TR Robertson — A recent Spring Break trip with my wife, my son and his wife to the “Big Island” of Hawaii found us enjoying a multitude of adventures the “Big Island” offers that makes it so different than the other Hawaiian Islands. In one day’s time you can bask on a white sand beach in the sun and then drive thru a rain forest, walk on a black sand beach or wander thru a lava tube. It has been some 40 years since I was last on the island of Hawaii and to my surprise, other than an increase in the number of hotels and time shares on the island, the narrow roads and small, quaint villages were basically the same. The volcanoes are a bit more active than when I was last there, but the sunsets are still as beautiful as ever.
Describing what the island of Hawaii is like today would take much more space than I have available. Many, many books are available describing what to do, where to eat and what you should not miss when you go to “The Big Island”. Two we found a little helpful were Andrew Doughty’s Hawaii – The Big Island Revealed and Lonely Planet’s Discover Hawaii the Big Island. Instead, I would like to share some of the activities and places we took in and places we ate as well as a few places we heard about but ran out of time to see on this trip. First some facts about the big island.
Photos by Carolyn Robertson
- The Hilo side of Hawaii gets more than 150 inches of rain annually and the Kona side gets less than 10 inches of rain.
- Kamehameha I, the king who united all of the Hawaiian islands, was born on Hawaii and is buried on Hawaii.
- Hawaii is the biggest of the islands, 4,028 square miles.
- Hawaii is the youngest of the islands, 800,000 years old.
- Hawaii has the world’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, 33,476 ft. from the bottom of the sea floor to the top of the mountain.
- The Mauna Kea Observatory is the world’s largest telescope
- Ka Lae, on Hawaii, is the most southern point of the United States
Our home away from home while on the island was a beautiful two bedroom condo we rented in the Mauna Lani Terrace complex. This large development was surrounded by the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, The Cape at Mauna Lani, Mauna Lani Point, The Estates at Mauna Lani, The Islands at Mauna Lani and close by The Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii, all offering incredible accommodations. Also surrounding the area were a number of golf courses, shopping areas, various beaches and parks and restaurants. Our view from off our balcony was amazing. The beauty of the ocean and the beauty of the grounds of the Mauna Lani Terrace were wonderful to look at each morning with a cup of Kona coffee and again at sunset each evening with a Hawaiian beer or glass of wine.
One could travel to Hawaii and simply spend the day eating at the wide range of eateries offered on the island. A little reading and research would lead us to try some of the suggested restaurants and a return, for my son and his wife, to places they had eaten and wanted to try again as well as introduce us to. One of our first stops was to the Island Lava Lava Beach Club in Waikoloa, on the Anacho’omalu Beach. This restaurant is extremely popular, there is usually a bit of a wait, but you are given a beeper and near-by is ping pong tables, corn hole games, the beauty of the ocean and those wonderful Hawaiian drinks or beers. One of the specialties everyone seems to order at Lava Lava is the appetizer Sizzling Shrimp, floating in delicious garlic butter.
One of our lunch stops took us to Ippy’s Hawaiian Barbeque in the Queens’ Marketplace Food Court. Chef Ippy Aiona, from the “Next Food Network Star”, offers a great selection of sandwiches and full plate meals were available. Such items to try include The Gravy Burger, the Maui Burger or Grilled Mahi Burger or Grilled Korean Pork, Plantation Style Beef Stew or the island famous Traditional Loco Moco. We settled on a Hawaiian Style Mixed Plate consisting of Kalua Pig, sticky rice and Mac salad. We could have chosen Teriyaki beef or Seared Ono or Garlic Shrimp and pineapple coleslaw. We received lots of food so we shared our lunch. Another dinner stop took us to Kawaihae Seafood Bar & Grill (a favorite of my son and his wife), voted Best Seafood, Best Happy Hour and Best Restaurant, in an “old school” Hawaiian restaurant and wooden bar style. We took in Happy Hour and were not disappointed. We had $6 Mai Tai’s and $3 beers along with great coconut shrimp and fried calamari for starters.
Other food stops on our trip included delicious burgers at Annie’s Island Fresh Burger, in Kealakekua, consisting of ½ lb. burgers and organically raised vegetables. Voted the top burger on the island, it was very obvious why they won this honor. I did not try any Spam dishes this trip or any of the famous Hawaiian shaved ice, but we did have tasty Portuguese Malassada’s, delicious deep-fried donuts drenched in sugar. So good, I had them three times, once at Punalu’u Bake Shop on the Mamalohea Highway, once as part of a breakfast supplied by a snorkeling trip our group took part in and once purchased in a small movable trailer that appears around the island at different locations selling these delicious donuts, some with different fillings.
On one of the rainier days we traveled to Waimea to take in a couple of the farmer’s markets, one on the Parker Ranch, one of the largest ranches in the states. We were able to try tasting Kona coffees and different juices and fruits. We then had an amazing lunch at Merriman’s, home of great Hawaii regional cuisine. A second farmers market we visited, next to the Parker School, consisted of many tents with an amazing variety of local foods and drinks. Driving around the island the large Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea volcanoes and the once active lava flows are always visible giving the feeling you are on another planet.
On the Kailani Tours Hawaii Island land tour we took part in, we had stops along the way that included a stop at the Kona Joe Coffee Plantation, where we were given a short tour of the coffee process involved in creating the different varieties of Kona coffee. This coffee can be very expensive. 100% Kona coffee can go for $50 or more for a small bag. Most people purchase Kona coffee offered in smaller percentages in the coffees. There are also a variety of coffee mixes, like Vanilla Macadamia Nut, one of my favorites. One of our stops along the way, of our island tour, was to Cook’s Bounty, a roadside stand of fruits and vegetables from the island, run by Steve, a unique island local who had a passion for organic fruits and vegetables and all of the nutrients they provided, especially the anti-oxidants. He quickly offered us a taste of a multitude of the fruits in his stand. We ended up purchasing Macadamia Nut butter, white honey and an island avocado. Hawaiian avocados don’t hold a candle to our avocados we purchase here. Another stop we made along the way was to a black sand beach to hopefully see turtles. Several on the tour did see one bobbing around in the waves.
The main destination for the tour was to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to see the Kilauea Caldera and the Halema’uma’u Crater, currently still actively erupting. It was very rainy and overcast on this side of the island, and seeing the eruptions was a bit difficult. Upon entering the National Park we drove through the Kilauea Military Camp, once an active military base, now a recreational area offered to veterans and active duty military for vacation spots. We did take a break, after viewing the crater in the rain, and have a very nice dinner at the quaint Kilauea Lodge Country Inn, then returning at night to see the red glow of the Crater eruptions and an occasional massive gas bubble burst. The Jaggar Museum did have some interesting information about the volcanoes and their connection to the islanders, including the mythology and folklore surrounding the volcanoes. The lava flows, that made the news years ago, have slowed down and there are no longer any flows you can visibly see pushing into the sea. The boat tours once offered to see them are now, for the time being, a thing of the past.
Snorkeling is one of the most popular water activities visitors take part in when they come to the islands. We took a private boat tour to Kealakekua Bay and the Captain Cook Monument for a snorkeling adventure. This bay is said to be some of the best snorkeling in all of the Hawaiian Islands. Taking a boat to the bay is the best way to get there, unless you really like taking a long, steep 3 mile hike, then hiking back when you leave. There is a large monument to Captain Cook on the edge of the shore. The legend of Captain Cook, his encounter with the islanders and his subsequent death is surrounded in a bit of mystery. What is known is he did die here, killed by the islanders, exactly why, not known, and his body may or may not have been found. Our group had a wonderful guide and the young man kept our group away from the larger snorkeling boats that entered the bay. We also took a short trip to see some of the sea caves formed in the lava rock from the pounding of the ocean. Another trip some people take is to go to the Hamakua Coast to see the waterfalls that cascade into the ocean. This is another trip for another visit to the island as is a trip to see the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park and the famous “Place of Refuge” where ancient Hawaiians could flee to in times of war or to seek absolution.
The activities available are endless on Hawaii. There are helicopter and plane tours, ATV tours, hiking trails everywhere, scuba tours, surfing and paddle boarding and much more. For golf enthusiasts there are 19 private and public golf courses with fairly reasonable fees. My son played three courses in one day. Jack Nicklaus helped design several of the courses. And, of course, there is just kicking back either on the beach or by a pool and enjoying the beauty of the island of Hawaii.
Whatever you do and regardless of which island(s) you choose to visit, do your homework, check out places to visit, eat and activities to take part in before you arrive and I guarantee you will have a great vacation and will take back unforgettable memories.