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Big Island Trip Report 2/07

Old Mar 16th, 2007, 04:37 PM
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Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 281
Big Island Trip Report 2/07

Getting from Philly to Kona turned out to be a downer-- the only one of the whole fantastic trip. I decided, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me at this point, that we would break the flights into comfortable segments, over two days: Philly to LA via USAIR, dinner with left coast daughter, and overnight in the airport Courtyard Mariott, courtesy of Amex points. All of that worked just fine. Next morning, LA to Honolulu via ATA. Got to the airport to discover the flight had been delayed. Later learned that this happens all the time with ATA. It made our connection with Aloha to Kona impossible, so we wound up taking a later flight on Go Airlines. Lots of stress in the process. Not happy. We won’t make that mistake again. From now on, we’ll break the flight in half wherever it’s convenient, stay over, and next day will fly direct to Kona.

I haven’t mentioned this was our first trip to the Big Island. We’d been to Maui a couple of times years ago, and Kauai a bunch of times, most recently renting a house on Anini Beach and loving it.
The Big Island was a whole new experience.

Picked up our car and, map in hand, headed north to our house rental in Puako. The endless vista of black lava simply stunned us-- we’d never seen anything like it. We were fascinated by it, and the messages spelled out there in white coral, but after a few miles the fascination wore kind of thin, and after a while I began having flashbacks of all the disaster movies I’d seen. All of a sudden, there we were, the last people on earth, surrounded by black devastation.

In time, the solid lava gave way to small weeds and lava, then large weeds and lava, and then the occasional scruffy shrub, and so on until the landscape began to look positively healthy and that was the point at which we turned off the road and drove down to Puako which is not a town, but a location on a road called Puako Beach Drive, maybe two miles long, next to the ocean, lots of trees, shrubs, grass, green vegetation of all sorts and, of course, sprinklered lawns. Lots on the road had originally been sold to local residents, and there were still a few very modest cottages there, but for the most part Puako is now for the affluent, and the very affluent. There were a few beach palaces going up, many really, really attractive places, and some older, but very nice, beach houses. Privacy was very important there, and most homes sat either behind stone walls or shrub walls.

So-- our place, Hale Polu Wai, was an older, charming beach house directly on the water--all the amenities, lots of glass facing the ocean, a large covered lanai where we sat a lot, slurping incredibly delicious mangos that fell regularly from a tree in our yard. Who could ask for anything more? Well, how about some entertainment? The second day we were there, in the afternoon, we were relaxing on the lanai and, perhaps 300 feet out into the ocean, dead in front of us, a humpback whale breached, twisted, and smacked back into the water. It felt as if she was practically in our laps. Durn near dropped my teeth. A couple minutes after that, we saw another one, or maybe the same one, who knows, and on it went over a period of a couple of hours. We’d see spouts, and then up would come a whale. And once we saw a mother & little one at the same time. Been coming to the islands for a fair number of years, but never saw anything like it before, and didn’t see it again, either, though from time to time there might be one whale breaching in the distance, or a spout. From time to time,
too, we’d get the feeling we were being watched, and that was when we’d spot two or three seal heads poked out of the water, with their big round eyes, looking at us.

The ocean was rough and not swimmable there, but we didn’t particularly care. There’s a pool at home, so swimming on vacation, even in the winter, isn’t too important to us. We got in the car and wandered quite a lot-- especially enjoyed the little rural town of Hawi, not a fancy dancy place, but settled by free spirits and very inviting. There are a number of shops with quality crafts and an excellent restaurant, Bamboo, offering contemporary cuisine, some island specialties and great cocktails. As best I can remember, I liked the blue things a lot. There’s also an excellent art and crafts gallery connected to it. Continuing on the same road beyond Hawi we visited Kapa’au, a neat little town with a remarkable number of art galleries.

Another day we took a drive upland, to Waimea and ranch land. I read somewhere that the Parker Ranch at one point covered 250,000 acres and I believe it. It’s beautiful rolling hills country. We were there several times, just browsing, and drove into clouds. The windshield would mist over and we’d see cloud tendrils all around us. It could get pretty windy up there, and the temperature dropped twenty or so degrees from Puako down below, so when you go, bring a light jacket.

We had dinner one evening at Daniel Thiebaut in Waimea. It is highly rated by just about everyone-- except for us. We were pretty unmoved by the food, thought it run-of-the-mill and overpriced for the ordinary quality. Our favorite restaurant near Puako was Cafe Pesto, a short drive north of Puako in Kawaihae. Inventive contemporary Pacific Rim food, a decent wine list and more good blue things to drink. Had dinner there three or four times.

Another interesting excursion took us to the Waipi’o Valley Lookout on the Hamakua coast. Stunning cliffs rise out of the ocean, similar to the Na Pali coast on Kauai, except that these cliffs are lush with green.

Leaving Pohaku heading for Volcano, we took a long and leisurely drive down the Hamakua coast. Next time we visit, I think we’ll explore that part of the island some, but this time, we were mostly interested in getting to Volcano. There is actually a Volcano town center and we pulled in at the Thai Restaurant, starving. This was another instance where we found that we didn’t think as much of it as a lot of Fodorites have, and eventually found a few other pla ces we liked much more. We’d highly recommend breakfast and lunch right across the parking area at Lava Rock Cafe, and any meal at all at Kiawe Kitchen, down the road a bit.

We checked in at The Country Goose B&B, and picked up our key and directions to Hale Ohelo, our house in Volcano. Every bit as charming and comfortable as we’d heard, it was surrounded by magnificent tree ferns. We unpacked fast, scooted out, and headed for Volcano National Park. One of the times we really enjoy being seniors is when we get to flash our National Park pass at the gate, and get admitted for free. We thought we’d just drive in a bit and get the lay of the land and see what we’d want to do the next day. So we circled the caldera and decided we would do that again the next day, and also do the Chain of Craters Road drive.

Staying at Hale Ohelo, we breakfasted at the Country Goose, and can understand why Joan is something of a legend among travelers. She’s a non-stop bundle of energy, chock full of information she happily shares, and her breakfasts are enormous and delicious. We staggered to our car, and headed for the park, just a few miles away. What an amazing experience Chain of Craters Road was, passing through desert, rain forest, woodland and ultimately seacoast, surrounded by rivers of cooled lava frozen in the most astonishing patterns. Walking out on it here and there and just standing alone, I began to grasp really for the first time the incredible force at work there. We took quite a long time on it, both down and back, stopped in at the Volcano Art Center Gallery near the Visitors Center and browsed for a bit, then headed back to our house to rest, clean up and go to an excellent dinner at nearby Kilauea Lodge (at last, we agreed with everybody else!).

Next morning, after packing in another of Joan’s outrageous breakfasts, we headed to Hilo Airport to pick up our LA daughter, who was joining us for the last leg of our trip, a stay at Lagoon House #1, in Kapoho. It wound up being a magical climax to a marvelous trip.

Actually finding Kapoho was something of a challenge, but we had excellent directions and as we took our luggage out of the car’s trunk and walked across a beautifully planted lawn up onto the deck of Lagoon House, we stopped dead and stared at the astonishing view. The house sits directly on its own large magnificently landscaped lagoon. Just past that is the well-known Champagne Pond, and just beyond that is the ocean. The view was simply knock your socks off gorgeous.

We brought our things inside, and found that inside was delightful, enhanced by beautiful bouquets of Hawaiian flowers left in all the rooms for us by the owners, who have an organic flower and fruit farm nearby. And the livingroom wall overlooking the lagoon was all glass, which of course drew us outdoors again. We walked to the edge of the lagoon, stood there just a moment, and suddenly the water in front of us, crystal clear, was teeming, literally, with fish in patterns and colors so fantastic it was hard to believe they were real. It turns out that the geothermally heated lagoon is stocked with fish from the reef area, and we had our own private 500,000 gallon snorkeling aquarium. Our instructions were to feed the fish dog food twice a day from the bucket left for that purpose, which explains why we were so popular with the fish. The property next door also had a lagoon with a resident 90 year old, 400 lb. humongous Green Sea Turtle named Arthurena, who is registered and protected by the state of Hawaii. Nobody is permitted to swim in her lagoon, but we had a grand time feeding her lettuce.

We spent a LOT of time communing with the fish in our lagoon. Sometimes we tore ourselves away and did a little exploring, but pretty much stayed off the maze of back country roads because we’d heard that backwoods Puna is home to a cross-section of people many of whom don’t welcome unexpected company, particularly of the tourist variety. That was OK with us-- we’re live and let-live people, and were just grateful that we could share our amazing portion of Puna landscape in peace.

The nearest town, about 15 minutes away is Pahoa, a one-time sugar cane railroad town that hasn’t changed much over the years. It’s got wooden sidewalks and dilapidated store fronts, and is home to children of the 60s, drop outs of the 80s and 90s, and assorted odds and ends of folks who just ended up there somehow. There are some restaurants and shops, none of which we were particularly enthused about, and a new supermarket, a bit incongrous in that setting, where we stocked up on food. To tell you the truth, I really wanted to like Pahoa, but I didn’t feel comfortable there.

We stopped a few times at a Huli Huli roadside stand just beyond Pahoa, and the BBQ chicken was incredible (oh God, I’m drooling all over my keyboard!).

We took a few trips into Hilo, perhaps half an hour or 40 minutes away, which we enjoyed a great deal, just browsing the shops, visiting the huge farmer’s market and just enjoying the atmosphere and friendliness of people on the street.

Decided that our daughter just had to see Volcano, so we journeyed up there one day and did the Chain of Craters drive with her all over again. Enjoyed it all over again too.

I’ve just realized that I haven’t said a word about the weather! We were exceptionally lucky, I guess, because we had light drizzles here and there, in Volcano mostly, but nothing that caused us any problem at all. Hilo was sunny every time we visited, and Kapoho was simply perfect!

We are so grateful to the many Fodorites on this board who answered my tiresome questions and shared their experiences and opinions. You made our trip a joy. And, of course, I’ll be happy to answer anyone else’s questions, if I can.

For those of you who might want to know more about the places we stayed, here’s contact info:

HALE POLU WAI, Puako: [email protected], Toll Free: (877) 885-8285
THE COUNTRY GOOSE, Volcano:, 800.238.7101
LAGOON HOUSE, Kapoho:; 808-965-6232
ckwald is offline  
Old Mar 16th, 2007, 05:08 PM
Join Date: May 2003
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Loved reading the TR. Thanks!
DebitNM is offline  
Old Mar 16th, 2007, 05:47 PM
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Fabulous trip report! We're considering a visit to the BI in August. Thanks for the wonderful information.
luvtravl is offline  
Old Mar 16th, 2007, 06:10 PM
Join Date: Oct 2006
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Very good report ckwald! Interesting to hear about Kopoho Beach area, as I wasn't familiar with that area.
trippinkpj is offline  
Old Mar 16th, 2007, 06:10 PM
Join Date: Oct 2006
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Sorry, Kapoho.
trippinkpj is offline  
Old Mar 17th, 2007, 06:12 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
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Excellent report ckwald! Nice to see someone venturing off the beaten path. It's obvious that you've got the aloha spirt.

Mahalo for sharing the aloha with all of us!
makai1 is offline  
Old Mar 17th, 2007, 07:02 AM
Join Date: Jun 2006
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Great report. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Did you snorkel in the Kapoho tidepools? Kapoho gets some bad press, especially on TA. But we absolutely fell in love with it.
Devonmcj is offline  
Old Mar 17th, 2007, 07:27 AM
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Devonmcj: We snorkled in our lagoon a lot, and once or twice in Champagne Pond, but only at high tide. I had some misgivings about the bacterial issues originally raised on TA, but seeing how much of the water was refreshed by the tides, I felt OK about it. In my case it was more of a concern than probably for many others, since I have to take immune suppressing drugs. Anyhow, not a problem.
ckwald is offline  
Old Mar 17th, 2007, 07:38 AM
Join Date: Mar 2008
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You stayed in some great places! I thought the house in Puako looked familiar. It is indeed the house that my aunt used to rent for a month every year. I stayed there for a week 28 years ago! What a great spot. Have not been back since. Time to go! Mahalo.
iamq is offline  
Old Mar 17th, 2007, 07:57 AM
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I've posted some photos, if you'd like to look:
ckwald is offline  
Old Mar 17th, 2007, 08:51 AM
Join Date: Jul 2003
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I can't seem to access the photos. We drove down Puako Road on our last visit to the Big Island and decided we'd really like to stay there next time. Very peaceful, and a close drive to the nice Kohala beaches. Very enjoyable trip report. Thanks.
Barbara5353 is offline  
Old Mar 17th, 2007, 10:01 AM
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 59
Mahalo for an excellent TR. I too have visited Kauai 4 times and am currently planning our first trip to the BI next May. I feel better knowing that a fellow Kauai lover also loves the BI...very reassuring. Our itinerary is much like yours. We will fly into Hilo, stay in Kapaho two or three days and then 7 or 8 days in Kona. Call me crazy, but I really have no desire to see the volcano but would much rather spend time looking around Hilo and the Puna district. We are also seniors and would have to see most sights from the rental car.....difficult or long hikes are not an option.
Once again thank you for your report...I have printed a hard copy and will refer to it alot! Harry
gr8yt is offline  
Old Mar 17th, 2007, 10:12 AM
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A truly inspiring report!!!
Old Apr 5th, 2007, 05:12 PM
Join Date: Jan 2007
Posts: 14
Great trip report! My husband and I are planning a 25th anniversary trip for Sept. I am thinking a week on Kauai and a week on the Big Island. I am interested in where you have stayed on Kauai-we are not "big resort" people and not really into condos. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. I am feeling overwhelmed with trying to plan.
Winifred is offline  
Old Apr 5th, 2007, 07:35 PM
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 3,849
Your report is great! If you don't mind my asking, what kind of deal did you find for a rental car? We're going in May and the best I've found is $327 for a convertible (sebring) for the week.

Also, I couldn't get your picture link to pull up recent Hawaii pictures. It included several different peoples albums of different places (?)

olesouthernbelle is offline  
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