After many years of talking about visiting Hawaii’s Big Island, our family finally made the trip! When our kids were little, we visited other Hawaiian islands, but were a little nervous about taking them to Big Island, with its active lava flows. When they got a bit bigger, we went further afield than Hawaii. Then Covid hit and most of our travel was put on pause. Now that we are trying to get back into regular life, last summer seemed like the perfect time to go!
Some folks prefer the resort scene, but when we go to Hawaii, we prefer to stay in an apartment with great ocean views. This time around, we made it a multi-generational trip, so our needs were a little larger than in past trips. With 6 of us, we needed at least two bedrooms and a couch or two for the kids. Three bedrooms would have been better, but after evaluating both prices and location, we picked a two bedroom condo at Keauhou Surf & Racquet Club that we found on VRBO!
This particular apartment was just steps from a rocky stretch of coastline and we would highly recommend this particular unit! The views were amazing, particularly at sunset, and I spent a lot of time simply sitting on the lanai enjoying the scenery and the sounds of the waves.
On the inside, one bedroom faced the ocean, while the other had a delightful garden view. The teenagers grumbled about having to sleep on a pull out couch in the living room, but even with this, they did love both the apartment and the views.
The kitchen was beautifully done and well equipped. I was able to see the ocean as I cooked our breakfasts and dinners.
The master bathroom had a full-sized washer and dryer, which we used daily to keep both sand and sweat to a minimum. Even better was that the apartment had decent control over the insects, which is not always possible in tropical climates. Whichever apartment you pick, read the reviews to see if people think that the property is well maintained or you may be sharing your kitchen and bathroom with significant numbers of little critters!
The main down side ended up being that the condo was a little further from activities than we had hoped. When booking, we hadn’t fully internalized that swimming beaches on Big Island are less abundant than on the other Hawaiian islands – e.g. on previous trips to Kauai or Maui or Oahu, it had been easy for us to find great beaches. On paper, Kahaluʻu Beach Park was only 0.4 miles away and Magic Sands Beach Park was only 1.6 miles away. As it turns out, both of these beaches had very little sand and the actual beach was quite narrow. Kahalu’u is fabulous for snorkeling, but terrible for swimming. Since half of our group wasn’t planning to snorkel, it wasn’t the best beach for us. Similarly, Magic Sands was so small and crowded that we never did get out of the car.
The beaches we ended up liking most were all at least 30-45 minutes away and the waterfall hikes on the other side of the island and Volcanoes National Park were much further. Still, we liked the setting of the condo so much that we probably wouldn’t have done things differently. Keep in mind that Big Island means big drive times and you are less likely to be disappointed!
Getting to Hawaii is much easier from the west coast. On previous trips, when we lived in California, a 5.5 hour flight felt very reasonable. This time around, we were coming from New England and a best case flight is going to be at least 11 hours.
Since we wanted to add on the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde to the end of our Hawaiian vacation, we chose to have an overnight layover in Phoenix. This made the travel time feel very, very long! Especially with the 6 hour (during daylight savings time) time difference. It is no wonder that many people from the East Coast choose to visit the Caribbean vs. Hawaii!
The Rental Car
With the post-covid scarcity of rental cars, cars in Hawaii were expensive last summer. Add in high gas prices, and expect the car rental to be a significant portion of your travel budget.
We had rented a large SUV that could fit 6 people, but we were a bit disappointed with the car’s quality, and it drove like a boat. It also didn’t have full 4WD, which is necessary if you want to go to the 13,800 ft Mauna Kea summit (regular cars can go to the visitor center at 9,200 ft, and the summit road honestly looked slightly scary). That said, it did get us around the island and didn’t break down.
Getting the Apartment Set Up
With an afternoon arrival, there really wasn’t any time for sight seeing, so we spent the rest of the day getting situated for a week on the Big Island!
The VRBO host had given us instructions for how to check into our condo. Basically, all we needed was the gate code to get our car through, our parking space number, and the combination to unlock the apartment door. Once inside the apartment, we could pick up the pool key, a gate key card, and a few other items.
Jeremy and I decided to leave the kids and my parents at the condo while we went to the grocery store to pick up food for a couple of days. When traveling with kids, grandparents often come in handy! We knew that the grocery prices on an island would be higher than home, but they ended up not being quite as bad as we expected. Grocery stores we have visited in Switzerland were higher!
When deciding what to purchase, local fish and fruit were high on our list! For fish choices, we decided to try a sampling of ono, blue marlin, and ahi tuna. For fruit choices, we found that the pineapples, papayas, and mangos were all excellent. Eggs and pancake mix were good choices for breakfast. Sandwich fixings made easy lunches on the beach.
Dinner and Sunset
We arrived back at the apartment in time to make a quick dinner before sunset. The ono ended up being quite “fishy” tasting, which surprised us since online reviews said that it should be quite mild. We knew what we were getting with the tuna, so there were no surprises. To our delight, the blue marlin ended up being a favorite! It surprised us since a lot of online sites say that it can be a harder fish for people to like.
Once the sun started to set, we made our way to the lanai and enjoyed the best sunset of the week! Don’t assume that every day will be equal or better than the previous day. The position of the clouds matters a lot!