Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Big Island - December 2005

Aloha!  This personal journal of our trip to the Big Island of Hawaii will provide some tips on some of the best sites and activities on this magical isle.  Mahalo for visiting!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005
The Magic Sands of Kona

"The saying 'Getting there is half the fun' became obsolete with the advent of commercial airlines." Henry J. Tillman

The hardest part of a journey is always the first day - just getting there! As is our custom when we have a morning flight out of LAX, we drove down to Los Angeles the night before the flight and stayed at the Holiday Inn. Got up very early to catch the 6 a.m. shuttle to the airport. At 6:30 a.m., the check-in line at United was already long, but moved along quickly. We got through security fairly easily - even though Rob is still on the "suspicious character list" - (There must be something very suspicious about Rob...we have several stories of being stopped and the airlines, by Interpol, etc. etc. It must have to do with his having grown up in New Jersey!)

Our 9:15 flight was in the air by 9:22 and was a relatively painless trip. We played the "Half-Way to Hawaii" game - and missed the correct answer by only a couple of minutes! Arrived in Kona at 12:50 p.m. Rob got the bags while I collected the rental car. I'm the designated driver this time, as Rob did all the driving in both Scotland and Ireland. Happily, I have the advantage of being able to drive on the right side of the road!!!

The first view of the Big Island from the Kona Airport is quite a contrast to the usual vision of a lush, tropical isle. The planes touch down in the middle of a huge lava field with nothing but barren black rocks for miles on either side. But the highway to town was lined with bougainvillea flowers in a rainbow of colors, and soon we found ourselves in the Hawaii of imagination. We found the rental office for our condo with no problem, checked in, and finally arrived at the Kona Magic Sands. The Magic Sands Condo gets its name from the little beach park next door, from which the white sands disappear each winter when the high surf comes in and reappear each spring. (The first picture above shows the "beach" when the sand is out!) It is also known as "White Sands" and "Disappearing Sands" but I like the name "Magic Sands" the best, as it captures my feeling about this magical state.

What a great location! We had a room on the third floor of a condo unit that is separated from the water by just a little stretch of lawn and facing the setting sun. The unit was small - one big room with a little kitchen and a tiny bathroom with a teeny-tiny shower - but it was attractive and comfortable. The best feature was the lanai overlooking the ocean, big enough for two chaise lounges and a small dining table. We just opened up the sliding door when we arrived and kept it open to the breezes and the sound of the waves for the remainder of our stay! It quickly became Rob's favorite spot and he spent many happy hours here relaxing and drinking his papaya smoothies.

The winter surf was very high - huge waves crashing up against the sea wall below us, so I had some doubts about how good the snorkling would be on this trip, but it was a beautiful setting!

We unpacked and settled in, rested for a bit, then headed into Kailua Town for an early dinner (our tummies still being on California time - 2 hours ahead). We had a very nice dinner (moussaka and ono) at Cassandra's, a Greek restaurant with an open lanai just across from the pier. We strolled around the town for a bit - and made our first purchase for the trip - a cute and colorful vase decorated with our favorite fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua'a. We have about 5 or 6 humus scattered throughout our home now, so this seemed like an appropriate momento of the trip.

We were pretty worn out from a long day of traveling and returned to the Magic Sands for an early bedtime, lulled to sleep by the (loud) sound of the waves below.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005
The Place of Refuge

A great day! It started with cereal and papaya on the lanai. There is something special about the papaya in Hawaii. The ones in California grocery stores - even the ones that come from Hawaii - are just never as good as the ones we find here. We continued a tradition started on our trips to Kauai and always had several papayas ripening on the kitchen counter, ready to be eaten alone or blended into smoothies with bananas, pineapple, yogurt. Yum!!!

Then we headed out for our first snorkeling expedition at Kahalu'u Beach Park, just a mile south of the condo. We were nice and early so had no trouble finding a good parking spot in the shade. We immediately slipped into our masks and fins and into the water! The ocean was a bit murky along the shore, as the surge was crashing over the menehune breakwater that lines the bay, but with our float vests, I didn't mind the bouncy water. As we swam away from the sandy shore, visibility improved and there were hundreds - no, thousands - of fish - Moorish idols, humus, yellow tang, several varieties of butterfly fish, parrotfish, trumpet fish, several fish that were new to us, AND three turtles grazing beneath us, totally unconcerned with our presence.

After snorkling, we walked over to St. Peter's Catholic Church, the "Little Blue Church," a tiny little blue and white chapel right by the bay, and the Ku'emanu Heiau, an ancient temple dedicated (by the ancient Hawaiians) to the sport of surfing - a sport that was reserved solely for the royalty of old Hawaii. The entire Kona area is filled with the remnants of heiaus - Kailua was the home of Kamehameha I, and is a major historical area in Hawaiian history.

We wandered over to the Keahou Resort at the other end of Kahalu'u Bay and had a nice lunch (mahi sandwich and a veggie wrap) on the terrace of the hotel, serenaded by a Hawaiian singer and his guitar.

After lunch, we set off for Pu'uhonua o Honaunau, the Place of Refuge. (On the way, we discovered a very convenient little shopping mall only a couple of miles from our condo - and away from the big crowds of Kailua Town - which has a great little health food store - with - what else? - wonderful papayas!)

The road from the coast to the main highway was a swift reminder that the island is really just a huge volcano (or, that is, several volcanoes). We went from sea level up up up to a breathtaking view of the entire bay within about two minutes. The road was lined with some big shrubs covered with brilliant red flowers. On closer inspection, they turned out to be poinsettias! Very appropriate for our Christmas vacation! We drove about 10 miles south and then dropped back down a steep winding road to Kealakekua Bay, where Captain Cook met his tragic end. We stopped at the bay briefly to reserve a kayak for our snorkeling trip tomorrow, then proceeded on down the four-mile, one-lane road to Pu'uhonua. The road cuts through another plain of barren lava fields, and it appears that there is nothing of interest for miles, then suddenly you turn into a gorgeous little park of swaying palms against a deep blue bay, replicas of ancient canoe sheds, the strange above-ground roots of the hala (pandanus) tree - which is said to get up and walk around at night, so don't sleep under it! - and the massive 10 foot high lava rock wall that surrounds the Place of Refuge.

This is a very special place in Hawaiian history. The ali'i ruled Hawaii through a system of kapus (taboos) and the penalty for an offense was often death! But if the offender could reach the Place of Refuge, he was forgiven his transgressions and became immune from punishment. The enormous wall is original, but the buildings have been recreated. The temple is surrounded by beautiful and weird tiki gods with gaping mouths and fierce expressions
I especially enjoyed the scrawny little tiki that was "anatomically correct". He was obviously either a god of fertility or a little god with a great big ego!

After strolling around the grounds for awhile, we returned to the car and got our snorkel gear, (which accompanied us everywhere just in case!), then headed for Honaunau Bay to the right of the park. Wading through the tidepools, we almost stepped on a sea turtle who had left the water to snack on some tidepool goodies.

The snorkeling at Honaunau was fantastic! The surge was still a little high, but we pushed away from the rocks, and found ourselves floating over an incredible coral garden. The water is deep enough that swimmers can't step on the coral, so it is thriving. And because the shore is nothing but lava rock, there was no sand to interfere with visibility, in spite of the choppy seas. We saw plenty of fish and another turtle.

I had a little trouble getting OUT of the water. The rock wall was quite high, and the surge kept tumbling me against the ledge - I cut my hands a bit on the sharp rocks - but in spite of that, it was a wonderful snorkel - one of the best we've ever had!

We headed home and made a pasta dinner in our little kitchen, then ate out on the lanai, watching the sun set as the lights of the nightly dinner cruise boat from Kailua passed by. Just another wonderful day in Paradise!

Thursday, December 22, 2005
Kealakekua Bay

I slept so well last night - the best sleep I've had for days...weeks...months! Hawaii is working her magic. Cereal and papayas on the lanai (do you see a pattern developing here?) then we set off for another great day. We stopped in at the Health Food market for a picnic lunch of sandwiches and fruit, then headed back to Kealakekua Bay for our kayak-snorkel adventure.

We still can't quite figure out if we rented the kayak legally or not. We learned, after making reservations, that "there are no kayak rentals at the Bay." Well, we rented ours from some young men in a little house right by the bay who seemed to have a good little business going...BUT we didn't sign any waivers; we were not giving life vests or a wet bag (which made me nervous about taking my camera, as it was a "wet kayak" - the kind that allows water to slosh in and out of the bottom); and the kayak was pretty old and we had our doubts about the legitimacy of the operation. However, they were openly renting, so it would have been very easy to shut down the operation if the authorities had a mind to...and we were saved the trouble of negotiating the steep, curvy road down from the highway with the kayak strapped to the top of our rental car

It was easy to see our destination across the bay...the large white pillar that marks the spot (or at least stands very near the spot) where Captain Cook was clubbed to death by angry Hawaiians after an altercation. The story is fascinating, but fairly well-known, so I won't recount it here. It does appear, however, that many of his crew escaped the same fate by swimming away from the shore, while Captain Cook stood helplessly on the rocks waiting to be rescued because he could not swim!

The bay is quite large and is framed by very imposing sheer cliffs. The cliffs were formed about 200,000 years ago when a huge chunk of land slid away from the island into the sea, creating the bay...along with a giant tsunami that completely engulfed the island of Kahoolawe and left marine deposits 1,000 feet up the sides of Lanai! (It is somewhat alarming to realize that the new land currently being deposited by Kilauea volcano is quite fragile and unstable...and that there are some signs that another huge chunk could fall off at some time in the future.)

And there is yet another interesting story about the cliffs. The bones of the ancient ali'i were buried into crevices in that cliff face by commoners who were lowered over the side on ropes. When they signaled that the bones were hidden, the ropes would be cut and they would plunge to their deaths below in order to preserve the location's secret, so the bones of the nobles would not be desecrated. Apparently, it was quite an honor to be given this honor I think I could do without, thank you!

When we reached the far side of the bay, "beaching" our kayak was a little tricky, as there was no beach...just a rocky coastline, and a rock wall fronting the Captain Cook monument. We managed to get the kayak pulled well up onto the rocks, and immediately headed out for a truly magnificent snorkel. Even before we entered the water, we could see that the water along the shore was filled with clouds of yellow tang. The water was crystal clear and here, as at Honaunau, the coral was thriving. There was a rock and coral ledge extending out a few feet from the shore, but the ledge ended abruptly and we found ourselves on the edge of a precipice descending into the deeps. Once again, I was grateful for the float vest, as I floated easily over the deep water, gazing at the coral-encrusted face of the submarine cliff. There were plenty of fish, and I swam along above a large moray eel for quite awhile, watching him weave in and out of the coral heads until he found a nook he liked and smoothly wound himself into his little home

Snorkeling - and I'm sure, scuba diving, although I have never tried it - is such an incredible experience. Above the water, you are just looking at the rippled surface of the blue ocean - beautiful, but completely obsuring the mysteries beneath - then you put your face into the water, and an entire alien world appears. Of course, the colorful tropical fish add to the wonder and beauty. It is always hard to make myself get out to rest. I got out of the water only to examine the monument for a few minutes and to join Rob for a snack, then back into the water we went. The Fair Wind - a daily snorkel cruiser - was also in the bay, but there was plenty of room for all of us, and we didn't feel too crowded.

Finally, it was time to return our kayak, so we paddled back across the bay and ate our little picnic in the park by the bay. After a brief stop at the "Painted Church" half-way up the hill, we headed home for a leisurely afternoon at the Magic Sands. Rob barbequed chicken on the grill down by the pool, and once again, we enjoyed a delicious dinner on the lanai, with the sunset, the sound of the waves, and the lights of the dinner cruise boat passing by.

Friday, December 23, 2005
Come Fly With Me!

I think most people have a Life List of things they would like to do someday..."before I die." Well, today, I checked off one of the items on my Life List and went parasailing! We arrived bright and early in Kailua Town and checked in at UFO Parasailing. Rob and I were the last two of the six passengers to take the ride, and I was glad I had the chance to see how it worked because at one point, the captain slowed the boat to a near stop and the parasailer drifted slowly down toward the water. But every time, just as you thought they were going to take a bath, off we'd go again and up into the sky went the parachute. Rob went first and had the good fortune to see a pod of about twelve spinner dolphins playing in the water below him. I could see them gliding through the water around our boat, but unfortunately, they had moved on by the time I went up.

Finally, it was my turn. I felt a little nervous, but excited. The crew was very efficient and got each of us clipped quickly into our equipment and - before you had time to think - off you would go! My first impression was one of surprise at how quiet and peaceful it was. On the boat, we had had a feeling of speed, with the wind rushing past our ears and the sound of the motor, but once up in air, there was no feeling of speed or being pulled along...instead, I just floated away.

You had a choice of a four hundred foot rope or an 800 foot rope, and I had selected the shorter ride, as I was not sure how nervous I would be up there, but I felt comfortable enough to signal for the longer rope and up up up I went. I did have one moment of nervousness when I actually focused on how high I was, but when I didn't think about it too much, it just felt like sitting in a swing - but a swing with a beautiful view. Finally, I was reeled in, made a relatively graceful standing landing on the boat's platform, and we headed back to the pier.

Following our ride, Rob and I explored the main historic sites of Kailua Town, starting with the first church built by the Congregational missionaries in the 1820's, with its lava rock walls and smooth, rich koa wood pews. Just across the street was the Hulihe'e Palace, the summer house of the royal family during the 1800's. There was an admission charge, so Rob chose to wait outside while I visited the interior. It had some gorgeous koa furniture and some interesting artifacts, including some spears used by Kamehameha I and a music box and poem presented by Robert Louis Stevenson to one of the princesses who was about to depart for England to finish her education.

While I was exploring the palace, Rob had a nice chat with a group of local women who were sitting on the palace lawn "knitting" (as he described it). As he walked by, he heard one of them say to the others, "This writer married an English girl and lived in England for 20 years, then moved to New Hampshire." He turned to the group and said, "Bill Bryson!" "Yes!" she responded, and they all became instant friends. He took me over to meet them and we had a delightful visit. It turned out that their "knitting" circle was actually a quilting bee. They were each working on the most beautiful quilts with colorful tropical motifs. I was quite envious of their attractive lifestyle - sitting on the palace lawn with a group of good friends producing something so beautiful!

For lunch, we went to "Quinn's Almost By the Sea" (it's about a block inland from the pier) for a delicious ono sandwich. After lunch, I drove Rob back to the condo and I ran up to the local Borders Books to replace my tapes of Kealii Reichel and IZ with CDs and to find a book of reef fish and birds of Hawaii. Which reminds me that Rob and I have been enjoying watching the birds that visit our condo every morning. Of course, the everpresent dove is there in great numbers, but we also have a beautiful pair of red-headed cardinals and a pair of yellow-green saffron finches that show up each day. Thanks to my brother, Rob, who is an avid and knowledgeable birder, I have become much more conscious of birds on my trips and have enjoyed seeing several new species on the various islands of Hawaii.

When I got home, Rob was down by the pool having a nice chat with a gentleman, Bob, who actually lives at Magic Sands with his wife Alice for much of the year. Bob and Rob had been discussing everything from quantum mechanics to travel and informed me that they had just finished solving all of the world's problems!

Then...on to our usual evening routine...made a nice dinner, ate on the lanai watching the sunset...watched the second half of Forrest Gump on TV and went to happily to bed.

Saturday, December 24, 2005
Exploring Kohala

It is so strange to think that today is Christmas Eve! Rob and I are sitting here at the end of a long, but very good, day, with the balmy tropical breezes blowing through the open door and the sound of the surf crashing against the rocks below. The only signs of Christmas are the lights and the tree in the window in the house across the road. We had a wonderful traditional Christmas with the whole family just before our trip, so it truly feels as if Christmas had come and gone. However, in honor of the day, I wore the cute T-shirt that Mom bought for me last week - a jeweled Santa-in-Shorts-Under-A-Palm-Tree. A perfect shirt for a tropical Christmas!

Today was one of those days on which the journey IS the destination. We explored the Kohala (northwest) region of the island. We left Kailua and headed up the inland road toward the ranch town of Waimea. The weather was beautiful and clear, and Waimea is at such a high elevation that it was quite cool. It is surrounded by the huge Parker Ranch and grassy green hills, and looks more like the ranch land of California than our usual image of Hawaii. It is amazing to think that, because of the variations in elevation, the Big Island has something like 10 of the world's 13 climate zones! We stopped at the local Starbucks for a latte (even in Hawaii! Starbucks is taking over the world!) and then continued up the North Kohala Peninsula.

We got a beautiful view of Maui 30 miles across the channel before dipping down into Hawi and Kapa'au, the two little towns at the very north tip of the island. We stopped briefly in Kapa'au to pay our respects to the statue of Kamehameha I - the original of the statue that now stands in front of the Hawaii state legislature. That's another interesting story...look it up.

We continued to the very end of the road and the stunning Pololu Valley Overlook. The valley and black sand beach below looked so inviting that we decided to take the trail all the way down. Going down was easy - a very rapid descent. We had a nice stroll on the beach, snapping pictures and chatting with a nice family who had lived on the island for 25 years. Rob has a collection of sand from some of his favorite sand from Bermuda, golden sand from Tunnels, so we filled an empty water bottle with some of the black sand (very fine and glittering with little crystals) for the collection.

The ascent was a bit more arduous than the trip down. Rob forged on ahead. (His faithfulness to the gym really does pay off!) I just took my time, pausing a couple of times to catch my breath and slow my pounding heart. Got to the top just in time - my face was starting to flush and a little heat headache was coming on. But we turned on the car's A/C full blast and headed back to Hawi for a wonderful lunch at the Bamboo Restaurant. We talked to the owner who had lived in Thailand for awhile taking cooking classes. Her efforts paid off! Rob had a Thai chicken salad and I had a tofu veggie stir fry with a coconut sauce - and both were fabulous! Then we headed across the street to Tropical Dreams for a very good ice cream. Great stop!!!

After Hawi, we headed down the west coast of Kohala, stopping briefly at the huge Pu'ukohala Heiau, built by Kamehameha I just before he went on to "unite" (translate as conquer) all the islands of Hawaii.

Next we stopped at Hapuna Beach Park. Hapuna is supposed to be the first or second most beautiful beach on the Big Island, and it certainly seemed popular. The parking lot was full and the beach was crowded with people. But I think the beaches on Kauai's north shore are far more beautiful. The surf was very high and rough, so Rob went in just for a quick dip and I just waded in to my knees.

Our final stop was at the quite amazing resort of Hilton Waikoloa, with its man-made lagoons, waterfalls, and Asian art. It is a fun place to see, and I can understand how a family with children might enjoy staying there with all the activities, but it is NOT our kind of place. It really distances you from the natural beauty of the island.

It had been a long day, so we were a bit too tired to explore the petroglyph fields that lay nearby, so we headed back to Kailua. We tried to stop for dinner at a recommended seafood restaurant at the harbor, but - this being Christmas Eve - everything was shut down, so we just did a little grocery shopping and came home for a simple dinner and a nice cup of tea - and a beautiful Christmas Eve sunset.

Sunday, December 25, 2005
Christmas on a Volcano

It's Christmas Day! And probably the most unusual Christmas I've ever spent! It started in a traditional Christmas-y way with a phone call to Mom and Dad's house, where they had just finished the usual Christmas morning festivities. Babs and I had a nice chat. She told me they had spent a traditional Christmas Eve, singing carols, exchanging family stories, the night before. Then I talked with brother Rob, Chris, Mom, and Dad. (Again, it seems so odd to think that they are all home celebrating Christmas when we are sitting here in the tropical breezes listening to the waves crashing on the shore. I always have mixed feelings about going away for Christmas, as it has always been such a special family time for us, but this year, our early celebration really did fill my emotional need for that family connection.)

By 8:15 a.m., Rob and I were on our way to Volcanoes National Park. We drove all the way withouth stopping and arrived at the Visitors Center in a little over two hours. It was a gorgeous day - cool and clear. After the long drive, we decided to start with some activity - the Kilauea Iki hike. Great decision! We started at the top of Kilauea Iki ("Little Kilauea") crater, which was formed in a huge month-long explosion in 1959.

The first part of the hike wound gently downward along the rim of the crater through a rain forest of giant fern trees, ohi'a trees, and wild flowers. It really looked like the forest primeval. I wouldn't have been a bit surprised to see a dinosaur browsing on the treetops. There were a number of lava tubes scattered here and there, overgrown with vines and vegetation.

Then we suddenly emerged from the forest and started down the steep trail to the bowl of the crater which was spread out like a black lunar landscape beneath us. We stumbled across a hilly, jumbled lava field first, then finally reached the flat crater bottom. Even here, though, the activity of the earth was evident, as here and there the flat plateau of lava had been thrust up into great piles of rock. Puffs of steam rose from little vents in the ground around us...very eerie. It made you very aware that Pele is still cooking in her underground kitchen. I put my hand into one of the vents...and quickly pulled it out again! It was hot steam! A few minutes later, we came across some hikers who were roasting hot dogs in one of the holes!

After crossing the entire crater floor, we followed the trail back up through the forest to the road. (As at Pololu, Rob beat me to the top by several minutes - but at least this hike was well shaded, so I didn't feel too hot and worn out.) Just across the road from the trail head was the Thurston Lava Tube, so we took a quick walk through - along with the dozens of people just off the tour bus. It kind of spoiled the atmosphere, but it was still fascinating to think about how it was formed.

The hike took a good two hours, so we were ready for lunch and headed for the famous Volcano House Hotel. Again, we were competing with tour bus crowds, so there was quite a long line to the buffet lunch, but it moved along very quickly and we got seated right next to the large picture windows looking out over Kilauea Crater - the big one, not the "iki" one - very impressive!

After lunch, we set out to explore the rest of the park. We stopped briefly at the steam vents, which were billowing big clouds of hot steam, then continued driving around the crater, stopping here and there for photos. The big stop at Halemaumau Crater (which is the last major site of eruption within the Kilauea crater) was fascinating. There were large puffs of steam and fumes all around us, and a trace of sulphur in the air. It was easy to understand how the descriptions of hell and the underworld came into existence. There were also warning signs that the fumes could be toxic.
There was a nice breeze and the air seemed very clear, so I wasn't concerned, but Rob wasn't too comfortable with it, I think. We walked out to the overlook. It is amazing to think that when Mark Twain was here in the 1860's, this crater was a bubbling lake of lava! Visitors still leave offerings to Pele here. Halemaumau is said to be her home, although our guide book said that she currently prefers her "summer home" at Pu'u O'o vent, which is the section of Kilauea that has been actively erupting since 1983. There was a pile of fruit and flower offerings on the rim of the crater - and a pair of nene geese who were risking the wrath of Pele by helping themselves to her fruit!

Our next stop was the Devasatation Trail - an area of cinder-covered ground and dead tree limbs resulting from Kilauea Iki's 1959 eruption. Just at the lip of the crater stands a huge mountain of little pebbles that was deposited there in just one month's time - an amazing testament to nature's power!

Our final destination - and the highlight of the trip for me - was the end of Chain of Craters road. We drove past a series of ancient craters surrounded by a scrubby forest, then emerged into the huge fields of lava extending all the way down the mountain to the coastline below. The first "end of the road" is a road block, with a little ranger station (portable so it can be moved in the event of a new lava flow. They learned quickly when the old permanent building was engulfed in lava.) So we parked the car and started walking down the road to the literal "end of the road" where the lava had oozed across, obliterating the highway. Off in the distance we could see the huge plume of steam marking the place where the current lava flow meets the sea.

We followed the "trail" across the lava beds...a series of yellow reflectors secured to the far as it went. When the trail ended, we were still a good distance from the active lava flow. Rob decided to return to the car, but that plume of steam just pulled me like a magnet. It was so awesome to see the world forming itself right in front of my eyes! I continued on for about a mile until I could finally at least see the coastline where the steam originated.

It was late afternoon, but not yet dark, so there was no glow from the lava, but it was still fascinating to watch the meeting of the lava and the sea. It was very quiet. I was all along and completely surrounded by acres of nothing but black mounds of lava...standing on land younger than myself! There was a stiff wind blowing and it felt quite wonderful and dramatic. The lava beds, although barren of life, were actually very beautiful - black, but with a glittery sheen. Some smooth mounds, some spread out in spiral ropes, some spots of brilliant blues and reds, striped through the black.

Finally, I had to tear myself away and return to the car. I was disappointed not to have been there after dark to see the distant glow, but without a flashlight (and even WITH), the walk back would have been difficult and dangerous. However, seeing that lava hit the sea put another check mark on my Life List!

Rob and I set off for the long drive home. It went smoothly, although when the sun went down, it was pitch black, and we had our first rain of the whole week - although it was more of a drizzle - so I took the second half of the trip rather slowly. We arrived home around 7:30, made dinner, and headed for bed quite early, feeling exhausted, but happy.

Monday, December 26, 2005
A Nice Quiet Day

A very laid-back day...which is just what we needed after the last two busy days! I woke up feeling very draggy and lethargic. I've been fighting off a cold for several days. I took Zicam at the very beginning, and it definitely seems to have reduced the severity - the cold has never gotten terrible - but I'm definitely feeling it in my chest today.

So we had a nice, slow morning - enjoyed our papaya with sliced bananas out on the lanai - read a little - then finally around 10:45, we worked up enough energy to get going. We went to the Borders Bookstore for awhile, then returned to Quinn's for a good lunch. Then we walked around Kailua for a bit, did a little grocery shopping, then I took Rob home. He stayed at the Magic Sands to do a little swimming and reading and I returned to town to do a little shopping.

I bought a couple of cute little tropical weather outfits: tie-died top and matching pants and a very pretty black dress, long and form-fitting, with a band of hibiscus flowers down the side, and a nice bathing suit with matching short pareu. They should be perfect for our Polynesian cruise this spring. I'm a sucker for the cute tropical clothes.

I returned to the Magic Sands at around 4:30 and we just read for awhile, made dinner, and watched a little TV.

After dinner, Bob came by and invited us down to his place for a visit. We went on down and had a very nice visit with Bob and Alice, (Ted and Carol did not seem to be around), then came back for a nice early bedtime.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005
A Tropical Paradise

Today was the last of our Big Journeys on the Big Island. I got up quite early and spent time leaning over the rail of the lanai watching the huge breakers roll in. This morning was particularly spectacular, with hugh waves starting their curl over in front of the beach park to my right, then curling in a long, slow wave all the way over to Magic Sands Beach on my left. Rob woke up and we made a great breakfast with eggs and lots of veggies, then packed up for our trek to Hilo.

The drive went very smoothly. We stopped again at the Starbucks in Waimea for a tea, then headed down the east side of the island - the Hamakua Coast. The weather has really been on our side this entire trip! The morning was beautiful - balmy and clear - and the "rainy" side of the island was perfectly sunny - although we could detect a more tropical, warm, and humid feel in the air.

We arrived in Hilo and went right up to Rainbow Falls, which are in a pretty little park just above the town. We had a nice chat with a "local" who had moved there just the year before who had an interesting tale about how he had ended up in Hawaii. He and his wife had come to Hawaii for a vacation and fell in love with the "spirit of Aloha." He went into the local Wal Mart (for which he worked back in the mid-west) just to inquire about salaries, etc. and chatted with the management for awhile. Then one day, a month or so later back home, his personnel manager came running in waving a paper and saying, "Your tranfer's been approved! You're moving to Hawaii!" Well, as he hadn't actually applied for a transfer, it was quite a surprise...but he and his family love their new life!

Then we had another pleasant visit with an English couple (originally from South Africa) who come to Hilo every year for a month or two. Rob and I have talked very seriously about finding a way to live in Hawaii for part of the year after we retire...we have also been touched by the spirit of Aloha!

We took some pictures of the falls and the surrounding banyan trees, then headed down to Cafe Pesto, which the couple had recommended to us. The restaurant was very nice, but the service was VERY slow.

I should have been happy to be on "Hawaii time" but I was anxious to get going to our next stop, the botanical gardens. We really didn't have time to explore Hilo at all. Some day, I'd like to come and stay on the Hilo side of the island for a couple of days, at least. But we did find the Hilo Farmers Market where Rob picked up five papayas for $1.00! We should now be okay for papayas until we leave the island!

After lunch, we headed back up the Hamakua highway, but this time taking the gorgeous scenic by-pass, the old coast road, which wound through an incredibly lush rain forest, with huge trees dripping with vines and smothered with philodendron.

Along this road, we stopped at the Hawaiian Botanical Gardens, where we strolled through the beautiful displays of plants. You start the walk on a long, steep boardwalk that takes you over the tops of the shrubs into the gardens. The path then winds you along a beautiful coastline and through an amazing variety of tropical plants - heliconia of reds, oranges, golds, pinks, and purples - including some that dangled from trees in clusters about 6 feet long!

There were various gingers, and a brilliant orchid garden, a lily pond - and a small aviary with 6 brightly colored macaws. Of course, my dear animal lover, Rob, spend quite a bit of time communing with the birds - and then making friends with a pretty little kitten who was hanging around the aviary. It is hard to capture the beauty of the place in words, but the gardens were one of the highlights of the trip.

We continued up the highway to Akaka Falls. Another gorgeous rainforest trail to the falls, which were not very wide, but were very tall and impressive.

We talked with some other visitors on the trail - and felt like Big Island experts, dispensing our wise advice about the best snorkling sites, places to visit, etc.

As we headed for home, the skies finally clouded up with big grey clouds and we had some drizzly rain for awhile through Waimeas. But once again, our weather luck had held up. Our "dry" side of the island had been grey and drizzly on the one day we spend in glorious sunshine over on the "wet" side!

The last four miles into Kailua were terribly slow - we had arrived just after a bad traffic accident right before the intersection of the two major highways. We made a quick stop at our favorite market, then got home around 5:45. We made a nice simple dinner - found a new frozen dinner called Amy's - very good vegetarian food. Then we finished up another nice day out on the lanai, reading and listening to the waves crashing on the rocks below.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Another Quiet Day

A very pleasant, quiet day. We woke to sunshine again. (The mornings always tend to be clear here - the clouds roll in in the afternoon.) The air itself is actually not as clear as you might expect in Hawaii due to the presence of "vog", which is the Big Island version of smog - only in this case, it is caused by volcanic emissions, rather than automobile exhaust.

We had a nice leisurely morning, and took a little walk to the two beach parks on either side of our condo. They are both "salt and pepper" beaches - being made up of the very black lava rock and the white-bleached chunks of coral. Then, after saying good-bye to Bob and Alice, who were heading back to Seattle, we headed back to Honaunau Bay for more snorkling.

Even at 10 a.m., there were already quite a few snorkelers. The water had quite a bit of surge, but we quickly pushed off from the rocky shore and had a good snorkel. No turtles this time, but lots of fish.

We came home, showered, and headed into town for lunch. The drive was painfully slow. The only problem we have encountered on this trip has been the terrible traffic here. The little roads just weren't designed for all the tourists, AND the highway department was doing quite a bit of road work right downtown, so it was not fun. We ate lunch then poked around in town for a bit, but there were two cruise ships docked in the bay, so it was a bit too crowded for Rob's taste, so we soon returned to the condo.

By 2 p.m., we were down by the pool where Rob had a dip and I read my book (Paul Theroux's Dark Star Safari).

After our lazy afternoon reading and resting, Rob cooked us a delicious dinner - Opah fish with a butter-lime sauce, yams, and fresh spinach. We finished with a papaya with lime - yummy! Sitting on the lanai, eating a wonderful fresh fish dinner, watching the sunset over the sea - a 5-Star dining experience!

After dinner, we felt a little restless, so we went up to the shopping center, had some tea and checked our email at the local internet cafe.

Thursday, December 29, 2005
The Last Day

Our last full day in Hawaii - until the next time (and how wonderful to know that we are sure to come again!) How nice, too, to wake up when my body says to, instead of to an alarm! I usually wake up before Rob on this trip - around 7 or 7:30 - and spend some time on the lanai watching the waves. Today was another cloudless day. We had our breakfast (outside, as always) then headed back to Kahalu'u Beach Park for our last snorkeling excursion.

Again, we beat the crowds, parked in the shade, and headed right into the water. It was really great snorkeling. As Rob said, Kahalu'u is not the most idyllic setting. It doesn't have the gorgeous beach like Tunnels or Hidden Beach on Kauai, and the underwater relief is not stunning like Kealakekua Bay or Honaunau - but it does have FISH! It is shallow, so you get a very good look, and the fish are so accustomed to people that they don't flee upon your approach - in fact, a quartet of racoon butterfly fish actually approached me boldly looking for a handout!

Kahalu'u has fresh water springs near the shore, so the water is rather cold and murky when you enter, but as you swim out toward the breakwater, the water turns warm and clear, and there is still a nice spread of living coral. Again, the fish were amazing. I saw a school of about 7 or 8 Moorish idols, and found myself in the middle of a huge school of trumpet fish - literally hundreds of them. I saw an enormous parrot fish, a very big puffer, several humus, a variety of butterfly fish, and several turtles.

I should have brought my underwater camera here! I had used it at Honaunau, where the water is much deeper and the fish too far away to photograph well - but I have the memories. We snorkeled for about an hour, then I did a little tidepooling. There are not an abundance of shells, and what there were tended to be very tiny and usually the homes of little hermit crabs - but I did see a cowry shell. Cowries were always my favorites when I was a shell collector as a girl, so it was a little thrill.

After snorkeling, we bought sandwiches at the health food store and headed home for lunch. We enjoyed a quiet afternoon reading on the lanai. I finally finished Dark Star Safari - a fascinating book, but a very bleak picture of the current state of Africa! I had never been on the lanai much at this time of day - we were usually out on an expedition, or I would be in town exploring while Rob napped - and there were some interesting differences. Because the sun was overhead and the waves were relatively calm, we could easily see the clouds of little fish - mostly yellow tang and black triggerfish - being lifted into the waves and illuminated by the sun shining through the clear water.

As we read, we noticed that a couple of the zodiac rafts had stopped in their journey back to Kailua. We suspected dolphins or whales, and sure enough, the spout of a humpback whale could be seen between the rafts. It was quite distant, but close enough that we could see its back arching through the water and the flip of its tail.

Later in the afternoon, I headed back into town for one last little look around. I visited the restored heiau by the pier that was used as a personal temple by Kamehameha I, then took a few photos around town.

I like to get a Christmas ornament from each of our trips, and found a funny little sea turtle in a Santa hat - and a pretty little wood carving of a turtle for our shelf. The Kailua farmer's market and craft fair was going on, so I wandered through the stalls and had a nice visit with a local man whose mom had owned a store in Pacific Grove right across from Holman's department store! What a small world.

That evening, Rob and I had our final dinner at a nice Thai restaurant at the local shopping center (wonderful red and green curries) - a very nice ending to our trip. When we returned home, we packed up, then read a bit. (This time, I started on Mark Twain's Roughing It in the Sandwich Islands. It was quite fascinating to read his impressions of some of the same sight we had just visited - but from 150 years ago!

Hawaii worked her magic on Mark Twain - and she always works it on us when we come. It has been a wonderful trip.

Aloha, Hawaii!