Two Days on the “Free Spirited” Side of the Big Island (Hilo side)

For those who has never visited Hawaii, normally first destination is either Oahu or Maui – the islands where most tourists go. But even those who make it to Big Island stay mostly and spend most of their time on Kona side – the side of the island which gets much more sunshine, is dryer, has better beaches and more developed tourist infrastructure. Too bad, because it is Hilo side where the “free spirit” of authentic Hawaii lives. You have much greater chances to interact with and get to know native Hawaians there. You will find “hippy like” communes and entire villages populated by folks who came for vacation and never left. You will find people who literally live in the rainforest and survive on gathering fruits, fishing and doing – occasionally – various odd jobs. Yes, there are not many beaches there, but, yet the coastal line is dramatic (cliffs, waves) and conditions for surfing are excellent. And most important Hilo side is the area where the genuine spirit of “Aloha” lives

I am very lucky (and honored) to have old dear friend who lives near town of Pahoa and – to my mind – is living embodiment of both the free-spirited nature of Hawaii and genuine welcoming “Aloha” attitude. Born in 1939, Karin Tahopiu grew up in California, then lived first part of her life on Tahiti, married and had a son there (Mark and I are of exactly the same age), then moved to the Big Island, built beautiful house surrounded by flowers and lush vegetation and created an amazing network of good and close friends. For me personally, Karin is one of the role models

But the life of this entire area (near Pahoa) was literally turned upside down in 2018 because of the long lasting volcanic eruption and lava flow which resulted in destruction of hundreds of houses and evacuation of thousands of residents. Karin stayed (although lava was only 500 yards away from her home) and told me the story of survival through several weeks of no electricity, the air with little oxygen and a lot of poisonous fumes, the metal parts of the houses and appliances being destroyed by acidic elements, with “precipitation” consisting of small glass particles which are invisible but cut human skin right away and much more…But she stayed. What one can witness one year after this eruption are the roads going into nowhere…

or miraculously saved bench and picnic table in a local park right next to the wall of crystallized lava (I thought it would be quite an experience to sit there and see lava approaching)

…but I definitely would not wish to sit then at this table…

Ironically, 2018 eruption contributed to the improvement of the local beach scene: an entirely new (and quite nice) black sand beach emerged

And also the new natural termal (hot) ponds emerged which I greatly enjoyed after swimming in a rather cool (but not cold) ocean.

My tip for anyone visiting this are is to take a short but very scenic drive on Hwy 137 from Isaac Hale State park (that is where new Black Sand Beach is) to Kalapana. Essentially, Hwy 137 goes along the coast. Partially you will drive through the real “forest gallery”

…but then you will “jump” onto endless lava fields

Also, one of the best kept secrets near Hwy 137 is Kehena Black Sand Beach. You will need to park car on the side of the road and hike down a short, but very steep trail. The reward is beautiful lagoon, good for swimming, snorkeling and surfing. The beach is “clothing optional”: some people like this, some not, but it is what it is…

But even without visiting this beach, the coastal scenery is amazing and dramatic: cliffs, crushing waves…

Your final (and ultimate) destination at the end of Hwy 137 is the so-called Uncle Roberts Awa Bar and Farmers Market. This place is hard to define and describe. It is indeed at the same time sort of intentional community, several galleries, several places to eat (with interesting “alternative” types of foods), farmer market on Wednesday. Essentially, I would describe this place as a “hub of various social activities.” Definitely fun to visit, have a meal there, and just to watch the local social scenery…

Clearly, the visit to this entire area would not be complete without checking out “hippie/New Age” town of Pahoa. Simply stroll its main street and you will get a very good idea “what is this place” about. My favorite place in the entire town is Tin Shack Bakery. If you wish to “meet locals” or get any piece of advice on the realities of local life, go there

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