Cruising the Na Pali Coastline

The second day in Kauai is a short one, and the cruise line requires all guests to be back on board by the early afternoon. It is for a good reason though. Before leaving Kauai to head back to Oahu, the ship does a scenic cruise past the Na Pali Coastline. The cliffs are one of the most awe-inspiring sights in the whole state, with sheer cliff faces plunging thousands of feet down into the ocean. The coast is only accessible by hiking or boat, but the best way to experience the full majesty of the cliffs is to view them from a distance, such as from the deck of a cruise ship or on a helicopter tour.

So we headed out to the top decks of the ship, bought some margaritas, and prepared to be amazed!

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If experiencing the Na Pali Coast on a cruise ship like this, I recommend setting up camp early. You can only see the coast from one side of the ship, and there are an awful lot of passengers trying to squeeze in there.

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We were lucky and it was a pretty clear day. It could’ve been better, but it also could’ve been worse. And as is always the case, these pictures do not do the cliffs justice.

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We could practically hear the “Jurassic Park” theme song playing as we cruised along the coast (they actually did film it here, for the record)…

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Whales!!

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The sunset cast beautiful colors on the water, and we stayed out on the decks and watched until the sun sunk below the horizon.

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A perfect way to end our last night in Hawaii.

There is Such a Thing as a Bad Day in Hawaii

On our last day in Hawaii, we had a few hours to spend before catching our red eye flight back to LA, so we decided to venture out of the Waikiki/Honolulu area and check out the other side of the island.

Honestly, everything about this day turned out to be a complete disaster. With my parents trying to navigate us using a map, and my sister and I navigating with GPS, we ended up getting so lost and turned around that we spent most of our last day in Hawaii inside a car.

Moral of the story: choose one form of navigation and stick with it.

Eventually, we did make it to a beach though. It took us twice as long as it should’ve to get there, but we found Kailua Beach Park, on the windward coast of Oahu. This is more of a locals beach, and looked completely desolate compared to Waikiki.

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It was a pretty beach, but worth driving all day to get there? Definitely not. We only stayed a few minutes and then left, unimpressed and in bad moods (getting lost in an unknown place will do that to you). From there, we continued around the southern edge of the island and headed for Hanauma Bay, which is where I had wanted to go from the beginning.

We got there fairly late in the day, after they stopped charging admission to get inside because it was almost closed. Hanauma Bay is a nature preserve and costs around $8 per person to get in, but the snorkeling here is supposed to be really awesome. Not that I would know though, because we got there too late to do it. However my sister had snorkeled there before, and said it was just alright. Too many people, she said, causing poor visibility. It’s still on my list of things to do next time I’m in Oahu though.

So we were only able to walk around the grounds for a few minutes, but even with only being allowed partial access, the bay still looked beautiful. It provided a moment of peace and serenity in the midst of a travel day from Hell.

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By the end of the day, my sisters and I made the unanimous decision to pretend this day never happened. After leaving Hanauma Bay, we got lost trying to find a place for dinner, and then lost again on the way to the airport. It just goes to show that even the most seasoned travelers aren’t immune to encountering problems abroad.

Lessons I gained from this day: don’t simultaneously use maps and GPS, have a game plan laid out before you start driving, and if you have time constraints, don’t choose a destination that is far away.

Hanauma Bay…I will return for you!!

Journey to Waimea Canyon

I first heard about Waimea Canyon a few years back, when reading an issue of National Geographic about the most beautiful places in the world. So when I saw that a round-trip excursion to Waimea Canyon was offered through the cruiseline, my family and I immediately signed up! And even better, it was  offered on our second day in Kauai when we didn’t have much time to spend in port, so it was very convenient to not have to worry about getting rental cars and all that. The tour would pick us up at the dock, and drop us back off just in time to get back on the ship. It was logistical perfection.

And so we piled onto the bus and took off!

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I normally hate guided tours of any kind, and listening to tour guides bores me, but our tour guide on this adventure was actually really interesting. He had lived on the island for years, and was full of fascinating stories. Plus he was anything but politically correct, so listening to him was a total hoot.

It was a long drive to Waimea Canyon, so we made a pit stop along the way at a scenic overlook and gift shop. We were able to grab a few quick photos, go to the bathroom, and buy some snacks and souvenirs. The store was filled with all kinds of odd knick-knacks, and I definitely made a few purchases.

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We made it to the canyon! There was a brief walk to get up to the viewpoint, with some stairs and ramps, but nothing challenging.

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In the parking lot at Waimea Canyon, there was a delightful fruit stand. I bought some fresh sugar cane to snack on during the journey back.

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Such a weird food to eat. Essentially, you put each piece in your mouth and suck on it/chew it until all the juice is out, and then spit out the mangy leftover fibers. They provide bags for you to use for the sugar cane carcasses. Definitely not the classiest snack.

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At this point, we thought the tour was over and we got in the bus to head back. But apparently there was more to this tour than the description told us. After leaving Waimea Canyon, our tour guide took us to Kauai Coffee Company, where Kauai’s coffee is grown and roasted. As an avid coffee drinker, I was beyond excited!

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They had so many different roasts to sample, and a shop selling all of their coffee products. I was in coffee heaven!

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And I totally bought these burlap coffee sacks to sew into throw pillows for my living room.

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Scenic views along the drive…

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But oh, the tour still wasn’t over. After leaving Kauai Coffee Company, our tour guide took us to Spouting Horn, Kauai’s blowhole.

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And then we continued our drive back to the ship.

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I seriously cannot say enough good things about this tour. It ended up being so much more than we expected, and our guide kept it interesting the entire time. This has become the tour I measure all other tours against now, and to date, the only guided tour for which I can honestly say I enjoyed every single minute. If you cruise to Hawaii with Norwegian Cruise Line, take this tour. You get to see so much more of Kauai than just the beaches, and this half day excursion provided an awesome sampling of the island. Of course you can visit all these sites on your own, but when time is limited, it is nice to not have to worry about logistics. You can just sit back, relax, and focus on having fun!

Luau Kalamaku

No Hawaiian vacation is complete without attending a luau. Roasted pigs, hula dancers, leis…we’ve all been to luau themed parties, I’m sure, but getting to attend a real luau is a whole different experience!

When searching for a luau in Kauai, all sources direct you to the same one: Luau Kalamaku. So we bought our tickets, hopped on a bus, and were on our way! This luau is held at the beautiful Kilohana Estate and plantation, built in 1896. Giant tents are set up, and upon arrival, you are escorted to your table. While waiting for dinner to be served, guests are welcome to explore the grounds, take a free hula dance lesson, or partake in the open bar, all while listening to a live Hawaiian band.

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The outside areas of the estate were beautiful, and I set off to find the pig roasting pit while my sisters attended the free hula dance lesson. Hey, I had never seen a pig cooked like that before, and I was curious to see how it looked!

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Turns out, it doesn’t look too exciting.

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It was almost time for dinner, so I went back inside. During dinner, dancers performed some traditional Hawaiian/Tahitian dances.

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Dinner!! Dinner is served buffet style, and tables are dismissed one at a time. And here is my one complaint about the whole experience. I don’t know if they were running behind or what the deal was, but I have never felt so rushed during a meal in my entire life. We had barely received our salads and pu pu platters (and by barely I mean maybe two minutes) when we were told to go get our dinner and they tried to clear our salad plates. We had to ask the servers to please leave the plates alone while we got our food. Because I hate waiting in buffet lines, I got a huge helping the first time around, which ended up being a good thing, because even though it was supposed to be all-you-can-eat, they started putting away the food after everyone made it through the line.

The food sure was tasty though! Lots of traditional Hawaiian foods, including poi.

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I made sure to get lots of that roasted pig.

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We just sat down with our dinner, and then the servers began setting out the dessert table. Jokingly, my sister said, “I better go get some before they take away that food too” and went to get dessert. Once again, it’s a good thing we all went then, because they seriously did start to clear away the dessert. And we were still working on our salad course. Now, we are by no means slow eaters, and weren’t stalling or lingering. They just wanted us all to finish eating that quickly, because the main show was getting ready to start.

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The show was interesting. It was very theatrical, and told the story of an epic journey between Hawaii and Tahiti, and the love between a young princess and a warrior. There was dancing, music, fire spinning, and amazing costumes. Definitely a good show!

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After the show, I had to take a picture with the lead male performer cause he was pretty awesome.

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Aside from feeling like I had to shovel my food into my face, it was a really great experience, and we all had an awesome time at Luau Kalamaku. If they can find a way to slow down the pace of the evening and allow guests to enjoy their meal more leisurely, I would most definitely recommend this luau to anyone visiting Kauai! It isn’t the most traditional luau, but it certainly was a lot of fun!

We booked our tickets through the cruise line, but tickets can also be reserved online at the Luau Kalamaku website.

Kalapaki Beach and Shopping in Nawiliwili

No more than maybe 10-15 minutes on foot from the port of Nawiliwili you can find lots of fun shops, bars, and restaurants. They aren’t all cute and touristy like some of the other port cities, but look more like where the locals would go to spend an evening or run their errands. So is it the best shopping destination? No. But it is pretty much the only thing you can do in Kauai from the cruise ship port without renting a car or taking a cab.

If you are in the market for silly souvenirs or inexpensive Hawaiian print clothing, then these shops are definitely worth checking out! Even these chickens went out dress shopping…

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And my sister and I bought matching sarongs!

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A little farther down the street (away from the cruise ship) you will find Kalapaki Beach, in front of the Marriott Hotel. So after we finished our shopping we continued our journey until we reached the beach. We didn’t have time for a full beach experience, but we at least wanted to step foot on a beach in Kauai, and this was the closest one to the cruise ship.

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The beach! I loved the sand here… it was so soft and fine!

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There are many facilities available at Kalapaki Beach, and the calm waters, separated from the open ocean by a large break wall, make it a perfect beach for swimming and learning water sports. Additional information about Kalapaki Beach can be found here.

Kayaking to Hidden Valley Falls!

When booking this cruise and hearing it would be stopping in Kauai, I had one objective: kayak through the rainforest. There are many different ways to make this happen, but for the ease of not having to worry about anything, we decided to book an excursion through the cruise ship. There are several excursions that offer kayaking, but we chose the Hidden Valley Falls Kayak excursion because it promised to take us to some of the filming locations for the Indiana Jones movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and we love that movie!

After exiting the cruise ship, there was a van waiting for us at the port, which took us to the river where we would be kayaking.

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Here we received a quick kayaking tutorial, and the guides provided us with water bottles and dry sacks to protect our stuff from getting wet. Life jackets were optional, thank goodness. I hate being forced to wear those things. I didn’t spend my childhood summers taking swim lessons and competitive swimming for nothing!

For this adventure (and most kayaking excursions I go on) I wore quick dry shorts, a bathing suit, and solid water sandals with good tread. I think it is kind of gross to sit in a rented kayak wearing only a swim suit, but you WILL get wet while kayaking, thus the quick dry shorts. Sandals like the ones I wore (or any other type of water shoes) are a good choice because flip flops can be too slippery and can cause you to lose your footing while entering or exiting the kayak. Plus they could fall off and drift away down river, which would be sad. So save your flip flops!! Wear appropriate shoes.

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With my dad and youngest sister, ready to set off on their first kayaking adventure!

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Climbing into the kayaks. And goodness was the water cold!!

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My sister/kayak companion for the day. It is an interesting experience kayaking with someone who has not only never kayaked before, but who is also afraid of the water and can’t really swim. Good news though- she survived! And had fun.

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Out on the river! The current was swift- I definitely recommend life jackets for anyone who is not a strong swimmer. If you even have doubts about whether or not you should use a life jacket, use the life jacket. We had to paddle up stream, which was very challenging. Good workout though!

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There it is… the site of the rope swing scene in Indiana Jones! (From the very beginning of the movie, when he is being chased by the tribe who can’t aim a blow dart pipe to save their lives. Seriously… how can so many of them miss Indiana Jones at such close proximity??)

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We beached the kayaks here, and then continued onward to Hidden Valley Falls on foot (another reason for the sandals with good tread).

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I loved seeing all the vines hanging from the trees!

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Rainforest chickens! I don’t think this will ever stop being funny to me.

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The magnificent Hidden Valley Falls! Underwhelming would be an understatement. But the whole area was pretty cool, and the pool at the bottom was very large and deep. So deep, we were able to try out a rope swing!

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The air was cool, and the water was colder. Thus the unsure look on my face. Out of a group of maybe 15 of us, only 2 were bold enough to brave the chilly temperatures and try out the rope.

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Getting a quick mini lesson from the tour guide…

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And away I go!!

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It may have been a bit of a fail, and I certainly did not get very much air, but it sure was fun trying!

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The only bummer was having to walk back to the shore completely soggy.

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For the journey back to the starting point, they picked us up in a motorboat and towed the kayaks back. And also gave us snacks, which is always a plus.

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The guides pointed out this cave up in the cliffs-

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It served as an ancient tomb, and because of how large the coffin is and the challenging location, it is still up there, completely intact, today.

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This tour was a lot of fun, and gave us a good variety of experiences within the same trip. Kayaking, hiking, and rope swings…by the end of the day, I felt like a pretty bad ass adventurer! A little like (dare I say it?)… Indiana Jones??

Snorkeling in Kona

Our second day on the big island brought us to the port of Kona. We didn’t have any specific plans for this day; all we knew was that we needed Kona coffee, shave ice, and snorkeling time, in no particular order. And our parents had booked a tour for Kona, so we were going to have a sisters day! So we took the tender from the ship to the shore, and hit Kona on foot.

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Kona! I was instantly in love with this port. This one reminded me of being in the Caribbean.

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Kona coffee! First item crossed off the Kona checklist. My review: it was definitely tasty coffee, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about. But still, you can’t go to Kona and not drink Kona coffee.

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The second you step off the boat you are met with a swarm of vendors trying to sell you various tours and excursions. Which is normally kind of irritating, but since we actually did need to find a way to get snorkeling, it proved most useful. We found a shuttle operator that would take us from the port to Turtle Beach, and we could take the shuttle back to port whenever we were ready. Then we found a shop that rented snorkel gear, and we were all set!

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This was a great beach for snorkeling! The water was calm near the shore and had awesome visibility. My youngest sister had never snorkeled before, and is definitely not a strong swimmer, but she was able to learn how to snorkel well enough to see lots of cool fish and feel comfortable in the water. So, this is a good beach choice for first timers!

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The farther you got from shore, the rougher the water became. Waves threatened to go inside your snorkel, and currents felt stronger. If you don’t pay attention, you will find yourself far away from where you started without even noticing it happening.

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However, snorkeling away from the shore has one huge advantage: SEA TURTLES!!!

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After snorkeling we were able to enjoy the beach for a bit before heading back into town. There are lots of facilities available at this beach, including lockers, restrooms, and a food truck selling fun snacks.

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It was almost time to get back on the cruise ship, but before we did, we had one more thing to do: eat shave ice!!

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And of course we had to get it legit Hawaiian style, with ice cream in the middle. It was soooo good!

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All in all, Kona was my favorite port in Hawaii. There was so much to do here, and it was all easy to get to. You can just walk right off the boat and be on beaches surrounded by awesome restaurants and shops. No rental cars or tours needed here- there is plenty to do that is easily accessible on foot. Though of course there is even more to do if you want to travel farther from the port.

Snorkeling, shave ice, and coffee. What more do you need for a perfect day in Hawaii?

Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory!

We didn’t mean to come here. My family and I aren’t really “factory tour” kind of people. We didn’t even know this place was in Hilo. But when we finished in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park earlier than planned, and drove past a sign advertising Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut factory tours and gift shop, well, we figured, why not?

There it is… the place where all the macadamia nuts are turned into wonderfully delicious things.

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It actually was pretty cool to see the macadamia nuts get covered in chocolate. I would be lying if I said it didn’t inspire thoughts of Willy Wonka.

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But sadly these candies were made by people, not Oompa Loompas.

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And this was the whole factory tour, folks. Just walking along a balcony and looking through windows. I loved it!!

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We really love macadamia nuts ❤

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Oh sweet heaven on earth… so many macadamia nuts!!! And so many flavors!

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A great deal of macadamia nuts were purchased this day. But they had flavors I had never seen before, and the prices were so much better than they are at home in LA!

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They even had macadamia nut ice cream!

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So while this stop might not have been on the original itinerary for Hilo, I am very glad it happened. It ended up being a lot of fun (mostly the shopping and eating parts) and was a much better way to spend an hour than just heading back to the cruise ship. If you are a fan of macadamia nuts, it is definitely worth a quick stop. The gift shop sells everything macadamia nut you can possibly think of, and the prices can’t be beat. An excellent place to pick up gifts for people back home!

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Standing only a short drive away from the port of Hilo on the big island of Hawai’i are Kilauea and Mauna Loa, two of the world’s most active volcanoes, oozing lava from deep within the Earth’s core.

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park was established to protect these awesome volcanoes, and provide a safe way for visitors to see them and learn about the formation of the islands. And furthermore, it is probably the #1 tourist destination on the big island, because volcanoes are cool.

I mean, who could resist the opportunity to see an active volcano erupt?

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A slightly morbid and mildly depressing comic we found in the visitor’s center:

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But at least it’s educational? Anyways, it was time to hit the trails! Another memo from the park about how dangerous your visit could be:

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We followed the Sulphur Banks trail from the visitor’s center through rainforests, until we reached the boardwalks that guide you safely around cracks in the earth’s crust where sulfur fumes seep through. As you can imagine, the scent in the air was just lovely.

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Just another wonderfully illustrated warning for visitors:

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I guess they really want to be sure you don’t step off the trail into possibly volcanic steam vents that can melt all the skin off your body and kill you. Things you want to believe would be common sense to most folks, but maybe not…

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This trail was very easy, and literally right next to the visitor’s center. Plus seeing all the steam rising from the earth was really cool. Definitely put the Sulphur Banks trail on your list of things to do in the park!

Next we hopped on the Crater Rim Drive and headed to see Kilauea!

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Yay!! It looked so cool!! I guess normally you can get closer to it, but when we were there, it was closed off due to the location of current lava flows. But even seeing the steam was super awesome!

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A little farther along the Crater Rim Drive, there are some steam vents you can get up close to. These were super fun to play around near. They kept fogging up my camera lens, and since it was a little chilly out, the heat felt really nice. What didn’t feel nice was leaving the steam vents and heading back out into the colder air while being a little soggy from the moisture.

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But we got to feel steam that is coming from the center of the Earth! How cool is that?!

Next stop, Thurston Lava Tube! This stop was crazy crowded. Like, miserably, have-to-drive-around-forever-looking-for-a-parking-spot crowded. So be prepared to suffer a little in order to see this site.

There is a short hike to get to the lava tube, with some stairs. Not bad though, and you get to see a lot of cool rainforest stuff along the way.

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The entrance to the lava tube:

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I guess it wouldn’t be a rainforest without a little rain! We were pretty soggy by the end of our visit.

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To best enjoy this park, my advice for you is to bring a rain jacket or poncho in case of unexpected showers, wear shoes with good tread for hiking on muddy surfaces, and allow plenty of time. There is a lot to see in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, and it is crowded, so be sure to plan for possible traffic and parking lot struggles.

Seriously though, if you can only choose one thing to do on the big island of Hawai’i, go here.

Beach Time in Maui!

It would be wrong to visit a place known for having some of the best beaches in the world and not step foot on even one of them, so when we had a little extra time after our day in Haleakala National Park, we knew exactly how to spend it.

Since Maui is an island (obviously), there are beaches literally everywhere, but we didn’t have a ton of time to work with so we thought it best to find one close to the cruise ship port. And so we found Kanaha Beach Park, located near Kahului Airport. We were only there for less than an hour, so I don’t have very much to say about our experience and don’t have any tips or fun facts about this one. However, I can say that it was a very pretty beach, easy to get to from the cruise ship, and had some windsurfers who were fun to watch (though I didn’t get any photos of them).

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There was a lot of interesting coral and debris on the beach…

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I don’t know that I would go out of my way to visit Kanaha Beach, but if you find yourself near Kahului and have some time to kill, it is definitely worth checking out. Additional information about visiting this beach can be obtained here.