked in to the VRBO and settled in. We survived the day (2:30 am wake CA time to now finally 6:30 PM Hawaii.) off adrenaline. After chugging 5 water bottles and one beer (Aloha, Big Wave!) We got the kids down, unpacked, and now my brain that won't shut down. As long as they sleep, it'll be fine. As soon as the sun went down, we were met with another surprise: LOUD CHIRPING FROGS! Apparently an invasive species and non-native to the island, the Coqui frogs are noisy. And tiny, and everywhere! Guess I won't be missing my sound machine that didn't make the suitcase cut.

Thankfully, things aren't as expensive as I had feared, a dollar more per gallon of gas, coffees a dollar more per and food costs slightly higher. I was expecting Disneyland prices on everything.

The kids kicked each other all night and left their bedroom screaming for mama, so it was determined we definitely needed a pack and play for the 1.5 year old. The island has a rental place for baby gear, Babyquip, however for our stay and needs it didn't make economic sense. We found one on Facebook Marketplace, but the person was on the other side of the island and wouldn't be back before we needed it. So, buying the cheapest one at Walmart it is.

Day 2:
First full day after checking in, our travel companions offered coffee and mimosas (but mine with Malibu, of course.)
Big mistake! I can only go up in the morning, especially after not sleeping. New rule for the trip, no alcohol until afternoon. My vacation mode does not go that hard.
Anyways, Target is the first stop. Diapers, sunscreen (reef safe!) and a lei.
With some time to kill we hit the nearby Kona International market, more coffee, a Lilikoi donut, and exploration. Then, Costco with our travel party for any remaining household essentials.

Finally with a full fridge (and bar), essentials and plans, we got to take a minute to get ready and explore Kona. We parked in the downtown area near Kona Brewing Co. The vibe was perfect. Sunny and warm, but not too hot. The exact warmth I'd prefer to chilly California evenings. We stopped at Kona brewing co for a pint and shirt, and to feel the vibes with the music. The atmosphere was lively, as everyone chatted and enjoyed the live music. We walked around the cluster of shops and restaurants here, under the orange and purple sunset, again a range of shades I've never seen so vividly. Each place surrounded by Tiki torches and hanging vines, had their own live band playing. We stopped at Pauna chocolate, for tasting sipping chocolate, before trekking back with the stroller. With the baby in her own pack and play, I got some good sleep.

Day 3:
Rise and grind! Just some coffee to start, and a Monstera leaf sarong wrap I was so grateful I packed after seeing the beautiful rich green leaves around. We set out to the Kona farmer's market for kids' souvenirs and produce. My son got his shark tooth necklace, and some flower clips small enough for my daughters fine silk hair. I found different fruits to try, variations of lilikoi, rambutan, ice cream bananas (farmer's market lady told me they're 'more creamy'), papayas, a GIGANTIC avocado, and to my disappointment, no Awapuhi, the shampoo flower.

After stocking up, we set out to find a beach to accommodate our travel party and kids. Coordinating travel plans with others in other cars is a PAIN. After an hour of back and forth, we settled on a place next to the coral reef hotel. Small and rocky, it had enough sand for the kids to play in.
With the grands to watch the kids, we charged into the water. This wasn't the best beach for being in in, but I just wanted to feel Hawaiian waters. It was warm, not as warm as Mexico but not jarringly icey like California waters year-round. I went out and decided to try boogie boarding.

Again, not the best spot for it. It was shallow with a large drop off, and ROCKY. Climbing out there I got pushed by a current into a large rock not visible above water, and got my leg stuck. A subsequent current pushed it again while still lodged and OUCH. I found my wave to quickly ride in and did get a few more scrapes and scratches against the rocks (again, not totally visible.) We chilled there until a few raindrops turned in to more of a downpour

Once we decided to pack it up, we hit island lava java for a quick coffee while the kids napped. They built sand castles and dug the water (in both senses), and we reset. We parked up in the Coconut Grove shopping center lot and let them rest while we sipped. I had sunscreen washed into my eyes so it was good the kids slept while I took the time to clean them out and wash all remaining SPF off my face. My eyes red and burning still (reef safe is NO joke!), I decided I needed some visine to clean out the sunscreen and headed into the ABC store.
They had all the essentials, cheap souvenirs and necessities. By then my son had to go to the bathroom and we discovered something common in Hawaii is a single restroom for a shopping center or strip mall with a code or some cases a key. In general, you can find someone coming out or nearby to get the code from.

Now with rested kids, we sought some Shave Ice for them and stopped at Gecko girls. We sat at a bench near the volleyball court and they made a giant mess of their icy sugar. People played volleyball in the sand and strolled near the ocean. It was so peaceful and great.

Day 4:
We popped by a playground I had read about, Kamekana playground and park. A giant whale to climb on emerges as you enter the swings area, and a long spongey blacktop path leads you to wooden castle-like play equipment. The kids laughed as they climbed and slid down. They discovered the zipline, teeter-totter, music makers and toddler area with a sand box and smaller swings. We killed a good two hours here and texted our travel companions about it and soon they met us with their kids. Now, with kids who had all their energy.

Wooden play structures, whale climbing structures, teeter totters and sandboxes this playgroun was huge and fun. We could've stayed here for hours!

Next we headed to the Ali'i Gardens Marketplace. This one offered nice shade and permanent stands. The sellers were SO friendly here! Immediately they had me trying all different iced teas and macademia nut brittle. I bought my favorite of the teas (black passion). We then went looking at clothes, got a cute parrot dress for my daughter and turtles with surfboards matching set for my son. And of course an American flag tie for my husband. We perused the variety of handmade clothing and objects the rest of this marketplace offered.

We thought the kids might nap after this but nope. Off to lunch, we went to Humpy's Alehouse. We had the perfect beach view and corner table for wild kids. It was sunny and warm, just after the lunch rush but perfect timing for some drinks, appetizers, and kids' meals.

We thought the kids might nap after this but nope. Off to lunch, we went to Humpy's Alehouse. We had the perfect beach view and corner table for wild kids. It was sunny and warm, just after the lunch rush but perfect timing for some drinks, appetizers, and kids' meacls. so we changed around our photo plans.

Back at the house, we put the kids down for their naps (finally!) And got some hot tub time in. We all kept the buzz rolling, eventually the guys got out and it was just moms time with drinks. The heat and sugary alcohol had me gonnnnnee, and we learned that my MIL was still planning on going to dinner.

A quick touch up and we went to Pancho and Lefty's. I was skeptical, being a Mexican food snob Cali girl but it was great! Everyone loved their food and we had fun.

Day 5: I got more goood sleep and by some miracle, no hangover. I credit all the water I've been downing all trip.

My husband and FIL's favorite team had their playoff game so we were happy to ease in to the day watching football and hanging around. We had our luau planned that night so we didn't want to get done up twice.

Once it was clear the kids wouldn't nap, we decided to get coffee and try for a car nap. I had read about Kona Coffee and Tea so that's where we headed and it was AMAZING. They use 100% Kona coffee and espresso in all their drinks. It tastes strong, smooth, full-bodied and DELICIOUS. And effective.

We got luau ready, including the kids. We attended the Island Breeze luau, at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel.

This was our first luau, but we very much enjoyed it. I would recommend arriving an hour before the show time as they have pictures, lawn games, dancing lessons, and polynesian style "tattoos." We arrived maybe 30 minutes to show time based around our kids' naps, so we didn't get to participate in all of the activities just took our pictures and got seated.

The food was good, I enjoyed the pork and chicken, and some sides. My husband said the seafood and poke was good. The drinks were okay, well drinks and beer. It was more drink as much as you can while its open and "free", mainly just mai tais no blue Hawaiians or chichis or pina coladas or anything. My favorite part was the dessert table! Every dessert was plated on a grab plate. The Haupia was AMAZING.

My daughter absolutely loved the show, which I expected her to be melting down. She loved the dancers, the movement and variation. The moving costumes were thrilling for her, and the fire held her attention. The dances focused on different polynesian islands and cultures. She smiled and laughed and clapped along. My son enjoyed the fire, but he had had too much sun that day and was beat.

The luau is situated next to the hotel's "private" beach, which is a great spot but open to the public. Hawaiian law mandates that all beaches must be public access, which is awesome. We made a note to come back to this spot.

Day 6
Per the reccomendation of someone we met at the luau, we set out to Hapuna Beach State Recreation area.

This was the perfect spot for an entire beach day. The sand was soft and white, not overly crowded, and a good (safe!) spot for boogie boarding. We had a ton of fun in the water while the kids built sandcastles. There wasn't the risk of riptides and going too far like we were used to at home, and we boogie boarded some good waves! We were also treated to a splashing and breaching whale just past the surf area. It was magical! And quite the show the whale put on.

As it began to rain near 3 we packed up. We noticed we were 10 miles from Wimea so we decided to drive up there while the kids napped. I placed a to go order for McDonald's coffee and haupia pie which I was dying to try.
We cruised through the main road of Waimea, and admired all the farms, shops, and schools. We headed back through the middle of the island which was a beautiful drive. A lot of volcanoes nearby, murals, and artsy buildings.

While it was a lovely drive, we were soaked and sandy and headed back for showers and baths before calling it a day.

What the middle of the big island looks like.

Day 7

We had family photos scheduled for the evening, so we decided to go and see rainbow falls. We dressed for a hike, but the staircase was closed off and we parked 20 feet from the falls itself.

We got some good family pictures and let the kids run around on the grass after the long drive to Hilo. We also got a fun tip from a tour guide at the falls which is to stare at the crossing of the waterfall streams for 15 seconds, then look up at the plants and cliff and it looks like it's moving!

Hilo has the cheapest gas on the island so we made sure to fill up here. With wild kids in tow, we hit the Mokupapapa discovery center less than 15 minutes from the waterfall. It was a fun interactive center, with a large fish tank, coloring pages , interactive screens, and hands on activities for the kids, such as the polynesian canoes. The highlight for them was the hand stamp as we left, my son chose a Maui hook and daughter got a cute floral turtle.

We stayed parked where we were as it was a slow day. We walked own the street adjacent to the beach, dipping into shops as they opened. This is a good spot for thrift stores if you're into that which I and my SIL absolutely are. The shops feature a unique mix of Hawaiian apparel and souvenirs among the standard thrift store finds. Beware though, there are SERIOUS vintage Hawaiian shirt scourers here. We arrivedshortly after opening and I was nearly shoved by a man who blew past me on an aisle as he made a beline to the Hawaiian men's shirts. I assume he's a reseller, and apparently there's a few regulars who arrive right at opening for new shirts put out.

The architecture and layout of Hilo reminds me so much of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

We strolled down the street until the kids begain to ask for lunch. The guys wanted Poke, so we found a spot that turned out to be THE BEST. If in Hilo this lunch stand is a must go. It doesn't have a name except for Hilo Farmer's Market. It's a yellow building in the middle of the market. If you walk through the produce stalls that are filled the whole week (not just on wednesday and saturdays, the big market days.), go past the end and you'll see a yellow building. One half is a walkup counter for coffee and shave ice. Next to it is an indoor counter that serves EVERYTHING. If you are traveling with kids, or picky eaters, or people who love and won't touch seafood (ahem me,) this is the spot. Inside they have build your own plates with sides. They have different types of poke, authentic Hawaiian food, sides, main options, and things for kids. In one transaction we got chicken strips for the kids, a plate with two kinds of poke and two authentic sides for the guys, and I got a loco moco which turned out to be THE BEST THING I ate in Hawaii. I got the crispy pork lechon which my Fillipina friends always rave about. atop a loco moco consisting of rice, gravy, and a fried egg. It was heavenly. My husband said it was the best poke he had on our trip.

Better still there are benches outside and I sat with the kids while everyone ordered. I also got a coffee made with locally sourced ingredients like honey, vanilla, and cinammon. It was perfect.

We meandered back through the market stopping for a coconut, expertly prepped and cut open by a vendor. A shop I passed with a Spam shirt in the window was now opened. The shop was a mix of secondhand and standard licensed and knock-off clothing. We chatted with the owners, bartered and I left with my desired Spam shirt from the mannequin and a necklace.

The drive home through the middle of the island was long but beautiful still.

We quickly got changed into (and by we I mean me prepping the kids' outfits, hair, and snacks.) to get ready for photos. We met our photographer in the Target parking lot and he lead us to several locations for pictures. Ultimately we ended up at the old airport. There were quite a few tidepools there and it was the perfect beach for sunset photos. The sunset was bright and firey that particular evening. Behind the mountains was a rainbow as the sun lowered. The kids did well for the first half, and then my daughter stepped in dog poop left by one of the dogs someone had roaming the beach. Everything then quite literally went to shit.

We calmed her down enough for a few more photos and then let the kids play in the tidepools.

We left and thanked our photographer, as he settled on to his tailgate with a drink to watch the sun set. What a fun life! He echoed the reomendation of several others of Willie's Hot Chicken.

That evening however, at the decision of my MIL we ended up at Quinn's almost by the sea. The wait was slotted to be an hour even with our reservation.

The kids COULD NOT hang by this point. Melting down, hungry and so overtired that line was pure hell. We finally got seated, speed ordered and left as quickly as we could. The food and drinks were good, prices about what I'd expect to pay in California too. But it was a difficult experience.

Day 8:

With more time, we decided to go back to Hilo on the full (wednesday) farmers market day.

We planned our routes with our travel companions again. We decided to head up through the middle of the island to the northern tip, through Waimea to see the Waip'o valley lookout, then head east down to Hilo.

The drive was fun to see once again the artsy buildings as you head into Waimea. It was a beautiful sunny day perfect for these sights.

The Waip'o valley lookout is a stunning sight and a must see. Since it was clear, we could see Maui from the lookout point. We also saw the beautiful waterfalls very brightly. Due to construction, the bottom of the lookout is only accsessible to 4WD vehicles, which we didn't have. The pedestrian road is closed. So we opted for just photos and to let the kids run around the grassy area after a long drive. They also have bathrooms on site which is a must with littles.

Can you spot Maui?

We headed back to the car to a fruit stand we passed coming in. The Waipio valley fruitshack is a must stop if headed out this way. It is beautiful and colorful, with lawn games, tables, dogs, and nature for the kids. We chatted with the girl working after buying our sugarcane juices (they also sell pretty Instagrammabale fruit bowls but were a little out of our price range), and she told us there were butterfly coccoons under the tables. That was fun for the kids to see and learn about. We also enjoyed being greeted by the dogs that live on the property. The kids got to get more energy out and relaxed on the hammocks.


Ginger lime sugarcane juice

One of many butterfly coccoons under the benches at the fruitshack.

We then set out for our drive back to Hilo. This was a rough one with kids due to all the construction and traffic. Several stretches were one lane or alternating lanes of traffic with flaggers. There were some shops at first but then nothing and we ended up having to pull over to a port a potty.

We finally reached Hilo again, and on Wednesday parking was a bit harder to find. Not impossible though, and there were 60% more vendors as there were the previous day. We decided to hit the same lunch shack as the day prior because there was something for everyone there.

The part of the farmer's market was completely filled with many more vendors on variety on the Wednesday farmer's market day vs the Tuesday prior.

This time we finished with the shave ice there which I can declare as the best on the island. We got a fresh strawberry puree flavor shave ice topped with Haupia cream and Lilikoi butter. Lilikoi butter became my new obsession and if you want real natural flavors this is the best place to get it. Avoid the syrups and artificial ones and get it here!

Our next destination was the Hilo zoo and botanical garden. This is a must stop with kids, as it is free (donation based), and the only zoo in the world in a natural rainforest. The tigers were the highlight here, as were the scores of free roaming birds (like chickens and peacocks). The playground was really nice too, and provided lots of self-entertaining for the kids.

We stayed until closing which is at 4 pm then left Hilo.

There was some rain that steadly increased as we headed south on the eastern part of the island. I would have loved to drive through the volcanoes at this point but the amount of rain made it seem highly unsafe.

We made it through the rain as we arrived at the Black Sand Beach. I was floored at how black the sand really is! It's like dark black shiny crystals crushed fine. It feels a little coarse on your feet but nothing in the world is quite like it.

The tidepools were cool here but the turtles were the raddest part! The sun began to set and they were content to just chill in their protected area. People must remain 20 feet away from the Honu, but it was a trip to see! There's also a nice little t-shirt shack here, and coconut shack.

It was the perfect final stop for our long driving day before heading back to Kailua-Kona.

The drive back took us through some seedy areas and some fun to see like Captain cook. Very hippy-ish and I made a note to stop at Tie Dye Hobo should we make our way back through.

Day 9

All of us were feeling burnt out from the drive the day before. We decided to take it easy and meet at a beach again.

We got an early start ahead of our group and hit one last place on my list, Thunder Mountain Coffee. As a coffee fiend and Kona coffee lover, this was high on my Pinterest board and to-do list. We were greeted by the tour guide who told us we could pay 10 dollars to self-guided explore the property with some waivers signed, or wait for a free tour. He invited us to taste the coffee, look around, and enjoy. I took my son while my husband stayed with our sleeping daughter in the car. I tried some coffee and it was both rich and smooth and full bodied. We sat under the awning of vines and watched the film of how it's made. When my daughter woke they joined us, we started the tour of the plant and acility all together, then they three went back to the car, then I left for some quick gift shop souvenirs. I got the Vienese Kona coffee, a magnet and a jar of my new addiction Lilikoi butter.

We then headed once again to the Reef hotel beach for some water and sand play.

We met a local with a kid the same age as our son, chatted, got some reccomendations. I was surprised by how many former Californians reside here, and how locals or now locals offer up their life story so quickly.

We then went back to the house for naps, a final dip in the hot tub, and a last family dinner in the house with our travel group.

Last Full Day, Day 10:

We had made loose plans with our travel companions to get tattoos on this trip. I had mentioned pre tattoo discussion about my little monstera leaf after being floored by their size and beauty here. But I also wanted a subtle tribute to the baby I miscarried and the two who got to come to Hawaii. I stared off the balcony at the rolling sea with tears streaming down my face at this thought. Two babies who got to be here, one who didn't. If the first one had, these two wouldn't exist as exactly who they are. I couldn't imagine that either. I picked up my notebook and sketched out half a monstera (because I remembered I can't draw for shit and could not get the second side to mirror the first) and two little atomic starbursts, then a third starburst and erased it. The tiny remnant of it still showed on the page, even as it faded I still knew it was there, and the little mark forever there.

The other family made plans, my husband wanted his bicep mermaid (he's been planning for 4+ years now. Before our discussion I had Googled tattoo shops near me and found the first one I was drawn to: Ancient Mariner Tattoo.

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is one of those pieces of literature that stuck with me from English class in high school and revisited again as an English major in college. Quotes from it stick out the way random tidbits of knowledge do like "the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell" or the quadratic formula song. In fact, I just quoted it a few weeks prior when we had a pipe burst and house flood and subsequently water turned off for repairs. "Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink."

My SIL told me they had gone to make appointments with a different shop for our last day. She mentioned I could send her ideas and she'd send it to her guy. After some more attempts at sketching, and the inability to connect my pencil to my brain, I turned to searching online. I found pictures to cut and paste in Snapchat to make and place where I wanted it. I found my beloved colors (avocado green and harvest gold, just like a 70's kitchen catalog.) And sent it over. We were at the beach one last day all together as a group before desired tattoo day. She told me the guy said he doesn't do white ink and he's out of gold yellow. I felt dumb for asking. Yes, on the surface it seems like this "basic white girl goes on vacation and wants to remember it" but to me it had meaning and fit my vibe, life, and decor at home too. They went off to their appointments elsewhere and we spent the day apart, and I figured I wouldn't be getting any ink on the island.

We began the day snorkeling at Kahalu'u Beach Park, where they have guides teach you about the fish and sea life you'll encounter just a few steps and short swim in the water. They highly advertise reef safe sunscreen as there are baby coral colonies in this area. We chatted with a guide, saw pictures on her chart of the fish we'd see. I went out first to scope it out. We then had the kids join us in the shallow water, and tons of fish swam around. It was thrilling for both kids to see, they loved it! This was an absolute trip highlight.

Kahalu'u Beach Park

After about an hour exploring in the water, we left to meet up with our group. The kids fell asleep however so we headed to Walmart for last souvenirs.

We went back to the reef hotel beach to play in the water and sand before heading back to the house for a longer nap. The kids slept, we got ready for the night.

Our last night in Hawaii, we went to Willie's Hot Chicken per the reccomendation of SO many locals. We got there ahead of the dinner rush, and it was just before the Friday night crowds. It was delicious! We got strips, pieces, sides and sauces all of varying levels of spice. Definitely reccomend! As we left the band at the cluster of restaurants showed up. We listened to the live music while the kids danced. There were several other young families doing the same. It was the best closer to the week.

There was one last area of shops I wanted to checkout as I procrastinated packing. It was near the first tattoo shop I had found on Google but I had no time to look at any artists or work save for a quick Instagram scroll through the shop page and their website and saw the words "washed up skateboarder," and instantly felt more at ease.

Approaching the shop with two kids in tow I was nervous again. I expected to get laughed out of the shop for my request and the fact that it was so late in the evening.

They were so nice! People both hanging out and working, the vibe was very approachable. Skater vibes for sure and I felt right at home, it brought me back to childhood in the late 90's/ early 2000's at Skatelab in SoCal. Down to earth people are a rare breed, and here they were. We briefly chatted about ideas, how we were leaving in the morning and they offered to take me as a walk in when they were finished. I was stoked! Mama gets to do something for herself at the end of the trip.

We walked around the area of shops until it was time to come back, by now my son begging for a tattoo too. He finally agreed that he could when he was eighteen.

I returned, briefly with the kids and sent them with my husband. I explained what I wanted, and got the full spiel of the issues with white ink and the fading, gold not showing up and colors not lasting as long, and if I didn't want a black outline for my leaf it would melt and fade. The explanation was just factual and the reasons why. I wasn't condescended at all, and I still got to opt for what I want in spite of the way it would age.

I explained, showed inspo shapes and within a few minutes he had the exact image in my head on his ipad. I was floored!

We chatted throughout, and before I knew it it was done! He did mention he was fast, and it really was quick. It was larger than my ankle tattoo, and more painful than I remember but it went fast.

Just know, cash only, which is pretty standard but something I spaced on.

I was worried about how it would be with traveling, holding kids for hours and lugging all our crap through the airport. But not being able to get it wet and all our activities being water based today was IT. It burned like a sunburn after, and plasma made my shirt stick. Nonetheless I packed our things and finally washed and tried to recall the aftercare.

Last Day:

Sad to leave Hawaii. I felt such a pull to this island and wasn't ready to go back. (Or brave flying, let alone with toddlers once again). I knew this land and everything in it doesn't belong to me. But I THRIVE here. My skin feels soft, my hair so much softer from the water. I laughed at the jackets I brought for all of us. In CA, the evening fog rolls in and we all freeze! Temperatures have about a 30 degree range morning to noon to night. Here, evenings are maybe 5 degrees lower and balmy. Feeling good and warm is where it's at. The unique beaches and rock formations and wildlife are stunning. Time passes differently here.

I completed a good portion of what I had hoped to do here. Still on the list for next time, Green Sand Beach, Volcanoes national Park (and those hikes), Stargazing, and Lava tube exploring. These failed to make the cut due to kids and weather. Not wanting to take the trucks down to Green Sand we'd have to walk and lugging kids for the trek and ladder would be too much.

I decided when they're 5 and 7 and can walk on their own we'll be back. The same reason for not doing some of the waterfall hikes, lava tubes and volcano climbs. Overall, we got a good mix in of laid back beach days and sand play for the kids, scenic drives and experiences, and treats and drinks galore. I wouldn't change anything, though. As much as my soul longs to stargaze atop Mauna Kea and run Olivine through my hands, the rain limited our ability to safely cruise. We need more time and if we wake up to sunny weather, we'll be prepared to just go.

Until next time, Aloha.


Traffic! Espeially on the Kamehameha highway, it can get backed up. If you are trying to turn, you are at the mercy of one of the many benevolent locals to let you. They'll flash their lights or wave for you to go, and I was so grateful each time. Mornings and afternoons get especially crazy, so plan on your main getaway and travel before and after those times. If going to the northern part of the island between Waimea and Hilo, be prepared for a lot of road construction, single lane roads and flaggers.

Rain! Everything doesn't get so lush and green here without lots of water! Nearly a daily occurence while we were there (and not in peak rainy season either), it's part of island life. We started lunch one day sunny and beachside and left in a complete downpour! If it's light everyone just carries on at the beach and with what they are doing. If it's heavier, some people are sent running back to rooms and covering their heads. We only experienced a little thunder with the brief storms.

We are in their home but damn if their home isn't everywhere here! Our first encounter was in the rental car day 2. We brought our own carseats which had plenty of cheerios and goldfish crumbs in the crevices despite being on the plane. They swarmed the backseat of the rental and the carseats. They also found their way into the VRBO, and we learned nothing can be out.

I got bit up by something on the trip, I assumed mosquitos at first but instead of being single raised bites, they were lines of multiple bites that were red, flat, and itched like crazy. My feet and legs were COVERED as well as a few on my back. My best guess is sand flies, Google searches told me bed bugs which thankfully hasn't been an issue, or it could be mosquitos. Word of advice is to wear OFF or citronella bracelets at all times (which we did, so either the beach or bed are the only possiblities.)

Rental Car Scam!
They are eager to charge you here for anything. We returned our car with the ten days worth of sand in the back seat and trunk. We brushed out what we could, but we got charged 480 dollars for the cleaning fee due to "excessive sand." It is worth running through a carwash and vaccuum, please please learn from our mistake! Kids are messy. Showers weren't a thing at many of the beaches we went to.

Traveling with others!
All in all this went pretty smoothly! I expected more bumps than we had and I am grateful for that. It's hard to coordinate meeting up together when coming from all different places, but we did manage. We have all different parenting styles and planning, but it was always okay in the end. For example, living on the coast, beach days look very different for us. Our family who lives more centrally doesn't go as often to the ocean and when they do it's a different vibe. For me, I lose my mind packing every piece of gear and over planning to drag it all down to the beach and let it sit there. I don't use beach chairs like they do, because if I'm not in the water I'm chasing kids or digging in the sand with them. I get ADHD antsy just wasting time in the mornings for the kids to break down instead of GETTING OUT THERE. But I digress. We had a great time and good communication.

Flying with kids! 1.5 is a rough age to fly. Never will I do it again, but the flight attendants were SO kind and gracious. Shout out again to the Hawaiian Airlines flight attendants. My 3 year old was a champ, and that would be the minimum age I would take a kid on a plane longer than an hour.

They filled our waters and water bottles over ten times! So kind through my screaming child. When we were able to walk around they gave us extra rum punch in the Galley, juice, ice, and cups for my daughter to keep her appy. Truly above and beyond on top of all the Hawaiian perks.

Can't miss:

Black sand beach
Hilo Farmer's market lunch stand
Hapuna state recreation area
Kona coffee and tea
Old Kona airport tidepools
Waip'o valley lookout and fruit shack
Willie's Hot Chicken, live music, shops in the area.
Kamakana Playground (if traveling with kids.)
And if it's your thing, Ancient Mariner Tattoo.

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