The right frame of mind is what you need to enjoy anything and everything around you. Be it a book or a conversation, a cup of coffee or a vacation in Hawaii. If you are in the right frame of mind, you will enjoy the experience and feel enriched. If you are not, then you will be exhausted. We did not do anything special to create this frame of mind. It was just perfect timing. I had wrapped up a project, finished some exams.
The vacation kicked off when Alaska Air started serving free Mai Tai in flight. Now Agam and I had been off alcohol for over a month and a free kick to our Hawaii vacation was very refreshing. Alaska flies directly to Kona International Airport. The flight leaves SJC at 7:00am and gets into Kona at about 10:45am Hawaii Time. The weather was perfect, 25 Degrees Celsius with light winds. At the Thrifty counter, I requested an upgrade on our rental and we got a convertible for $19 a day! Now that was a good start for sure.
It is no surprise that I am a planner and I like to know about the place before I head there. I enjoy the virtual exploration and keep a list of must do and must see handy, just in case, we fall short of things to do. So here is what I did for my homework http://g.co/maps/76z3f. Kind of elaborate, but the objective is not to visit all these places. It is just to be cognizant of the highlights in each neighborhood. For us vacations are most fun when we are exploring on our own – finding routes to places, yelping for best food bets and figuring out the geography of the new place in the few days that we are there. We stayed at a Sheraton this time. I know – I am a snob when it comes to staying at non Marriott properties. But our stay at Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort was comfortable. It was not as splendid as a Marriott stay, but it is definitely a key property on the bay and offered some unique vistas. Alright SPG, I give you some credit this time.
Our day one on the Island was meant to be an easy one. So we freshened up and starting driving North on Highway 11. We were starving and took a lunch stop at Paparoni’s. Food was fresh and location was convenient. I really like the Island trivia cards on their tables. After that we drove up the highway and came to a coffee shop that is raved in the NYTimes – The Coffee Shack. This place is a jewel. It is perched upon a hill, offering gorgeous views of the bay and the Island’s coastline. We enjoyed our coffee and then drove to the Pu’uhonuao Hōnaunau National Historical Park .This was a unique experience. I felt as if I was transported to an old ancient village with wooden structures, neat little huts and handmade wooden boats. It was definitely very picturesque here and we spent a few hours exploring the grounds. It was our first experience walking on lava fields. The silhouette of the palm trees against the Pacific waves was just perfect.
I had made reservations at Kenichi Pacific for 8:00pm and although we had a couple of hours, we decided to head back to the hotel. I headed to the gym, while Agam took a short nap and then we were ready for Kenichi. I had heard about this place from some colleagues and it was also recommended on Frommers. We were not disappointed. It is tucked inside a shopping complex and has amazing sushi. Our favorite was Yellow Tail with lime and Jalapeno rings. I also loved the Black Miso cod. It is usually on the sweet side, so if you don’t have a flare for sweet fish, you may give it a pass. We called it a night after Kenichi and were excited about the next day
For the next day we had made bookings for the Mauna Kea Summit tour. Read about Mauna Kea here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauna_Kea. The tour includes a drive up to the summit, talks on the geology of Big Island, the types of lava flows, the number of volcanoes on the Island, the observatories, Sunset views and then star gazing after dinner. The package was appealing and we booked a tour with this company . The tour starts at 2:00pm from Kona, and so we decided to drive south on Highway 19, and enjoy the chain of beaches and drive up to Highway 11 and head to Hapuna State Beach Park. We enjoyed the drive in our red mustang and soaked in the sun. Remember to pack your audio connector for iPhone and phone car charger. We enjoyed Pandora and Saavn and music on our phones all through this trip and found these two cables really helpful in enabling the experience.
The drive to Hapuna is marked with ever changing landscape. From industrial belt of Big Island to black lava fields to vast expanse of clear skies and at times the sight of volcanoes dipped in clouds. No words can do justice to these vistas. They are breathtaking and you are left to wonder how beautiful Hawaii is. We took a lunch stop at Paradise Grill at the Hapuna Beach and turned around to go to Kona for out Mauna Kea tour.
We started ascending the summit, and enjoyed the running commentary of our guide, Chris. Chris was a jack of all trades and his stories were as colorful as his humor. We enjoyed watching the cinder cones and their shadows in the sun. The drive up is quite a bit of a ride. The summit is at 13,792 feet. The visitor center is at about 9000 feet and is a good place for restroom stop. After a light dinner, we headed up to the summit, where the temperature is usually below freezing point. The good thing is that the tour company provides jackets and gloves, since no one packs for -10degrees in Hawaii. The observatories are all perched upon the summit, capturing the skies in the northern and southern hemisphere. It is the best place in the world for astronomers. We also learnt about the history of the telescopes there and finally soaked in the sunset from 13000 feet. It was the best sunset and the best thanksgiving ever!
The skies did not cooperate with us for the star gazing, but it was clearly evident how MANY stars there were in the sky, once the clouds became thin and started receding. I clicked endlessly on the summit and was exhausted with the views by the time we decided to descend the summit. Even now it feels like a dream that we were up there, under the bed of stars, with thick clouds beneath us. That was a wrap for day two
And now it was time for Volcanoes. The Volcanoes National Park is approx. 95 miles from Kona. We started our day early and decided to go around the circumference of the entire Island. We were being ambitious. But we did it and it was one heck of a day. At the National Park we spent around 3-4 hours covering the highlights that included a drive down to the ocean along the chain of craters road down to the Holei Sea Arch. It is at the end of the drive that you come to the road that is now blocked by lava that was heading to the ocean. It is a beautiful drive through very diverse and fast changing landscape. You will encounter rain forests, craters, lava fields and steep hills, with fascinating views of the ocean. The contrast of blue and black is beautiful and you surrender to the grandeur of the volcanoes around you. It is intimidating to be a speck of life a midst the largest of the nature’s creations.
We also covered the Jaggar Museum, Thurston Lava Tubes and Steam vents on the way. There is an ongoing eruption right outside Jaggar Museum that can be seen from very close. But the Crater Rim drive is closed due to sulphur emissions from the eruption.
Our next destination was Hilo. Hilo is the wet part of Big Island because of the rain it gets throughout the year. It is rather old and more commercial than Kona. I personally did not like Hilo as much. We explored some restaurants in Hilo and then drove to Hamaku bay. It is a beautiful drive along the bay. At this point we made an impromptu decision to drive to Bamboo’s Restaurant and Gallery near the Kohala coast. And so from Hamaku we drove through the Waimea area, across another volcano and approached Kohala. It was a rather intimidating drive through the mountains with no street lights. But we finally reached Bamboo’s and enjoyed our meal. They serve lilikoi margheritas that are out of this world. The drive back from there was simple and we took little over an hour to get back to Kona. A long and adventurous day finally came to an end.
After a hectic day, we decided to take it easy the next day. We slept in and decided to head to Kailua Kona area for shopping, mimosas and breakfast on the beach. Highlights of shopping include two of my very firsts – Crocs and Black Tahitian Pearl. The Crocs were long due and the pearl came in as a Christmas gift. The lady at the Pacific Gold Jewelry shop was very nice and helped me pick my perfect piece. I loved it how she referred to pearls are life creations that need to be attended to. The breakfast this morning was at Bongo Ben’s Island Café . Oh what a lovely meal with Mimosas and fresh Mahi Mahi with biscuit and fruits. We loved the location, food and service here.
After some Hawaii shopping at ABC Stores we headed back to the hotel to get ready for Lua’u at the Fairmont Orchid. Lua’u is a must when visiting Hawaii. It is a feast from four different cultures – Samoa, New Zealand, Hawaii and Tahiti. There is a buffet spread from the best dishes from these cultures, some fire shows, lots of free alcohol and a cultural extravaganza with dances and performances portraying the culture from these four Polynesian regions. We thoroughly enjoyed our evening at the exquisite Fairmont Orchid. I would love to stay there sometime. And that is how spent our last evening on the Island. The drive back was full of nostalgia and included some star gazing. I think I saw nebulas with my naked eye – I am not kidding. The sky is simply perfect in Hawaii.
For our last day we decided to head to Hapuna State Beach Park for an afternoon of sun bathing and beach time. We loved the white sands at the beach and walked up and down the beach, soaking in the sun. Out of all the beaches, we found this one to be least crowded and the largest as well. There was a lot of wind that day and we were wrapped in sand from head to toe. There are open air showers at the beach park that did come to our rescue. So we showered with clothes on and enjoyed the experience. It was a little awkward at first, but it was so refreshing. Now it was time to grab a quick bite at the Queen’s Market Place in Waikoloa Village and then drive back to the airport.
We loved Big Island and are looking forward to our next trip to another one of Hawaii’s beautiful Islands. Mahalo Big Island, we will be back very soon.