The Big Island, Hawaii

Like a Local: In Kona, stop at Kamakana Playground with your kids before heading over to the Kona Farmers Market to devour fresh dragon fruit, coconuts, and mangoes.


Contributor: Josefa Abdelnour

Dates of Travel: August 2015

Accommodations: Kolea at Waikoloa Beach Resort

Activities: ‘Akaka Falls State Park, Anaeho’omalu Bay, Ānuenue Playground, Dolphin QuestFair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides, Hāpuna Beach State Park, Hawaiian Style Cafe, Hilo, Hilton Waikaloa Village, Kahaluʻu Beach Park, Kamakana Playground, Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park, Kona, Kona Farmers Market, Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo, Waikola Beach Resort, Waimea

Journal Entry: On a recent trip to Hawaii’s Big Island, my kids were content to sit in our rented condo and occasionally hit the pool. If I was really lucky, they would venture just beyond the pool for a walk on the beach at Anaeho’omalu Bay, better known as A’Bay, a beautiful white sand beach at the Waikola Beach Resort. Getting them to that beach the first night took much coaxing and promises of ghost crab sightings, but when they finally agreed to go, they loved it. The lure, I realized in retrospect, was the playground situated directly on the sandy beach just several feet from the shore. And I would use the lure of a good playground as bait for exploring the rest of the Big Island throughout our vacation.

That first night at A’Bay, the kids monkeyed around for a while on the playground before succumbing to good old fashioned sand play. That’s when they noticed the ghost crabs emerging from their holes. They shrieked with delight as they took turns chasing crabs and jumping in the waves. Their dad and I were able to watch both the children and the renowned sunset at A’Bay while reclining comfortably on chaise lounges.

The next morning, unfortunately, the wrangling continued. “Don’t you want to see the cowboys and cattle ranches in Waimea? What about Hilo? It’s on the other side of the island. It’s supposed to be old Hawaii. And there’s a zoo there! No? What about the Kona Farmers Market?”

They were not up for exploring. “Can’t we just go to the pool? I don’t want to drive in the car for hours. I just want to relax. Watch videos,” they whined.

“What if I promise to stop at every playground we find as part of our outing?” I whipped out my iPhone and searched for playgrounds on the Big Island. “Guys! There’s a great playground at the Zoo in Hilo. We can also check out the Kamakana Playground in Kona and the Ānuenue Playground in Waimea.”

And just like that, they were game. We went to the Ānuenue Playground and ate at the Hawaiian Style Cafe in Waimea. We drove to Hilo. Yes, all the way to Hilo and hiked through lush rainforest in ‘Akaka Falls State Park to see both the Kahuna and ‘Akaka Falls which plunges 442 feet into a gorge. After that we hit the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo where the draw was both the animals and a large playground. In Kona, we stopped at Kamakana Playground before heading to the Kona Farmers Market to devour fresh coconuts and mangoes.

And pretty soon the kids were up for more adventurous outings. We taught them how to boogie board at Hāpuna Beach State Park where the surf churned up so much sand, it was deposited inside our bathing suits and our ears.

We introduced our kids to snorkling at Kahaluʻu Beach Park. You can snorkel right off the beach. The easily accessible, sheltered, and shallow bay is home to one of the highest concentrations of fishes on Hawaii. The black and white beach is composed of both lava and coral sand and at low tide there are plenty of tide pools to explore. Some of the tide pools were like kiddie pools, safe and shallow for my four year old son.

We hiked the trail alongside the beach in Puako. The road into Puako has no through drive, making Puako not as well known or sought after as Hapuna and Kahaluʻu. The beach there is not sandy like at Hapuna. Instead, the hardened lava fields extend from the beach into the ocean creating an extensive reef and protected tide pools at low tide. My children were mesmerized by a Green Sea Turtle we stumbled upon sunning itself on the dark lava rocks. To be sure, the tide pools are excellent areas to explore for all ages.

We went shopping in downtown stores of Pahoa, where the architecture is both turn-of-the century western with false store fronts and multicolored neo-Victorian.

We booked a Morning Kealakekua Snorkel & BBQ Cruise through Fair Wind Big Island Ocean Guides. The boat took us to the site of the Captain Cook Monument which commemorates the place of death of the great explorer Captain James Cook at Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park — an underground state park and marine sanctuary. After snorkling and barbecue lunch, the passengers enjoyed sliding off two 15 foot water slides into the ocean below.

The kids swam with dolphins at Dolphin Quest at Hilton Waikaloa Village. Yes, Dolphin Quest allows kids to swim with dolphins and it also conducts dolphin research and provides learning opportunities for children as young as five. The Hilton Waikola Village is an impressive 62 acre ocean front resort equipped with air conditioned tram, tropical gardens, ocean fed lagoon, multiple pools, and waterfalls.

and many more places and we stopped at every playground while checking out the sights and sampling local food along the way. I am delighted that I finally figured out the lure of a good playground to entice my kids to go exploring.


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