‘Akaka Falls State Park

If you ever find yourself on the Big Island, ‘Akaka Falls State Park is definitely worth a visit! ‘Akaka Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls on Hawaii, and it is also one of the most accessible. Typically, waterfalls of this grandeur can only be seen after long, arduous hikes, or very expensive helicopter tours. But to reach ‘Akaka Falls, there is an easy, 0.4 mile loop footpath that will get you in and out in no time. The cost to enter the park is $5 per person. We stopped at this state park prior to visiting Volcanoes National Park, and it was a nice add-on to our outing for the day.

The self-guided path will actually take you to scenic points overlooking TWO waterfalls! ‘Akaka Falls plunges 442 feet into a gorge below. Kahuna Falls is almost as tall, but unfortunately the view of that waterfall is partially obstructed. So while we did get to see Kahuna Falls, I didn’t even bother taking a picture.

The Ground is Lava! – Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Do you remember the childhood game where we pretended the floor was lava? Of course you do; it was the best! Jumping from the coffee table to the couch, trying your best not to fall into the “fiery pit” below. Have today’s kids even heard of this game? Probably not. In our digitally dominated world, this game may be obsolete. Nonetheless, it was the inspiration for the following photos. Because in the Kīlauea Caldera, the ground is actually lava!

But in order to get down to the Kīlauea Caldera, we first had to hike the Halema‘uma‘u Trail. The trail is about 0.8 miles downhill through lush rainforest. (Keep in mind the return hike will be all uphill!)

Photo by NPS

When the trail ends and you enter the caldera, it’s otherworldly. Nothing but a vast expanse of black lava rock and you are actually standing in the caldera of a very active volcano. So active in fact, Kīlauea ranks among the world’s most active volcanoes and may even top the list. Since 1952, Kīlauea has erupted 34 times. Coincidentally, when we first visited Hawai’i in 2018, Kīlauea was actively erupting and the national park was closed to visitors.

If you don’t have time for the hike, you can also view the caldera from above. Crater Rim Drive offers observation points right off the road where you can view the volcano’s broad, shallow depression measuring nearly 3 miles long and 2 miles wide.

Note: Before you visit, make sure to check the NPS website for updates on current closures. Several parts of the park were still closed during our most recent visit.

Sunset Paddle Tour – Ka Napoo Ana O Hoe

We went back to Puako Bay for an evening adventure with LightSUP Hawaii. We had reservations for the Signature Sunset Tour, which combines the views of snorkeling with the experience of paddle boarding…in the dark! 😱 I’m not going to lie peeps…I had some pretty intense anxiety about this activity. I was terrified to fall into the water at night, mostly because that seems to be when sharks are likely hunting, but also because I didn’t want to step on any of the sea urchins (mentioned in my earlier post). But seriously, it was mostly the shark thing. 🦈

The tour begins with dinner on the beach as you watch the sunset.

Sunset on Puako Bay

After dinner, Kelly and her crew teach us newbies the basics of paddle boarding and give us our safety briefing. She advises us not to stand up on the paddle boards until we are given the thumbs up that the water is deep enough, so that if you do fall off there won’t be a chance of landing on the giant sea urchins.

After the sun has set, its time to light up the paddle boards! Each paddle board has a large viewing window like a glass bottom boat. The viewing window has under-mounted lights; 4500 lumens lighting up the reef below you. The lights allow you to see what is swimming below, but the lights are also designed to attract plankton, which in turn will attract more sea life for viewing.

Rob stands up as soon as he is given the thumbs up. I decided to keep my arse firmly planted on the paddle board. 🐔

Ella shared a paddle board with Rob – which allowed her to lay down right in front of the viewing window. Best seat in the house! We saw lots of minnows and needle fish mostly. But towards the very end of the tour I did see a puffer fish which was pretty cool.

Notes – Kelly and her crew were AMAZING! They definitely tailor this experience to a wide range of skill levels, so it doesn’t matter if you are an experienced paddle boarder, or a first-timer like me. Additionally, dinner and sunset on the beach was both tasty and beautiful! This was definitely a unique experience and I am glad that we tried it. However, I definitely expected to see a wider variety of sea life, so that was a bit disappointing. But, I likely missed quite a lot of what was going on below while I was so focused on navigating the paddle board. Finally, even though the water was very calm, I was beginning to feel a tinge of motion sickness coming on. The slight water movement combined with looking down through the window was not a good mixture for me since I am very prone to getting sea sick. It was similar to how I feel when I try to read in a car. So I found myself not looking through the window continuously so as to ease those side effects.

Puako Bay Tide Pools

One of the very first things we did on the Big Island, was visit Puako Bay during low tide. There isn’t much sand there, but the natural formations in the lava rock create amazing tide pools! During low tide, small pools dot the entire coastline and it is a great place to explore and observe small sea creatures throughout an extensive reef. We saw a ton of sea urchins and they were the biggest sea urchins I had ever seen! The creature in the top right photo is a sea cucumber. I just learned that sea cucumbers excrete a toxic venom and can cause permanent blindness in humans if it gets in your eyes! Great…adding more to the list of things I’m terrified of in the ocean. 🤦🏼‍♀️

Ella had had enough exploring and she was ready to leave because she had fallen down a couple times. The tide pool terrain was a bit tricky to navigate. Particularly when there was the possibility of slipping and landing on giant sea urchins!

As Rob and Ella were heading back to the access point we entered from, I spotted a sea turtle! He was enjoying a morning snack and I thoroughly enjoyed watching him nibble.

And then I realized there were SO many more turtles in nearby tide pools. It was definitely the highlight of this little adventure!

If you are ever in this area of the Big Island, I would definitely recommend this as a fun excursion. There are six separate access points to this stretch of beach. And you’ll need sturdy shoes to navigate around the lava rock.