The Big Island: Hilo side


The minute we arrived on Hawaii island (aka The Big Island), it baffled us. The airport was like someone’s back garden but with a luggage carousel. Compared to the city bustle of Honolulu, Kona airport was in the middle of nowhere. A massive brown mountain loomed up in front of us. As we drove our car across the island to the eastern side, we got even more confused. The island was massive and empty. The landscape was more like the Yorkshire moors than the tropical beauty of Oahu. As we climbed up between volcanos to 6,600 ft, the cloud rolled in, the temperature dropped and it was like we were driving on the surface of the moon. Where WERE we? It didn’t help that by the time we arrived at our Airbnb in Mountain View, it was dark. We drove along country lanes for miles, surrounded by high hedges of lush vegetation and as we pulled in, the noise of the frogs in the jungle night was deafening. Where WERE we?

hawaii big island
Yorkshire or Hawaii?

There are a few things we learned quickly about the Big Island. It’s big. It’s empty. Driving distances are considerable. This isn’t your touristy tropical island, it was real and a little strange. Our Airbnb was lovely but it was much more isolated than we’d expected. This wasn’t a problem, just unexpected. The whole island was unexpected.

The main reason we’d come to this side of the island was to visit Volcano National Park and we spent two days there. The first day we explored the tourist highlights and they were indeed highlights. Steam vents, a crater that spat boiling lava a mile away, a short hike in desolate moon-like terrain and a dark lava tube to walk through.

Spot the lava


lava fire volcano hawaii
Lava lava

Even better, we drove back to the park that night to see the lava by night and it was incredible. You could see the red glow for miles around, it seriously looked like a gateway to the underworld. As we stood at the viewing platform and watched the fire dancing, it was one of the most incredible moments of our lives.

lava fire hawaii volcano

lava fire hawaii volcano
Extreme zoom

On the second day, we did a truly unforgettable hike that Angela had told us about across the smaller crater in the park, Kailauea Ike. We started by hiking through a lovely tropical forest, then descended some steps onto the lava-filled crater of previous eruptions. It was unlike anything else I’d ever seen. Black lava, sometimes rocky and jagged, sometimes smooth, sometimes cracked, sometimes with plants springing from the ground. A lovely red ohi’a plant seemed to be the most prolific plant there, adding this strange beauty to the barrenness of the land. Curiously, the lava sparkled – a green mineral called olivine is found in it, and the lava glittered in the sunshine. We walked across the crater just marvelling at being here, it was so surreal. There was a climb back up to the crater edge through cool, lush forest again. Only four miles but four of the most fantastic miles we’ll ever hike.

volcano hawaii crater
The view from above
feet lava crater hawaii volcano

crater lava volcano hawaii

rainforest hawaii volcano

What else did we do? We went chasing waterfalls….

…we visited our first ever black sand beach where 12 sea-turtles were sprawled out for our viewing pleasure…


…we climbed a banyan tree…

us banyan hawaii

…we snorkeled (with goggles only) in lava tide pools…


However let’s not forget that this is still, at heart, a running blog, albeit a running blog currently masquerading as a travel blog!

I actually did some good running during our Hilo stay. Our Airbnb was on a long rural road, exactly 3 miles from the junction with the main road. I ran that road every day, notching up 15 miles in total. The road was a constant roller-coaster that drained my legs but it was really good to get some steady running in. Every house had a massive barking dog in the garden, so the first time I ran I was super-edgy but then I realised they were all chained or enclosed, so I plugged in my podcasts and just ran along happily. The humidity wasn’t bad at all and the temperatures much lower than Oahu and I really enjoyed running more miles again.

My little Hawaiian roller-coaster

Talking of mileage,my mileage has been low for April and May, due to the big move out of California and this month traveling. I miss running consistently, so my June resolution is to run at least 100 miles. I keep searching for races in the places we’re planning to visit but can’t see anything until the end of July. I’ll keep hunting.

In the meantime, we’re heading over to the west side of the island, Kona, home of the Ironman. Really excited to explore the other side of this island.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you for posting all of these updates. Travel is my true passion, so I love hearing about your destinations.
    We’re also trying to plan a honeymoon and Hawaii was on the list, so this is very helpful.
    Enjoy every moment! (which I think you are) 🙂

    1. Cathryn says:

      Thanks, I’m so glad you’re enjoying them. I am a bit bewildered about this not being a running-focussed blog for the summer, it just feels a little odd, so I’m grateful you left this comment!! Please drop me a note (my email is on the contact page) if you have any Hawaii questions and I’ll see if I can help. We’ve been to all the islands now.

  2. Angela says:

    The best part of the east side of the island for me was all the crazy vegetation. Glad you enjoyed the crater hike!

    1. Cathryn says:

      It was fantastic!

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