Hilo, Hawaii, the Big Island

We’re at: Hilo on Hawaii, the Big Island

What’s here:The biggest of the Hawaiian Islands is known for its coffee, cowboys, macadamia nuts and volcanoes. We’re staying on the Hilo side near the base of Kilauea. On this side of the mountain the focus is on the volcanoes. But no matter where you stay, if you want to get around a rental car is a must!

Why we’re here: Two years ago we stayed on this side of Hawaii and while visiting in Kapoho at the Kalapana Flow, Mom took some lava rock to bring back and show our classes back home. We knew you couldn’t take anything from the National Park but when we asked our guide he said it would be okay in this public area. We’re pretty sure this angered Madame Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, and we had to return her sacred `aina from where they came and ask forgiveness.

Where to stay: Our Hawaii Holiday Vacation Rentals home, Luana Hideaway, is in Kapoho, a very quiet and restful community. Its neighborhood is home to Champagne Pond, a large geothermally heated lagoon where you can often swim with green sea turtles.

What to do: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Junior Ranger program is fun even if you are an adult. There are also many Ranger-led activities throughout the day. Don’t miss the Thurston Lava Tube. They say when you pass through a lava tube you gain personal insight and forgiveness. We are hoping for both.

What to see: The lava fountains at Lava Tree State Park. This is an area where the lava runs close to the earths crust so watch your step! The unique lava formations were once trees that filled with lava during volcanic activity many years ago.

Where to go:If you like coastal drives, undeveloped pastures and natural wonders drive out to Akaka Falls State Park (see video above). It is a very short walk to see the falls and they are spectacular.

Where to see stars: You can see the stars day or night on the Big Island. During the daylight hours head to the Imiloa Astronomy Center in Hilo. There are wonderful exhibits but you’ll want to visit the planetarium. At the end of most of the programs they will show you the constellations currently in the Hawaiian skies and how to find them. At night you can choose to simply go outside and look up or make the trek to Mauna Kea Observatories, the highest point on the Big Island to take what you’ve learned and use it.

Finding the best coffee: Staying in Hilo doesn’t mean that you miss out on the coffee trail. We took the winding drive along Highway 11 and made a day of visiting the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation plus a few other spots along the way. Bring you swimsuit, there are a few places you may want to splash about including Punaluu Black Sand Beach Park in Pahala.