During the months of December, January, February and March, whales arrive in Hawaii and have their calves. Tour boats go out daily from many ports along the Kona side of the island from Captain Cook in the south to Kawaihae in the north.
We have taken the Blue Hawaii helicopter tours both on Kauai and here on the Big Island. They fly out of both Hilo and Waikoloa at the turnoff on route 19 just one traffic light south of Mauna Lani. Currently a tour of just the lava fields near Kilauea flies from Hilo and costs around $200. A tour of just the northern Kohala coast leaves from Waikoloa and costs around $200. The granddaddy of tours does both Kohala and the lava fields but costs around $500.
There are many beautiful and interesting driving tours you can take that range from vast desolate lava fields to lush tropical rain forests. We like to drive north on 19 and then 270 to Hawi which is a hippy-like town with many art and jewelry shops and restaurants. At the end of the road is the beginning of the vast eroded valleys that have formed on the oldest part of the island. To get home take route 250 down the spine of the Kohala Mountains to 19 and then west back to Mauna Lani.
You can also see this area by driving north on 19 through Waimea to Honokaa and then taking route 240 west along the north coast and ending at Waipoa Valley overlook. Don’t forget to stop at Tex’s small restaurant for malasadas which are Portuguese pillow shaped donuts sprinkled with sugar and filled with wonderful fillings.
There is a shortcut route across the island called the Saddle Road that runs from near Waikoloa Village to Hilo. Take 19 south to Waikoloa Road (a left turn at the first traffic light), pass through Waikoloa Village and continue until you reach a T in the roads. Turn left on Mamalahoa Road (route 190) and then take a right onto the large road (route 200 – the Saddle Road), and continue to Hilo. You travel right between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa and pass amazingly huge fields of lava. You could also take the road up to the Mauna Kea visitors’ center but we would not advise driving your own rental car to the top of the volcano.
If you want to spend an entire day on the road, you can travel the whole way around the island next to the coast. Same route as above to Honokaa but continue on 19 south toward Hilo. Be sure to take the side road to Akaka Falls and stop to walk in and take pictures. There are also some scenic drives that take you down from 19 to the coast through thick rain forests. Take route 11 south out of Hilo and follow it up past Volcano National Park. Stop here for views of the crater which might still be venting steam. Continue on 11 around the southern part of the island but watch for a left turn onto S. Point Road. This road takes you down to the coast and the most southern point of land in the US. After visiting this point, go back and continue on 11 into Captain Cook and Kailua-Kona and then follow 19 back north to Mauna Lani. Be sure you start the day with a full tank of gas and several bottles of water for each of you.
For an underwater adventure, visit Kona and take the Atlantis Submarine Tour. You spend about an hour under water diving to up to 100 feet below the surface. You will see lots of different types of fish, coral reefs, junk, and possibly a shark or two.
There are numerous opportunities to go out on a boat along the coast between Captain Cook and Kawaihae. Some are sunset cruises, some aim to show you whales and dolphins, some you can snorkel from and see manta rays and colorful fish, and some let you try your luck at catching dinner for the family! We have provided numerous brochures covering boat excursions for you to peruse.
Hawaii is also a great place to walk or hike. If you take the right just before reaching the Fairmont Orchid you can park and walk out to some ancient petroglyphs through an amazing twisted growth forest. You can also walk along any of the beaches at Mauna Lani as all beaches have public access.
And finally, the beaches. The closest ones of course are at the Mauna Lani and Orchid Hotels but you will have to take your own towels. There is also the “private” Mauna Lani Beach Club that you have access to. Again take your own towels. There are places to eat at all of these beaches. Just north of Mauna Lani is Hapuna Beach State Park. It is probably the prettiest little white sand beach on the island. There is a charge for entrance and parking, lots of covered picnic benches with BBQ pits, rest rooms, and a snack shop. There are numerous other beaches the whole way around the island including a black sand beach at Punaluu off route 11 south of Volcano National Park and a green sand beach at Papakolea even further south near the southern most point.