Sign Up for Our Monthly Hawaii Newsletter
With 11 different climate zones supporting unique ecosystems, Hawaii Island — the new, official name for the Big Island — has the ability to lure even the laziest of travelers off their beach chairs and to the far corners of the island for a taste of adventure. That, at least, was my experience during my recent Kona getaway when I uncharacteristically left the infinity pool at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai to spend the day exploring the Puna coastline with Native Guide Hawaii.
Owned and operated by Warren Costa, Native Guide Hawaii offers four prearranged tours, from bird-watching along waterfalls to hiking in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, in addition to customized tours of the island. Costa guides his guests through the history, geology and folklore of the region from the perspective of a Hilo native — one with an extensive background in archeology and botany.
“I cover all kinds of subjects, from biology and local culture to the geology of the Hawaiian islands,” said Costa. “Guests will get a more realistic view of Hawaii from a person who not only lives here but is actually from here.”
After stopping for a hearty breakfast at Hawaiian Style Cafe in Waimea on the way from Kona, I caught up with Costa at a designated meeting spot in Hilo. We then hopped in his van to drive through the small bohemian town of Pahoa to Kalapana, which was buried in the 1990 Kilauea Volcano lava flow.
Kalapana, formerly a fishing village, serves as a home to only the hardiest of residents, who live without water or power in the path of an active volcano. In fact, a five-year-old Kalapana home was destroyed last summer and another home in the neighborhood was engulfed by lava earlier this year.
Costa explained the characteristics of the different types of lava — pahoehoe and aa — and noted signs of life sprouting out from some of the older lava rocks. I followed him into the lava zone, the top crust of lava crunching like snow beneath my feet, as he regaled me with stories about Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess.
We then drove to the Star of the Sea Painted Church, which had been relocated in 1990 to avoid the advancing lava flow. Costa pointed out the Stations of the Cross written in Hawaiian and told me the story of Father Damien, Puna’s first priest, who famously assisted patients suffering from Hansen’s disease.
It was about midday by the time we were finished touring the church, so my guide set up a picnic lunch underneath one of the coconut trees on site. Native Guide Hawaii’s lunches typically consist of healthy sandwiches, veggetables and fruit. I requested a vegetarian meal and was given a delightful salad, Greek yogurt and a guava-orange juice. Costa even sliced up a fresh pineapple for dessert.
Next, we cruised the coastline of Puna, admiring its hyper-blue water contrasted by cliffs of black lava rock, and walked through Mackenzie State Park’s ironwood forest. Along the way, Costa drew my attention to poisonous mushrooms, a tiny coqui frog and a lava tube. Climbing into the lava tube was like entering a muggy steam room. Condensation dripped from stalactites, and the humid air kept me from wanting to spend more than a few minutes underground.
We also took a dip in the thermal pool at Ahalanui Park, which is filled with brackish water caused by natural springs mingling with the ocean. The water is volcanically heated to about 90 degrees, but I still found the swim to be a refreshing way to end the day of touring Puna.
If I could do it all over again, I would have planned to spend a night or two in Hilo to break up the two-hour commute from Kona and to experience the windward side of the island in more depth. Also, I assumed that the tour would involve hiking, but much of our time consisted of very brief walks followed by commutes to other sites along the coast. If your clients are interested in more of a workout, let Costa know in advance so that he can tweak the tour to suit their tastes.
“Our tours are very flexible,” he said. “Because the tours are private, I’m open to suggestions — and if it’s possible, I try to make it happen.”
Native Guide Hawaii808-982-7575www.nativeguidehawaii.com
Tours cost $300 for one person. Parties of two or more are $150 per person. Commission: 10 percent on parties of six or more.