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Trip Report My family's Oahu and Big Island Trip Report

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Because the wait is too long until my next trip is not until March 2013...thought i'd pass the time by writing about our last trip...please bear with me. :)

My husband, sister, and parents traveled to Oahu (4 nights) and Big Island (Kona, 6 nights) this past June. Here’s our Trip Report! Background: me and the hubs are both 36 with no kids and we travel to Hawaii at least once a year, staying on different islands. My sister, 30 and parents in their 60s have not been to Hawaii for about 15 years, and never to the Big Island. They are not really “beach” people, but they do like local culture, and we are a huge FOODIE family. We love to eat and try local cuisines! I wrote these in “parts” consisting of days…and I’ve done 3 so far…enjoy!

Day 1: Oahu

We arrived in HNL around 3pm, direct flights from New York on Hawaiian Air. We all liked the airline and although we were in coach, we thought the included meal service was nice (meh food, but considering it was a 10+ hour flight, more than welcome). In-flight entertainment only had a few free videos playing on loop, and the rest you had to purchase. We prepared by storing movies on our ipad/laptop. Service was great, and definitely lots of “Aloha” to get us in vacation mode. We all drank POG (passion orange guava) because I told everyone that they should.

Arrival at HNL – it was hot and humid, and my husband went to get our rental car. We got a full sized car, as that was what our budget would allow, and lemme tell you, it was a little hard to squish 5 adults and our luggage but we made it, with some of the luggage on our laps. LOL.

Our hotel was the Hyatt Place Waikiki – modern and newly renovated, and quite lovely, at a good price. We booked two rooms, and my sister would be sharing with my parents. Check in was easy. They gave us rooms only a few doors down from each other which was nice.

We went for our first meal at Da Kitchen, a short drive away, and got a taste of local food, We got some saimin (noodle soup), a Hawaiian plate with kalua pork, lomi lomi salmon, and chicken long rice, and some local style fried opakapaka with ginger and scallion. Ono! After that, dessert was at Bubbies, only a few minutes away for some mochi ice cream (ice cream covered in pounded rice dough, and frozen.). This is one of my sister’s favorite things to eat of all time, so we had fun trying different flavors. I recommend the Green Tea and Lychee.

Parking at the Hyatt Place though is 25 a night. My dad balked at how much everything is here. My husband decided he’ll look for someplace cheaper the next day. I head over to the ABC store, the closet one which is half a block away (and it’s a nice one too). My mom and sister love to shop, like me, and they had a lot of fun browsing all the knick knacks and souvenirs. My mom fell in love with the koa wood plates. I don’t know if she bought any right then but let me tell you she had a suitcase of koa wood stuff when she left Hawaii. My sister fawns over the Hello Kitty Hawaii merchandise. Since we’re all on east coast time, we’re all pretty tired at this point so we call it a night.

Day 2: Oahu

Up super early, my husband and I decide to get a workout in, because knowing my family we’ll be eating non-stop. The gym is small but has new equipment, and is located on the same floor as the small pool and the breakfast buffet. We were done with our workout right when breakfast buffet opened and we met my family there. The buffet is included with the price of your stay, and it was great! Best FREE breakfast I’ve had in a while! 2 different hot breakfast sandwiches, pancakes or waffles, oatmeal, yogurt bar, fruit, pastrires, breads, even an Asian station with miso soup, rice, pickles and kimchee. My parents loved this (we’re Chinese) as we never usually see this on the mainland.

And because we’re such a foodie family, after breakfast we did a short drive through Waikiki, then back up towards Leonard’s, because I thought we should all have some malasadas. We all split a few malasadas, and took some pictures. After that, since we were only a few blocks from Ono Seafood, I had to get a few boxes of fresh poke bowls for my family to try. Sitting out on the picnic table outside the small take out shopped, we indulged in some super fresh fish. We got the spicy ahi, shoyu ahi, and wasabi take (octopus) for my sister who doesn’t eat raw fish. We all admit poke is one of the greatest things ever. We vow to eat here again before we depart Oahu.

At this point, I think we’re (finally) full, so we headed up the Pali Highway to the Pali lookout where we take the customary “hair blowing in the wind” pictures. After that – we headed on over to Kailua for a look around. My mom wanted to visit a Whole Foods because she likes to see what local produce is for sale. We also got some Ono pops, because, well, we’ve never had any before. They were yummy!

We drove around some more, visiting the “Chinaman’s hat” aka “lizard’s tail” formations and taking pictures. Oh my family does love to take pictures.

We continued our journey towards the north shore. We stopped at Romy’s for some shrimp. It takes 20 minutes to order, and another 40 minutes to get our food. Was it worth the long wait? A reluctant YES. We got an order of the garlic shrimp, the fried sunfish, and steamed shrimp. Everything was delicious. The sunfish was fried perfectly golden – for all those squeamish about fish with their heads on, well then don’t get this. Shrimp were huge and plump with great flavor. The dipping sauces were great, instead of regular shoyu, their shoyu has a little kick to it, and they also had a sweet red chili dipping sauce. Yum. I wish the wait wasn’t so long. I’d come here again if I weren’t too hungry and was willing to wait.

Heading on up the North shore, we stop at Turtle Beach where we saw 2 giant sea turtles resting, and then to Waimea Bay Beach park for more pictures. It’s so beautiful up here, and my family thought the turtle sighting was super fun.

Heading into Haleiwa, we made the obligatory stop at Matsumoto’s. I got my usual: lillikoi, li hing mui, and lychee flavors with ice cream and azuki bean. I always get the plastic holder or else I’ll be a dripping mess. The wait wasn’t too bad, maybe 15 minutes. I’ve seen it worse. We all enjoy our shave ice and walked around Haleiwa a bit.

Heading back down, we stopped by the Dole Plantation, because my sister loves dole whip. Yes you can have shave ice and dole whip on the same day. My dad liked the pineapple cutting demonstration with the free sample of pineapple with li hing powder. My mom wanted to buy the pineapple cutter/corer that the lady was using in the demo, but they didn’t sell the exact same one in the gift store, it was made of a completely different material. You’d think they would sell what they were using but I guess not. We walked around the gardens outside a bit, but we didn’t go on the tours or the maze (was too hot). We were happy just hanging out in the gift store.

We drove back down the island and into downtown Honolulu – we stopped at a few places including Don Quixote, which is a huge Walmart-type store but with a lot more Asian products and food. My parents really enjoyed it as they saw a lot of Asian foods that weren’t readily available to us back home. My sister and I bought some Asian snacks and my dad bought 5 dollar bottles of wine which he enjoyed back at the hotel.

We also stopped at Ala Moana shopping center for a quick walk through. We also took a quick look at Shirokiya, which is a Japanese department store. We almost always pick up some stuff to eat here, either take out or eat-in. The 2nd floor is a foodie’s paradise.

Dinner was back near the hotel, at Tenkaippin Ramen. One long U-shaoped counter with a few other tables. We were lucky to find space at the counter. I tried the specialty, kotteri ramen, which is ramen noodles in a rich and very thick broth which is supposedly boiled for a long time and full of collagen. It was good, the soup takes a bit getting used to because it’s so thick, but they have this wonderful chili garlic paste condiment which really brightens the whole dish up and gave it a kick. I really loved that stuff and will go back there on another trip just for that chili paste.

After a long day of sightseeing, we headed back to the hotel for the night. I wish the hotel had a hot tub or Jacuzzi. It would have been fun to use at night. The pool was just too cold and the area windy. It’s ok, we were going to hit the beach tomorrow.


Day 3:

We woke up early again, which is really nice as we get to enjoy more daylight this way. After a quick bite at the breakfast buffet we head on out to the KCC farmer’s market. It was my first time here but I’ve always wanted to visit but never made it before. Nowadays they have another weekday farmer’s market in the evenings. I thought it would be a great place for my foodie family to visit and it didn’t disappoint.

The farmers market was wonderful, lots of fresh fresh produce, prepared food, and local products. It’s all about farm to table here. We sampled a lot of things, including local honey, juices, and fresh grilled small abalone from the Big Island. I think a plate of 3 costs about 10 bucks. They simply grill it and you can season it with anything from salt, lemon juice, to spicy sauces and butter at their fixin’ bar. Abalone looks like a giant oyster in its shell but tastes like conch/escargot. It can get tough and chewy if not prepared properly but let me tell you these were the most tender I’ve ever had! In Asian cultures, abalone is an expensive and rare delicacy so it was a real treat for us to have it so fresh and for such a great price.

Another favorite was the prepared foods at The Pig and the Lady stall. Southeast Asian cuisine prepared with fresh island ingredients. I got some stuff for my family to try: the curry loco moco, which was a delicious vegetable curry over rice, topped with a grilled island beef burger patty and a fresh island sunny side up egg. Sooo good! Also got the chicken with rice, which is boneless roasted chicken tossed with fresh herbs and sauce and served over chicken broth-cooked rice, it was outstanding. I loved them both. I hope the Pig and the Lady opens a restaurant, as that would be a real treat, although I don’t mind heading over to the farmers market and eating their food.

My mom bought some fresh mango and papaya (the golden flesh kind, my favorite), which we enjoyed as snacks later. Definitely will be returning to the KCC farmer’s market on a subsequent trip.

After the farmers market we decided to chill and (finally) head to Waikiki beach. So back to the hotel we go, and changed into our swimsuits. I did however, have to make a stop at the Diamond Head Bakery for a blueberry cream cheese scone. Delicious. And since we were driving anyways, we made a stop for some take out at Ono Seafood so we could enjoy some poke later. We just don’t stop eating.

We head to the stretch of beach closest to the Hyatt Place, which turns out to be a nice protected area with the beach wall. Swimming here was very easy. I enjoy swimming laps and the Hyatt pool just didn’t cut it so it was nice to be able to swim my laps here as there weren’t any waves. Even my parents went swimming and they are not beach people. There was also a parade going on that day down Kalakaua ave. My dad had a good time watching the parade and the floats.

After frolicking in the sun, we all did our own thing, I did a little shopping down Kalakaua with my sister in the heart of Waikki. My parents did the same thing but we walked in different directions. A lot of souvenirs and t-shirts were bought, and plenty of pictures taken. I think the hubs was napping through the afternoon and managed to polish off most of the poke from Ono seafood.

Our dinner was at one of my favorite places we ate at on our last trip to Oahu, Side Street Inn. We didn’t go to the original one but we headed to the one in Kaimuki. It is modern and comfortable. Note that the valet parking is 5 bucks but that the lot across the street is also 5 bucks so you might as well valet if you can’t find cheaper street parking.

Food was great, and service was super friendly. The place was PACKED even thought it was only 5:30pm. It is definitely a place for groups as the portions are large and sharing is the way to go if you want to try different things. We got the regular fried rice (yum), oxtail soup (special that day), fried pork chops, an upcountry salad which was sooo good, a tofu dish, and other little tidbits which we all ate. We polished off everything, even though I thought the portions were huge. We all gave dinner 2 thumbs up.

Back at the hotel, some of us split up for some night time shopping, and my sister went to Tiki’s around the corner to meet up with a friend who was living in Honolulu. We didn’t have too late of a night though since we were set for an early morning at Pearl Harbour.

Stay tuned.

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    I'm enjoying your report. Glad I ate before i read it, or else i would be starving now!

    I like the walled in swimming areas too, and i think this is the "best" end of Waikiki.

    How were the hotel rooms?

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    tifa, you're back with a trip report! I love it so far and can't wait to read more!

    Just yesterday I reread your Maui Wowee trip report! I was thinking about our upcoming plans to go back to Kauai and wondering when we will make it over to Maui.

    As I commented on your previous report my husband & I have been to Oahu (honeymoon, Aug 05) and Kauai four times (May & Aug 07; May 2011; Sept 2012). Kauai is our go to place and we can't stop going back! We are going back to Kauai in May 2013 along with my brother and his fiancee. It will be their first time to Hawaii. My husband and my brother's fiancee share the same birthday so we will be there to celebrate.

    We are thinking that we will go to Kauai, again, in 2014 and go to Maui for our 10 year anniversary in Aug 2015. When we go to Maui I really want to stay here: http://www.maui.cc/BabyBeach.html I thought I would share the link in case you are interested for one of your return trips to Maui. I feel the same way about Hawaii as you do! I have a list of other places I would like to see but we can't stop going to Hawaii! We are also close in age as you and your hubs, we are 31 and we have no kids. For now, we want to continue going to Hawaii and we can get to the other places eventually!

    Enjoying your report!

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    OMG: Mouth watered at the thought of Opakapaka, and then the stomach growled while reading the rest of your food adventure.

    My favorite poke place is at Sam Choy's - the one on the way to the airport - http://tinyurl.com/d25fe3f - and even learned to make it from a fishing company rep - here in San Diego at Day of the Docks. So Ono!!!!

    And haven't had Abolone in years - and didn't know they have it over on Big Island. We used to free dive for it north of San Francisco, but that's another story. :)

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    And here is a page including Tomashiro's market - which first visited back in the 70's. Was blown away with something like 9 (yes nine) different grades of Ahi - from a couple of $ up to $12 or some such. Just like different cuts of beef.

    Much more expensive now.

    http://tinyurl.com/cpkuw75

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    Nice trip report.

    And a side note about parking near Hyatt Place:

    Anyone can park at Aston Waikiki Banyan for $12/day or $72/week. You do not have to stay at the Banyan to get that rate.

    Waikiki Banyan is #70 on this map. Almost right across the street from Hyatt Place.

    http://www.discounthotelshawaii.com/waikikimap.html

    And on the opposite end of Waikiki, there is alternative inexpensive parking at King Kalakaua Plaza for $15/day.

    See this thread for info:

    http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g29222-i37-k5768818-Cheaper_Parking_Near_Beachwalk_Area-Oahu_Hawaii.html

    On the discounthotelshawaii link above, King Kalakaua Plaza is just to the right of Gateway Hotel #16 and across Kalakaua Ave from Luana Hotel & Post Office at Ft. DeRussy.

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    Thanks everyone!

    @aloha - the hyatt place waikiki rooms were very nice, all new and renovated. A note, the bathroom only had showers, no tubs. My parent's double-double room was pretty big compared to our king bed room. There is a fridge and coffee maker and decent closet space. I enjoyed it and would stay there again, if I don't do a condo.

    @louistraveler5 - Great to hear from you again! Wow Kauai ...sounds like a great trip! I will eventually make it back there again. Thanks for the link! The condo looks fantastic! I will keep it in mind for our next trip to Maui.

    @elburr - thanks! Glad to have provided some new info. I try to look outside of the normal touristy places so we headed outside of Waikiki for a lot of our meals.

    @Tomsd - thank you! I have been to Sam Choy's before and enjoyed it. We did go to the new Sam Choy's on the Big Island on this trip so you'll have to stay tuned to find out what we thought. The Big Island actually has an abalone company that offers tours. We didn't go but I may do so on another trip. Thanks for the link on poke! I will have to check out some of those places! We've always gravitated back to Ono's seafood because it's sooo good but I like to try new places as well.

    @dusty56438 - Thank you, and thanks for the parking tips. We did actually park at the banyan but they had some strange 12-hour rule, where we had to pick up our car within a certain time frame, or else they charged us again for another night. We ended up paying 25 bucks there one day because of their strange rules.

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    Hey - thank you. Definitely waiting for your ongoing trip report - and future ones too. :)

    Always love hearing about the good "local" places to dine, explore.

    Also liked staying in Waikiki - just one building up/toward Kalakaua ave - from the Outrigger, but think it has gone more upscale now. Was on a business trip when I working for the Govt - and watched a NFL playoff game from the balcony (looking into the room) - while also enjoying the great view of the beach in front of Ft. DeRussey - and working on a "winter" tan. :) It used to be easier to park on the street back then (even overnight - when the meters were not in effect) - and take the car during the day to where you were going, but guess it's all more difficult now.

    And once saw the end of a ocean canoe race - coming from Molokai - which ended in a big reception party - near the front of the Rainbow Hilton Tower.

    Talk about Ohana from all the families and friends of the competitors. They take canoe (Polynesian style) racing very seriously over there.

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    Day 4:

    We woke up early for our morning at Pearl Harbor. I had made reservations for the 5 of us via the recreation.gov website. Reserving tickets online has a fee of 1.50 per person. If you don’t reserve, it’s free but you have to go there and wait. It’s well worth it to reserve in advance IMO. We remembered to not take too much with us today since they do not allow bags and we didn’t want to leave valuables in the car. We all ended up wearing clothes with a lot of pockets (break out those cargo shorts). You are allowed a camera and a small camera case though. After our gluttonous morning breakfast buffet we headed out towards Pearl Harbor. The drive is about 25 minutes. There is no traffic. My parents eye Costco on the way there and want to visit after.

    At the Memorial, we enter and pick up our tickets with no wait at all. It is about an hour until our requested time, so we take the time to view the exhibits and take pictures. It is very somber yet enriching to read about the history of WWII. There was a lot to see and the exhibits are all in newly refurbished areas. The last time I was here about 9 years ago, I remember waiting a long time to get on the ferry to the Arizonal Memorial.

    At our designated time, we are able to enter the movie theatre where we watch a short film about the attacks and then we head on the boat to the Arizona Memorial. My parents and sister had never been to Pearl Harbor so they found it extremely interesting. This is a must do for anyone visiting and is a sobering experience that is not to be missed.

    After our visit to the memorial, we decided to go to the Aloha Swap meet. I was kind of against it because it was close to midday and getting very hot but my sister really wanted to go. The swap meet is at Aloha stadium and is basically a giant flea market. I thought there would be more food vendors, kind of like the farmer’s market but there wasn’t really anything other than a few snack vendors. Souvenirs however, were abundant and really cheap there so definitely head there if you have a lot of non-picky people back home who are expecting something. We did end up getting a few fresh coconuts and sipped that while we were walking around to stay cool and hydrated. If you like fruit with li hing powder (preserved plum powder) this is also a good place to get them.

    A funny story: my dad, who is extremely thrifty, refused to let us buy him a Hawaiian shirt to get him into “vacation” mode. We tried to get him one at the ABC store on the first day, and we picked one out. “Too bright” was his feedback. Another one was “Too expensive” he said. We found another one on the street for 12.99. “It’s not made in Hawaii” he insisted. We told him that it’s going to be a challenge for him to find a Made in Hawaii shirt for cheap. That was fine with him. He’d rather go without the shirt.

    At the swap meet we all split up, so I was walking by myself, and lo and behold I run into my dad wearing the loudest and brightest robin egg blue Hawaiian shirt with huge bright pink flowers. He found a shirt that was made in Hawaii and for only 10 bucks! He said he negotiated the price down with the vendor because they spoke a similar dialect of Chinese. My dad was so proud of himself. He really loved the shirt and wore it every other day while we were on the islands. Too cute. Anyways, a lot of souvenirs were bought, and a lot of bargaining done. We did eventually make it to Costco, but it was more of a look-see than buying anything. We were set to go to the Big Island the next day and they have Costco there too, where my parents can buy as much chocolate covered mac nuts as they’d like. (it’s a fave of my moms).

    We head to Shirokiya for lunch in the Ala Moana mall – up on the 2nd floor, where there are stalls for all sorts of Japanese food: ramen, okonomiyaki (savory pancakes with lots of fillings), takoyaki (octopus fritters), sushi, katsu (breaded cutlets), all sorts of musubi (rice balls), bento filled with local and traditional favorites…it was just amazing. I wish I had a place like this to eat near work because I’d eat here every day and not get bored. So many take-out and eat in options. Some of us had the ramen, I opted for a sushi special which had different types of poke over rice served in mini bowls, my husband got a curry pork katsu over rice, and we also got an assortment of bento to share. Some of the bento were to pretty to eat. Prices are very reasonable and it was a great lunch. We ate in the store itself, in the area that is a designated Biergarten – during happy hour, beer is only 1 dollar! They were doing renovations on the 1st floor – but a lot of things were still open, and they were selling a lot of traditional Japanese pickles and snacks. We got to try some different things. It was fun.

    Back at the hotel, we rested for the afternoon, some of us opted to walk around Waikiki again. Later that night we headed for dinner at at Izakaya Nonbei, a traditional Japanese pub/restaurant in Kaimuki. I had purchased a deal from one of those groupon sites, which got us $25 for $50. I was a little late in booking a reservation so we were only able to get an 8:30pon one, but that was ok. The food there is very nicely prepared, and very good quality. The fish was super fresh, and we ordered a few sashimi sets, a wafu steak, fried flounder, and an octopus dish, amongst others. It was definitely the priciest meal we had so far. Good thing we had the coupon! It was a very nice semi-splurge meal.

    That night we packed up as we were getting ready for another island adventure…the Big Island for 6 days! Stay tuned…

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    Hope everyone had a lovely New Years! I spent the holidays in California just relaxing with family and managed to write more of my TR. I tried adding some links to the places we went to and stayed at so it’ll make the TR more informative. Enjoy!

    @Tomsd - my dad thanks you for your kind words!


    Day 5: Leaving for Big Island

    All packed and ready to go, we enjoyed our last breakfast buffet. I was really going to miss having breakfast readily available every morning! We checked out of the hotel and piled (squished) back into the car with our luggage for the drive to the airport. We had an 11am flight to Kona Int’l Airport. Note that for inter-island flights on Hawaiian Airlines the cost of checked bags is 17 each. Since we had purchased Economy+ on our flights from the mainland our 2 checked bags were included when flying to and from JFK. The inter-island flights didn’t have that option at least when I booked. The flight itself was only about 40 minutes and we got to see Molokai and Maui on the way there. What a beautiful sight!

    We landed in KOA, and this time we had rented a mini-van so we were much more comfortable this time. I figured I would splurge on the minivan on the Big Island since we’d be spending so much time driving. The drive to our condo in the Waikoloa Beach resort was about 45 minutes. Since we had time before our check-in at 3pm, we made a stop at Costco where we stocked up on drinks, necessities and food for the week. My mom was really taken with all the fresh island fruit and big island beef sold at Costco. One thing that I didn’t see was the poke counter…the last time we were in Kona, in 2010, they were selling poke and we got tubs of it to go. You could also taste the different flavors. It wasn’t there this time, anyone know why? Did they stop selling poke at Costco? I thought it was good!

    My family was very interested to see how the landscape of the Big Island differs greatly from Oahu. It’s very empty on the stretch of road to Waikoloa, just massive plains of black lava rock and no greenery in sight. They thought all the messages written with the white stones/sand on the black lava rock were very interesting.

    Our 6 nights were spent at the Hali’I Kai in the Waikoloa Beach Resort. If you haven’t been there yet, it’s a vast complex of condos, hotels like the Marriott and Hilton, and flanked by the Queens and Kings shopping areas, filled with high-end boutiques (like LV and Tommy Bahamas) and restaurants like Roy’s, Sansei, and Merriman’s Grill. There is also a huge Island Market, which is the same thing as the ABC store (same company, different name) but once you enter, you will be impressed at how much is sold at this ABC store. You can get groceries, sundries, and lots of souvenirs and products here. There is much more variety here than at any other ABC store I’ve seen on any island.

    I rented this condo via VRBO. Since I started our search fairly early (about 7 months before our trip), I managed to get a large condo at a great price. If I had waited any longer, I would not have been able to get a comparable condo at the Hali’i Kai and we’d probably have to squeeze into a 2 bedroom or have to stay in a different condo complex. I was really adamant about staying at the Hali’i Kai since we had such an amazing time there before so I was glad I was able to get the condo for my family to enjoy as well.

    http://www.vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/usa/hawaii/big-island/kohala-coast/waikoloa-resort/halii-kai

    Our condo was located in building 17. We had a lovely ground floor 3 bedroom 2 bath space. It was great to have everyone under the same roof with their own bedrooms. My sister was glad she didn’t have to sleep on a pullout couch! Our condo was equipped with everything – high end kitchen appliances, beach towels, beach chairs, boogie boards, washer dryer, wi-fi, flat screen TVs. It was great. Our location was also walking distance from the pool area. The only drawback was the location didn’t get that much sun into the living area so it was always rather dark indoors. Not a big deal as we had a nice patio and sun was only a few steps away.

    Upon unpacking we decided to chill for a bit and enjoy time at the condo before an early dinner. Since it was Monday, we took advantage of the 50% off dinner from 5pm-6pm at Sansei Sushi which is located in the Queen’s shops (or was it Kings? Can’t remember). It opens at 5pm and all your orders are 50% off until 6pm. But beware as you have to get on line much earlier than it opens in order to secure a table. They do not take reservations for this deal. We got on line at around 4:20pm and we were about the 6th party in line. The line grew really long after us. My husband was nice enough to hold our spot as some of us went shopping. At 5pm, the doors to Sansei still did not open. It was not until 5:15pm did they actually open the doors to seat us, but after that, service was very quick. We managed to place and receive our entire order before the 6pm cut off time. I was not sure if they extended the time since there was a delay in their opening but I think they did make an exception since we ordered additional food and it was all 50% off. Dinner was good. This is the sort of place to order fancy sushi rolls and try fusion dishes. Some of our favorites included the deep fried ahi and arugula roll in a soy butter sauce, and the fried shrimp cake with the delicious sauce that we all kept mopping up with other things. We got lots of other dishes and it was all very funky looking and delicious. I think the wait is definitely worth it especially when you love sushi and fusion pacific rim cuisine as much as my family does and the 50% off makes a huge difference.

    http://www.sanseihawaii.com/location_waikoloa.html

    Full from dinner, back at the condo some of us decided to go to the Jacuzzi. It was nice as the pool area overlooked the ocean. Even though it was dark, it was well lit and there were some nice ocean breezes. Great first day on the Big Island!

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    Day 6: Big Island

    We woke early and after some kona coffee at the condo which we bought from Costco, we headed up to Waimea for some of the best breakfast on the Big Island…at Hawaiian Style Café. It was about 8am when we entered the cafe, and it was bustling. We managed to get a table for the 5 of us. Here’s some of what we ordered: kalua pork hash with eggs and rice, mac nut pancakes, Portuguese sausage and eggs, and something called Da Tita Mok: fried rice topped with spam, katsu, a burger patty, smothered with gravy and topped with fried eggs. A loco moco on steroids! My husband got this the last time we were here and couldn’t stop talking about it. So of course that was the first thing he thought of when we got to the Big Island. Great first breakfast, although a lot of it had to be wrapped up – the portions are huge!

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/hawaiian-style-cafe-kamuela-2

    Stuffed from breakfast, we took the opportunity to walk around Waimea for a bit. It was nice and cool in the mountains. We went by the Parker Ranch store which was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. Definitely check out the sale rack for some interesting Paniolo-style shirts at a good price. There is also a Foodland and a KTA supermarket here so we picked up more food including some fresh produce, spicy Portuguese sausage, tubs of poke, and I couldn’t leave without a frozen Holy Bakery apple pie. Holy Bakery is on the Big Island and they specialize in their fruit pies made with A LOT of butter. They are sold frozen in plain cardboard boxes. I’ve only had the apple but they have other flavors including coconut, peach etc. Thank goodness for the large cooler that the condo had equipped us which kept the pie frozen until we got back.

    Article on Holy’s Bakery: http://archives.starbulletin.com/2008/02/27/features/story01.html

    On the way back to the condo we made a slight detour after coming down from Waimea. We stopped by the Hamakua Mac Nut factory in Kawaihae to buy some gifts and, of course, to taste mac nuts. We really like this factory, it’s less crowded than Mauna Loa, it’s huge, and they have free samples of raw mac nuts still in their shell which you can crack on a special apparatus and enjoy at your own leisure. There were also tons of already roasted flavored mac nuts to sample as well as flavored Kona coffees. We definitely enjoyed ourselves here and bought lots of products because we have a lot of family and friends who enjoy mac nuts. I preferred this over Mauna Loa in Hilo so I’d recommend this over that.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/hamakua-macadamia-nut-company-kawaihae

    The rest of the day was spent back at the resort, chilling. Lots of pool time – eating leftovers, poke and fresh fruit for lunch. We had a fantastic time at the pool here. The adjacent open air “gym” also overlooks the ocean, and I took a picture on my phone of my view from the treadmill and sent it to friends back home who of course became jealous. I loved the pool loungers – lying in the warm sun with the cool water beneath me, listening to my ipod with a Hawaiian Sun lillikoi drink. It was a great afternoon. Although there were groups of people there, it was never crowded and still had the intimate feel of a private facility as opposed to a large sprawling resort. I will really miss it when we’re gone!

    Dinner was at the condo, cooking the food we bought from Costco, including making our own teriyaki beef served on soft Hawaiian sweet rolls, a tossed salad of fresh island greens, and indulging in bags of Maui onion chips and garlic taro chips. Cooking was definitely challenging when you don’t really have a lot of ingredients on hand – but we bought the basics of teriyaki sauce: shoyu and sugar. It was all good. Dessert was lots of fresh pineapple and papaya and I went ahead and baked the Holy Bakery apple pie. It took about an hour to get it the perfect crisp crust. There is definitely tons of butter in it that it overflowed from the pie. How was the pie? Yummy! The bottom crust could use a few more minutes as it was still soft, but it was a delicious pie. The filling is just canned apple filling so I think it’s more or less the crust and the butter that make this pie. Definitely have to work off the calories on the treadmill again. More Kona coffee was enjoyed after dinner on the patio. We also watched movies on the DVD player. I tried to bring movies that were made in Hawaii like Jurassic Park and 50 First Dates. Good ole family time.

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    Day 7: Hilo

    Breakfast was at the condo, lots of chilled papaya with a squeeze of lime…I love it! I had brought a travel mug with me so filled up with Kona Coffee and stocked the car up with beverages and snacks for our drive to Hilo. We found a radio station that played all Hawaiian music. It was great for the long drive. Halfway to Hilo, we stopped by Tex Drive Inn to get some malasadas, and we couldn’t resist getting some mini meals too: saimin, portugese bean soup, and curry beef stew served in small Styrofoam cups over rice. We all had a taste of everything, and it hit the spot especially on the cool misty morning. The malasadas are larger and fluffier than Leonard’s on Oahu. To me they taste like fresh jelly donuts. You can get them filled or without. I think they are plenty sweet without the filling so I can’t imagine how much sweeter they can get when filled.

    http://www.texdriveinhawaii.com

    The landscape slowly changes as you travel east, we saw the dry black volcanic rock turn into misty hills as we headed up the mountain, and as we got closer east, it was varying shades of green. By the time we got to Hilo, it was really hot, very humid, and it looked like it was going to rain at any minute. Luckily, it did not rain while we were there. Our first stop was Rainbow Falls. It was really easy to get to, you just drive up…and the falls are there! No hiking involved which was great for my parents. A very pretty and easy photo op.

    Our next stop was Two Ladies Kitchen where I ordered a half dozen fresh strawberry and azuki bean mochi. This is a specialty of theirs, and it’s a fresh island grown strawberry, husked, and covered with a laver of sweet red bean paste, and then covered in fresh mochi (pounded glutinous rice dough). This was one of my favorite things I ate on our last trip to the Big Island and I knew my family would love it too. This time the strawberries were huge! The whole mochi was about the size of my fist. They are pretty pricy though, at around 3.50 – 4 bucks per piece. Well worth it though. They surprisingly keep well in the fridge so you can buy a few to go too. Their other mocha look so pretty, in various shades of pastel. I have not tried them since I am usually so full from the fresh strawberry mochi.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/two-ladies-kitchen-hilo

    Our next stop was the Hilo Farmer’s market. Lots of locally grown produce, and some prepared foods (although not as much as the KCC farmer’s market on Oahu). My mom bought a ton of fresh fruit and vegetables. I told her not to get too much since I wasn’t sure when she’ll be able to cook/eat them all, but she was so excited at all the fresh vegetables, some that are fairly rare and/or expensive in NY, she still bought them all. I bought a couple of fresh juices from a stall, towards the back end. I had a nice coconut drink, which wasn’t coconut water, but tasted like a creamy coconut milk concoction, whatever it was, it was great! We walked around the market area a bit, but it was super hot during the afternoon and we were all a little craggy and sweaty, so we decided to do a bit of indoor shopping. We drove to the super walmart where my mom was able to pick up even more Koa wood items, and at a great price too. I loaded up on the local snacks, including some li hing sour patch kids and li hing mango.

    We hit up the Moana Loa Mac nut factory, and although the drive in was really pretty, with the mac nut trees flanking the drive, we all agreed that Hamakua was much better in terms of sampling. There were too many tour buses unloading people here so we only stayed for a bit before heading to another touristy spot, Big Island Candies. I don’t mind the crowds here because the cookies are just so damn good and the space is larger! They are pretty pricey, but make such great gifts. Everyone I know loves the chocolate dipped mac nut cookies. We loaded up on boxes of assorted cookies, then headed out to dinner…at Ken’s House of Pancakes.

    http://www.bigislandcandies.com

    I had never been to Ken’s before, and really wanted to try it. Just a warning, there is no air conditioning, just a bunch of ceiling fans. It was fine though after a few minutes. Another warning: portions are HUGE! My parents split the oxtail stew, my sister got the Sumo-sized saimin, I got a special pot pie of the day – curry turkey, and my husband got the prime rib dinner. Everything was good – not great, but solid enough that I’d return. Maybe I should have tried a namesake pancake. Every time you order something sumo-size, when it comes out of the kitchen the servers hit a gong and yell out “Sumo!” It was really funny when my sister got her saimin which was served in a bowl that was larger than my head. Prices are cheap and we left feeling very full with leftovers to boot.

    http://www.kenshouseofpancakes.com/

    Our drive back to the Kohala Coast felt longer than the drive to Hilo, but maybe it’s because we didn’t stop anywhere. We were tired upon returning to our condo, but didn’t stop us from watching more Made in Hawaii movies on the dvd player and indulging in fresh mango and lychees. Yum!

    Stay tuned for our adventures the next day…at the Kona coffee farms!

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    Day 8: Kona Coffee Farms and Kailua Kona

    Breakfast was again at the condo, eating all the delicious fruit we bought at the farmer’s market. After breakfast, we hopped back in the minivan for our series of stops through the Kona Coffee belt. We didn’t make reservations at any location but basically stopped whenever we saw a sign offering free samples or tours. Some places we went to were: Greenwell, Bayview, UCC to name a few. Greenwell had a nice informative tour. We saw how the coffee beans were harvested from the “cherry” stage all the way to the cup. There were a ton of samples to try from too. If you have a chance, try some kona red, which is an antioxidant juice made with the coffee cherry fruit that surrounds the bean. It’s similar to cranberry mixed with prune juice. It’s supposedly super healthy. My sister liked this because well, she doesn’t drink coffee like the rest of us! So needless to say, she didn’t really care for the tastings, but she liked the tours and spent her time taking pictures of us tasting coffee.

    http://www.greenwellfarms.com/

    We stopped at a few places in Holualoa, Kealakekua, and Captain Cook, including the Donkey Balls store, which sells gourmet chocolate covered mac nuts with clever names such as Dirty Balls (rolled in cocoa), Salty Balls (rolled in sea salt), and Blue Balls (in blue colored white chocolate)…you catch my drift. A little gimmicky, but lots of different flavors and combinations and they also make great gifts. I work in a team full of guys and brought back a few bags, and they all got a kick out of the names…and the chocolate is damn good too.

    http://www.alohahawaiianstore.com/

    A surprising find was UCC Coffee’s tasting room. It’s small, and the tours aren’t too exciting, but the tasting room is new and has fabulous views. Also the tasting is served on real china cups, and not paper or Styrofoam cups which made it all the more special. Oh yeah and the coffee is really great too. This is where picking up those touristy magazines pay off, as we got a coupon for a free cup of homemade kona coffee ice cream that was just out of this world. It was a great treat that day. Even my coffee-hating sister liked the ice cream.

    http://www.ucc-hawaii.com/

    We also stopped at the Painted Church, which is a small little church where the interior has been painted with colorful murals. It was cute, yet a bit eerie…maybe because the skies were darkening. It was going to rain soon!

    http://www.thepaintedchurch.org/

    We passed by the Kona Historical society and my mom was kind of bummed we missed out on the portugese bread baking event (happens every Thursday), but I told her how it would pretty much be a half day event and we’d have missed out on a lot of coffee tasting so she didn’t seem too sad after that. Next to the historical society there was another tasting room which seemed to have the most samples, I can’t remember the name of it though, but it’s a red building where you go upstairs and there is a large gift store and a coffee “museum”. Lots of coffee samples out back, and also samples of rum cake which was yummy. It was raining at this point so it was nice to just chill with a hot cup of coffee.

    http://www.konahistorical.org/

    At this point it was almost sunset and all the coffee farms were closing for the day. Wow – couldn’t believe coffee tasting took up an entire day! I guess all the coffee meant we were still wired. No worries, it was off to Sam Choy’s new restaurant in Keauhou for dinner. Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai is located on a hill next to a strip mall and the view is amazing. Luckily it stopped raining at this point so we could get a glimpse of the water during sunset. I can’t believe this used to be a former Wendy’s location…it had 5-star views! We started with a free soup and salad appetizer and coconut bread. The soup looked like paste, but it had great flavor. I can’t really describe it, but it was maybe a potato/turnip bisque? The salad was great, mixed field greens and a zesty dressing. We got a seared ahi tuna poke appetizer for the table, which was good, but I prefer my poke to be raw. We each got an entrée that was beautifully presented, complete with fresh island flower garnishes. Some highlights were the mahi mahi, and the Ono served on Okinawan blue potato gnocchi. Oh and the ribeye is pretty good, but note that it’s served in a creamy mushroom sauce. I thought the food was pretty good although not the best pacific rim we’ve had, but the presentation is really pretty. Service was excellent. I’d return on another trip.

    http://www.samchoy.com/

    After dinner, my sister wanted to go shopping – so we headed to Kailua Kona to walk around. It was fun, glad the stores were open late so we’d have something to do. Plus we had so much coffee…we couldn’t sleep! Although we certainly needed it as we were looking at a looong drive down south tomorrow…to the volcano!

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    @iceeu2 - Thank you! You will love the Big Island! So much to do and the scenery is amazing. We're going to Oahu in March for 10 days - a week in Waikiki and a few days on the North Shore. Oahu is my "foodie" destination in Hawaii. Looking forward to visiting my favorites restaurants and trying some new places too. Which reminds me...I need to make a list!

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    Thanks for posting, I am looking forward to studying more.

    Is March a good time to go to Hawaii? My choices are March or May.

    I am struggling with the trip planning, your post is great.

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    @joethebear - thank you! I think Hawaii is great to go at any time. I have been during January, June, October and November. This will be my first time going in March. I look forward to leaving the cold behind in New York. My favorite time was actually Oct/Nov because the crowds are low (if you go pre-thanksgiving) and lodging was cheaper. Will you be visiting the big island and/or another island?

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    Day 9: Traveling to the Volcano

    We woke up early to get a good start to the day. I knew we would need a hearty breakfast so we drove down to Kailua-Kona to dine at the Big Island Grill, another place known for their large comforting plates of food. I got a spam moco, which was really good. Basically fried spam instead of the burger patty, served on a bed or rice topped with brown gravy and a fried egg. Only in Hawaii. Everyone was very happy with their food and agreed it was a tasty, filling breakfast. I still have to give the edge to Hawaiian Style Café in Waimea though. With our bellies full, we made our way south towards the the Volcano

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/big-island-grill-kailua-kona-2

    On the way down, the highway passes the Kona Coffee belt that we drove the day before. We did stop at Kona Joe’s Coffee to get a taste of their iced coffee, which was yummy. My sister was conned into trying one of their chocolate covered coffee beans, and she said it was gross. I guess if you don’t like coffee, no amount of chocolate will help. The view from Kona Joe was lovely. Their tours were expensive though, about 15 dollars, but you do get a souvenir cup to take with you. We skipped the tour and hopped back in the minivan and continued our journey south.

    http://www.konajoe.com

    After driving for what seemed like forever, we arrived near the turn off for the southernmost point of the US…Ka Le or “south point” as most people call it. I had been there before with my husband on a previous trip…but we opted not to go on this trip, as the drive would have probably taken us for an hour and a half detour and we didn’t want to miss the volcano. However, I do recommend visiting it as it is amazing! There is a huge steep cliff there and we saw very brave people cliff diving. Not sure if it was legal or not but the distance down…it was far. So no cliff diving for my family, but we did however stop by the Punalu’u Bake Shop, which is the southernmost bakery in the United States! We all got to sample the different breads, and they also have a bakery selling malasadas, cream puffs, turnovers, etc, as well as some burgers and plate lunches. I was not too impressed by the bakery items. I have been to better bakeries in Hawaii (like Liliha on Oahu and Homemaid on Maui). I did however enjoy their taro bread samples (the purple bread), and it’s a nice place to stop and stretch your legs, use the facilities etc.

    http://www.bakeshophawaii.com/

    We then drove to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach which wasn’t too far away, where we witnessed 2 giant sea turtles lounging on the sand. This doesn’t compare to the last time I was here where me and my husband saw as many as 9 of them scattered all over the beach. For my family though, it was a marvelous sight. They have never seen a black sand beach before! Lots of pictures were taken. I highly recommend a visit here. We saw only a few people trying to surf. The waves there look really rough. Does anyone know why it always seems cloudy here though (or at least when we were there both times)? Is it the vog from the volcano?

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/punaluu-black-sand-beach-naalehu-3

    We continued on and finally reached Volcanoes National Park. Hooray! We were going to see the volcano for the first time! My mom, however, was kind of freaked out. She didn’t know that Kilauea was an “active” volcano. And although I tried to explain to her that the lava flows through tubes to the ocean, she seemed to think that the land we were walking on was going to blow up at any minute with a fiery eruption. I think she was slightly nervous the whole time. The rest of my family though, was super excited. We went to the visitors center where we watched the movie and read up on the latest happenings at the site. We weren’t going to be spending long here since we still had to make the drive back to Kohala (much to the relief of my mom), but we were able to walk through the Thurston Lava tube, visit the steam vents, and view the smoky Calderon from different vantage points. Lots of pictures were taken here including some “trick” shots where it looked like steam was coming out of our hands and ears. Yeah we are a corny bunch sometimes.

    After walking through the observatory building looking at the exhibits, we left the Volcano for our long drive home. My mom was very happy the volcano didn’t erupt while we were on it. I think we spent about 2.5 hours there total, although I could have spent more. Maybe if it was just me and the husband we’ll stay in Volcano the next time to do more exploring.

    http://www.nps.gov/havo/

    On the drive back home, we stopped at a popular local establishment for traditional Japanese dinner… Teshima’s! It’s located around the Captain Cook/Keleakekua area. I had eaten here before and really enjoyed it. It is homey Japanese comfort food, nothing fancy but everything they make is prepared with care. We all liked the lived-in comfortable atmosphere. The interior and much of the menu looks like it hasn’t changed in decades. Prices are great too. When we were there they did not have sushi (only ahi sashimi, which was very fresh I might add) but I see that they are serving sushi now. I had the miso butterfish, which was good, although the butterfish had a lot of bones. Another thing we really enjoyed here was their tea. You can actually purchase bags of it to take with you. It is loose leaf green tea, and it looks like it’s mixed with toasted rice, and get this…popcorn! I think combined it gave the tea a nice nutty roasted flavor. It’s 5 bucks a bag and the bag lasts about a month. I really enjoy this tea and I have it every day! I think it also makes a wonderful and unique gift, so I bought a few additional bags as well.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/teshima-restaurant-kealakekua

    Back at the condo, we were pooped. Wow we sure did a lot today. Looking forward to some R&R tomorrow!

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    tifa: Still enjoying your report! I check fodor's every day for your next installment.

    A couple of things:

    1) If you and your husband decide to stay in Volcano on another visit to the Big Island, I have a link for you: http://www.vrbo.com/133282
    I came across it by reading this photo trip report: https://picasaweb.google.com/Mjneenan/BigIslandHawaiiJuly2012

    2) How many times have you been to Hawaii? Month/year/island?
    I want to see other places but I can't stop going to Hawaii. Your next trip is 2 months away and mine is 4 months! Do you plan to continue your streak of going to Hawaii once or twice a year?

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    @louistraveler:

    1) Thanks! Very useful! Will be sure to use it on my next trip to the Big Island. (whenever that is)

    2)Hmm, prior to 2009, I can remember a few trips as a kid to honolulu and maui, and a trip in Oct 2003 to honolulu when me and my husband were still dating. Fast forward to Nov 2009 and we went to Maui for our 1st anniversary - and I just fell in love with the islands all over again so after that it became my goal to visit once a year. We were lucky enough to visit Kauai Jan 2010 for a week with my in-laws on a family trip which was wonderful. Then since we had accumulated enough miles, we went to Maui and the Big Island for a 2 week trip that same year during November. During oct 2011, we were visiting family in Taiwan and on the way back stopped in Honolulu for 10 days, staying in Waikiki and the Aulani. Then when Hawaiian air announced their direct flights from NYC, I convinced my family to go. So here we are at my trip report June 2012. Then prices started falling for flights to Hawaii from NYC, so that's why we're going again in March. I didn't want to spend too much $$ that's why we're only going to honolulu.

    I'd like to say I will go back to Hawaii every year because we think it just works for us so well. I was lucky in that I got to travel around the world with my family when I was younger, to areas of Japan, Singapore, Australia, Taiwan and parts of Europe (although I'd like to visit again). Since I now work full time, I don't have the luxury or vacation days of going everywhere I want to go, and honestly, I like to be in the sun, relax, explore and eat good food, and Hawaii provides all of that! I also love how you dont' need a passport and yet you feel like you're in a different world. My next trip planned is probably for the fall of 2013 - Maybe Maui and Kauai.

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    Day 10: Rest and Relaxation on our last day

    Today we woke up slightly sad – it was my family’s last full day of vacation. Me and the husband had extended our trip 3 more days back on Oahu, but I was going to miss my crazy family and they were really going to miss Hawaii. There is nothing more fun than crazy family trips. It was also Father’s day! I had made a reservation for Roy’s in the King’s shops for that night, so everyone was looking forward to that.

    Today we just chilled at the condo complex for most of the day – trying to finish all the food we had purchased, including all the pineapple, papaya, mangoes and lychees...I don’t think I could have eaten any more fruit. We made lunch – more teri beef, yum. We swam and laid out at the gorgeous pool. I think I finally finished an entire novel, something that I rarely do at home since I don’t have time to read!

    Later in the afternoon we took a trip to Kailua Kona to do some more shopping. We went to Hilo Hatties, then down by Ali’i drive where I split an ono sandwich and a Vietnamese iced coffee with the hubs at Island Lava Java. It was surprisingly tasty. I am not as enamored of Island Lava Java as much as others (they have amazing yelp reviews). To me, it’s a nice café, but nothing more. Maybe I just like air conditioning…

    We did a bit more shopping in Kailua-Kona. I am not as fond of Kailua-Kona as I am Waikiki, and I know I may be unpopular in my opinion. I just like the excitement of Waikiki and the plethora of restaurants and stores, and the beautiful beach next to it. Kailua Kona kinda has a weird smell (anyone else notice this?), but I agree there are some cute places here.

    We headed back to the condo to freshen up and change before dinner. We all wore our finest clothes we brought (dress and flip flops for me, and my dad in his favorite bright blue Made in Hawaii shirt) and took some family pictures around the condo’s lovely manicured lawns before the sun set. We then headed to the Queen’s/Kings’s shops to walk around before dinner. Dinner was actually pretty late for island time – 8:30pm, so we had plenty of time to walk around. We visited some of the super high end stores, including one that sold exotic koa wood furniture. It was beautiful, but each piece was also in the tens of thousands of dollars. I really need to win that powerball lottery.

    Finally it was time for dinner. I must say, dinner was amazing. We all really enjoyed it and the service was excellent. Our server was super helpful in explaining each dish, and everything came in a timely manner. We all split the sampler appetizer and a bottle of wine. I got the miso butterfish – presented very differently from the down home version I had gotten the day before at Teshima’s (but also 3x the price). But my version this time was boneless, yay! It was fantastic. Everyone’s dish was great. My sister loved her Roy’s style ribs, and my dad enjoyed his steak immensely. I recommend the upside down pineapple cake for dessert. My dad said it was a wonderful Father’s day!

    After dinner it was pretty late but we were surprised to find the Island Gourmet Market open late. Apparently they close at 11pm. This was nice as we got to stroll around inside to work off our rich dinner, and to buy any last minute gift items. My family jointly managed to purchase a hefty amount of stuff from the ABC stores during our time on the islands so we were able to redeem our free gift…a beach towel of choice. My sister knew exactly what she wanted: one of the Hello Kitty Hawaii designs! She was so happy. Now that we have all our shopping done…it was a night of packing everyone up for our departure the next day!

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    Day 11: Goodbye Big Island, we'll miss you!

    Sniff, it was our last day on the Big Island. My parents and sister were going back to New York, but my husband and I were going to be spending 3 more nights on Oahu by ourselves. It was actually nice because with me as the resident trip planner and destination guide, and my husband as the driver of the trip, we were pretty exhausted. We were actually looking forward to some REAL relaxation and time alone.

    Along our drive back to the airport, we stopped at Costco to refill gas. Note to all, if you have a Costco membership, gas at Costco is the cheapest on the island, so best to fill up whenever you pass by. Everyone seems to know this as the pumps are always full of cars. Gas in Hawaii is mega $$$!

    We also made a stop for a quick meal at Pine Tree Café, which is a counter-service plate lunch style place located close to the airport in a mini strip mall. I know lots of people who make this their first stop off the plane and last stop before getting on one. The space is large but very sparse, only tables and chairs, but where it makes up for lack of deco is the food. It was yummy! We split meals of mac nut pancakes (we really can’t get enough of these pancakes!), eggs, portugese sausage and fried rice, and shoyu chicken, which if anyone hasn’t tried yet, please do on your next trip. It’s tender chicken thighs braised in a slightly sweet and savory soy sauce gravy, served over rice. It’s soo yummy, we were mopping up the sauce with all the available rice we had. Sooo good! It was a good send off meal for my family. Even though they all enjoyed the fancy dinner at Roy’s last night, they really like the simplicity and affordability of homestyle meals like at Pinetree Café.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/pine-tree-cafe-kailua-kona-2

    Our bellies full, we drove back to Kona Int’l airport where we returned the minivan, and checked in for our flights. We were all on the same flight back to HNL and then my family continues on to NYC while my husband and I rent another car and head back to Waikiki.

    When we arrived at HNL, we all said our goodbyes. My parents and sister went to their gate for their flight back to the mainland and we went back to the car rental place. It was a bittersweet moment...we are all a little tanner, definitely fatter, and have those big smiles you get when you think about how much fun you’ve had on vacation and can’t wait to tell everyone back home, but at the same time sad that the family trip has come to an end. BTW, I have 2 more sisters in addition to the one who came on this trip. Unfortunately they weren’t able to come this time, but we are plotting for our next even larger family trip to the islands in the future…

    That’s the end of our amazing family trip to Oahu and Kona! Stay tuned for a little Epilogue…

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    Epilogue: Relaxation in Oahu?

    My husband and I rented a compact car and drove to our "home" for the next 4 days and 3 nights…the Wyndham Royal Garden which is located on the other end of Waikiki than the Hyatt Place. I managed to get a really great deal last minute through bookit.com and the king room we got was large, newly renovated, and came with a kitchenette. A few minor flaws with the room: our A/C sometimes went on the fritz so we had to call the front desk to service it twice. The bathroom, although renovated, could have used a new shower curtain. Overall for the price that we paid, it was fine although parking is valet-only and 25 per night. There was a small lot located on the same street and you can park there until 7am for 10 bucks. But who wants to wake up at 7am on vacation to move a car? Luckily we were able to find street parking for 2 out of the 3 nights. It’s usually a timeshare-type place, but they do have regular hotel rooms too. It’s pretty low-key and the location was very quiet although a bit of a hike to the beach, since you had to walk through that park (Fort DeRussy). There is a small pool and plenty of space to lay out, although we didn’t use it much. Oh and another thing, laundry machines are free! It’s always nice to head back home without a luggage full of dirty clothes…

    http://bookit.com/us/hawaii/honolulu/hotels/wyndham-royal-garden-waikiki-newly-renovated/

    My favorite part of staying at that end of Waikiki is the proximity to the Wailana Coffee House. We ate here every day for breakfast. LArge portions and friendly service, what's not to like? I loved the muesli and the fried saimin. Definitely get here early or the wait is long.

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/wailana-coffee-house-honolulu

    We spent the last few days visiting spots on the island that we missed - including our favorite, Lanikai beach. It’s so beautiful there, albeit a bit windy. The water is turquoise blue and the sand is golden white. We climbed Koko head crater for the first time…boy was that a workout! I couldn’t make it all the way up. I am really not a hiker, even though I did Diamond Head before without to much difficulty. I actually think a trained athelete would find Koko Head a challenge. I stopped right before the railroad tracks went over the crevice at the top since I was scared of falling to my death. The hubs though, made it to the top. Even though we went late in the day, it was still blazing hot, and climbing all those steps in the heat was killer. I was glad I did it though since I had been a glutton all week. On the drive back, we rewarded ourselves by going to Aina Haina for some delicious shave ice…at Uncle Clay’s House of Pure Aloha. Uncle Clay is the proprietor of this place, and he is the nicest, sweetest guy ever. Their shave ice syrups are homemade, and taste divine. We split a large shave ice with lychee and green tea syrups with ice cream and azuki bean. I highly recommend this shave ice. The service is wonderful and everything is eco-friendly.

    http://www.houseofpurealoha.com/

    We never miss a quick meal at Zippy’s – we usually get take out, we enjoyed the yummy chili over rice, and delicious oxtail soup. I always remember to get a few of their baked goods as snacks including the famous napples (fruit turnovers). We also ate at a few new places: Red house Honolulu, a modern pop-centric fusion Korean eatery. Their kimchee fried rice with cheese was interesting, as was a fried chicken salad, but I think I prefer other Korean places in Honolulu. The space though was cute, bright red and white everything. We had a coupon that saved us 10 bucks which was nice.

    http://www.honolulumagazine.com/Honolulu-Magazine/Biting-Commentary/December-2011/New-restaurant-Red-House/

    Another new one for us was 5-Star International Buffet, which is in the Royal Hawaiian center. They specialize in a high turnover buffet of small plates, whereby they claim to continually make the food on the fly to keep it fresh. It may be true during prime dining times, but when we went, the place was pretty empty and so they couldn’t really keep the food as fresh as we’d have liked it…overall it was only ok. They did have items like sushi, poke, and mini loco mocos. We had a 2 for 1 coupon which probably made it more worth it. (it’s about 50 bucks a person for the dinner buffet). I may return, we’ll see. It does get good reviews though so I think the timing plays a factor when you do dine here.

    http://fivestarwaikiki.com/

    One of our favorite new places was Sweet Home Café, where we dined with locals eating steaming D-I-Y Taiwanese Hot Pot. The wait was about half an hour, it was so crowded but the experience and the food were worth it. You enter, place your name on a list, and when you’re called, they take you to your table which is equipped with an induction burner. At first you choose your broth flavor, and your meats (they have all sorts of cuts of beef, pork, lamb, chicken etc.). They come back with a large pot of broth and the meats and you cook them yourself in the broth. There are also large refrigerated cases which house plates of fresh vegetables, fish cakes, rice cakes, noodles etc., so you help yourself and they charge you by the color of the plate. There is also a sauce “fixin’s” station where you can combine different Asian sauces to create your own dipping concoction (their pre-made house special sauce is divine on its own though). Even though you do the cooking yourself, everyone here was super friendly, and they were surprised to find out that we weren’t locals. We’re definitely going back!

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/sweet-home-caf%C3%A9-honolulu-2

    We did get a few phone calls from my family who asked us to purchase stuff from them, either they “forgot” to buy it or they just plain ran out of space. “More mac nut chocolates please” was one request. “7D Dried Mango” was another (if you haven’t tried this brand, they are so very good and I can’t find it on the mainland). So back to Don Quixote we went and managed to fill yet another newly purchased suitcase with everything that we brought back for them.

    A visit to the Ward center led us to the movie theater one evening. I can’t remember what we saw, but we enjoyed boxes of popcorn mixed with arare (Japanese toasted rice crackers a.k.a. mochi crunch). Only in Hawaii movie theaters! You can also buy microwave popcorn with the special mix which includes the arare and seaweed flakes (furikake). It’s called Hawaiian Hurricane popcorn. It’s sold in some supermarkets but I did see a box of them at Costco as well.

    http://tastyislandhawaii.com/2008/07/26/hurricane-popcorn-in-a-jiffy/

    A trip to the outlets one afternoon was rewarding, and for our last dinner we again had an amazing experience at Alan Wong’s where we each indulged in a different tasting menu. It is still is one of my favorite restaurants in the world, despite the slightly dated decor and no view.

    http://www.alanwongs.com

    So I guess it looks like our 3 days of anticipated relaxation turned into its own little jam-packed adventure, but that is kind of how we roll I guess. We are not really the type to sit still for too long! We really enjoy Oahu and like to “live like locals” when we’re here. Our goal for our trip was to spend some quality family time together (mainly) eating a ton of good food, and I’d like to think we’ve surpassed our goal.

    Once again thanks for reading and letting me ramble on. This TR is over!! Onto our next trip back to Oahu…where we get to stay on the North Shore for the first time! About 49 more days until we leave…I’m already making a new list of must-try food places…now to expand that belly even more…

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    Tifa, WONDERFUL trip report. Mahalo nui loa! Will use your BI info when there...in exactly two weeks we will bethere.

    Regarding the drive from KOA north to the Waikoloa area... on my first trip to BI, looking out fro the plane, the back rock below us was such a surprise. I:ve had many folks tell me since they were glad to be forewarned that it really is NOT nuclear waste dump site (:

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    Amazing trip report, packed with useful info that I'm already cutting and pasting into my document for my first trip to Hawaii next month! You're a great writer, very easy to read and I loved the details of your family adventures! Thanks for sharing and for teasing me unmercifully with your descriptions of exquisite food and venues. Mahalo!

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    @calinurse - thank you, I really enjoy writing trip reports as it keeps the memories alive. I also enjoy reading others' trip reports as it gives me ideas of what to do too. I hope you choose to do one too! And yes, the vast expanse of black rock...it does look like a wasteland at first right? But then you get to the beautiful beaches...and wow, paradise!

    @emalloy - yes it indeed was a delicious trip. Thank you!

    @tekwriter - than you so much for your kind words. I enjoy writing trip reports and also looking to others for inspiration for my trip. I hope you get a chance to write one as I like to see everyone's different perspectives. Which island(s) are you going to?

    @cd - thank you!! We didn't get to do much snorkeling this time as my family aren't really ocean people, but my husband and I did snorkel on the Big Island before and the area around the captain cook monument known as "two steps" is pretty amazing. We also snorkeled around a-bay and hapuna beach. Two steps is still the best. On Oahu we didn't do that much snorkeling, we've found that it's not the best island to do so right off shore, usually you'd have to take an excursion to get some good sealife, and we learned to dive at a spot near the ala moana docks, which was pretty cool but we paid for a boat to take us out there. Someone had recommended "electric beach" near Ewa for some great snorkeling. We'll check that out on our upcoming trip!

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    We're celebrating our tenth anniversary with my first trip to the islands (Mr. Tek had been a couple of times with his first wife) We'll be three nights in Waikiki, seven on BI (a small B&B south of Captain Cook), then five in an oceanfront condo in Poipu on Kauai, then back to Honolulu for 36 hours before our red-eye back to Denver. I'm probably most excited for BI, with the huge variety of things to see and do. Kauai will provide more of an R&R stop, I think. I derive so much of the pleasure of traveling in the planning, so when I find a rich narrative filled with information and opinion, I mine it! We're also having a mini GTG, planning to meet up with martym and Mr. M who will be on BI at the same time we are (we met at a formal GTG last summer). That's why we love Fodors!

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    @tekwriter - congrats on the 10 year anniversary! You will have an amazing time. Each island is so different, and yet all are amazing. We did the most activities on BI - and have compiled a huge Yelp list of my reviews, everything we ate and did on our past 2 trips.

    http://www.yelp.com/list/foodies-take-on-big-island-holualoa

    On our first trip there, we basically drove around in our bathing suits, and stopped wherever we could snorkel. When we went to the Hilo side, we went to that pool which is heated by the volcano - it was fun, but I didn't think it was that sanitary. But the Kapoho tide pools, those were cool. I walked and snorkeled through jagged black rocks, in ice cold water, even getting a few scrapes along the way. I really couldn't believe I was there in that location doing something I never thought I'd do...a week before that I was stuck in a subway with no air conditioning in nyc. It's amazing what a 10 hour plane ride can do.

    Poipu is really lovely, there is a beautiful crescent shaped beach where the snorkeling was pretty good. Definitely visit the Sueoka General Store. They were selling some homemade treats which are rare on other islands (like kulolo). There is also a take out window on the side of the store where you can pick up a plate lunch to eat on the beach. Now I want to go back to Kauai!

    Here's my list for Kauai. We visited in 2010 so it may be a bit dated now.

    http://www.yelp.com/list/foodies-take-on-kauai-lihue-4

    And since I'm posting all my lists I might as well throw in my Oahu and Maui ones. :)

    http://www.yelp.com/list/foodies-take-on-oahu-honolulu

    http://www.yelp.com/list/maui-wowee---a-list-of-places-we-visited-maalaea

    That is great you're meeting up with other Fodorites! You guys should post a picture! It'll be nice to see you all!

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    Wow, luckily, with the Broncos losing today's game, I have nothing but time before our departure to take in all your reviews and links.. thank you!! I'm sure lots more people will take advantage of them as well. Much appreciated!

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    Hi loved your detailed travel experience, planning to go to Hawaii including the Big Island. I love markets for local produce, eating local dishes, shopping and sightseeing, because our time is limited your review has narrowed down the must see places. Comparing the ABC shops to the swap meet markets are they the same? Price and products? Did you stop by at the Orchid farms? Have you been to the International market place? if so what did you think of it. Much appreciated.

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    Happyholidays - Thank you! Yes I think the swap meet was worth it for the souvenir trinket-type things. Lots of t-shirts, hawaiian shirts, and the like. It is slightly cheaper because of the added bonus of being able to bargain. A lot of the stalls sold the same things so you can hop around until you find the best price. However, ABC has pretty decent prices as well, and it's so convenient. They do sell the same type of items - ABC may have a better curated selection so you don't have to go from stall to stall - if you find a large ABC store you can most likely find what you're looking for. The international market place is not bad, it is worth it to walk around if you plan on walking around Waikiki anyways. Also some of the store owners are willing to negotiate on prices. Enjoy!

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    tifa, I loved your list on Yelp and have printed it out for our trip to Honolulu for graduation of grandson from U of Hawaii in December. Thank you so much for such detail.

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    JaneB - thanks and you're welcome! I am actually on my last day in oahu right Now. It's sad to leave! I actually will be updating my list over the next few weeks as we've tried even more new restaurants and activities on this trip. You will have a great time!

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    I just read this. I now have one regret. Of all our trips to the islands I have never ever felt compelled to try loco moco. But looking at the yelp pictures of Hawaiian Style Cafe, I am wondering which version to order when we someday make it back. And the Haupia pancakes intrigue as I have never encountered them on a menu.

    A very engaging report! Mahalo!

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    @travelgirl2 - Mahalo! I hope to start my next one soon. We just got back today on the red eye from Honolulu. Time to plan my next Hawaii trip!

    @Lookin_Glass = Mahalo! Loco moco really is a novelty item...like spam musubis. I eat them when in Hawaii but when I am back home...I don't really crave them and I rarely eat spam...but when in Hawaii...I think some things just don't taste the same when you're not there... :)

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    Thanks so much. I leave for Oahu next Friday and while I know its late, I am trying to gather information about what to do and your post has been so much help. It was too late to get tickets to Pearl but I thought I would go down to see if I could get day passes. I am also thinking about doing a lot of snorkeling and the atv tour you talked about. One thing I heard was there were waterfalls but didn't see anything about them in your post?

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    Yes get there as soon as it opens, like be there at 6:55am if they open at 7 if you want to secure a pass for that day, I ave done it before back in the day when passes weren't available online and it was fine. Just remember in Hawaii, the early bird gets the worm. :)

    Kualoa ranch was great, it was a lot of fun. I don't normally do anything too crazy because i have knee and arm conditions but this was fine. I don't think I remember seeing waterfalls...there were a few ponds and streams we tore through but i can't remember waterfalls. I was probably too busy freaking out if my ATV was going to flip over. :)

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    I am so excited I am heading to the Big Island for two weeks in July with my 28 year old daughter. Your post were great I now have a better idea what to do. Next step find a place to stay. One week will be on Hilo side the other Kona Side. I like to travel and experience the local flavor of a place. Where would you recommend we look on the Kona side? Captain cook or up north? Thank you

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    Hi Memajay - We have only stayed on the Kohala Coast in the Waikoloa Beach resort. Though I wouldn't say it is very "local", we had a lot of space to spread out and it was beautiful. I would say Hilo has the most local flavor. You can also try Kailua-Kona, but I thought it was prettier up north. We did drive to all the different towns though. Sorry I can't be more helpful, but we didn't experience staying at Captain Cook, Kailua- Kona, Mamalahoa, Keauhou or all the other towns. You both will have a great time though!

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    Hi, I have read your review many times as I am planning my itinerary for Waikiki for 10 days with my family. I am interested in the places you ate at as we are looking at 3 meals a day. What would be your top 10, this rating would have to be good quality and value for money? Thank you for your help.

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    Happyholidays - sure thing, I have a list of Yelp reviews on Oahu which can provide a bit more insight as well. It includes reviews from other trips to Oahu so it'll have a lot more information: http://www.yelp.com/list/foodies-take-on-oahu-honolulu


    How big of a party are you? How many adults/kids? Are there any cuisines you prefer over others? Does it have to be sit-down type of restaurants or are take-out windows ok?

    Group-wise I think Side Street Inn was awesome as the portions are large, the space can accomodate large groups, the food is great and the prices are affordable. It's a family-style place so that's what makes it so affordable. Reservations recommended.

    I also like Wailana Coffee House in Waikiki - breakfasts here are great, but they are pretty much open all the time too.

    The 2nd Floor of Shirokiya departmenet store in Ala Moana mall is a great place for cheap eats, it's like a Japanese food court and everyone can get what they want and then you all can sit together. We always eat here when we're in Oahu.

    Zippy's is a chain that serves local favorites in a casual setting. They are all over Oahu but I like the one in Kahala because it's a nicer newer setting and worth the drive. I only like the Kapahulu one for take out.

    On the North Shore, we really loved Opal Thai food, but you must make reservations ahead of time. Really authentic Thai food.

    Also on the north shore, the shrimp trucks are some of the best eats. We loved Romy's, Macky's and Fumi's.

    Kua'aina Sandwiches are delicious and fresh - available at the Ward center or on the North shore.

    Boots and Kimos for some fantastic pancakes/brunch in Kailua

    Cinnamon's for equally as good pancakes/brunch in Kailua as well

    Also Nico's Pier 38 has fresh fish at reasonable prices and they even have breakfast too.

    Most of my recs require a car to get to. I don't have that many recs in Waikiki itself because in all honesty, I think the best food and best value is outside of it and I like to explore. However, if you must eat in Waikiki, there are some options. Dukes and Tiki's are popular and not as pricey as some restaurants like Hau Tree Lanai and Roy's. Hula Grill is not bad and has a sports bar feel. I hear great things about Doraku Sushi, and a nice italian we enjoyed was Arancino on beachwalk. I tend to stay away from chain restaurants (except for Roy's).

    Also, if you are willing to drive out west, to Ko'Olina, I hear Monkeypod Kitchen is great!

    I hope this helps! Oftentimes we like to just explore and graze instead of eating a full meal...a few malasada's from Leonards, then a poke bowl from Ono Seafood or Paina cafe and then dessert of shave ice at Uncle Clay's House of Pure Aloha...those are my favorite types of adventures.

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    Thank you for the information we are a party of 2 adults and 2 kids 9 & 13 we are also travelling with 2 other families the same size. We always explore multicultural cuisine and want to try as much local food and produce as possible as my husband is originally from Malaysia so we love eating, you have given me a good variety of options to consider. We are all excited and look forward to our first trip to Hawaii in Sept.

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    toncasmo - Thank you! My family and I love to eat. I don't have a trip report for Kauai but I do have a yelp list!
    http://www.yelp.com/list/foodies-take-on-kauai-lihue-4

    It's from 2010 which is the only time I went to Kauai but lucky for us that beautiful island doesn't seem to change much! Will definitely be back - hopefully next year!

    happyholidays - you're welcome! Family vacations are great and Oahu is a great place for it, lots of family-style and lots of options. My family is from Singapore originally so I think your family will love the multicultural cuisine available on Oahu. Definitely check out side street inn. They are definitely a large group type of place. Also a great place to browse are the farmers markets which have prepared food - KCC on Saturday mornings and around Blaisdell arena on Wed evening. Lots of farm-to-table delicious food, hence Patty's rec for the Pig and the Lady stall.

    Patty - Love the Pig and the Lady! yum yum....

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    @tifa2276

    Thank you for posting such great details. I made it about half-way through the list but have to stop briefly for a breakfast break. I am thinking about eating my monitor if I sit here much longer!

    My husband and I are headed to the Big Island in August and I have little time to plan. Your attention to detail will certainly be valuable to me as I come up with our list of must see's.

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    Hi moldyhotelsaregross (love the screen name by the way) - Thank you! Hope this helps. I personally love reading Trip reports myself. Hope you do decide to do one.

    Some things I didn't mention in this TR (we did them on a previous trip)- were the different places we swam and snorkeled in. We really liked Hapuna beach for the sprawling golden sand beach and easy entry.

    There was a few beaches south of Kailua Kona and we saw many turtles. I can't remember what the names of the beaches were, but it was very small and rocky.

    We went to the kapoho tide pools and it was a really unique experience. But be careful as the lava rocks were pretty sharp. Reef shoes were a must here.

    We also went to the vocanic "heated" pool - I think it was called Alanui, which was nice, but I didn't think the water was too clean...so enter at your own risk. :)

    The area near place of Refuge or Two steps was fantastic for snorkeling.

    Here's our Big Island list in case it'll help. Have a great time!

    http://www.yelp.com/list/foodies-take-on-big-island-holualoa

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    Hi, We just came back from our first trip to Hawaii (including 2 other families)I would like to thank you for your trip report and your responses, now I understand why you love going back. It was a year in the planning using your detailed report as a guide and a lot of research paid off. We spent 5 days on the Big Island staying at Kona, Hilo and Volcano exploring a lot of the Island and many farms and markets, 13 days on Oahu visiting Pearl Habour, KFCC farmers market it was really busy (tried all the stalls you recommended they were excellent), Diamond Head, swam in the waterfall at Waimea, PCC was fantastic, Kualoa was amazing, Byodo temple, the beaches up the North Shore including Lanikai and Hanauma Bay, Pali lookout, shrimp trucks, shaved ice, shopping at the factories outlets which had the best buys including Ross for Less (nothing like it in Australia if you are willing to search for a bargain), fireworks on the beachfront of the Hilton Village, saw the annual Aloha Festival Street Parade and went to the indoor shooting range.
    Ate at many chains restaurants like Cheesecake factory, California pizza mainly due to our large group and convenience to Waikiki but also tried Poke, Luau, Wailana Coffee House,Marukame Udon, Li Hing, lots of local fruits, Mochi, Dukes, Shirokiya food court, International market place (the food court is just average) it was opposite our hotel.The customer service in Hawaii is excellent very helpful and friendly not pushy or demanding.
    The only thing I was really surprise to see were the homeless people in Paradise they slept mostly in the parks they do however keep to themselves. On our last day we gathered all our shampoo etc we collected from our hotel during our stay and any uneaten food, clothes etc and distributed to them. We left with a feeling we helped them in a small way.
    I must say Hawaii is an amazing beautiful place and it's not all about the beaches but exploring their culture, people, food and scenery we made the most of every minute and would love go back again.

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    Hi Happyholidays! Thank you! I'm so glad you had a great time. Your vacation sounds wonderful and it sounds like you did (and ate!) a lot of great stuff. That's a really nice thing you guys did with helping out the homeless. It's surprising to see in Hawaii, but I guess it is prevalent in the US more than other countries.

    Hopefully you will make it back one day! I am leaving for Maui in a week for our 5th Anniversary trip. Can't wait! I've actually started a little blog about my travels (to Hawaii and elsewhere) http://www.asplashofaloha.com

    I have some links on where we've traveled to in Hawaii, and advice on travelling there. I have even included all the trip reports I've written on Fodors too. Hope it's helpful!

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    wow! nice report tifa!

    I just wanted to add for CD that one of the best places for snorkeling is Hanauma Bay. It is a beautiful, sheltered beach not to far north of the Waikiki area (along the west coast).

    It is really spectacular!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanauma_Bay

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