Trip Date 05/01/2010
Posted On 03/18/2019 17:38:01
Destinations | Cruises | Hawaii | Golden Princess | Hilo | The Big Island | Self-Guided Hawaii Travel | DIY Travel | Hilo Road Trip
A few years back, we took a cruise aboard the Golden Princess from California to Hawaii and back with members of both of our families. The cruise was a dream cruise for Stacy's mom, and we chose it to celebrate her 75th birthday. As we had previously been to Hawaii, we decided to do self-guided island tours where Stacy and I would be "tour guides".
If you are considering visiting the Hawaiian islands by cruise ship, this is the first of four posts that will help you make a plan. There are so many places to see on all of the Hawaiian islands that it can be hard to choose and a bit overwhelming to plan. Our first port was at Hilo on The Big Island. With the limited time in port, here's a variety of sites that you'll have the time to visit ... and the planning is already done for you!
Port of Hilo, Big IslandWe rented a car for our driving tour around The Big Island from Discount Hawaii Car Rental. The website offers great prices and is super convenient for cruise ship passengers in the Hawaiian Islands. They have a variety of cars for different size groups - we had a group of 5 traveling together so we wanted a car big enough for everyone to be comfortable. When we arrived at the cruise port, we picked up our car right near the docks, got everyone loaded and we were off to explore.
Volcanoes National ParkThe Goddess Pele has been busy! After being closed between May 11 and September 21, 2018 due to volcanic activity, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is again open for visitors. Although the drive from Hilo to the park entrance takes about 1 1/4 hours, the park is one of the most important attractions on the island. (It's a great start to your day as the remaining recommended stops are all nearer to the port.) Plan to spend at least an additional 1 1/2 hours driving from the park entrance through the park and to the exit.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park displays the results of 70 million years of volcanism, migration and evolution. These processes thrust a bare land from the sea and clothed it with unique ecosystems and a distinct human culture. In addition to highlighting two of the world's most active volcanoes, the park offers insights into the birth of the Hawaiian Islands. All of this combined with awesome views of dramatic volcanic landscapes make Hawaii Volcanoes National Park a must visit during any trip to the Big Island.
With limited time to devote to the park, explore the summit of Kilauea Volcano via Crater Rim Drive. The drive is an 11 mile road that circles the summit caldera, passes through both desert and lush tropical rain forest and traverses the caldera floor. Along the route, you'll find access to well-marked scenic stops and some short walks.
If you can make each of your stops rather quick ones so that you have time to both explore the park and see some other sites on the island, you should have time to see all that we saw during our visit to the national park:
- Kilauea Visitor Center should be your first stop as you can find out about any activities scheduled during your visit;
- drive the Crater Rim Drive Tour making quick photo stops at the viewpoints; and
- drive the scenic Chain of Craters Road as far as Kealakomo Overlook before turning around.
Field of Lava in Layers
Unfortunately, both Jagger Museum and the Thurstan Lava Tube are currently closed.
Our most recent visit was prior to this eruption, and updates are regularly posted to the national park website. Be sure to research closures within the park as you are planning your visit and again just before heading to Hawaii so that you have the most up to date information.
Richardson's Ocean Park (Black Sand Beach)There is nothing more intriguing than a visit to the Richardson's Black Sand Beach when you visit the Big Island. Plan to spend about 30 minutes enjoying the views of the black sand beaches while having a picnic lunch (or snack) in the park.
Richardson's Beach Park (also known as Richardson's Ocean Park) is the closest black sand beach to the town of Hilo. Black sand touches the water underneath a blanket of shade provided by the surrounding trees. The park is very picturesque so prepare to be captivated by the breathtaking views, waterfalls and gentle sea turtles that feed only a few feet from the shore.
Richardson Black Sand Beach
When you arrive, you'll walk along a short path through fish ponds built by the native Hawaiians hundreds of years ago. You'll see palm trees, mangroves and other tropical greenery. Once you get to the water, you'll have a great view in front of you. Across the blue green water, you can even see north Hilo and the side of Mauna Kea Mountain over it.
Richardson's offers picnic areas, bathrooms, showers and a lifeguard stand. The beach and swimming area are protected by a natural lava rock breakwater making it safe for small children to swim and explore. If you have more time, the snorkeling here is superb due largely in part to its vast diversity of marine wildlife, including honu (green sea turtles).
Wailoa State ParkAcross the street from Bay Front Park you'll find a wide open green area called Wailoa State Park. Plan to spend just a few minutes at the park so that you can see the statue of King Kamehameha who was the founder of the Kingdom of Hawaii in the late 1700s.
King Kamehameha, Hilo
Waiale FallsWaiale Falls (or Wai'ale Falls) is a beautiful but not so well known two-tier waterfall. The double decker falls are located upstream from Pe'epe'e Falls and the very popular Rainbow Falls. Be sure to check out the differences between the lower tier of the falls and the upper tier. The lower tier appears to have a man-made wall over which the falls flow.
Rainbow FallsYou'll definitely want to have your camera as Rainbow Falls is a ready-made post card setting. Located near downtown Hilo, you'll find a large parking lot and viewing area for the very popular 80 foot tall waterfall which drops over an ancient cave. Make sure to check out the point where the cascade hits the water far below. That's where it's common for the mist from the falls to throw a prism of rainbows into the air.
Rainbow Falls near Hilo Scott and Stacy at Rainbow Falls
The falls can be viewed from the parking lot level or, those who have the time and energy can climb a series of slippery steps to view the falls from above.
Boiling PotsA couple of miles up-river, you'll find a small parking lot where you can stop and view Pe'epe'e Falls and the Boiling Pots. You'll notice that the water from Pe'epe'e Falls "falls" into a particularly rough area of the river. The water then enters an area of rapids referred to as the Boiling Pots since it appears to bubble up or boil as it makes it way downstream. This occurs when the water is actually rushing through old lava rocks and lava tubes.
Old Mamalohoa Scenic DriveKnown as the "old road" around the island, Old Mamalohoa Scenic Drive goes from Honoka'a to Waimea. This 4 mile very scenic drive along the coast is a must do drive - just for the sheer beauty that exists in these few short miles. Twisting and snaking through a lush tropical rain forest lined with streams, the change in scenery is dramatic going from the lava caves and pasture land of Waimea to the lush, tropical rain forests of Honoka'a.
Join the Old Mamalohoa Highway near Papaikou just north of Hilo. As you drive north, you'll pass the Onomea Bay Trail and the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. There are several stops along the short drive which allow for breathtaking views of the ocean, coast and the collapsed Onomea Arch. An interesting and short hike down the old donkey trail to the ocean provides you with more stunning photographic and scenic opportunities.
What's ShakinBe on the lookout for What's Shakin, the cheerful yellow and white plantation-style wooden house with a green roof. You'll spot the building about two miles north of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. Many of the bananas and papayas from the 20-acre farm of Patsy and Tim Withers end up here in fresh-fruit smoothies. One of our favorites is the Papaya Paradise, an ambrosia like blend of pineapples, coconuts, papayas and bananas. You deserve a stop at this place - it's awesome!
Enjoy a Smoothie at What's Shakin
Akaka FallsThe short 20 minute drive to the north of Hilo takes you through the Big Island's old sugar-cane fields while in route to Akaka Falls State Park. Once at the park, take the self-guided 0.4 mile hike through dense tropical vegetation to see the two towering Hawaiian waterfalls. The half-hour hike is along a shady paved path filled with fragrant tropical flowers and vines. There are plenty of photo opportunities during this hike through nature which takes you over cascading miniature waterfalls. Along the way, you'll walk through a fertile, damp forest where you'll see huge ferns and bamboo towering above you. Looking down, you'll find streams flowing beneath the many foot bridges.
We recommend that you first visit Kahuna Falls which, at 400 feet, is the lesser of the two waterfalls. This amazing waterfall will only whet your appetite for the majestic Akaka Falls, which drops 442 feet into a pool of water below.
Port of HiloIt goes without saying that you need to closely monitor your timing so that you don't miss your all aboard time. As written, the drive is designed so that your stop which is the furthest distance from the port will be completed early in the day. Each of the remaining points of interest are all closer to your ship. If you think you are running low on time, prioritize the remaining stops so that you can visit those most appealing to you. Of course, make sure to allow enough time to fill your tank with fuel, check-in your car (there may be a line of others on the same schedule) and walk back to the ship.
Honolulu, HawaiiDon't miss our next fun-filled self-guided shore excursion, the second in the series - this time on the island of Oahu. Titled Honolulu, Hawaii: Tour of 4 Hawaiian Islands by Cruise Ship (Part 2), you'll find a driving route plus an optional evening event should your ship be docked for an extra long day.
Hilo, HawaiiWhat are your favorite "must see" attractions on Hawaii's Big Island, and why do they rank as the best on your list?
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