Hawaii: The Big Island: Kailua-Kona

Because our hotel was in Kailua-Kona, we did a lot of our eating along Alii Drive!  Alii Drive is the “main strip” in downtown Kailua-Kona. There are plenty of shops and restaurants within walking distance of each other and is along the shore so everywhere you go you have a view of the ocean. The weather in Kailua-Kona is always perfect too!

Breakfast:

  • Our favorite breakfast place was Splasher’s Grill for their French toast. The French toast is made with Hawaiian sweet bread! The Portuguese sausage on the side is a great accompaniment to the sweetness of the bread. Their hash browns were perfectly crispy too.  The staff at Splasher’s was always friendly.
  • Live Music at Island Lava JavaWe had also gone to Island Lava Java for breakfast one morning. Sit outside for a spectacular view of the ocean and to listen to live music. Stuart got the Luau Omelette which featured kalua pork and grilled pineapple.  Lava Java was always busy for breakfast, so I was surprised to have slow service – but in Hawaii you’re never in a hurry, you’re on “Hawaii Time”.
  • Another perfectly located restaurant was The Fish Hopper, where we saw dolphins jumping in the ocean and three freshly caught ono, over five feet long, were brought in and taken straight to the kitchen! Stuart got the Catch of the Day Benedict and the French Pressed Kona Coffee. I ordered the Macadamia Nut French Toast. The French toast was garnished with shredded coconut, which I am allergic to, but the wait staff and kitchen staff were very friendly and quick at getting me a fresh order.
  • Hand Drip Coffee at Kona de PeleTwice we stopped at Cafe Kona de Pele for their hand dripped Fancy Roast coffee. They also have ice cream and I enjoyed a coffee blended with coffee ice cream. The staff was very friendly and we spent time talking to locals, getting recommendations on sights that weren’t to be missed.

Lunch:

  • We weren’t often still in Kailua-Kona around lunch time, but we did try Island Lava Java’s lunch menu. Stuart’s Fresh Island Fish Sandwich with tomato-fennel jam was his favorite. And my Kilauea Sandwich with turkey and caramelized onions was surprisingly good. The secret is their freshly baked bread!

Dinner:

  • Most nights we didn’t get back to Kailua-Kona until 10pm or later! But one evening we did go to Humpy’s for a burger and delicious Caesar salad. They have a large menu and fantastic beer list featuring a lot of local brews.

Dessert:

  • Shaved Ice is a Hawaiian favorite treat. It’s essentially a SnoCone. We first tried it and were not impressed – SnoBiz in Auburn blew this shaved ice out of the water! We then discovered that for authentic shaved ice we had to go to Scandinavian Shave Ice. So we did! The difference was huge. At “Scandi’s” they allow their ice to start to melt before shaving it which allows the ice to become clear. They had many more flavor options to choose from too. After drenching the ice in your choice of three flavors they pack it down. The ice was so smooth and you could really taste the flavored syrup. Stuart and I split a kid’s size.

Shopping:

  • We really didn’t do shopping on our trip, however one thing that I absolutely have to purchase on any vacation is a Christmas ornament. We finally found one (August isn’t exactly Christmas time) at the Eclectic Craftsman! It was a great store featuring local artists.
  • My mother-in-law always hits a quilt shop on a vacation. She likes to see what different fabrics stores in different parts of the country carry. It’s a different way to see a crafting culture. I followed suit and went to Quilt Passions right next to our hotel. The ladies there were so friendly, and insanely patient with my browsing and were never pushy. They actually carry a couple patterns that were developed exclusively for their store, so I had to pick up one of them! I also have to give a shout out to my husband for not only being patient with me, but also helping select fabrics and providing an opinion on the patterns we selected. I decided to create my own jelly roll out of 12-13 different batiks.
  • Stuart and I do not agree on painted art. Stuart loves intricate detail and while I enjoy detailed landscape paintings, I’m drawn toward abstract pieces. We’re also drawn to different color palates too. We are aware of this difference, so when we enter an art store we’re prepared for some disagreement. We peeked into just about every art store on the Alii strip and found one we could agree on, Colors of Paradise. We met one of the artists and his wife while we were there, such friendly and talented people. If you’re ever in Kailua-Kona I urge you to check out this great studio.

My favorite thing about Alii Drive was Kailua Bay and Niumalu Beach, where we found two sea turtles eating off of the rocks along the sea wall. I named the turtles Seth and Sandy. When we spotted them we were heading back from Island Lava Java to get in the car and head to South Point. We made the biggest tourist mistake of not having the camera with us, so we prolonged our road trip, got the camera, and rushed back to the beach. Luckily they were still there and we got some fantastic photos. The following morning Seth and Sandy were back and chomping away. We were informed that there were others along the sidewalk too! Sylvester was hanging out by himself enjoying the greens growing on the rocks.  A little further down Sanchez and Selena were fighting with the waves for their meal. Selena was Stuart’s favorite turtle – she had beautiful copper coloring to her shell and the sunlight bouncing off it gave it a jewel-like quality.

Turtles

Big Island Country ClubOne of the things that Stuart really wanted to do on vacation in Hawaii was play a round of golf. We made a Sunday tee time for noon at The Big Island Country Club. The public course was beautiful with spectacular views and plenty of wildlife throughout the 18 holes. Sheep were freely grazing; Nene, turkeys, quails and other small birds were also pecking at the grass.

Things to do on our next trip (aka things we didn’t have time for but wanted to see)

  • One of the top ten things to do according to the Discovery Channel is to do a Manta Ray Night Snorkel/Scuba. The manta rays do not have stingers and feed on plankton.  They are attracted to the Kona coast by spotlights placed on the ocean floor.  The light illuminates their prey. Unfortunately we weren’t able to fit this excursion into our schedule, and because we didn’t have our GoPro with us we settled with “next time”. It wasn’t until our final day that someone told us they can be seen offshore from the Sheraton Kona Resort – bummer!
  • Kona Brewing Company; 75-5629 Hwy 11. Kona Brewing Company is a microbrewery that began in 1994 and has expanded on a world recognized level with over 85 awards and exports to the mainland and Japan. They have free tours, including samples. (Side note: Our local Buffalo Wild Wings offered Kona Longboard when I was there last night!)
  • Kona Farmers Market; corner of Kaiwi St and Luhia St. I thought it would’ve been a great way to learn the food culture of the Big Island by going to a farmer’s market, not to mention a fun way to play with the camera. This market that focuses on fresh produce is open on the weekends.

Hawaii: The Big Island: Kohala & Waimea

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.

Beach 69

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.

Hawaii: The Big Island: Kona Coast

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 Planet Hawaii: 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.

Sea Cave

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.

Cliff Jumping

Kayak Kona

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.

Kiholo Bay

Greenwell FarmsStuart 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.