Our second day on the Big Island started off much like the first – with a jet-lagged wake up at about 5:00AM. Soon after we were on our way to Ken’s House of Pancakes for breakfast. This diner has been a fixture in Hilo for as long as I can remember. It is an interesting blend of pancake house food with island (local kine) flair. After some eggs, portuguese sausage, and macadamia nut pancakes, it was time to head to the beach.
Today, we were headed to Richardson Ocean Center (a.k.a. Richardson Black Sand Beach) in Hilo. This is one of the local Hilo-area beaches and happens to be a black sand beach. It is a small beach as far as sand goes, but the grounds here cover a vast area of tide pools (fed by the relentless Hilo waves pounding the shore) and a huge lava rock outcrop stretching out to form a perilous point that is absolutely obliterated by the southeastern swells.
We arrived early this morning, well ahead of the masses that would follow later that day (it was President’s Day holiday). The weather was exceptional with the temperature in the upper 70′s and best of all, absolutely clear skies. It was amazing that you could actually see both Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes from the beach at Richardson’s. The waves were pounding and the surfers and boogie boarders were out in force. I’d say the waves were 4-6′ and in good form. Crazily, there were still snorkelers trying to fight their way through the swells. A rule I like to follow (in most places) is if the surfers are out, then I shouldn’t go snorkeling – unless I want to bob around like a cork in a whirlpool, that is.
While we were at the beach, several large tour buses pulled up and offloaded their passengers – Richardson’s is a famous attraction because of its black sand – and it is more convenient to visit than Punaluu Beach (the really famous black sand beach south of Hilo.)
The black sand here is extremely coarse and sticks to your body with great tenacity. The water here is a bit colder than the average Hawaiian waters due to nearby natural (cold) springs. We ended up building massive amounts of sand castles then explored the tide pools nearby. Incredibly, we spotted two Honu (Hawaiian green sea turtles) in very shallow water in the tide pools. We also spotted dozens of small crabs and a ton of tropical fish. The kids enjoyed wading through the shallow tide pools while keeping an eye out for fish. We then climbed up on the rock lava bed to watch the waves crash onto the shore. In the distance we could see the surfers catching mad sets and even a few paddle boarders (it is becoming quite popular out here.)
Next, we changed into dry clothes, grabbed a quick lunch, then it was off to the Hamakua Coast to Akaka Falls State Park. On the way, the kids car-napped and so I stretched the drive longer (to give them more time to sleep). We wound our way through the 4-mile Scenic Drive and up the coast down to KoleKole Beach Park – a marvelous place underneath a Highway 11 bridge. There is a huge grassy field here and the beach park (more of a rocky shore than actual beach), is at the mouth of a lage river, complete with a rope swing across the other bank. Surfers were catching insane sets on the shore break here (6-8′).
We finally made our way up to Akaka Falls. The road winds its way upwards in elevation as your ears pop. It winds through an old Hawaiian Town of the sugar plantation era and finally ends at the parking lot of the State Park. From here, it is a short hike (easily done with young kids) to Kahuna Falls (smaller waterfall) and then Akaka Falls (really large waterfall). The walk is over a paved surface with many steps and handrails (not stroller accessible). It takes you through the tropical rainforest, much of it under canopy with giant ferns and towering bamboo plants surrounding you. The path crosses several streams and you get a real sense of the fertility and abundant rain this area gets. The kids enjoyed the nature walk and a view of the falls. Back to Hilo at the end of this busy day…