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  • Writer's pictureJessica Stough

The Big Island, Hawaii - Kaumana Caves, Waterfalls, Lava Trees, & More - Days 4, 5, & 6

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

“No cliff is so tall it cannot be climbed.” – Hawaiian Saying

Day Four – Farmers Market, Caves, and Waterfalls

I had been patiently awaiting Wednesday for the Hilo Farmers Market. Wednesdays and Sundays are “market days,” which means that there are more vendors there those two days than on other days of the week. What I didn’t realize until we got there, though, was that there is actually a permanent location for the farmer’s market – how cool!

We stocked up on fresh fruit with the intention of making homemade smoothies for the next few days. We also snagged some single-estate Hawaiian coffee, Hawaiian honey, and a few souvenirs at the farmers market. Two of our most notable finds were shirts from Old Volcano (incredible handmade block printed clothing), and a bracelet from Seawolf Creations (beautiful handmade bracelets with very unique designs).

After the farmers market, we nearly grabbed acai bowls at Kula Shave Ice, but realized there were two small breakfast places so close together that they looked like one place. Kula Shave Ice wasn’t open yet, so we grabbed some breakfast sandwiches and breakfast bowls at the breakfast place right next door. I'm giving a shoutout to Kula Shave Ice because, even though they weren't open, they looked amazing. Plus, the place we actually ate at was good, but I cannot find any details on their business online.

We then headed over to Kaumana Caves State Park to do some underground exploration, inside lava tubes. The caves apparently span over 25 miles. However, once in the caves, a person can only go so far back before the caves start splitting into multiple paths, and it can get confusing to get back to the cave entrance. In addition, some of the routes are under private property. According to my Garmin, we only went back about .15 miles, but I know we traversed more cave than that – I found that satellite GPS isn’t all that reliable underground.

After the caves, we decided to cool off a bit by taking a hyped up scenic drive, Pepeekeo Scenic Drive. What we didn’t realize was that we had already driven about half of it the day prior on our way to the botanical gardens. Either way, we still drove through once more, all the way to the end to grab smoothies for lunch at What's Shakin' Smoothies, a cute smoothie shop that only uses local ingredients from right there on the farm.

From there, we made our way to Wailuku River State Park to check out Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots. I had to laugh because AllTrails seemed to think these to be hikes, but between the two of them, I think we “hiked” a total of just under .2 miles. I will say, though, that both locations were handicap accessible, which is a wonderful option for those that cannot do the longer hikes. The falls and boiling pots were beautiful, although we couldn’t get super close to either. Apparently, the waters can get very dangerous, so the parks keep the viewing spots very far up for each.

Our next agenda item was to check out Akaka Falls State Park. This was actually the first of all of the state or national parks that we had to pay for on this trip (since we already had a National Park Annual Pass from a previous trip. The park was wonderfully organized, with a short rainforest loop trail that took us to the main attractions (Akaka Falls and Kahuna Falls), but also near other smaller falls.

On the way back, we stopped at a few little shops right along Old Mamalahoa Hwy. There were food places, souvenir places, and even a cool shop that carved anything and everything we could think of out of Hawaiian woods. Zac and I got talked into purchasing a sarong at one of the shops. According to the woman that sold it to us, she uses her sarongs for everything – a skirt, a dress, a beach towel, a sweat towel for hikes, a tablecloth, a blanket, a scarf, and anything else we could dream up.

We were told that the sarongs started at just $12 each. I was excited about the apparently never-ending options of the sarong. Then, when I picked one out that was absolutely gorgeous, we were told that one was actually $58. She explained the reasoning for the price difference, and almost talked me into buying the more expensive one – but thank goodness Zac was there to talk some sense into me. Finally, I ended up choosing one that wasn’t quite as pretty (but still beautiful) for $24.

The weather started shifting when we were at Akaka Falls, but we never got rained on too badly. As we drove to our final location for the evening, Richardson Beach Park, the sky got a bit darker yet. We knew the rain was coming, but still wanted to check in and see if we could spot any sea turtles. Apparently, they commonly frequent the area. Whether it was the incoming storm or the somewhat higher tides, we will not know, but they were not hanging at the beach that day.

We moved along just as the sky got even darker, found some dinner, snagged ourselves some ice cream, then headed back to the Airbnb before the rain really started to pour down. The soothing sounds of the rain hitting the pond outside our balcony – along with someone in the area singing a non-stop beautiful tune – made for a great way to end the evening.

Day Five - Waipi’o Valley and the Tale of a Lost Phone

Thursday was the first day of the trip that we separated ways with Logan and Missy. I desperately wanted to hike Waipi'o Valley Trail and explore the northern part of the island. Logan and Missy had their sights on exploring more of Kona so they went that direction while we headed north.

The hike started out along the road down from the lookout – a dramatic 1,300 foot drop in less than three-fourths of a mile. Then, it evened out until we reached the black sand beach. We walked along the beach until we reached a stream, took off our shoes, then made our way through the fast-moving waters to the other side of the beach. We walked along the beach until we could go no further. The end of the beach was marked with a beautiful cliffside, somehow both a luscious green and rocky.

Zac and I took our time at the end of the beach. I snapped some pictures and took some video before we temporarily claimed a few lawn chairs along the end of the beach to sit, snack, and watch the waves crash up on shore.

As we were ready to get up to make the trip back, I found that my hydration pack and straw were absolutely covered in black sand. Zac thought I was being dramatic, but there was no way I could drink from the straw without a complete mouthful of sand. He had the idea to run toward the ocean, clean it off in the ocean water, then come back.

He continued lounging in the lawn chair as I flew out to the water and waited for the perfect wave to clean my straw off with. As it came up, I bent down and cleaned off my straw, then ran right back to the lawn chairs. I believe this is the exact moment I lost my phone and ID because it was the only time I was running. However, I am uncertain when it actually fell out of my pocket.

I realized my phone was gone about halfway back toward the stream, panicked, and actually ran back along our path. We had walked in the higher portion of the wet sand the entire way. Even if it had fallen out somewhere along our path, it was most likely washed away by the ocean already.

There were only three groups that were on that side of the beach past us, so when I met each of them along my trek back to retrace my steps, I asked if they had seen my phone – just hoping and praying that someone had seen it. Each person, though, said they had not so I kept going until I again reached the very end of the beach and the cliffside stopping point.

Zac followed along behind me for a second set of eyes, but we both came up short. My phone was nowhere to be found – and is a remnant now somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

I was devastated, mostly because a ton of my pictures and videos were not backed up (I know – do not get me started on how ridiculous that was on my part). The fact that I lost my ID in my phone case also caused some stress, but Zac was cool as a cucumber – always the yin to my yang, especially in times when I desperately need it. No matter, after the shock had worn off, we both cracked multiple jokes along the hike back.

The good news was that it was an out and back trail, so he was able to snap pictures again along the hike back up. The bad news was that since it was an out and back, we had to climb another 1,300 feet of elevation in less than three fourths of a mile before we were back to the car.

Nevertheless, we persisted and got to the car eventually, one phone lighter than when we had started the trek. We made our way into the nearby town of Honokaa for lunch and some shopping. We also researched how to get back on an airplane without a photo ID and put together a plan of attack for getting me a replacement phone.

That was when we made our way back to Hilo to stop at the Verizon store and grab a new phone. To ensure that the rest of the day wasn’t completely lost, we also snagged ourselves some sweet snorkeling gear at the local Walmart. We then headed back to meet up with Logan and Missy. After the day we had, we all decided to take it easy and grab some food to eat at the Airbnb. Zac and I also took advantage of the time at “home” to do some laundry.

I am still bummed about my phone, but things could’ve been a lot worse. Everything that was lost is replaceable (except the pictures), and as Zac mentioned “We still have the memories. We just can’t necessarily look at them.” Plus, I could think of a lot worse ways to lose a phone than to the oceans of Hawaii.

Day Six - Lava Trees State Park, Mermaid Ponds, the Zoo, Snorkeling, and an Eel Attack

Friday in Hawaii started out much like the first five days of the trip – I woke up extremely early to write, read, and ease into the day before sunrise. Zac actually woke up with me, though, and had breakfast out on the balcony with me as we also reviewed our agenda for the day.

After the sun came up, we were all ready for our first stop of the day, Lava Trees State Park. There, “[i]n the 1700s, lava flow swept through the area, coating the trunks of ohia trees, leaving tall lava molds of the tree trunks in their wake” (Source: Go Hawaii).

The park was complete with a short fully paved walk through the trees, totaling right around a half of a mile in length. It was pretty cool, but I honestly expected to see more of the remaining lava molds than there were along the trail.

Next, we made our way to a place I had actually found on Google Maps when planning the route for the day, Mermaid Ponds. It was very close to Lava Trees State Park, so I delved into the details of it online. The drive there was beautiful. Dubbed a local secret, Mermaid Ponds doesn’t have a truly outlined trail. Instead, there were a few options we read about online. Our first option was to take a minimally traveled trail, only there from others that had traversed the path before us. Our second option was to travel down a path very clearly marked “Private Property.”

We took the minimally traveled path, which was noted the “legal” path there. The path required a good amount of ducking under and jumping over tree branches, which made me wish I was the machete-wielding type.

Let me just say, though, I am very happy with my random Google Maps find. I thought Mermaid Ponds was such a cool location. Once we got to the water, no one else was out there, so we had the entire area to ourselves.

Immediately, I found a tiny snail that both Zac and Missy picked up and carried around for a while before putting him back into his habitat. We also spotted some crabs, and I even found what looked to be a very tiny clam.

The waves from the ocean were breaking along the Mermaid Ponds like crazy, leaving for some amazing ocean sights and sounds.

We decided to trek back to the road via a large pathway we hadn’t seen before, taking our chances on whether or not it was a private property path. There were no signs on the way from the water to the road stating that it was private property, so we assumed we had just missed the path on the way out to the water. When we got back to the road, though, it was a long driveway that led straight to the ocean that was apparently private property. We had no idea, but apparently walked through someone’s land.

After that adventure, we made our way to one of the main attractions for the day, the Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo. A smaller-sized zoo in Hilo, the Pana’ewa is completely free to visit. They had a wide array of birds, turtles, goats, and other animals both local and unfamiliar to the Hawaiian island. It was a really great zoo, and we absolutely couldn’t beat the price!

By the time we finished up at the zoo, it was time for lunch. We grabbed some food before heading to a rental place to grab some snorkeling gear for Missy. The day prior, Zac and I had purchased our gear so we were all ready to head to the beach for some water exploration.

We went back to Richardson Beach Park to start, as we had heard a few of the snorkelers there the other day state that they saw an incredible array of fish and coral right near the shore. One man even mentioned he had seen a puffer fish!

The last time Zac and I snorkeled (our first trip in Hawaii years ago), my contacts took a terrible hit with the salt water. I had to wash them out for what felt like hours until I could see normally again. This time, I took them out before getting into the water to avoid any issues. What that did, though, was make it very hard to see anything at all. Zac and Missy took off through the water at lightning speeds, while I inched my way through rocks, trying my hardest not to get hurt.

As I eased my way along and was finally starting to get to deep enough water to allow swimming, I turned on my GoPro (attached to my snorkel), and then something bit my foot. I think the entire beach heard me in my shriek of surprise and pain. I lifted my foot out of the water to see blood coming from multiple areas. Zac initially thought that maybe I had hit some coral or a sharp spot, but I had a strong feeling that it was a bite and I needed to get out of the water.

I sent the GoPro snorkel gear with Zac so he could continue, then I headed up onto shore. By the time I got to our beach towels, my foot was covered in blood. One of the locals near us shared that I could go to the lifeguard tower and they would be able to help clean me up with their first aid kit.

I made my way over there, and the lifeguards on duty grabbed a large bag of first aid supplies (seriously, their bag was bigger than my hiking pack). They helped clean the wound off enough to see what it looked like, and that was when one of the two lifeguards said, “You definitely got bit – that’s an eel bite.”

Apparently, it is super uncommon to experience an eel bite, even though they frequent that area. Even more concerning, eels typically really latch onto their prey. Both lifeguards told me I was really lucky it wasn’t any worse because they usually won’t let go once they’ve grabbed onto something.

I got the entire experience on camera with my GoPro, but had my head above the water still as I made my way toward the deeper waters. Although I watched the video on my phone and couldn’t see anything, I am wondering if I might be able to catch a glimpse of the nasty eel that bit me once I watch the video on a bigger screen.

For those wondering, no, I will not be sharing the video. I made a fool of myself by first swallowing a giant wave of ocean water, then screaming about the eel bite. After the bite, I also basically had a panic attack and can be heard nearly hyperventilating until I got the camera shut off. The event itself wasn’t traumatic, but the thought of sharing the actual footage kind of is.

After that, we made our way to another nearby beach, Carlsmith Beach Park. Missy did some more snorkeling while Logan, Zac, and I stayed ashore. We watched her snorkel, spotted some sea turtles near the shore, and also kept our eye on the nearby crabs. I even hung out with them in a crab pose to see if they would come out and hang with me. It actually worked a little bit, as they all got pretty close to me after I sat still for quite some time.

Jessica, the Crab Whisperer.

The night ended with a final quick trip to Walmart to get some first aid supplies before dinner. The good news about traveling with a nurse is that Missy knew what all exactly I should buy to clean my eel bite the best way possible. She even helped me clean it up after we got back to the Airbnb, sharing with me that I could probably use stitches on one of the bite marks, but could also get away without them.


I’ll share this again for those of you in the back – I got bit by an eel, and probably should’ve gotten stitches the bite was so nasty.

What a wild few days on the island I have had! I am hoping the last few days we have of vacation are just as exciting, but that everything that happens is going to be the good type of exciting. I would be absolutely fine if there were no more lost items or animal attacks for the rest of the trip.

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