Thursday, January 12, 2006

Kona Hawaii 2006

Ah, Hawaii. After the crazy holidays and before our crazy new semester/quarters and major upcoming projects, we took a quick Winter break to the Big Island of Hawaii.

We arrived in Kona mid-afternoon, picked up our car and headed down Ali’i drive to the Outrigger Keauhou. It’s a nice little hotel, right on Kahalu’u Beach Park. The lobby is fantastic, has a great bar right on the water overlooking tide pools full of turtles. One of the best places to catch a sunset with a Mai Tai. The rooms are a little dated but are being updated. The place was built in 1970 but more recently bought by Outrigger. The walls also are a little thin. We were between a family with small children and an older lady hard of hearing with a loud TV. Luckily we didn’t hear them too much. I would stay there again but probably in a more “off time” (the Fall) and would request an upper level end unit. We had gotten a free “upgrade” for a partial ocean view - which looked out over the Kahalu’u Beach Park and the ocean. That was worth it.

Our first full day, we gathered up the beach gear and headed next door to the Kahalu’u Beach Park, only to find it blocked off. Apparently over New Year’s weekend, there was really high surf that pounded the area and had broken a pipe and some sidewalks. We went up to the north end of the beach and found a place to watch the surfers. The surf was still rough for very good snorkeling but we did take a dip. Mostly watched the sea and did nothing.

In the afternoon, we headed to Buns in the Sun, the best deli in town for lunch. We boarded a van with Blake from Mauna Kea Summit Adventures to head up to the top of Mauna Kea for a sunset and some stars. Mauna Kea (“white mountain” in Hawaiian, due to the frequent snow on top) technically is the tallest mountain on planet earth. It rises all the way from the sea floor. From the island at sea level, it rises 13,792 feet. It is the second of five volcanos that make up the big island. It is dormant, last erupting about 3,500 years ago. Mauna Loa (“long mountain”) is the world’s largest mountain. It was very cold and very, very windy at the top of Mauna Kea but beautiful. We got to see a really cool shadow of the mountain on the clouds to the east. I've never seen something like that before.

We went to the visitor’s center at about 9,000 feet for a box dinner (Teriyaki Chicken that was pretty good), then ascended up the road to the summit. We wandered amongst the many observatories bundled in arctic parkas against the frigid wind and watched a fantastic sunset that included a really cool shadow of the mountain on the clouds over the east side of the island and ocean. Then we retreated to the warmer, less windy 9,000 feet for an astronomy show and some hot chocolate. We had some really great telescopes and our guides pointed out star constellations, planets, nebulas, galaxies and a wandering old Russian rocket booster (space junk). At Hawaii’s latitude, you can see both the north star and the southern cross, however the cross wasn’t up yet when we were there (was due up at 4 am). But pretty cool, none the less.

The next day after an extra cup of Kona joe, we headed up north of Kona to the Kohala coast beaches. The first one we went to, 'Anaeho'omalu Bay, is supposed to be gorgeous. However due to the same high surf from a few days before, crews had created sand berms to protect the property (Outrigger Waikaloa), which made it tough to hang out and watch the water, much less get in it. So we hopped back in the car and headed up to Kauna'oa Beach near the Mauna Kea resort. This was a fantastic beach - one of the best ever (listed as so by Conde Nast magazine). We found a secluded shaded corner and spent most of the day there lounging about, reading and swimming in the water.

This is the prime time of year for humpback whale sightings, although there are all kinds of whales near Hawaii year round. The Humpbacks winter in Hawaii, give birth and raise the youngins. Then they head back north to Alaska for the summer around March/April. We took a whale watch boat with a primo guide, Captain Dan McSweeney, who has a permit to get up close. We found several. I took horrible picture because I was so excited to see them, kept forgetting to click the shutter. (Plus I was kind of in stupid mode due to the Dramamine I took "in case." Duuude, it's a whale....). It was really cool seeing them so close. Dan knows a lot of information, as a whale researcher for more than 25 years.

Our Kahalu’u beach park opened back up so we spent some time snorkeling there. I brought out my camera in the underwater case and got a ton of great pictures. There are many sea turtles, as well as a ton of fish. Close to the shore there’s a fresh water leak which makes it a little murky but that’s also where most people stay. The park is surrounded by an underwater rock wall that helps protect it so you can go out pretty far. Which we did.

A trip to Kona wouldn’t be complete without a coffee drive. It’s a bit like visiting wineries in Napa Valley. You drive along, taste samples, tour the farm and buy up lots of pure Kona Joe. We planned for this by only packing half our suitcases, plus adding an extra duffle bag. We filled up all the extra crevices with coffee, coffee, coffee. Yum. The views from the coffee road is gorgeous. I could live up there (although it is on the third volcano on the island and one that is still mildly active, Hualalai).

I ventured out of my comfort zone for a valley hike in Pololu Valley (with Hawaii Forest & Trail). It really was worth it. It’s up high on the valley wall so is advertised not for those “extremely fearful” of heights. But the trail was wide in most places and the vegetation was thick so we weren’t looking straight down the whole time (just in a couple of places). The highlight was the 500 foot Kapaloa Falls that you get to walk behind. The trail is from building the Kohala Ditch system (which has an interesting adventure for a future trip). The ditch was built to gather water from this very wet side of the island and flow it to the drier side around the corner for sugar processing. The sugar companies are long gone and the ditch really isn’t used. But the trail is a great, easy hike with gorgeous scenery. Our guide, Denny was a lot of fun and had some great info on the way to the spot, which includes about 15 minutes four-wheel driving. (My teeth are still rattling.)

We visited two National Parks while we were there - Pu`uhonua o Honaunau and Kaloko-Honokohau. Pu`uhonua o Honaunau is the place of refuge where early Hawaiians who had broken rules could go and do certain things to be pardoned of their crimes. Part of this area was still roped off from the high surf. We were there at the end of the day and the light coming through the palm trees was really cool. Kaloko-Honokohau is a new one that we didn’t explore very much but got some information on. It’s earmarked for future trips too.

We spent several sunsets at Huggos on the Rocks, our favorite Mai Tai spot for sunsets. We also had beer and lunch at another favorite, the Kona Brewing Company. We also ate at Bubba Gump’s one night, which is a tourist madhouse and very fried! It’s fun but definitely not an award winning culinary experience. We had a wonderful dinner after our Valley hike at Merriman’s Market Cafe in Waikoloa (King’s Shops) where a very talented guitarist singer covered a wide variety of songs (and made Mark long to start a band again).

We had lunch at an excellent place on our last day, Daniel Thiebaut’s in Waimea. We missed it the last time through that area, coming through after lunch hours and before dinner. This time we just made the cutoff before lunch closed. It was fantastic! I had a tuna salad that was beyond anything I can describe, and we split a piece of kona coffee cheesecake.

Our last day we spent time driving around the north part visiting the Kohala bookstore and some of the galleries in Hawi and Kapa’au. On the way back to the airport, we stopped along the highway to watch the sunset. It was very quiet and one of the best sunsets of the week.

This trip, we did not visit Kilauea, the active volcano on the island. It’s a long drive from Kona and we wanted mostly to rest and relax. We’ve visited there before and will add it again on future trips (with a night or two stay in Volcano Village).

The best books for traveling to Hawaii are the “revealed” series. They are well written, have great maps and a lot of tips on things. I have copies for Maui, the Big Island, and for Kauai, which we haven’t visited yet but hope to soon - maybe in the Fall this year. There’s one more for Oahu that I haven’t gotten yet.

Many people ask me how we manage to go to Hawaii so often. We spend less on other things and also find a lot of deals. This time we booked an airfare, hotel and car package on United Vacations. It also included breakfast every day and a little package of goodies (t-shirts, tote bag, coupons and a CD of island music. I’ve signed up for email on sales and specials from many travel sites -, Cheap Tickets, Expedia, various airlines, Site 59 and more.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Travel Gremlin

Okay. Lately, something weird happens whenever both my husband and I travel somewhere together. Something on our property gets broken.

The first time was in March while we were getting married in Maui. We arrived home to find that the trash truck ran down our fence out front. It’s just a little split rail thing but it irked me they left without saying anything. The obvious green paint and marks matching the size of the large green bucket in the front of the truck. After several months, they finally replaced it.

In October, we went to Seattle for work/play. Arriving home, we found the plastic bubble over the front basement window smashed in. We couldn’t find who or what did it. It was probably one of the neighborhood cats or raccoons. There were no footprints around it so I know it wasn’t a human. We wanted to replace it with a nice metal one at some point anyway.

So just got back from our latest trip to find the UPS guy has smashed the glass in our new front door trying to deliver a package in the high wind. Our housesitter had called so we knew about it before we came home. He must have let go in a gust and it smashed into the wall opposite the door. Again, no note. But he left the package. Now I am trying to get someone to come “look at it” so we can get the process rolling. Which better be soon since we can’t get in and out the front door right now (there’s still glass everywhere).

So not sure what’s up with this. It has to be some sort of travel gremlin. I even joked with my housesitter as we left that I wondered what would be busted on my house this time...


Sunday, January 01, 2006

2006 Resolutions

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit.

Hey look at that -- it’s 2006 already! ‘Spose I should make some new year’s resolutions. (I know -- how original!)

1. Travel more. (Leaving on a jet plane tomorrow, in fact).
2. Related to that - get a passport already!
3. Go outside my comfort zone (got a hike along a cliff side 1,000 feet up scheduled in a week - there will be some sweaty palms but a gorgeous view and a 500 foot waterfall).
4. Lose some weight. Okay that one may be almost a cheat ‘cause I am already doing that but I’ll keep it up.
5. Do the Bolder Boulder (which I’ve done before -- race walking but should go again now that I am actually in shape for it).
6. Play more fetch and take more walks with my babies.
7. Try to be more patient and understanding of my husband who is on a completely different planet (yeah, him -- Mars, me -- Venus, I know, I know...). Packing six pairs of shorts for a week’s vacation may make sense on Mars (three are khaki green and three are khaki tan). Weird that he’s actually the one that overpacks ...
8. Edit, edit, edit. Ebay, charity, craigslist ... boxes to the MIL ... I need breathing room.
9. More projects around the house. We may be here awhile so might as well keep it from falling down! And get rid of the remaining white walls.
10. Add another human to my family.
11. Have more days off - at least one *whole* weekend a month.
12. Learn to better schedule my time (as much as I can with crazy clients and crazy project managers).
13. Change my hairstyle (since my sisters accused me of having the same on from third grade -- they apparently forgot the long bangs, shaved head, purple hair, blue tail eras of my locks.) This is kind of a cheat - I had my hair cut two days ago and it is definitely different.
14. Organize. Everything.
15. Write more often. There are children’s books in my head involving my pets’ escapades and my sister Annie’s big box of colored pencils. There are article ideas. There’s this blog. There’s a lot to say.

And with that -- Happy new year!