We had a vehicle and we wanted to use it – but we also didn’t want to spend all of our time driving. There had been many incredible suggestions of places to explore, but we decided to stick close to Kailua-Kona and see what the coastline had to offer us.
The western coast of the island is made up of mostly volcanic shores, and the sandy beaches are generally a bit of a walk away from where a vehicle can take you. After having just worked like crazy to save for travel, sort out leaving our country and planned overseas wedding, relaxing on a beach wasn’t high up on our abilities list. As Post Malone says, “Worked so hard forgot how to vacation.” So we were on the hunt for some sort of free adventure.
In the Mauna Lani Resort, near the Fairmont Orchid, about 40 minutes north of Kailua-Kona, lives the historic Puakō Petroglyph Archaelogical District. With over 3000 preserved petroglyphs identified, and 223 acres, it is the largest protected petroglyph site in Hawaii.
A petroglyph is a carving or engraving in a rock or stone’s surface, generally by a prehistoric group of people, and are found worldwide.
Petroglyphs do not hold one single meaning or purpose. Dependent on their age, their geographical location and their designs, there can be many different hypotheses on the function of their existence.
We followed Google Maps, but even with the GPS navigator, it felt a little bit strange. You drive off of the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway (19) onto Mauna Lani Drive. There is lots of development and it did not feel like we were in Hawaii anymore – a bit strange seeing as we were headed to a historic petroglyph site.
Once we arrived at the carpark, we saw the ocean and walked straight towards it. That was incorrect – but definitely worth the 5 minutes we spent walking along the shoreline in pursuit of the petroglyphs. We’d recommend having a pitstop in the water AFTER your walk, as it is very hot out there.
As we walked back into the parking lot, about 20m from the beach, we complained about how there was no sign to the petroglyph trail, and how upsetting it was to see all of the development around us. Maybe the petroglyphs were gone? Then, just as we were about to give up, we found the entrance to the Malama Trail, marked with a sign. Good work team.
You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the resident guard cat in the tree.
The first part of the walk is on a paved trail in direct sunlight and you can see the Fairmont Orchid to your right. You will stumble upon a large group of replica petroglyphs, to help show you what you’re looking for along the trail. There isn’t anything out there to explain that these are replicas – only our research online later told us. I mean, we should’ve known, they’re perfect engravings, but don’t be fooled, it was not prehistoric people who made these ones!
The Puakō Petroglyph district held an incredible energy. You could feel that there were many men who walked before us, and the power of the volcanoes that created the terrain.
The walk was 1 1/2 miles and went from volcanic coastline to covered forest to grassy plains to volcanic desert. We kept our eye out for petroglyphs on the walk but didn’t find too many. Then we came to an opening in the trees, we were at the volcanic desert. There was a plane flying overhead when we arrived and it sounded like loud drumming, which made for an extra spiritual moment.
There is a walkway around the petroglyphs to protect them, and there are a few rock and wooden benches around, but they were too hot to sit on. It was incredible how hot it felt out there, only such a short distance from the ocean breeze.
We loved the archaeological honesty, in that they have no idea what these carvings mean, and they are open to interpretation. It gave us the pleasure of using our imaginations and coming up with what each different petroglyph may have meant, or what they meant as a whole.
And with that hypothesis, we felt closer to the prehistoric people. Appreciating them for communicating with us through time, but understanding them and connecting to them as non-supernatural, human beings.
One of the best places in the world to view the stars is atop Mauna Kea. If you’re heading to The Big Island, you have to check it out (or at least attempt it!).
Open to the public, their visitor centre offers a public star gazing program on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 7pm to 10pm. And like our journey to swim with the manta rays, our chance at the public star gazing was cancelled due to weather.
The drive is just over an hour, up from sea level to 9200ft to the Onizuka Visitor Centre.
When we left home, the star show was still on. When we arrived at the centre, they had cancelled it due to cloud coverage and poor visibility – so keep in mind, things can change quickly. It was still worth the drive.
You will be asked to wait for 30 minutes to acclimatize to the elevation, and then be cleared to drive up to the sky.
The telescopes live at the summit, which is at 13,802ft. A true 4×4 is absolutely necessary to make the drive up, and they are pretty good at scaring you into driving as safe as possible (showing photos of the worst case scenario crashes and slips in the visitor centre).
Now John is a good driver. The roads were built well. But the last time we said “adventure!” in a 4×4, we were in Costa Rica, the 4wd broke, we half tipped our SUV, got stuck on a back road in farm land, and had to wander for a couple km to find someone to help pull us out. In the end, it all worked out better than we could have ever expected (that’s a story for another time), but John didn’t want to risk a stressful situation like that again. Fair enough.
We got about 10 minutes up the hill, and then turned around and went back down about 3 minutes. We sat for about 5 minutes, and then decided to turn around and go back up again. And we’re so happy we did.
About 5 minutes before you reach the top, there’s a paved road. An oasis for those who stick it out and make it that far.
We were passed by a convoy of white SUVs labeled “Researchers.” We followed them up the hill and came up to our first telescopes. It felt like we were driving onto another planet, or onto a movie set.
The view at the top is breathtaking. The significance of the summit, both spiritually to the Hawaiians and scientifically to modern astronomy, was awe-inspiring. The temperature drop was fascinating.
We were above the clouds, and we were on a sacred peak. We could feel the spiritual energy as soon as we stepped out of our jeep. The journey up was powerful even in a car, imagining a pilgrimage to the top, without modern hiking gear, seemed supernatural.
They told us that they experience near freezing temperatures at the Visitor Information Centre and the summit. “Surely, being Hawaiian’s, they’re just exaggerating,” we thought.
We thought wrong. It was cold. Piercing cold. We put on all the clothes we had in the car just to get a few pictures, but then we just drove around the different access roads and snapped some shots from inside the car. The summit was actually about a 10 minute hike up from the topmost carpark, we didn’t have the warmth to do it. No regrets, it was seriously that cold.
Check out our Hawaii gallery for more pictures.
We even had the pleasure of meeting a T-Rex at the top!
It was hard to take a good picture, being that we were freezing. A T-Rex suit filled with hot air was a wonderful idea.
We watched the sunset and began our descent, back to civilization and back to the warm ocean breeze. We went from 40F (4.5C) to 80F (26.7C) in under an hour!
There was a few teachings about the Hawaiian mythology that surrounded Mauna Kea in the Visitor Centre, beautifully describing the natural world’s mysteries through the actions and behaviours of the goddesses Poli’ahu (the snow and ice goddess) and her rival Pele (the goddess of fire). We would have loved to learn more.
It just shows that modern science takes precedence up there. There are a few Hawaiian groups that work to protect the sacred Mauna Kea, and have been delaying the building of a new telescope. It’s a battle of history and exploration.
If you’re interested in further reading, here are some interesting links.
Poli’ahu and Pele
The Myths and Legends of Poli’ahu
Delay on Telescope Build
We love science, we love astronomy, we love watching our fellow humans enter new frontiers and advance humankind. But having been to the top of Mauna Kea, we feel extremely privileged to have experienced the energy it holds.
We highly recommend the drive up, if you like science, stars or spirituality. If you do make it to the top, bring an open mind and heart, close your eyes, and feel the amazing spirits and discoveries that transcend time at Mauna Kea’s peak.
We began our 2018 Central American leg of the endless honeymoon at the Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation and Resort , which was a welcome change from the 8 hour night we spent in LAX.
Finca Rosa Blanca has been recognized as one of National Geographic’s Unique Lodges of the World, and we are honoured to say that we’ve stayed with them twice. The first time we were there was the first time we said “I love you,” so it holds a pretty special place in our hearts.
It is tranquil and secluded. The staff are incredibly welcoming and kind. And the restaurant, El Tigre Vestido has a menu to die for. There are many tours and activities you book, but why complicate things when you’re in paradise.
After 1 night of indulgence, we went on to our next greatest adventure, La Tortuga Feliz.
To learn a bit more about the organization, you can read our blog post La Tortuga Feliz or head to their website.
It is tranquil and secluded. The volunteers are incredibly welcoming and kind. The kitchen has a set menu, but it was to die for.
It was almost an exact replica of our first night in Costa Rica, with a few minor differences. Instead of a pool there was a violent ocean, instead of a private room with a balcony and ensuite with a jacuzzi tub, we had a shared bunk room with cold showers. But we did have a family of bats on our ceiling to help keep the mosquitoes at bay. That was an amenity they didn’t list online!
We joke, of course. This was exactly what we were looking for! Don’t get us wrong, we loved the pampering that Finca Rosa Blanca had to offer, but one would never appreciate the luxuries of life if they never roughed it for awhile. And there is no better way to be in touch with nature than by living amongst it.
We were told that since we were only there for 1 week we should be prepared to see very little. Lucky for us, seeing turtles and/or hatchlings was a hope, but it was not what was going to define the experience for us. We wanted to help out, and give back to the universe that had been so kind to us over the past few years, and especially over the past month. The low expectations were maybe what did it, but we ended up having a turtley-awesome, turtle-filled week!
To start the week, we were sent right into our first orientation shortly after settling into our honeymoon suite. We would be patrolling the beaches that night in search for laying green or hawksbill turtles (the leatherbacks were finished laying). A romantic moonlit walk on the beach, with our new friend Jay the biologist. There was a bit of fear around the whole poacher situation, but we learned there is an unwritten rule between the locals and the volunteers: whoever gets spots the turtle first gets to keep it/the eggs. This rule helped keep the beach non-violent. Phew!
We finished our orientation with our first honeymoon surprise – there had been a daytime hatch of one of the nests and they were releasing the baby leatherback turtles into the ocean! Generally these turtles hatch at night time, so they have less predators and are a lot more camouflaged…nature can be rough sometimes! The ones we were watching were the last ones out of the nest, so they weren’t as strong or fast as the others, which made for a long viewing. The photos of them coming out of the ground are kind of gross…so be warned.
That night, on the romantic moonlit walk, we got to see our first mama green turtle! She had come out of the ocean and made 4 nests, and never ended up laying any eggs. Picky lady! We could hear her huffing and puffing as she dug, and got to watch her crawl back into the ocean. It was pretty incredible, and extremely unexpected! No pictures are allowed of the turtles at night, mainly for the protection of their vision – we were only to use red light torches.
Turtle parents of course! We had hatchery orientation the next day and learned how to dig a turtle nest – which is incredible that they can do it with their flippers! The mama turtles dig a cylindrical hole, approximately 20cm in diameter and about 70cm deep.
That night we had our first alone time in hours as we had a 4 hour hatchery shift. Basically, you sit in the dark and make sure no dogs or crabs come into the hatchery to try and steal the eggs.
About an hour into our shift, there was a group of about 8 local men, with white light torches on their heads, laughing and hollering, running and rolling in the sand. Talk about an adrenaline rush – John got all protective of his brand new wife – but it turns out they were just hunting for crabs. It added to the romantic atmosphere though!
Then we got to put our nest making skills to the test. A bag of eggs were brought to us about 15 minutes before our shift ended, and John got to dig the hole and we placed the eggs gently inside! In 80-90 days we will have hatchlings!
On our last night in the hatchery, we had a nest hatch! It was like a turtle volcano as they all erupted from the earth and we had to quickly measure and weigh the first 15, all by red-light. Then once they were all out, we got to take them to the beach and let them find their way to the ocean! Proud parents to 36 little leatherbacks! Hopefully at least 1 of them will survive.
Over the course of the next 12 hours a few more climbed themselves out of their nest, some a lot more worse for wear than others. And in the exhumation of the nest the following day, they found 6 more that were crawling sideways or impacted in the hard sand.
We were lucky to get the chance to spend a portion of each day sleeping or reading in the hammocks or at the beach swimming in the water. And there were a few furry friends on the island that made the days relaxing and rejuvenating.
We never saw a sunrise (she rises at 530am), and the sleep deprivation made it impossible to wake up without the sound of the breakfast bell. But the sunsets and moonrises were enough to make you feel the serenity. Ah the serenity.
On our last night, we were separated on our patrols of the beach, because La Tortuga Feliz was shutting down for the winter so the number of volunteers was too low. It all worked out though, as John being on the early shift, found himself a sea turtle digging her nest and got to collect the eggs!
And lucky for him, she laid her eggs 4km down the beach, so he got an excellent post-wedding workout, getting him ready to get back into reality, away from our honeymoon resort.
We woke up at 430am the next day and were back in San Jose by 10am, for a shower, a snooze, and of course, some alcohol! (La Tortuga Feliz is a dry camp). We were lucky enough to get to share the night with the new amazing friends we met while on the island – privacy after so many days of none just feels weird.
We couldn’t have asked for a better honeymoon experience and would highly recommend it to any of you reading, whether you’re honeymooning or not. It wasn’t like a hostel, where you could be in a room with any type of person. Everyone’s there because of a shared enjoyment of nature and wanting to help.
Finca Rosa Blanca was beautiful in its own right, but the beauty La Tortuga Feliz offered us was more than we can ever put into pictures or words.
We spent 14 wonderful days on the island of Oahu. We arrived on August 1, got married on August 8, and flew to the island of Hawaii on August 14.
If you are planning destination wedding, we highly recommend making the wedding in the middle of your trip. It gave us the flexibility to have our bachelor/ette parties before the wedding, and celebrations and decompression after the big day. We were lucky enough to get to have a proper visit with 95% of our wedding guests (either before or after the big day).
As much as we loved being with everyone, it was nice to get to Kona. A massive thank you to Nicole’s parents, who gifted us their timeshare at the Kona Islander Inn. It was the perfect place for us, peaceful with a kitchenette and a view. We slept from about 730pm the night we landed until 930am the next morning – talk about a wedding hangover!
We rented a car on the Big Island for 3 of the 5 days we were there – main reason being that we wanted to drive up to the observatories and see some stars! We had wanted to see some lava flow as well, but sadly the national parks and all road access to lava flow had been closed due to minor earthquakes and unstable ground!
We had plenty of other things to see though, and because we had our 4×4, it enabled us to go ‘off roading’ a bit to some more quiet locations.
We wandered on foot around the old Kona town, where there were many restaurants and pubs. Oceans (daily specials including $2 taco Tues & Thurs), Humpy’s Alehouse (named after the humpback whale, they have an amazing selection of beer and a great latenight takeaway menu), a Kanaka Kava bar (fun atmosphere with tasty traditional food, but highly overpriced for kava at $5USD/bowl), and even a Bubba Gump Shrimp (we didn’t eat here, we just walked passed it each day and quoted Forrest Gump).
In our neighbourhood there were many hotels, ranging in price and stars, but from our perspective, you really couldn’t go wrong with your choice. It was so laid back and Hawaiian-style in Kona, you could enjoy the pools at other hotels, and all the beaches were open to the public (or at least nobody stopped us).
At the Courtyard by Marriot King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, they had a lagoon for swimming in. It wasn’t advertised
that the public could join, but there was no private barriers. In the lagoon was the Kamakahonu Historical Landmark , the thatched roof building you see pictured to your right. A quick 1 minute walk to our lefts of this beach was the “public beach” (but like I said, we were able to swim here too).
We ended up spending more time in the public beach because there was far less people there! There were schools of little fish and John even swam out and saw a pod of dolphins about 25m away from him! Nicole was happy to stay in the shallows with the schools.
We hiked through the forest and dry flats, and saw 4 largely different environments within a 100m walk of each other. Have a read through our blog post Classic Rocks to read more about our trip to the Puakō Petroglyph Archaeological District.
We found plenty of sea turtles floating around and swam with a couple of them. It was getting us pretty pumped to go to La Tortuga Feliz and work with conservationists in Costa Rica. We wandered coastlines, to Kiholo Bay, which was a bit of a hike but definitely worth the tranquility on the other side. The walk was all on sand and rock, and it was quite loose, so it made it feel like it was farther away than it was. But if you’re going to Kona, we recommend!
Our biggest adventure was on our way up to the telescopes. We were told that 4wd was absolutely necessary to drive up the mountain. We had been told that some of the other places we visited 4wd was necessary, and it didn’t seem so, so we didn’t expect the road we came upon! Have a read through our blog post The Sky’s the Limit for more photos and a description of our day.
We could’ve stayed for a month and barely touched on all of what the Big Island has to offer. There is so much Hawaiian history everywhere you turn, there is a crazy change in elevation (bringing change in temperatures along with it), and there are endless nearly-untouched beaches to visit.
We had planned to go night time snorkelling with the manta rays – actually we were in the water and everything – but were the only manta tour of the day (and the month) that didn’t see any! We were rescheduled for free, but then cancelled due to weather. Guess we’ll have to go back to Kona!
If any readers have any questions or want any more suggestions of things to do, please contact us or leave a comment. We only spent 5 days on the Big Island but we found the perfect balance between exploring and relaxing.
Below is the map we were given from the woman who helped us with our car rental, a local who was born and raised on the island. Places circled in pink are 4wd areas, and well worth the visit.
If you plan on heading to Hawaii, think about Kona. The surf is minimal (perfect for a honeymoon), but it’s a great place to relax, restore and recharge, which was exactly what we needed.
If the answer is yes to one or more of these questions, well, look no further, because we have the solution for you.
For starters, we cannot give enough praise to the La Tortuga Feliz organization, their founders, organizers and volunteers. And, everything they did for us from start to finish. This post is mostly to raise awareness and promote their organization and their conservation efforts, and if you’d like to read more on our experience, head to Turtles and Us.
About 10 months ago, we began discussing the types of volunteer experiences we wanted to pair up with on our honeymoon. We opened our “honeypot registry” (a New Zealand website that allows couples to select different items or experiences they would like monetary donations for).
We weren’t able to take physical gifts on our journey, and we didn’t want people to feel like they were just giving us cash, so we selected organizations or volunteer experiences we wanted to reach and help out with, and asked our friends and family to support us in those ventures.
If you’ve ever looked into “ecotourism” and volunteering around the globe, you’ll have found that at least with organizations with a stong online presence, it does not come cheap. Some places were upwards of $500USD per person per week, with a 4 week minimum stay!?! Some only included breakfast, and you were on your own for lunch and dinner, and some had very high expectations and low ratings from past volunteers.
It became a bit of a downer as we searched for the perfect places, being that we wanted to donate our time and didn’t have a whole lot of money to spend on it! Then we came across La Tortuga Feliz .
To be completely honest with you, all we read on the website was:
LA TORTUGA FELiZ – Affordable turtle conservation program in Costa Rica run by volunteers for volunteers.
These local inhabitants guard/patrol the beach (Caribbean coast of Costa Rica) together with volunteers, collect the turtle eggs and bring these eggs to a hatchery which is manned by volunteers on a 24 hours basis. Volunteers also participate in the care for and study of recuperating adult turtles in the turtle rescue and rehabilitation centre.
By helping to generate an income for the locals, we hope to take away the necessity for them to poach the turtles and their eggs.
The partnership between the locals and the volunteers helps create an ideal environment for the turtles to lay their eggs.
And we noticed that there was a 1 week minimum, so we were sold. We truly had no idea what we were getting into but were just excited to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. Our goals for our turtle conservation were not to meet a turtle, but it were to actually help with conservation efforts in any way we could. This seemed like the perfect place, so we booked.
A few months later we received an email that the Turtle Saving Hostel had opened and we had the opportunity to stay there prior to our stay at La Tortuga Feliz. They would help us get acquainted with San Jose and help us safely get to Batan, a town approximately 2 hours from San Jose, where the taxi would take us to the riverboat, which would then take us to La Tortuga Feliz. It was a no brainer. Anything to make the experience easier and more streamlined, sign us up!
We arrived before the sign was even put up on the outside, that’s how beautifully new this place is. Ivan greeted us and showed us around, security procedures and all, and it made us feel safe and secure in a crazy city. Then we met Robert. The hostel was (and the operations at La Tortuga Feliz were) his brainchild and it was incredible to hear his stories, his visions and how they came to fruition. “If you put it out there, it will happen.”
Robert asked us what we were hoping to get out of our volunteer experience, to which we both replied: we care mostly about the conservation side of things, so if we do not see a turtle, it’s ok, as long as we make a difference. We were definitely rewarded for our positive attitude and low expectations – we were hands on with a number of turtles!
They have private rooms and dorm rooms at the hostel, complete with a beautiful pancake and fresh fruit breakfast. We stayed 2 nights, and then were off to our jungle adventure. Robert assisted us in getting a taxi to the bus station and told us exactly what to do from there. It made the whole experience seem reasonable and easy.
Upon arrival back to the hostel after our stay in the jungle, we had Robert provide laundry service for a small cost, and many wonderful suggestions of places to visit in the area. We also had the absolute humbling pleasure of meeting Hank, one of the founding members of La Tortuga Feliz. We were so blessed to be surrounded by so many incredible human beings.
We took a taxi for about 30 minutes to a little riverbank and hopped in a boat with our trusty captain David, and drove under howler monkeys and amongst caiman crocodiles. Then all of a sudden, we were at our new home.
We were welcomed into open arms by the lead volunteer Jess (house Mama of sorts) and her 2 minions Bas and Bram, and all of the other volunteers. With no electricity or cell service, it’s pretty easy to get to know a person.
We were instantly known as the “honeymooners,” and shown to our honeymoon suite, an 8 bunk bed dorm complete with a cute little family of bats.
If you’re worried and thinking, this might not be for you, let me remind you that the bats want nothing to do with humans other than to eat all of the bugs that bite us. AND we were lucky enough to be in the same crew as a 50 year old woman from the UK that had literally never been backpacking or on an OE before, she loved her 5 star resorts, and somehow her best friend convinced her to join her on this experience…and she bloody loved every second of it.
The kitchen served us up INCREDIBLE food (vegetarian, but you didn’t even miss meat with how good the meals were – and all without refrigeration). We each took turns doing the dishes. The showers were cold water, but that was welcoming as it was so flipping hot, mostly in the evenings when the sun had gone down, which doesn’t seem to make sense but it’s true!
We were lucky to have been accepted as volunteers as this was the first week of our honeymoon, and the last week of the year that La Tortuga Feliz operates. Generally the turtles stop laying in August, and they begin again in April.
At La Tortuga Feliz, there are 2 types of volunteer jobs. Patrolling the beaches and monitoring the hatchery.
We were patrolling the beaches for turtles, to hopefully stumble across one coming up from the ocean to lay her eggs. Then we’d quietly watch her and take the eggs to the hatchery, make our own nest and let them mature and grow there.
The biggest threat to the turtles was the poaching (and tuna fish nets). Each turtle lays approximately 140 eggs, sold at $1USD/piece. Some of the locals are only making $8-10 per day.
La Tortuga Feliz has done an incredible job of keeping the peace with locals, with creating a small economy on the island, and hiring locals to assist in the patrol of the beaches, to help them generate income in an ethical way. They also helped us to understand that the poachers are not bad people, they are people trying to survive. So by giving them alternate means of raising an income, they do not have to resort to illegal activities.
We were so lucky to have seen 2 turtles laying, got to dig 1 nest for a green turtle’s eggs, and assisted with 2 nests hatching, and about 5 releases of baby turtles into the ocean.
The thing we loved the most about this experience was that we were out in nature, making a difference, but were able to do this for a reasonable amount of time. 1 week was great, 2 – 4 weeks would be recommended but having the option available is what makes La Tortuga Feliz stand out. They truly want to get the conservation word out there, and want their organization to reach as many people as possible.
If any of this interests you, please feel free to contact us and we would be happy to answer any questions you may have.
If you love the cause but are still not sure if you can make it happen for yourselves, you can donate here.
And if you are already sold and want to book your experience, please go to La Tortuga Feliz and book now! The Leatherback turtles begin nesting in April and it books up fast. Happy Turtling everyone!