The Big Island of Hawaii – 2009
Saturday, January 3
This morning, we left the house at 6 am and arrived at LAX around 7:15 after parking in the usual lot, Crowne Plaza Hotel. We’d pre-printed our boarding passes and had only carry-on luggage, so were at the gate right away. Thankfully, we were able to avoid the long lines for checked baggage.
United Flight 57 took-off right on time, 9:15 am for our direct flight to the Kailua-Kona airport on The Big Island. The flight was pretty bumpy for quite a while, then on-and-off throughout, which was just a little inconvenient for drinks and bathroom breaks.
We arrived at KOA just after noon. The Budget rental car service was extremely slow. There were two people at the desk, but only about four people in front of us and it took a good 40 minutes to get our car. I felt really sorry for the line of people behind us. The car, a Mercury Milan, was nice and clean – and it works just fine. On our last trip to Big Island, our rental car (don’t remember the rental company) completely died out at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach and it took hours to have a new one delivered to us.
We drove into Kailua-Kona and stopped for lunch at Bubba Gumps. It’s kind of a tradition to eat here when we arrive, not because we love the place, but the location is right on the water and a fun way to get into the Hawaii spirit. Across the street, there is an open-air market. We purchased some exotic fruits, rambutan (sort of like lychee) and etimoya, as well as a mango, some bananas and tomatoes.
After lunch, we checked-in at the condo, a 2bd/2ba place at ResortQuest Kona By The Sea. A brief mix-up, they had given us a place with 2 king beds. That wouldn’t work so well with our kids, son almost 15 and daughter 12. We’d reserved one with 2 twins in the second bedroom. It took a little looking, but the helpful woman at the front desk found another unit (#208), and we were relieved to notice that this unit was as nicely renovated and decorated as the first one we’d entered (#212).
This place is very nice: granite countertops and new tile flooring (kitchen and baths), sub zero fridge and stainless glasstop range and dishwasher. Tasteful art, bigscreen tv, pillowtop bed in the master and tasteful furniture. The grounds are nicely maintained, though the pool and spa were a little cool and nothing fancy. The whole property is right on the water. Our oceanfront unit is so close, we close the doors to the lanai in order to hear the TV! It’s also pretty loud if we have the bedroom sliding glass door open, but we like to hear the crashing waves.
After settling-in and spending a little time at the pool, we made a grocery trip to the nearby KTA. Not a fancy store (most Hawaiian grocery stores we’ve visited look a little tired), but it had everything we needed for a quick dinner and stuff for breakfasts and some picnic lunches.
We ate dinner and watched LOST (we’re re-watching the old seasons before the new season begins later this month), then went to bed.
Sunday, January 4
We slept-in a bit this morning, then enjoyed a breakfast of coffee and POG, eggs and toast (Molly and I) and oatmeal (for Mark and Sam) while we listened to the waves on the lanai. There was a pair of Saffron Finches in the palm above our unit, and lots of mynas, sparrows and Zebra Doves nearby. Like yesterday, there seemed to be quite a bit of VOG today.
We packed a picnic and headed for Mauna Kea beach. The parking lot was full, so we drove back down a few miles to Hapuna, and it was just lovely. The VOG had subsided a bit, the weather was in the low 80s and the water was great. Hapuna has beautiful, soft white sand and clear blue water. Plus, there are good waves if you want to boogie board/body surf. I was mostly bobbing out in the ocean neck-deep, but almost lost my sunglasses twice from a couple of waves that took my by surprise (should’ve known better). We had a great time – something for everyone. The kids love to get pummeled by the waves, and they got their wish! Hapuna also has lifeguards, which makes me feel more comfortable.
We ate dinner in downtown Kona tonight at Bongo Ben’s. There was live music which was really fun. The service was good, but the food was barely passable. The cheeseburger and green salad were very good. Chicken fajitas were ok, but my chicken teriyaki was served with cold sticky rice and over-cooked broccoli and carrots, and Mark’s chicken katsu was basically panko-crusted and served with ketchup. I think they need to stick to grill items like burgers and they’d do OK.
Monday, January 5
Mark drove out to Chris’ Bakery in Captain Cook this morning to get fresh malasadas to go with breakfast. These were larger than the ones we’d had in Kauai, and quite dense – but fried and covered with sugar, so who can complain?! I made a fruit salad of the etimoya, mango and local apple-bananas as well as some hard-boiled eggs and coffee. Another lovely hearty breakfast on the lanai – and the VOG is lifting!
We packed a quick picnic, rented snorkel gear at Snorkel Bob’s and drove down to Kahalu’u Beach. This is the easiest snorkeling spot. It is busy – there are always a lot of tourists here – but there are lifeguards, restrooms and a shave ice/snack truck on site. Also, there is a large area of fairly shallow snorkeling with easy beach-entry. The last time we were here (’02), the fish diversity didn’t seem as good as it had been in 2000. Today, we saw a huge variety of fish and, as always, several turtles. We saw different types of butterfly fish, rainbow parrotfish, ornate (and other) wrasses, goatfishes, spectacled parrotfish, unicorn fish, needlefish, box puffers, lots of humuhumunukunukuapua’a and other triggerfish, yellow tang, Moorish idols, one eel (the size of my wrist in diameter), a couple of sea cucumbers, urchins (look out!) and I’m sure I’ve forgotten some others.
After two rounds in the ocean, we had some shave ice and decided to check-out another beach up North in the Kohala area. Kikaua Beach is on private resort land near the 87 mile on Hwy 19. It is a lovely little white sand beach ringed by dramatic lava, but so protected that there are no waves and it is very shallow. This is the perfect baby beach, but don’t waste your time if your kids are over 5. We packed-up and drove back up to Mauna Kea for about an hour of fun on their beautiful stretch of powdery white sand, blue water and body-surfing waves.
We made a Starbucks stop on Waikoloa Beach Rd. at the Queen’s Market shopping center, then drove back to Kona in the dark. Dinner tonight was take-out Thai from a little place that our guidebook, Hawaii The Big Island Revealed, recommended in North Kona called Orchid Thai Cuisine. It was packed, mostly with locals, and the food was delicious.
Tuesday, January 6
This morning, we ate breakfast on the lanai, packed-up and left for our trip to the other side of the island. We decided to take the Saddle Road, and were so glad that we did. There are a few miles where the road is fairly loaded with potholes, but nothing a regular car can’t handle at a decent speed. Some of that road is one-lane for short distances, but there was room to move over for oncoming traffic. The only thing that would be scary is if you were faced with a lot of 18-wheelers, which are (surprisingly) allowed. We encountered two – no big deal. Most of the road is just fine and the views are fantastic. You drive through the higher part of the island, and there is a lot of a’a lava with scrubby trees, then move into real grassy ranchland. The views of both volcano peaks are so close, and there was snow on top of both – quite pretty.
In Hilo, we ate at Pescatore’s for lunch. The dining room was closed, but the nice waitress welcomed us to sit in the bar area and choose off of their (limited) bar menu. Molly had a very nice chicken Cesar salad, Sam’s fettucine alfredo was pretty good, Mark’s spaghetti with meatballs was pretty standard and my lasagna was just OK (it was pretty much a bowl of melted mozzarella and cheddar with some pasta and sliced sausage thrown in.
We stopped briefly at Boiling Pots waterfalls, which were as beautiful as we’d remembered. Afterward, we drove over to UHH to check-out the campus (Sam was interested). School was still out for Christmas break and the bookstore was closed, so it was also a quick stop. From here, we drove down to Puna and checked-in at Hale Makamae B&B. We’d stayed here (same room) 6 years ago, and it was nice to go back. Petra was again very welcoming (we didn’t see her husband, John, this time) and her kids are now 6 and 4 (Christopher was a newborn last trip, Alicia not even born yet).
Petra loaned us some headlamp-style flashlights, and we drove about 10 minutes to Kalapana to hike and view the lava (from quite a distance) as it entered the sea. We could see a huge billowing plume of steam and as the sun faded, the red glow of the lava at the base of the steam. At times, the red glow would grow and we even saw some chunks of lava pop up! We could also see two areas way up the side of the volcano that were oozing red lava. We popped out for a quick dinner at L&L (nothing to recommend) before bed.
Wednesday, January 7
In the morning, we visited with Petra as we ate a breakfast of banana pancakes and fresh fruit, coffee and juice. She said we could check-out late, which allowed us the time to snorkel at Kapoho Tide Pools nearby. Then back to Hale Makamae for a shower and check-out. Petra was out when we left, which felt strange, so I left her a note and we were on our way. Lunch was a quick stop at Subway in Pahoa, then we were off to see what we could of Volcano National Park.
We took a quick peek at the Visitor Center to assess the safety of the Kilauea Iki hike into the smaller crater. There was no problem, as the gasses were venting the other direction. Took the little hike down into Thurston Lava Tube, then started the hike into the crater. With all of the switchbacks, the hike was going to take way too long, so we changed our minds halfway down and hiked back to the car. We wanted to stop at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach before nightfall. Punalu’u was just as we’d remembered it: beautiful sand and coconut palms, rough uninviting water, and a couple of resting Green Turtles. Locals were having a party, people were camping – and our rental car started right up! Whew!!
We left at dusk and drove back to Kailua-Kona. Earlier in the week, we’d gotten some tomatoes and mozzarella, so I fixed a quick caprese salad (minus the basil, unfortunately), which we ate with a good sourdough baguette and a few other things in the fridge, while watching another episode of LOST. The kids and I went down to the pool and sat in the spa for a little while, then bed.
Thursday, January 8
We hung-out at the condo this morning and had a late breakfast on the lanai. Molly and I saw a large pod of spinner dolphins, which was so cool.
All of us went down to Greenwell Coffee Farms for the short but informative tour, complete with samples of all of their coffees. Mr. Greenwell was the one who started growing coffee on the Big Island in the 1850s, and the family still owns the largest Kona coffee farm, processing about 20% of all Kona coffee. They process their own beans, as well as those from many of the smaller farms in Kona. We purchased a package of dark roast and some chocolate-covered coffee beans.
We had our best lunch ever on the Big Island, at Roadhouse Café (they’re only open M-F, 11:00 – 4:00, small menu with some vegetarian options, delicious sandwiches and homemade desserts, friendly staff/owners) and walked down to the Donkey Balls outlet (the sales guy was a crusty old fart and we didn’t appreciate his humor, plus the store in downtown Kona has a better selection).
After lunch, we stopped at White Sands Beach, but decided there were too many boogie boarders to be able to enjoy the waves (it’s a very small beach), so we popped up to snorkel a little more at Kahalu’u. I have to check, but I think I saw a small (18 inches or so) barracuda – which freaked me out a little (it WAS a barracuda, I checked the fish book). After a while, Mark and I went back out for a quick swim to the farther back part of the snorkel-zone. I hadn’t ventured out that far before, and was surprised to see quite a bit of living corral. If the day weren’t near its end and we weren’t the ONLY two people that far out, I would have stayed longer. Memory of the barracuda fresh, I decided it was time to go in! Back “home” to shower.
Molly and I did a little browsing in Kona and then brought home dinner for the kids from Thai Rin (also in downtown Kona). The food was delicious and their location is right across the street from the water, so it would be nice to sit and eat at one of their tables outside.
Mark and I had a nice dinner at Kona Inn Restaurant on Alii. We shared the good but way overdressed field greens salad with goat cheese and both ordered the Ono (Wahoo), broiled, with rice pilaf (delicious!!). Our waiter was horrible (he disappeared for long stretches of time even before we ordered drinks or dinner, failed to bring bread until asked, didn’t offer fresh-ground pepper, or ask if we’d like coffee and dessert – it wasn’t even a busy night). However, the location and food were very good. Just make sure Antonio is not assigned to your table – I noticed other waiters who were working hard.
Friday, January 9
We were out of the condo at 9 this morning and on our way to Hapuna (after quick McD’s breakfast). We stopped at the very nice gourmet grocery (and lots of other items) at Queen’s Marketplace in Waikoloa to pick-up sandwiches for a picnic. Played at Hapuna (good bodysurfing waves, not good bobbing waves today) until about 2:30. We drove back to the condo to clean-up and go to the Royal Kona Inn Lu’au. Preferred seating had us right in front of the stage and we got to hit the buffet first, too. The show was much as we had remembered it – very fun and hosted by the same guy as the ’00 and ‘02 shows. We thought at least one of the dancers was the same as last time, too. It was a fun way to cap-off our trip.
Back to the condo to wash a couple of loads of clothes, and get ready to go home tomorrow.
Saturday, January 10
We slept-in a little this morning, and let the kids sleep even later. Sam hadn’t felt well at all last night (too much to eat at the lu’au, he thinks), so both kids were awake in the middle of the night. Molly finally crashed on the sofa, since Sam was up and down a lot. Thankfully, we were all well in the morning!
Mark popped out to the farmer’s market (downtown Kona on Alii), and brought home banana-pineapple-coconut bread and fresh island fruit for breakfast. We had etimoya, longans, bananas, starfruit and passion fruit. I walked over to the nearby liquor store/market for milk. We brewed a pot of coffee et voila – breakfast was served!
A little last-minute packing of the clothes and towels in the dryer, and we just hung-out for our last couple of hours in the condo. Mark put-together some PB&Js and sliced some cheese to bring on the airplane. The weather was perfect – as it had been all week – and the lanai was so peaceful.
After a quick check-out, we stopped for gas, the kids got a Jamba Juice, Mark picked-up some crackers and a few treats for the airplane, and we drove to the airport. Mark dropped us and our luggage off curbside. He returned the rental car while I got the boarding passes. We were only carrying-on, so we didn’t need to get there too early. By the time Mark joined us, we were about 15 minutes away from boarding. While we waited at the gate, fellow passengers Elvis Costello, his wife, Diana Krall and their 2-year-old twin boys strolled past us a couple of times. The flight home was bumpy at times, but less than the first flight. The in-flight movie, The Dutchess, was entertaining (for those of us who like historical fiction), and we arrived at LAX around 9:30, right on time.