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Trip Report A Week of Bliss and Adventure on the Big Island

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Wow. For our tenth anniversary, my dream of going to Hawaii finally came true, but I don’t think I realized just what a magical, beautiful place it was and how much it would affect me… just, wow!

My husband and I are in our 50s and have traveled quite a bit. We’re more into sightseeing and outdoors activities than just sitting in the sun (not that there’s anything wrong with that!) so the Big Island really appealed to us. We spent a whole week there, in addition to three days in Honolulu and five on Kauai. I’m so glad we devoted the bulk of the trip here because of the variety of things to see and do. I started planning the trip almost a year in advance, so my level of anticipation was sky-high by the time we were ready to leave in mid-February, as you can imagine! But the preparation paid off, I think; we stayed at the perfect location and did all the activities we deemed essential. We even had a mini GTG… martym and her husband, whom we met at the Denver GTG last year, were staying close by and generously invited us for maitais and poke at their picturesque cottage on the beach!

Horizon Guest House, Honaunau
In researching where to stay, the moment I laid eyes on photos and information on this place, it was a done deal. Horizon Guest House is a four-room B&B overlooking nothing but pastureland and ocean south of Captain Cook in Honaunau. We’ve stayed in many B&Bs and hotels around the world, and this experience was one of the best! It was comfortable and casual, yet upscale, with hospitality I’ve never seen at much more expensive locales. The owner and host, Clem, with his partner Mike, go above and beyond many innkeepers by providing very thoughtful amenities and service. Spacious rooms with private lanai, coffee maker and fridge, delicious gourmet breakfasts, the infinity pool and hot tub, open air dining and common area…everything was perfect. The other guests were couples were well traveled and very friendly, some of whom were annual visitors. If you love animals too, this is the place; the dogs Bruno and Bebe act like they’ve known you forever, horses and goats graze close by and they even had an orphaned calf, Lucky, who roamed freely about especially when it was his bottle time! The price was very reasonable, even better as they offered six nights for the price of seven. The only minor drawback was the distance to restaurants, about a 15 or 20 minute drive to the closest places in Kealakekua, but you could also cook out on the grill by the pool which we did several nights. It was like staying with a friend more than at a hotel (a very rich and generous friend!)

Paradise Helicopter Tour (from Kona Airport)
It’s easy to look at the price ($425+ per person) and have your heart sink, but I am so glad we splurged because this was one of the most memorable activities I’ve ever done! There is no better way to see the volcano which had lava flows in the crater and into the ocean visible only from above. To really get a feel for the variety of climate zones and terrain, you have to fly, and I’d recommend doing a flight early on because it’s helpful to get a feel for the island before you see it on the ground. I made reservations online a couple of days beforehand for a morning trip, assuming the weather would be better during the morning. Shortly thereafter, I got a call from them saying that the time I booked was taken and would I mind going the next day? Sure, luckily no problem, but then I received a second call saying in the time we were talking, that flight was booked now! At this point, I really wanted a morning trip, so I asked if I could do another more expensive trip, the Valley Landing, for the same price as the basic trip and they agreed! That turned out to be a great call because this trip was phenomenal! There were two other couples and it’s a tight squeeze on the copter, but all the seats provide a great view. Everyone wears headsets and our pilot, Jesse, gave an entertaining narrative with a great musical soundtrack which really fit the area we were flying over! Seeing the volcano was a dream come true for me, and the ocean entry in particular was the thrill of a lifetime! Then onto the wet and green, totally different east side of the island, over Hilo then up into the Waipio Valley. With the lip of the canyon over our heads, it seemed like we could reach out and touch the numerous waterfalls cascading over the lip of the canyon. Back over the ocean, a rainbow arced under the helicopter and followed us for a bit. I was probably annoying the other passengers with my excited babbling, but I was as blown away by these sights as I’ve ever been anywhere! Then we got to land, deep in a canyon where there was a private hunting cabin which the owner allowed the copter company to use in exchange for transport into this area. We were going to hike a little around this area, but the heavens opened up with torrential rain so we just hung around the cabin chatting, enjoying the misty views. After our stop, we headed back to Kona and watched the whales breaching below us in the warm sun. I don’t think I stopped smiling the rest of the day after that adventure; even the credit card bill couldn’t spoil that at all!

Fair Wind snorkeling cruise to Kealakekua Bay
Right before we arrived, new restrictions were imposed upon snorkeling and kayaking in the bay by the Captain Cook monument to protect the coral reef and dolphins. However, one cruise company out of Kailua, the Fair Wind, was still allowed to make two daily trips to the bay. We took an afternoon cruise on a large catamaran and enjoyed the easy access to the amazing reef with all its coral and fish. They provided all the snorkel and flotation equipment if you needed it, kids’ activities, snacks, bar available and informational videos on the marine life. It was a fairly large, crowded boat, but once we got in the water, we could easily swim off by ourselves and enjoy the experience. It’s a little pricey, but it’s the only easy was to get to the bay, so I think it was worth it.

Captain Dan McSweeney’s Whale Watching Cruise
February is prime time for whale watching off the Kona coast, and a must-do for me. Captain Dan’s trip was highly recommended by a friend and it didn’t disappoint. The Captain is known as a knowledgeable naturalist and gave an interesting running commentary throughout the trip. We didn’t have to sail too far to see humpback whale activity just north of Kona. The boat was relatively small and there were plenty of good spots on deck to enjoy the show all around us. We watched the whales for about a half hour, and although I would have liked more time with them, they moved out to sea and you can’t control that! We also sailed around a large pod of spinner dolphins which are particularly entertaining to watch. The deckhands handed out drinks and snacks during the trip and it is a great couple of hours.

Mamalahoa Hot Tubs and Massage, Kealakekua
As an anniversary treat, we booked a 90-minute couples hot stone massage which was preceded by a 30-minute soak in the most heavenly private hot tub deep in the lush vegetation. Wonderful staff with a warm welcome from Deb and excellent massage therapists. The hot tubs were clean, huge and the perfect temperature with non-chlorinated water conditioned with some kind of moisturizer in the water that left our skin so soft. The massage was amazing with semi open air rooms, the birdsong providing a soothing background. The cost was very reasonable for the quality and level of service. Highly recommended!

Place of Refuge National Historical Park
Well worth visiting, an excellent exposure to Hawaiian history and culture, as well as just a gorgeous location with great photo ops. It’s only a $5.00 entrance fee and would be a good spot to picnic (no food for sale here, bring your own). The park is adjacent to the Two Steps snorkeling spot, and it would be easy to combine the two for a day’s outing. We also stopped at the Painted Church on our way up the hill back to Highway 11, which needs no more than a short visit.

Day Trip to Volcano National Park
With our accommodations so far south, it wasn’t such a long or difficult drive to the park. There were lots of photo stops as we approached the south side of the island, but the wind was brutal and we were glad we’d brought our long pants and fleece. We briefly visited the Punaluu Black Sand Beach which is an easy in-out from the highway. As promised, the turtles were all around, lounging in the sun or in the shallow tide pools in the rocks. Very pretty spot. By the time we reached the park, the weather was turning for the worse and rain showers started. We checked out the Visitor Center which gives a good overview of the park then went onto the Jagger Museum to view the smoking crater. We started to do a short walk on Devastation Trail, but turned back when the rain and wind became too unpleasant. We drove the Chain of Craters Road towards the ocean and finally got out of the rain as we approached the shore. We would have spent more time hiking if the weather had been better, but it was great to get glimpse of a unique, fascinating and beautiful part of the world.

Mi’s Italian Bistro, Kealakekua
A small, non-descript location which specializes in traditional Italian dishes with a local flair, we enjoyed our dinner here. I devoured the crab manicotti and my husband’s lasagna was terrific. The service was slow due to just one server for the whole restaurant, but not intolerable. Reservations are recommended since there aren’t many other nearby choices.

Keei Café, Kealakekua
I’d consider this the higher end restaurant of our Big Island stay. It was a very pleasant meal on the lanai of a nicely decorated space, with a guitar player entertaining in the background. Their menu is beef, chicken and seafood, with a lot of local ingredients. The catch of the day was monchong and with the sauce they offered, it was the best dish I had on the trip! They are also known for their maitais, which were great before dinner. This restaurant is worth driving for!

Annie’s Burgers, Kealakekua
We ended up eating here twice during our stay and it was an absolutely a great, casual dining destination. It’s all burgers and sandwiches but they have some great eclectic offerings. I adored their Poke Cake Burger, loved the chicken sandwich with goat cheese and mango chutney and my husband thought their traditional hamburger was great. I couldn’t stop raving over their purple potato salad as well, a real island treat! Plenty of beers on tap or bottle. It’s the perfect stop for casual vacation meal.

L&L Barbecue
We wanted take out one night and got it here. I found the food to be just so-so. We had the combo plate with kalua pork and lau lau and I can’t say I was too impressed with it; the meat was kind of greasy and bland. It’s hard to say if it would be the same at other L&L locations, but it wasn’t my favorite.

Akamai Catering
For our tenth anniversary dinner, I wanted to plan something special, but realized that it would not be prudent driving the dark roads after the wine and champagne I wanted with dinner. With the availability of a grill and utensils at our B&B as well as a view that would rival any restaurant in the world, I began to look for someone who would cater and serve us dinner on site. I found a personal chef online, Pualani, who lived nearby and agreed to prepare a special dinner for us. She had to cook some of the dishes beforehand (we couldn’t use the full kitchen at Horizon House) but the meat and fish were fresh grilled poolside. What a great meal and Pualani couldn’t have been nicer! It was exquisite to sip champagne as the sun went down, eat our delicious courses and enjoy a truly memorable celebration! The price was not unreasonable for a four course meal including tuna sashimi, surf and turf with filet mignon and opakapaka, locally grown purple potatoes and spinach and grilled pineapple over mac nut ice cream. I was delighted by our meal, and the service Pualani provided.

So there is my report (martym demanded it!) It was absolutely a trip of a lifetime and I am now thoroughly hooked on Hawaii, particularly the Big Island. Luckily, there is a lot more to see and do which will justify more trips hopefully in the near future! Mahalo to all the members who helped us plan our perfect trip through their informative posts!

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