Hawaii’s Big Island has over 23 eco-systems, the tallest mountain and the largest active volcano on Earth. But, once the fun is done the place you rest your head should be just as exotic.

When going to the Big Island you have to visit what is often referred to as “the real Hawaii,” the wet and green Hamakua coast. Here are two of my favorite exotic places to stay while on this side of the island that includes a private jungle retreat with no walls and a small bed and breakfast that is like a tree house for adults. While there are no shortage of grand hotels and resorts on Hawaii’s Big Island, these two spots are so amazing you won’t want to close your eyes.

The crater’s edge

“I wish I could just turn off my brain and stop doing things,” says Melanie, the owner of At the Crater’s Edge.

But, I am glad she can’t. A renaissance woman in every sense of the word, this delightful woman and I enjoyed a breakfast of fresh Hawaiian pineapple, papaya spritzed with lime, and some delicious homemade poppy seed bread outside on the large wooden porch at her guesthouse less than a mile from the most active volcano in the world.

A good percentage of visitors spend all day in the sun and never get to the wet jungle side of the island to see the small villages and dramatic landscapes. But, going to this side of the island to see the more remote spots and explore the volcano is mandatory for adventurers. If you are going to spend time visiting Volcano National Park, spend at least two nights in the village of Volcano to take the night hike to see the glowing lava spit and steam as it hits the ocean. It is easier than driving the dark roads back to some other location and makes a perfect home base for exploring this side of the island.

Melanie has just completed designing and overseeing the building of a beautiful property that is a tree house for adults. Located in a dense wet rainforest, huge windows and sliding glass doors make up two sides of the two guest rooms, giving views into the tropical foliage that make it seem that you are floating in the trees. The entire structure is made of wood imported from Canada, giving the whole place a warm, woodsy feeling. The vaulted ceilings in the rooms rise overhead and are topped with tin. My first night there I slept better than I had in months listening to the gentle drumming of the rain. And, it is dark. I mean really dark. Because of the proximity to Mauna Loa (the other volcano) and its observatory, there are no street lights and almost no outdoor lights of any kind in the town of Volcano. Plus, there just aren’t that many people there anyway. Melanie has furnished the two guest rooms with flashlights as well as top of the line linens, a deep jacuzzi bath, and fresh fruits and breads. A raised wooden walkway meanders through the tall trees and ferns to a secluded spa area with jacuzzi and sauna. With only one other guest room (although when not there she sometimes rents out the extra large main unit) you get the privacy and solitude that you just can’t find at a hotel or even a bed and breakfast.

These rooms range in price from $250 to $375 per night and are available year round.

Minimalist retreat

“I knew paradise existed, but I had no idea I’d find it at Reed’s Falls.” This is a quote from a guest book at the private retreat called The Falls at Reed’s Island (www.reedsisland.com). This is truly a stunning vacation property that will leave you wide eyed at its beauty.

Just a mile or two up the mountain from the little town of Hilo on the Big Island’s wet side is a small dirt road that ends at an unassuming gate. But, swing the gate open and be prepared to never want to leave the beauty of this place. Sitting atop a narrow bluff at the end of a long, winding drive sits a house by renowned architects who have been innovators of designing in the minimalist style. And, this home is no exception. So minimalist in fact that it has almost no walls. One long central hallway is comprised completely of large wood posts and screens so that the sights and sounds of the jungle surrounding the place are all around. With a mere six to eight feet of land on either side of the house, the property plunges to an almost vertical level down into a lush tropical ravine on one side of the house and into a emerald green river on the other. From the window at the end of the house the unobstructed views are right into the magnificent triple water fall of Reed’s Falls.

Privacy here is unmatched. Though only a five minute drive into the town of Hilo, there is not another building or person in sight. And, at night, the darkness is complete, and the only sound you will hear, and it is a loud sound, is the chorus of thousands of frogs that make the river their home.

With three very large comfortable bedrooms, each one with its own unique and breathtaking view, it is a great escape for a group, or can just be a cozy retreat for two. Prices for the place are incredibly reasonable for the Big Island. Rates range from $296 per night with a seven night stay and up to $365 a night, less than the cost of many of the big resorts.

This is the perfect home base for exploring some of the sites of the Hamakua Coast. Within an hour’s drive you can horseback ride into the breathtaking Waipi’o Valley, wander a real-world Eden at the World Botanical Gardens, or visit Volcano National Park.

Dan Dawson is a travel journalist and dedicated world traveler who has written articles for many publications on adventures abroad. He is also the marketing manager for the Big Blue Bus. Tell him about your favorite vacation spot at www.WonderlustTravel.com.

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