Our trip to the Big Island of Hawaii

In case you missed last week’s post, we recently spent a week on the Big Island of Hawaii and it was pretty much amazing. We had booked the trip months ago, soon after I started a new job that was a bit more stressful than I'd anticipated, and to be honest, the thought of a relaxing week at the beach got me through some pretty rough weeks. Of course, a week before we were due to leave, the governor of Hawaii issued a plea for tourists to stay home until later in the fall due to rising Covid rates and full hospitals; after some thorough investigation and a pledge to spend as much time outdoors as possible, we decided to go anyway. (We were far from alone, by the way.) Here’s what we did on our blissful trip to the Big Island.


What to do

I’ve found that most people are either beach people or pool people, and while I enjoy both, I almost always go for the beach. Thankfully the Big Island has some of the most beautiful beaches in the state of Hawaii, and there are so many options, you could go to a different one every day for a month. We focused on the beaches closer to our hotel and our hands-down favorite was Mauna Kea, which has a big, wide, sandy beach and very clear water with amazing snorkeling to the south. What’s nice about Mauna Kea is that there’s very limited parking, so as long as you get there early and score a spot, the beach doesn’t get at all crowded. We also enjoyed the vibe at Beach 69 (also known as Wailea Beach), which has a lot of shady spots and excellent snorkeling. Your parking pass at Wailea also gets you into Hapuna Beach, which is incredibly picturesque yet has little shade and got rather crowded when we were there, complete with helicopters repeatedly reminding people that outdoor gatherings were limited to 25 people. It’s always fun to hit a black sand beach in Hawaii, and 49 Beach, which was super close to our hotel, had excellent snorkeling. Just make sure you go in the morning, because the sand gets super hot by midday. And speaking of snorkeling, Kikaua Beach had the best by far—we saw not one but two turtles, and we stayed in the water so long, our backs got sunburned. We also went to Anaeho’omalu Beach, which I’ve heard is best at sunset (we were there much earlier) and appeared to be very popular with locals.

While there is plenty to do on the west side of the Big Island, where most tourists tend to stay, there is a lot to see on the Hilo side, so we took a day trip across the island. It rains 270 days a year in Hilo, so it’s much more lush and tropical over there. (We lucked out with a perfectly sunny day, which was fine with us.) Lots of rainfall translates into lots of waterfalls, and there are many to see: Rainbow Falls is the most impressive; Pe’epe’e Falls is where I got attacked by bugs (to be fair, I was leaning up against a palm tree, which I would not recommend); and I think we saw Wai’ale Falls from the road. Hilo has a cute downtown area and some gorgeous old Banyan trees, both of which are worth checking out.

Just outside of Hilo is the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden, which was planted in the late 1970s by a couple from San Francisco (!) and well worth a stop. There are all manner of exotic plants, palm trees, ferns, and orchids, plus some amazing ocean views. Keep driving west and you’ll hit Akaka Falls, which was by far my favorite waterfall of the trip—you need to take a fairly easy half-mile hike to see it, but it’s totally worth it. And while you’re up in that corner of the island, make sure you stop by the Waipio Valley lookout—you can also tour the area by horseback (!) and see all of the wild horses (!!) up close, but alas, we’ll have to save that for another trip.

Where to eat

I live in a very expensive city and am used to pricey meals but dear god did we spend a lot of money on food on this trip. Thankfully we had breakfast included at our hotel, but whew, those $28 fish tacos and daily sunset mai tais really add up. That said, with a few notable exceptions, we ate really well on this trip. Our best meal was at Canoehouse at the Mauna Lani Auberge hotel (more on that later), and we enjoyed their poolside Ha Bar several times as well. We also had lovely experiences at Napua, Brown’s Beach House, and Residents’ Beach House. There’s also a Tommy Bahama restaurant in the Mauna Lani resort area; the food was surprisingly good, but the atmosphere was a bit rowdy—I’d recommend asking for a table outdoors like we did.

On our Hilo day, we ate at Café Pesto, which came highly recommended by our neighbor, who’s a Big Island native. I had the best crab cakes I’ve ever had in my life! On our way back from Hilo, we stopped in Waimea and after striking out without a reservation at Merriman’s, ended up at Moa Kitchen (recommend by the Merriman’s hostess), which was a pleasant surprise—the sushi was incredibly fresh and innovative, and this one one of our more affordable meals of the trip. I should also note, these were the only two places where we ate indoors on the entire trip.

Lava Lava Beach Club was recommended to us by multiple people, and we were finally able to get in on our last night, on our way to the airport. The atmosphere is lively, the drinks are STRONG, and it’s a great place to watch the sunset. The food kind of seems like an afterthought, so I’d recommend coming just for drinks.

Where to stay

We stayed at the Fairmont Orchid, which is one of a handful of five-star hotels on the Big Island, and a big factor in our choice was because Sean had enough Amex points to cover it. The grounds are lovely and well-landscaped; there’s a huge pool and a private beach where you can kayak or snorkel (we saw a turtle on our first day); and there are a bunch of different restaurants to choose from. We enjoyed massages at the Spa Without Walls, as well as free canoe ride (like the boat from The White Lotus), and one nice perk is that there’s a free shuttle that will take you to any restaurant in the Mauna Lani resort area for dinner. The service was really great—all of the hotel workers were warm and friendly, and we did not get the impression that the hotel was short-staffed—and we felt good about the Fairmont’s safety measures, such as requiring masks indoors and allowing only one Ohana (or family) at a time in the elevators. Our room felt clean (we had maid service daily), the bed was comfy, and I’m always a big fan of the Fairmont’s Le Labo toiletries.

One personal pet peeve to note: there was an upcharge for certain things, like a beach chair with an umbrella or a pool chair under an awning (they called it a cabana but literally it was an awning), or if you wanted to use any of the water sports equipment at the beach, which was ridiculously expensive ($20 an hour for fins!). I hate feeling nickel-and-dimed, especially at a luxury hotel. The other thing is that while the Fairmont is obviously a nice hotel, it could probably use a little updating, a sentiment that became more pronounced after we visited the insanely gorgeous Auberge resort next door. It just had a $200 million renovation and felt way more modern, from the food at their restaurants to the nice touches like free sunscreen at the pool. We had a lovely stay at the Fairmont, but if given the choice I’d go for the Auberge, hands down.

Also, just to note, you need to register with the Hawaii Safe Travels website in order to enter the state (our airline did not check our information ahead of time); once you complete the health questionnaire within 24 hours of arrival, you get a QR code that you’ll need to show when you arrive at the airport, at the car rental, and at your hotel. We weren’t asked to show it at any restaurants but we also ate outside most of the time. Again, most people I saw were following the masking and social distancing rules (except for the guy who was escorted off our return flight by police!). As long as conditions continue to improve, I highly recommend taking a trip to the Big Island—it truly is paradise!


Heather Noire said...

This place looks amazing. I just love the photos you shared. And that food looks so delicious. What a perfect spot to enjoy a nice holiday and unwind.

Lovely said...

What beautiful scenery! This place is a beauty! Love your pictures and you look fab in the white and gold dress.

Nancy 's Fashion Style said...

It looks so gorgeous there, the beach , the food! Fabulous Cheryl!

Laura B said...

Your trip looks like it was an amazing time! All of your photos are so beautiful! I love that last white dress on you too!

Carrie @ Curly Crafty Mom said...

I would love to go back to Hawaii! We went to Maui the summer before Covid. All of your food looks so good! I remember there being mai tai's everywhere in Hawaii!


Joanne said...

That does sound like an amazing trip!

mummabstylish said...

It looks like you had a brilliant time away, what super photos it looks idyllic. Jacqui x

stylesplash@live.co.uk said...

It looks incredible, I'd love to go one day! Beautiful photos. I love your white and gold dress. Thanks for linking up!

Emma xxx

Mica said...

It looks like such an amazing trip! It's so nice you were still able to go and explore even with rising Covid cases.

I wonder what it will be like for us when we get enough people vaccinated that things open up again - it's strange because you can only travel outside of states in Australia to other states with 0 cases, if there's an outbreak or case when you're there you have to do quarantine when you get back still at the moment.

Thank you for joining the #WeekdayWearLinkup! Hope you have had a lovely weekend :)

Away From The Blue