Big Island, Hawaii days 1-3: waterfalls and hiking in Hilo + unplugging in an off-grid yurt

Surprise! Joe and I are in the beautiful Big Island of Hawaii!! We are so excited to be here after a year of being cooped up in California. We chose to spend two weeks in Big Island because we just wanted to unplug from our busy lives and spend time in nature. Since activities in Hawaii are mostly outdoors, we figured it was the perfect place to get our adventure fix while staying safe. Get ready for an action-packed recap of our first 3 days and a huge photo dump. 🙂

Day 1: Quick peak of Kona + traveling to Hilo + our off-grid yurt

The first day was a long one as it was mostly focused on traveling. We flew from San Francisco into Kona (the dry side of the island where most tourists stay). First we got COVID tested at the airport – I’m glad they mandated these tests before and after our flights because it makes me feel at ease here – honestly it feels safer in Hawaii than California!

After our flight, we were starving and got food at the first place we found, which ended up being a beach-front restaurant, a great welcome to Hawaii 🙂

Four Seasons Kona restaurant

Our time in Kona was short as we actually first headed to the other side of the island, Hilo, aka the “wet side”. The road trip to Hilo was impeccable as the scenery transitioned from dry-volcanic beaches of Kona to the lush coast and green forestry of Hilo, which felt more local and authentic.

Views on Hamakua Coast

On our way, we passed by Tex’s Drive In, which was recommended to us by our waitress at lunch. When a local gives you tips, you definitely take it :). We stopped in for some malasadas (aka creme-filled donuts from heaven).

Outside of  Tex's Drive In
Malasadas at Tex's Drive In

Finally we made it to Hilo. The drive to our Airbnb got super rough on this dirt road, which signaled to us we were staying in a remote spot 🙂

Dirt road

Our first home on this trip was a yurt!! This yurt was 100% off-grid and located on a small family farm, which meant we had to conserve our energy-use which we shared with our host family. There also may have been a lizard or two in the yurt :). It was pretty basic but Joe and I loved it as we wanted to unplug from our city lives.

Yurt off-grid with solar panels in Hilo Hawaii
Inside bamboo yurt

The rest of the day was spent chilling at the yurt, getting take-out for dinner, and resting up after a long day of travel.

Chilling on hammock

Day 2: Akaka Waterfall + discovering a secret spot + exploring downtown Hilo

The next morning started off waking up at 5am (thank you jet lag!). We eased into the morning with a cup of coffee accompanied by morning views of the neighboring farms. So peaceful.

Morning coffee on remote farm

Then we headed off to see some outdoorsy sights around Hilo. First up – Akaka Waterfall State Park. We went on the short hike in this park with the main sight being a huge waterfall. The hike itself was filled with gorgeous views from under the towering trees…

…To breathtaking views on top of the mountain

Views on Akaka Waterfall State Park
Akaka Waterfall State Park trail

The Akaka Waterfall was beautiful! I couldn’t believe how massive and powerful it was (even taller than Niagra Falls). The Hilo side of the island is known for their waterfalls and I could definitely see why.

Akaka Waterfall
Couple and Akaka Waterfall

After our hike, we stopped for coffee in a cute town outside the park with a few small shops. I love the small town feel on this side of the island.

Small town vibes in Hilo

Afterwards, we decided to drive around the coast and see where it took us. We ended up following some scrappy sign that pointed us to this random gate opening. We decided to go for it not knowing what was on the other side…

We walked along a trail that looked like it was meant for the public.

Hiking trail on Hamakua Coast

As we turned the corner, a coastal view hit us in the face. I couldn’t believe we stumbled upon this! It was such a beautiful part of the coast with the clearest, bluest water.

Blue water on Hamakua Coast

We took our time exploring this area, climbing the rocks and finding different angles to “ooo” and “ahh” at. This felt like a locals secret and it gave me more appreciation for the beautiful Hamakua coast, which is filled with Hawaiian beauty.

Looking out Hamakua Coast

For lunch, we headed into downtown Hilo, which felt like the big city compared to our remote yurt. We picked up some Hawaiian barbecue and ate outside at a park.

Hawaiian barbecue chicken

Then we did some exploring of downtown. The city of Hilo feels like a cross between a fishing village and a small town in middle America. Time stands still in this town as it looked like it hadn’t changed since the 1960s. Overall the town was pretty empty too, probably because tourism is still recovering due to COVID. We hit up a farmers market, a fruit stand to buy some fresh mangos, and the grocery store to cook dinner in our yurt later.

Downtown Hilo on cloudy day

Day 3: Kaumana Caves + Rainbow Falls + Puna Trail to a secluded beach

The next morning started off with coffee, relaxing down time, and yoga at our yurt.

yoga in yurt

Then we were off for a full day of activity, starting off with the Kaumana Caves. This cave was right off the road a little west of Hilo, completely free to explore with no guide.

Going down into the cave was pretty neat and got significantly creepier as we went further into the cave. It was cool that this cave was here naturally in the middle of this town. We didn’t have a flashlight so didn’t get too far.

Kaumana Caves Big Island

Next stop was Rainbow Falls. We drove right up to it as there wasn’t a hiking trail or anything. A beautiful waterfall that was smaller than Akaka Falls yesterday, but still a pretty sight.

Rainbow Waterfall on Big Island
Couple and Rainbow Falls

Then we had a second breakfast featuring acai bowls. The fruit on this island is so fresh and I anticipate having many of these bowls on this trip!

Acai bowl

We finished our sight seeing much quicker than anticipated. So by mid morning, we decided to drive down to the neighboring district of Puna for a hike. The waterfall hikes were so short and Joe and I were craving a long hike, so we headed to the Puna Trail which was 5 miles long through the forrest featuring a secluded beach.

The trail itself was unique as it was directly on volcanic rock. Big Island has a huge active volcano, and Puna is the most vulnerable part of the island, so all throughout the trail we could see the grooves where the lava flowed and cooled down over time.

Volcanic rock on Puna Trail
Tall tree in Puna Trail

Joe playing Tarzan.

Tarzan rope swing

After many miles of hiking on rocky and muddy terrain, we made it to the beach! The only way to get to this beach was through the hike, so there were very few people there which made this feel like even more of a prize. We spent some time here enjoying the ocean views and exploring the secluded beach.

Post hike picture on the beach
Couple on beach after long hike

One strange and sad thing we noticed was a bunch of dead turtles washed up on shore (there were about 4-5 of them). We have no idea how they died or why they all washed up to this one spot. It’s one thing to learn about the dying ocean on tv, but it’s another to see it with your own eyes. ❤

Dead turtle washed up on beach

After our hike, we got some lunch in downtown Hilo and hung out at the yurt for the rest of the night. I cooked chicken quesadillas for dinner, which we found to be a simple and yummy “camping” meal with our propane stove.

Camping quesadillas

What a fun-packed start of the trip! I’m really glad we started off on the wet side of the island which seems less touristy and filled with beautiful landscape. It took some adjusting going from my stressful day job to relaxing in Hawaii, and I think a big part of that was being so remote in nature these last few days. Also this is our first trip outside of California in over a year, so I am especially grateful we could make this work. I can’t wait to see how the rest of this trip unfolds. 🙂

8 thoughts on “Big Island, Hawaii days 1-3: waterfalls and hiking in Hilo + unplugging in an off-grid yurt

    1. The U.K. is far indeed. I would love to travel more in Europe but it’s the same long distance issue from california. I suppose the grass is always greener 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We have happy memories of San Francisco and have been a few times, one day we’ll probably stop there for a week and then make it on to Hawaii (hopefully… !) Hope you make it to Europe too, when we can all travel more safely again. Love seeing the photos on your blog, thanks for sharing them with the world! 😊


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