Monday, March 19, 2012

Hawaii Trip Report

Big Island Trip 2/28- 3/7/12

Pt. 1:

My family of 5: hubs, 15 y.o., 11y.o. and 9 y.o. had the trip of a lifetime in Hawaii. First off, let me say, I loved all we saw, but by far my favorite area was the Kohala Coast, Mauna Lani area. Sunny, Quiet, warm not hot, less people than the other resort areas we visited, and more of the "Hawaii-feel" I was searching for.

 Not for everyone, as it was quite a drive to other attractions on the island, and let me say before I visited Hawaii I laughed that "20 miles" was considered "far". Now I see. It does take a long time, or seems that way anyway, to get anywhere. We quickly set our clocks to "Island Time" anytime we had to drive, windows down, local station on, and no worries, yeah?....

We arrived at 9pm in Kona from LAX (5.5 hr flight). In Total Darkness. Did not see any lights until we were literally on the runway. We got our rental car (thank goodness no checked baggage as we beat the looong line at Alamo) and arrived at the condo with no trouble (Mauna Lani Point, 22 mi from airport), and settled in.

I went out on the lanai (again, total darkness) and listened to what I thought was rain... the next morning I saw that sound was the gentle rustling of the beautiful coconut palms fronting the lanai. I miss that soothing sound!

Day 2: Woke up before 5 am to watch a beautiful sunrise. We opted for the --more economical--fairway view condo. The view was gorgeous even though not ocean view. We enjoyed Kona coffee, local papaya, and a light breakfast of toast with guava jam, then ventured walking to find the beach.

I must say, the Mauna Lani map wasn't much good to us, paths we took dead ended at the greens, we got blocked in by lava fields, we saw the ocean but could not figure out how to get there. No matter... we finally found the shoreline path (which was part of an ancient Hawaiian fisherman’s pathway) and walked along, saw several whales breaching and spraying high into the air, learned some of the history of this area thanks to the many plaques along the way. It was an overcast day so the water did not seem as bright turquoise as the following days. We found “our beach” (Ma’kaiwa Bay) after a 30 min walk. It was barely 8am when we first jumped in the ocean...waters felt warm and calm. Saw fish immediately. Snorkeled a bit.

 Went back to the condo and decided to explore more. We drove to Hapuna Beach(beautiful, by this time the sun was shining more and it was a lovely turquoise blue)...Big waves...wide golden sand, crowded. It reminded us a lot of S. California...too much actually so we left to find another beach. Luckily I had printed out directions to most of the Kohala beaches.

We tried Mauna Kea beach. It was about 10am, and we won a coveted parking spot no problem. The walk to the beach is amazing because you don't see it right away. The glimpses of the ocean through the trees blew us away... we arrived at this surreal aqua-watered beach, surrounded by beautiful foliage, and found a secluded spot on south end. Snorkeling in crystal clear water, we saw our first honu, many fish, just enjoyed the water. The sea was very calm. It was a bit overcast but we didn't mind not having blazing sun on us the first day. Now we really felt like we were in Hawaii!

Hunger brought us back to condo where we ate grilled cheese, then off to Costco, where we bought provisions for the week. I also stopped at Foodland Farms for smaller quantity items like beer and snacks. I bought local foods whenever I could. The avocados, tomatoes, lettuce, pineapples were amazing.(The scallions were as long as my arm and bright green) I found the prices to be comparable to our California prices. The quality was great--everything was so fresh and delicious.

For dinner, we grilled burgers at the condo pool area, which is well- equipped with a full kitchen (ice / drinking water, sink, micro, fridge) complete with gorgeous view of the ocean sunset. The pool was heated, the jacuzzi hot, and we had it to ourselves. When we got back to the condo exhausted, we saw it was only 8pm!!!! The kids were asleep by 8:45 and we followed soon after. Our first day in paradise....... to be cont'd.....

Pt. 2

Day 3:

Woke up to another glorius island sunrise. Kona coffee, portugese sausage, tortillas and eggs. Papaya. We ventured out early and decided to find Wailea Beach (also known as beach 69). The drive was short. As soon as we got there we never wanted to leave. Clear , calm, turquoise water.  Honu.  Beautiful  (big!) turquoise and green and white fish near the shore feeding. The shade trees were great too, created our own little “hut” for the day. We picnicked there.

Drove to “Hawi Town” for Tropical Dreams ice cream (mmm lilikoi and coconut for me) and a little shopping. Loved it. Very green after being in Kohala area.  Continued on to Polulu lookout, stopped at roadside stand for oranges, papaya, mac nuts and starfruit.

Had Costco pulled pork with Hawaiian bbq sauce on buns for dinner. My little guy had a bad headache—probably dehydrated L--. Was shocked to find the nearest ER was in Waimea, 45 min! Went to Foodland Farms and got Pedialyte and Motrin. Thank goodness he was OK after a good nights’ rest. No kidding, have the kids drink water ALL DAY! I know we made sure the rest of the trip after this!

In bed again by 9.

Day 4:

OK, you get the drift? Another sunrise. Went exploring along the ML coastline. Saw those Aqueline pools. I LOVE the lava! Beautiful. More whales offshore…I swear I even heard them—is that even possible??

Stayed “close to home” at Ma’kaiwa Bay all day, picnicked on the sand, kayaked, and snorkeled.

Decided to check out Waikoloa.  Walked around the Queens Shops. Great stores. Loved ABC store ;), became a guilty pleasure. Had Japanese noodles at food court while kids had a burrito-fix. Bought some souvenirs and hubs and kids snuck away and surprised me with gold “honu” earrings for my birthday—sweet! I love them, on my ears right nowJ I was very glad we did NOT rent the condo in Waikoloa this trip—almost did. It was very nice, but had a congested, maze-like feel to it, very “corporate” and reminded me of the O.C. a bit. Did not have any interest in seeing the Hilton, either.  And, it’s still a drive to the beach at A-Bay.  Although we saw a lovely sunset, and I loved all the coconut palms, “our” beach at ML was so much nicer. That being said, I would consider using this as home base if the price was really great, just to get us back to B.I.!

Day 5:

We are on the road by 8 am! We were on a mission to get breakfast at the Waimea Homestead Farmer’s market. I forgot to remind my girls to dress warmly, and so $45 later they had “Printed  in Hawaii” T-Shirts. Lol! It was drizzly and a bit chilly as we enjoyed crepes made onsite, and our first “plate meal” of Aunties pork laulau, bbq and rice. We ate everything. The lady at Aunties instructed  us on how to make the laulau at home, we bought some seasoned sea salt from a vendor per her instructions. Also got some goodies for later— lilikoi bars, banana bread (yum!!) and gifts for family.

Continued on to other side of island—rainy-yes—in search of waterfalls. Experienced our first (and happily, only) Hawaiian traffic jam. About 1 hour no movement…bad accident on Hwy 19 (hope they are ok) Could not see Mauna Kea-too cloudy. Stopped at  Akaka Falls, no charge for parking I think the thingy was broken. Beautiful falls (did not know there were 2 there) and lovely lush surrounding. I almost got trampled—literally—by tourist busload of people running—yes RUNNING and snapping cell-phone pictures-- though the narrow, slippery park paths. (Please be careful!) Stopped at fruit stand on the way out for coconuts (with a straw poked in to drink). I love how everything was honor system.

We were looking for the turnout for Hawaiian Botanical Gardens but missed it. We ended up in Hilo. Got gas,  and left to backtrack to the scenic turnout. By that time my kids were cranky and hungry, so we found What’s Shakin’ and got a filling, albeit very expensive, lunch. (7.00 smoothies, 11.00 nachos)The gardens there are gorgeous!

I met a lady from our hometown there—what are the odds? Overall, nice day, although we missed a lot, I know. That became the theme for our latter days in Hawaii, but we will be back someday.

Day 6, a Sunday:
OK, today I am starting to feel panicky, because we leave on Wednesday and I never want to leave. We purposely plan a mellow day today after our great adventure yesterday. We walk towards the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel this morning as the sun rises and see a large honu sunning himself, as well as many schools of colorful fish through the clear water. Another glorious day emerging.

We find 2 hammocks near the hotel and relax awhile. More waves, tide pools and lava formations here.  We pass the Francis Brown cottage, fishponds, and a heiau structure.  I sit on the rocks and watch the show one, then TWO whales breach at the same time, right in front of me. The majesty of it really chokes me up. Oh my God, Hawaii is magical, spritual. I look to the right, and three honu gliding through the water.

I go back “home” and make fruit salad and pancakes for the kiddoes.

We notice many more families with small children in the resort today. (It amazes me the amount of people willing to travel with infants and toddlers—more power to ‘em! I hardly left the house when my kids were that age… lol)
That's me with hubs and small fry kayaking in the background!

We are glad to have  “our” beach Ma’kaiwa Bay. Perfect for swimming, for snorkeling, kayaking and relaxing. This is pretty much what we do all day.  See my rainbow today!

Hubs and I enjoy our first Mai Tai from  the little beach bar. It is good. He has another. I am r e l a x e d!

The sun is low, and a musician sets up outside the bar while the tiki torches are lit. Soft music playing, the distant waves, kids playing, all is good in the world today!

We head back to the pool area and swim, Jacuzzi, then grill some tri-tip. It is a great meal. Back to the condo and the chocolate mac nut ice cream I bought. The  kids are silent for a long time. Then  one of them says with reverence: “This is the best ice cream I’ve ever had”.  Just what I was thinking.

Day 7:

Our last full day at Mauna Lani. Tomorrow we head to Kona for our last 2 days. We haven’t even been to Kona yet!

I am officially sad as I listen to the now-familiar birdsong on the lanai and watch the sunrise. The coffee is excellent.

We decide to hike around Kiholo Bay. Off we go, with plenty of water. We love the drive south through the stark lava fields reading the miles of white coral “graffiti”. We turn off at the designated turn-off, and it amazes us when we glimpse the ocean through the dry scrubby trees and rocks. The sea beyond is the brightest turquoise blue with a streak of indigo at the horizon.

We arrive and are mesmerized. We look for Queens Bath and quickly find it thanks to “The Evil Blue Book”. I have to admit, “The Big Island Revealed” was very helpful. I did not do questionable things, such as drive where I shouldn’t be driving, but all the directions were very accurate. My eldest daughter and I took a plunge into Queens Bath. Cold! So clear and refreshing… we swam on through to the second opening, like swimming in a cave. Well, I guess it IS a cave. Very cool. (Do not use sunscreen before you go in, there is a helpful little sign and a ladder at the entrance)

We hike north toward the bay. Along the way we see a lovely series of coves and beaches with every sort and color of sand…beige, grey, black… chunks of coral and lava. It’s against the law to take any so I snap pictures. (I never took a single thing off anyplace in Hawaii—I am a child of the seventies and saw that Hawaii Brady Bunch episode, you know! That should be required viewing for every visitor to the islands)
See honu in the background?!
We pass by the “Pacemaker” house, and the “Bali” house. Both are amazing. We see scores of honu riding the canal. It looks like they do it for fun! I am in love with the honu. We stop and talk with a security guard who tells us of the sharks that sometimes show up to feed, and the dangerous currents.

We walk back and mad- hungry, so off again to Le Costco to feed, get dinner and buy last-minute gifts. All 5 of us eat for a total of 16.00, I buy fresh local Kona marlin to grill tonight, and some Hawaiian goodies to take home.

We go home and cool off in the pool. Then we get dressed and head out to the Mauna Lani shops for their Polynesian Show. We did not plan to do a luau and this is free. Free is good. We get there and a sweet lady (mahalo, Maile) is teaching lei making. Yes, I made a lei! It is beautiful and upon completion, my son promptly takes it to wear for the evening.

We thoroughly enjoy the show, with live music and a bevy of very talented young people,  under an almost-full moon. My son is most impressed by the fire-dancers. We stroll over to the Ukelele shop and get a free concert from Damien, a sweet young man, very knowledgeable and talented. He sings us “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.  My son wants a Uke, maybe next time!

Grilled the fish, had it with a salsa I made of pineapple, scallion, cilantro…best meal in Hawaii! This time we try the Kona Mud Pie ice cream. YUM.

We turn on the local News for the first time in, what, 7 days? We learn there is a huge storm pounding the islands. Mercifully, we have had none of it here—just some distant lightning and thunder. We count our blessings we didn’t go to Kauai.

Day 8:

“Last” sunrise until next trip, at Mauna Lani. Packed and head for the Kona area. We will stay at Keauhou Beach Resort tonight, and all day tomorrow, our flight leaves at 10:30pm so I booked 2 nights on Expedia cheaply.

We head on to Kona with no real plans except to see Place of Refuge. We drive through Kona Town, it’s a little overcast. We climb the hills as we go south….lots of little farms dot the roadside….are those coffee bushes? A quick stop confirms it. They are in bloom and the smell is strong.  Lovely floral perfume! We pass many coffee farms with “free tasting” signs. We don’t stop, because we want to get to our destination. That, and the kids are protesting…arrgh…. The drive reminds us somehow of wine country in Santa Barbara area, except these are coffee farms instead of vineyards. Love this. The air smells of coffee beans roasting.  Wild turkeys running around. Huge trees shade the road—are those mangoes? Yes… Wow

We stop in Kealia, a little green roadside store advertising shave ice. We haven’t gotten a taste of real shave ice, so we stop in. This gal has got a vintage shave ice machine, homemade syrups, and so we enjoy mango-lillikoi, strawberry-watermelon, mango, and banana (made with real red banana syrup) It’s getting hot and humid and this hits the spot. We sit outside with the cute little geckoes. What a great find.

We keep going and I see a sign for St. Benedicts’s Church. I remember seeing a beautiful photograph of a shell-lei covered statue of the Virgin Mary on Pinterest, I think it is here.

 I shreik at hubs to turn in. The sun is shining on the church. It is lovely. We walk the grounds and I see my statue in the little cemetery. It takes my breath away. The church is so beautiful inside and out. The artwork inside make me cry. Scenes of Island life painted by the native people.

I see breadfruit trees—ulu—how cool is that? I tell the kids about Captain Bligh and the mission to bring breadfruit to England, and plant these trees. I hope that’s accurate! Mutiny on the Bounty!

We continue on the Place of Refuge. As expected, it is amazing. We stay awhile and stroll the grounds, taking pictures of the tikis and the heiaus.

On the ride back, I notice so many places along Hwy 11 that I have read about during my planning and research on  Tripadvisor, and in the travel books Lonely Planet, “Evil Blue Book”. I wish we had more time! I even see a  fabric srore I read about…darn! We pass the Coffee Shack, Paparoni’s (isn’t that they guy from NY?), Greenwell Coffee Farm.  OK, next time. We stop at Annie’s Burgers (another pace I read about) and enjoy burgers, beers and good onion rings, as well as a pretty view of the ocean.
Coffee bushes in bloom

We get back to Keauhou and check into KBR. After Mauna Lani, this is a bit underwhelming, but of course I knew it would be. I am not expecting more. It’s adequate for the short time we’ll be here. And our room has a  partial ocean view. Sweet.

We suit up and head to Kahalu’u, what the heck. It’s crowded and I am dismayed to see some badly behaved people trying to catch a honu. I politely inform them it’s against the law. They don’t seem to care. People are stepping all over the rocks and coral. Make me sad. Honu are right there trying to rest and feed.  I do see a lot of fish, but none I didn’t already see, and more clearly, at Ma’kaiwa.

The pool is freezing and there is no hot tub. We have a drink in the hotel bar and watch the sea life below, which is very cool. We see several eels and a big puffer fish. I like the view.

My girls and I head on out to Kona town for a look-see and some last minute shopping. We stop in a few galleries. We buy a few prints from a gallery. I see Huggo’s on the Rocks. It’s so cute! We get some ice coffees, buy T-Shirts from a very grumpy shop-owner—actually the only grump I met the whole time—oh well-- and head back to KBR. It looks lovely as we turn in the drive, tiki torches lit, right on the water and the open-air lobby really is nice.

Last Day:

Crazy—the kids decide we have to see the volcano. We leave tonight at 10:30pm. Can we? This is crazy, this is nuts. We pack up some snacks and hit the road by 7am. We’re going to see the volcano.

I was expecting a boring long drive. The drive is lovely and not at all boring. We get to South Point and its all green grass pastures all the way to the sea. We get out and look up the coast. Is that smoke we see? From the volcano? Not sure…

We pass housing areas that look rather barren—is this the town that was consumed by previous eruptions?

We see the turnoff for Punalu’u. It takes all my willpower not to tell hubs to turn! But I know we don’t have much time…so I am quiet. Next time.

The climb into volcano is very gradual. Before you know it, you are at 3000 feet.

We are there. It smells like hard boiled eggs. Much of the crater rim drive is closed due to the toxic  fumes. We were hoping to do the circular drive around the caldera. We drive to Jagger Museum for a closer look. There she is. Lots of plumes rising from inside a huge crater, looking like it is collapsing more every minute. My kids are disappointed they can’t see flowing lava. Next time.  We go into the museum and enjoy the exhibits.

I look again at the caldera. I am suddenly afraid. Am I crazy to take my family here when any minute that thing can just blow? I mean, really, we can’t predict that right? I realize how small we are, how insignificant.

On our way back, we stop at the Punalu’u Bakery and there’s a Farmer’s Market next door. I eat my plate lunch—it is delicious and the first good mac salad I have had. The bread is delicious, as is the soup.
We go to the farmer’s  market and there is a man weaving baskets out of palm fronds. They are really cool. I have to have one. Hubs decides he wants a koa wood pen and wine bottle opener. It was nice to buy things from the artisan who made it. I leave to look around more and when I come back, hubs is sitting with the koa wood artists. I believe he is “talking story” with them. We call it “shooting the breeze” but no matter. I smile knowing this is a moment I will remember forever. My son is begging me to buy him a Hawaiian war club replica. I am sure the TSA will love that. It is almost time to say goodbye.

Aloha and Mahalo, Hawaii. This was the trip of my dreams, I will remember it always.
Moonrise over Kona
Make it a Great Day!

1 comment:

  1. So jealous! Looks like you had a fabulous trip ...

    And I love that you dug deep and explored the real Hawaii -- not the tourist and fancy resort Hawaii. My husband and I like to "live like the locals" ... Such a richer experience!




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