Kilauea Volcano, high above Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii, has been erupting for 25 years. Luckily, the lava flows down the uninhabited side of the mountain into the ocean, where it sends up great plumes of steam. Ever growing, Hawaii Island is by far the state’s largest island, though you can circle it in a day. But it’s much better to take it slow, making time for sea turtle stops, farm-to-table dining and a front-row seat to watch this ancient land expand into the ocean, inch by fiery inch.
Start in Hilo with a big breakfast at Ken’s House of Pancakes: eggs with Portuguese sausage and sweet-bread french toast. (The friendly waitress will likely offer advice on downtown shopping.) Walk off your excesses by strolling around the moon bridges and pagodas in Queen Liliuokalani Gardens, a 30-acre Japanese garden near the waterfront.
Before departing, load up on guavas and papayas at the Hilo Farmer’s Market. (A bag of fresh Hilo Stone cookies, made at Mountain View Bakery, won’t hurt, either.)
Leave Hilo on Highway 11, also known as the Belt Road, which heads straight up the flank of the volcano. At the top, you’ll feel as if you’ve arrived on the surface of the moon as you circle the crater rim in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. For a lava sighting, head down toward the ocean on Chain of Craters Road. A park ranger directs foot traffic to the most recent viewing spot.
Back on Highway 11, the trip down the other slope takes you from volcanic moonscape to the coconut palm–lined black sand beach at Punaluu. Green sea turtles can be spotted in the surf, munching on seaweed. Visitors should keep their distance—even though no one seems to have told the turtles the same.
Down the highway you’ll reach the town of Kailua Kona. Its kitschy shops can take a whole day to explore. Instead, try the Atlantis Submarine, which dives into Kailua Bay and offers nose-to-porthole views of thousands of fishes (800-548-6262; $40–$80).
After joining Highway 19, you’ll wind through miles of sharp black lava flow, broken occasionally by the green oasis of a resort. As you turn toward Mauna Kea’s 13,796-foot peak, cows start to appear on the hillsides. This is Waimea, Hawaii’s cowboy country, and also home to one of the state’s best farm-to-table-style meals at Merriman’s restaurant (808-885-6822; dinner for two, $100).
The coastal drive on your way back to Hilo is punctuated with cascading waterfalls. You’ll also spy distant views of otherworldly steam furies: as molten lava drops into the ocean, the Big Island grows by acres every year.
RCI®-affiliated resorts on the Big Island include:
SHELL VACATIONS CLUB AT PANIOLO GREENS,
RAINTREE'S KONA REEF
HAWAII, Kailua Kona
For more information, visit RCI.com or call
NON-RCI-AFFILIATED BIG ISLAND HOTELS:
94-2152 South Point Rd.,
Kau, Hwy. 11 between mile
marker 69 and 70; 808-
doubles from $189
OUTRIGGER KEAUHOU BEACH RESORT
78-6740 Alii Dr., Kailua
FOUR SEASONS RESORT HUALALAI
72-100 Kapupulehu Dr.,
Kailua Kona; 808-325-8000;
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.