Hawaii is one of my favorite places to travel. Since it is easy to get to from my home base in the San Francisco Bay Area, I have been at least 15 times. For my first visit, I stayed for 3 weeks in Honolulu with the primary intention of learning to surf. Other memorable excursions on the island of Oahu were snorkeling at Hanauma Bay around Honolulu and Shark’s Cove on the North Shore, visiting Waimea Falls Park to hike up the mountains,, watch cliff divers and an afternoon at the Polynesian Cultural Center where there are seven island villages that show different cultures and lifestyles of the people of Polynesia. Don’t leave the island without sampling the shaved ice and visiting swap meet at Aloha Stadium! Even though I enjoyed my first visit to Honolulu, it has primarily served as a stopover spot for my journey to other Hawaiian islands. My favorites are Kauai and the Big Island.
Here’s a scooplet on my most recent Kauai adventure.
When my friend Chris, learned of my impending trip to Kauai he graciously offered to rent me a room in his house, which is located in the town of Kappa. Over the past 10 years since he moved from San Francisco to Kauai, his eclectic home managed to evolve into somewhat of a community center of sorts where he teaches yoga, does tarot cards/astrology readings as well as prepares elaborate gourmet vegetarian meals nightly for his large circle of friends and students. The dinners include fresh salads harvested daily from a vast assortment of greens he grows in his backyard as well as freshly baked bread and occasionally cakes. It was wonderful to become a part of a welcoming community of locals that were more than happy to help me plan my journey on their island.
He helped me plan my itinerary and this is what he came up with:
Day One: I drove to Waimea Canyon (Hawaii’s version of Grand Canyon). I reserved a nice cabin in the woods, made a big fire in the fireplace and curled up with a page-turner “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”.
Day Two: I hiked to the Ni Pali Coast to view where its 4,000 foot jagged sea cliffs meet the ocean, had breakfast and came back to my car to find a black cat under my car, how timely since it was Friday the 13th. After the cat ran off, I drove to Koke’e State Park to find the trailhead that would lead me through Waimea Canyon to Waipoo falls. After hiking about an hour, up and down all manner of hills, rocks and gullies, a vista of the canyon was finally visible. It was breathtaking in its rugged majesty. The gorge is a blended strata of diffuse reds, purples, grays and pinks. On a far off outcropping of a red dirt cliff I saw a woman in a white gown and her partner descending its surface. It was as if they were suspended in time and space because the trail was obfuscated. I decided that I was witnessing a wedding ceremony and they had been flown in by helicopter but where is wedding party? The scene reminded me of one of those car commercials on TV, where those cars are plopped on a cliff clearing and you sit there wondering how they got that car out there. I wasn’t sure what it meant, since in 45 years of hiking I had never encountered a women hiking in a long flowing white dress. Was it a sign that I would be getting married soon or a vision or what? I couldn’t make sense of it, so I dismissed it and continued on my arduous journey. About 30 minutes later, through a clearing in the bush, the woman in her flowing white gown and her husband appeared before me…she was of the Mennonite or perhaps of the Amish persuasion. They were warm, friendly and full of praises for the Lord and the beauty of “his” creation. Mystery solved! After finally making it to Waipoo falls, I was a bit crestfallen because I couldn’t really see the falls since they were beneath me but there were lots of little swirling swimming holes and the Canyon views are phenomenal. After completing my hike, I drove to the nearby town of Waimea and treated myself to a hearty traditional Hawaiian meal of poi, lomi lomi and steamed pork wrapped in banana leaves. On route back to Kapaa, I stopped by Kipu falls and joined in with a group of fellow daredevils swinging one by one from a rope tied to a tree and jumping 20 feet into the lake beneath the falls. It was as thrilling as it was refreshing, especially after a hard day of hiking. Luckily, I made home in time for dinner because our after dinner entertainment included Chris reading my tarot cards for all of the guests to hear. I am glad my future looked bright!
Day Three: Was a mellow down day at Donkey beach, which is ultra beautiful and secluded, yet easily accessible. I curled up with a copy of “Eat, Pray, Love” between brief excursions into ocean’s powerful waves. I loved the feeling of being caressed by the wind, kissed by the sun and cradled in the sand. That evening, Chris and I went to a midnight beach party near Hanalei for a couple moving back to Michigan. With flashlights in hand, we navigated a narrow hillside trail for about a mile long hike to the festivities. When we arrived there were about 30 people gathered around a huge bonfire, playing guitars, drums, singing, dancing, storytelling and sharing food. It was a slice of heaven.
Day Four: Chris and I, along with several friends of his made a jungle trek to the top of Sleeping Giant Mountain. To fortify us for the journey he made us his special brand of chocolate bars and we stopped at his favorite citrus grove on route and picked mammoth grapefruit to stuffed in our backpack for lunch. The hour plus ascent to the top of the mountain took us through verdant tunnels of pine trees, bushes, vines and ferns. Since Sleeping Giant is the only mountain located near the center of the island, it affords those who scale it, a 360-degree panoramic view of the island. Outer lying mountain peaks appeared to be carpeted with shimmering emerald velvet and in the ocean we spotted a pod of migrating whales gallivanting through a dazzlingly array of blues hued streaks of water. At one point during our mountaintop megawatt experience, a rain cloud passed overhead and we laid in the grass and just let the drops drench us. My usual impulse is to run for cover but in paradise why bother when I could just get wet and let the sun dry me off later. I was so moved by all of the beauty that I was witnessing that I was telling my crew, how grateful I was to my Mother, who through her role as a Girl Scout leader, taught me the love and appreciation for nature. About an hour or so later as we were descending the mountain, we saw a woman 20 little girls and a dog hiking up the trail. After greeting her, I asked her what she was up to and she said that this was her girl scout troop that they were on treasure hunt in celebration of one of the girl’s 11th birthday. We looked at each other in shock at the symbolism and synchronicity. During our driving home we spotted an intensely vibrant rainbow and were able to drive through its translucent base. It subsequently turned into a double rainbow and for a fleeting moment there was a complete rainbow arch in the sky.
Day Five: We kayaked up a river near Hanalei and hiked to a gorgeous waterfall. Afterwards we visited some of Chris’s friends who lived in that area and went out to dinner.
Day Six: We went to the local Farmer’s Market. We scored a few coconuts full of water and strolled through one of the most amazing markets I had ever visited. The fruit, vegetables and particularly the greens were so fresh they seemed to be dancing on the table, vibrating with the chi and vibration of life.
Day Seven: Back to Honolulu and ground zero in San Francisco.
Big Island travel tips
- The highlight of my trips there have always been swimming with the dolphins at Kealakekua Bay. We just jumped in the bay and swam a mile out to encounter them but i did go with an experienced person. I understand that might have changed and you may need to arrange things through a company???
- Most first time visitors feel the need to visit the volcano state park, but once was enough for me. The volcano is rarely active in a major way but you can always walk for miles on the hot lava, melt your shoes and watch a tiny stream of hot lava ooze into the sea. I understand that the boat rides are better but they are expensive and you have to make sure the lava is running big time to make it worth your while.
- See the stunning Waipio Valley and its amazing waterfalls via the White Trail. The entrance is near Waimea – drive on Hwy 19 and head east It’s a short 3 mile drive from the center of Waimea to White Road. Be on the look out bc the sign for White Road is pretty easy to miss. Drive to the end of the road t and you walk to the valley from there. There are lots of “Kapu” (D0 not enter) signs. The land is run by a nice guy named Juni. Sometimes he sits at the gate, he is happy to let you in if you slap a $5 per person in his hand – for a “donation”. The 3 mile trail is through a jungle that gets you into a valley where long skinny waterfall cascade off cliffs into deep deep lush valleys. When you get to the valley, turn left and walk along the valley path for 15 minutes to watch people cascade down a waterslide.
- I often spend a day or two at my fav beach – Makalawena Beach. It is a remote beach, with few crowds. Prepare yourself for a 45 minute hike just to get to this beach. It is one of the most beautiful beaches on the Big Island and well worth the little bit of effort it takes to get there… The trailhead is in Kekaha Kai Beach/(Kona Coast) State Park, off Route 19, the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. The rough dirt road there is between the 90 and 91 mile markers. Once you park then you will go to North on the path through a lava field for about another 30-45 minutes until you get to the sand dunes. Wear sturdy shoes, e.g., sneakers or chaco type sandals but don’t wear flip flops!!! If you have a 4 wheel drive, you can drive down a challenging road that will get you much closer to the beach. The road does not have a sign but it is just south of the paved road to Kua Bay/Manini’owali Beach/across from the Veteran’s Cemetery, between mile markers 88 and 89. 2WD vehicles can park just off of the highway before the road begins to get rough and then hike down. 4WD vehicles can continue for 1.6 miles of very rough road to a gate and small parking area just north of Makalawena Beach.
- Other beaches – my fav one that is easy access is kua bay, otherwise i usually just try a different beach everyday along highway 19. some of the hotel beaches are nice—all beaches are public but some hotels make it hard to access them. I recently discovered and enjoyed the south kohola beach of Mau’umae which is only a half-mile to the south of Spencer Beach and 1/2 north of Mauna Kea Resort.
- I love to hang out at the Kava Bar at the Coconut Grove Marketplace for a cup of kava. Kava, or Hawaiian Awa, is a natural relaxant with a mildly euphoric properties. Made from the root of a species of pepper plant known as Awa (Piper methysticum, which is “intoxicating pepper”), Awa has been used by people indigenous to the South Pacific for over 3,000 years. The Kava beverage is a central part of Polynesian Society, and has been used for centuries as a ceremonial, medicinal and also recreational drink.
- Each week I took an authentic hula class with locals in “downtown” kona on Wednesday morning in this open air pavilion behind Bubba Gump restaurant. If you ask around someone will tell you the details.
- I always visit the Place of Refuge and spend an afternoon sitting by the ocean and playing the tidepools off the 1871 Trail trail. When you get there is is best to pay the 5 dollars to park but don’t park in front of the museum and make your way south to find the sandy road that leads to coastal parking then walk a short distance some nice secluded coves. Of course if you haven’t explored the National Historical Park it is worth your while and if you like snorkeling they have a nice area called the Two Step Beach which is located just north of the City of Refuge, and a perfect spot to explore the crystal clear waters and sea life of Kona’s coast. This is not a sand beach and its a bit tricky to enter but worth the effort.
- Every month on the Saturday evening before the full moon rises, Mauna Lani Resort hosts an enchanted evening of storytelling and entertainment on the lawn of the resort’s oceanfront Eva Parker Woods Cottage. Join Danny Kaniela Akaka for “Twilight at Kalahuipua‘a,” a night of music, dance and storytelling. Danny is Mauna Lani’s Cultural Historian, he is a kahu (Hawaiian priest), speaks fluent Hawaiian, performs as a musician and dancer. Call Mauna Lani Concierge at 808-881791 to confirm the dates and time (usually 8pm) MAUNA LANI DRIVE ∙ KOHALA COAST, ISLAND OF HAWAII
- First Fridays check out the little art village in Holualoa where they have their “art after dark” party. It worth a visit even if you aren’t there for a first friday. I almost always buy some beautiful locally crafted pictures, cards or jewelry there.
- The best places to shop in Kona is Walmart, Costco and Safeway, Kta Market and Foodland.
- For healthy fare check out Island Naturals Market & Deli ,74-5487 Kaiwi St.
- Fav restaurants are Hayama Japanese Restaurant 75-5660 Kopiko St Ste D1, Broke Da Mouth Grindz, 74-5565 Luhia St, Umeke’s Poke Place, 75-143 Hualalai Rd #105, Pine Tree Cafe 73-4040 Hulikoa Dr (great for picking up something to take on the plane or to the beach – off highway 19 near airport), orchid thai restaurant, 74-5563 Kaiwi St, fav restaurant/bar to watch sunset – Huggos near downtown kona.
- Places to stay: If you can find a local who would be willing to check you in with his/her local ID, the Kona Islander Inn would run about 49.00 + taxes/night. The number for this very cute hotel/condo is 1(800) 244-4752. I think their regular rates are about 89.00/night. There is one other very economical hotel, without phones or TV’s, that runs somewhere in the mid $50 range. It’s called the Manago Hotel and it is very clean (and quiet) for the money. Be sure to specify that you want a private bath. There number is (808)323-2624. All of these places can be “goggled” for pics and more accurate prices. This is the best I can think of, price-wise for the Kona side. Otherwise just use air b&B or VRBO. I like to stay at the Kona Isle apts because they are close to town and has great ocean views.
- New Jazz Club in Kona – Gertrude’s has music nightly
Be sure to check out the Puna side of the Big Island!!!
Great places to stay is the Aloha Inn. For more information visit: www.alohahawaii.com (808 965-2211) and Akiko’s Buddhist B&B, http://www.akikosbnb.com/index.html.
While in Puna be sure to get a watsu water massage and waterdance. The name of the practitioner whose services I use is, Dwight Stevens. The treatment I received from him felt like a rebirthing…it was amazing and one of the highlights of my Big Island visit. His phone number is 808 965 8500 and you can find more info at http://www.hawaiilalala.com – loved having my treatement in the hot water ponds at Ahalanui Park.
Be sure to check out the Kalani on Sunday mornings for estatic dance. There is usually a cool picnic afterwards at the bluff a mile or so south of Kalani. http://www.kalani.com.
I absolutely loved the Puna Farmer’s market that happens every Sunday morning.
My favorite Hawaii guidebook is the Revealed Series: Oahu, Maui, Big Island