On Friday, we left the hotel around 9 a.m. and headed up the interior of the island. Our first stop was in the cloud forest just outside of Kalaoa, which we accessed through a winding mountain road that took us from near sea level to around 6,000 feet in about 20 minutes. It was partly sunny on the coast, but true to its name, this mountain was cloudy and the view of the coast was somewhat obscured.
From there, we drove to the crossroads town of Kamuela, commonly known as Waimea, where we had lunch at Charley’s Thai Cuisine. Since my girlfriend is Thai, we decided we would sample several Hawaiian Thai restaurants during the week to see how they compared to those on the mainland. This was the first one. I ordered a plate lunch of beef ribs, sticky rice and papaya salad, while she had squid salad and Tom Yum soup. I liked the food and agreed that it was a bit different than our normal Thai fare. She liked her squid salad and said was prepared in more of a Vietnamese fashion – with peanuts – and my grilled ribs definitely had a Korean BBQ taste to them, as the waiter had suggested. This mix of styles makes sense as we were told the owner, Charley, is from Laos.
From Waimea, we headed West back to the coast and then took the coast road north and then east. After going through a couple of towns and then the country side featuring several one lane bridges and switchbacks, we arrived at Pololu Valley Lookout. Words can’t describe this place, other than to say that the green of the valley and the cliffs of the beach reminded me of my trip to Ireland. There was a trail down the overlook to the beach and it appeared to be very steep. Two hikers took up the challenge and were heading down as we left.
Our next stop was about five miles away at Keokea Beach Park, filled with many locals surfing out past a man-made rock barrier. The guidebooks didn’t care for it much, but I thought it was a neat little local park.
The wedding party was hosting a dinner at six so we headed back west and then south to the hotel, making the two hour drive in two-and-a-half hours thanks to traffic and construction outside of Kona.
After quickly changing, we went 30 miles north to the Canoe House restaurant, which is on the grounds of the Mauna Lani Resort. While the guidebooks warned that the restaurant was not as good since famous Hawaiian chef Alan Wong departed, I thought it turned out to be a great choice for a party of about 20. The outside tables were overlooking the beach, we saw a partial sunset, and both the food and service were top-notch.