Hawaii Post 9: Crossing Food Off The List

To catch you up to speed:
Post 1: The Hilton Waikoloa
Post 2: Waikoloa to Hilo
Post 3: Hilo to Volcano Village
Post 4: Volcano Village to Kona
Post 5: Kona to Maui
Post 6: Lahaina + Trilogy Boating Excursion
Post 7: Ziplining + Maui Brewing Company
Post 8: The Road To Hana

This is my LAST Hawaii post, I swear, and it’s a shorty.

On our last day, we spent it relaxing by the beach and buying goodies to bring home to our ¬†friends but we also had one last indulgence: food. I know what you’re thinking, we ate so much already what could we possibly add to the list? Oh boy…

We started our day by visiting the Gazebo Restaurant which was only a mile away from our condo. It’s right on the water and exactly like it sounds, a gazebo. It’s a favorite amongst everyone in the neighborhood and expect a line. But the best things in life are worth waiting for right?

It started raining while we were waiting in line to get in, and they had a special Gazebo umbrella stand with giant umbrellas waiting for us. That’s one think about Hawaii, one thing it’s raining and the next it’s perfect weather. You never know. Our day started rainy (it’s like Hawaii knew we were leaving!) and then ended up being a great last beach day.

After a tasty sandwich at the Gazebo, we walked across the sand to Napili Beach to enjoy our last swim. The water was so warm I couldn’t resist. And a sea turtle stopped by too. After a couple hours we left the beach to check into where my sister was staying for the remainder of her trip. While my friend and I had to head back to LA to face reality, my sister extended her trip through Memorial Day weekend. This meant that we had a place to wash off after our beach day, which worked out really well for us.

Now what time is it? Time for dessert! We decided to have dessert before dinner on our last day. If you think that sounds piggy, well it is. We stopped into Kimo’s (a Young House Love recommend) and caught their happy-hour drink specials and shared a massive macnut “hula pie”. It’s point “B” on the map. Yummy and huge so definitely share.

Now that dessert was out of the way, we made room for dinner. We stopped into Cool Cat Cafe where my sister and I split a veggie burger and our friend got a salad for the plane. We weren’t starving (obviously) but we knew we wouldn’t get to eat for another 8 hours.

We said our goodbyes to Lahaina, and she replied with a rainbow. Don’t worry, we’ll be back.

Hawaii Post 8: The Road to Hana

To catch you up to speed:
Post 1: The Hilton Waikoloa
Post 2: Waikoloa to Hilo
Post 3: Hilo to Volcano Village
Post 4: Volcano Village to Kona
Post 5: Kona to Maui
Post 6: Lahaina + Trilogy Boating Excursion
Post 7: Ziplining + Maui Brewing Company

Great apologies for this post taking FOREVER, but if the map below is any indication, “The Road to Hana” covers a LOT of territory.

We got on the road as early as possible because we had a giant day ahead of us. If you tell anyone you went to Maui, they all ask “Did you do the road to Hana?!” so we knew this was something we needed to do. It’s like a Maui right of passage. And just a warning, spray yourself with bug spray before you leave on this trip. That was a giant regret I had, and that advice alone is like gold.

There is a Shell gas station on route 380 (right near the airport) where they have a roadside stand selling cds that guide you along the road to Hana. The ABC stores (that you’ll find everywhere) also sell Hana cds. You play these along our journey and they give you a history of what your seeing. It was worth it, especially splitting the cost among the three of us.

Then we drove to Paia (point “H” on the map) where we enjoyed a lovely breakfast at the adorable, Anthony’s Coffee Co. This is a great stop before making the road to Hana. They even have picnic baskets you can take and enjoy on the road. We even got to meet the sweet Keri Stewart (one of the owners) who was working behind the counter.

At point “C” on the map, you’ll see cars parked along the road because this is the start of the twin falls “hike” as well as the Twin Falls Maui Farmstand. It’s worth stopping to experience this fruit stand. I ordered the sugar cane juice, which I watched her juice actual sugarcane and then hand me the cup. No preservatives, no frozen anything, it’s all fresh and made in front of you. This is a nice refresher if you just walked down to the waterfalls.

The colors of the plants and flowers make this “hike” (more like an unpaved walking path) such a beautiful journey. The waterfalls were of course stunning (see the images below) but I enjoyed getting the falls more than the actual falls. That idea is what’s most special about the road to Hana, it’s all about the journey. Hana itself is nothing special, but it’s the stops you make along the way that make this trek famous.

I drove this leg of the trip and I can tell you, it’s terrifying. The roads, at their widest, are barely wide enough for two cars. All the bridges (there are 100’s) are single lanes. This is a very windy, scary cliff drive but it’s worth the fear. Be careful on your drive, and keep your windows down to listen for oncoming cars (especially around bends). Also the locals drive giant vehicles and don’t bat an eye at running tourists off the road. If your trip is anything like mine, this will happen a lot. We stopped along the road to visit an arboretum (where this tree picture was taken) and saw two cars that had plummeted down off the cliff. We have no idea how long ago this happened, but it’s definitely a warning.

We took a detour to try the world famous banana bread at point “D” on the map. This is Aunty Sandy’s Banana Bread and it’s the place to go for banana bread. It’s so off the road and unassuming, but so many people told us to stop here and it was worth the wait. After you finish, keep going down the road a quarter-mile until the road ends. Here you get a great view of giant crashing waves and the cliffside ahead of you (see pictures below).

You’ll keep trucking along (praying at every bend in the road for survival) and stopping off at so many overlooks and waterfalls.

After breakfast in Paia, smoothes at the farmstand, and banana bread you’re probably wondering how we have room for anything else, but we made room. We stopped just after mile marker #29 for the best shrimp taco I’ve ever had. This little shack-strip mall was charming but also a little creepy. It was worth the creepiness to indulge in this awesome giant shrimp taco.

The below pictures are taken from Waianapanapa State Park. It was getting cloudy and windy, so this wasn’t a place where we spent a ton of time, but it was on our list to stop into.

At this point we’d reached Hana. As we anticipated, there wasn’t much to see in Hana. We took a bathroom break at the old Hana Hotel. This is a great place to stay if you have the luxury of time and money to spend a night in Hana. We had neither of those things on this leg of the trip, so we just walked around and then hit the road.

You can see my photos are getting cloudier and cloudier as it got later in the day and closer to sunset. As I said above, we weren’t spending the night in Hana which meant we needed to somehow get back to Paia before dark because there are zero street lamps until you get to Paia. We made a stop in at Hamoa because their beaches are award worthy. These photos don’t express the craziness of the waves.

I just want to point out how the landscape is always changing (as it has the entire trip). The photos below were taken minutes apart, and don’t they look like two completely different worlds?

We decided to do something that only 1% of the people who drive to Hana do. Instead of looping back and retracing our steps, we decided to take the road less traveled. In fact it’s a super dangerous unpaved road. We took the southern road back to Paia.

This road is very difficult to drive, which means nothing is out here. No tourists… barely even locals because there’s nothing to be local to. We passed maybe 5 houses (run-down shacks) through the whole ride back to town.

See the house in the photo above.. right on the water, without half a roof. That’s what we saw. We also were fighting for daylight. We had to pass the 7 pools without stopping in, which was painful to skip, but we HAD to get through the driving with sunlight or we were totally screwed.

Along the way we stopped at point “G” to visit a churchyard. The church itself is closed, but with the sun setting, it made for great photos.

And then the scary drive continued. At least here the road became paved, but it also was still one lane, for a two laned road.

It was frightening, but beautiful. It’s scariness is what keeps people away, which is what made the second half of the day so special. Eventually it becomes two lanes, and then your only worry is all the cattle that love to hangout on the road. It was quiet a sight! We survived and I’ll never forget that drive.

We finished our day stopping in Paia for a celebratory dinner at the famous Fish Market, which many locals recommended to us. They had a huge menu and it’s the type of place where you order at a counter and eat at indoor picnic tables. Not classy by any means but we all loved our meals.

Next up is my final post from Hawai: Crossing Food Off The List.

Hawaii Post 7: Ziplining + Maui Brewing Company

To catch you up to speed:
Post 1: The Hilton Waikoloa
Post 2: Waikoloa to Hilo
Post 3: Hilo to Volcano Village
Post 4: Volcano Village to Kona
Post 5: Kona to Maui
Post 6: Lahaina + Trilogy Boating Excursion

After yesterdays boating adventure, it was time for a beach visit. Originally we had grand plans to wake up at 3am (I know, ridiculous) and drive all the way to Haleakala to catch the sunrise. I’m sure this would have been amazing, but it just didn’t make sense because of where we were staying it would take 4-5hrs just for a 10 minute sunrise. Not worth our time this trip (although when I go back, I’ll make sure I get to see it). Instead we decided to hit the local beach, Napili Bay (point “B”).

The sand was so soft that it made for a great laying-out beach as well as snorkeling. At noon we went to Skyline Eco Adventures (near point “C”) to go ziplining! It was my first time. I didn’t bring my cell phone or camera because I didn’t want to lose either, although in hindsight it would have been okay to use a cell phone for photos. Sadly, there are no pictures of this excursion. If you click on the website link above you can see photos on their website of the lines we went down. What a cool experience and our guides Kevin and his partner in crime (who’s name I can’t pronounce or spell) were hilarious. You could tell they love their jobs and working with travelers. We did 8 (?) zips and ate lunch at a treehouse like structure overlooking a valley. They had a veggie option for me which was a tasty sandwich. They even give you a free water bottle and drinks and dessert when you finish. I highly recommend this company. They were a little more money than some of the other options, but provided food and a ton more zips! It’s the best bang-for-your-buck.

After ziplining we explored Whaler Village (also near point “C”) before heading back to our condo to get ready for dinner. It reminded us of the Grove, to put it in LA perspective. It’s also surrounded by large high-rise hotels and resorts so it’s very touristy. It was fun to walk through, but we didn’t stay too long. We drove up north of our condo to see the Ritz, but it wasn’t very open to the public so instead of catching the sunset there, we stopped back at Napili Beach.

After sunset we realized we never stopped in at the Maui Brewing Company. Since we saw the Kona Brewing Company on the Big Island, it only seems fair to see Maui’s. We knew we wanted to have dinner in Lahaina (at Cheese Burger in Paradise which was recommended by Young House Love)so we just stopped in for one drink. I ordered their coffee/coconut dark brew Coconut Porter. I love it.

Then we ate at Cheese Burger In Paradise (point “D”) while listening to a singer. The photo was good. Nothing fancy but a fun place to eat on the second floor overlooking Lahaina.

Of course we stopped back in a Ululani’s for another dose of shaved ice.

Can you tell we’ve eaten and ton on this trip? And indulged in so many tasty treats? It’s so hard not to with so much unique food in Hawaii. You can bet now that I’m back, it’s diet-city!

Hawaii Post 6: Lahaina + Trilogy Boating Excursion

To catch you up to speed:
Post 1: The Hilton Waikoloa
Post 2: Waikoloa to Hilo
Post 3: Hilo to Volcano Village
Post 4: Volcano Village to Kona
Post 5: Kona to Maui

We decided to spend all of our Maui time based out of a two bedroom condo in Napili/Kahana (point “A”). We stayed at Kahana Sunset where they rent these condos out, which are filled with amenities and a great deal for your money. We had two balconies, two bedrooms, and an ocean view. The property had a pool and private beach front. We were able to do laundry (in our unit) as well as cook meals. It cost the same price as a hotel but gave us so much more. Plus we were able to save money and meals and laundry access meant we could wash our beach towels and pack fewer clothes (saving on luggage checking fees). We were less than a mile from the gorgeous Napali Bay and a 15 minute drive north of Lahaina (a cute downtown area). I would gladly do this again.

Our first day in Maui was spent sleeping in, shopping for food and supplies for the rest of our trip, and lounging on the beach. After such a busy time on the Big Island it was nice to relax and enjoy paradise. That night we watched the sunset from our balcony.

Then we drove down to Lahaina to experience the “nightlife” (aka get dessert). Everything in Hawaii closes early, but at least this strip of shops and galleries stayed open a little later. Almost every night we would end up walking the streets here enjoying ourselves.

There are so many art galleries here that it was fun to window shop.

We HAD to get shaved ice and according to Yelp, we had to do it at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shaved Ice. This is a Hawaii must-do. They take a scoop of mac nut ice cream and pile shaved ice on top. You pick 3 flavors from a massive list, and they add the syrup on top. Once you eat through the ice, the ice cream takes on hints of flavor from the syrup. It’s awesome. Go here!

From there we went home because the next morning we had to get down to Maalaea Harbor Road where our Trilogy Boating Excursion would begin at 8am. If you come to Maui you have to do one of these scuba/boating adventures. It’s one of the highlights of our trip and Trilogy treated us like kings. We underestimated the time it takes to get to the harbor so we were a few minutes late and FRANTIC that they left without us. Instead of being fussy with us for holding up the boat they were extremely nice and casual about it. They took time to get to know everyone on the boat. They referred to us as the “LA Girls”. The group wasn’t that big, so it felt more intimate.

They fed us so much food. Fresh fruit and coffee and then the hot cinnamon rolls came around! After we did some snorkeling off of Molokini (which was so cool because the water was crystal clear) they fed us a fruit salsa with chips. The next diving spot was on the Kihei coast where I swam with a sea turtle! The waves were large which meant visibility wasn’t the best and it also made it easy to get off course but it was worth it to sea the turtles.

After the turtle spot they served up lunch, which for me (a pescetarian- a vegetarian that eats fish) was a veggie burger patty with rice and salad. It was very filling and they came around with seconds for everyone. And I stress that they came to us. They were so accommodating and worked hard to give us an awesome boating experience. The Captain of the boat was Brett (hilarious), and Mark (?) and his son Logan (super hot) where in charge of keeping us happy and helping the guests who were new to snorkeling. Dave (?) ran the Snooba program (which cost more so we didn’t do it). If I go back and do it again, I would request these guys, they were so amazing.

After lunch we took a sailing ride along the west edge of Maalaea Bay and relaxed. The suns heat dried us off and we got to talk to the crew about how they ended up in Hawaii and what they recommend we do on our trip. They also passed out vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and offered beer for an extra couple bucks.

At 2/2:30p we docked in the harbor and our cruise had come to an end. Me made the drive back to our condo where we washed up and laid out on the deck.

That night we got dolled up and went to Mala (a mile north of downtown Lahaina). We all ordered fancy drinks and watched the sunset. This restaurant is right on the water (as you can see in my photos) and we got a table right out on the deck. We indulged in a tuna poke appetizer (a must for Hawaii) and I ordered a fish burger a my meal. We all loved the food and the view. This was a splurge night for us, as it is pricier than the places we had been going to, but when you’re on vacation sometimes it’s fun to get dressed up and have a fancy night.

Hawaii Post 5: Kona to Maui

To catch-up on my vacation recap (and to learn about must-visit restaurant and hotels in Hawaii) check out these posts:
Post 1: The Hilton Waikoloa
Post 2: Waikoloa to Hilo
Post 3: Hilo to Volcano Village
Post 4: Volcano Village to Kona

And so we leave off with us saying goodbye to the Big Island and taking an “island hopper” to Maui. It’s not common to take boats between the islands as it’s not cost effective or environmentally friendly which is a big deal in Hawaii. We dropped off our rental car and took the shuttle to the airport, only this time we didn’t get dropped at the main entrance. Instead we were taken to a shack of a building away from the main airport. And this is why this flight earned it’s own post.

So it’s the three of us and another two couples in this “terminal”. We approach the desk to get our tickets (since they don’t let you get boarding passes ahead of time… which should have been a warning sign). Instead of a person, there is a courtesy phone where you speak to an operator to “check-in”.

The planes parked out front were tiny. Very tiny.

We had a lot of time to kill, considering it’s Hawaii (and they have issues with plants and soil) we got their super early because of security. It turns out island hoppers don’t require you to go through security. So yes, lots of time to kill. The sunset was beautiful, watching it over the tarmac. And you know me, I made friends with an older couple waiting for their flight so that helpped time go by.

Eventually an attractive guy comes out and calls our names. He asks to see our licenses and confirm our weight. Oddly enough, weight on these small planes is a number one priority. We told him our weights (painfully after 5 days of vacationing) and then waited to board the flight. We were concerned about liquids and the number of bags and sure enough, none of that mattered. It turns out that the attractive man was our pilot, Captain Tim (he told us to call him). Oh how hottie Captain Tim will remain in our hearts.

Captain Tim loaded all of our luggage himself, and even called out our seat assignments. It was pretty funny, given that this plane fit 8 people? What an awesome/frightening/cool/scary experience. He put the three of us directly behind him. My knees were hitting the pilots back, that’s how small this plane was. We could see all the gauges, maps, whistles. Given how flying is these days, this was such a unique chance to see how pilots fly. It was totally new to me.

I was a tad worried, since the plane was so small and my stomach gets motion sickness sometimes, but it was all perfectly fine. Our only regret was that we didn’t do the flight during the day. Most travel companies had $100+ helicopter tours of The Big Island, but this plane was only $60 and was low flying enough that you could get the island tour experience. We booked our flight for just after sunset so we couldn’t see very clearly. Trust me, book a flight to another island and do it during the day time.

Hawaii Post 4: Volcano Village to Kona

This was the biggest move of our time on The Big Island, Volcano Village to Kona.

You can see by the maps, we had a big day ahead of ourselves. We started by leaving the Aloha Junction B+B after eating the amazing breakfast they prepared for us. We decided to backtrack 10 minutes down the road to visit the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens. My sister heard they had a $20,000 orchid that rarely blooms, but happened to be in bloom while we were there. They had gorgeous flowers. My allergies were acting up, but Im glad I got to see a room full of unique flowers. They all smell different, wildly different.

We needed to do one more thing before we started our long road trip to Kona. We went back into Volcano Village and did one more hike. I can’t say we saw anything very different from the day before, but it was nice to be out there getting exercise. There were dramatic lava formations that were cool to hike around.

Around 12p we finally hit the road. At marker “B” we saw a sign for a black sand beach and decided to get some fresh air. This turned out to be a great decision. This black sand beach is Punalu’u Beach and is a common place for turtles to lay out on the beach. We saw several. The other side of the beach had giant crashing waves. Don’t count on swimming here, but if you like wildlife it’s worth stopping in.

Since it was lunch time, we stopped in at a place highly recommended to us, the Punalu’u Bake Shop (point “C” on the map). I enjoyed the tuna sandwich and a malasada. We all split a scoop of mac nut ice cream and got some snacky breads for the road.

After lunch we had a short journey to the southern most tip of the US. I have to share a photo of a house we passed along the way:

Is that not hilariously hideous?

Once we were away from houses, the landscape became rolling green hills with cattle. Such a change in scenerey in such a short drive. Down at the coast, there is a hike to a green sand beach. We didn’t have enough time to make the loop, and from what we’ve heard, don’t try to drive it. I’m sure given how remote it is and the hike you have to take to get there, it’s a magical beach. And green sand is so rare.. oh well, next time. We did get to walk around and stand on the edge of the cliff of the southern most point.

We still had a long drive ahead of us, so we set back on the road to Kona. Along this drive north there were many coffee plantations and fruit farms that give tours. We were tired and anxious to get to Kona so we did not stop off at any. We finally arrived at our hotel (Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel) in Kona around 5ish, just in time for a drink and a walk around the property before dinner. This hotel was beautiful, centrally located, and pretty cheap. Judging by it’s high occupancy given it’s their off-season, I’m guessing this is a favorite for visitors.

For dinner we walked to the Kona Brewing Company. The food was so good and the beer even better.

The next morning began out last day on The Big Island. We snorkeled at Kahluu Beach Park and then explored Alii Drive. This road take you along the ocean and is filled with cute shops. We even stumbled on a farmers market.

It was getting cloudy and we needed to head to the airport, but we made one stop at the Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area.

My next post will be all about our flight from The Big Island to Maui.

Hawaii Post 3: Hilo Sunrise to Volcano Village

The next leg of our trip takes us out of Hilo and down to Volcano Village to explore Kilauea.

We all got up super early to catch the sunrise at Liliuokalani Gardens and Coconut Island Park. It was really beautiful. This area (and Volcano Village) are more tropical than the west side of the island which meant for more clouds and occasional rain, but this made for a beautiful sunrise complete with rainbow.

Since it was super early, we decided to stop in at Ken’s House of Pancakes for some of their famous mac nut pancakes. It was fun seeing the breakfast usuals, who I’m sure come to Ken’s every Tuesday at 7a to meet their buddies. Old people are awesome like that.

After a yummy breakfast and a quick nap at the hotel, we packed up and hit the road. We made one stop into Bear’s Coffee before we said goodbye to Hilo. The owner was a hilarious man who actually used to own Akbar in LA. I’ve attended Craft Night at Akbar in the past and was facinated to hear what he had to say. He sold it to the now owners of Akbar and eventually moved to Hilo to open Bear’s Coffee. Such a character, he was.

After chatting and caffeinating, we left town to head south west (45 min drive) to Volcano Village. This was our day to spend in Volcano National Park so we went straight in to their visitors center. It was here where we learned what was worth doing for our one day in the park. The volcano also changes frequently because it is active, so for example, the road leading around the southern side of the volcano was completely closed down due to poisonous gasses. If you are visiting the park, start here because they will plan your day for you.

We followed the rangers instruction and then moved to the most west spot open to the public, the Jaggar Museum, which is full of information about the history of the volcano. It is also the best lookout point for the active caldera.

We then headed east stopping at each of the sights. Here was saw the steam vents and sulfur banks.

We did a hike around devastation trail and a few others that were short (around a mile long) before we had to take a break for lunch. There were no places to get food within the park, so we followed the rangers suggestion and went into Volcano Village (the closest town) for a bite to eat at Volcano Garden Arts’ Cafe Ono. This all vegetarian place looked like a home that was converted to an art shop and cafe. The food was so delicious and the price included soup and a salad. We all really enjoyed the meal and indulged in a brownie with homemade ice cream.

Did I mention they have a goat named Ernest? We played with him after lunch.

We drove back into the park to have more volcano fun. We went to the Thurston Lava Tube, which is now hollowed out, but used to be filled with lava. I’m glad I packed my headlamp. You know me, always be prepared!

Across from the entrance to the lava tube is the start of a 4 mile hiking loop that takes you through the volcano crater. So cool. Do this hike. It’s not too challenging, but wear closed toed shoes. This is the closest I will ever be to walking on the moon (which is what this hike feels like). There are even still steam pockets along the hike. It makes you feel like if you took one wrong turn you could fall through. A little scary, but what an awesome experience. If you only have time to do one thing in the park, make it this.

We continued to the end of Chain of Craters Rd. The road ends where lava actually took out the road back in 2003. It wasn’t even that long ago. The road even looks newly paved, with solid lava seeping out into it. I love the shot of the “road closed” sign. This was a windy ride with steep drops, but it was worth it. This is also where the lava meets the ocean, so it’s a very different sight than the rest of the park.

At this point the sun was setting and we wanted to see the volcano at night (from the Jaggar Museum lookout) so we had to drive the hour back north to the first place we started. It was worth the drive to see this clearly active volcano glowing. The moon and venus were also out. It was a beautiful night.

Once we had our fill of photo taking, it was 8:15p and we needed dinner. Most everything closes early in Hawaii, so we raced into town to get to the only dinner restaurant we knew of, Kiawe Kitchen. We got there just as they put out their closed sign (they closed at 8:30p) but still let us sit and eat. Thank goodness because there weren’t many options to go anywhere else. The meal was fabulous. We split asparagus, pizza, and a veggie pasta dish. The three of us were stuffed and so impressed with the food we had in Volcano Village. Coincidentally our hotel was right next door.

We had a great stay at Aloha Junction B+B in Volcano Village. We were so nervous about booking it because it had lots of availability and was significantly cheaper than all the other options. Suspiciously cheaper. But we wanted to save money and figured it was one night, how bad could it be? It was awesome. Why it was so cheap? I have no clue. The room was adorable and full of amenities. Since it was a B+B, it was a large home with additions put on to it. We had a room in the back with a large deck around it. Such a cute place, and then the next morning the owner had made us a giant feast! He made mac nut pancakes with fruit picked from the garden. Each of our plates had a fresh papaya with more fruit. He provided bacon for the meat eaters and tons of juices and coffees. We were spoiled rotten. This was also one of our top meals of the trip. I normally don’t love pancakes and I had three they were so good! If you stay in Volcano Village, spend the night here. You will be so glad you did.

Hawaii Post 2: Waikoloa to Hilo

Happy Memorial Day! Hope you all got your bbq on. I left off when we said our goodbyes to the glorious Hilton. We were sad to go, but excited to see the real Hawaii. These maps show you the scale of our day move to Hilo. We stopped off at several places… but more on that later.

About fifteen minutes up the road is point “B” on the map, Hapuna Beach. This public beach is the epitome of what you picture when you think of a Hawaiian beach. White sand, clear blue bath water, and even a smoothie stand. At the end of the trip we all agreed this was probably the best beach we visited. We only had an hour and a half to spend here, and it was a cherished 90 minutes. The smoothie stand was a tad pricy, but worth it.

The landscapes on the Big Island are so varied. We went from extreme desert to lush rolling hills of greenery. Such a small distance to see such a drastic change in landscape.

We drove the next hour to Honokaa (near the “C” on the map) to eat lunch at Tex Drive In. This place was recommended to me by everyone who heard I was going to the Big Island. Given it’s reputation, I thought it would be massive and packed with people and I was wrong. It’s like a little diner stop, where you order food at the counter and sit at picnic tables. It was small, low-key (like most everything in Hawaii, as I learned) and delicious!

Tex is known for their malasadas. Get a malasada there. It’s like a donut, but a square puff pastry of heaven. I’m not big into pastries, but it was so good. I got the cream filled.

After I finished a fish sandwich and malasada at Tex, we realized only 10 minutes away was Waipio Lookout which was on our “if-you-have-time” list. This is point “C” on the map. This lookout is well worth the added 10 minutes in the wrong direction. This lookout gives you such dramatic views of the cliffs, and gives you a peak into Hawaiian history by letting you look onto the remote village deep down below.

We opted not to hike down into the valley, as we still had so much to see along our trek to Hilo. We retraced our steps to Tex Drive In, and continued for another hour+ to get to point “D” on the map. This was a beautiful drive along a green hillside with water views. This was so different from our time in Waikoloa and equally valuable to our Hawaiian experience.

Point “D” is Akaka Falls. This super short (.5 mi?) loop is really easy and a great way to jump into the tropical climate. We paid a dollar? or maybe two, to a man guarding the entrance. I like to hope he worked for their parks department, but I have my doubts. It was worth the couple dollars, as you see many waterfalls along the loop. The most awwing is Akaka Falls. The path is very well maintained and I would barely call it a hike.

Once we completed the loop, it was about 5:30p and we still needed to get into Hilo. This was our day in Hilo, and we got into town so late that not much was open. We checked into our hotel around 6pm. We stayed on what locals might call “the wrong side of town”, but we enjoyed our hotel, The Dolphin Bay Hotel. Here we booked a 2 bedroom (practically) apartment, with it’s own full kitchen and balcony. While the neighborhood isn’t great, this hotel is very nice and a good price. They grow their own fruit, so they keep fresh papaya and bananas in bowls for the guests. Their lobby is packed with free amenities like bug spray and umbrellas to take on walks into town. When we arrived we indulged in a papaya from the garden and some homemade cocktails on the balcony.

The owners of the hotel told us about a super cheap and yummy sushi place walking distance from the hotel, Ocean Sushi. They warned us it was nothing fancy (card tables and chairs) but that the sushi was amazing. Best recommendation ever. When you hear “cheap sushi”, it’s easy to worry, so we decided to walk to the restaurant and if we didn’t feel like it was for us, we had some back-up options. When we walked the 15 minutes to the place we saw it was packed with locals. This is always a good sign. Everything was around $5. Wow. What a deal. And these weren’t boring rolls, they were creative and unique. They had mac nuts in them (which is what Hilo, and Hawaii, are known for). Have you had a tuna roll with a mac nut in it? Genius. We were all blown away! I think that meal cost us each under $15 (including tax and tip) and we ate so much food. The photo below was just one round of sushi (and we had a couple rounds). We even got dessert, fried mochi. This was also voted our favorite dinner given the deliciousness and cheap prices. If you are in Hilo and eat sushi, this is a must. I could go on all day about this place, but I must continue.

We walked around town after dinner and then headed back to the hotel. We knew we were going to wake up early to catch the sunrise the next morning (which is best from this side of the island). We felt safe walking back to the hotel because there were three of us, but if you are planning to go by yourself I would be careful walking around this area alone at night. Hilo in general was much less touristy than the Kona (west) side of the Big Island and it was also a great experience seeing how locals live in paradise.

Hawaii Post 1: The Hilton Waikoloa

The trip begins with the three of us (me, my sister, and our friend) landing at the outdoor airport in Kona (The Big Island) late at night. We stepped off the plane to breathe in the fresh air of this cool (tiny) airport, walk down the steps and right over to the taxi stand. All outside. We clearly aren’t on the main land anymore.

We rented a car because our Big Island journey involves a looping trip around the island. Split three ways, the price of having a rental car is totally worth it. We then drove to the Kona Walmart. This is also a must-do if you are traveling in Hawaii on a budget. We didn’t want to check ny bags (because of the fees) so we bought liquids and beach stuff here. We then stopped at Safeway and bought food for lunches/snacks for the trip. Do this. Food in Hawaii gets really expensive. For example expect to spend $6+ dollars just on your morning coffee. After loading up on food, drinks (for do-it-yourself happy hours), and beach mats/coolers we made the 20 mile (30 minute drive) to The Hilton Waikoloa Village.

We had three nights at this hotel. The first night we got in so late that we just crashed. Plus it gets so dark here that you can’t see more than ten feet from any lights. For example, the drive to the Hilton was all along the ocean but we couldn’t see any of it. This post is dedicated to our time in Waikoloa, which was spent entirely at the resort. This place is Disneyland. When we arrived they gave us a list of classes (some free and some cost extra) for our time at the hotel. We then took the tram to our hotel room. You heard me right, tram. This resort is so large that there are three modes of transportation: tram, boat, or walking.

Every morning I would leave the room at 7a just to explore the grounds while it was peaceful and quiet. It was fun to see the resort wake up, and there’s always something new to see. Here are my pictures from the trip.


There are several pools (with slides!) and the fun of this place is exploring and stumbling upon something new. They have everything from manmade pools to a massive lagoon and bay perfect for snorkeling and seeing wildlife.



They have tons of birds walking around, 2 “talking” birds in their lobby, and flamingos. The lagoon has resident sea turtles you can swim with. Oh yeah, and freakin’ DOLPHINS! DOLPHINS! You can swim with the dolphins for an extra fee, although watching them is free and I did plenty of that.

Each day we indulged in happy hour… which basically made the fancy drinks a normal price. And we figured out a way to hit two happy hours at two of the bars within the resort.

A big thing here, and all over Hawaii, are the sunsets. People flock to the lookout points to see the sunset, although you had a great view from anywhere here. At the resort, a boy blows the conch shell at sunset and runs around lighting all the tiki torches. It’s a really fun event to watch. Plus the torch lighters are pretty handsome.

These are the boys we had for our two sunsets. The second one actually said “How you doin'” to us mid-run.

Lastly, I want to share these photos. The first shows you how grafitti works here. All along the highway there tons of black rocks (from the volcano) which means that with white rocks people can spell messages. All along the main road/highway are these messages. It’s funny the lengths people go to write messages in rocks. The second picture I took while eating dinner at the cantina within the Hilton. This is one of the boat docking stations and we enjoyed watching it from our table.

This isn’t meant to be a Hilton ad, but it was a great “vacationy” way to begin our adventure. This was the only resort part of trip and it was nice to see a variety of places along the journey. This resort offered deals (as it was there off season) and of course the longer you stay the cheaper each night becomes. They also offer food packages that we didn’t get. We ate at the cheaper restaurants within the resort, made our own breakfasts, had leftovers for lunch, and sometimes made our own happy hour drinks. Thats why the first stop at the local Walmart is an important stop. We each splurged on the Hilton coffee ($6-7) every morning because it was so delicious we couldn’t resist.

Next up, we leave the resort and get to see the real Big Island. From Waikoloa to Hilo.