Hawaii – The Big Island

We spent a week on the island of Hawaii and were lucky enough to stay with our friends at their condo in Kona. If you are planning on taking a trip to the big island, Kailua Kona is definitely worth considering to use as your home base.

In this article, I lay out our itinerary and each place we visited in detail.

Kailua Kona

Magic Sand Beach

Magic was our go-to beach and we spent most of our beach time here. This is a great place if you want to snorkel and body board. We consistently saw sea turtles here too.


Kahalu’u Beach Park

Kahalu’u provides calm, crystal clear water for snorkeling, making it easy to float on the surface and watch as the colorful fish go about their day. This was also the best place we found to experience sea turtles up close. However, I recommend that you arrive to this beach early as this is when the water is at it’s clearest.

Kahalu’u snorkeling at about 10:30 a.m.
Hawaiian green turtle basking at about 11:00 a.m.

Kua Bay

Kua was another of our favorite beaches. It’s a white sand beach that’s about a half hour north of Kona. This beach also has a permanent food truck and public rest rooms making it perfectly suited for a day trip.



Kamanu Charters Manta Ray Night Dive

The manta ray night snorkel was the highlight of our trip. We checked in at 5:00 p.m. to meet with the charter crew and to put on our half wet suits. Our crew was made up of the captain, Jay, and crew members Bobby and Megan. The ocean in Hawaii is warm, but half wet suits were recommended because the total in-water time lasts around 45 min.

It was about a 6 mile ride north along the coast to reach what locals call “Manta Heaven”, a half mile off the coast from the airport.

Once at Manta Heaven, crew member Bobby told us about the Manta Rays. The most important thing to understand is that manta rays are harmless. They have no teeth, stingers, or sharp protrusions of any kind. This is supported by the fact that they are filter feeders, trapping planktonic copepods in special gill filaments called gill rakers. As a side note, he explained that there is high demand in the Chinese market for manta gills. The Chinese believe these organs filter impurities from the body, but there is evidence proving that this is not an effective practice and that there are plenty of modern alternatives. Mantas could face extinction if something isn’t done to stop this practice.

Bobby explained that mantas weigh between 50-100 lbs per foot and eat around 13% of their body weight each week. There are two manta species: Manta birostris & Manta Alfredi. The largest and most rarely seen is Manta birostris with an average wingspan of 22 ft.

We used surfboards modified with UV lights placed underneath to attract the manta ray’s primary food source: planktonic copepods.

Copepods scooped up from beneath the UV lights.

The boards were also equipped with PCV handles that we held so we didn’t drift apart from the group as we floated on the water’s surface. All we needed to do was hold on and float while breathing through the snorkel.

Once the copepods reached a high enough concentration around the UV lights, the mantas began getting closer and closer until they almost brushed up against us. We were advised not to touch the rays as it would result in removing the mucous layer that protects their skin from the environment. They fed by doing back flips in order to catch as much food as possible.

Manta Ray Snorkel
The route followed by the catamaran to “Manta Heaven”

To ‘Akaka Falls and Waipio Valley

Our route from Kona to Akaka Falls and Waipio Valley and back.

The drive from Kona to ‘Akaka Falls took us about 2.5 hours, but felt half that because of how interesting the landscape was to watch as we drove through.

‘Akaka Falls

The ‘Akaka Falls trail is paved and only a half mile long. The falls make a great sight seeing pit stop. This is also a great place to see anole lizards and gold dust day geckos.

Waipio Valley

The trek to Waipio beach from the parking lot is not for the faint of heart. The road down is extremely steep with a 45 degree incline. However, the view is spectacular and there are apparently wild horses that roam the area.


The hike back uphill from the beach was exhausting. With the combination of heat and humidity, I don’t think I’ve ever sweated as much as I did then in my entire life.



On the last day of our trip, while shopping for souvenirs, Teddy and I decided to have a light lunch because we knew there would be a great deal of food later that evening at the luau. We settled for a small bar-style restaurant called Chill’n on the Bay and ordered two fish tacos each. It was a relaxing afternoon as we watched the day geckos scurry about and approach our drink glasses every so often to lick off the condensation.


Hawaii state parks logo

Snorkel Bob

Kamanu Charters link


Manta Rays Endangered by Sudden Demand from Chinese Medicine


Our Favorite Mt. Shasta Lakes

Mt. Shasta is a peaceful town near the Oregon/California border surrounded by wonderful opportunities for summer adventure and relaxation. My family owned a cabin here for several years and I stayed there twice each year with my parents and siblings.

The lakes I describe below are all within a few miles from each other and are only about a 5 mile drive from the grocery store in town if you need to stock up on supplies.

Lake Siskiyou

Lake Siskiyou is where I spend most of my time while in Mt. Shasta. There is plenty of parking for a day trip as well as camp sites for both tent and RV camping. The general store has almost everything you need while camping from firewood to snacks and has wonderful soft serve ice cream. Nothing beats their soft serve ice cream on a hot day after swimming or kayaking on the lake.

View of Mt. Shasta from Lake Siskiyou

Castle Lake

Castle lake is great for a day trip and has a campground as well as free parking, but unlike Lake Siskiyou, there is no general store or rental facility. The only amenity at Castle Lake is an outhouse at the parking lot. The lake has several hiking trails and many access points for swimming and fishing. There are two smaller lakes above Castle Lake: Heart Lake and Little Castle Lake. Heart Lake is about a mile hike uphill and is most accurately described as a very large, deep pond. We couldn’t touch the bottom even when we tried. It is also quite cold, but refreshing after hiking in the hot summer sun. We have not yet had the chance to check out Little Castle lake.

View of Castle Lake from Heart Lake (Photo taken 2018)
View of Mt. Shasta from Heart Lake (Photo taken 2018)

Below is a screenshot of my hike from Castle Lake to Heart Lake using my Garmin Fenix 3 HR watch. If you look closely, Little Castle Lake can be seen a little over half a mile to the right of Heart Lake.

Heart Lake hike


What’s your experience with camping at Mt. Shasta? Please comment below, we’d love to hear!