Circle Island Tour @ Big Island – Part 2

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So Volcanoes National Park – we stopped at the Halema’uma’u Crater – was just so-so for me. It seemed like a big hole in the ground with some steam coming out. I wasn’t the hugest fan of this place. They do have webcams on the National Park Service website, if you would like to see more.

The gift shop here was good and Jaggar Museum was interesting. I guess we can say we did it but out of the day this would be my least favorite thing to see. Yes I know, I am supposed to love it. I did not.

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Much more interesting to me and seriously gorgeous were the Thurston Lava Tubes. Wow. Again a lot of textures for us to photograph and much greenery plus the lava tubes. My photos do not do this place justice at all. Sorry! 😦

Just be careful where you step in the lava tubes – there are some big puddles of water you can find yourself standing in as a surprise because you are too busy looking up and around you. Water drips from the ceiling so be aware of that, do not let it surprise you!

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This was my favourite stop of the day. We really took our time here too – the bus driver said no rush, he had to go turn the bus around. Most of our group was well ahead of us but once they got back to the entry place they all ended up taking other paths through the rainforest and by the time we got back to the entry place they were returning to it from the other paths.

A photographer could easily spend half a day just at this location taking shots of trees, ferns, moss, the tubes, etc.

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We made a quick stop at the overlook of Kīlauea Iki and wow, what a view! People were hiking the trail here which goes out across the crater floor which was once a lava lake. You could still see steam rising here.

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Then onto the Punaluʻu Beach which is a black sand beach. One of the things I did like about the Big Island is the constantly changing scenery and the way so many different landscapes have been created by the various volcanoes.

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Punaluʻu Beach was pretty fascinating and we had a long stop here enjoying the scenery and also watching some roaming dogs – peoples, keep your dogs on a leash for their own safety – As we arrived there was a dog running along the road – the owner of this dog we found at the Black Sand Beach however by the time we found the owner the dog had taken off and was not to be seen again, and the owner was really upset. 😦 Especially as I believe the dog was brought in from the mainland to an unfamiliar place on holiday, it was one of those you can carry in a bag type dogs. :((((

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An old lava flow at the Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach.

The last stop was a coffee place called Royal Kona Coffee where we could sample Kona Coffee. They had a good range of coffee and souvenirs and I sampled the peaberry which was awesome but very expensive.

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Coffee beans on a coffee plant at Royal Kona Coffee

I bought some chocolate coated coffee beans and some HI stickers for our cars. We were by this time running quite late – the visitor centre shuts at 5pm but they stayed open for us. We spent a decent chunk of time here too, enough to get some awesome sunset pics here.

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As we drove back along the coast we could see the Celebrity Millenium pulling out of Kona and the sun was going down.I have to say these tours are very well organised. We never felt rushed at all, the driver was great and by the end of the day he felt like ohana (family).

We had a great day, and I could see that this might be a brilliant day trip to do from Oahu if you were willing to caffeine up and try not to fall asleep on the bus during the long day you would have. Sure, there are loads of opportunities to fall asleep but you would be missing out on the gorgeous scenery.

I would recommend this tour especially if you are visiting the Big Island, even if you are hiring a car. Our overall enjoyment level out of 10 was something like 25. 🙂 The tour is not that expensive at just $76 USD per person if you are based on the Big Island. You can read more about the Roberts Hawaii Grand Circle Island Tour here.

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The Celebrity Millennium leaving Kona as the sun sets.

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Circle Island Tour @ Big Island – Part 1

You can do this tour from Oahu if you want to – Big Island One Day Tour –  it would be a long day, and you fly in and out the same day. It is not cheap but you may find it worthwhile.

This was by far the highlight of our trip to the Big Island. Let me get one argumentative point out of the way up front. Some Destination Advisors on the Trip Advisor forums – especially the Big Island forum – are very anti tours. They say you should hire a car and drive the circle island yourself. That is one opinion.

Me personally, I disagree. There is nothing I love more than a tour bus and in this instance especially so, sitting back and relaxing next to big picture windows, watching the landscapes change, hearing the tour guide talk about the various lava flows and all kinds of interesting things..

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The gorgeous bougainvillaea along the highway

This was a great day out and had we done this in a car I would have absolutely hated it. I would have been stressed out the whole time about the other half driving – was he getting tired, these roads especially later on in the day (from the black sand beach back to Kona) seemed quite scary and curvy to me, and we would have had to drive on the wrong side of the road in the wrong side of the car.

So I am really glad we did the tour instead of hiring the car. I would pick the tour again, anytime, over hiring the car, especially in places I have never been before and in places we would be on the wrong side of the road. Though, I have done tours here at home as well and enjoyed them greatly.

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Parker Ranch Center was the first stop and it really was just a toilet stop but there was the Parker Ranch Store there which seemed to be quite a temporal vortex I could have got stuck in as well as a Starbucks if anyone needed coffee. Dayum, we bought terrible coffee before leaving for the day – that is another post.

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Rainbow Falls was our next stop and it is just a short walk from the bus which makes it extremely convenient for the tour people and those who are not able to walk long distances. There is a hike to the top of the falls if you want to do that – we chose not to because there was a lot to photograph just near the bottom of the falls.

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We like tree, flower, and textures like moss shots and there was a lot of that there. We got stuck in a temporal vortex photographing moss and before we knew it it was bus time again.

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There is also a lot of *danger* here at the Rainbow Falls, as you can see from the signage. 🙂

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It was just incredibly green here.

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Our tour guide Derek was brilliant and hilarious as well as extremely informative. One of the things he told us is that they had changed when the volcano centre was redone was where they take the tours to eat because a Bento at Volcano visitors centre is now something like $19. They take people to eat to Imiloa Astronomy Center because they have great food at very reasonable prices plus a buffet option.

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These astronomy programs sound wonderful!

This is one of the places in Hilo I had most wanted the other half to go to in any case so I was thrilled about this. The food was awesome and they did have big serves for less than $10. I chose the BLT with avocado and it was great.

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The other half had the bacon cheeseburger, which I forgot to photograph. Of course this was not Aussie bacon (which they call Canadian Bacon here) but was still good. The gift shop was interesting and would rank a 6/10 on my gift shop scale. The other half bought a t-shirt which said “I need my space” – so true!

We were also taken to Big Island Candies which was interesting because you could see into the factory and how they make the chocolates, plus sample their wares. We did buy some shortbread cookies which were coated in soft caramel and then dark chocolate – these were amazing. I forgot to take photos, again. Sometimes you just get involved in what you are doing and forget about the camera! 🙂

Coming up in Part 2 – Volcanoes National Park, Thurston Lava Tube and more.