First, the best:
Best Beach – Waipi’o Black Sand Beach: You can’t really visit Hawaii and not go to a beach. Unfortunately, most of the postcard-perfect ones are on the Kona side, and there are not too many around Hilo. I ended up at Waipi’o Black Sand Beach, which turned out to be an amazing surprise. The hike down was steep (25% grade), and about 1.5 miles long – which means you have to hike it back up. But the water was unusually calm, warm, and the sand was blistering hot. The beach is mostly locals, which meant it had the raw Hawaiian vibe. No touristy stuff here. And it was perfect.
Best Animal Encounter – Giant Sea Turtles: While there were lots of animals roaming around, from chickens, to wild goats, to mongooses (mongeese?), the best animal encounter was by far the giant sea turtles. I was hiking on a beach on the Kona side, and much of the path was at most six feet feet wide. Then, as I rounded a bend, there was a giant honu basking in the sun. At first, I couldn’t tell if it was dead, but then it slowly bent its neck towards me and eyed me up and down.
While there were signs to stay 20’ away, there was no way for me to continue on my hike without coming about 2.5 feet away. I figured I could snap a photo while quickly powerwalking over the sand (which is no easy feat, when you sink in about 8 inches with every step), and the turtle seemed unconcerned with my proximity.
Another 0.25 miles down the beach, the path narrowed, and I encountered two of them in the way. Again, I figured a powerwalk was the best way, and I came very, very close to them this time. They’re old, wise, and I think the animators of Finding Nemo definitely got it right.
Best Park – Volcano National Park: I have no words, so I will let the pictures (more to come in a later post) speak for themselves. I also feel quite lucky, since the recent eruptions have destabilized the region, and the park has been closed for quite some time. A visiting Hawaiian mentioned she was fearful it would never open again, and that we were privy to new earth, the goddess Pele, and something few people will ever get to see.