One word of advice if you are considering travel to Hawaii over the holidays, make sure you book your car rental as far in advance as possible. When we went (day after Christmas)all of the major car rental companies were fully booked and we rented a car from a local guy on the island for way too much money! Everything worked out, but it was a little touch and go when we picked up the car in a gravel parking lot with the key hidden under the floor mat...
Anyways, here is everything we did :)
We booked a tour through Epic Lava tours to check out Madame Pele in her glory. This was a sunrise hike through lava fields and we had to meet the group at like 4 AM. This was a highlight for me because I have always wanted to see lava up close and the terrain looks so alien! It was really cool. Our tour guide, John, pictured above (and stomping in the lava) was so passionate about lava, I am certain we will never meet anyone who loves lava as much as that dude.
We almost killed our little dinky Chevy Spark rental car driving up to the Mauna Kea visitor's center. The incline is so steep and the car engine was struggling so much we were certain it was going to die. But the Spark pulled through and we made it to the visitor's center, which is 9,200 feet above sea level. From there you need to take a 4WD vehicle to the top of the mountain, which are the pictures above. The top of Mauna Kea is 13,700 feet above sea level. I enjoyed photographing the telescopes (big dome buildings) way more than I thought I would. I feel like it looked like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Snorkeling on the South Kona Coast
Can you go to Hawaii and not go snorkeling? We got a brief glimpse of a humpback whale. It was also cool seeing the coast line from a different perspective.
Night time Manta Ray swim
Manta Ray swimming was definitely Tom's favorite activity. We took a small boat about 5 min out into the water at night. When you get into the water you hold onto a board with handles (think like a long surfboard) and it had lights attached to the underside of the board. The Manta Rays feed off the plankton in the water, and the plankton is attracted to the light. These Manta Rays have gotten used to the tourists coming and will swim right up to the board to get mouthfuls of food. Other parts of the Island have tried to start more Manta Ray night swims, but the Manta Rays are not as dependeble and they don't always come up to the boards. They believe these ones have become accustomed and used to the tourists. They have a 14ft wingspan, it's difficult to tell how big they are from the pictures!