A beautiful chain of eight major islands strung across the mid-Pacific, Hawaii is America at its most exotic. It is also – for British tourists at least – the most distant part of the USA, requiring at least two long flights from the UK. Too far away for children? Not at all. If you take things at an easy pace to adjust to the time difference (Hawaii exists 11 hours behind London), these glorious tropical outcrops can be perfect for family holidays. And while Oahu, where the bright lights of Honolulu and the sands of Waikiki Beach take centre stage, is often considered the most child-friendly section of the archipelago, there is much to be said for an escape to ‘The Big Island’ (which is also officially, and somewhat confusingly, known as ‘Hawaii’). Easily the largest member of the octet – so enormous that it is greater in size than its seven colleagues combined – this is Hawaii at
its most rugged. Here, giant volcanoes spew and spit lava, offering thrilling (but safe) geography lessons to junior visitors. Lovely beaches and comfortable hotels seal the deal.
Further information: gohawaii.com
HILO, on Hawaii’s east flank, is a fine place to start. Not only because it has an airport, but because it is a slice of America’s Pacific paradise at its most real – a pocket of schools and homes as well as hotels. It is a location where you can shrug off any jet-lag within earshot of ocean waves. Carlsmith Beach Park is one of several pretty
spaces on the land’s edge – a grassy enclave where you can eat a picnic under palm trees. And while the beach may be rocky, there is a sandy bottom to the shallows – where the water is warm and clear enough for swimming and snorkelling, possibly with sea turtles.
STAY The Hilo Hawaiian Hotel (castleresorts.com) is a pleasing mid-range retreat with a big outdoor freshwater pool and family-sized rooms for £101.
Drive 30 miles south-west on the 11 into the grip of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (nps.gov/havo; £9.50 per vehicle, permit valid for seven days). This geological wonder frames two fiery brutes. By most calculations, Mauna Loa is the world’s largest volcano, a stocky giant rising to 13,679ft. Its neighbour Kilauea, meanwhile, is the star attraction – smaller at 4091ft, but ‘blessed’ with a temper which has seen it erupt almost continuously since 1983. Its spectacular fury can be watched (without danger) from the observation deck which peers into the
Halema’uma’u Crater next to the Thomas A Jaggar Museum (which explains how scientists study volcanoes – and occasionally, as its exhibits reveal, see their clothing catch flame). Both museum and platform are part of ‘
Crater Rim Drive’ – an iconic 11-mile route (for cars) which takes a circular path around Kilauea’s gaping mouth. Other landmarks on this high-wire road include the Nahuku-Thurston Lava Tube. Hidden at the end of a half-mile hiking trail, this hole in the earth is open to tourists, who can walk where lava once raced.
STAY: Remarkably, you can sleep in the national park. Volcano House (hawaiivolcanohouse.com) provides hotel and cabin accommodation on the lip of the Halema’uma’u Crater. Family rooms cost from £183 and there are bikes available which are free to use.
Distance in the day: 41 miles.
Linger in the national park and drive its other great ‘highway’ – the incomparable ‘Chain of Craters Road’. This 19-mile miracle showcases Hawaii’s craggy majesty as it plunges down Kilauea’s southern side, losing 3700ft in altitude as it twists and drops to the ocean. It slices through incredible volcanic scenery – and veers so close to eruption points that it has had to be repaired several times in the last three decades, after being overrun by lava (clear national park warnings will tell you whether the road is affected by volcanic activity during your stay).
Take the road at a leisurely speed, pausing at landmarks such as the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs – a ‘gallery’ of some 23,000 human figures. These were scratched into cooled lava by indigenous Hawaiian hands between 1200 and 1450 and are visible from a 1.5-mile boardwalk trail. The route concludes at the ocean and the Holei Sea Arch – a 90ft gap blasted through the cliff-face by the insistent force of the Pacific Ocean.
Distance in the day: 38 miles.
Leave Volcano House and the national park, and forge west on the 11 – which runs around the lower torso of Mauna Loa before turning north up Hawaii’s west coast. Break your journey at Manuka State Wayside (dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks) a protected site at the island’s south-west corner where a two-mile trail dissects a leafy realm. Further north, Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park (dlnr.hawaii.gov/dsp/parks) marks the spot where British explorer Captain James Cook ‘discovered’ the island in 1779 – and was later killed. A monument salutes his memory above a beach that is superb for snorkelling.
STAY: Roll to a finish at KAILUA-KONA, the prime holiday hotspot on Hawaii’s west coast. Here, the Royal Kona Resort (royalkona.com) is a pleasant option for kids, with its outdoor pool, tennis courts and sunset views. Family rooms for £83.
Distance in the day: 96 miles.
9-day car hire with Hertz starts from £650. Pick up at Hilo International Airport and drop off at Kona Keahole Airport. hertz.co.uk