I was back home in Hawaii for about a month last November and made sure to spend as much time in the places I love the most while there. Below are photos of those mini-adventures, and some explanations around why they are so special to me. I specifically didn't go into historical details of those places.. maybe one day I can do more research and feel confident in sharing those stories too.
Puako & Pololū Valley
I was 20 years old the second time I visited Hawaii. I was with my good friend Amanda and we got to do incredible things, like sit on the beach all day, float in the ocean until our fingers were like raisins, and adventure with my aunts and uncles to places unknown and exotic to us.
Our favorite place to escape was Beach 69s. It's been over 9 years since that trip and 69s is still my favorite beach. However popular it has become over the last few years (I remember when I was 14 and our family members were the only living souls on the beach) I still find myself in awe of the incredible views up Kohala Mountain, and out to Maui. Wading in the bright blues and turquoise waters I have found healing and regeneration. I find appreciation and gratitude every time I find myself on the warm sands.
Pololū Valley was another great place for us to escape - and I continue to find it an incredibly remarkable place of importance on the Big Island. I have wandered through the ironwoods and along the rocky beach. I have hiked over to the other valleys, and have narrowly avoided getting sucked out to sea while naively wading in the strong currents of the valley's freshwater stream flowing into the ocean.
Waipio, Laupahoehoe, Onomea Bay, & Hilo
One of my favorite day drives is the coast road to Hilo. Typically my first stop is at Waipio Valley look-out. I am not in a place to explain it's meaning to the folks who live there, and who come from the Valley, and I am not able to articulate how it has changed my life through the many experiences I have had there. If you happen to make it there, be respectful, read about the history of the land, try to understand why it is so sacred, don't be offended when others might claim you are unable to understand it's depth. It is a beautiful place that needs protecting.
Laupāhoehoe is another amazing and energetic place on the way to Hilo. The deep blues of the ocean in contrast with the concrete break and black lava give a striking contrast to what defines earth, ocean, and air. The drive down is full of lush jungle and little waterways that are saturated with greens and yellows of growth and forest decay.
I usually try to squeeze in a quick hike to Onomea Bay, just before getting into Hilo. It is a mild hike down the side of a bay with rough waters and thick, humid jungle. A portion of the hike goes through a botanical garden. There are lots of pieces of sea glass washed up on the little rocky beaches, and amazing growth all around.
Hilo itself is a great city full of unique spaces and waterfalls and lagoons nestled into the otherwise industrial looking town. Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots are two of my favorite waterfalls to visit. If it's a pleasant day (I mean.. pretty much every day is at least pleasant in Hawaii) I'll wander through some beaten paths to the cliffs and swimming pools.
One of my favorite spots in Hilo for picnicking is at Keaukaha Beach Park. It is a lush lagoon with brackish waters and amazing views of Hilo Bay. One of the first times I visited the little spot on the water, I was looking for a place to hang in the sun and eat my lunch. I sort of came upon the lagoon by accident - just pulled off to the side of the road to make sure I wasn't lost (I was). There was an amazing group of guys playing ukulele and kids jumping into the little pools of cool water. Now it is a place I visit almost every time I find myself in Hilo. I live for that kind of magic.
Volcano has become one of my favorite places on Hawai'i Island. After I made my permanent move to the Big Island in 2011, I was feeling conflicted about spending my birthday away from the people I usually surrounded myself with. My cousin suggested we make a little trip to the east side and spend my birthday in the national park.
Since that experience, I have found myself drawn to the incredible energy of the volcano. Being in a space where new earth is being created, destroyed, old forests burning down and new growth sprouting through the lava - it is overwhelming and powerful and so beautiful. Some of my favorite plants on earth grow there. What can I say... I love moss and ferns.
Punalu'u Black Sand Beach, Naalehu, & South Point
Once upon a time, I knew someone whose family is strongly tied to this area of the island. We spent many weekends down, hovering over (and jumping off of) the cliffs at South Point, checking out surf spots along the coast between Pahala and Naalehu, and camping on the black sands at Punalu'u.
Through those experiences, I have gained an enormous love for the south end of the Island. I love the strong community, the powerful ocean energy, and the vast difference in geography within such a small area of land and sea.
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau & Kealakekua Bay
Pu'uhonua O Honaunau has been a place I've loved going to since the first time I visited when I was 14 years old. It is an amazing educational experience, and clearly an extension of Hawaii's gorgeous and diverse coastline. The palms, structures, lava rock walls, tide pools.. oh. boy. I am homesick.
A short drive away is Kealakekua Bay, which has great snorkeling and kayaking, and also home to Captain Cook's memorial. It is at the bottom of a large sloping landscape and offers views up towards the communities that surround the bay. Depending on the season, the air is saturated with the sweet smell of mangos, plumeria, and rotting fruits that cover the streets.
The Coast Road & Waimea
I saved the best for last, and honestly, it doesn't surprise me, but I don't have many photos of this place.
Driving up the coast from Kona to Waimea is one of my favorite experiences. I love seeing Hualālai, Mauna Loa, and Mauna Kea towering over the vast deserts of the west side of the island. I love seeing all the various coastline landscapes, and I love spotting rainbows hugging Kohala Mountain as I sit almost at sea level.
Waimea is Home for me. I have spent the better part of the last six and a half years there. I have made friends, extended my family, met incredible community members, and have built my dreams there. As I reflect on the last two years of travel, I often find heartache that I am not there more often. Luckily I am reminded almost every day Waimea is still home for me, and I can't wait to return... soon.
Waimea is an amazing town that sits partially on a dry desert, and partially on green pastures. The valleys back up to the wetside of Waimea and we get incredible rainbows on a daily basis thanks to the mists and rains that come over the mountain. Depending on where you stand you can see tens of miles down the coast, up to the mountains, and over the desert that sits between the north end of the island and Kona.
We get sunrise and sunset. We get torrential rains, bluebird skies, forceful winds, and the most beautiful fogs. On clear nights the stars shine with absolute brightness and certainty.
Waimea town is a diverse place, with midwest polite, cowboy culture, surf as religion, and a strong appreciation for getting outside. The community is unlike anything I have experienced, and I know I am biased, but there is no other place on earth that feels so much like home to someone who grew up six thousand miles away.