We were lucky enough to get away in February to the Island of Hawaii/Big Island for 10 days. Going through the pictures and memories from the trip are helping to keep me warm during this winter-that-just-won’t-quit!
Where we went: We spent 7 days along the Kona coast and 3 on the other side in Pahoa, near Hilo. Kona is famous for its sunny coast, the Hilo side of the island gets way more rain and does not have the same ocean breezes as Kona but you get amazing lushness, huge valleys and stunning waterfalls.
Where we stayed: VRBO Rentals, on the Kona side, Mala a Kai we would stay there again in a heart beat – the accommodations, the view were all amazing. The name means ‘Garden by the Sea’. The only caution – you must love, or learn to love driving up very steep hills up and down to this rental. But it was worth it. The pictures in the listing are accurate and there there’s the garden
The second rental, Uli Kai was in Pahoa, closer to Hilo and while it served our purposes for a place to sleep, we would not rent it again unless the bedrooms got a bit of a clean up. The pool while beautiful was unfortunately a magnet for thousands of biting bugs so we couldn’t sit outside after being bitten all over the first afternoon.
Where we ate: we mostly ate breakfasts at home, gorging on the fruit but also making eggs, toast or cereal. This not only help save some money, but was a good start to the day as we gathered to confirm the plan for each day. Lunches light and with a few exceptions of our eat-in nights, dinners were nothing short of feasts. Here are the most memorable places that we ate:
- Fish Hopper
- Poke Shack
- Annie’s Island Fresh Burgers
- Bamboo Restaurant and Gallery
- Sushi Rock x 2
- Thai Thai Restaurant
What we saw: Snorkeling, dolphins, whales, seeing the sunset and stars from above the clouds, eating the most delicious food and taking detours into valleys and parks – it was a wonderful trip. Here’s the bullet point list of our itinerary – it might seem a bit dry but to keep this from being even longer than it is… I’ll try to be brief.
Saturday departure for a Calgary connection, which we missed. Spent the night in Calgary and took the first flight out the next day to San Francisco, then to Kona. Our friends sent us consolation notes and let us know they were thinking of us by sending texts of the view from the rental. In return, we sent them shots of our view of the Calgary airport.
Sunday evening we arrived in Kona, made a slighly hairy drive with our friends to our rental which was located at the bottom of a very very steep hill.
Monday a slow morning due to the distraction of whales visible from the lanai (balcony) where we enjoyed some famous Kona coffee and some sweet buns, followed by a stroll down to the volcanic rock beach at the base of the hill, about a 10 minute walk from the rental.
We also found the grocery store and stocked up on some breakfast foods and visited the farmer’s market for fruit mmmmmmmmmmm mango, rambutan, mangosteen and papaya! Later in the afternoon we strolled Kailua-Kona, and had dinner at the Fish Hopper. I also discovered a t-shirt artist, whose art mixes flora, fauna and Hawaiian lore – I purchased two shirts, and I wish shipping wasn’t so expensive, or I’d be ordering more from Akua Creative .
Tuesday was devoted to our snorkelling tour at Kalelakekua Bay – the site of a memorial to Captain Cook. It’s said he perished here after I’ve never been more motion sick than I was on that tour. It was like an out of body experience. That said, I still managed to snorkel for a good 2 hours and help my non-swimmer friend see all the fish. The spinner dolphins were amazing – so curious and playful! We opted for this tour company due to the smaller group size and noted lack of a boat with a water slide (calmer quieter experience). No pictures – I was too damn sick and then too busy with my face in the water. We discovered later that our waterproof camera wasn’t capturing pictures the way we thought it was (lesson learned). We caught the sunset that evening at the bar of the Prince Hotel in in Hapuna Bay.
Wednesday was a golf day for the guys, so my friend and I drove around, exploring. We made our way to several look outs and then drove to the Polulu Valley. At the bottom of the valley there is a black sand beach – I didn’t trust my still questionable right knee joint to get me down and back up the 5 mile downhill trek, but my friend went down in search of a rest room (she never found one). Because I’d already seen a black sand beach on a previous trip to Maui, my disappointment at not being able to join her wasn’t too bad, and then was eliminated as I relaxed at the top of the look out enjoying fresh coconuts and rambutan from some cheerful local vendors. When she arrived back from her trek, we were both starving – and were delighted by our stop in Hawi and the. best. sushi. ever at Sushi Rock.
Thursday was our last chance to snorkel so we headed to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park – “the place of refuge – home of royal grounds and a place of refuge for ancient Hawaiian lawbreakers”. Right next to it is a popular snorkeling spot with two entry points into the water, one gradual and the other a jump off point with three “steps”. Not wanting to get bashed into the big rocks by the waves, we opted for the walk in point – with no regrets – fish and turtles were every where!
On this day we also tried Da Poke Shack – if you like sushi, sashimi or ceviche, you must try poke (pronounced po-keh). This description from Aloha-Hawaii.com covers it “a food dish served as an appetizer or snack, it usually consists of bite-sized pieces of raw, fresh fish mixed with seaweed and kukui nut relish. Today’s poke aficionados, however, incorporate a wide range of ingredients, including all types of seafood (everything from swordfish and snapper to octopus and lobster), herbs, spices, nuts, marinades, fruits, vegetables, seasonings and even tofu.” I am a poke aficionado for sure – when someone else makes it. Here’s our trio of poke from Da Poke Shack – mine is poke with rice, edamame and spicy clams.
Friday was our last day in Kona, we enjoyed the morning and then made our way to the opposite side of the island in the area of Pahoa. We drove out to Waipio Valley Lookout point and then enjoyed another visit at Sushi Rock (yes, it was that good). We drove through the ranch lands of Hawaii – yes Hawaiian cowboys, called Paniolo are a thing – and their lands are beautiful. This TED article, the Last of the Hawaiian Cowboys is worth the read, not just to learn more about this way of life, but to learn more about the legends of the gods and goddesses of the island of Hawaii.
We also visited Lapakahi State Historical Park, which we found by accident – driving along and taking detours to look out points along the coast.
Saturday we spent the day at the Volcano National Park – steam vents, sulfur vents, craters, petroglyphs, stone arches, amazing volcanic formations and hardy plants found in few other places. We then left the park at the advice of a park ranger and spent a couple of hours at a delicious Thai place called Thai Thai. Funny name, lovely service and great food and drinks. It also just happened to be right next door to a Hawaiian quilt shop 🙂 The park ranger told us that we would enjoy the night time view of the crater much more if we to come back after 7pm once all the tour buses had left, He was right. We returned to Jaggar Museum and the crater rim where we marveled at volcanic glow of lava (all underground) visible against the night time sky.
Sunday was the highlight of the we did the Forest and Trail Summit and Stars tour of Mauna Kea. Ascending 14,000ft to watch the sunset above cloud level, we learned about the terrain, the observatories and then got a guided tour of the most amazing show of stars at 9,000ft. This is a must if you’re ever on the island. Check out this awesome time lapse video by Sean Goebel – it’s an amazing example of what you can see, depending on the time of day you go.
Monday was the start of a long and far less exciting trip home… to snow.
What we would have changed or done differently: The only thing we disliked was totally out of our control, and we probably hated it even more because of that. The turbulence both there and back, flying through severe storms was not at all fun. Calls for a doctor, luggage bins opening overhead, cutlery and drinks slipping around etc – not my idea of a relaxing flight. We heard later that on one of our flights we had been in the air at the same time storms were sweeping through the islands, where in Maui it removed metal roofs from some buildings. eek.
What we liked: everything else!