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Feeling a bit lost - can you help me plan our 1st Big Island trip?

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A bit of background info: It will be me (31), DH31, and DD7. We will be arriving July 30th and staying in Captain Cook for 4 nights at a 1BR oceanfront rental. On August 3rd, we will go to Keaau and stay in a 2BR rental for 4 nights.

After reading most of the posts here and reading "The Big Island Revealed", I'm afraid I'll try to cram too much in without slowing down to enjoy it without being completely exhausted (it is a vacation after all).

We love to hike, have never snorkeled (or even swam in the ocean), and are pretty much nature lovers (waterfalls, volcanoes, spinner dolphins, and sea turtles especially). We also love to learn about history and culture (though, DD7 can get a bit bored, so we'll try to incorporate other "fun" things that same day).

Since we've never snorkeled, would you recommend going with Fairways for a snorkeling tour in Captain Cook?

Also, what are your "must-sees"? I'd like to make a casual itinerary just so we're not caught driving in circles and backtracking alot.

We will be eating some at our room, but what are some nice restaurants for lunch & dinner?

I greatly appreciate any insight and suggestions!

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    First of all, I'm curious where are you staying in Captain Cook that is oceanfront-the town of Captain Cook is on highway 11 a few miles up above the shore. Are you perhaps actually staying in Napoopoo on Kealekakua Bay??

    Anyway--I've never done the Fair Wind snorkeling cruise of Kealekakua Bay--but those who have seem to love it and since you've never snorkeled, it might be a good idea.

    Some of the best snorkeling on the BI, per my husband since I do not snorkel, is in south Kona. Kealekakua Bay (there are a couple of places to get into the bay--the easiest is at Manini Beach in Napoopoo). Sometimes you will see spinner dolphins in the bay.

    Another good area is one that people call Two-Step (there is no sign anywhere, as far as I know, that says Two-Step) It is on Honaunau Bay, by Place of Refuge (which is also worth a visit http://www.nps.gov/puho/). (As you go toward the parking lot for Place of Refuge but before you get to it, turn right-follow the road a little way until you see an area on the left where people are going in the water--park along the road.) Two-Step is quite popular and does get crowded, especially on weekends. Sometimes spinners are sighted there.

    Kahalu'Beach between Kailua Kona and Keauhou is a very popular snorkel spot. It is protected by a breakwater so no waves--there are usually turtles there.

    If you would like to do a day trip from south Kona, you could go to Waimea and visit the Parker Ranch http://www.parkerranch.com/. Another scenic area is Waipio Valley--you can hike down the very steep road into the valley or you can take a tour. Here's a website for one --http://www.waipiovalleywagontours.com/

    Another possible day trip is to go to North Kohala, to Hawi then on to the Pololu Valley overlook. You can hike down into the valley. I suggest you drive up highway 270 from Kawaihae and drive back from Hawi on highway 250, over the Koahla mountains, almost to Waimea. Then back to Kawaihae on highway 19-quite scenic.

    If you drive the northern route to Kea'au when you move to south Kona, you could go to Waipio Valley and Akaka Falls on the way.

    And when you're staying in Kea'au you'll be close to the Kapoho tidepools. The best snorkeling is in a residential area called Vacationland http://www.letsgo-hawaii.com/kapoho/
    Plus right now where the lava from Kilauea is flowing into the ocean close to Kalapana in Puna.

    I assume you will go to Volcano National Park. A nice hike to do in the park is across the Kilauea Iki crater. From the Kilauea Iki Overlook, when looking into the crater, follow the trail to the right. It will take you through the rain forest, down into the crater, across the crater, up the other side and back to the overlook. It takes about 1 1/2 hours and is not difficult. If it's sunny, wear a hat and take water.

    A lovely place to stop between Kea'au and Volcano is Akatsuka Orchids (on the left side of the highway) http://www.akatsukaorchid.com/The-Greenhouse/ Besides the orchids, it has very clean restrooms.

    Check this website for some restaurant recs--http://www.konaweb.com/konaweb/island.shtml

    And several not listed there that I like are
    Sushi Rock in Hawi, Paolo's in Pahoa, Lave Rock in Volcano (good for lunch after a hike in the park).

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    We did the Fairwind cruise to Kealakekua Bay, and it was fun. The water was clear and pretty; we saw tons of yellow tangs. Our favorite things on the BI were Akaka Falls - gorgeous, about 400 feet tall, and hiking out to see the lava at Volcanoes National Park. We stayed at the Hapuna Beach Prince, and the beach there was absolutely beautiful. For volcano time, we stayed at the Kilauea Lodge and liked it. You can't always hike out to see the lava since the flow changes, but if you're able to, it's amazing.

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    Very good replies!

    You can't get too lost on the Big Island! As soon as you get off the plane in Kona, you will sense the warm and fragrant aloha spirit in the air.

    Here are some ideas, thinking of your daughter, especially.

    You can buy very nice and reasonably priced leis at the airport. Plumaria is classic and smells very sweet.

    Some people rave about the sea horse farm. I was unimpressed for the price ($25 per person) but that is something that kids seem to love.

    You might like to visit some of the resorts north of Kona. All beaches are public, and the resorts are open to anyone to shop, have lunch or a drink at the pool bar. Several of them have good viewing for sea turtles.

    The Hilton Waikoloa is especially fun for kids with the monorail, boat ride, and dolphin discovery area. You don't have to stay there to participate. We usually buy lunch and watch the kids doing the dolphin experience.

    Also, the resorts have petroglyph trails and ancient ruins, especially the Mauna Lani. Many of them will have interesting hula shows, or lei making, or Hawaiian music. Check out online or in the papers for special events, cause a lot of times these are so much fun.

    You'll be near Place of Refuge, and that should be very interesting, and it's nice for running around a bit. I believe your entry fee to the volcano will apply here as well.

    The Aloha Theater has interesting films, and good food and snacks, and is in a beautiful building.

    All the little towns are fun to explore, so allow enough time to wander. Also, the tiny, painted churches are appealing.

    The town of Kona is really quaint in small doses with the stone church and Huilehee Palace. Lots of ice cream and ABC (souvenir) shops. You walk along the cement wall and waves crash upon you. There's an interesting historical site at the King Kamehameha hotel.

    At the volcano, the lava tube is other worldly. The lava trees park is also spooky. I actually like the Mauna Loa mac nut farm (free samples and mac nut souvenirs) and the Hilo Zoo (albino tiger and free).

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    I hope you realize that it will take at least an hour-probably more- to drive from Milolii to Kailua Kona, so you will need to factor that into any trips north. Also I don't remember any restaurants in Milolii but I think there are a couple at least in Ocean View which is south.

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    You will love the Big Island! We went out on two different trips with Fairwind and you can't beat it. It's a beautiful catamaran with a wonderful crew. If you've never snorkeled before they're the ones to show you how, and they cook a great lunch on board. You don't have to snorkel the whole time but can just relax onboard, listening to the lovely music.

    The Big Island is the place to enjoy true Hawaiian history. The King Kamehameha hotel lobby has wonderful portraits of the kings, and also does a nice luau. They're all pretty commercial but this one is nice with the boats arriving. If you have a chance, in that same town (Kona) is the oldest church. We're not really religious but going to a Sunday service was the most wonderful experience. Some of the service was in Hawaiian but the program gives you the words to sing along with the Doxology, etc. All the women come in their muumuus and the church is filled with the huge tribal feathered poles. Across the street is a good museum. Up the road on Sundays (maybe other days too) is a good kind of flea market with some good buys for nicer souvenirs. Also the Place of Refuge is very interesting, and there are sea turtles there. There's a diner of sorts in town, just across from King K. hotel with good local food, like Spam (of course!) and fried rice for breakfast.

    We enjoyed seeing the petroglyphs and there's a nice trail by the Hilton up the coast.

    We weren't at all impressed with Parker Ranch and it's quite a drive to get there. Skip it because there are too many other good things to do instead, like the lava tubes and tree park which are cool. The island has five different climates so you might enjoy going to the rain forest area (not the one in the crater) where they have a lovely botanical garden, but of course Kilaueha is THE place to go, and a helicopter ride over the area is very interesting.

    My advice: just explore--but save time to relax!

    If you have a chance to be in Oahu the Queen Iolani Palace is beautiful and gives you a good feeling of the Hawaiian people. They aren't open every day and you need to call to make a reservation but it's worth it.

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