By Lexus Yamashiro | Staff Writer

From August 8 to 12, I was able to fly out to Big Island to vacation with my boyfriend, Nathaniel, and friend, Kai. Having a vague idea of what Big Island would have in store for us, I became amazed at how many places there were to explore and activities to do. After going on two tours through the tour company Kai’s mother works with, Taikobo Hawaiʻi, and driving around the island on our own for one day, these were my most memorable activities.

Watching the sunrise from Mauna Kea’s summit was a breathtaking experience. (Photo by Lexus Yamashiro)

Stargazing and watching the sunrise on Mauna Kea in Hilo
Due to the dormant volcano’s high elevation, stargazing on Mauna Kea at 13,803 feet above sea level early Saturday morning created an intimate atmosphere between myself and the stars since they felt so close above me. We were able to look above us in awe from outside the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy, which is located about halfway up the volcano just off Mauna Kea Access Road.

Watching the sun rise over the clouds below us followed shortly after. It was mesmerizing to watch as the hues in the sky blended in with one another in the clouds as the sun slowly made itself present. To avoid freezing in the 30- to 40-degree Fahrenheit temperature while on the summit, go prepared in several layers of warm clothing.

Punaluʻu Beach in Naʻālehu
It has been a longtime dream of mine to step foot on a black sand beach. Compared to Oʻahu’s beaches, Punaluʻu Beach’s sand, which is made of basalt, has a less grainy feel to it when walking on it, making strolls on it quite comfortable.

Although no turtles were seen when we went on Friday, there were a few Honuʻea (Hawaiian hawksbill turtle) nests protected by cage coverings seen along the beach. Unlike other beaches, the sand dips down just behind the beach into the formation of a pond filled with water lilies.

Honomū Goat Dairy in Honomū
Getting to pet baby goats was just as thrilling as petting puppies and kittens. Owned by a retired Army couple, they welcome visitors to their farm to interact with their baby goats of all sizes. With names like Sugar, Danica Patrick, and Dark Matter, each goat has its own personality that makes them all unique and oddly cute.

Nathaniel (left), Kai, and I enjoyed the plain malasadas at Tex Drive-In, which remained fluffy after every bite we took. (Photo courtesy of Shin, a Taikobo tour guide)

With a little shop on site, the owners sell confections and products such as sea salt caramels, fudge, soap, and lip balm, which are all made with the milk produced from their goats. Buying more than 30 caramels altogether, it was worth the purchase and trip to see these sweet animals.

Tex Drive-In in Honoka‘a
We were brought to this pit stop for one reason: malasadas. Tex Drive-In is popular for its puffy, square-shaped Portuguese donuts that keep its shape and fluffiness after every bite.

Even with fillings added in such as Bavarian cream, mango, and guava, these malasadas somehow managed to stay intact. Coated in just enough sugar and with the dough carrying the right amount of sweetness, the malasadas being served here are taken to another level beyond what Leonard’s Bakery produces.

Despite hearing from others that Big Island is nothing compared to places like Maui in terms of activities to do, this trip still managed to keep us occupied for the five days we vacationed there. Just by driving on Hawaiʻi Belt Road, which circles around the entire island, it took us to many places such as Big Island Candies (Hilo) and Rare Hawaiian Honey Company (Waimea) since they all are near this popular stretch of highway.

Looking back on this trip, I am glad that I failed to plan out our agendas for each day. We had the freedom to drive around aimlessly without much worry, stopping every so often at places that caught our attention and then finding ourselves back on the same path. If the opportunity comes again, I would love to fly back to see what other popular places and hidden gems lie beyond the road.