Monday, January 30, 2012

Mum's Visit: Around the Big Island by Land

 Maps of the Big Island of Hawai'i’s 9 districts and 5 volcanoes for orientation of our recent adventures 

2012 came roaring in and January got busy quickly when Judy, Shawn’s Mum, landed in Kona on January 5th for a week-long visit. It was her first trip to Hawaii and it was very special for us that she made the journey half way around the world. While she was here, we packed in a ton of visiting and touring in order to catch up and introduce her to the Big Island. We greeted her at the airport with a real flower lei (Shawn had polled the few people she could find that knew about their Hawaiian meaning and the one she had chosen meant “good luck”) as Hawaiian welcome, picked up her rental car, and got her settled into a recently renovated room at the Kona Islander Inn. The Inn was great but had a lack of parking so for the week we became a 2-car family, and Shawn the rental car chauffer. We started off slowly the next morning going out to brunch and then back to Tao to determine if Judy’s new hip would allow her to climb aboard while Med-tied. After finding that she had little problem clambering aboard, we hiked to the nearby Kaloko-Honokohau State Park in search of turtles and petroglyphs and what we found was our first Nene, the worlds rarest goose (sorry no pictures).

Saturday morning we went out for a bittersweet sail; it was Tao’s first outing of 2012, the first time Judy had been out on Tao and the last time for all of us before our January 19th planned haul-out, and possibly Grizzly’s last sail on Tao. It was a typical day on the Kona coast, light breeze under 10-knots and sunny with haze covering most of Hualalai Volcano, towering above Kona but usually hidden in vog from faraway Kilauea. The sail was mellow and idyllic; Mum chased the spots of sun around the cockpit as we changed points of sail, and we had a smooth entry back into the dock just in time to catch a beautiful vog-induced red sunset. Sunday morning Shawn taught a double at Bikram Yoga Kona, so Judy explored the bustling market on her own. That afternoon we all three drove down to the South Kona District to Hookena Beach- our first time via land. Though we were hoping that it might be mellow and were imagining swimming and snorkeling, it turned out to be one of the busy days- the last day of  Holiday break before kids headed back to school. So instead, we enjoyed people watching as families swarmed the beach and skim-boarding youth covered the waves crashing onto the shore. After enjoying lunch in the sun and stopping by to say hello to our friends at Hale Kai, we continued back toward Kona, stopping at Honaunau, a national park known historically as a “place of refuge.” With no patch of sand large enough for Tao to anchor in its bay, this was a site that we had not previously explored and once there, it was easy to imagine the area filled with bustling life of the Ancient Hawaiians.

Monday was a big day of touring and the weather held beautifully. We started early to drive around the south point of the island, and spent all morning in the southeastern Ka'u District. First we stopped in Na’alehu for breakfast at a diner called Hana Hou and found great food in the middle of nowhere- we highly recommend the Dragon’s Brew coffee and a stop here for some local flavor. Next stop was the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, one of the few truly black sand beaches around and though the water looked cold and uninviting for a swim, it was filled with not-so-elusive green sea turtles. We continued on to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and first, watched Kilauea from the Jaggar Museum overlook, then, took a hike through Thurston Lava Tube which culminated with views of the Kilauea Iki Crater, and finally, we stopped at the Volcano Art Museum. Onward still, we continued north along the eastern side of the island to Lava Tree State Park in the Puna District of the island where we saw very obvious vertical hollow lava tubes, the remnants of a fast moving lava flow that had covered a stand of wet 'Ohi'a trees (its red lehua blossoms are the official flower of the Big Island). From here we were quite close to Kalapana, the town the Chain of Craters road connected to before being covered with lava in the early 1980's. To quench our interest, we visited Kalapana, the other side of the “recent” lava field where several structures had been spared by previous flows, and others were not so lucky… Finally, we made it to Hilo, but sunset was drawing near and we hoped to get back to Kona via the infamous Saddle Road. Therefore, we didn’t have time to see much more than the amazing trees along Banyan Drive and Rainbow Falls. It was worth hurrying, however, because the weather was so clear going over the Saddle Road, that we were able to see the summits of both Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa as we crested the saddle at sunset. On our way back down the other side, after breaking through a nerve wracking half hour of fog, we were back in Kona and tired but happy after a very full day of sight-seeing.

On Tuesday we relaxed by enjoying the busy beaches near Kona, swimming in the Pacific Ocean, consuming a delicious dinner at Jackie Rey’s, and sharing a soak in the Islander Inn jacuzzi. Wednesday we motivated for another big car tour, this time covering the north end of the island through the Hamakua, Kohala and North Kona Districts. We took hwy-190, the “high road” to Waimea, gaping at its impressive views of the Kawaihae Bay, Kohala Coast, and across the channel to Maui along the way. From Waimea, we continued on to the Hamakua District and the southern overlook of Waipio Valley, where we happened upon a group of students chanting in Hawaiian while overlooking this amazing area. Listening to their rhythmic sounds was a surreal welcome to the location of the valley that housed the early Hawaiian royalty. After winding our way along the “old highway” back to Waimea, we drove up and over the Kohala Mountains, taking a very nice unplanned coffee stop at Toni and Ty’s old sugar plantation home. We continued on to view Waipio Valley again, this time from the northern overlook just outside of the little town of Hawi. After visiting several artsy stores in the North Kohala District, we drove to the tiny Upolu Airport at the northernmost tip of the island and head of the Alenuihaha Channel (we always listen for NOAA weather data from here). While overlooking the channel toward Maui, we were lucky to spot humpback whale tails flapping far below. Farther south we stopped at Nishimura Bay/Mahukona, then Kawaihae Harbor, and finally Anaehoomalu Bay (called A-Bay even by locals) to watch yet another beautiful sunset.

Overall, we drove more than 650-miles through all 9 districts of the Big Island and enjoyed beautiful sunny conditions for viewing all sorts of natural wonders including each of the 5 volcanoes in their differing geologic stages. It was a lot of car time, but it was fun to have Chris in the back seat playing tour guide by reading interesting information aloud from our “Big Island Revealed” book and we got to share a lot of time together in the beautiful Big Island setting. The next afternoon we saw Mum off on a tiny Go Mukelele! flight that afforded her amazing vistas of the north end of the Big Island and the windward side of Maui (her next destination) from the air, and we reset for the next busy week to come before hauling out.


  1. No wonder I was a tired puppy when I got to Maui! Thanks for the great summary of my visit on the Big Island! I loved every minute of it, and the tour guides were particularly good!

  2. So glad you got to explore the Big Island with Mum - what an adventure - thanks for sharing!