(This is the final picture from my Hawaii trip in October of 2007. To start at the beginning of the trip, click here and follow the links at the top right of each page.)
Archive for category Hawaii (Oct. 2007)
Our main objective on Thursday was to eat at Hawaiian Style Cafe — no matter how long the wait. We arrived in Waimea at 10 and naturally, the restaurant was packed. We waited 15 minutes for a table and another 15 minutes to order, but all the waiting was rewarded. I ordered an omelet with ham, sausage, green peppers and onions and received a massive offering, which had to have been at least four eggs, along with hash browns. My girlfriend had two scrambled eggs and sausage. She also wanted to try the oxtail soup so that came out as a second course, along with the pancakes that came with the eggs. She really liked the soup and I can’t rave enough about the pancakes. To steal a phrase from the guidebook, the pancakes were the size of hubcaps. My pet peeve is burnt pancakes and these were cooked perfectly.
After brunch, we decided to visit some of the beaches near our hotel that we hadn’t seen yet. The first was Lapakahi State Historical Park, which is only open from 8 to 4. Both times we had past it, it had been closed. We didn’t spend much time here, walking past structures from an old Hawaiian village on the way to the beach overlook.
Next was Samuel Spencer Beach Park. Under construction, packed with kids and not very appealing, this was also a quick visit.
From there we entered the Mauna Kea resort, which has a public beach access but a limited amount of parking spots. The hotel is closed due to earthquake damage and it’s obvious that they don’t want the public entering the resort. Case in point: The guard at the entrance told us all of the public beach spots were full. I talked him into letting us simply drive into the resort to look around. When we reached the beach parking lot, a second guard asked us for our parking pass. I told him the guard at the entrance said the lot was full. He said that was wrong, he had four spaces left and to go back to the entrance to get a pass. We went back to the entrance and the first guard begrudgingly handed me a pass. I didn’t mind the games once I saw the beach. White sand beach, crystal clear water and best of all, trees providing shade at the back of the beach.
After leaving Mauna Kea, we drove a couple of miles south to Hapuna Beach State Park. This beach was very similar to Mauna Kea — and packed — so we didn’t stop. Ditto for 69 Beach. Instead, we drove down the coast to Puako Beach, which was on the rocks and a haven for fishermen.
On Wednesday, it was back to Hilo to see some of the sights we had missed on Sunday. Again, we drove through Waimea during breakfast and again, Hawaiian Style Cafe was packed. This time, we kept driving, arriving in Hilo around 11.
My girlfriend wanted Thai food so we settled on Naung Mai Thai Kitchen, which was in a one-way alley, that I finally found after driving around the block a second time. The place was very small and the buffet style lunch featured five dishes, three of which were vegetarian. I picked the two chicken dishes — chicken with red curry and samba chicken — as well as the vegetarian pad thai. I thought both chicken dishes were great, but I wasn’t a fan of the pad thai. I like pad thai and I like catsup. But I now know that I don’t like them together.
After lunch, we went to the nearby Hilo Farmers Market. There were a ton of food and product vendors and my girlfriend bought a colorful Hawaiian dress. I didn’t buy anything but I did pay $25 for a chiropractic adjustment, which made my neck and lower back feel much better.
We left downtown Hilo and headed to Nani Mau Gardens. However, there were several tour buses in the parking lot and we decided to skip this stop and head down the road to the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo & Gardens. I wasn’t expecting much since we’ve been to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and the San Diego Zoo, but Hilo has a pretty nice zoo for a town of its size. There are over 80 species of animals, including the main attraction, Namaste’, who is a white Bengal tiger. While at the zoo, we came across Hilo’s other claim to fame, its rain. Hilo is one of the wettest cities in the U.S., receiving over 100 inches of rain per year, and halfway through our tour of the zoo, we were drenched by a rain shower.
The rain continued as we hit Hilo’s other landmarks, its waterfalls. First was Waiale Falls, which can be seen from the road. Next was Pe’e Pe’e Falls, also known as Wailuku River State Park-Boiling Pots Area. Seeing the Boiling Pots was bittersweet. At dinner on Sunday night in Hilo, the table next to ours had been to the Boiling Post earlier that day when a teenager lost his life jumping into the dangerous, swirling water. Our final stop was Wailuku River State Park-Rainbow Falls Area or simply Rainbow Falls. There were no rainbows today, just steady rainfall.
As it had on Sunday, the rain subsided once we headed North out of Hilo. Again we drove through Waimea on our way back to the West side of the island. We had passed the Bamboo Restaurant in Hawi on both Friday and Saturday and the guidebook raved about it, so we decided to give it a try. Great choice. My tenderloin beef was superb, and my girlfriend’s ono was the best fish I have ever had. I also thought the rib appetizer was first rate. This place gets my vote for the best restaurant on the island.
On Tuesday morning, we checked out of the Royal Kona Resort and our destination was 30 miles North at the Hilton Waikoala Resort. On the way up the coast, we stopped at several spectacular beaches.
The first beach was Old Kona Airport State Park. The parking lot was on the old runway and the beach was nearly deserted when we arrived. We spent about 30 minutes at this beautiful beach, which is a combination of sand and lava rocks.
Our next stop was Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park. According to the guidebooks, this is a nude beach and and the north section is a gay beach. We did see a sign saying nudity was prohibited. However, the beach was normal today, as it was deserted except for a couple of families. It was a decent beach, but since there was construction underway, we didn’t stay long.
The next beach was Wawaloli Beach Park, which is located right next to Keahole-Kona International Airport. Wow, words can’t describe this beach, hopefully the pictures will do it justice. I’m almost hoping our flight on Friday is delayed or cancelled so we can spend some more time at this place.
Our final beach of the day was Kekaha Kai State Park. If you make it to this beach, you’ve earned it. It took nearly 20 minutes to navigate this 1.5 mile road, which was like driving on the moon. Here’s a tip: Don’t ever buy a rental car that was used in Hawaii. The suspension on my Mustang convertible was creaking and groaning throughout this drive. Despite its remote location, there were a lot of people at this beach, which tells you how nice it is.
After our beach tour, we checked into the Hilton Waikoloa Village, which is a monster-sized resort property. The compound is 41 acres and you to get from the lobby to our room, we needed to either take a boat or the tram. For a winning bid of $130 on Priceline, this place was a steal.
After dropping our bags off at the room, we went to lunch at one of the many restaurants on the property, the Kirin Chinese Restaurant. This place was awesome. I ordered the won ton soup and my girlfriend had the hot and sour soup. Both were wonderful; in particular, she ranked hers as among the best she’s ever had. I ordered the sizzling beef tenderloin and she had an assortment of dim sum. We were both very pleased with the food. Sure, it was a $100 lunch, but it was well worth the money.
After our late lunch, we explored the huge property, which took several hours. Among the highlights: Numerous pools, include one for adults only; a pool with a water slide and several waterfalls; a sand beach lagoon for sunbathing and snorkeling; a rock beach on the oceanfront. It doesn’t bother me, but if you want to be picky, this resort does not have a sand beach on the oceanfront, but there are several within close driving distance, which we plan to explore later in the week.
At the end of our walk, the sun was close to setting so we found a hammock near the water and watched and relaxed for about 20 minutes. A rain shower sent us scurrying to some beach chairs with a cover for just such an occasion. About 20 minutes before sunset, clouds filled the horizon and we headed back to the room. Instead of dressing up for dinner, we ordered room service, which was decent, but nothing spectacular. We plan to eat at one of the formal restaurants on Thursday — formal in Hawaii being slacks and a Hawaiian shirt for the men and a dress for the women.
Monday was wedding day so we didn’t venture too far from the hotel, as we had to be back in time to get ready for the 3 p.m. ceremony. Around 11 a.m., we headed back to L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. We both had the same thing again — Hawaiian BBQ mix for me, Teriyaki beef for her. Maybe the novelty of Hawaiian food has worn off; I thought the BBQ was good, but not spectacular as I had proclaimed before.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a couple of local Kona beaches. The first was Kahaluu Beach Park, which was listed as a gem in the guidebook. The beach itself is nothing special, but the crystal clear water is perfect for snorkeling.
Next up was La’Aloa Bay Beach Park, also known as White Sands Beach Park. You’ll never guess what this park is known for. Despite being a Monday, the beach was full of sunbathers and swimmers. This beach was not listed as a gem but I give it high marks for the white beach and blue water.
Last on the Kona beach tour was Pahoehoe Beach Park, which was simply a park overlooking a beach. This park was nearly empty, featuring palm trees, grass, a seawall and a beach full of rocks.
The wedding was held on a lagoon overlooking the ocean and finished quickly, ending on cue just before a rain shower. The luau at Royal Kona Resort also served as the wedding reception and drinks were flowing. The luau mai tais were watered down so several trips were made to the hotel bar for stiff mai tais and cold Big Waves.
Soon it was time for the ceremonial unveiling of the pig, which had been cooking in the Imu (Hawaiian Earth Oven) for eight hours. The pig was cooked perfectly, as it fell apart when it was removed from the oven and hit the serving table.
When it was my turn at the buffet table, I loaded up the plate provided with four compartments. Salad went into the small one, macaroni salad next to it. And then the pig, beef and chicken filled up the remaining area of the plate. The luau food was solid — except for the poi, which looked like baby food and tasted worse.
The show was fairly entertaining, even though the guy twirling the fire had an off night, dropping the spear twice. Luckily for him, he didn’t catch the stage on fire.
Sunday started with the now familiar drive North on the interior Hawaii Belt Road to Kamuela, also known as Waimea. We had read good things about Hawaiian Style Cafe and planned to stop there for breakfast. However, there were numerous people outside the small restaurant and the wait was 30 minutes or more. Instead, we settled on the Paniolo Country Inn. I was a little skeptical when the bouncer turned out to be our waiter, but the food arrived quickly and it was a good standard American breakfast. I had a two egg omelet with ham, mushrooms and green peppers and sides of bacon and toast. My girlfriend had scrambled eggs with sausage.
Satisfied and full, we continued Northeast on the Hawaii Belt Road for the first time. I took a scenic route parallel to the main road for about 10 miles, which ended in Honokaa. We then went Northwest for about five miles until the road ended at a spectacular lookout of the Waipio Valley. (This was actually about 10 miles away from the Pololu Valley lookout we had seen on Friday.) We were asked which one was better. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves and only say that they are equally as impressive.
On the way to Hilo, we stopped at the Kalopa Native Forest State Park, which is basically in the middle of nowhere. There were only a handful of people in this park, which was reminiscent of a rain forest.
Our next stop was Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park, which is one of our favorite parks to date. In 1946, a tsunami wiped out the community living in this picturesque spot. In 1988, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a harbor with concrete barriers. There is no real beach at this site, but rather a boat launch and lava rocks. However, the water is a brilliant blue as you will ee from the pictures.
We then went to World Botanical Gardens and Umauma Falls. The falls were nice, but to be honest, it was kind of a letdown. I was expecting something more impressive. The Botanical Gardens were nice, but nothing extraordinary. I guess this is the “B” tour; we hope to hit nearby Akaka Falls and the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, which is located on the coast.
Speaking of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, we drove past the entrance on a four-mile scenic drive. However, we did not stop as it was getting late, we were hungry and Hilo was ahead. (Before the four-mile scenic drive, we did make a quick stop at Kolekole Beach County Park, which is located underneath a bridge on Hawaii Belt Rd. Not much to report, other than it was probably a nice park in the 70s.)
Our next stop was Hilo. And with hindsight being 20/20, I should have kept driving. I wasn’t expecting much in Hilo, yet I was still let down. At 4 p.m. on a Sunday in the main downtown area, how hard should it be to find a restaurant that is open? In Hilo, the answer is extremely difficult. We had read good things about Pescatore, but unfortunately it didn’t open until 5:30. We kept walking. We also heard good things about Royal Siam Thai Restaurant. The sign in the window said they were on vacation until Sept. 31, which I guess is either forever or means they won’t be coming back. We finally found a restaurant open, which was Cafe Pesto. Too bad they weren’t closed, as well. While I did really like the shrimp chowder and my girlfriend enjoyed her tomato vanilla soup, the entrees were average, at best. I had the beef stroganoff and used about 1/4 of the salt shaker on it. My girlfriend used another 1/4 of the shaker on her dish. The service was spotty, as well. This place gets a definite thumbs down. And if Zagat’s has this as “Hawaii’s Top Restaurants” that is bad sign for food on the island.
We left Hilo and made the long drive back to Kona using the same route through the Northern mountains. That was another mistake. While the Southern route may have been longer, it would have been a lot easier driving than the 1 1/2 hours I spent navigating the winding, mountain roads in pouring rain.
Rows of coffee plants at Greenwell Farms on Saturday, Sept. 29. Notice the narrow rows between the plants; the introduction of All Terrain Vehicle (ATVs) means that a couple hundred more plants per acre can now be produced as opposed to when trucks where used by workers in the harvesting of the coffee plant.
Saturday started with a tour of Greenwall Farms, a famous Kona coffee grower in nearby Kealakekua. I’m not a coffee drinker, but nonetheless, the tour of the farm was an interesting experience. It started with a coffee tasting session of about seven types. I tried the Medium Roast, which I later found out has more caffeine than two shots of espresso. It tasted to me like, well, coffee. Other interesting tidbits I picked up during the tour: Starbucks buys coffee from Greenwell Farms and uses a blend of 90% Kona, 10% Starbucks; Greenwell Farms uses a process to remove acidity from the coffee, something that most others do not; Kona coffee gets its taste, which so many people love, from the volcanic ash in the soil.
After the tour, we had intended to head South, but massive road construction changed those plans. Instead, we headed back to Kona and stopped at L&L Hawaiian Barbecue for a late lunch. Good choice. While considered fast food, this place was nothing short of spectacular. I ordered the Hawaiian BBQ mix, which featured beef, chicken and short ribs. The meat is marinated in a bunch of Hawaiian spices, grilled and then served plate lunch style. The two sides were rice and a macaroni salad that was the best I’ve ever tasted.
Stuffed, we headed the same direction as the day before, up the interior road toward Waimea. Then from Waimea we went Northwest toward the coast where we some some unspectacular beach parks. Naturally, by the time we got close to the exotic beach spots, it was dark so we headed back to Kona. Those will have to wait until later in the week when we are staying on the Kohala Coast, featuring mega-resorts and picturesque beaches.
For dinner, we walked into downtown Kona and ate at the Thai Rin Restaurant. After a long day of driving, I was ready for a beer — a Big Wave to be exact. Unfortunately, despite the dinner rush being over, the service was horrible and it took 15 minutes to get our drinks. I wasn’t expecting much better from the food. But I was wrong. Beef in oyster sauce is probably my favorite dish Thai (or Chinese) dish. This place made it perfectly. After talking it over, I decided the reason I liked it so much was that other than the great taste, they had mushrooms, celery and carrots, in addition to the standard onions and green peppers. Those are the vegetables I like the most in Thai (or Chinese) food, and they had included all of them. Which brought me to another thought. Why do the Thai and Chinese places decide which vegetables go in which dishes? Why can’t the customer decide? After all, when you order a pizza, you don’t let the chef pick the toppings, do you?
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.
Day 1 of the trip, Thursday, was a very long travel day. My girlfriend and I arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport at 5:30 a.m. ET after spending the night at a Red Roof Inn near the airport. (Normally, I prefer properties such as Marriott, but $200 was way too much for an airport hotel and I “settled” for the $69 Red Roof Inn.) After changing planes twice (Houston and Honolulu) , renting a convertible at Kona International Airport and then driving through rush-hour and construction traffic in Kona, we made it to our hotel around 6:30 p.m. HT (11:30 p.m. ET). We are staying at the Royal Kona Resort (where the wedding will be held on Monday afternoon on the beach) and the balcony from our hotel room overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
After 18 hours of travel, I was ready for bed. However, while unpacking, the hotel’s fire alarm went off. We decided to take this is our cue to eat a late dinner. From the reviews I have read, the food in our hotel leaves a bit to be desired. Since we are within walking distance of downtown Kona, we headed toward town.
We decided on Huggo’s, which is on the water, right next to the hotel. The good news is that our table was on the water, with waves crashing below. Unfortunately, it was already dark and we had missed the sunset. (Kona is on the West end of the Big Island.) A couple of guide books had recommended Huggo’s and our first dining experience in Hawaii was a good one. My girlfriend’s seafood pasta was full of fish an shrimp and my prime rib hit the spot. I’ve also found my favorite Hawaiian beer — Big Wave Golden Ale.
Not much to report on our first day in Hawaii. But Friday’s plans include a drive up the coast to check out some beaches and dinner with the wedding party at one of the big resorts North of Kona.
Past entries on this blog have been about my experiences during several cross country trips on Amtrak. To add to the challenge of keeping a blog, I attempted to post those stories and pictures in real time. Back then, I called this blog The Great American Travelogue Experiment. My first posts were in May of 2005 when I rode the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Orlando. At the time, I thought the future of this route was in grave danger due to annual Amtrak budget cuts by Congress. I was right — but for the wrong reason. Three months after my trip, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and wiped out some of the track between New Orleans and Orlando. More than two years later, the full route has not resumed and probably never will. I was probably one of the last few people to take pictures on this stretch of track and probably one of the first to attempt to do so in real-time. I made two subsequent Amtrak trips that I documented in real time — one if February of 2006 and another in August of 2006.
Now, one year later, the blog is back. However, this time it is no longer an experiment nor does it require the constant, daily grind necessary to properly document things in real time. Instead, this is now The Great American Travelogue Experience. It won’t be virtual and may not even be updated daily during the trips it will be documenting. But hopefully, this slower pace will produce better thoughts and better pictures — as well as a more enjoyable experience.
The first trip I will be documenting is a wedding/vacation in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii from Sept. 27 to Oct. 6.