Monday, May 15, 2017

Ten Days in Hawaii - Wrap Up

How many times do you get together with friends and start talking about things you should do together and everyone says yes let's do that, and how many times does it actually happen?  If you're like me, it almost never happens, but this trip to Hawaii is an exception to that.

It was almost a year ago when Doug and Ev, and Cathy and Heather came over for dinner and we began talking about traveling somewhere together as we had done before, but this time we actually followed through and here we are, just home from a wonderful trip to Hawaii.  This was the first time we had all traveled together and although we are all good friends, you never know how it will go when you spend so much time together.  It turned out we traveled very well together.  Did we have some disagreements - of course, but that's going to happen no matter what, but overall I would say we all got along great and the trip was a great success.

Speaking for Val and I, we had a great time and really enjoyed the chance to spend ten days exploring the Big Island.  Snorkeling, exploring the north and south ends of the island and visiting Volcano National Park - it was all great, but my personal favorite thing was the snorkeling trip on the Fair Wind II.  The weather was amazing as I guess it always is in Hawaii.  Although it rained almost every day, it didn't last long and never interfered with our planned activities.

The house we rented in Captain Cook was also wonderful and exceeded our expectations.  The grounds were beautiful and well kept and the house was huge, well equipped and very comfortable.  Eating dinner on the lanai every night looking out at the beautiful view of the coast was one of the highlights.  The house was big enough that if you wanted some time alone there was plenty of places where you could get away.  The pool was great and we all took advantage of it, but none more than Doug who really loves the water.  Overall this turned out to be the perfect place to call home during our time on the island.

We have no more trips planned until the middle of September when we have our annual Geezer trip that is in New Mexico this year.  After that we leave in the middle of October on a long, seven week round-trip cruise out of Fort Lauderdale to explore the Mediterranean.  For now we are going to enjoy spending a rare summer at home this year.  So that's it for now and we'll see you on down the road.

Ten Days in Hawaii - Day 10: A Long Trip Home

We were all up early doing our last minute packing and getting the house ready for our departure.  Our flight didn’t leave until 12:30, but we were all on our way by 9:00 and headed to the airport.  Cathy, Heather, Doug and Ev took one car and Val and I took the other.  We rented from two different rental agencies so we wouldn’t meet again until we were at the terminal.

The Kona terminal is interesting as it is pretty much open air, there are a few shops and a restaurant, but for the most part everything is outside (under cover, but open on the sides).  After getting checked in we had about an hour’s wait until we boarded, but the time passed quickly as we talked and reminisced about our time on the island.  Finally it was time to board and begin our flight home.

This was the first time Val and I had flown first class and we enjoyed the experience.  The thing I liked the most was the larger seats and extra leg room.  There was lots of food and while not gourmet, certainly better than what we had gotten on the flight over and there was lots of it.  I think the highlight was the freshly baked macadamia nut cookies we were served after our meal.

The flight was uneventful, but we experienced a bit of turbulence as we approached Los Angeles for our landing.  On our trip over we had flown out of San Francisco, but the trip back was through Los Angeles.  The flight was around five hours long, but because of the three hours difference we actually landed just over eight hours after we had left so it was after 9:00 when we landed.

After landing we found that our departure gate was nearby and so we didn’t have far to walk, but we did have a while to wait as our plane to San Luis Obispo didn’t leave until around 10:30.  The hour and a half wait turned into a three hour wait as the strong winds along the California coast had caused many delays, so our plane was very late getting in.

We finally were on our way for the short flight to SLO and arrived about 12:45 AM.  After claiming our luggage and loading the car, we headed north to our home and a welcome bed.  By the time we dropped Doug and Ev off and got home it was 2:00 AM and the end of a very long day.  It was a great trip, but it felt good to be home and sleeping in our own bed.

Ten Days in Hawaii - Day 9: A Special Dinner

This morning we all planned to get up and go snorkeling at the spot Doug and Ev found on Tuesday.  Doug and Cathy got up early and left at 6:00 AM, but the rest of us planned on leaving at 7:00.  When the alarm went off at 6:00, Val and I could hear rain pounding on the roof so we decided snorkeling wasn’t in the cards this morning so we shut off the alarm and went back to sleep.

The rain stopped later, but by then it was getting too late to go snorkeling so we waited for Doug and Cathy to return and tell us about the great snorkeling we missed.  They returned around 9:00 and said although the snorkeling was OK, it wasn’t great.  The water was rough and there were strong currents, but Doug did see a turtle and an interesting thing that looked like some kind of translucent jellyfish.  They also avoided the rain so it was worth the trip.  I think we have learned the lesson here; go snorkeling with Doug on the first day he goes.  This was the second time he has found an excellent snorkeling spot only to return and find conditions less than inviting.

After Doug and Cathy returned everyone decided to go to breakfast, but Val and I decided not to go as we are not big breakfast eaters.  This is our last day on the island and at the house so we spent the rest of the day relaxing and packing.

Cathy, Doug and Heather at breakfast (from Ev's cellphone).
Cathy leaves and Ev gets in the picture (from Doug's cellphone).
Heather wins the prize for the best gecko picture (from Heather's cellphone).
Not a great picture, but I'll include it because he has his tongue out.

For our last night on the island we decided to go out and have an authentic 
Hawaiian dinner.  Based on reviews and the fact that they had been visited by the Food Network show “The Best Thing I Ever Ate”, we decided to try Ka'aloa’s Super J’s.  It was along the road south of Captain Cook and didn’t look like much from the outside and was very small inside, but we had a great dinner.  They serve lau laus which are described on their Facebook page as “seasoned pork, wrapped in taro leaves, then wrapped in ti-leaves, and then steamed to perfection”.  Along with the lau laus there was rice, macaroni salad, and a tomato and salmon relish.  You could have had poi instead of rice, but I think poi is an acquired taste, which we haven’t found yet so we all opted for rice.

When we entered, there was only one person there who turned out to be Janice, the mother in this family owned and run restaurant.  She was very nice and friendly and helped us non-Hawaiians understand what we were eating.  While we were eating our food, a park ranger from the nearby Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park (the Place of Refuge) came in for her dinner so we talked to her for a while.  She obviously eats here a lot as when our meal was ready she helped the owner serve us.  This dinner turned out to be an unexpected treat for us.  Not only did we have an excellent dinner, but I think we all felt like we were experiencing something a little more authentically Hawaiian than a lot of the things we did on this trip.  Overall a wonderful experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to experience authentic Polynesian food.

(from Ev's cellphone)

As you can see, not very fancy, but the food was great and we had a great time (from Ev's cellphone).
After dinner we returned to the house and had a quiet and subdued evening.  Although I think we are all ready to go home, it is sad and depressing to leave such a wonderful place.

Ten Days in Hawaii - Day 8: Waimea

Doug and Ev were up early for their snorkeling trip, but the rest of us got up later and were in no rush to hit the road.   Here are a few pictures Ev took of their morning snorkeling.

There is a head sticking up in the center of the picture almost to the horizon that is Doug's.
There's a sea lion in the surf.

Who decides to take a nap on the beach.
Time for breakfast.  You can see there's a cruise ship anchored in the bay in the background.

Heather, Cathy, Val and I left around 9:00 for our road trip to the northern part of the island.  We followed an inland route which took us above Kona, and for the first part of our trip the vegetation was tropical.  Further north we passed through a volcanic region with evidence of lava tubes and channels along the road.

As we drove further north the terrain looked more like what you might find in the western mainland as it was rolling hills and grasslands.  The grass was lusher, but if you were dropped into that area you would never know you were in Hawaii.  As we neared the northern crossroads town of Waimea, we started to see cattle grazing on the huge 180,000 Parker Ranch that has a history dating back to the early 1800’s.  The story of the ranch is very interesting, but rather than try to recount it here, follow this link to read about the ranch history.

It was a wonderful drive through this land of rolling hills and green grass with a view of Mauna Kea in the background.  Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano and is the highest peak in Hawaii at 13,802 feet high.  It is actually much higher as it starts at the sea bed and if measured from there, it stands over 33,000 feet high.  Its footprint covers about 23% of the Island which is impressive, but not nearly so impressive as Mauna Loa to the south, which covers over 50% of the island.

Waimea is a crossroads of the northern part of the island as you can choose to go to the Northern Coast, The East Coast or West Coast from the town.  We had planned to eat lunch in Waimea, but it was too early so we decided to go east and see Waipio Valley.  The drive east was equally beautiful with the vegetation growing more lush as we traveled east.

At the end of the road was the Waipio Lookout where you could look down into the beautiful Waipio Valley.  The view into the canyon and up the coast was stunning.  Unfortunately, the only way down was on a very steep (25% grade) four-wheel drive road.  They actually had someone checking and you weren’t allowed on the road unless you had the proper vehicle.  You can also hike down, but that wasn’t for us.  I would love to go back and explore that area in a future visit.

Pictures don't really do this beautiful spot justice.

Cathy, Heather, Val and I.

There were several cats around that seemed to call the lookout home, but this one clearly did not like having its pictures taken.

After we had marveled at the view for a while we headed back towards Waimea.  We stopped in the town of Honokaa and made a few purchases in some of the shops and then it was back on the road to Waimea.  By now it was lunchtime so we stopped at a restaurant Heather had read about online called The Fish and The Hog.  As you might guess they specialize in fish and pork and we sampled both.  Val had a fish sandwich, Cathy had pulled pork, Heather had a French dip brisket and I had fish tacos.  The fish of the day was swordfish, which was excellent and Heather and Cathy said their pork was very good also.

After lunch, we drove north out of Waimea to the North Coast town of Hawi.  The road was along the spine of an ancient volcanic ridge and was a beautiful drive.  At one point as we crested a ridge there was what looked like a very large mountain in the distance, which was actually the island of Maui, which is only 30 miles away.  We had read in our "Hawaii The Big Island Revealed" guidebook that there was a gourmet ice cream made on the Big Island called Tropical Dream that was sold in Hawi so we decided to stop there for desert.  I’m not much of an ice cream eater, but I got a hot fudge sundae made with coconut, almond, fudge swirl ice cream and it was very, very good.  Val got the same, but not the hot fudge.  Heather and Cathy decided to pass on desert, but when the sampled ours, they couldn’t resist and got their own.  It was well worth the stop.

From Hawi we drove east to the end of the road to another lookout where you could see Pololu Beach.  It wasn’t as spectacular as Waipio, but it was worth the drive.  There is a trail down to the beach, which provides more spectacular views, but it was steep and no one wanted to take the walk.  I walked down a little ways and even the short walk back was very steep.

Polulu Beach
The trail doesn't look that steep, but I discovered just how steep it was coming back up.
It was getting late so we decided it was time to head back home.  We turned around and drove to the west side of the island and turned south.  This area between the north end and Kona is not the most scenic, but has many of the nicest resorts on the big island.  We made no more stops except in the traffic through Kona and were home just before 6:00.

Doug and Ev were a little disappointed in their snorkeling spots today, but still had a good time so we all had an excellent day.  It was a quiet night and everyone went to bed early as we are getting up early to have one last morning of snorkeling on our last day.

Ten Days in Hawaii - Day 7: A Day of Rest

Today was a rest and relaxation day for us.  Doug and Ev had gotten up early and gone snorkeling, but the rest of us slept a little later and spent a leisurely morning doing not too much.  Doug and Ev got home around 11:00 and said they had found a great beach for snorkeling.  They got us all so interested we decided to go to their spot Thursday morning, which is our last day before we go home.

Val and I had one bit of luck this morning.  I looked online to see if we could upgrade to the bulkhead seats like we did on the flight over, which gave us a lot more leg room.  They weren’t available, but there were a couple of first class seats so I decided to give them a call and see how much they would cost.  Much to my surprise they weren’t very expensive so we did it.  This is our first time flying first class and we’re looking forward to it.

I haven’t commented on this before, but there are a lot of geckos around the house here in Hawaii.  In fact just not around the house, but in the house as they seem to turn up anywhere.  It has been impossible to keep them out of the house and we see them mostly in kitchen on the floors, counter tops or on the walls.  They seem harmless, but we have learned to keep food covered and in sealed bags.  Here are some pictures Cathy took with her cell phone.

After lunch I worked on the blog as I had fallen behind and then Val and I went into Captain Cook to get a few groceries.  We decided to drive back to the Donkey Ball shop to get some more as we had finished off our first bag; they are soooo good.  Cathy and Heather had gone out for lunch and Doug and Ev were relaxing around the pool so it was a pretty laid back day.

We grilled pork chops for dinner and then did our usual reading, talking and playing games after dinner until it was time to go to bed.  Tomorrow Doug and Ev are going to try snorkeling at a couple more beaches further north and Heather, Cathy, Val and I are going to drive up to the northern part of the island.

Ten Days in Hawaii - Day 6: Volcano National Park

We were up early today and on the road to Volcano National Park by eight as it’s almost a two hour drive.  Once again Heather and Cathy decided to do their own thing as they had been to the park a few years ago.  Val and I had been there in 2010, but we had only a short time to visit as we were on a cruise.

We reached the park by 10:00 and our first stop was the Visitor’s Center.  They were offering a ranger guided 45 minute hike to show the flora and fauna of the park so Doug and Ev decided to go.  Val and I decided we would drive to the Halema'uma'u Crater and visit the Jagger Museum that’s there.  The crater was spewing a lot of smoke, but we couldn’t see any molten lave.  Val and I went back to the Visitor’s Center to pick Doug and Ev since it was getting near lunchtime we drove to the nearby town of Volcano.

The Halema'uma'u Crater.
A lot of smoke, but that would change today.
A painting at the Jagger museum of Pele, the Hawaiian Goddess of Fire.
We ate at Eagle’s Lighthouse Café which is a very small sandwich shop in Volcano.  It doesn’t look like much from the outside and there was only room for about three people inside so there was a line outside the door to order and pick up your food.  Despite this, the food was excellent and we had a great lunch.  After lunch we drove back into the park and started the other half of the loop road.  You can’t drive the entire loop road as much of it is closed due to dangerous fumes.  Our first stop was the Thurston Lava Tube where you can actually walk through a tube that was formed naturally by the lava flowing and hardening on the outside leaving a tube that you can walk through.  The walk is probably 100 yards or so and then you climb some stairs to get out.  The tube actually continues, but it is not lit and I don’t believe it is even open to the public right now.

Val walking through the fern forest to the lava tube.

At the point where the loop road is closed there is a road that leads down to the coast where you can see where the lava flow crossed the road cutting off the use of the road.  On the way down we stopped at an observation point where you are in the middle of a vast wasteland covered in nothing but lava.  There are a few small plants starting to grow, but for the most part it is barren.

The lava flow created a vast wasteland.
Doug and Ev.
Vegetation will slowly return as the lava breaks down.
We drove on and parked where the road was closed to vehicles.  You have to hike two miles to the point where the lava crosses the road and then it’s another three miles to get to the point where you can actually see a live lava flow.  Today though you couldn’t even hike to the end of the road as the rangers had closed it.  The winds were blowing the fumes towards the road and were dangerous to breath.  That ended any thoughts of hiking, but there was a trail down to the coastal cliffs where you could see up and down the coast and there was an arch that extended down in the ocean.

This where the ten mile round trip starts to get to the live lava flow, but today you couldn't even get to where the road ends.  You can see the reason in the background as the fumes were blowing in the wrong direction.

We started back up the hill and on our way Val revealed that she had picked up a piece of lava which is supposed to bring bad luck to the person who has it so she was having second thoughts.  When we reached the lava field we stopped and held a ceremony of Val returning the rock to its original resting place; hopefully that will keep bad luck from our door.

Val returns the lava rock to its original location; hopefully she has avoided kept bad luck away.
While we were down on the ocean cliffs we talked to someone who said Halema'uma'u Crater had flared up and you could see molten lava spewing.  It must have started soon after Val and I left this morning so we just missed it.  We drove back to the crater in hopes that it was still going on and when we got there we were in luck.  Although it was small, it was spectacular and we were all thrilled to be able to see it.  After many pictures we decided we’d better hit the road as we had a long drive home.  It would have been great to stay and see it at night, but we didn’t want to drive all the way back in the dark.

 With her long zoom lens, Val got some excellent pictures of the lava.

After an uneventful drive, we arrived home just before six.  Doug and Ev decided to go out to eat, but Val and I opted to just stay home and eat.  Cathy and Heather had decided to go the Black Sand Beach and see the turtles today.  They ate in Na’alehu at the Hana Hou Restaurant where we had eaten yesterday and thought it was just as good as we had said.  The also agreed that the macadamia cream pie was excellent.

We relaxed for a while, but once again we went to bed early.  We’re kind of keeping California time which is three hours ahead of us; even though we end up in bed early, we are ready to go early in the morning so it works out.  Nothing is planned for tomorrow and we just plan on hanging around the house.

Ten Days in Hawaii - Day 5: Black Sand Beach

Today we are heading south to visit the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach on the East Coast of the island.  Cathy and Heather had their own plans today so it was just Doug and Ev and Val and I going.  We left around eight and our first stop was the little fishing village of Milolii.  It was a short drive off the main highway until we came to a small residential area which was the town.  At the end of the road there was a small harbor and park so we stopped and looked at the tide pools and enjoyed the scenery.  It was a very pleasant spot, but we had other things to do so we were soon on our way.

Ev and Val wait on the beach for Doug and I.

Doug and I look at the tide pools.
The small church in town (from Ev's cell phone).
As we continued our way south it was getting close to lunch so we stopped in the town of Na’alehu and ate at the Hana Hou Restaurant and Bakery which was recommended in the guide book we are using.  This is a good spot to mention our guidebook which is called “Hawaii The Big Island Revealed” by Andrew Doughty.  It is excellent and written by people who actually live on the island and they aren’t afraid to tell you what’s good and what to avoid; I highly recommend it.  There were spot on about the restaurant as we had a very good lunch.  We each had something different and it was all great.  For dessert Doug, Ev and I had a chocolate macadamia nut pie while Val had a macadamia nut cream pie.  Both good, but Val’s cream pie was by far the best and the rest of us wished we had gotten it.

The southern most restaurant in the USA.
Val's macadamia nut cream pie.  After tasting it, we all wished we had gotten a piece (from Ev's cell phone).
After lunch, we continued on, turned north and started up the east coast.  It wasn’t far to the Black Sand Beach which was said to be one of the nicest black sand beaches on the island.  Since it was Sunday, besides the tourist there were a lot of locals enjoying the beautiful weather.  As we walked down the beach we could see an area marked by rocks and as we got closer we could see there were giant sea tortoises sleeping on the sand.  The rocks made a boundary to keep anyone from getting too close.  Only one actually moved and it didn’t move very far, evidently they enjoy the warmth of the sun.  It reminded us of the sea lions near our home that seem to spend their days sleeping on the beach.  Doug decided to go swimming and while he did that Val and I walked on down the beach to look at some beautiful lily covered ponds.  We walked back and found Ev and sat with her on the beach while Doug finished swimming.  When he got out he said that a turtle swam around him while he was in the water, very cool.  Unfortunately while getting out he scraped his back on some coral, but he said it didn’t bother him very much.

The Black Sand Beach.
Sea Tortoises sleeping and sunning themselves on the beach.

Doug enjoying his swim.
We weren't sure what he was trying to net; we didn't see him pull anything out while we were there.

We left the Black Sand beach and started back towards Captain Cook, but we had one more stop to make.  We wanted to visit an area called South Point which is the southern-most point in the United States.  It’s a sixteen mile drive off the main highway, but very interesting.  While there we met a family from California who were visiting and staying in Hilo.  They had a friend who was Hawaiian and knew the area very well.  South Point is an area of high cliffs above the ocean and some of the braver were diving off the cliffs into the water.  The Hawaiian friend of the people we met asked Val is she ever had fresh clams right out of the water and when she said no, he jumped off the cliff and gathered some and brought them back to sample.  Val and Ev tried them and said they were good, you can’t get any fresher than that.  We had a great time down there as some of the locals who were there fishing talked about various customs and such.

South Point, the platform in the foreground is where the ladder comes up from the water below.
This platform Val is standing on was once used for winching up things from below, but now is used as a jumping platform.

A group photo taken by our new Hawaiian friend.
Our Hawaiian friend jumps on his way to get some clams for Val and Ev.
He was joined in the water by his brother.
There is a place called the Green Sands Beach in the same area, but it was only accessible by a four-wheel drive vehicle or a five mile round trip walk.  Doug wanted to go and snorkel, but couldn’t find any takers to hike with him.  We checked out the trail head anyway and found there were local guys there with four-wheel drive trucks that would take you down there for a price, but it was getting late in the afternoon and we had to head back to the house.

We got back to the house around six and found that Cathy and Heather had made a great dinner of tacos and a potato dish.  What a great way to end the day.  After a bit of after dinner talk we called it an early night as tomorrow we are going to Volcano National Park and we want to get an early start.