Laura and Lee's Big Island Bash

March 13-19, 2004
Part 1

During our New Year's Vacation Planning session with Walt and Barb, we'd decided that one of the trips we wanted to take this year was to the Big Island of Hawaii - hopefully to see some volcanic activity, and do some other sightseeing. Lee and I hadn't been there since Christmas 1987 (and that was a whirlwind trip), and I think 1992 was Walt and Barb's last visit.

Trees along the beach at Pu`uhonua O Honaunau - the Place of Refuge
Darin, one of my cousins, lives on the Big Island - he's been there about six years - and I called him several weeks before our trip to ask him about his recommendations. He sent us a great book called "The Big Island Revealed" (hereinfter referred to as "BIR") which we referred to a lot on this trip, and advised looking at the website.

We planned to stay in Bed and Breakfast places again like we did for our Utah trip last year. Barb found the website which had a number of places listed. We weren't able to get into our first choices for Honoka'a or Volcano, but our second choices were more than acceptable.

Hawaiian Airlines has one direct flight a day between San Diego and Honolulu - in addition to being making travel time much shorter than connecting through L.A., they were also significantly cheaper than any of the other airlines. Though we didn't get a super deal on airfare, since we travelled right at the beginning of the "spring break" period. Had we been able to go a week earlier we could have gotten round trip airfare for less than $400 (which included the inter-island flight from Honolulu to Kailua-Kona). But work schedules did not permit an earlier vacation. Oh well.

Saturday, March 13 - Fly, Kona, Waimea

No pre-dawn wakeup this trip, since our flight wasn't until 9:00. We arrived at the airport in plenty of time but it took us about 40 minutes to check in. Since Hawaiian only has one (outbound) flight a day they don't have much of a presence in San Diego - only 3-4 counter positions and they share agents with Delta. Plus there was some guy with a problem and they were dealing with him the entire time we were in line. We didn't get to the gate until about 40 minutes before the flight left - Walt and Barb were worried that something had happened to us! But all was well.

As we were waiting in the gate area they announced that this was going to be the final flight for our pilot, Captain Dave Wegher, retiring after 32 years. When we taxied out to the end of the runway the firetrucks were waiting, and sprayed the plane with water. I'm not sure why they do that, but it was a nice sendoff. We were in the air by 9:15.

Captain Dave's final landing in Honolulu was a good one - he really floated the plane down, and got a nice round of applause from the passengers.

We walked over to the Inter-Island Terminal (it felt good to walk after sitting for most of the past 6 hours!) and got a snack - burgers for the guys and Lappert's ice cream for me and Barb.

Our flight to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island was packed (they were looking for people to get off the plane, but a free round trip within the islands wasn't enough incentive for us...had it been free round trip from the Mainland we would've been there! :-) ), and this pilot obviously *wasn't* retiring because the landing was a bit rough. :-)

I'd gotten a good deal on-line on a 4 wheel drive SUV from Alamo, and after Lee signed his life away saying we *wouldn't* use it as a 4WD, we loaded it up. It was a pretty nice Chevy Blazer, with plenty of room for the 4 of us and our luggage.

We called my cousin Darin and got directions to Costco. We fly 2500 miles to Hawaii and our first stop is Costco. :-) Darin met us there and we picked up beach towels and some travel/trail food. And picked Darin's brain a bit about things to see and do and places to eat. :-)

Darin is one of those people who seems to know *everyone* and we seemed to run into someone he knew every time we were out with him - it became a running joke by the end of the trip. And sure enough, in Costco he saw a friend who lives over in Hilo - on the *other* side of the island. But the only Costco is in Kailua-Kona.

We still needed to drive up to the northern coast (Hamakua) of the island, so we said goodbye to Darin for now - we'd see him again later in the week when we were back in the Kona area.

Sunset on Hapuna Beach
We made a quick beach stop at Hapuna Beach and Walt went swimming. The BIR recommended it as one of the best beaches on the island, and it was pretty nice. We should've stayed to see the sunset since it was the best (and practically only) sunset we saw all week, but instead saw it out the back window.

In Waimea, or Kamuela, as it is also called to distinguish it from the town by the same name on Oahu, we had a quick and easy dinner at a fast food Korean BBQ place in Parker Center, named for the famous Parker Ranch. John Palmer Parker was hired by Kamehameha the Great to rid the island of marauding cattle - the longhorns on the island (which had been a gift from George Vancouver to Kamehameha) were NOT domesticated and were downright dangerous - they drove people from their homes and attacked horses/men that attempted to round them up. Parker kept the best animals for himself and Kamehameha gave him land where he started his own ranch - he ended up with a LOT of land, and Parker Ranch, at 175,000 acres, is the largest private ranch under single ownership in the U.S.

I guess there were still problems handling the cattle, though, and Kamehameha III brought in three Mexican cowboys to train the Hawaiians on handling them. And that's how the "paniolos" came into being. We found this guy hanging around the food court...we think his name is Kimo. :-)

It was raining by then and quite dark...we made a quick stop at FoodLand to pick up some breakfast items for the next morning, since our first stop was just a "B" and not a "B&B". We arrived there around 8:30 - we couldn't have gotten any closer to Waipio Valley, which we planned to visit on Sunday, that's for sure! The place was actually just a little ways down the (4WD) road to the valley, though not far enough that it was into that 25% grade where you really needed 4WD! It was a nice little unit with a kitchen, dining area, bathroom, queen size bed and living room with a pull out sofa.

It had lots of windows where we should have a great view of the Valley the next day. Our host, Roger Lasko, who lives next door, came over to tell us about the place. We asked him about hiking down into the Valley and he recommended going down to the beach then all the way up the beach and taking a trail inland to a waterfall and some pools. Sounded pretty good to us.

We could hear lots of tree frogs outside - apparently they are not native to Hawaii and people spray them with lime to keep them at bay. Lime makes the frogs croak, so to speak, but doesn't harm other plants and animals.

So we went to bed...lulled to sleep by the gentle sounds of wind, falling rain, and frogs.

(Now, you didn't *really* think I could go to Hawaii without having some flower pictures to show for it, did you??? :-) )

(Left to right: plumeria, a wild orchid, pink hibiscus, and white ginger)

Sunday, March 14 - Hamakua Coast, Hilo, Volcano

Happy Birthday to Barb!!!

I woke up in the middle of the night several times hearing the frogs and VERY heavy rainfall. And since I was still on west coast time, I woke up at 5:00 and couldn't get back to sleep.

Everyone else was up around 6:00. It was still raining but we could see Waipi'o Valley occasionally through the mists,and there was a lovely waterfall on the other side. The rain continued intermittently, and we were hoping for a break so we could do our hike down into the valley like we'd planned, but about 9:00 when we were packed and ready to go the skies just opened, and it really came down - can you say "torrential downpour"? We were very glad we hadn't gotten out on the trail. We waited for a while but though it slowed down it never really let up.

Time for a change in plans. We figured we'd head down the coast toward Hilo and hope that the weather would improve a bit. Our first stop, though, was at Tex's Drive-In, which according to BIR had the best malasadas (a Portuguese doughnut - pillows of dough fried in oil and rolled in granulated sugar.) They were pretty good, though I prefer the ones from Leonard's Bakery on Oahu.

The rain continued to be heavy as we proceeded down the coast, and we passed over several bridges where we could see waters raging below us. We stopped at Akaka Falls, which both Darin and BIR said was not to be missed. It was still raining, though not as heavily, but it was a short hike, so we donned rain jackets and ponchos and went down the trail. When we got to the falls there was nothing to see except a cloud! But after a few minutes it cleared a little bit so that we could at least get some idea of what it looked like. There was another fall down the trail as well, Kahuna Fall, and it was somewhat more visible, though less impressive. The trail itself was very nice with lots of plants and flowers - it would be a beautiful walk on a not-quite-so-rainy day.

In Hilo we stopped at a shopping center and I looked for a rain jacket - the only thing I found didn't have a hood, though. We had lunch at the Food Court there - so far we've been eating like locals! :-)

It was STILL raining, but as we got closer to Volcanoes National Park it pretty much stopped. Yay!!!

For entrance to the park we used the same National Park Pass that we bought last year on our Utah trip - between four parks in Utah, plus Yosemite, Yorktown, Jamestown, Shenandoah, and now Volcanoes we *really* got our money's worth! And we got all the way across the country, too. (One of these years we've talked about hitting all four corners of the National Park system in the same year...Acadia in Maine, Everglades in Florida, Volcanoes in Hawaii and Gates of the Arctic in Alaska.)

At the Visitor Center, Ranger Dave was just starting an orientation session when we got there - he was very entertaining and informative. Unfortunately there weren't going to be much in the way of lava viewing opportunities this time. Oh well. We DID find out that there's another part of the Thurston lava tube that you can follow all the way to the end if you have flashlights - which we did.

We watched the movie at the Visitor Center and learned several interesting things. Did you know that lava can move at speeds up to 35 miles per hour? And that there's a new Hawaiian Island forming out in the Pacific, called Lo'ihi? It's only 3000 feet below the surface...should be visible in 50,000 years or so...

We drove to the Thurston Lava Tube and saw the humungous ferns (40' tall!) in the rain forest. Where it was raining a little bit. (And kind of spooky...felt like a T-Rex should come crashing through the forest at any time!) The other lava tube was interesting - at one point we turned all our flashlights off, and it was completely dark. We were getting dripped on down there, too - water percolating down from the surface. It was quite a comfortable temperature in there, though.

From the Lava Tube parking lot we hiked along the rim of the Kilauea Iki crater - site of a huge eruption in 1959. With fountains of lava 1900 feet high! We were planning to do the Kilauea Iki trail, which goes down into the crater, the next day.

We drove from the park to the town of Volcano and checked into our home for the next two nights - Aloha Junction B&B. We had the Heritage Room and Walt and Barb had the Pele Suite. Two other couples from Switzerland and Germany were also staying there.

It was a very nice set-up - it used to be the home of the B&B owners so in addition to the bedrooms had a full kitchen, dining room, and living room that were available for the guests to use - the owners now live in the house a couple hundred yards up the road. The other two couples were taking advantage of the kitchen to cook their evening meals rather than going out, but they were both visiting the islands for several weeks rather than several days so I can see how cooking would be more appealing than going out.

The only real disadvantage of this place is that only one room (the more expensive suite Walt and Barb were in) had a private bath - the other three rooms shared one bathroom. We were all pretty considerate so it wasn't a problem, but it's less awkward to have a private bath.

A young koa tree outside our B&B
- we'd never seen an actual koa tree before.
After we'd all cleaned up we drove to Kilauea Lodge for dinner - this had received excellent recommendations from BIR and one of my co-workers. The chef used to be a makeup artist on Magnum PI. The food is European - mostly French, though there were some German dishes on the menu. I was disappointed that there was no fresh fish that night, but the lamb I had was good - it had a papaya mint sauce. Walt had the pepper steak and Barb and Lee had the scallops Newburg. It was a very nice dinner.

Just after we'd gotten our dessert the power went out...fortunately there were candles on the tables. The restaurant seemed quite prepared for it, so evidently it's not uncommon. And just as we were paying our bill it came back on.

It had begun raining *again* while we were inside...this was looking like a very soggy trip!

It was around 8:00 when we got back but most of us were tired and it was rather chilly. I was in bed by 8:30 but Lee stayed up for a while talking to the other two couples who were sharing some wine and enjoying the fire. He finally went to bed around midnight.

(Left to right: red plumeria, LPFs (little pink flowers), white hibiscus, and MPF (medium purple flower)

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Text and photographs copyright © 2004 by Laura Gilbreath. All rights reserved.