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Trip Report Hawaii Big Island - One week with family. What did we do?

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Our one week family get together on BI was dictated by 3 things: dear granddaughter’s (9 yrs old) school’s Easter break, job situations for several of us, and the desire to see my cousin and her husband, who live on BI. Without my cousins connection, we probably would have gone to the Poipu area of Kauai instead of BI.

While there were other interests in our group of 7, DGD was the only child, and would have stayed in the water at a beach all day long if allowed. This was her first time in Hawaii, and in the ocean, and she took to it like a fish. Boogie boarding was her favorite and she also enjoyed snorkeling. We have been working with her in swimming pools with snorkel, fins and mask, so this was not the first time snorkeling and she was comfortable with the equipment. It was however the first time in the ocean.

We are grampa and gramma, late 60’s, 2 sons and their wives, late 30’s, early 40’s, and Dear Granddaughter (DGD), 9 years old.

DW and I arrived a couple of days early to visit my cousin in Honoka’a. They have visited us on the mainland several times, but we have not been to see them for about 20 years.

Honoka’a
This is a sleepy little town, resembling nothing of it’s former self after the demise of the sugar industry and decline in Macadamia nut fortunes. We drove to the Waipio Valley overlook, where my cousin held sort of a seminar for a few visitors once they knew she was a “local.” We did not go down into the valley. It is all private property down there, and while quite beautiful, is quite a chore to get back up. The drive from Kona is like driving on two planets. The west (Kona) side gets little rain, and the lava flows are still obvious, though vegetation is beginning to take hold. As you approach Waimea, the landscape changes, and after Waimea, you are in a rain forest. So different. Each beautiful in it’s own way. Seeing the patterns that the different lava flows created is fascinating.

We stayed with my cousin for two nights, learning a lot of Hawaiian culture. This is the “wild” side of the island; population north of Hilo is sparse. Wild turkeys roam through her large yard, which is fenced off to prevent wild pigs from coming in and raising havoc with her gardens. She grows papayas, mangos, macadamia nuts and a variety of other things. Chickens roam the 1 acre yard, laying eggs indiscriminately, which we had for breakfast with fresh papayas off her trees.

Our hosts explained that the wild pigs and turkeys are numerous and real damaging pests. But most devastating was the mongoose, an introduced species, that has almost obliterated many native bird species. The mongoose is a voracious egg eater, and many native birds nested on the ground, because there were no natural predators. While this little creature thrives on BI and other islands, introduction was prohibited on Kauai. When the ship full of mongoose arrived on Kauai, all of the crates were thrown overboard and they drowned. I think the sharks and rays were happy.

On our way back to Kona, we stopped at the Farmer’s Market in Waimea. Bought some fruit, including papaya, etc.

Here is a summary of our different activities and destinations while on BI.

Magic Sands Beach (La’aloa Beach Park)
The rest of our family showed up on Saturday. We rented a large house about 3 miles south of Kailua-Kona, on Ali’I Drive, right across the street from Magic Sands Beach (VRBO; Magic Sands Beach House). Also known as White Sands Beach and Disappearing Sands Beach, it is signed as La’aloa Beach Park. This week the sand had largely disappeared. There was a minimal sandy beach, but lotsa large rocks. Access to the water was good. Sandy at the entry and sandy shallow bottom all the way out past the break. DGD loved boogie boarding here. Very soon after waking up, she and her Daddy were across the street with their boogie boards.

Snorkeling is ok here, but not near shore where the waves break. One can walk/wade out beyond the break to put on gear. Turtles were plentiful, and swam amongst the gathered boogie boarders, sometimes swimming between their legs. The break here was not conducive to surfing.

Snorkel Cove
To the left (south) of the beach (looking out at the ocean) was a rocky point, around which was a pretty little cove, quite protected from waves. Sometimes referred to as Snorkel Cove. Snorkeling here was wonderful, as there is little sand. Mostly rocks and coral. However, entry and exit is difficult; over a very rocky “beach” area.

While some folks entered at Magic Sands, and swam around the point, we accessed Snorkel Cove from the south end of the La’aloa parking lot, climbing over rocks to the water. Very few people are on the “beach” or in the water at this cove. We saw several turtles which were oblivious to us, and all the normal fish one would see snorkeling. It was calm and peaceful. We didn’t have to watch out for other swimmers.

Kahalu’u Beach Park
About a mile south of us was our favorite snorkeling beach, and we came here often, even bringing a picnic lunch on one occasion. Even though it is also every body else’s favorite snorkeling site, the fish are surprisingly numerous and unafraid. Turtles are numerous here, some pulled right up on the pa’hoe’hoe lava next to sun bathers to warm up and rest.

Hawaii’s state fish, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, are numerous here, and sometimes a bit territorial. One guy rose up and bit my camera, another bit my ankle and attacked my flipper. Can’t hurt you, but could possibly be unnerving to some. But hey, we’re in their territory. I gave em as much room as I could. The Moorish Idol, my personal favorite, were plentiful, swimming in small schools.

Though the entry point is very narrow, and can be choked with snorkelers, especially on weekends or when a cruise ship is in port, there is a lot of room out in the cove. A nice current comes through to keep the water fresh, which must be why the fish are so numerous despite the number of people. Depths are from 1 to about 15 feet. Once away from shore, there is a lot of coral, which we mustn’t stand on, but occasional splotches of sand and bare rock can give one a rest. Best though, to use an inflatable vest or noodle to help keep you afloat, and not touch or stand on any thing. Some folks trail a boogie board behind to use for occasional rests.

Be careful as some rock and coral rises to very near the surface of the water. If you aren’t paying attention, you can find yourself swimming over very shallow coral. The rise and fall of the surf, be it ever so gentle at this location, could cause you to scrape on the coral. Not pleasant.

Good facilities here. Lots of sandy areas and smooth lava on which to sunbathe. Bathrooms, showers, large covered patio available to use if not reserved for large parties. A food truck is on site. Hot dogs, etc. My favorite was shaved ice over a scoop of ice cream, flavored with root beer. Oh, boy! This is one of the most popular beaches in Kona area. Be prepared for lots of people.

At the north end of this area the waves break nicely for surfing. This became a favorite for oldest son for early morning and afternoon surfing as time permitted, which was pretty much every day. Like I say, it was less than a mile south of the house, so very easy to get to. There is a parking lot at this beach, and some on-street parking is available. We did not have trouble finding a parking place.


Puuhonua O Honaunau (City of Refuge) and 2-Step Beach

This is a great trip for most of a day. Go to the City of Refuge for a look back on the life and times of ancient Hawaiians. Well done. When one violated the rules, Kapu, or taboo, you could escape to this refuge, be purged of your sins, and return to your village.
Then we went to the adjacent 2-Step beach. Entry can be tricky, cause there is actually no beach. You are entering on a lava flow, that was uplifted a few years ago. But once out there, wow. Be prepared for pods of dolphin about 1/4 mile out. They are wonderful. Ask a local about where to enter. Really not too difficult. It's actually 2 steps and your in. (Haha – ergo, 2-step beach!) The dolphins played with us for about a half an hour. They were jumping twisting, flipping, generally having a ball. DGD was squealing, we were all ohhinng and ahhing.

We had a picnic there on the lava. It was great. We talked excitedly about snorkeling with the dolphins the whole rest of the trip.

The drive to this area takes you up a couple thousand feet, through many coffee plantations and sales outlets for the famous Kona Coffee. Stopped a couple of times to view the coffee process. Up there, we were in the clouds for part of the time, and got rain. But down below, sun and warm.

Snorkel trip to Captain Cooks Monument

We picked a tour operator out of the local tourist publication. He used a zodiac with a canopy, and our seven were added to 4 others. He had snacks and beverages. The boat ride was part of the thrills, and he showed us some very interesting geological phenomena along the way to and from. The whole trip was about 3.5 hours, with almost 2 hours in the water. Very nice trip.
Snorkeling was very good, with shallow as well as deep water. Getting in and out of the zodiac was facilitated by a ladder hung over the side. A great afternoon of snorkeling. Our granddaughter enjoyed the bouncing boat ride immensely.


Volcano National Park

We took one day and drove around the south end of the island to Volcano National Park. We stopped along the way at an overlook that provided amazing vistas of the south end of the island. The southern most part of the USA. We stopped at a little rest stop and stuffed ourselves on malasada, an evil doughnut kind of pastry, supposedly invented by the Portuguese settlers in BI.

Another stop was the black sand beach. Yes it is really black sand. Also lots of tide pools to poke around in. Surf here is pretty active. No swimmers or surfers.

Volcano National Park is amazing and a changing venue as the vocano changes the geography. Many of the roads have been abandoned due to volcanic activity. After looking in the visitor center, we tagged along on a one hour nature walk with a ranger. He told many legends of the ancient Hawaiians, of course centering on Madam Pele, goddess of fire. It was very interesting, and granddaughter hung on every word. (So did we.) She later concluded that Madam Pele was “not a very nice lady.”

We had our picnic on the visitor center grounds. There are no eating facilities there, so pack a lunch, or at least something to get you to the next town. Most of the villages along the way are small with limited services.

This was a long day, with about 3-4 hours of driving. But very interesting. All of us enjoyed it. I think a must do for a visit to BI.

Hapuna Beach

About 30 minutes north of Kona, we packed up a picnic, boogie boards and assorted beach stuff and off we went. This is a beautiful beach, very long and very deep. The park has showers and bathroom facilities, and a small snack bar. There are shaded areas on lawn with tables. The water here is not conducive to snorkeling, except at the far ends of the beach where there are lava outcroppings. We did not snorkel. Today was boogie boarding at it’s finest. DGD, sons and DIL’s all boogied away the hours to great delight. Oldest son said break was not good for surfing.

A great day, all in all. DGD remembered the boogie boarding here.

Climb Mauna Kea
This was done by oldest son and his wife. They rented a car one day and drove over to the east side again. They found the road up to the observatories, and drove up to about the 9,000 foot level. Then they hiked the rest of the way up to 13, 700 foot summit. They are both physically fit, and avid adventurists and climbers, but they said it was a grueling climb. Especially coming from sea level in just a few hours. The views were stunning.

There is a sign warning not to climb the rest if you have been diving during the previous 24 hours. They truly enjoyed the climb, but were a bit exhausted when they got home about 6, meeting us for dinner. I would check with some local authority before I set off on this jaunt.

Restaurants.

Here is a reprint of a post on a Fodor’s Forum question about restaurants.

We dined out several times, but mostly cooked our own in the house we rented. But here are a few comments.

Jamison's is still closed.

Huggo's main restaurant is very nice. We found the service to be very attentive. The food, we thought, was very good. And the setting can't be beat, IMO. You are right on the water, with excellent sunset views. Yes, pricey compared to other seaside restaurants along the Kona water front, but also a step up in quality.

There are a number of restaurants along Ali'i Drive, south of King Kamehameha Hotel. Most are active, noisy, and crowded. they have dining on the second floor, looking out over Ali'i Drive to sunsets and the Kona harbor. Many are sports bar oriented, with several TV's going.
We ate at the following, and my comments are to be taken in relation to the group.

Splashers - just ok, not the best view.


Humpy's - Pretty good. wait staff good, but kitchen service is spotty. Food very good. Good views.


Rosa's Cantina - pretty good, not great, Mexican food, good variety. Good view, wait staff attentive.


Fish Hopper - had breakfast there - kitchen screwed up order, but when it finally came, was excellent eggs benedict. Ground floor, good view. Waitstaff sometimes hard to find.



We didn't seek out "fine dining," cause we wanted the views. Also, didn't want to go far. Yeah, just lazy. Hey, "hang loose." Remember where you are.

Luau

Here is a copy of a review I posted on Trip Advisor re: Island Breeze Luau at the King Kamehameha.

“We were a party of 7, including granddaughter 9 yrs (1st visit). Due to the Tsunami, the luau is held between the towers of the King Kamehameha hotel, not on the beach area. The audience capacity is about half of what it could be on the beach. Can't even see the ocean. Therefore, the imu ceremony (taking the pig from the oven in the ground) and canoe landing of the king were not done. Entry procession came off the adjacent parking lot. But all the rest of the Island Breeze routine is there. I haven't been to any others so can't compare.
We were told by my several friends living on Hawaii, that the Island Breeze presentation is the best. I personally was disappointed in the setting. Didn't seem authentic without the ocean. But the crafts were good, including hula lessons, tatoos, etc. GD was suitably impressed. She was on the edge of her seat during the dancing and fire dance.
The only other negative was that the group picture they took was badly washed out. OTH, afterwards, all the performers stood around in their costumes for pictures. Nice feature.
I would have liked more traditional Hawaiian music instead of the electronic sounds, but hey, I'm showing my age.
Food is typical luau buffet plates, I think maybe a little better than I expected, and some surprising varieties.
All in all, they did a real good job. Too bad about the tsunami. Back on the beach I probably would have given a 5. Instead, I have to give it a 3.”

Summary

All in all a good trip had by all. We got to see a lot, DGD snorkeled and boogied a lot, and had a whale of a time on the boat ride to Captain Cook monument. We enjoyed our house, and ate most of our meals there; all of our breakfasts.

For a family situation, rent a condo or house. Much nicer in many ways.

Out of place: Boom boom stereo’s on passing cars and Harley Davidsons along Ali’I Drive.

Island cutie: Dog sitting up in sidecar of motorcycle, with leather helmet and goggles. Dog wearing a life jacket (vest) kind of thing, swimming with snorkelers.

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