Thursday, January 31, 2013

Where to Stay on a Hawaii Island Vacation

Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort
Since moving to South Kohala last summer, we have had the benefit of talking with many visitors to the island staying in the nearby resorts.  We enjoy listening to their stories of touring the island, seeing the erupting volcano, and watching the whales.  Surprisingly, many of the visitors who stay at the luxury resorts are disappointed with the lack of exciting adventures nearby.  Visitors in search of an  “Adventure Vacation” are bored at the remote, fancy resorts, whereas visitors in search of a “Resort Vacation” are thrilled.  

Hawaii Island offers a luxury “Resort Vacation” on pristine, white sand beaches where you are pampered with staff who bring towels and drinks at cabanas on the beach and everything you need is right there. Years ago, when we had stressful jobs on the mainland, we often went to Hawaii just to rest, lay around the pool, be fed, and do nothing. The five-star resorts in South Kohala are perfect for this type of vacation.  Though they are remote, there are cruises that leave from Kohala boat landings and nearby helicopter tours that offer a way to view the active volcano without requiring the long drive.

South Kohala Luxury Resort
Visitors in search of an “Adventure Vacation” find Hawaii Island one of the best places for excitement and discovery.  There are zip lines over waterfalls, rafting trips through earth tunnels, swimming with huge manta rays at night, ATV tours through tropical jungles, evening boat trips to view lava spewing into the ocean, jet skiing, scuba diving into lava caves, horseback riding tours, and deep sea fishing.   You can go parasailing, rent a Harley motorcycle to tour the island, rent a bicycle to ride the Ironman route from Kona to Hawi, or tour lava fields at night.  However, the resorts in South Kohala are far from Volcanoes National Park, tropical forests in East Hawaii, and marine activities in Kona.  When planning an Adventure Vacation, staying near the action makes more sense and saves many hours in the car driving from place to place.
Thurston Lava Tube hike Volcanoes National Park

On one of our favorite vacations to Hawaii Island we toured the island in search of adventure; we stayed at the Kona Islander Inn within walking distance to the pier, a B&B in Ka’u District close to spelunking in a lava cave at Kula Kai, our favorite B&B in Volcano – Kilauea Lodge - near hiking trails in Volcanoes National Park, at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel on Banyon Drive near tropical gardens, and at the Hilton in Waikoloa Beach to relax before leaving the island.   The cost of these modest hotels and B&B’s were far less than staying at a resort hotel the entire time and it allowed us to pay for more activities.
Devastation Trail Volcanoes National Park

Whatever type of vacation you are planning, recognizing the long driving distances on Hawaii Island, reserving activities in advance,  and selecting the right place to stay, makes all the difference in having the most fun on your vacation.

B&B Cottage Volcano Town


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Robert Louis Stevenson in Hawaii

Place of Refuge Hale o Keawe on Kona Coast

Robert Louis Stevenson, best known for his books Kidnapped and Treasure Island came to Hawaii in 1889.  He spent time with King David Kalakaua, wrote a poem for the half-Scottish Princess Ka’iulani, and even visited the Big Island.  Though Stevenson wrote a lot about his experiences in Hawaii, most of the writings about the islands were never published.  Fortunately, his “Journal of the Kona Coast” was included in the book Travels in Hawaii by A. Grove Day published by the University of Hawaii Press in 1991, which we found at Kona Bay Books last week.

Born in Scotland in 1850, Stevenson was frail and sickly all his life.  His first published works were travelogues about trips in Europe and to California and short stories about adventure, crime, tropical islands, and strange characters like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  However, he did not become popular until Treasure Island and his other children’s fantasy fiction novels were published with settings in warm, tropical islands that he had never visited.  At the age of 39, Stevenson decided to visit the South Pacific with hopes of improving his health in a warmer climate and experiencing the places he had written about. He arrived in Honolulu from San Francisco in January 1889 and stayed until June. 

We were surprised to read that Stevenson visited the Kona Coast during his stay in Hawaii. He arrived on a steamer in April 1889 and was dropped off on a reef just south of  Kealakekua Bay.  He waded to shore in knee deep water to Ho’okena village where he stayed for a week with a retired judge and his family.   Stevenson described the Kona landscape and his horseback rides to a coffee plantation and Honaunau village in his journal.  He toured the City of Refuge Hale o Keawe which inspired one of his short stories, “The Bottle Imp”, a classic tale of a cursed, magic bottle in a Hawaii setting.

Although Hawaii’s warm climate improved his health, Stevenson continued his journey south to tropical islands near the equator and eventually landed in Samoa where he bought acreage and built a house in Apia.    Stevenson returned to Hawaii one more time in the summer of 1893 after his health degraded in Samoa, but he only stayed 5 weeks before returning to Samoa where he died at the age 44 the following year.

Note to self: Don’t leave Hawaii.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Where to eat on Hawaii Island

During this high season on Hawaii Island, restaurants are packed and visitors are always asking us, “Where are the good restaurants?” and  “Where do the locals eat?”.  The visitors’ frustration with restaurants on the island brings back memories of our January visits to Hawaii and our exasperation at how poor the service was when we tried to eat out.  Now that we live on the island year round, we have sympathy for the restaurant owners who for eight months of the year have empty restaurants with few servers and cooks required.  We wonder how they even afford to stay open.  During high season, these same restaurants struggle to deal with throngs of hungry, impatient tourists all wondering “Why does such a busy place have so few workers?”

Visitors from London, Paris, and the mainland tell us how much they love the beauty of Hawaii Island and the adventure of staying on a more remote island than Oahu.   But they all complain about the slow service, high prices, and menu selection at most restaurants which usually consists of warmed up Costco food.  We are constantly questioned about where the restaurants with fantastic food and impeccable service are hidden; the type of restaurants they are accustomed to from their home towns are on Oahu, not Hawaii Island. 

Ironically, the local fish, grass-fed beef, fruits, and vegetables raised on our island are the best in the world.  These food are offered at only a few restaurants, as the majority of visitors do not like the taste of fresh caught fish or grass feed beef.  Most visitors do not want to wake up to a breakfast buffet of marlin,  bonefish, opah, baked breadfruit, shimeji mushrooms, poi, kumquat, oranges, rambutan, papaya, and sweet potatoes on their vacation.  So restaurants and buffets serve the imported frozen fish, corn fed beef, bacon, potatoes, breads, and dairy products tourists expect. 

When we vacationed in Hawaii before moving to the island, we stayed in places with a kitchen or shared outdoor barbecue. We brought a small George Foreman grill in our luggage so we could cook fresh fish and local grass-fed beef.  We visited Farmer’s markets around the island to buy ingredients for breakfast fruit bowls and lettuce, tomato, and avocado salads. 

Though we prefer to cook at home, we find good values in prepared local foods at deli counters at Foodland and KTA. Cooks at these Hawaii grocery stores use island raised beef, chicken and pork and serve meals and side-dishes all day.  COSTCO near the Kona airport sometimes has local caught fish and produce.   The island’s health food stores like Island Naturals in Hilo and Kona have buffets for breakfast and lunch that offer vegetarian and organic prepared foods.  These grocery stores have a year round customer base which keep cooks employed.  Self-serve restaurants tend to have higher rankings online; though the line may be long, at least you avoid the frustrating wait for a server to tend to your order.   We have noticed that on Hawaii Island we find the best tasting food where ever the least labor is required to serve it.