We followed Lonely Planet’s advice and headed to Waialea Bay and Beach 69 in Puako in the Kohala district. This “salt and pepper” sand beach had calm waters which provided for great snorkeling. There was an abundance of colorful fish and sea urchins. The most exciting moment was when we stood up so I could adjust my mask and snorkel. Stuart spotted something pop up on the water’s surface. That something turned out to be a sea turtle coming up for air! We immediately stuck our faces under the water to try and catch a glimpse of creature but he was nowhere to be found.
In Waimea we had a fancy dinner at Merriman’s. Merriman’s was one of the flagship Hawaiian Regional restaurants, showcasing local ingredients. The prices are steep but the experience and taste were completely worth it. Stuart even tried ceviche (it was the special appetizer for the night and was made with coconut milk) for the first time. One of the things I thought too genius, and completely unique, was the option to do two half sized entrees on one plate. Stuart took this route with their famous Wok-Charred Ahi and Macadamia-Crusted Ono. I chose a half portion of the local beef with potatoes, corn, and asparagus. I have to admit, I chose this entrée because those are my three favorite side dishes (but the beef was perfectly cooked too)! Coffee and dessert were not to be missed either. Stuart had the Caramelized Coconut Crème Brulee (I think he picked this menu item because he knew he wouldn’t be able to share :P) while I had the Black Chocolate Espresso Cake. I had been dreaming about this cake the entire hour drive to the restaurant, so even though I was full I still ordered it. I took most of it back to the hotel with me and I ate bites of it during the week. Is it wrong to say that I enjoyed the cake cold better?
Things to do on our next trip (aka things we didn’t have time for but wanted to see)
Dolphin Quest; 425 Waikoloa Beach Dr. If you want to kiss a dolphin this is the way to do it. Dolphin Encounters cost $210 for 30 minutes, per person.
After every trip, my father would always ask, “What was your favorite part?” It’s never an easy question to answer. I cheated in my response after this vacation… I have a favorite activity and a favorite experience.
My favorite activity of the trip was kayaking. My travel book, Lonely PlanetHawaii: The Big Island (Regional Travel Guide), offered many options for kayak rentals and great locations to put the kayak into the water. However, I was not confident enough to trust the two of us a “divorce boat” without the experience of a tour guide. (My favorite experience will be told later… stay tuned!)
In South Kona, we booked a morning tour from Aloha Kayak Company. They have two kayaking/snorkeling tours – a 3.5hr Keauhou Sea Cave & Cliff Jumping and a 3.5hr Kealakekua Dolphin Kayak. The latter is their most popular that lands near the Captain Cook monument, and has a high probability of dolphin sightings. We opted for the Sea Caves tour, it has less snorkeling but I am always awed by the power of waves splashing against the rocky coastline and was excited to experience it from the ocean perspective. Stuart and I were the only two booked on the tour!
We were surprised and privileged to see a pod of dolphins swim directly towards us! We lifted our paddles and just watched them – tails slapping the surface, noses and blowholes emerging from below. Our guide, Nick, said that dolphins in that area are very rare. Unfortunately we forgot the GoPro at home so weren’t able to capture the moment on “film”, but Stuart says that it’s an image he will never forget.
After it was safe to paddle again we made our way to the first sea cave. We pivoted the kayaks and backed into the mouth of the cave. The caves are much smaller than I’d imagined them to be. There was only room for us and Nick. (On a larger tour group kayakers take turns in the cave) We sat in the cave for about five minutes, combating the waves with our paddles, feeling the swell of the ocean, and hearing the crash of water against rock echo around us… until a strong wave pulled us out into open water! The second cave we backed into had a small lava tube running to a neighboring cave and we could see the light bouncing off the walls – I took a photo of it with a cell phone, but it’s impossible to decipher what it is.
We then anchored the kayaks and Stuart and Nick took to cliff jumping. They climbed the rock face above the cave we were just in and jumped into the crystal blue waters below. I enjoyed the comfort of the kayak and videoed the jumps with the cell phone. I took in the beautiful scenery around me and basked in the perfect weather.
Snorkeling was next on the agenda. The waters are so clear that snorkeling along the Kona Coast is good anywhere. Stuart spotted an eel snaking its way along the bottom of the ocean and I floated there watching the large fish slink in and out of the rocks.
We hit a black sand beach in North Kona – Kiholo Bay. The sand wasn’t as black as I was expecting it to be, it was just slightly darker than dirt. But the weather was perfect and the views spectacular. The waters were a little too rough and the rocks pretty sharp for snorkeling. According to Lonely Planet this beach is good for sporting turtles when the tide is out because they come to feed on the abundant seaweed – we must’ve been there during high tide.
Stuart is a big coffee drinker so we had to take a tour of a coffee plantation. Hawaii is the only US State that grows it’s own coffee, and the volcanic soil is what makes Kona Coffee award winning. We went to one of the oldest coffee plantations on the island – Greenwell Farms. I’ve never claimed to know anything about coffee, but there was so much that I wasn’t aware that I didn’t know! The coffee plant is related to the gardenia (my favorite flower)! There are two coffee beans in each coffee berry. Coffee berries are picked when they turn cherry red. Coffee farmers get paid by the pound, $1.60/lb, of coffee cherries – and in Kona everything is hand picked!
Things to do on our next trip (aka things we didn’t have time for but wanted to see)
St. Benedict’s Painted Church; 85-5140 Painted Church Rd. Father John Berchmans Velghe painted the walls of his church with scenes from the Bible in an effort to convert the native people to Catholocism. They have services in Hawaiian on the 2nd Sunday of every month.
For the next week or so Sew You Think You Can Cook will be transformed into a travel blog! Get excited – I know I am! The last week in August, Stuart and I travelled to The Big Island to celebrate my 25th birthday. I will be sharing our pictures and adventures with you – providing opinions on activities, restaurants, and more.
This specific post will be an overview of our trip – where we went, what we did, what we’d change. The following posts will more specific to location.
Disclaimer: All posts in this series and all mentions to companies are my personal opinion and I am in no way being paid or sponsored.
In February we started to plan (okay, day-dream about) my birthday vacation. I wanted to go somewhere/do something fun for the big two-five. For Stuart’s we had gone snowboarding in Colorado for a week (Jan 2012). The idea for Hawaii came to me because The Weather Channel had a slide show of volcano/lava photos.
So I started my research.
When going to Hawaii, there is one question that you must answer first: Which island? Hawaii Gaga has a great quick quiz that you can take and it will recommend the top 4 islands for you. They also break down their description of how they determine island rankings. When I took the quiz The Big Island tied for 3rd. So why did I still go to there?
Because of my answer to question number two! What is the number one thing you want to do/see? My answer: Lava! Being home to one of the world’s most active volcanos, I knew the Big Island was my optimal destination.
I’d also considered doing an island hopping cruise. It’s not particularly easy to island hop and if you want to see the most of the 50th state this might be your best choice, however it’s not the cheapest way to visit Hawaii. Granted, unless you know someone living there, there isn’t really a cheap way to do Hawaii. I checked and compared every travel website as well as calculated a total of booking everything (hotel, flights, car) separately. I finally settled on booking through Delta Vacations – it ended up being the same price as Expedia for the exact same trip, and I liked having the peace of mind of booking a Delta flight through Delta Airlines. I can’t promise you it’ll be the cheapest option for your trip, but it’s worth it to check vacation deals through hotels and airlines too!
After you decide on your island destination you have to pick where you’ll stay – whether you’ll rent a condo/house, stay in a hotel/resort, or find a hostel. We stayed at The Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. It had a great location (within walking distance of food, shops, beaches), beautiful views (ocean view rooms available), and was recently renovated. Ultimately, it’s everything you’d expect from a Courtyard Marriott.
However, this point brings us to the first (and only) thing I would have changed about our trip. King Kam is located in Kailua-Kona on the Western side of the island. You could very easily spend your entire vacation in the Kona districts, if you’re looking for great snorkeling and nice beaches then that’s all you need. If you’re interested in “Adventure Hawaii” as I like to call it, Kona might not be the ideal landing spot. On our next trip (yes, we’re already ready to go back!) we’ve determined that it’d be best to spend half of the trip in Kona and half of the trip on the opposite side of the island in Hilo. Great hiking can be found in Hilo and it’s closer to the Volcano. We actually spent a great deal of our vacation in the car getting from one side of the island to the other. But, driving on Hawaii roads is much more enjoyable to mainland interstates!
On Tuesday we spotted a cruise ship off the Hilo coast and again in Kona on Wednesday. Most island hopping cruises make these two stops on the Big Island. Stuart and I both were glad that we didn’t opt for a “Cruise Hawaii” vacation. By renting a car, we had great freedom with our schedule and never felt rushed.
I bought a travel book (Lonely Planet Hawaii: The Big Island (Regional Travel Guide)) and read it on the 9.5 hr plane ride. I preferred this book to others because it broke the island up into districts which allowed me to “plan” each day by location and see as much as possible without being inefficient in our travels. We hit each of the 9 districts in Hawaii County. In fact, this vacation was the first time I’d ever not had a plan for every minute of every day – it was such a strange feeling and by Thursday I was over it and ready for an official schedule!
If the Big Island isn’t on your bucket list already, I urge you to add it and hope that our photographs do the island the justice it’s due. (When I figure out how, I’ll create an album on my blog for the photos that don’t make the posts directly.) Here is a link to my Facebook photo album from our trip!