Out of Office: Patricia’s Outdoor Adventures on Hawaii’s Big Island

February 2, 2015 by

Places to Go

Viator’s team of travel insiders is obsessed with finding the best things to do everywhere we travel. From traditional tours to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, everywhere from Australia to Zimbabwe, we spend our time scouring the globe for the best tours and activities around the world.

Whether traveling for work or pleasure (or both!) our staff members are always on the go and we want to share their experiences with you! In this new series, Out of Office, we’ll bring you their stories, highlighting the best things to do and see in destinations around the world, as experienced by a real Viator Insider.

DCIM102GOPROThe Traveler: Patricia Pagenel, Director of Content

What’s your role at Viator? I am manage the team responsible for all content published on Viator.com – tour descriptions, destination attractions and recommendations, travel blogs, and customer generated content.

The trip: The Big Island of Hawaii, for 11 days in November and December, 2014

Why did you choose this destination? What appealed to you about the place?

We went to Maui a few years back and talked about going back to discover the other Hawaiian Islands. As we love the outdoors, Big Island of Hawaii was the perfect choice. From amazing diving, volcano hiking, horseback riding, jungle waterfalls and green pastures, the island has so much to offer to active travelers. Of course, delicious Hawaiian food, famous Kona coffee and exotic fruits were very attractive to my foodie side.

Flying above Volcanoes National Park

Flying above Volcanoes National Park

What did you do on the trip?

We started by diving for two days around Captain Cook, south of Kona. We did two-tank dives around Two Steps, by Honaunau Place of Refuge, and further down the coast. The underwater flora is beautiful – coral, sand banks, caves and lava tubes, teeming with schools of colorful fish. We even saw black-tip reef sharks, green turtles, and a pod of dolphins. We completed our dives with a Manta Ray night dive, which was a fantastic experience! Seeing Manta Rays inches from my face, elegantly swirling around me, was unbelievable.

We then spent five days in the Volcanoes National Park, at the southern point of the island. From driving along the Chain of the Craters Road down to the sea – the Holei Sea Arch is stunning at sunset, to hiking down the Kilauea Caldera, and backpacking to Napau Crater, there is a lot to do and see in the park.

Our volcano adventure continued with a bird’s view of the Pu’u O’o Crater and lava fields from a helicopter tour from Hilo. This was a real treat! We chose an open-door flight, a true thrill! We flew over the steaming vents of the Crater and our pilot even spotted some spots of red hot lava!

A waterfall on the Big Island

A waterfall on the Big Island

Big Island’s tropical features are more visible along the Hilo coast, with lush rainforest and waterfalls. This was also apparent as we drove up to Waipi’o Valley, where we spent two nights.  A secluded valley that was the capital of several Hawaiian kings until the 15th Century, it now has a small permanent population, some cultivating taro farms. Thanks to a very steep road, there are very few visitors. Spending some time in the valley, walking by the shore, and talking with local residents, gave us a deeper understanding about the local life on the island.

Diving on the Big Island

Diving on the Big Island

What was the best experience?

The Manta Ray night dive was fantastic! One can try to imagine what it will feel like to see these giants dancing around you, but seeing those inches from your face and elegantly avoiding you last minute is unbelievable. As the manta rays fed on plankton around us, we could feel a gentle touch on the head or on the back – it was incredible!

Visiting the Volcanoes National Park was also the highlight of our trip. With contrasting dark lava fields, lush rainforest and erupting volcanos, this is one-of-a-kind place on earth. It is thrilling to think that you are standing among active volcanos, and that strong eruptions can happen anytime!

At Volcanoes National Park

At Volcanoes National Park

Did you take any Viator tours?

We took the 45-Minute Open Door Volcanoes Helicopter Flight from Hilo, and flew over some of the most recent lava flows of the Pu’uhu Crater’s June 2014 eruption. Though most of the eruptions had quietened down, our pilot managed to show us some actual lava spots, red and smoky. It was amazing to see the different colors from the different lava eruptions.

Flying over the Pu’uhu Crater, we had impressive view from the inside of the crater, smoke and steams from the vents. Our pilot was very attentive and made sure both sides of the helicopter had great views.

We chose the open door option for a closer view and feel to the volcano. This was unique experience, and we would totally recommend this tour!

Which attraction did you enjoy the most, and why?

The Volcanoes National Park had so much to do and see. The park has a very contrasting landscape and fauna. From dark lava fields running through green lands, turquoise water in sheltered bays, to lush rainforest and waterfalls, the scenery varies at every corner.

If you can, drive up the Hilina Pali Road, a lesser used narrow one-lane road that leads up to an 180-degree overlook of the same name. Make sure to take a few steps from the overlook, to reach the edge of the cliff, giving endless view of the coast. You might be lucky, like we were, to see some of the elusive nene, the endangered Hawaiian goose.

Some of Hawaii's diverse scenery

Some of Hawaii’s diverse scenery

What surprised you the most about the destination?

The volcanic area covers a wider area than expected, and lava rock can be seen everywhere on the island. The recurring activity is also more vivid and present than I thought, and the recent lava fields were a testament to that ongoing activity. It was interesting to see that the older part of the island, the north, had a less striking volcano aspect, with more vegetation, whereas the south part of the island is still showing raw dark lava rocks.

What sight, activity, or experience would you tell people they should not skip?

Diving or snorkeling is a must-do, especially manta ray night diving. Big Island offers diverse underwater flora and an impressive numbers of dive sites for all levels. Watching the volcanoes by helicopter allows you to get closer to the action and gives an unparalleled view of the steam vents, red lava spots and lava fields.

The Big Island of Hawaii

The Big Island of Hawaii

What was the best thing you ate or drank?

As a tropical island, Big Island offers delicious fruits and lots of seafood. Try some papaya, mango, or dragon fruit, fresh or on smoothies, or grill some Mahi Mahi, Ono, Wahoo, or Ahi! You are in for a treat!

>> Check out farmers’ markets on the Big Island

What are your top three recommendations to any visitor?

Dress in layers, be prepared for all kind of weather – one can be in T-shirt and flip-flops one minute and then need a waterproof jacket and sweater next!

Reserve a tour for the Mauna Kea observatory. No car except high clearance 4×4 can go up to the submit, and there is no shuttle, no transportation available except via pre-organized tours

Drive Saddle Road. The Road had a bad reputation in the past, but it is nowadays a nice road snaking its way through hills, lava fields, goat herds, green pasture ranches – this would complement a coastal ride along the Hilo or Kona roads.

Beautiful Hawaii

Beautiful Hawaii

What’s the best Insider Tip you can offer future visitors to this destination?

Big Island deserves its name – big! And thanks to the continuous eruption, the island keeps getting bigger! Make sure to drive (or be driven) around to get a good sense of island. You can visit the island in a couple of days but if you can, spend a couple at each place, to make sure you get the best experience possible.

>> Read about the best beaches on the Big Island

Where are you off to next?

After this trip, we went to New York City for the New Year,  to enjoy some of the holiday spirit down 5th avenue and Rockefeller Center.

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