I have put off writing this post about Hawaii's Big Island long enough. Now that we are planning for our next adventure (!!!), I should really finish all my travelogues including our trip to Argentina from back in 2012! My post about Torres Del Paine in Chile is getting a lot of views so I'm thinking people do appreciate these type of posts sooo I'll do the rest of our trip as soon as I can! (I am such a slacker.)
The Big Island is the third leg of our 15-day honeymoon trip to Hawaii. We spent 4 days in Oahu (click here), 6 days in Kauai (click here) and 7 days on the Big Island including the transition days between islands.
Big Island was memorable and offered us something the other two islands did not. This is what is great about Hawaii. Each island offered something you cannot find elsewhere and that is why we're grateful we got to visit 3 of them. Asking us which one is our favorite is like asking us to pick our favorite child (if we had children). (Kauai is our favorite child.)
Here is a list of all the places we visited on the Big Island. (Excluding Wal-Mart. WalMart is great for stocking up on necessities. But remember to support the local mom and pop shops too ;P ) My other posts are not as extensive as this one but I didn't spend a whole day writing them neither. Memories are not fresh in my mind anymore as it has already been 10 months since our trip. Thank goodness for pictures and pictures are worth a bazillion words!
Day 1: Saturday, September 7 2014...Kauai-Big Island
We landed at Kona airport late in the afternoon on Saturday. We got our teeny rental car and was on our way to check in at our hotel. We probably also made a run to Wal-Mart to pick up some essentials but I cannot remember. We stayed at the Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort and Spa (by the Kohala coast) using a friends and family rate. However, I wouldn't recommend anyone to stay here. Even though the lobby and communal areas looked great, our hotel room was a bit dingy and felt dirty, but maybe I had just been spoiled by our stay at the Hyatt on Kauai and I was just being snobby. (No flat screen TV? Clogged bath tub? C'mon!!) It didn't matter anyway, we barely stayed in our hotel room like it should be. We did get to see the best sunsets though.
Our first meal on the Big Island was at Annie's Island Fresh burgers. Dave read that the burgers here were made with fresh meat from locally grown cows on the island. As fresh as it can be. It was easy to find it since it has been voted the Best Burger in West Hawaii from 2011 to 2013 by local Hawaiians. We were so hungry that night so it was the perfect meal. We also got chatty with the server who gave us a few suggestions about what to do on the Big Island as well as offering me some delicious (but sour) passion fruits he had picked from the trees just behind the restaurant. He reminded me that all the produce from Annie's are locally grown and some are straight from the garden behind the restaurant.
|Annie's Island burgers- Big island|
|Yup. those are the garlic basil fries...|
|We spotted at least two rays feeding by the bay|
For lunch, we were looking for a thai place to eat at. There were many in the city of Kona. We ended up at Original Thai since another one we found was closed. I can't find any pictures of our meal so I must have not liked it or too hungry to take pics. Probably the latter.
Our first snorkeling trip was to Kahalu'u beach. Here the sand was harsh and the water was merky. Since it wasn't too deep and waves were calm, it was the perfect spot for non-experienced swimmers (ahum, my husband). The highlight of this place was our closest turtle encounter ever in Hawaii. A small turtle was chomping away at seaweeds right up on the shore and I gently poked it with the tip of my nails (he didn't feel a thing I promise). I didn't realize at the time that it was against the law to be so close to a sea turtle but it was technically coming to us, ON the beach. I was not just going to run away from it right? I took way too many pictures and videos of it. I was just so happy to be sitting so close to it.
Here I am posing and shit and not leaving this poor animal alone.
|"Get away from me"-turtle|
Day 3: Pu'uhononua (snorkel), Punalu'u (black sand beach), Hana Hou resto, Hawaii volcano park, Hilo, Mauna Kea...
Our plan that day was to snorkel, visit Punalu'u Black Sand beach, Hawaii Volcanoes National park, have dinner in Hilo and then full circle back to the Kona side (well we took the shortcut that cuts through Big Island). A very ambitious day of sightseeing and driving.
We left in the afternoon to get out in the ocean to do our second snorkeling trip on the Big Island. We picked Pu'uhononua's 2-step snorkeling spot. Looking back, this is probably one of my favorite snorkeling spot during our entire trip in Hawaii but only based on what we have done so far. I know there are so many snorkeling out there that are probably 100x times better but the ones we visited are easy to get to and not some super secret snorkeling spot in the middle of the sea with low boat traffic and left un-perturbed. Because those are probably the BEST places to snorkel :)
The 2-step spot was attractive for us because we read that there was a dolphin sanctuary right there and dolphin sightings are likely. We unfortunately didn't see any but the snorkeling and the abundance of colorful fishes made it worth it. We actually spotted an endangered seal sun-bathing. There were volunteers stalking them (protecting them) and one of them screamed at me for swimming too close to him (I wasn't even that close!). That scared me because I thought there was a shark or something in the water when the volunteer began frantically screaming at me! How rude but boy I'm happy someone's looking out for endangered species on the island.
This was also the day I brought my wedding dress and we did a 'Trash my dress' shoot. I was just swimming around and making sure I did not drown while Dave snapped as many pictures he could possibly do. More pics from that here, here and here.
|Divers check out the 'Aloha' message|
|Loco Moco with beef|
|Pie at Hana Hou|
(I just realized that I may have deleted pictures from my SLR by mistake...Heart pounding. I know I have pictures I took from the SLR on this beach. I thought I had backed them up so I deleted them from my computer and now they are nowhere to be found. This suuuucks! Good thing I had two other cameras I used during the trip so I've got more pics).
|Turtles photo bombing Totoro|
|Sorry, Dave forgot to shave his legs again|
|Punalu'u Black Sand Beach|
Next stop, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!
We didn't stay too long here neither. We drove around the crater rim drive and did a few stops here and there at the lookouts. We walked a bit on the devastation trail, steam vents as well as the lava tubes. All very short walks. We were not prepared to do any long hikes at all. We were losing daylight and wanted to go back to Kona as soon as possible. However, we decided to stick around anyway until sundown so we could watch the red glow from the lava pit inside Halema'uma'u crater. We were also not prepared to stay up in the mountains so late and were freezing our asses off waiting for sundown. It was worth it though. To see the glow from the hot lava really puts into perspective how close we were to this real living volcano (cuz you know, ashes, dried-up lava as well as the steam vents and smell of sulphur was not evident enough.)
(Well, I also lost some pics here from my SLR :( Wha da faaa??)
|Steamy- for a good facial.|
|Walking along the steamy vents soaking up the sulphur smell|
|Halema'uma'u crater during daylight|
|As the sun begins to set, the red glow becomes more obvious..|
|Everyone knew about this except us ...|
|Glad we stayed for mother nature's show|
After sunset, we quickly hopped into the car to make our way to Hilo to catch some dinner. It was a bit late and restaurants closed early on the island. We found a sushi place that had many reviews on Yelp and was also one of the restaurants that were still open at that time-Ocean Sushi Deli. The website doesn't work anymore so I'm wondering if it is still open. The sushi was good enough and cheap, so no complaints about that.
We drove back to Kona by taking the shortcut-Saddle Road. A new road that cuts through the middle of the island.
I think that's the moon we saw from afar during our drive. On our way to Kona, we decided to make a detour and drive up to Mauna Kea observatory to do some star gazing. The drive was in complete darkness and off-road. Highly recommended for the adventurous type :) It was almost 10 pm and the observatory was completely deserted. We stayed in our car (too cold to leave it) and stuck our head out the window to watch the stars. We saw so many shooting stars that night. It was Dave's first time seeing them and he was super giddy (and cute!). Okay, I was giddy too. I've never seen so many shooting stars in such short time before.
Day 4: Hawaiian Vanilla Company, Honokoaa, Waipio valley...
I believed we slept in that day after such a long and exciting day the day before. That day, our plan was just to visit the Hawaiian Vanilla Company where we booked a brunch which included a tour of the vanilla farm. Hawaiian Vanilla Company is the first commercially grown vanilla farm in the U.S.A. It is a small family-owned operation looking to expand only by educating other farms to produce their own vanilla crop.
I was very much looking forward to the brunch because vanilla is one of my most favorite flavors on the planet. I would sprinkle vanilla beans on everything if I could afford it and guess what? The brunch we were going to have was exactly that. Vanilla on EVERY thing! From our lemonade to the butter! Heaven!
During brunch, the owner's son, Ian, schooled us about vanilla. He knew every single thing about vanilla and did his best educating the brunchers. We learned about vanilla farming, different grades of vanilla beans, how to extract your own vanilla, how to cook with vanilla etc. We were almost vanilla experts by the end of the meal which by the way, was excellent. I couldn't stop smiling I was so happy.
We decided to purchase some vanilla beans to make our very own vanilla extract at home (they sold it!). Click here to see how I did it. It is currently still extracting after almost half a year. We had an older batch but there was actually some type of fungi growing on it which we ignored but then when we asked the company, they said it was better not to use it and they sent us new beans to extract!
|Our drive to the vanilla farm was very scenic|
|Hawaiian Vanilla Company -Big Island|
|posing and tanned|
|Ian Reddekopp of Hawaiian Vanilla Company teaching us about everything about vanilla beans|
|Arnold Palmer and Lemonade with vanilla beans!!|
|Cooking our starter...|
|Shrimp cooked with vanilla infused butter|
|Chicken burger with roasted potatoes. Chutney and a walnut salad. Vanilla in EVERYTHING.|
|You guessed it. Homemade vanilla ice cream with vanilla syrup or honey..I don't remember!|
After brunch, we all stepped outside to visit the farm. Here, Ian showed us the meticulous and time consuming work it takes to grow vanilla beans. It is no easy task for sure. They hand pollinate every single vanilla orchid! No wonder it is one of the most expensive commodities in the world!
|Vanilla vine growing in Hawaii|
After brunch, we were ready to do some exploring. We drove into the small town of Honoka'a where we walked around and walked right into one of the oldest running theater in Hawaii. Honokaa People's Theater is the largest theater on Hawaii island and hosts of many art and cultural events. After buying a juice smoothie from the lobby cafe, I walked right into the theater in the middle of a girl's hula rehearsal. I decided to sneak in and sit in the back to watch them rehearse. I was completely mesmerized. We had not seen any Luau shows during our trip and I had yet to see any hula dancing during our stay. (I guess we refused to spend money on any expensive Luau shows thinking it's a typical tourist trap.) Although they were not professional dancers (they were mostly children and teenagers dancing with a mean screaming teacher), I still felt very honored to watch them dance. The slow hula seems like such a great soothing dance and it made me want to see a real hula show some day but that was probably more "real" than any of the hula shows hotels put together for tourists in Hawaii. Well, maybe not. Those kids could be training for future hotel Luau performances. Who knows! I'm just blabbing. Anyway, witnessing the rehearsal made me feel like I was immersing myself into the Hawaiian culture (well, if I had joined them maybe).
We continued our drive towards the coast on our way back to our hotel. We stopped by the Waipio lookout which overlooks the Waipio valley and a beautiful coastline where we had been contemplating doing an arduous hike that week. We decided that we could not do it because first, our car could not take the hit (not insured for it as well) from the rough terrains to get to the beginning of the trek; and secondly, we factored in that we might have to cross waist-high rivers which intimidated us a bit. We were nearing the end of our trip and wanted to relax a bit!
During our drive, we saw many cows along the road. I had to stop and say hello. They were not interested in me.
We got back to our hotel in time to watch a beautiful sunset before dinner.
|Told ya that the sunset was great.|
For dinner, we ate in one of the malls's restaurant (King's Resort Shopping Center) by the resorts called "The Three Fat Pigs". Probably one of the most unpleasant meals I've had during our trip. I am not sure why. We should have known that food in any resorts have a chance to be bad. What we ordered should have been good (bone marrow, clam linguini, steak and brussel sprouts) but I remember everything just tasted so bland.
We went back to our hotel where I washed down the bland food with some delicious alcohol by a toasty fire.
|Cheers! Happy hour drinks specials!|
Day 5: Hilo, Hilo's farmers market, Big Island Candies, Splashers Oceans adventures (night snorkel with manta rays)...
The next day, we headed to Hilo's Farmers market on the opposite side of Kona. It happens on Wednesdays and Saturdays and we were happy not to miss one. This market was mentioned in the Huffington post back in 2012 as one of the top US markets food lovers should not miss! This market might attract tourists but many locals go there to get an authentic taste of Hawaii. Here, we saw all types of fruits and vegetables we did not know grew in Hawaii.
|All types of musubis. We kinda like the Spam musubis too!|
We ended up picking some food vendors near the outskirt of the market. Dave got some grilled meat from Mister D's Grill Wagon and I got one of the most delicious papaya salads I have ever had at Ratana's. When I spotted a lady grinding condiments and spices in her mortar pestle using fresh ingredients, I knew the green papaya salad would be something special- it sure was! It is $7 and worth every penny I tell ya. It's also a big portion so when I was done with it, I wasn't hungry to try other goodies from the market unfortunately. But I was so satisfied by the salad I did not care.
|Juicing: Banana, ginger, mango, kale, coconut yummy yum...|
|Ratana's papaya salad with avocado|
There was also a presence of arts and crafts at the market.
After the market, we walked around the town to see what was going on in Hilo. Dave was also determined to find this place called Two Ladies Kitchen which is popular for their mochi balls especially the ones with fresh strawberries in it. I thought they were okay. I like my mochi balls small and simple but these ones were big and the strawberry was a bit sour (I guess it would be better during strawberry season.) I think Dave really enjoyed them and they are also really popular. Many people bring them back as gifts and pre-order them before they leave for the airport.
I picked up some souvenirs here for my sister at Tanimoto dharma designs in Hilo. We happen to walk by the store and these cute cats caught my attention. The black cat reminded me of my sister's black cat so it only made sense I picked up something for her.
After that, I decided that the care/birthday package I was preparing for my sister since the beginning of the trip was ready to be shipped. Our birthdays are a week apart and hers was a week away. My package will arrive right on time. I had some Kona coffee beans, Macadamia nuts in different flavors and other things that I cannot remember anymore. We went to this beautiful post office in Hilo to mail it out.
It was too bad I mailed it out so soon because after Hilo, we went to visit Big Island Candies based on a friend's recommendation. A place to pick up cookies and sweets for yourself or for a gift. The shop offered sampling of all types of chocolates and cookies but we didn't buy anything. It was a bit pricy. Wait, no, I did pick up a pricy bag of chocolate dipped li hing mui dipped chocolate because I had become obsessed with this plum during the entire trip. I regretted buying that. The chocolate dipping didn't make the plum taste any better and I knew I could buy a bag of li hing mui for a buck in New York's chinatown. They dipped all kinds of odd things like dried squid.
|Everything was made at the factory....|
|Mini softy tornado on the Big Island|
We made our way safely back to our hotel. I didn't take any pictures between the drive and our next event so so we must have taken a nice long nap. That night, Dave had planned to take me on a night snorkel to see the manta rays to help celebrate my 30th birthday. He wanted to keep it a surprise but when I found out about this type of snorkeling trip from our Airbnb hosts back on Oahu and absolutely wanted to do it, Dave had no choice but to reveal his plans for my birthday. That would have been an amazing surprise and it still was despite me ending up doing the research to find the best company to bring us out there.
We decided to go with Splasher's Ocean Adventure based on a recommendation but also because they were the only company that offered a late evening trip to see the manta rays after all the other boats were on their way back to the port. That means we would have the manta rays all to ourselves under the beautiful moonlight and no competing lights to lure them away! It was the best decision. I see the trip is now $105 per person but I think it was way cheaper when we booked. We found a coupon or used a referral to get cheaper rates (I think we paid $70 something.) Just remember there are many competing companies out there so look in those travel guide booklets (which you can find at the hotels or airports) to get some discounts!
The night snorkeling was no doubt awesome. I made a video of our trip here if you're interested to see what we saw. Apologies for my giggling. The manta ray was getting really close and tickling me kinda.
We finished late. It was past 10 p.m. and most of the restaurants were already closed or closing in Kona so we grabbed a quick bite at one of the only places that served late night munchies. Humpy's Big Island Alehouse.
Day 6: My birthday! More snorkeling, rum cake, Da Poke Shop, Ulu (Four Seasons)...
On my birthday, I wanted to do more snorkeling. So we went back to Pu'uhononua's 2-step hoping to see some spinner dolphins in the sanctuary (we did not!). But something epic happened that day for Dave. He actually got out of his snorkeling comfort zone i.e. staying close to shore and shallow waters, and swam to the deepest part of the bay with me. He does not really know how to swim and so he was being really brave. It is so deep down there you can't see to the bottom. It's supposedly over 100 feet deep while the rest of the bay was only 10 feet deep. That's also why the dolphins like to chill there and rest there, in the deeper part of the bay (but why not when we were there dolphins! Why?!)
Across the street, we found Kona Gold Rum company where we bought some rum cake as a gift.
And for lunch, we finally got to eat more poke (and we thought we have had enough) at Da Poke Shack. I miss poke so much...
|I looked into the large cooler sitting in the shop. It lies a large ahi tuna. Fresh!|
For my birthday and to celebrate our honeymoon, Dave made reservations at Ulu at the Four seasons. He says it was one of the fanciest restaurant he can find around our resort. We had to drive quite a bit to get there but we had to drive quite a bit to get anywhere on the Big Island so it's all good.
I will make a separate post about Ulu later since I took so many pictures of our meal. Oh, we got two desserts because it was my birthday AND we were on our honeymoon! That is worth mentioning now!
Day 7: Last day! Bye bye Hawaii. Until next time...
On our last day, we drank some bubblies at the hotel before checking out and decided to check out the little town of Kamuela, Waimea before leaving for the airport. It is a small town developed by a rancher back in the olden days or something like that. Google it! We wanted to try more burgers made with locally produced beef and Village Burger was on the list of best burgers in town. I think I liked it better than Annie's Island Burgers which we tried on our first night. Village Burger is located inside the Parker Ranch Center where you can eat, shop and learn a little bit more about the ranching and rodeo history of the Big Island. We mostly just ate since we had to rush to catch our flight back home.
|View from our hotel lobby|
|Complimentary drinks for our honeymoon!|
|Village Burgers Waimea|
And that's all folks! We barely made our flight due to a gas re-filling incident but we made it! When we landed at the Newark airport, we were picked up and went straight to Massachusetts to attend a wedding. It was straight back to reality after our whirlwind Hawaiian dream...