One of the very best things about travel is seeing something you’ve never seen before. How many times in our adult lives do we really get to do that on a given day? (That’s one reason David and I have a strict no-repeating-country-stamps-in-the-same-passport policy.*)
Still, the lure of a perfect beach is a tough thing for me to resist, and so, if left to my own devices I might never have pulled myself away from the Big Island of Hawaii’s Kona coast, were it not for the hospitality of the Volcano Village Lodge up near Volcanoes National Park, which hosted us for two nights of our last and final (?!) babymoon.
After dragging ourselves away from the Four Seasons Hualalai‘s spectacular pools and beaches, we set off for the drive to the lodge, without knowing much of what we’d find. Although we were told to plan for about three and a half hours, we easily made the drive in under two and a half. (I kind of love how Hawaiians give you estimates based on island time — I feel like in L.A., we’d say instead, in a moment of desperate wishful thinking, “Leave an hour if there’s no traffic,” and then it would take you that long just to execute your first left turn.)
The drive was easy and scenic, and we found the lodge with the help of the teeny-tiniest vestiges of daylight left — and not a moment too soon. The Volcano Village Lodge has the feel of such a remote tropical jungle paradise, more like you might imagine you’d find in a Costa Rican rain forest, and no streetlights to really guide the way. Arriving after 6 p.m., we found our welcome letter tacked to the reception area, and our room unlocked. And it was a spectacular sight!
One of five lodge-like rooms, Hale Manaluna seemed to glitter like a pretty beacon from the outside, surrounded by lush green foliage. We hadn’t known what to expect, really — but this was way more. Inside, we found our fridge stocked with cut tropical fruits, cereals, yogurts, frittatas to reheat for breakfast, and all the Hawaiian coffee we could brew at our leisure the following morning. Beyond that, there’s no TV reception and no phones so that guests can really appreciate the serenity of the special property’s location within the sacred lands of Ola’a, at an elevation of 4,000 feet. (Fear not, plugged-in people! There’s wi-fi, and it was dependable enough for me to put in plenty of work on deadline during our visit. It’s a good thing I wake up at 3 a.m.)
Although a world away from the major coastal resorts and cruise ships, Volcano Village is just two miles outside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, making it an excellent (the best, I presume) launch point for a visit to the park if you’re into seeing it beyond the cursory take-a-bucket-list-selfie-with-volcano-then-bail-back-to-Maui jaunt.
In one full day, here’s all the cool stuff we did: We drove from Volcano Village about a half hour down to the Punalu’u beach, a natural black sand beach like nothing else you’ve probably ever seen. Imagine on one side a crashing coastline in every shade of blue, and across the way, a truly dreamlike lily-pad-filled pond (pictured above). Taking an easy stroll down the quiet (but populated) beach, we saw an enormous sea turtle just sunning on the sand, as if placed there as a charming prop. (Turns out nature is a solid art director!)
From there, we headed back up to the park’s visitor’s center to meet with our small group from Discover Hawaii Tours, which would guide us through the park at a relaxed pace over the course of the day, visiting impressive sites of past lava flows, and even a really neat lava tube tunnel. (We also witnessed some excellent hiking trails that made me a bit nostalgic for the pre-pregnancy days when I could, you know like, hike the Grand Canyon in 120-degree heat — instead of getting winded pushing a cart around Bed Bath & Beyond.)
But the highlight for sure of any park visit would have to be the nighttime show: Folks gather at the overlook in front of the Jaggar museum for prime viewing to see the Halema’uma’u volcano light up at night. Of course, the intense organge-y, pink-y glow of the lava refracted through gas is always there, all day long. But it appears like magic when the sun goes down, and then gets more saturated as darkness permeates. (The ritual to gather at night and watch reminded me of the crowds that gather to watch the sunset over Santorini island in Greece every night, in ritualistic appreciation and awe of nature.)
Afterward, we headed to one of the only restaurants in Volcano Village town, but it’s worth noting because it’s that good: Thai Thai. Everything’s delicious, but heed this warning: “mild-medium” is probably all you need, and if you order your food “Thai spicy,” you might drop dead on the spot. Go ahead and test it if you like.
(By the way, this was another detail that evoked another fond travel memory: The small town of Volcano Village reminded me of another great just-outside-a-national-park town, Puerto Iguzu on the Argentina side of Iguazu Falls. It’s in the middle of nowhere, but it’s bustling with happy visitors before and after their thrilling days in the park. We took a couple wonderful and memorable meals there as well.)
After a restful night at Volcano Village, we headed down to Hilo for our last half day on the island. And we made it count. We veered ever so slightly off course for a side trip to Rainbow Falls, apparently best visited in the early morning for it’s horseshoe-shaped rainbows — but certainly worth a minutes-long detour out of Hilo proper whenever.
For our last pre-airport stop, we hit the Hilo Farmers Market (we were fortunate to be there on a Wednesday; the market goes on Wednesdays and Saturdays weekly). We found fabulous (and actually super affordable) dishes for lunch on nearby picnic benches, like spicy veggie buns and super-light and flavorful mint, cilantro, and quinoa salad, washing everything down with fresh-cut coconut water. We also scored some Big Island Coffee for our families (a fair trade for their two months of hospitality during our remodel displacement, no?), and some other non-food gifts for folks back home. If only we were in the position to buy some of the impressively well-priced local fruit and flowers, all of which looked truly divine.
But alas, it was time to hit the road — air, as the case may be — for our last trip by plane as a family of two.
And wouldn’t you know? We did manage to finalize our baby name picks with scribbled notes on tray tables — an apt way to close our final (?) babymoon adventure.
*David also has a strict no-Tupac-policy that I still can’t really abide. Not sure what that’s about.