Roxy goes to the Big Island (revised)

Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:41 PM
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Roxy goes to the Big Island (revised)

ROXY GOES TO THE BIG ISLAND AND DOESN'T VISIT THE VOLCANO!

I went to the Big Island, all by my lonesome, September 22-27, 2004. I flew Aloha Air again, from Burbank CA, once again assaulted by the queer vegetarian cuisine (a bed of dry spaghetti with a folded veggie burger filled with salsa/sauce? and flanked by three-odd asparagus??) but this time luxuriated in a row all to myself. Flying goes by SO much faster if you can lie all the way down. And I like the milk and cookies before landing, what can I say?

Now, sit back and enjoy another of my patented trip reports, action packed with details and commentary. I've divided it into sections and have included a section at the end with random thoughts and bits of info. I used the guidebook Big Island Revealed, referred to as BIR. Important points are in bold. Less important points are also in bold. Let me know if you have any questions, as long as "Why did you go all that way and not visit the volcano?" is not one of them.

Hotels
Snorkeling
Hikes/Activities
Beaches
Restaurants
Miscellani


P.S. Ignore the first attempt at this post, hopefully this one will work all the way through...if not, I'm giving up and joining the hippies in downtown Kona.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:44 PM
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HOTELS


Hawaiian Naniloa Hotel Hilo

Stayed at the Hawaiian Naniloa Hotel in Hilo on Banyan Drive, on the waterfront. The grounds and buildings were quite nice but the room was clunky and aged. Not aged like a fine wine, neither. More like the mold in the picture frame over the nightstand. It was just an old hotel room, not awful, but I felt like I was in the lap of luxury when I moved to the Keauhou Beach Resort, which was awesome but downmarket compared to the later Mauna Kea. I reserved the Naniloa's cheapest room through their website ($80 with fees) but ended up having a pretty good partial view of the ocean from the balcony. There are two pools, one smaller one that sits right on the pretty shoreline (closed when I wanted it) and a second, quite large pool with a cute rock waterfall. Which had a ladies' water aerobics class being conducted in it when I was there. I like big butts and I cannot lie. Oh, mercy. The desk staff was a little surly upon checkin. I called to ask for a hairdryer and was told I could check one out for an hour, but the guy who (promptly) brought it up let me keep it overnight. You're not really going to feel like you're on your Hawaiian vacation here, but for me it was just a place to rest my head for a night and explore Puna. Everything worked though at least. Oh, and the toilet has one of those industrial-strength black seats and a "kick it with your foot" flush handle, like in public restrooms.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:48 PM
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Ohana Keauhou Beach Resort
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:49 PM
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This place is a little Hawaiian gem. Like a chunk of olivine in the sun. The hotel sits right on the shore, next door to Kahalu'u Beach. I got their $119 super saver room from their website, a "standard" room which ended up having a view out over the lawn and to the ocean and tidepools. The front desk is open air, and the lobby, lounge, and restaurant areas are open on all sides, giving the place a wonderful breezy feel. The pool is a few steps down from these common areas, on the shoreline but shielded from it with landscaping. I ended up never going in it, and what I was hoping was a jacuzzi was only a kiddie pool. The pool was pretty small, but there were a lot of lounge chairs and it's in a nice sunny spot, although you're at the center of attention, being surrounded by the main restaurant, the lobby, and the lounge. The beach side restaurant is surrounded by a pretty little gardens/fishpond area that I meandered through on my way back from the next door beach (there's an access gate from the property). Having a good snorkel spot next door is a big plus too. Just be aware that it's definitely NOT a frolicking/laying out type of beach. The sand is an odd grayish color and is rough and gravelly. It's a popular spot but the bay is big enough to not feel crowded in the water.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:50 PM
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My standard room was a pleasant surprise (and a huge step up from the Naniloa)...big and bright and airy and included a balcony. It was very clean, the furnishings modern and not kitschy Hawaiiana, with this low pile nubby carpet I liked. The bathroom is separated into the sink/vanity/closet area and the shower/toilet. There was lots of counter space around the sink and they give you lots of little bottles of creams and stuff, although I was really disappointed they didn't supply any bubble bath. They give you a great shower/tub combo where the tub is big and sunken and square, but no bubble bath, not even hiding at the front desk or in the gift shop. Although I didn't use them, there are laundry facilities that take access in the lobby.

Their Verandah Lounge is awesome...it's in the section of the hotel that cantilevers out over the tidepools (you can get a room in this section) so you can sit and enjoy looking at the fish and counting turtles and catching the sunset, AND they light up the tidepools at night, giving the whole place a wonderful surreal glow, backed by a trio of Hawaiian musicians.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:50 PM
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In two days, I ate every meal but one at the hotel, and the food was quite good. For lunch a big, unshredded lettuce Caesar with a whole juicy sliced tomato...for dinner a tasty shrimp dumplings appetizer and standard fish and chips...for breakfast, once off the menu and once from the buffet, both of which were quite good and well prepared; the buffet was standard but thorough and had good fresh fruit offerings. The service was always excellent, very friendly and attentive. I didn't get to try the casual beach side restaurant because it was closed my whole stay. Beware of the feral cats with the enormous begging saucer eyes...I got scratched feeding one when the fish got stuck to my hand and the cat was quicker than the eye.

There is a string of shops and a salon on the first floor near the lobby. I had a great 10 minute chair massage at the salon one afternoon. It's a great, cheap little way to start or end the day.

I only stayed here two days, but I would love to stay again for a longer time. It's removed from the hustle and bustle of Kona, but not so far as to turn into a chore (around ten minutes up Ali'i Dr). Keauhou (Kee-uh-hoo, or so I've heard it said) is a good base for exploring what's to the north and to the south.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:51 PM
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Mauna Kea Beach Hotel

What a way to end the trip. I love, love, love this hotel, in all its quiet elegance and understated grace. Upon arrival, the valets were wonderfully helpful and I was greeted with a plumeria lei. The lobby/common areas are open air, with views out to the ocean. A very nice young man helped me up to my room, and complimented me on my spartan packing abilities. The hotel has an asian decor, very subtle, not ostentatious at all, just clean geometry and natural materials, lots of dark wood and aged metals, with tropical foliage and koi ponds. There really is a genuine serenity imparted by the place. It's not shabby at all, but it just feels like it's been there a long time, as though it's always existed, blending into itself, enveloping you with a real sense of place, time tested and comforting.

The one small complaint I have, which is a lame one really, is that my room was at the farthest end of the hotel, waaay down the wing from the central areas. It took a good six or seven minutes to get anywhere, which is a small gripe, but I know it bothers some people. And it was a little creepy feeling at night, with dark gardens on one side and the twists and turns of the outdoor hall, with lots of nooks for someone to hide in. I actually started running once (should've had someone escort me in retrospect, but running's cool too). The elevators and floors are a bit confusing too; which places were up or down was not instinctive.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:51 PM
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I reserved a beach front room for $375/nt online, more than half the listed rack rate. My room was on the fourth and top floor of the southern wing. WHAT A GORGEOUS ROOM! There was nothing shabby at all about the place, a comment I've heard circulated. It was large and spotless, lovely furnishings, and had a balcony with nice furniture and a wonderful view of the water through the coconut trees. The feeling was light and breezy throughout, with no Hawaiian kitsch. The colors used were natural tones of brown and beige and bronze, and there's lots of dark, rich wood throughout. The floor is cool and uncarpeted, with a natural fiber area rug at the center. There was a desk, a couch with end tables, and a sitting area with a table. There's a little fridge in this built in console/pantry-ish area, all of that dark beautiful wood (and a welcome fruit plate in the fridge). The bathroom separated the sink/closet area from the toilet/shower. The washroom had two big dark wood closets built in on either side. The big counter had double sinks and lots of little Neutrogena products. I had to take the shower cap covered in the little orange plumeria logo, I LOVE that design! The white and orange makes you feel like a creamsicle, I adore it. While the front room was quite big, the toilet room was VERY cramped. There was a tub/shower combo, and everything worked fine and the showerhead had a nice big spray. More than anything though, I enjoyed the toilet paper folded into a point and embossed with the plumeria logo. That's class.

And, of course, it wouldn't be Hawaii without the two tiny resident geckos who shared the room with me. We watched MTV together and ate bugs.

The pool is one level above the beach, and though smallish, was pretty and surrounded by trees. I describe the magical beach in the beaches section, and the restaurants in that section.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:54 PM
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Two words: oceanside massage. Mmmm. Sunday morning I started my last day with a lomi lomi massage. There was a little confusion with where to go and where the hell is everyone, but I made it. You cross the property down to a piece of shady, gravelly shoreline, very pretty. The masseuse, a white guy named Miguel, was down there with the table set up. The hour long, fully body massage was sublime, with the sound of the water and the ocean breeze caressing your skin. Lomi lomi is where they use gentle pressure, incorporating forearms and elbows into the massage in long, kneading strokes. I've read it is supposed to begin with a prayer in Hawaiian but mine didn't (come on, Miguel). He began by covering me in a big white sheet, and for the first roughly ten minutes he massaged me through the sheet, which was unusual and nice. My favorite parts were the hands and feet, on which he used a technique where he would just hold them, intertwining his fingers with mine and squeezing a little bit and holding, for example. Different, and deeply relaxing, as was when he put both hands near the base of my head and simply held them there for a minute, ohhh. I floated back to my room, layed down on the bed for what was supposed to be a minute and then found my deep sense of relaxation wouldn't let me get up so I gave in to napping. It's a wonderful introduction to massage (my first real one besides the chair massage), and oceanside is the way to go. Well worth the price of admission.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:54 PM
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I was very sad to have to leave this hotel. If you're looking to not leave the resort for a few days and relax, this is a wonderful place to do it. The place sort of envelops you with a warm breezy caress that leaves you feeling calm and peaceful. My favorite hotel ever. I have the plumeria keychain to prove it.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:55 PM
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SNORKELING


Honaunau Bay

Probably the best snorkeling I've done yet between the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai was adjacent to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau (Place of Refuge) National Park. I think sometimes it's called Two Steps, I assume because where everyone enters there's two rough steps in the stone. It was a sunny day and the clarity and sparkliness was wonderful. It was truly the best realization of my Hawaiian snorkel fantasies...TONS of actually colorful coral (not grey coralline algae, thanks Kauai) in shapely spires and towers, schools of fish everywhere, and I was actually almost running into enormous turtles because of how often they were cruising through. The colors and towering shape of the coral actually made it feel like you were snorkeling in an underwater palace. I only found one eel though, but he was a black and white spotted beauty, his body slithering through a big section of rock crevice. The area was pretty calm but there are several surgy areas, if you look at Big Island Revealed's map, they show exactly where they are. You'll know when you feel them; I tried to watch the eel, but the surge just kept pushing me past him. There were about two dozen people spread out when I was there late Friday morning. The shoreline is mostly tiny and there's no sandy beach but there is some shade, and some people even set up chairs on the flat lava shelf you walk over to the entry point. All in all, a place not to be missed for snorkel freaks, and looking up and seeing the little thatched heiaus of the park off in the distance is very cool, it creates an awesome sense of place.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:55 PM
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Kahalu'u Beach

Kahalu'u Beach was also full of turtles, but the coral gardens were not as lush and the fish count not as high. I saw two turtles munching on a snack together, and enjoyed seeing one nip the other in the behind. The sand there is grey, so you don't get the amount of reflected light you do in places with golden sand. Also, it helps if you go in the morning, because by midday and definitely by late afternoon, the vog's rolled in, cutting down on the sunny sparkly quality. There is an old breakwater though, so it was very very calm. This is not a lounging/frolicking beach. The sand is grey and drab and there's lots of slates of rock and the whole area is a little chunky/gravelly. Not to mention the pavillion filled with party types. It was pretty crowded late afternoon, although the proximity to the Keauhou Beach Resort (next door, a brief walk down the pretty garden path) can't be beat.


Mauna Kea Beach

I got in an 8am snorkel here before my massage at the hotel, and it was well worth it. I went in at the far south end and by the rocks there's a section of coral and a fair amount of fish. The clarity wasn't bad, it's almost always sunny in Kohala, and the water is gorgeous with a clean golden sand bottom. Not really a "destination snorkel", but good nonetheless if you only have to stumble out of your hotel room to get there.

I've reviewed Kiholo Bay in another section, but I did actually do a brief snorkel out to the peninsula there. There was NOTHING out there, with the exception of a school of about a dozen big fish I saw briefly. The little underwater freshwater volcanoes are cool, but this is not a snorkel spot, and the murky water makes me nervous.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:56 PM
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HIKES / ACTIVITIES


Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Park (Place of Refuge)

What a wonderful peaceful place to wander around (and adjacent to awesome snorkeling, once you've worked up a sweat). It was either $5 or $10 a car (I forget now) but it's good for a week and I think it gets you into the other National Parks (Volcanoes, etc). The place is covered in swaying coconut trees and the hard packed sandy ground has a wonderful crunch underneath your feet. It's an easy, flat walk all around the grounds. There are many fish ponds, as well as the large shelters where people were making traditional crafts and so on. I saw a man working on a canoe, which was pretty cool, but it's dark inside the shelter and really bright outside so it's hard to see in, despite the fact that you're standing right up front. One of the highlights for me was the sacred beach near the carved wooden tikis, which is a gorgeous little crescent of sand with gentle laps of stunning aquamarine water, fringed by coconut trees bending over the water, and allegedly a turtle hangout (I didn't see any). Did I really need six pictures from every angle? The other part I really enjoyed was the area around the thatched heiau/tikis. There's a lava shelf with tidepools to wander around and a good vantage point of the whole area. A quiet, reverent, peaceful place.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:57 PM
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Ahalanui Warm Pond

Oh, what a place for a morning. The early morning trip out through the Puna area brought a terrible driving rain, so bad I wanted to pull over but couldn't even do that safely because I could barely see what might be at the edge of the road. Once I got there (easy to find, good signs), it started pouring again before I got in the water, and taking shelter in a little tin lifeguard shack with the rain pounding around me was pretty cool. There were only three other people when I was there around 8am, until about an hour later when a BUSLOAD of kids arrived as I was leaving. The rain let up and I got in and enjoyed some gorgeous cloud formations and colors out over the ocean. Enhanced with entry/exit steps and railings, the pool is really big and the water a soothing 90 degrees. The pool comes right up to a breakwater so the ocean water comes in, along with a few reef fish. If you float right there, the flux of warm and cool water is sublime. Surrounded by a thick grove of coconut trees, Ahalanui is a spectacular place for both meditation and playtime.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:59 PM
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Kiholo Bay

This is a long walk through awful gravelly sand that sinks under your feet but with a pretty cool payoff at the end. Even though it was only a few miles, the sand made it seem like farther. Following the road described in BIR, I parked on the side and walked the remaining short distance. There's a couple of really pretty houses on the shore, including the Bali House described in BIR. There were several families all along the way with rough n tumble vehicles parked on the back shore, barbecuing and camping. You cross a little bridge over a stream and then you're crossing big boulders to get to the tiny beach where it's easiest to enter if you want to swim to the lava rock islands or the peninsula. There's some shade there and a few places to sit. With the encouragement of some other travelers, I snorkeled out to the peninsula. It was like a three minute snorkel through murky water with zero fish or life. The peninsula itself has a rough shoreline with broken coral and lava rock and some dead fish. I ended up not really exploring at all because it was SO hard on my tender dogs. Mostly I just enjoyed the palm trees growing out of the water and trying to spot turtles. Honestly, it's not THAT great, I mean, actually being on the peninsula or the lava rock islands isn't a fantastic adventure and it was a little cruddy. Beware too, if murky water makes you nervous like it makes me nervous. The area was quite lovely and very quiet for most of the walk, which was maybe the best part.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 09:59 PM
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BEACHES


The beaches at Honaunau Bay, Kiholo Bay, and Kahalu'u are all reviewed in the snorkeling and hikes/activities sections.


Magic Sands Beach

Proud to say, I managed to get absolutely drilled into the sand here. This is a boogie boarding paradise, the water choked with kids on boards and the shady little beach crowded. It's right near town, directly on Ali'i Drive, which accounts for its popularity. The water was clean and pretty here, but when I was there at around 3pm the waves were really going. I paddled out past the breakers to bob around on my boogie board, which was really nice for a while. But when it was time to go in, I made a firm decision to get picked up by a whalloping wave, pounded underwater, and then deposited on the sand, where, despite being on land, I proceeded to struggle against the continual onslaught of more waves, trying not to lose my errant fin or my hat (sunglasses were goners), or, for that matter, my bikini. It took me twenty minutes in the hotel shower later to get all the sand out of my particulars. That must've been the "magic" part. So, needless to say, be careful here when the surf is up.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 10:00 PM
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Kehena black sand beach (mm 19 on Hwy 137)

BIR claims you can walk down to this beach. There is actually a makeshift sign at the trailhead so I knew I was in the right place, but once I walked down, I reached the edge of a cliff and couldn't figure out how to get down. So I remained there and enjoyed the pretty cove of black sand from above. The foam really does slither when it touches the sand. As a side note, I parked my car at the circular parking area on the oceanside near the trailhead. It was raining, and I was still wet from swimming at Ahalanui. I was walking up the road with my backpack, looking like a lost drowned rat, and these two local old ladies stopped to see if I was okay or needed a ride. I told them where I was going and they told me they worried about me swimming by myself down there, which I assured them I wouldn't dare. It was so cute!
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 10:00 PM
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Kaimu black sand beach (where Hwys 130 and 137 meet)

This is the new black sand beach that you reach by hiking over the lava field that covered the town of Kalapana. It's at the end of the road, where there were a few souvenir shacks and a burger hut, and plenty o' tourists, from a bus I think. It's a five to ten minute hike over the smooth pahoehoe lava fields, which are fascinating to see. Smooth and ropy, like poured cake batter, the lava gets long cracks running through it where ferns sprout up and where the rain water runs through, making a bewitching trickling sound. As you approach the beach, the sand begins to take over gradually and you start to see the young coconut trees people have planted to regrow a new shady beach. The sand itself is super soft, I was very surprised. The water was wild and dark blue, and I never get tired of watching the white foam disappear into the inky sand. The weather moves quickly on that part of the island so the whole scene is very dramatic, with clouds moving in and out and the sky changing color. A dramatic, rough hewn little piece of nature.
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 10:01 PM
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Mauna Kea Beach

Oh what a sweet, sweet beach. Way dreamy and perfect for sunning and frolicking. The rich golden sand meets up with warm, calm, deep aqua waters with no obstacles to stub a tootsie on. The rows of lounge chairs, umbrellas, and those vivid orange hotel towels only add to the classic vacation scene. The hotel even has a cute beachside outdoor cafe for when you need to nosh after too much frolicking and lounging. BIR says the hotel only gives a certain amount of parking passes, but I was a hotel guest so I don't know what it's like, but early morning and late afternoon were pretty quiet and midday was packed. If you're looking for a postcard pretty stretch of beach to spend the day, this is it. I tried to give it a hug before I left but I think it was a little shy. (What did the ocean say to the shore? Nothing, it just waved.)
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Old Nov 22nd, 2004, 10:01 PM
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RESTAURANTS

I've reviewed the dining at the Keauhou Beach Resort in the section on hotels. Dining at the Naniloa Hotel in Hilo seemed like a bad idea everytime it struck me, cruising by the options. The Mauna Kea Hotel restaurants are reviewed below.


Uncle Billy's Hilo

I ate dinner here, next door to my hotel because my hotel's restaurant seemed depressing. Uncle Billy's had live music floating out and lots of people and Hawaiian decor. I had to wait a little bit in their bar, which was surprisingly dark and depressingly dive-y, despite the tropical theme; very weird. The atmosphere at dinner was fun, though I declined being brought on stage to learn a dance. I had clam chowder and a simple grilled fish with rice and veggies, all of which was tasty and nicely presented. The service was fine, and overall it was a fun place to go with the family, not romantic though on any level.
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