Be Adventurous! / Be Curious! / Be Prepared! / Health/Fitness / Science / Scouting / Travel

Hawaii 5-0!


You can see from the top of this website that my theme for the BSP project is all about living “a big, wide life… one badge at a time.” That’s why I really resonate with the Girl Scout concept of the “wider opportunity,” which is described as “any trip or event that takes you beyond your normal environment.”

Gosh, that sounds like a vacation, doesn’t it??

I’d been socking away a little more than spare change for a couple of years in order to take a splendid trip to celebrate turning 50, but as the BSP began to take root in my DNA, the idea of a simple beach vacation morphed into the desire to take the widest op I could think of (and afford). I turned to many of the badges to help guide the destination.

The “Globe Trotting” badge asks scouts to identify their perfect geographical locale: would it have mountains? Ocean? Rivers? Desert? What would the weather be like? What about the plants and animals? These are great questions!

Turned out that I couldn’t choose just one kind of environment for my own personal paradise. I wanted oceans and rivers and mountains and high desert. I wanted tropical rain forest, and I wanted barren terrain. I wanted constant, pleasant temperatures that mostly ranged between 65-85 degrees. As for animals, all I knew was that I didn’t want to worry about snakes or anything poisonous. As for plants, I wanted glorious and lush tropical flowers and foliage; I wanted to be able to eat colorful foods, right from the tree. In other words, paradise has to have it all.

Sounds impossible, I know, but it turns out that my paradise exists. A little research pointed directly to one place, and one place only – the Big Island of Hawaii, right here in the United States.

Charles and I slipped away for a week of adventure in mid-November (I know! You didn’t even realize I was gone!), and several posts scattered over the next few weeks will cover the task work done on that trip for badges on hiking, adventure sports, folk arts, water sports, weather, geology, and much, much more. But today’s post covers the planning for this wider op, which are task requirements in the “Traveler,” “Girl Scouting in my Future,” and “Math Whiz” badges.

For the Traveler badge, scouts need to collect information about a place they want to go, share that with family, and ask them if they’d like to go. I think the conversation with Charles went something like this:

  • “Hey babe, I think I know where I want to go for our trip in November.”
  • “Oh yeah? Where you thinking?”
  • “Hawaii.”
  • “Sounds great. Book it.”
  • “Wanna see some stuff I’ve collected about the island I want to go to?”
  • “Do I need to?”
  • “No, but do you want to? Want me to send you some links?”
  • “I kinda trust you on this. Plus, it’s your birthday trip, and you get to pick.”
  • “Don’t you want to know which island? They’re not all the same, you know. You should see some stuff before you say yes. I’ll send you some links to look at.”
  • “Not necessary. Seriously. You had me at ‘Hawaii.’”

So THAT was easy. Next task…

Scouts are asked to plan their wider op using the “Go Girl! Travel Action Plan” in the handbook. It’s a very straightforward checklist of everything you need to know to plan and take your trip. It includes a real commitment to traveling safely, but that’s for another blog post. For the “Girl Scouting in my Future” badge, however, I also needed to research the destination, budget for the trip, make any necessary reservations, figure out how far away it is (also a required task for the “Math Whiz” badge), map out how to get there, and plan what to do once we got there. So here it all is in a nutshell:

A BIT ABOUT THE ISLAND: The island’s real moniker is “Hawaii” but to avoid confusion with the name of the state, it’s commonly referred to as the “Big Island.” Home to eleven of the world’s thirteen ecosystems, you can sunbathe in the morning and ski in the afternoon; Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea are around 13,700 feet above sea level.

It’s about the size of the state of Connecticut, and all the other islands could actually fit onto the Big Island. The population is 176,000–very small when compared to the 900,000 people on Oahu, a much tinier island. Primary industries are coffee, macadamia nuts, ranching, and, of course, tourism.

As with all of the other Hawaiian islands, the western (leeward) side is typically dry and sunny most of the year. The eastern (windward) coast gets the rain–and the tropical foliage that goes with that rain. Hilo, the island’s second largest city, is the wettest city in the United States, averaging 126 inches of rain/year.

Perhaps the island’s greatest attraction is Volcanoes National Park in the southern part of the island. Much more on that in a future post…

DISTANCE: The distance between Austin, TX and Kailua-Kona, HI is 3,685 miles as the crow flies, but we’re not crows, and we had to change planes in Los Angeles. So, if you’re interested, the distance between Austin and L.A. is 1,236 miles, while the distance between L.A. and Kailua-Kona is 2,514 miles, for a total flight distance of 3,750 miles. Either way you slice it, it’s a ways away. Greyhound is not an option.  At about 5-1/2 hours, the flight time from LAX was less than I thought it would be.

MAKING RESERVATIONS: No need to pick up a phone for anything anymore, is there? Everything was done online–plane, cars, and places to stay.

PLANNING THE TRIP: Take a look at this map of the Big Island, it’ll help. With 8 days on the ground, I mapped the trip to travel along the island’s perimeter (the yellow line).  While we were locked into our hotel reservations in different towns for different nights, we gave ourselves permission to modify our wish list of things to do as we saw fit.

Days 1-3: Land at Kona airport, stay at Marriott in Waikoloa near the Kohala Coast.

Possible activities in our plan included: chill out, swim, learn to snorkel, explore Kailua-Kona and northwest coastline, see luau, take ukulele lessons.

What we actually did: Everything above except the luau (we were discouraged by reports we heard, and it was pretty expensive). I also took a hula lesson, offered at the hotel. Why not?

Days 4-5: Travel northern route and spend two nights in Hilo.

Possible activities in our plan included: Visit key sights: Waipi’o Valley, Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, Boiling Pots, Banyan Drive. Go to the Hilo Farmer’s Market. Zip line over water/jungle.

What we actually did: On the advice of locals we skipped Rainbow Falls and Boiling Pots, but we did everything else.

Days 6-7: Travel southern route from Hilo to Volcano.

Possible activities included: hiking through Volcanoes National Park/seeing as much lava as possible.

What we actually did: All of that and more. We hit some very cool coastline south of Hilo, we took the self-guided tour of the Mauna Lau macadamia nut factory (weird), and had a fantastic lunch at the Pahao farmer’s market. Then lava — to the extreme! We detoured down to the end of the Puna coast on Day 6 to visit some old friends I hadn’t seen in twenty years who are now living on the island. They gave excellent advice on how to actually get to see the lava flowing into the ocean (hard hike… highlight of the trip… future post!).

Day 8: Travel from Volcano back to Kailua-Kona with stops along the southwest coastline. Catch flight home at 10:00 p.m.

Possible activities included: Stopping at black sand beach, stopping at South Point (southernmost tip of the U.S.), more swimming and snorkeling.

What we actually did: Everything but the snorkeling. We got back to Kailua-Kona too late in the day to rent gear. We had a great drive, however, with a stop at a small coffee farm, great meals, and one more sunset.

BUDGET: We had enough frequent flyer miles for round trip airfare in coach, so that was free (yes!). I used Marriott rewards points to substantially lower the cost of a hotel room for the first three nights in Waikoloa on the Kona (dry) side of the island. That meant our expenses would be limited to 2 nights in Hilo, 2 nights in Volcano, the cost of a rental car, and meals and incidentals. Having saved on airfare and the Marriott, I splurged a bit on accommodations the rest of the trip (totally worth it*). Got the rental car from Priceline (a Jeep Compass @ $200 for the week), and I budgeted $100/day for meals and fun. We actually went a few hundred dollars over this because I insisted that we zip line over the jungle canopy (pricey, but again, worth it, see future blog post!), and we did some early Christmas shopping for family. We were there for 8 days, and our total costs came to $2,820. Because we’d been saving for a trip like this, it’s already been paid for.

FINALLY… the “Traveler” badge asks scouts to document and share their adventure with pictures, videos, or postcards. There will be some wicked “edutainment” video in future posts, but for now, the gorgeous photos are up on Flickr right here, or click below for a quick slideshow of my top twenty favorite pictures. May they inspire you to save for your own wider op!


* If any of you ever make it to the Big Island (and I hope you do), I can highly recommend Hilo’s Inn at Kulapiania Falls  and the Volcano Village Lodge. Both amazing places. They’re slightly pricier than other accommodations in their areas, but WOW. WOW. WOW.


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