So excited to share a project I’ve been working on for the past year and a half! I’ve teamed up with Estee Lauder to collaborate on their 2017 Holiday campaign and bring the Shadow Dancers to life! You will be able to see them dancing at every Estee Lauder counter around the world throughout the holiday season. More on this soon!
A while back, sometime during my childhood ha, I got this idea in my head that I needed to go to Hawaii. Late last year, I was going through a long-term creative block, and I thought, I need to go somewhere completely opposite of New York City. So after years and years of it being a thought in my head, I decided it was time. I booked a one-way ticket earlier this year with intentions of staying for the longest amount of time I possibly could, but as they do, work commitments and life took over. I settled on 10 days; which were 10 days I would end up loving more than I could’ve guessed.
People will tell you, “Hawaii is for honeymooners!”. So let me tell you, that is one big, giant, enormous lie. When I first decided to go on this trip, I knew I wanted to spend some time there alone. I wanted to explore and take it in without interruption. Sometimes my mind can get clouded when I’m around other people in certain situations, and I wanted to refresh my mind. I wanted to stare at the ocean without talking or paying attention to anyone. I wanted to fully immerse myself in this mystical place. I feel the same way when I go to art museums! The space you get while being alone is a wonderful thing.
imagining Hawaii on the plane before I arrived
It was the biggest trip I’ve done alone since Big Sur a couple years ago. I won’t say I wasn’t nervous at all. I had days where I felt a little anxious about what it would be like to explore somewhere I’d never been, completely on my own – especially in the more remote areas. I had read that Hawaii was one of the safest places to travel solo, and I can confirm that it felt completely safe the entire time (with some common sense). The Hawaiian people were incredibly kind and helpful. Once you go, you quickly realize that the Aloha Spirit is a very real thing.
When you decide to go on a solo adventure, a few questions lurk in your mind. Will it be safe? Will I be lonely? Will everyone be staring at me saying “poor girl traveling alone”? Well, I didn’t feel lonely even for a second. I was so consumed with exploring the island and trying new things that I didn’t have time to be lonely. Noone stared at me with a pity. If anything, people were more willing to talk to me, curious to hear what my experience was roaming on my own. I met other solo travelers as well. It was refreshing and inspiring. Listening to all the movie soundtracks I could ever want to (can’t say Jurassic Park didn’t pop up), going to some of the same places more than once (some even three times) with no one to argue against it. It was the most wonderful, inspiring time. I can easily say it was the best trip I’ve ever been on. It opened my eyes to how powerful traveling alone can be… and now it’s a problem because I want to do it all the time.
The catch22 of traveling solo is that you have to plan the entire trip on your own. This is one of the best parts but can also be overwhelming, especially in Hawaii. It took me a long time to decide which island I should go to… whether or not I should go to multiple islands, etc. I settled on the Big Island because it was the largest, most diverse landscape. It has active volcanoes. It has a winter climate at the summit of Mauna Kea (I’m a cold weather fanatic). I really wanted to see Kauai (The Garden Isle) as well, but I didn’t want to rush anything while I was there. And I’m glad I didn’t.
‘Akaka Falls State Park during the rain.
It was 10 days of pure adventure, and I can’t wait to return again someday.
If there’s somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, just go! Explore. You’ll often meet likeminded people along the way. It’s the absolute best feeling when you’re returning home and realize you just went and did it (and survived).
Now for the details! (I apologize for the length!)
I spent a full ten days on the island and could’ve spent much longer. The island is large and has so much to offer (it has 10 of the earth’s 14 climates!)… so I wouldn’t recommend visiting the Big Island with less than 5 days (unless you just want to see one or two specific things).
I flew from NYC to Honolulu (Oahu Island) direct, and immediately hopped on another flight to Kona International Airport (Big Island). I’ve heard nice things about Honolulu, but I had no desire to spend time in another city. I went to see Mother Earth in all her glory!
Once arriving in Kona, I picked up my 4×4 Jeep that I had booked ahead of time – I had read that you need a 4×4 to visit certain locations on the island (true). The car rental itself was semi pricey, but not horrible in comparison to other places. The most expensive part of renting a car in Hawaii is the gasoline.
I loosely planned my trip the week before arriving (procrastinator here), so I probably didn’t create the most efficient itinerary, but traveling alone, it didn’t bother me. I wanted to drive around and explore, so the three-hour drive straight through the middle of the island to reach my Airbnb on the other side was a plus in my book.
My first stop on the island was only a few minutes from Kona airport – the Akamai Art Supply shop, naturally. I like to travel with carry-on luggage, so I didn’t have a ton of extra space for supplies – and I wanted to buy some large rolls of paper that would’ve been hard to bring on a flight. I brought the basics with me (gold paint), and purchased what was hard to bring. The one problem with art supplies in Hawaii (and a lot of other things) is that it is insanely expensive compared to the mainland. Some items were double the usual price. A roll of masking tape was $25. Very cool shop nonetheless.
From there, I drove across the island via Saddle Road. It was so bizarre and incredible. At the airport in Kona, it was sunny and 85F… but as I drove, the temperature dropped to around 50F in less than an hour. The weather changes were pretty amazing – hot and sunny, to cloudy and cool, and then through a tropical rainstorm and back out to sunshine again. At one point it felt like I was on Mars as the landscape shifted between lush tropics to fields of volcanic rock. I fell in love with the island pretty immediately. It felt like some wild adventure. One where I was constantly shifting between AC and heat in the car ha.
The first night was pretty terrifying on my own. After driving across the island, I picked up some groceries to bring to my Airbnb, and by then it was pitch dark out. The closer I got to my destination, the more remote it became. It’s funny and slightly unnerving when you wake up the next day and discover you were driving right along the cliff of the island overlooking the ocean… but had no clue it was there in the dark.
I arrived at the Lil Red Farmhouse Airbnb during a rainstorm. As I drove up to the lush green property, I saw giant Cane Toads hopping around in the rain. It felt like I drove straight into a magical, slightly less terrifying, Jurassic Park.
The Airbnb was perfect. It was a little farmhouse on a property with another farmhouse and a studio. The bathroom, shower, and tub were all outdoors, which was really nice actually. The rain poured down while the coqui frogs sang (just like in Puerto Rico) and it was the most beautiful music. The house itself was nothing fancy, but it was perfectly rustic, comfortable, and felt unique. My host would leave me fresh eggs from the roaming chickens and fruits from the trees each morning. There was a hammock and a fire chimney just outside which I took full advantage of. I spent most of my mornings swaying in the hammock with my morning *Kona* coffee while the cats, geckos, chickens, and dogs roamed around me. That’s one thing you need to be okay with in Hawaii, geckos! They are everywhere (inside and out) but so cute and beautiful. It reminds you what geniuses the Geico Insurance marketing team are because I kept thinking about Geico whenever I saw one haha.
The farmhouse was in the Kalapana SeaView area, near Pahoa, which was just about 3 minutes from the coast. It was set along the most incredible scenic drive on the island- Highway 137. 14 miles of volcanic tropical beauty colliding with the ocean. I took this drive about five or six times during my stay on this side of the island.
Now that I was settled into a home base for the next five days, I could go explore! What I loved most about spending ten days on the island, was that it didn’t feel rushed. I had time to relax a bit. I won’t carry on with every detail of the trip… but here are some of my must-see highlights. Shoot me questions in the comments if you have any!
I loved everything I did on the island, but the Mauna Kea Summit is one I will never forget. Honestly, I was pretty nervous about doing this one on my own. I had read so many intimidating things online and the warnings they give you when you arrive only make it worse.
Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano standing nearly 14k feet above sea level. It’s technically the tallest mountain on earth (but most of its base is under the ocean). It’s also an incredibly sacred place in Hawaiian culture… which has become a much-debated subject since it is also one of the best astronomical observation sites on earth. Science vs religion.
Anyway, I talked to a friend (who’s an amazing nature photographer) about his experience going up alone which gave me some courage! The reason I was nervous is because 1) I had never driven in four-wheel drive before 2) there are nonstop warnings about altitude sickness being intense 3) the road up is very dangerous; steep and rough… with no railing. Before I arrived, I booked a guided experience up the mountain from my nerves… but ended up canceling it because I really wanted to do this on my own.
Halfway up the mountain, they make you stop at the visitor’s center for at least 30 minutes to acclimate to the altitude. It suddenly felt like autumn outside. After exploring a bit, I went back to the car and googled ‘how to put a Jeep in 4 Wheel Drive’ haha (don’t judge me haha). I somehow managed to figure it out in a next few minutes and the guard checked my car and let me proceed up the second half of the mountain. Terrified, I saw a bunch of young college age kids waving me down – trying to catch a ride to the top for sunset. I agreed to give three of them a ride and was so happy I did because they made the ride up a little less frightening.
Making it to the top felt like a small feat. It was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. Easy to see why the site is so sacred to Hawaiians. It felt like you were standing at the top of the earth looking down at the clouds below and you could just reach up and touch the stars. It’s where the earth meets heaven, the stars, and the moon. I sat here watching the sunset in the now freezing cold temperature… and all I have to say is, I hope you get a chance to experience this like I did. Did I mention it was free to go up to the Summit?
The way down was rougher but I was on a high after witnessing that sunset. Once reaching the halfway point, I stopped and had hot chocolate while the astronomists showed the visitors live footage of stars and the moon, now that the stars were fully out. It was beautiful. This is a photo of the view outside my car window on the hour and a half drive back to my Airbnb in Kona.
I know this post is incredibly long, but when I was researching I couldn’t find a good guide to all of these things so I hope it helps some of you!
Going to Volcano Nation Park to see the active Kilauea Volcano was another unforgettable experience. So much so that I went three times in one trip. There’s not much to tell, other than it’s a beautiful place where you can go watch the earth being created before your eyes. My one tip is to go before sunset to see it during the day (maybe around 5pm). Do the crater and everything, and then go have drinks or dinner at the Volcano House (within the park) while you wait for the sun to go down. Go back out (the park is open 24 hours a day) and see it glow. It was such an incredible thing to see. The third time, I went a little path away from the crater museum so that there was no one around me while I watched it (and also played with some night photography, the photo above). Just remember to bring a flashlight. There aren’t really any lights in the park when you’re walking. The first night I went was cloudy and the stars weren’t so visible… but the next night was clear and it was one beautiful night sky.
To keep this short (laughing at that yet?) I’ll just say go and do this. No Manta Rays showed up when I went, but it was still so worth going. The scene underwater was AMAZING. Also, it felt less scary than I had imagined – swimming in the ocean at night. It was mysterious and beautiful. I did night snorkeling with Big Island Divers and they were great. I rented one of their ready to use GoPro’s to film this.
Saw those little yellow fish in my Hawaii video above? Those were here. I booked a boat cruise out that docked and let you spend a few hours exploring under the water and it was perfect. It was mostly families and couples – but everyone was super friendly and they had some great BBQ for lunch in between swimming. They also took you to the best spot to see the sea life at Captain Cook. Go in the morning if you can for better light. I just slipped my iPhone into one of these and it took great video!
14 miles of Hawaiian beauty along the coast. At the end of this road is Uncle Robert’s Farmers Market which turns into a huge party on Wednesday nights. I, unfortunately, arrived on Thursday. There’s also an ‘alien landing site’ here.
A beautiful park and beach worth stopping by. The water was perfect. Drive just past it to an unmarked parking lot and walk through the jungle entrance!
Airbnb #2 in Kona below.
I had mixed feelings about adding this one. I kept hearing that the best way to see the island was by helicopter, so I decided to take one. I did the doors off helicopter which was super fun and thrilling… but it went by so quickly and I only had good views half the time (since someone was sitting next to me on the other side) that I’m not sure it was worth it. Then again, it was incredible seeing the crater of the volcano and fresh lava flowing into the ocean from above. I recommend everything else above before this (also because it was expensive) – but if you have some extra cash and time, it’s worth the experience. Also, if you take one from Hilo it will be much cheaper than Kona. I flew with Paradise Helicopter Tours.
I’ll leave it at this or I’ll go on and on for pages (also props to you if you made it this far). Moral of the story, go see Hawaii!
If you have any specific questions ask in the comments and I’ll get back to you!
Subscribe to Katie's Weekly Letters
Inspiration, product reviews, and Katie's personal musings.