This was mentioned as one of those places that you must not miss. There is a self-guided tour that you can take using the map provided at the visitor center.
We started hiking to the waterfalls which was really good. Spent a lot of time at the falls. We saw all sorts of trees here, especially so many varieties of banana which bore different colors and shades of flowers. I also saw many weird shaped flowers which I had never seen before. I already had a book on Tropical flowers and plants which I had browsed through so I was able to identify few of the flowers. There is an entire collection of orchids, which was the best part of the garden. I always wanted to photograph orchids and this was my chance to do that. They are in so many colors and shapes that I did not feel like leaving that section. We could not cover the entire garden since it was so huge and we (as usual :D) did not have enough time at hand.
Hike back to the visitor center was painful since it involved only climbing up the hill.
Hilo side of the island is famous for its waterfalls, so we thought we will visit a couple of them. We went to Akaka falls which falls from a height of 422 feet. The drive was beautiful. Once we were at the falls, we hiked for about 0.4 miles in a circular trail with lot of climbing, which took us through another falls called Kahuna falls. It is mostly obstructed by the trees and other flora around it, so Kahuna falls is not visible clearly. But Akaka falls was good but not great. I feel California has better waterfalls. On the way back, we passed through a small shop where they were selling Coconut water. They seem to own 100 acres of land and were selling pineapple, coconut water etc. For the first time in US, I saw people selling coconut water like they sell in India. They also had something called “ice cream bean” which looked kind of weird. Also the greenery around reminded me of India, especially the western ghats which looks so much similar to Hilo side of the island.
We went to Rainbow falls after that. It is visible right from the parking area and there is no need to hike. Rainbow falls was better compared to Akaka, even though it was falling from a shorter height. Unfortunately, we went there late in the afternoon, so did not get to see any rainbow there.
Kona side is famous for beaches. We wanted to visit couple of beaches which have been rated as one of the best beaches in the world. We spent an entire day at the beach. Mauna Kea beach did not have parking, so we headed to Hapuna Beach. It was really good. White sandy beach, crystal clear water, hardly any algae or plants lying around on the beach (like we saw in San Diego). I did not even see shells on the beach, it is that clean. We had lunch at the beach and then played in the water for almost 2 hours. Even tried snorkelling on our own (which was a disaster :)). There are lot of other things to do like jet skiing, para sailing (though not in this beach, there were other beaches for all that). One can easily spend a day or two at the beach. Once we saw sun going down, we headed to Anaeho’omalu beach to see the sunset. This beach was also very clean with white sand and coconut trees lined up in front of us as we sat by a pond. Sunset was definitely one of the best I have ever seen in my life. I got badly tanned thanks to the sun and I was horrified to look at myself even in the rest room mirror. Not sure how long it will take to get back my original skin color 😦
We took a submarine tour so that we could get a glimpse of the coral reef on the Kona side. The coral reef is supposed to be one of the best. It was a great ride and even though I had seen fish and corals at aquariums earlier, it was interesting to see them in their natural habitat. Schools of fish were moving around, while we saw some predator fishes getting ready to attack them. We saw couple of ship wrecks too as part of the tour at about 100 feet depth. Nice tour but again I had high expectations from the tour and when it was over, my reaction -“Is this all the tour is about?”. So better to not go with high expectations.
And then it was time to fly back home. Never realized how these days flew by. Will have to wait for the next vacation now 🙂
Summarizing, I think these are must-see:
- Lava flow