We were incredibly blessed to take a two and a half week trip to the Big Island of Hawaii last September-October. It was a magical time for our family. Magical for the extreme beauty of that enchanted place, but also, more importantly so, magical because we spent so much uninterrupted time together. Even the times we spent watching a movie or playing a game back at our rented home at night seemed unworldly.
The kids and I also went with my mom for a three day trip to Madison, Wisconsin the end of October. Steve usually goes on to a conference during this time, so this is the third year in a row I’ve taken a mini trip with my mom. It’s something we look forward to every year.
Here are a few highlights from those trips:
Top Ten Hawaii Highlights
1. Playing at Beaches – We went to 13 different beaches during our 2 and a half week stay, which I guess isn’t surprising since that’s where most people usually hang out when they go to Hawaii!
There were times when we arrived at a beach so early in the morning that we were the first ones to walk across smooth white sand beaches,
Times when the kids spent hours boogie boarding in the waves while I read a book under a palm tree,
Times when we snorkeled and saw dozens of beautiful fish before being called back to shore after a tiger shark sighting,
Times when we watched the sun sink down behind the clouds as we gathered rocks along the shore.
Our top 5 favorite beaches:
Kahaluu Beach Park – great snorkeling!
2. Kaumana Cave – After the government shutdown, we couldn’t go back to Hawaii Volcano National Park, so we wound up driving to a cave that I had read about. We had never intended to go there, but it wound up being one of the highlights of our trip.
The cave is actually a 25 mile long lava tube that is pretty much untouched- no lights, no walkways, not many signs that people have been there. We hiked for about an hour in the dark. The kids were very impressed when we turned off our flashlights and we overcome by darkness. At one point, Steve and I were crawling on our hands and knees the cave was so narrow and low at points. It was an incredible experience.
3. Snorkeling on Kealakekua Bay – We took a 4 hour boat ride (and when I say boat, I mean a small motor boat!) to the middle of Kealakekua Bay. This is the same bay where Captain Cook’s bones were thrown after he was killed by local Hawaiians. Interesting story.
Anyway, this was the most beautiful snorkeling spot I have ever been to. We jumped over the edge of the boat into 150 foot depth. It was like jumping into a different world. I was also so glad that swimming lessons have paid off for the kids! One the way back, after eating a quick lunch on the boat, we stopped several times to watch dolphins play in the waves. We weren’t able to get out and swim with them, but it was an incredible time regardless.
4. Hawaii Volcano National Park – Because of the government shutdown (AAGGGHHH!!!) we were only able to spend one day at the park during our time on the east side of the island. I don’t know what we were thinking, but we drove there only in our shorts, not considering the change in elevation, and it was raining, so we were freezing by the time we reached the visitor center.
After watching a short film about the history of the park, we drove down towards the ocean where it was warmer. We took a short hike down to see some petro glyphs, and then drove to where the lava had flowed over the road, shutting it off from the rest of the park. One night we drove to the edge of this area and saw some steam over the Kilauea, but we were never able to dive around the edge of the crater or do any hiking there.
5. Staying at fruit orchards – We were so blessed to rent an apartment one side of the island and a home on the other side of the island that were both surrounded by fruit trees. We picked our own guavas and oranges to eat for breakfast. They also had pineapples growing, too, but none were ripe while we were there.
At the apartment, we watched a flock of wild turkeys walk across the yard, and at the home on the east side, Jared and I went coqui frog hunting at night. In the morning while eating breakfast out on the lanai, we’d watched geckos scurry across our half eaten plates.
6. Sunset at the top of Mauna Kea – We saw the most gorgeous sunset at the top of Mauna Kea while on the west side of the island. We arrived later than we had wanted to, plus we didn’t have a four wheel drive vehicle, so we didn’t drive to the Keck Observatory at the summit, but it was still a memorable time.
7. Hawaii Botanical Gardens- This was the most beautiful botanical garden I’ve been to in my life, and I’ve been to some pretty gorgeous gardens. You had waterfalls, flowers from all over the world, the ocean, parrots, and a jungle. If you go to the Big Island, this is a must see.
8. Waterfalls – We saw a few waterfalls when we were on the east side of the island. Akaka Falls was beautiful but very touristy – concrete steps leading down to the falls, railings everywhere.
Rainbow Falls was more us. If you take the steps off to the left of the tourist lookout, you’ll see a little trail that takes you to the top of the falls. There you can wade in the stream that feeds down the waterfall. I’m severely afraid of heights, but Steve and the kids went right up to the drop off – no railings there to hold them back!
9. Waipio Valley Lookout and Hike- We went to the most beautiful lookouts I’ve ever been to in my life. Have you ever stood at the top of a mountain or cliff or valley and tear up from the sheer beauty of what surrounds you? Yeah, that was this. We hiked down to the floor of the valley and walked along the black sand beach. The hour long hike back UP the valley wasn’t as much fun L Thank goodness I’d been exercising regularly since January!
10. The luau at the Royal Kona Resort – You have to go to a luau when you visit Hawaii, right? We saw the traditional imu (underground oven) presentation, the kids learned how to dance a hula dance, ate a wonderful traditional Hawaiian meal, and saw a show featuring dances from Polynesia and Hawaii with a fire dance finale. Oh, and you could watch the ocean in the background during the show. Gorgeous!
Top Five Madison, Wisconsin Highlights
1. Laughter and bonding in the car and hotel – The best part of every trip with my mom is talking and laughing in the car. The funny stories we tell of days long past, the silly things we do, taking in the beautiful hilly scenery, sharing dreams for future trips. These are the moments I’ll most remember.
2. The swimming pool – This is always the highlight of a hotel stay for the kids. Thank goodness they have my mom to go swimming with them. I’m always a baby about the cold water. I didn’t even like the hot tub that much this time. But the kids? Swimming four times in three days wasn’t enough for them.
3.Cave of the Mounds – What a beautiful cave! This was a much different cave than the lava tube cave we crawled through on hands and knees in Hawaii. It had evenly spaced concrete steps, well placed lighting placed throughout, and a well scripted speech from out tour guide. Still we couldn’t help but be awed by the beauty of the cave and its fascinating story. I’d highly recommend checking it out if you’re in the area.
After the tour, the kids found a little sand pit right outside where you could dig for little stones, fossils and even sharks teeth. They walked away with a handful of cute souvenirs.
4. Walking around downtown Madison – It happened to drop down to below 30 degrees and was very windy when we were in Madison, so my perfectly imagined plan of walking along the lake shore didn’t pan out. But we did enjoy driving up and down the college town streets, eating sandwiches in a local shop, and playing Chinese checkers while drinking a white chocolate mocha in a cafe.
5. Madison Children’s Museum- We always try to check out any children’s museums when we are in a new place. We’ve been to children’s museums in Indiana, Michigan, California, Missouri, and now Wisconsin.The highlight of the museum for the kids was a tall climbing structure in the middle of the building.The highlight for me was walking out on the rooftop and seeing a 360 degree view of the city and the lake. Beautiful!
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