There should be a word for the delight experienced on returning to Hawai’i. In Hawaiian perhaps hau’oli would do, but it gets overused a bit. Maybe that’s what Keali’i Reichel was getting at with the title track of Kawaipunahele (something like sacred, special place I think). Anyway, it is great to be back.
We went snorkelling in the harbour at Kailua, watched a turtle struggling to feed on the harbour wall, had a cup of coffee and watched humpback whales swim by. It’s warm, it’s sunny and it’s beautiful – just another day in paradise.
This is our seventh trip to the Hawaiian Islands and we have spent about a year here in total, so it is nice to make new discoveries. On this trip, one of the new places we found was the historical village of Holualoa. It is about 8 kilometers or 5 miles mauka (inland) from Kailua-Kona. If you are interested in the history of Hawai'i over the past hundred years or so, this village on the Kona Heritage Corridor is worth visiting. The Kona Historical Society has put together an attractive brochure and book about the area.
Makahiki Coffee Farm
We visited Makahiki coffee farm, owned by Jonathan and Nancy Sechrist. We got some of their 100% Kona coffee - it's a delicious gourmet coffee.
We went to the 8th Annual Kona Brewers Festival. We went with friends (waves to Jan, Priscilla, Tom and Gina) and enjoyed the festival very much. There were many good beers on offer. Some of our favourites were from the Wild Duck Brewery in Oregon and Callico. Kudos also to Manuka Farms Cocoa Outlet for their chocolate fountain. This was not a day for dieters.
The volcano is stunning today. We have visited a few times and it is always impressive, but today was something special. We read about the lava flows over the Chain of Craters Road and wondered if we could get near them because the road was closed for a time recently. We arrived at dusk and watched Humpback Whales surfacing as we walked along the road past the Ranger station. Once we got onto the hardened lava that solidified two weeks ago, there was a line of markers to follow to the current flow. We noticed that, if we stopped, we could feel the heat coming up through our shoes. Then we reached the place where lava from the Pu'u O'o vent was flowing and gathering. It is an incredible sight. You'll have to imagine the sulphurous smell and the wall of heat as you get closer to it though. If you get a chance to go it is worth going, although what you see varies from hour to hour. It is more spectacular at night and you will need good, thick-soled shoes, long trousers and gloves (rangers say that the commonest injuries are cuts and scratches to legs and hands), lots of water and a light if you go late afternoon or evening. The light is really needed - we saw people scrambling around in the dark without them, trying to get close to the lava to get good pictures and slipping on the uneven surface. The next day we walked the Kilauea Iki trail. It is very impressive, both for the caldera and its clouds of sulphurous steam. The area is also worth visiting for the wildlife. In the most developed parts of the Big Island (where all the visitors go) you will be lucky to find any indigenous plants or animals left, but here they are plentiful. We also visited the Thurston Lava Tube. If you take a light, you can also explore an extension to the tube that is unlit.
Kind friends Kathy and Lloyd invited us for a day's fishing on their boat with regular fishing buddies Bob and Mae. They are all experts, whereas we have never fished before. Our main aim was not to get in the way. This was serious fishing - as soon as the boat got out of Honokohau Harbour, everyone worked efficiently to get 6 lines out with exotic lures on the lines. For a couple of hours nothing was biting. The main activity was taking in lines, changing the lures for something even more exotic and letting them out again. Then we saw a group of boats a couple of miles south and when we got there we saw they were hauling in fish. Soon after we got our first 'hit.' They let us haul it in and it turned out to be an Ahi (Yellowfin Tuna).This was exciting enough, but we also found the boat surrounded by a large pod of Spinner Dolphins, riding the boat's bow wave and leaping out of the water. And then, as we were heading back to harbour, we saw two Humpback Whales. Each of them breached completely out of the water - it was an awesome sight. Mahalos to everyone on the boat for a wonderful day. And the fish were delicious.
Onizuka Visitor Center
Priscilla and Tom took us up Mauna Kea to the Onizuka Visitor Center. There's an observatory at the summit but you can't look through the telescopes there - they're not that kind of telescope. You can, however, freeze AND see what it's like to breathe thin air. Whereas the people who staff the Onizuka Center at 9,000 feet do have telescopes you can look through and who will tell you all about what you are looking at, the general theory of relativity and hilarious jokes about which is the brightest star in the sky (clue - it's not Sirius). Almost as amazing as looking at Saturn was the colour of the sky as we drove above the clouds about half way up the mountain. These are colours that you will only see if you drive up Mauna Kea.
Manta Ray Night Dive
The night Manta Ray dive off Kona is one of the world's great dives! We had been fortunate enough to dive in some great places, including Shark Fin Reef in Beqa Lagoon, Fiji. This Manta dive is right up there with the best. It was still light when the dive boat moored in the small cove just north of the Natural Energy Lab. We had already seen a large pod of Spinner dolphins leaping around the boat and Humpback whales breaching, before we even got there. We did one dive before sunset and saw three Mantas near the surface, silhouetted against the sun. After it got dark we went in again and settled on the black sand bottom, pointing our lights upwards. This attracted plankton to the light and then the Mantas came in for the plankton. It was truly awesome to see a group of these huge fish - the largest had a wing span of about 5 metres or 16 feet - swirling backwards and forwards over us. Sometimes they brushed against our heads as they came from behind. Other times they seemed to be coming straight for us, only to veer away at the last moment. It was a beautiful and unforgettable experience.
I really liked the music of Hapa - I have all their albums and regretted not being able to see them live before they split. However, they both carried on playing and this evening Marijke and I went to see Barry Flanagan, with his new partner Eddie Cruz Jr, in a free concert at Keauhou. They were really good - they played some Hapa numbers, some from Eddie Cruz' repetoire and some new pieces. Those guys can really play and they created a good atmosphere too - go see them if you get a chance.
Green Sand Beach
We went down to the Green Sand Beach, near Ka Lae (South Point) in the Ka'u district, with Priscilla and Leona. To get there involves a walk along the shore, from the small boat launch near the end of the road, of just over 4km (just over 2 miles). The seas here are dramatic. The waves may not be quite as high as on the north shores in winter, but the constant winds and strong currents make these some of the most difficult waters to navigate. The Green Sand Beach itself is in a more protected bay where you can swim (but never turn your back on the ocean). The beach is olive green and the water is clear blue. It is beautiful and well worth a visit. Make sure you have plenty of water and sun screen with you. Cover up if you are light skinned.
Before driving back north we stopped off at Ka Lae itself. There are sheer cliffs here, dropping down to deep, clear water. People jump off the cliffs and climb back up ladders to do it again. A few hundred metres from shore there are black balloons hovering just above the water. The local fishermen call these 'black sail boats.' They are there to carry the ends of their fishing lines out into the deeper water where the bigger fish are.
Kaloko-Honokohau National Park
With only three days left, we headed north, stopping first at Kaloko-Honokohau National Park, where with a group we planted some indigenous Hawai'ian plants as part of a project to replace alien invasive species. We stopped off in Kawaihae for lunch and then went on to the Kohala Book Store in Kapa'au - they have a very good collection of Hawaiiana and science fiction, amongst other things. Finally we went on to the end of the highway and then walked down the trail to the black (actually more like grey) sand beach at Popolo. The sand here is very fine - this end of the island is much older than the south and the black sand beach at Punalu'u, so erosion has had longer to work. All you can hear are the wind and the waves. This is an area that we want to explore the next time we come back to Hawai'i, but we don't have the time or equipment with us to do it today.
Things to like about Kailua-Kona
- Beaches - a wonderful variety of white, green and black sand beaches
- The weather - comfortably warm with lots of sunshine all year round. And if you get bored with this, other options are just a short drive away. You can even ski in winter.
- The scenery - beautiful mountain views, stunning surf and shoreline, stark volcano fields interspersed with lush, tropical vegetation.
- The scuba diving & snorkelling - clear, warm water with plenty of fish you won't find elsewhere and lots of dive organisations competing for your business. The shore diving is good too. The wild life may not be as plentiful as places like Fiji or Papua New Guinea, but it is pleasant and interesting diving nonetheless.
- Humpback Whales - they arrive in Hawaiian waters around the end of November and stay until around April, when they return to their feeding grounds in the northern Pacific.
- Kona Brewhouse - a microbrewery that makes a variety of tasty beers, which you can drink in the bar or beer garden, with decent food.
- West Hawaii Today - the daily newspaper that includes the Dave Barry column AND Shoe - essential reading. The classified ads and supermarket offers are also worth reading.
- Sunsets - it's not just that there are often beautiful sunsets here, but lots of people take the time to watch them. People stop what they are doing, shopkeepers step outside for a few minutes, people sit on the sea wall on Ali'i Drive and watch the sun go down.
- Huggos on the Rocks and Beachcombers - nice places with great views.
Hawai'ian Travel Book
Over the years we've read a lot of guide books to Hawaii. Most are fine, but Jerry and Janine Sprout's Trailblazer guide to the Big Island is our favourite.
It covers the usual resort and tourist areas, but also includes places most tourists never get to. If you have visited Hawaii as often as we have, that is a big plus. It includes clear and concise driving directions, and trail descriptions.
The book includes:
- 142 hikes and strolls through mountains, valleys, beaches, rain
- forests, tropical gardens, waterfalls, petroglyph (traditional stone
- carvings) fields, the Kona and the windward shores.
- 71 snorkeling and swimming spots.
- 39 surfing spots.
- 24 bike trails through mountain, coastal, forest and grassy terrains.
- 25 campgrounds and simple cabin locations.
- 9 maps.
- Over 200 photographs.
The guide also includes sections on Hawaiian culture and history; museums; a 'Kids Only' section; tours of the Parker Ranch and the Kohala Coast, Hilo and the Heritage Coast, and Kona coffee country; and safety tips and trip-planning advice.