on the Big Island: Waimea, Kailua Kona and back to Seattle

from the Mauna Kea access road

One more Hawaii post, then it’s back to our regularly scheduled programming.

On our last full day on the island we drove up the Saddle Road to Mauna Kea, which was very cool. We got to see a silver sword plant, saw a truly great warning sign, and used what was possibly the worst bathroom on the island (in Mauna Kea State park – consider yourself warned). We just went as far as the Mauna Kea Observatories visitor’s center at 9000 feet elevation – the road up to the summit looked kinda nasty. Besides, it was time for lunch.

cinder cones near Waimea

When we came down we went straight into Waimea for lunch, at the Hawaiian Style Cafe. This was our chance to experience a real plate lunch. The menu at this place has it all: plate lunch, loco moco, pancakes substantially bigger than your head, spam, sausages, eggs, oxtail stew…I considered getting a basic loco moco (rice, two hamburger patties, eggs, gravy) but decided that it might actually kill me, so I went with plate lunch, which I figured had a half-and-half chance of killing me.

Korean pork plate lunch Continue reading

on the Big Island: Kealakekua and Captain Cook

the breakfast lanai

In our B&B on Mount Hualalai, we were woken by birdsong each morning at 6 am sharp. No roosters this time, but when we went out on the lanai to look over the garden we saw a number of kalij pheasants, a flock of wild turkeys and a number of small black pigs. Breakfasts were out on the main lanai, served with plenty of homegrown Kona coffee, and each of them was wonderful – macadamia nut pancakes, French toast with cinnamon apples, omelets, fresh papaya and bananas…good stuff.

Coffee Shack
view from the coffee shack

One day, after an exciting kayaking adventure in which one of our lame plastic tourist kayaks filled with water and nearly sank off the Captain Cook monument in Kealakekua Bay, we made our way south to the Coffee Shack for a much-needed lunch. It’s another one of those unlikely-looking spots, a small weathered building clinging to the side of a cliff. The tables on the open porch were all full, so we took a table in the enclosed porch in the back. If not for the vog, the view would have been stupendous – as it was, we could still look straight down the mountainside to the bay. Continue reading

on the Big Island: from Hilo to Kona

on the trail to 'Akaka Falls

One last soak in our beloved tub and we headed out of Volcano down to Hilo. The sun was shining brilliantly as we came into town, and we decided to try to find the Mehana Brewery, since my driving guide said they had a gift shop (we try to buy a pint glass for any brewery we visit) and after a certain amount of wandering through the Hilo industrial area we found it. No brewpub, just a big warehouse full of brewing equipment, and a tiny gift shop hidden away in the corner. It was only 10 am, but the extremely nice older Asian lady running the place insisted we taste a few of their beers. Twist our arms…

flowers at the Hilo Farmer's Market
papayas at the Hilo Farmer's Market

Afterwards we headed into downtown Hilo, parked and walked around a bit. It’s not very glamorous, but there were some nice galleries and cool-looking snack shops, plus we found the famed Hilo Farmer’s Market – it was an off day, but there were still a dozen vendors selling papaya, flowers, jewelry, bananas, all kinds of things. I wish we could have seen it on a regular market day.

Before we left town I decided I needed an ice cream. Our guidebook directed us to an unlikely-looking counter inside a decrepit empty building, where we got a scoop of fantastically good Tropical Dreams white chocolate-ginger ice cream. While we were doing that, it started to rain. Really hard. Then it stopped. Then it rained again…welcome to Hilo, I guess!

scenic drive near Hilo

We drove out of town in another blinding downpour, and turned onto a short “scenic drive” stretch of the Old Mamalahoa Highway. Continue reading

on the Big Island: around the volcano

lava flowing to the sea

On our first full day in Hawaii, we woke up early to birdsong. Actually, it was a rooster crowing at 3 am, but eventually all the little tropical birds started up as well. We made ourselves breakfast from the little cooler in the cabin – granola, boiled eggs and Kona coffee – and got ourselves out to the volcano!

Steaming Bluff
Kilauea Iki crater
steam vents in Kilauea Iki

Our timing for this trip was great, since Kilauea just had its first explosion in over 80 years a week or two ago, and was putting out a lovely cloud of ash and sulfur. Unfortunately, that meant that Crater Rim Drive was closed around half of the caldera, but we still got a pretty good view. We admired the ash cloud and the steaming bluffs, then hiked down into the crater of Kilauea Iki, which was a fantastic lava fountain in 1959 but is now a gently steaming valley full of cracks and rubble. Continue reading

on the Big Island: getting to Volcano

Kilauea and Halema'uma'u

We finally made it to the Big Island of Hawaii (and back)! This was the first time on Hawaii for both of us, and the trip had one primary purpose: to see the volcano. Food was sort of secondary, for a change, but we still hunted out some good eats. We spent the first two nights in Volcano Village, then the rest of the week in Kailua Kona.

snack du jour
Hawaiian airlines beef enchilada

Of course, on a trip involving airplanes, the first food you’re likely to see isn’t necessarily the most inspiring. Hawaiian Airlines might be one of the last companies to actually feed you, but that doesn’t mean you need to be happy about it. We actually prepared with that in mind, and fixed ourselves bags of nuts, dried fruit and wasabi peas, but then it turned out that someone on our flight was horribly allergic to tree nuts and we couldn’t even open our bag. Thank goodness for wasabi peas. The beef enchiladas weren’t quite as bad as they looked, either (of course, that ain’t saying much).

Diamond Head

The flight from Honolulu to Kona was thankfully short. The flight attendants barely had time to throw little sealed containers of guava-passionfruit juice at the customers before we landed. I hate guava and passionfruit about equally, so I drank water from the drinking fountain in the Honolulu airport. Yum. Continue reading