We’re six of us, on the Kona side of Hawaii for almost a week. Our first excursion, suggested by the travel desk at the resort (I refuse to mention Expedia because, by the time we leave, we will be very unhappy with them), is north of Kona a few miles to visit Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park. “There’s a hike to a beach-side village and you’ll see turtles,” the travel expert said. Close but not exactly. We walk up to the entrance and watch a group practicing the hula. The park is free. The docents at the park entrance are informative and someone offers us a peanut butter cookie––also free. It’s all good. The hike is very hot, though, and we expect to get a drink in the “village.” But it’s not a real village, rather an historical replica with a couple of native huts.Despite being hot, the hike past some nice petroglyphs is worth the sweat (take water!), and we do see turtles––four, to be exact.
On our return to the top, we ask for a restaurant recommendation, which leads us to the Harbor House Restaurant ––a busy and popular place with fresh-caught local fish. I order a fish and vegetable stir-fry that comes with a sticky brown-and-white rice mixture popular at local restaurants. Yummy.
We have chosen to schedule two excursions through the travel desk: the first one, a kayak or canoe ride through some “tubes” in the North Kohala area on Friday, and the other, a star-gazing trip up the mountain and above the clouds on Saturday. The flume-riding trip (this may be the one) has no openings, and what a fortunate missed bullet that turns out to be. We decide to drive our rented van up the coast to the north end of the island and stop for interesting things on our own.
The beach is pretty, but also hot and we have no sun umbrella, so we stay only a few minutes. We travel on and stop at another national historic site: Pu’ukohola Heiau, built around the ruins of a temple constructed in the late 18th century by King Kamehameha I. We don’t expect much, but we get a lot for our money––this park is also totally free.
The visitor’s center museum displays and information are interesting and well-done, but the best news is that we have happened upon the park on a Friday morning in whale-watching season. Volunteers offer binoculars to borrow, and point to sightings. Only on Fridays from 9 to 12, and that’s when we are here. What luck! And free!When we’ve seen a few, we plan to head toward the Pololu Valley Lookout, which is noted on our map. My husband and I are sure it is the one we visited a few years ago with other friends. Turns out to be a different lookout, but we don’t know that yet. We show our map to the woman at the small park museum and ask for a restaurant recommendation. She says, “People rave about a restaurant called Bamboo in Hawi, and it’s right on your way.”
What a find! Great food, with the bonus of an art gallery upstairs. Lots of art in this tiny town––even the map calls Hawi an “artist village.” The driver among us guides the car along a winding and narrow road to the lookout, where we see a beautiful valley view. We find a steep muddy and slippery trail leading in the other direction, toward the water, to a bench with a great view. Or so they tell us. Not what we expected to see. Three of us make it half-way down without falling, and the view is outstanding.
The rain starts up again, and so we cut our losses and head back to the car, where the other three of us are getting very wet.
Still looking for that easy-to-get-to beautiful view point that we saw a few years ago, we drive to Upolu Point, which is a big nothing, and not the right place either. (“You should see the view from the other place.”)
On the way back west, we stop in Kapa’au and have an ice cream while gazing at the king’s statue.
More of the interesting history of this original King Kamehameha statue here. Overall, a successful day, even though we didn’t get to the right lookout point.
The following day, after snorkeling and on our way back to the resort, we visit Sadie Seymour Botanical Gardens. A bit hard to find, the small but tidy garden looks old and some plants are missing, and we see this:
I take a picture of the signpost with the names, but later, when I look up those names, none resemble this unique flower. The only other place we have seen it is in VietNam. The thrift shop located next to the gardens is surprisingly large and worth a visit too.
We fail to miss the other bullet: our star-gazing excursion turns out to be a bust––the night so overcast that it was impossible to get above the cloud cover.
Sidenote re this excursion: Expedia said the company would “cancel and refund our money” if weather didn’t allow star-gazing. Wrong. Day after the tour, Expedia promised to forward our e-mailed complaint to the company, but a week later, a note direct to the company owner reveals he never received the complaint. After the fact, and when we were all back home on the mainland, the owner does what he can (checks to each of us refunding 25% of our costs). We learned not to book through Expedia even at a resort. Call the company directly; things get complicated when Expedia is involved.
But back to our great finds: Even though we never do see a star, the excursion leader is super-knowledgable about stars and many other things. When he learns that we’re heading to Volcano National Park the next day, he gives us two more good leads. One, have breakfast at the The Coffee Shack, right on the highway. Popular spot with a great view: be prepared to wait.
Their homemade luau bread is to die for––we had it as toast with eggs and bacon. Nice and chewy. Super-tasty.
Two, have a malasada at the Punalu’u Bake Shop, also right on Route 11 as you pass through the small town of Naalehu (the southernmost community with a post office in the 50 states of the US). You’ll see tour buses there, but the bake shop can handle the crowds. Malasadas with passion fruit glaze are their best sellers, but too sweet for us; “traditional” is the best.
We enjoyed ours while listening to an old guy play old songs on an old guitar.
We stop at the beautiful black sand beach, where several turtles, perhaps as many as a dozen, feed and frolick just a few feet from the water’s edge. We’ve brought our suits and snorkel gear, but standing up to our ankles is as far as we go.
Another good, and obvious, find, but we’d never been: the restaurant at The Volcano House, the hotel at the rim of the crater. In the park’s visitors center, we watch a good video about the recent eruption, then walk five minutes in the rain to the hotel restaurant for a warm snack. We see nothing, a total white-out, and then, in minutes, a clear view of the enlarged caldera emitting steam.Beautiful, and worth the visit.If you go to Kona: Don’t miss snorkeling at Kahalu’u Beach Park. Every time in the water, you see fish you’ve never seen before, even the same day. (You can rent equipment, but it’s cheaper to stop at Walmart to buy gear.) Docents answer questions, explain the negative effects of sunscreen on the coral, and provide free samples of coral-safe sunscreen.
Date of travel: February, 2019
Resort: Wyndham Kona Hawaiian Resort
Stellar Viewing: Kapohokine Adventures