Big Island, Hawaii days 4-5: botanical garden + exploring Puna district + Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

After our exciting first days in Hawaii, it was time to leave our peaceful yurt and move onto the next chapter: the funky district of Puna and the volcano portion of the island.

Day 4: Hawaii Botancial Garden + Kehana Black Sand Beach + exploring Puna district

After checking out of our yurt, we were not ready to say goodbye to Hilo yet as we had one more activity on our wish list: the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. Big Island is filled with botanical gardens, but we read that this one was the best one…and let me tell you it definitely lived up to its reputation. I’ve been to several botanical gardens around the world and this one was my favorite of them all!

What makes this garden unique is that all the plants are living wild in their natural habitats, they are just labeled :). The garden itself is HUGE with a mile long walking path that brought us through diverse scenery and plants, such as this wild overgrown jungle…

Hawaii Botanical Garden

…To this beautiful lush waterfall

Waterfall three tiers

We’ve seen these tiny lizards all throughout the Big Island.

Small lizard in Hawaii

Joe and I took our time marveling at all the plants. What made this visit so enjoyable this time is that I’ve recently learned more into plants via Joe’s backyard garden and gaining some house plants of my own. Having just a little knowledge of plants made this visit so much more interesting as we could connect the dots to our own plants we were tending to.

Large leaves with Joe for scale

We found Joe’s plant 🙂

We saw several orchid flowers growing off of tree trunks, so pretty!

Orchids growing on tree

The walk ended along the coast, which felt very climatic. We had a lot of rain during our first few days in Hilo, so seeing the blue coast under the sun gave me a whole new appreciation for the wet side of the island.

coast along Hawaii Botanical Garden
Woman on coast along Hawaii Botanical Garden

The botanical garden was the perfect way to say goodbye to HIlo as we left on a nature high. Originally we were planning to head to Volcano National Park for two days of exploring, but the weather was gorgeous as it was clear and sunny for the first time since we landed, so we decided to delay the cold & rainy volcano for a day and take advantage of the sun in the Puna district, further south and equidistant from Hilo and the Volcano.

The drive to Puna was beautiful, as it had the same Hawaiian authenticity of Hilo but felt even more small town and remote. Puna gave similar topical vibes as Central America which I just loved.

Puna district Big Island

Our first stop was Kehena Black Sand Beach, a small beach that requires a short hike down a rocky cliff. The beach was unique as it was a nude beach and had a major hippie vibe. Also there were mostly people around our age on this beach which was a nice change, as up to this point Joe and I mostly saw older retired-age tourists. We sat around for a bit, took a swim, and enjoyed the ocean and surrounding views.

Kehena Black Sand Beach

As the name suggests, the sand was jet black which was neat.

Black sand covering feet
Selfie on beach

After beachin’, we went looking for lunch. Down the road there were a couple of shacks comprised of a bbq spot with 4 items on the menu, a family run market, and a smoothie shop. I just love these small towns where everyone goes to the same stores/restaurants.

Eating acai bowl in shack in Puna district Hawaii

Afterwards, we drove to Pāhoa, a colorful little town in the heart of the Puna district. There were cute shops and cafes lining the streets and a community garden. We strolled through briefly but didn’t stay long as it only had a handful of stores and Pāhoa actually wasn’t very walkable as it was on a high traffic street.

Some brief reflection – I was originally very excited to explore Puna as I heard it was a fun hippie part of the island, which is typically my kind of vibe, but overall this wasn’t my favorite. The towns in Puna are super spread out and there isn’t really one main village where everyone hangs out (Pahoa was really tiny), so we ended up driving a lot from place to place. Also I didn’t feel like people were as friendly or welcoming as other small towns I’ve been to around the world. I usually love hippie culture as I consider myself a grounded hippie myself, but I felt like the people here, both locals and transplants, were more exclusive. We were only here for a day so take my opinion with a grain of salt!

In the evening, we checked into our next Airbnb, a one-bedroom cabin close to the volcano park. Compared to our off-grid yurt, this felt like a palace! We grabbed dinner at a cafe down the road and relaxed in our cabin for the rest of the evening.

Day 5: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The next day was dedicated to exploring the volcanoes on Big Island at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is comprised of two active volcanoes. The park itself is pretty small and efficient, and there’s basically one well-marked road that brings you to all the points of interest. There are also a bunch of day hikes ranging from easy to strenuous trails.

First, we visited an area of the volcano with a bunch of steam vents. It was pretty cool seeing steam coming out of the earth naturally. Turns our this is a good thing as it releases the pressure from inside the earth.

Steam vents at active volcano

Next we walked to the Kilauea Crater, a MASSIVE crater that resulted from a past eruption. It’s hard to see how far down this crater goes in the picture, but it felt like we were sky high compared to the depths of the crater. It was very out-of-this-world as I couldn’t believe this occurred naturally on earth.

Kilauea Crater

Next we visited the sulfur banks. If you’ve never been around fresh sulfur, it has a smell that lets just say is…interesting ;). The sulfur steam comes up from beneath the earth and makes this beautiful yellow color on the surrounding ground. A unique sight.

Sulfur banks at Hawaii Volcano National Park

Next we visited the lava tubes, which is basically a tunnel cave that formed naturally due to hot lava carving it out. The path was fortunately well lit so we walked through the whole thing. A neat sight that is definitely not for the claustrophobic!

Lava tube in Hawaii Volcano National Park

Afterwards, we hit up the other side of the park where there were more trails with the Kilauea Iki Crater as the focal point. We started off by hiking around the crater, which was smaller than the other one was still an epic sight.

Looking down at Kilauea Iki Crater
Top of Kilauea Iki Crater

We found a trial that brought us to the bottom of the crater. It was so cool seeing it from below as it felt like we were on the surface of the moon. 🙂

Bottom of Kilauea Iki Crater

After a whole morning of hiking and exploring the volcano, we were pooped. We had some lunch in Volcano Village right outside the park and spent the rest of the day chilling in our cabin while listening to the rain.

I’m very grateful for these last two days that gave us a different perspective of Hawaii. Up to this point, I felt like Hawaii was still pretty similar to the rest of the U.S., but tropical Puna and the extraterrestrial-like volcano made me start to appreciate Hawaii for its uniqueness compared to the continental U.S.

Next up, we are saying goodbye to the wet side of the island and going inland to explore farm country and the mountain-scape. 🙂


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