Big Island of Hawaii | DAY ONE | Hawaii Vacation Photographer

WARNING: This series of posts may be lengthy, if you know me, you know how I tell stories.  I am including our tips, triumphs and tribulations while on a five day trip to the Big Island of Hawaii including food, lodging, car rentals, sightseeing and adventures. Read if you want or just check out the photos!


Our Big Island trip started really early or really late depending on how you look at it. We didn’t get to bed until after midnight the night before our 2am wakeup and 5am take-off. TIP: The kiosks at the Honolulu Airport don’t open until 4am regardless if your travel partner wants to get there by 3:30am or not. Our quick 40min Hawaiian Airlines flight to Kailua-Kona went smoothly and we were off in our rental car from Budget with little effort. (More on that later) Our first stop, breakfast. Yelp, as it regularly is, was our travel guide. With high ratings and an ocean view, we settled on Island Lava Java for coffee, a breakfast sandwich and a Luau omelette. But let’s be real, the reviews all raved about the pull-apart cinnamon roll and it was devoured before the rest of our food got to the table, funny because we convinced ourselves it was “to go” Ha.



After breakfast and a stroll around the area, we headed to Starbucks for WIFI (and more coffee) we hadn’t booked any of our lodging in advance and were really wanting to get a feel for the Kona side of the island without feeling “touristy” I still cannot believe our luck. We used and scored big. The Banyan Tree Sanctuary would be our home for the next two nights. Really the reviews and description sounded too good to be true and with a no-earlier-than-4pm check-in we would just have to wait to see if they were. By this time it was only 9am so we decided to head to Walmart for our supplies. We bought a $20 cooler, granola bars, two cases of water, goldfish crackers, a jar of peanuts and individual energy drink mixes. TIP: The Big Island, along with all of the other Hawaiian Islands, doesn’t use plastic bags for retail. Something I knew but forgot. BRING YOUR OWN RECEPTACLE.

We were bound and determined to find the perfect beach spot, settle in, do some snorkeling and maybe catch up on sleep. Again. HA! I scoured the internet for snorkeling suggestions on the Big Island and we came up with a few options but our lack of preparedness was showing. Our first stop was Kahalu’u Beach Park. A small beach, accessible by all with yes, a plethora of fish and even turtles, but almost as many people on this Thursday morning. The reef was okay but we are accustomed to at least open waters so we really only spent 20 minutes there before we showered off and headed out.




Next, our intention was to snorkel Captain Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay some 15 miles south of Kailua-Kona. Again, with no preparation, we took off with that being our GPS destination. Don’t get me wrong, the drive is gorgeous and the bay on the southern side is great, but do not attempt to snorkel on that side. (More on Kealakekua Bay later)


Kealakekua Bay

We turned the drive into an adventure and took the coastal scenic route back North, finding a historic battle field and burial grounds along the treacherous lava coastline. We ventured down the path and lo and behold, people were jumping off the 30ft cliff. Without doing any research on the area, we didn’t feel equipped for the lunge into the open ocean, but maybe next time. We later found out that the coastline we stumbled upon is known as The End of the Earth and is a popular cliff diving spot with no ladders, only lava to climb back up.P I N


We continued North to our check in at Big Island Divers for our evening adventure and since we were early we stopped by the Kona Brewing Company for a late lunch/early dinner. We made it to our 4pm check in at the Banyan Tree Sanctuary and our tour of the grounds left me speechless. Essentially we would be camping in style. Our “Fig Heaven” hut gave us ocean views and access to the sounds of nature. We could have stayed there forever. A communal kitchen, bathroom and pool area were great amenities while trying to keep our experience low key and on budget.


We took a quick nap and headed to the marina for our next adventure. We loaded up on the boat and Big Island Divers took us out into the sunset.


Once it was dark we suited up in thick wet suits and our snorkel gear. We were educated on the boat ride out on the biology and habits of the 216 local Manta Rays in Hawaii. Yup. We jumped into pitch black water to swim with 15ft wide sea creatures. Holy moly, was it amazing. This would be the only tour type adventure we would be paying for the entire trip and if you

1) Aren’t susceptible to sea sickness 2) Don’t get cold incredibly easily 3) Want to experience swimming with Manta Rays

I would definitely suggest night snorkeling/diving with them. We were able to snorkel with six of them and of course, our videos and photos with the GoPro don’t do it justice but if giggles of sheer delight were currency, this trip would have made me a rich woman.

BIG ISLAND | 2014 from B Mussack on Vimeo.



We made friends with a newly engaged couple from New Jersey and chatted about all of the wonderful things to do on the island. Our conversation was incredibly helpful, especially finding out that we had searched for the Captain Cook Monument ALL WRONG. More on that tomorrow.

We made it back to the BTS around 9pm and quickly fell asleep. The sound of a gentle rain woke both of us up during the night, but only for a minute and in a good, reassuring, jungle-bungalow kind of way. Mr. Mussack hugged me tight and we both fell back asleep, dreaming of the adventures we would be having the next day.


  1. Do your research. We tried to plan our adventures in advance but I am a visual person and getting lost usually helps me figure out more about the area. We knew roughly what we wanted to accomplish and see and roughly where those destinations were and mapping them out in advance was a HUGE help, even though the details all came together while on island.
  2. Bring water bottles or buy and then recycle those bottles. I hate promoting the purchase of water in plastic bottles but the amount of activity we did and the heat would have left us dehydrated, especially since we never really knew where we would end up. We were able to refill our plastic bottles in various places, but it was nice to have cold water all of the time.
  3. Buy a cooler. The morning we flew out we stopped by the marina in Hilo and gave it to some local fishermen. $20 well spent.
  4. TAKE PHOTOS. I know you should always be in the moment, but I have taken trips where I don’t remember the fun details that didn’t seem to matter at the time but do now.
  5. Keep a travel journal. I bought a small composition book and wrote about each day in detail. It’s the little things.

Until tomorrow, Just B Adventurous!!




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  • June 2, 2014 - 9:57 pm

    Kayla - Loved it, B! Thanks for sharing!ReplyCancel