By Jessica Takach
Some of the most beautiful sights in Hawaii can only be seen on foot. While I have given an entire trip recommendation on the Big Island of Hawaii, the aspect of island hikes should be given a bit more attention. How else could you stand in the middle of a not-so-ancient volcanic crater and gaze up at the steep walls to the Ohia (“oh-hee-ah”) trees that garnish the distant edge of the crater? Or how else could you experience
protected bays full of colorful fish and reefs? Indeed, how else could you stand on the same shore that Captain Cook did many years before you and marvel at land that is essentially unchanged. Certainly not from the cabana at your oceanside resort, or on a Robert’s of Hawaii Tour Bus. You’ve got to find the trails, tighten your laces, and hit the brush.
Okay it isn’t as intense as it sounds–I am certainly no pinnacle of stamina myself. Some hikes can be very time consuming and not very (the view from the Kilauea Iki Trail)
rewarding in terms of the payoff: the view and the overall experience. The hikes I will focus on will not be terribly exhausting or long for the most part, but the experience and places they will take you will be well worth the wear on your sneakers.
I discussed this hike in my Big Island travel guide, but it is worth repeating as probably one of the most beautiful look out spots on the island. This is also no walk in the park. It is more like an incredibly steep and muddy tumble down a cliffside and a few small streams, until you find yourself on one of the most beautiful and remote beaches. Considering it is 18 miles long and a 12 hour hike, I give you permission to take a vehicle down if this sounds like it is too much. You’ve got to see this place one way or another, and the trip by a 4×4 vehicle is very fun. Another option is by horse or carriage.
HILO AND SURROUNDING AREA
Lava Tree State Monument
This can be found on the Hilo side of the island, in the Puna district. This is quite a sight to see and is very easy walk. The living trees in the area are absolutely incredible, soaring hundreds of feet in the air. The “lava trees” are the trunks of trees that were encased in molten lava during an ancient lava flow. The trees have since disintigrated but the lava “trunks” remain. The walk is about a 0.7-mile loop and I don’t think I would even consider this a “hike.” It is a pleasant walk, but like I said, the payoff is in the experience so it is a worthy trip to make.
This trail is about 2 miles each way and takes you to the southernmost point of the United States, as well as a beautiful green sand beach. It is rumored to be a bit wild and windy, but the view is beautiful. Note: Do NOT swim here, despite the inviting location. The current can be very strong and is simply not safe.
This is a very easy hike to some of the most beautiful waterfalls. It is only 0.4 miles and you see Kahuna Falls as well as Akaka Falls, which is 442 feet of falling water. You also get to walk through some gorgeous thick rainforest and bamboo. This is certainly a “must see” because it is both easy and beautiful.
Crater Rim Trail
This is a challenging 11-mile hike to say the least, so plan to spend the entire day on this trip. If you have asthma you may want to reconsider since you will travel through some sulfur fumes. But if you truly want to experience the Volcano area, this is the way to do it. You will be sweaty, sulfury, and tired but you will know what it is like to be in a crater.
Kilauea Iki Trail
For those who think the Crater Rim Trail is a bit more than they want to put into a day, this is the hike for you. You still get to experience standing in the middle of what was once a molten crater of lava without the ten hours of exhaustion. This hike takes about 3 or 4 hours and it isn’t particularly strenuous until the very end. I would start out going towards the right and through the forest. You get a nice view of the entire crater as you walk along the rim. Once you get to the end of the crater, you gradually make your way down to its floor. It is really like you are on another planet when you finally reach the bottom of the crater. You then make your way directly across it, and then you have to scale the side of the crater to get back to the parking lot. This was the only part that I found difficult, but that could be because I was convinced to take a “short cut” straight up rather than along the zigzagging trails. Stay on the trails, otherwise you could end up at a dead end and very tired and not very excited to slide back down the muddy, root-entwined steep path. This is a good rule of thumb for ANY hike: stay on the trail. You will get where you’re supposed to go, and you also won’t damage any of the wildlife that you are trying to enjoy.
Captain Cook Monument
The Captain Cook Monument, a large white obelisk standing on the shore of the ocean, is only accessible by boat or by your own two feet. The trail is rather difficult to find, but ask someone in the area and they will be able to direct you. It used to be a 4×4 trail but make sure that the trail is still highly visible to you so that you can find your way back. If it is not clear, do not make the journey. If you are able to make it, you will find yourself most likely the only visitors of this protected bay. Bring your snorkel masks — it costs between $70 – $100 to take the Fair Winds to this site to see this phenomenal snorkeling area! You may even see some sea turtles, as pictured to the right. Bring a picnic and make a day of it.
These are just a few of very many possible hikes on the Big Island of Hawaii. You will see much more on your own two feet than you will on an organized tour, I assure you. If it is your first trip to the island and you aren’t very familiar yet, perhaps try a couple organized tours but also make sure you get out there on your own. You can only discover much of the natural beauty of this landscape on your own two feet.