Unplugged Family Adventures on the Big Island
February 20, 2018Feb 20, 2018By KEENer Ginny Figlar
4 MIN READ living outside travel
I crafted my out-of-office email response, left my work laptop at work, crammed a week’s worth of outfits for our family of four (plus my Clearwater sandals!) into one suitcase, and slid into full-on vacation mode somewhere over the Pacific.
We were Big Island bound—trading our winter jackets, screen time, and weekday bustle for Hawaiian sunshine, exploring paradise all day, and reconnecting as a family. No work. No Roblox. Just recharging in nature. The idea felt so amazing that I didn’t even mind that it was raining in Kona when we landed.
"For me, exploring on the kids’ level just adds to the idea of slowing down and gaining a fresh perspective."
We were 100% ready to take it all in. To go all-in on vacation. Or at least as all-in as you can go with a 6- and 10-year-old. I knew we would probably have to save some of the more epic adventures like nighttime Manta Ray dives and challenging hikes to hidden beaches until they are older. And, that’s okay. For me, exploring on the kids’ level just adds to the idea of slowing down and gaining a fresh perspective. I’m constantly amazed at all the new things I discover because of them. (Hello, brown anoles, black brittle starfish, and early-morning snail parades.)
If you’re planning an escape to the Big Island with kids, here are a few ideas to help leave mainland life behind and soak up adventure on the Kona coast:
Kahalu’u Beach Park is super accessible, protected, and close to shore, so it was a great place to introduce our youngest child to snorkeling. We saw tons of fish, including a needlefish, Moorish Idol, spotted boxfish, and orangespine unicornfish, plus the VIP sea creature of the day: Mr. Sea Turtle. My 6-year-old loved exploring underwater so much that we went back out two more times to see what else we could find. He said several times that it was the “best day ever.”
If you go: Wear reef-safe sunscreen and rent snorkel gear from the Kahalu’u Bay Education Center tent, which educates visitors about wildlife in the bay and safe snorkeling practices.
Some beaches on the Big Island require a 4WD vehicle or hiking in. And while we decided that the 2.5-mile hike to the green sand Papakōlea Beach was probably a bit too far for our kids, we found other off-the-beaten-path beaches with shorter hikes, such as the black sand beach in Pololū Valley.
We read that it was an easy, half-mile hike from the overlook. It turned out to be a totally doable distance, that’s for sure. But the trail was pretty steep and rocky, and we held our 6-year-old’s hand on the switchbacks. Once we made it to the bottom, we walked through a magical little forest (my daughter is convinced she spotted a fairy) to get to the breathtaking beach: cliffs on both sides, fine black sand, and we were the only ones there. Looking back, I’m not sure why we ever left!
If you go: Stop for après-hike smoothies at the café in the laid-back town of Hawi.
I’m not a morning person. But put me in Hawaii, and suddenly I am! Up early due to jet lag, we headed to the beach near our condo. It wasn’t a sandy swimming beach. Instead, all the lava had made it a great tidepooling area, and we lost count of all the little crabs and sea urchins we spotted. “Let’s see what creatures we can find!” — that has to be one of the easiest ways to get kids out the door for a day of exploring.
If you go: Wear waterproof shoes or sandals with good traction, and bring binoculars for spotting whales.
Pairing the power of nature with a $3.99 inflatable boogie board was all it took for epic fun day after day after day. The kids had a blast, too.
If you go: Renting beach gear by the week is the best deal (we realized this too late).
On our last day, we checked out yet another beach on the Kohala Coast only to find it closed to swimming due to high surf. Hell-bent on spending one more day playing in the ocean, I remembered that Anaeho'omalu Bay (commonly called A-Bay) seemed really sheltered. And it was. While there were huge waves and rip currents elsewhere, people were kayaking and paddleboarding in the bay with ease. We rented a paddleboard and explored the coral from above, saying hi to a few sea turtles who were doing the same.
If you go: Look for moray eels in the ancient fishponds behind the beach.