The Big Picture
A year and a half ago, the four Moirs and the four Buddes agreed that the millennium should be celebrated in grand style with a family vacation that would truly be memorable. It didn't take us long to select the Big Island of Hawai'i as the place to welcome in the 21st century. We were right. Each of us, for our own special reasons, will remember our ten days there for a long time to come.
We flew with Michael and Cindy to Los Angeles where we met up with Dan, Debra, Griffin, and Julia who had flown in from Boston. From there we flew to Honolulu and then on to Kailua-Kona.
The condominium we rented was spacious (four bedrooms, three baths) enough for the eight of us. It was right on the ocean and had lanais on both floors to watch the sunsets (yes, we did see the "green flash" a couple of times) and, on a couple of evenings, whales. It was at the 2.5 mile marker on Alii Drive (i.e., 2.5 miles south of Kailua-Kona) and right on the ocean, though without a safe, sandy beach (mostly lava with small, scattered areas of sand). Alii Drive features an extra lane on the east/northbound side for runners, bikes, walkers, etc. Which we took advantage of as often as possible: a run to town and back is about right. If you like the pictures and would like a place comfortable for four couples, you can learn all about it by emailing Jeannie who will email photos of the place, costs, availability, etc.
Michael did most of the "homework" about where to snorkel, hike, shop, and visit using a terrific book "Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed." (The authors, Andrew Doughty and Harriett Friedman, also have an extremely useful web site. We can highly recommend both for anyone planning a trip to the Big Island. They also publish "The Ultimate Kaua'i Guidebook," an equally excellent guide to that island.) The result of his research were great beaches for surfing, boogie boarding, relaxing (especially Hapuna Beach) and outstanding areas for snorkeling (especially Kahalu'u, Kealakekua Bay, and Pu'uhonua o Honaunau).
Six Adults and Two Children Loose in Paradise
•Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park was a 100-mile drive but well worth the time in the van. We drove the Crater Rim Road, stopping to see the steam vents and the Jaggar Museum. Judy, Hughes, Michael, and Cindy hiked across the Kilauea caldera along the edge of the Halema'uma'u Crater. All us of, except Judy, hiked the mile and a half at the end of Chain of Craters Road across the old lava flow to where new lava was flowing from the Pu'u O'o vent of Kilauea. It was fascinating to feel the heat and watch the lava flow red, then cool to a black crust, then ooze red some more in short bursts. Griffin and Julia threw pennies into the red-hot lava to watch them "go with the flow" and disappear.
•Everyone except Hughes and Judy drove across the island to the end of the road overlooking the Waipi'o Valley. They hiked the very steep road almost to the bottom where over 200" annual rainfall creates a lush landscape that is in startling contrast to the arid Kona coast which has from 10"-20" of rainfall each year. The island is truly an area of contrasts and variety.
•We rented four double sea kayaks and spent the better part of one day crossing Kealakekua Bay to the monument honoring Captain James Cook whose incredibly adventurous and significant life was snuffed out by an unnamed Hawaiian on Valentine's day in 1779. Ironically, the Hawaiians, who had previously believed Cook and his crew were gods, were horrified that they killed him that they scraped the flesh off his bones and distributed them among the chiefs (his hair went to Kamehameha; his heart and liver and other organs were eaten by local children who mistook them from dog innards!) Most of the bones were returned eventually to the British and what was left of Cook was "buried" in Kealakekua Bay. The monument that now stands on the north shore of the Bay is, we understand, technically British soil. Be that as it may, the snorkeling in the waters around the monument was terrific. A good-sized moray eel, well known to those who come regularly, even made a partial appearance (head only showing) from his usual hole in the coral.
•Hughes and Dan schedule two dives: one with Dive Makai (two excellent close-to-shore dives, including one that we'd hoped would bring us up close to three whales that were cavorting nearby; we missed them by probably 200 yards) and the other with Aloha Divers (strongly recommended by Doughty and Friedman who have dived anonymously with every operation on the island and do not hold back their praise and their criticisms). Unfortunately, though we scheduled with Aloha twice, we never got to go out (way out off shore) with them (see below).
•We cracked macadamia nuts and sampled Kona coffee at several plantations and from local roasters/sellers. There really is a difference between Kona and other coffees--and among Kona coffees! We brought back several brands, the best of which we think is Ron and Leslie Brinkman's WoodRose Kona (call toll free 1-877-281-8882 to order and they will share the shipping costs). It goes for $17/pound.
•Michael, Cindy, Debra, Dan, Griffin, and Julia got dressed up one evening and went to the lu'au at the Royal Kona resort. They came back raving about the food, the music, the dancing--the whole show, they said was an outstanding event/memory and well worth the $52 a head they paid. Since we didn't go, we can only say that if and when we go back, we will not think twice about going ourselves.
It Could Happen to You
If you noticed that one or both of us was missing in some of these accounts, you're right. You see, for Judy, a significant memory of the trip will be the broken toe she sustained when she stubbed it walking in the kitchen and caught the toe on a baseboard corner. The x-rays at the hospital at Kealakekua verified the break and the ER doctor advised her to tape the toes and stay off her feet, preferably elevated. How do you follow that advise if you're a runner, snorkeler, and hiker on vacation?
One of Hughes's lasting memories will be that he flew lots of miles and spent several dollars to get to Hawaii in time to catch pneumonia--or at least leave with it. He spent the morning in bed following his first dive (three days after we arrived), feeling pooped, coughing a bit, but not usual symptoms of flu or a cold. He continued to snorkel and hike until finally chills and feaver (spiking to 105) and persistent coughing sent him--on the first day of the new millennium--to an urgent care doctor who diagnosed pneumonia ("Thank goodness it's pneumonia. I can treat that. I couldn't do anything for you if it was the flu."). Happy New Year!
Broken toes and pneumonia aside, the Big Island was everything we'd hoped for (and more!). We relaxed each evening, hoping to see a great sunset and the green flash that often occurs just as the sun disappears on the horizon. We had a margarita or two, experienced everything from cactus to lush fields to tropical rainforests; white sand and black sand beaches (there's still a green beach left to visit the next time) and arty little laid-back towns (Hawi, for example) to tourist-glitzy retail experiences (Kailua-Kona, for example). And, of course, the volcanoes that literally make the island (and all of the state) what it is.
Our grandchildren, Griffin and Julia, turned out to be terrific travellers, rarely complaining, game for everything, and able to find great delight in new sights and experiences. Griffin truly snorkeled for the first time, and Julia will not be very far behind. They both looked great in their Hawaiian shirt/dress, and they learned to boogie board in the surf at one of the best beaches in the country.
Though we've not visited all of the islands, this is our second trip to the Big Island and we enjoyed it as much as the first visit. We've yet to get to the famous "green beach" on south shore, or to the Waipi'o Valley (especially by hiking there from the end of the road at the Pololu Valley Lookout), or to the top of Mauna Loa, or the Pu'u O'o Crater. We'll probably go back again sometime and it will be a whole new trip for us.