Thursday, November 5, 2009

Living in Waikiki; The Big Island in 3 days

As those of you who follow me on Facebook already know, Greg & I are living in Waikiki for two months. We arrived on 16OCT and quickly settled into our one bedroom apartment about midway along the Ala Wai Canal (found through It is convenient to everything -- grocery store, restaurants, shops, the beach; and we have a wonderful lanai overlooking the canal and the inland valleys to the north. We either walk or take TheBus ($2.25/ride) everywhere. Greg works during the day, but we generally spend our free time reading, swimming in the salt water pool, exploring the area on foot, or sightseeing in Honolulu or further afield. On Friday morning, we flew to Hilo on the Big Island and picked up our rental car. Using the Fodor's Hawaii 2010 guidebook that I borrowed from the local library and a map I picked up from the tourist information center, Greg & I had already planned out our weekend. I definitely recommend doing your research before you come, especially if your time is limited, as the Big Island is huge and all the sights are quite spread out (ie, hours drive apart). We started by driving Saddle Road, which is the only road across the middle of the island, to Mauna Kea. Note that rental car companies prohibit you from driving this road, not because it's particularly dangerous or in disrepair (it appears to have been widened and repaved fairly recently) but because it is so remote and they do not want to have to come get you if you have car trouble. Also, the road up to the top of Mauna Kea, where you can see the astronomical observatory complex, is steep and unpaved for several miles. Of course, we defied our Hertz contract and drove it anyway, and were rewarded with beautiful scenery and 360 degree views. Keep in mind it is much cooler at the top of the mountain (13,796') and the air has much less oxygen, so dress in layers and be alert to signs of altitude sickness. Greg & I spent 30 minutes at the visitor center at 9000' acclimating before we drove to the top and I still felt a bit dizzy and got a headache. Our next stop was the small town of Waimea in the northwest ranch lands. We had lunch at the local coffee shop and then continued our drive down the Kohala Coast to Kailua-Kona. There are many large resorts along the Kohala coast, but note that Hwy 19 runs just inland, so in order to see the coastline up close you would need to turn off at one of the resorts and drive further west. We arrived at the Kona Tiki Hotel (see my review on TripAdvisor) in the late afternoon and dropped off our bags before driving further south on Ali'i Drive to Keauhou and back. We drank a beer at the Kona Brewing Company and had dinner at a nice sushi restaurant along the well-touristed strip of Kona. We got another early start on Saturday, driving south through coffee country to Kealakakua Bay where we watched snorkelers & kayakers interact with a group of spinner dolphins. We stopped at St Benedict's Painted Church (1875) and toured Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. From there it was about an hour drive along Hwy 11 to the turnoff for Ka Lae, the southernmost point in the United States. After one more hour we finally reached Volcano Village where we checked into My Island B&B (review on TripAdvisor) and based on current eruption information we put together our sightseeing plan for the remainder of the afternoon/evening. But first we had a filling lunch (panang curry chicken & green curry tofu) at Thai Thai Restaurant before driving east to Kea'au, south to Pahoa and out to Cape Kumukahi Lighthouse. I do recommend following the scenic one lane coastal road until it dead ends but the lighthouse is skippable (it's just a metal frame structure with a light on top, only remarkable for being untouched by the 1960 volcano eruption that destroyed the nearby town of Kapoho). The lava is currently flowing into the ocean at two locations west of Kalapana. The state has bulldozed a road which ends approx 1 mile from the site and the area is open for viewing from 5-8pm every night. This requires parking your car and walking across a lava field over 1/2 mile to a viewing point along the coast, which places you approx 1/2 mile from the lava flow. The scene was spectacular at sunset and as it got darker the explosive force of the red lava hitting the dark ocean and creating huge plumes of steam was pretty amazing. Note that you need well-soled, sturdy shoes for the walk as well as a flashlight to find your way back along the lava field. Having eaten a late lunch, we stopped at a grocery store in Pahoa and picked up sandwiches to eat for dinner when we returned to our b&b. We entered Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Sunday morning and spent the first half of the day driving the small section of Crater Rim Drive that is still open (most of it is closed due to Kilauea caldera venting), walking near the steam vents and hiking the Sulphur Banks trail, then hiking the Kilauea Iki trail. We stopped for lunch at the Kealakomo lookout on Chain of Craters Road, but it was so windy we had to eat in the car. We finished the drive to the end of the road, near Holei Sea Arch, and hiked to where the road has been overtaken by lava flows. We spent the remainder of the afternoon driving back to Hilo with a short detour north to Akaka Falls, then having no luck finding a sports bar or any suitable place to drink a beer and watch football, we checked in early at the airport and watched the World Series in a bar/cafe there. Overall this made a great long weekend trip from Honolulu, if you don't mind a lot of driving.

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