Cycling on Hawaii’s Big Island

The Perfect Getaway

The ride started out so easy – with a warm Big Island breeze on our faces, cycling past lava fields that looked like endless crushed, overdone brownies dotted with golden and green tufts of tenacious vegetation, under a brilliant blue sky. After some 25 miles or so, the sun began to blaze, and we wished we had accepted our tour guide’s three offers to jump in the support van to drive to our next destination. We were stalwart, however, and soldiered on, pedaling furiously despite our dripping brows and jelly-like legs. Finally, we arrived – at a glorious beach, and within a split second, I had sprung my bicycle against the van and ran, bike shorts and shirt still on, only my shoes tossed off, into the blissfully refreshing turquoise ocean.

Aahhh – nothing could be better than this moment – and I didn’t mind amusing my cycling comrades one bit.
My husband and I were on an August, 2019 Bicycle Adventures’ Hawaii Classic Bike Tour of the Big Island, which runs six days – Sunday to Friday, customized to all cycling levels. On this trip, we cycled, hiked, toured a coffee plantation, visited waterfalls, snorkeled and sailed, walked through a volcanic crater, and swam in thermal hot springs. The extraordinarily well-designed and organized tour gave us an extremely rich Big Island experience.

We arrived Saturday evening at the outdoor airport of Kona. Immediately upon disembarking, we were struck with the heady fragrances of plumeria and jasmine perfuming the misty, cool air. We’d be continually stopping to happily sniff flowers all week – and proudly wore the plumeria and orchid leis we learned to make by ourselves
during the flights home to Denver. The next morning, we met as a group with our tour guide in the lobby of our hotel in the pretty beach area of Waikoloa on the Kona coast, about a 30-minute drive from the airport.

We stayed there the arrival night, although that is not included in the tour package. Waikoloa is ideally situated on a beachfront, but within a five-minute walk of two pedestrian malls full of a wide variety of shops, restaurants and two well-stocked general stores, as well as being walking distance from a fascinating trail of ancient
petroglyphs. At the mall, I indulged in a five-minute lesson at Hawaiian Ukulele & Guitar, run by native Hawaiian Robert Yates. Who knew?

I fell in love with the melodic, easily portable instrument – and much to my surprise, bought one! Our tour guide, Teri, gave us packets with our week’s routes (very detailed with exact mileages,) explicit safety rules and background information on sights and attractions. Each day she would begin the day with her nicely illustrated whiteboard, showing us the highlights of the route. She stressed that this was “your vacation” and we could ride as much or as little as we wanted. “If you only want to ride 12 miles today,” she quipped,

“I’ll make sure it’s the prettiest 12 miles of the route! You’ll each see what YOU want to see.” Our first day, we rode about 34 miles, beginning with a 45-minute shuttle drive to Waimea, (Hawaii’s so-called cowboy country.) Shuttling is one of the main benefits of traveling with Bicycle Adventures – cyclists are driven through sections with little to no shoulders, or less-than-desirable conditions. The support van also transported luggage, bicycle equipment, lavish snacks, ice water and drinks, and supplies for the delectable picnic lunches Teri prepared for us on several days.

From Waimea, we biked through lush countryside and ranchland dotted with grazing cattle and goats, we were pleased to note that there are no billboards in Hawaii (by law) and that much of the island is undeveloped. There were flowers blooming everywhere – hibiscus, wild ginger, morning glories, clematis, jasmine, bougainvillea, plumeria and more – gloriously scenting the air. On the Hamukua Heritage Drive coast, we were mesmerized by the Waipio Overlook of 1,000-2,000-foot cliffs over the azure Pacific and a volcanic black sand beach, followed by a .4 mile hike to the spectacularly beautiful and renowned Akaka Falls, 442 feet high, situated in a splendidly lush rainforest filled with wild orchids, bamboo and giant ferns. This was the Hawaii of which we had dreamed since childhood.

Lunch was at the delightful “What’s Shakin’,” a farm-stand café that specializes in fresh smoothies prepared from the many acres of fruit orchards onsite. My mango/pineapple/papaya choice was more than delicious. We arrived in Hilo, the Big Island’s largest town, in time to check into the very pleasant Hilo Hawaiian Hotel,
overlooking Hilo Bay and adjacent to the tranquil, exquisite public Japanese Gardens – visit in the quiet and cool morning, as we did. We enjoyed seeing the cute wild mongooses (just one of the many invasive species brought to the island,) coexisting peacefully with the Gardens’ family of cats. Hilo is known for its enormous banyan trees
planted by famous historical people, such as Babe Ruth, as well as for enormous ‘monkey pod’ trees, canopying the road like giant umbrellas.

Day 2 featured a beautiful 21-mile stretch through the tropical Puna District, with more banyans, vines, papaya plantations, towering eucalyptus groves, ferns, and dense greenery a la ‘Jurassic Park.’ A fine mist cooled our faces as we biked on the quiet road, arriving at Isaac Hale Park’s magnificent black sand beach, where we gazed in wonder at the spaghetti-like strands of petrified lava meeting the brilliant blue ocean. Teri prepared a delectable two-salad lunch for us, and satiated, we cycled on to Volcano National Park, where we’d spend two nights. Dinner at the Park’s Volcano House was delicious but the main draw was the restaurant’s view – none of us had expected to see the orange glow and billowing steam rising from the Kilauea’s main Iki Crater, which erupted in 2008 and is still actively spewing gases. We were thrilled, to say the least.

On Day 3, Teri took us to the fern-filled grotto of the Thurston Lava Tube, where a river of hot lava once flowed, and then down a deep descent on a dark, mysterious trail filled with ferns, rustling leaves, tiny orange flowers, amidst the sounds of songbirds and crickets, to walk on the barren crater itself – both fascinating and other-worldly, akin to what we imagine the moon might be like, and we scrambled about, taking photo after
photo. That afternoon, we pedaled back to the Park and visited the excellent museum and visitor center to learn more about the Big Island and its volcanoes. After dark, we returned to the museum’s overlook to gaze in wonder at the glowing crater and panorama of glittering stars in the darkness, (don’t forget warm jackets!)
The next morning we biked 32 miles downhill to the black sand Punalu’u Beach, famed for its large green sea turtles. The beach is gorgeous, rimmed with tall palms and backed by purple lily pads in a fresh water pond. We saw one mama turtle resting on the sand, while two others frolicked playfully in the surf. Lunch was at the yummy Sweet Bread Bakery (if you think you know Hawaiian sweet bread, you’ll think differently after
this!) After a pleasant van drive, we took the Greenwell Farms Coffee Tour, where we sampled various Kona coffees and played with the farm’s friendly chameleons, then drove on to Keauhou Bay, and the Sheraton Kona, famed for its nightly manta ray viewing.

Our last cycling day was through the lava fields of the Pololu Valley, to the charming little town of Hawi, where we lunched, and then onto a 23.6 mile stretch to the cream- colored sand beach of Hapuna Beach State Park, which is where I dove into the water fully clothed and oh-so-hot! After a short, but blissful, respite, we returned to our hotel for our last dinner with our comrades. Friday, Day 6, was a special farewell delight – a snorkeling cruise on the bay via catamaran, breakfast and lunch included. What could be a climax to such a fabulous week? For me, it was finding an octopus, of course, and being able to hold it!

Our Bicycle Adventures trip ended with a closing ceremony, replete with certificates, sharing kind words with the others, and somehow, the week, chock-full of never-to-be- forgotten experiences, was over. For me, however, my new ukulele will keep reminding me of my Big Island joys.

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