A couple of months ago I took part in a crazy hard local race that required me to run up the Captain Cook trail. I was part of a relay team. Most of the other participants did the entire race on their own: a mighty 1 mile swim across gorgeous Kealakekua Bay, a run up the Captain Cook Trail (from sea level to approximately 1200 feet in two miles), two grueling bike passes around the mountainous Napo’opo’o Road – highway 11 – Keala O Keawe – Puuhonua Road loop, and a final run out and back a portion of Puuhonua Road (which is surrounded by a desert microclimate and roasting by eight am).
As I walked down the Captain Cook trail at six the morning of the race to meet my swimmer I was reminded of the intense beauty of the trail. I’d trained on a portion of it a few times prior to the race, but it had been years since I’d done the whole thing. As I was walking down at dawn I was taking my time, sipping my water and nibbling my pre-race turkey sandwich, enjoying the deep silence. I was alone on the trail, and all I could hear were the gentle morning stirrings of cattle, various clear birdsong echoing across the mountain, and the dry shifting sounds of tree leaves and grasses in the wind.
There is a plethora of gorgeous plants growing on the mountain. There are tall fragrant eucalyptus trees and shade trees, tall cane (elephant) grasses, and flowering vines with brilliant yellow blooms. The trail is bordered in part by cattle pasture and coffee farms, so there is some shade at first, but then it shifts into a drier microclimate. The trail opens up and shifts from hard-packed dirt and tree roots, to rough black lava field exposed to a hot bright sun. Once the trail opens up it gets steep, which affords breathtakingly – I literally stopped and sucked in my breath even though I live here and see it all the time – view of the Kealakekua Bay and Napo’opo’o mountain coastline. The trail descends sharply towards the end into kiawe forest, which provides shade all the way to the water.
Once you’re down there you can enter the water carefully from the pier in front of the white obelisk, and enjoy the pristine coral and myriad colorful reef fish. It is a stunning hike and an amazing place to snorkel or swim. Manini Beach and Two Step are equally gorgeous, and guests who have time should experience all three.
Visitors simply need to be prepared for the Captain Cook trail hike. When we see folks parked at the top of our road where the trailhead is, getting ready to head down in flip flops and pretty new sundresses and surf shorts, we want to stop and yell out the window: “it’s awesome but you’re not going to like it today!” In other words, wear close-toed shoes, hats, and sun block, bring plenty of water and a snack. You’ll want to rest a bit after snorkeling, before you head back up. It’s always harder – and hotter – going back up. As I was heading down on one of my training runs on a hot Sunday afternoon I noted that every single tourist had the same hot miserable look coming back up. But it doesn’t have to be this way at all. You just need to be prepared. It’s fabulous, and many of our guests have done it more than once. We once even had a guest who did the hike every morning. It’s totally gorgeous, and I can understand this. And I’ll definitely be doing the race again next year!
Accompanying these intense colors were the sounds and scents typical of Napo’opo’o Road. The bird-chorus is ever-present in Hawaii, but crescendos as the sun sets. There are doves, saffron finches, little Japanese white eye, mynas, cardinals, Java sparrow, wild turkey, pheasant, loads of chickens, francolin, native hawks (‘io) and owl (pueo). There is almost always a mild ocean breeze blowing, which rustles the cane grass along the road, and stirs the palm leaves. Towering old mango, avocado, and jacaranda trees, many types of palms, coffee trees, brilliantly colored bougainvillea, and Hawaiian ti line the road. As I run I smell fallen crushed guava and passionfruit, Angel’s trumpet, plumeria, citrus and coffee flowers, jasmine blossoms, damp earth and ocean-air.
Every time I run this road I think about how ridiculously, over-the-top beautiful our island is. I have run our road at every time of day, through dark and heat, wind, and rain, and I always enjoy it. I know I probably look like a smiling dork bounding down the road, but I can’t help it, it’s just too fabulous not to smile.
Even though we see the ocean every day, we never tire of it. We watch it from the house throughout each day, observing its shifting color and moods. It is a constant presence in our lives, powerful and seductive and always beautiful.
For visitors to South Kona, the water is something not to be missed. There are many ways it can be enjoyed. There are two famous snorkel spots and three beaches in South Kona: the Captain Cook Monument, Two Step, Manini Beach, Keei Beach, and Hookena Beach.
Down a steep winding farm road that cuts through grassy horse and cattle pasture lies soft black Hookena Beach. Backed by dramatic black cliffs and bordered on each side by jagged black shore, Hookena Beach consists of soft, fine, surprisingly hot black sand. Gentle waves roll in, offering excellent body surfing opportunity, and the water is usually clear and soft, lovely for swimming, snorkeling, and lazily floating. There is reef straight out from shore with abundant fish, and the local spinner dolphins sometimes gather offshore in the late afternoon. The view down the rough shore is as fine as the view straight out to sea: hard and clean, wild and majestic.
Tucked out of site down a rough dirt road, Keei Beach is normally overlooked by tourists. The .5 mile road is rutted and dry, lined by thorny kiawe and cacti. But as you walk or drive back, you begin to glimpse shining bright ocean, and then the road ends and you walk onto a small crescent of soft gray sand. The beach is quiet. There is only the sound of the waves and the wind in the trees. You can walk along shore to the rocks at the edge of the beach and face out to sea or back towards Kealakekua Bay. Or you can wade in the shallow area right off shore, keeping your eyes peeled for turtles feeding on the algae on the rocks. If you float quietly in the water you can sometimes hear the turtles munching. Float with the turtles, and then lie on the soft sand under the cocoa palms and dream.
Like Keei, Manini Beach is a neighborhood jewel, normally overlooked by visitors. It is a small quiet park with grass and shade trees and a lovingly tended small vegetable garden. The path into the ocean is a white sand channel running between black rocks. Healthy reef lies just offshore, and can be explored along the curve of the bay to Napoopoo Pier. The water is normally clear, so clear in fact, that yellow tangs can often be seen from shore. On a calm day, this place feels like heaven: a still clear ocean teeming with fish, and a small quiet park with blissful cool shade and birdsong.
Situated next to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park, Two Step is a fantastic snorkel spot. Many of our guests return here each day, forgoing plans to travel anywhere else. You jump off rocks into Honaunau Bay and are immediately awarded with views of huge healthy brain coral, lots of colorful reef fish, and often, green sea turtles. Being a bay, the area is protected from strong waves and is normally calm and clear. The microclimate down at Pu’uhonua and Two Step is hot and dry, and there is normally lots of sun which makes for excellent visibility.
Like Two Step, the Captain Cook monument area sports healthy reef teeming with beautiful reef fish. The water is normally clear and calm, hence its popularity with visitors. This is a protected area and is accessible only via kayak or snorkel tour. Two Step and Captain Cook are equal in their beauty, so don’t feel like you’ve missed out if you skip Captain Cook.
On January 2, 2013, the State of Hawaii issued a temporary moratorium on private kayak rentals in Kealakekua Bay. The reason for this is protection of the reef. Kealakekua Bay is a marine life sanctuary and underwater preserve, and unchecked use of kayaks by uneducated visitors has resulted in damage to the delicate reef and disturbance to local marine life (mainly the local dolphins). Hopefully this effort by the State will help maintain the health of the bay.
When the moratorium went into effect we weren’t sure how its impact would be felt by island visitors. For us, our guests, and our neighborhood, it’s been a positive decision. First, there’s far less traffic at the bottom of Napoopoo Road. It used to be a little noisy and crowded at Napoopoo pier, where most private kayaks were launched, but now the pier and the surrounding neighborhood are blissfully peaceful and quiet. For our guests who still wish to experience the bay by kayaking it, kayak tours are still offered through permitted companies. But for most guests, snorkeling and swimming are still the best way to experience the water anyway.
Visitors are still welcome to snorkel and swim, and entering the local water at Manini Beach, Napoopoo Pier, Napoopoo Beach, Keei Beach, and Two Step, is still just fine and will still provide the same stunningly beautiful experience as ever. We have seen an increase in the number of hikers on the Captain Cook trail. This trail leads you from the top of Napoopoo Road down to the Captain Cook monument and another great snorkel spot. The hike is steep and hot though, so we always advise guests to be properly prepared.
It sounds like the moratorium will eventually be lifted once a new kayak permitting system is put into place so that use of the bay can be more properly monitored and controlled, but until then, guests may enjoy the quiet beautiful water through organized kayak or snorkel tours or private snorkeling and swimming. This is a gorgeous area and the stretch of ocean from Kealakekua Bay down the shore to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau and Hookena Beach has some of the most beautiful water and reef anywhere in Hawaii and should not be missed. It simply needs to be enjoyed with care and respect.
If we were to plan our own vacation on the Big Island, this is what we’d do:
- We’d come for two weeks: Our guests who stay this length of time feel they’ve got a good sense of the island, but have left plenty to see for the next trip.
- We’d stay in one place: Except for maybe one night in Volcano (if we wanted to do a special long desert hike or stay late to view lava, but for most visitors it’s not necessary), we’d stay in one place. The island isn’t that big and we personally hate packing and unpacking every night or two, just to drive a couple of hours.
- We’d alternate days of driving/exploring with days at home: There’s a lot to see but we also want to relax. Also, it’s impossible to really get to know a place if you’re always racing around. In Hawaii, it’s the journey – just as much as the destination – that is unforgettably beautiful.
- We’d come…anytime, really: It’s always nice in Kona and our weather doesn’t vary that much. It’s always around 80 F in lower Captain Cook, with lots of sun and a cooling ocean breeze. (Please note that Luana Inn is in a temperate tropical microclimate, and that there are multiple microclimates on the island. Parts of the island are cold and windy, parts are very damp and rainy, and parts are desert.) The “high season” in Hawaii is Christmas/New Years. The “off” season includes the mainland school-transition months of June and September. May, October (except for around Iron Man time), and the first half of December are also often slower times in Hawaii and ticket prices reflect this. As far as weather goes, there are two seasons in Hawaii. Winter generally has clearer air, more sun, and rougher, colder water. Summer is generally wetter and has calmer, warmer water.
Day 1 Arrival day: Stop at Costco and/or Mi’s wine shop and/or Kona Wine Shop on the way to the Inn from Kona airport to stock up on treats for the week (wine, beer, cheese, bread, snacks), have lunch at Kona Brewery, drive to the Inn after lunch to check in, relax, take a dip in the pool, maybe drive down to Manini Beach or Puuhonua picnic area tide pools to have a cooling dip in the ocean, then return home to have wine on the lanai at sunset. Depending on how late it was and how hungry we were, we may drive up to dinner at wonderful Mi’s, which is the closest restaurant to us.
Day 2 Home day: get oriented: Walk the property, view the local flora (plumeria trees, gardenias, ti, plants) and fauna (geckoes, birds, bufo frogs), then drive down Napoopoo Road to the bay where it turns into Pu’uhonua Road, follow the road to the City of Refuge/Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, and walk the Park – including the picnic area and 1871 trail, snorkel at Two Step, then loop back up to Highway 11 to shop at Choice Mart for poke, sushi, salad greens, steaks and purple potatoes to BBQ, have coffee and a pick-me-up sweet at Coffees N Epicurea, return to the Inn to take a dip in the pool and relax in the hot tub, shower and rest, then have dinner at Mi’s Italian Bistro (risotto with fresh island fish, local veal with fresh pasta, local greens, award-winning tiramisu with Kona coffee) or BBQ on the lanai.
Day 3 Beach day: Pack a picnic lunch then drive up to Kua Bay/Kukio Bay/Puako/Beach 69 (about 1 hour - 1 hour 20 minutes, respectively) and spend the day there, sunbathing on white sand, resting in the shade, swimming, and boogie-boarding. Hapuna and Mauna Kea are famous, but we prefer these smaller beaches because they are not resort beaches, and are therefore quieter and more laid-back. We stop in Kailua on the way back in the late afternoon and walk Alii Drive. Have a drink at Huggo’s on the Rocks or at Humpy’s, then dinner at Sushi Shiono, or Kaiso (yakitori, ramen). Buy a piece of local jewelry at Blue Water Fantasies.
Day 4 Travel day: East Side: Take the South Route to Hilo (2 hours, 20 minutes), stop at Queen L Park to walk and stretch, park downtown and have lunch (Café Concerto, Hime Sushi, Café Pesto, Hilo Bay Café), stop by the farmer’s market if its happening, buy some local honey and a bouquet of fresh anthuriums, visit Rainbow Falls, and/or Kaumana Caves, head out of town, north. Stop at Akaka/Kahuna Falls and/or Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens and/or walk Kalopa Nature trail. Head back on the north route, down through Waimea and back home. (Alternatively, we could head out Saddle Road from Hilo and go up to Mauna Kea on this night, and save the falls and gardens for our Hamakua day). Stop in Kailua at BaLe (Vietnames pho and fresh sandwiches on homemade French bread, crepes if it’s Sunday) or Krua (Thai beef and mint salad, curry, soup) for a quick, light dinner before heading home.
Day 5 Home day: Walk down to Manini Beach after breakfast, snorkel and swim at Manini Beach, read/nap in the shade, picnic. When tired, head home then walk around the corner to Kalama’s for shave ice, or the Coffee Mill for espresso and/or Island Dreams local ice cream. Walk around the coffee mill grounds, view their exotic fruit garden and get to know some of the weird local fruits, sample them in the mill store and buy noni soap and postcards. Return home to lounge in the pool/hot tub, read and sunbathe on the lanai, have massages in our room. BBQ on the lanai at sunset: local beef and fish, purple potatoes, salad with organic greens we picked up at the veggie stand on our walk home.
Day 6 Travel day: Hamakua Coast: After all that sunbathing we’re in the mood to experience a cool microclimate and drive north, up through Waimea towards the Hamakua Coastal Highway (1 hour to Waimea, another 20 minutes to Honoka’a). We stop at the Cinder Cone Trail on the way up to Waimea, and walk as far as we feel we want to (you can go up the cinder cone if you wish). The mist is cool and lovely, we are alone and surrounded by beautiful trees. When we’ve had enough we hop back in the car and drive up through Waimea to Honoka’a and Waipio Valley, admiring the surrounding ranch land. We view Waipio Valley from the lookout, have lunch and espresso at Mondo Pizza in Honoka’a, then loop back to Waimea on the old portion of the highway, enchanted by the lush green landscape, the sheep and cattle, this damp microclimate that seems a million miles away from South Kona. We head back down into Kailua after this trip, and head to Old Airport Park. As we head down the hill into town it feels like we’re returning to Hawaii after being away. We walk the little walking trail across the parking lot from the beach, (or perhaps follow the sand trail along the back towards another quiet shoreline-access area), then return to the beach to sit on the sand at this gorgeous, little-known park and finish our leftover pizza (or eat the great burger made with local beef and green salad with grilled fish from Ultimate Burger, just up the road) and watch the sun set. Except for a few quiet local families and individuals out just enjoying the sunset, we’re alone.
Day 7 Home Day: Today we snorkel at the Captain Cook monument. We’ve procured our landing permit, so we could kayak if we wanted to, or we could hike down from the top of Napoopoo Road. We could also go with a tour group. If we choose to kayak ourselves, we walk or drive down the road and rent from Maile’s down near Napoopoo Beach. Either way, we head out after breakfast so that we have less of a chance of being there exactly when the tour boats arrive, and still have enough daylight to see well in the water and get back home long before dark if we choose to hike. It’s also hottest late in the afternoon, so we want to be done by then. We know it’ll be busy and touristy, but the water is lovely and calm and the reef is healthy, with lots of fish. We observe that we see the same species of fish and coral as we have at Two Step and Manini, but that there may be more fish here, and more coral at Two Step. We’re glad we have time to do all three. That afternoon, not yet tired of the water, we head to Keei Beach to be quiet and alone. We rest under the cocoa palms and watch the sea turtles. We stay home this night and BBQ more local fish and have poke. We watch the sun set as we eat, and spot a native owl. We decide that this is our favorite place to have dinner.
Day 8 Travel Day: Kohala/North Route (2 hours, 20 minutes up to Pololou): We’ve driven up to Kua Bay or Kukio Bay or Beach 69 already, and we flew into the Kona airport, so we know what the north route looks like. It is hot and dry, with intense wind and vast stretches of black rock. We keep in mind that this is the bike route for the Iron Man athletes (the Iron Man thriathlon is held the second Saturday of October), and have more respect than ever for them. We marvel at Mauna Kea, Mount Hualalai and Kohala Mountain, and may even see Maui rising up out of the water ringed in clouds on a perfectly clear day. We may stop at NELHA, the solar energy lab and the aquaculture farms. We head up to the very tip of the island, and as we do things shift. We pass all the resorts – they’re all clustered up here along the big sand beaches, A Bay and Waikoloa, Hapuna Prince, Mauna Kea, etc., and then get to Kawaihae port. At this point the microclimate shifts and the road begins to wind and things get insanely windy and a bit greener. Then we’re in jungle again. We stop at beautiful, rugged Mahu Kona beach park to stretch and walk, then arrive in Hawi town – the northern most town – for lunch at Bamboo (and enjoy a luscious passionfruit daiquiri) or Sushi Rock, and have a pick-me-up espresso and/or Island Dreams ice cream, then continue on the highway all the way up to Pololu Valley. After seeing Waipio, Pololu feels completely different and we are enchanted. Waipio is undeniably gorgeous, but unlike Pololu, which is just a nature preserve, Waipio is home to a community of local residents. It’s hard not to feel like you’re intruding in Waipio, and unless you know exactly where you’re hiking or have a guide, you are. On the other hand, you can hike down into Pololu (30 minutes down, 45 up) and be alone on a stunning black beach with rough frothy water on one side, and a stunning green valley on the other: silence, wind, crashing waves, and on particularly clear days, views of Maui. We are at once haunted and enchanted by the dramatic clean beauty of Pololu, and it becomes one of our favorite places, next to Kalopa Forest, Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, and the Kealakekua Bay area. On the drive back down the coast that afternoon, we stop at the Pua Mau Place sculpture garden to walk and stretch, and then we stop for dinner at the Waikoloa Resort. We first head into the resort and over to A Bay to walk in the water and cool off, then we drive back over to the Kings Shops and eat dinner at Merriman’s Market Café (local farm raised shrimp from Kauai over homemade gnocci, grilled island fish over coucous with Moroccan seasonings, local beef short ribs and mashed potatoes). Alternatively, we may stop at Honokohau Harbor and eat at the Harbor House, and go for a stroll around the boat docks.
Day 9 Home Day: We’re comfortable here now and feeling at home. We have a sense of the island and our neighborhood. Today we take things slowly again – how else can you experience Hawaii’s beauty really, anyway? We have a morning snorkel at Two Step, then return home to sunbathe on the lanai, read, swim in the pool, and soak in the hot tub. In the afternoon we visit Paleaku Peace Gardens (where Erin does a spectacular yoga class here in their open-air pavilion one day) and/or the Painted Church and/or the Amy Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden, and/or do a coffee tour at the Kona Living History Museum or Greenwell Farms. We eat early at Annie’s Burgers and Beer, have gelato next door for dessert, pick up some goodies at Island Naturals (more local soap, some cold lemongrass-hibiscus tea, some local chocolate), then return home to have an evening drink on the lanai, and watch for owls again.
Day 10 Travel Day: Volcanoes National Park (2 hours): We leave right after breakfast this morning, and head directly to the Park to give it a full day. We pack some drinks and snacks, as well as extra layers and good walking shoes. Weather in the Volcano is notoriously changeable, and we need to be ready for wind and/or rain. The distance is 90 miles, the drive takes no more than two hours and is gorgeous and fascinating. We first stop at the wonderful information station and Jaegger Museum, then follow Crater Rim Drive. We hike the short hikes, like the Thurston Lava Tube and adjoining Rainforest walk, and then hike Kilauea Iki, which is stunning. We are virtually alone here, because the tour-bus crowd generally doesn’t take this hike. It’s only about an hour each way, and you get to hike through forest, then across “little Kilauea” crater, with its steam vents and ferns and shining deposits of olivine. It is quiet down here, except for the wind, and we are again enchanted and intrigued by the silent wild beauty of the Big Island. After this we could walk along the top of Kilauea Iki, along the Crater Rim trail, or drive over to the Steam Vent trail. Or, we drive down Chain of Craters Road, walk Devastation Trail and stop at multiple craters on the way down. There are loads of short hikes to choose from. We may stop at beautiful Mauna Ulu or head all the way to the bottom at the ocean and walk the Petroglyph Trail. You can do as little or as much as you wish here, and there are plenty of walks that are silent and “off the beaten path”. This park is unlike anything else you’ll ever see. It is strange and haunting and lovely, and makes you feel small and great, all at the same time.
Day 11 Beach Day: After breakfast we head down to Hookena Beach (twenty minutes south) and set up for a day of rest and relaxation. We swim, boogie-board, read in the shade, picnic, and sunbathe. We walk along the beach heading north as far as we can, and stand in admiration again facing the clear water, black rock shore, and blue sky. We have observed this dramatic beauty every single day on the Big Island, and it still astounds us. We don’t want to leave. We return home in the afternoon as a misty rain begins to fall. We pick up take-out at Big Island Jake’s BBQ, and head home. We eat on the pool lanai and watch the sun set and the rain move in from the ocean. The air is filled with the scent of damp grass and flowers.
Day 12 Travel Day: South Point or Mauna Kea: For this, our last day, we would either drive back down to South Point to walk the trail to the green sand beach, or we’d go back up to a northern beach, like Kukio Bay and head up to Mauna Kea in the afternoon so we could watch the sun set from the ranger station. South Point is about 1 hour, 20 minutes away, and we love it not because it’s the southern tip of the US or because of the green sand beach, but because the drive is lovely and the hike to the beach is wild, rugged, and gorgeous. But it’s not for everyone. This would be a day of quiet walks. We’d head south, and stop at Manuka Trail on the way down, and, depending on how we felt after South Point, maybe drive a little farther up to visit Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, too. If we weren’t in the mood to do this, we’d head back up to one of the northern beaches – like Kua Bay – then drive from there up to Mauna Kea (2 hours, 30 minutes from Luana Inn) to watch the sun set from the visitor’s center. We would take our time and head up slowly, because the shift in altitude can make you feel very strange. But it would be worth it. We’d bundle up in warm clothes and close-toed shoes, and wander the strange landscape as the sun went down and the cold wind picked up. We’d head back down slowly, and perhaps stop for dinner at Jackie Rey’s or Mi’s on the way home.
Day 13 Home Day: Head back to Manini Beach or Two Step one last time. Lounge in the water, snorkel, float, swim, relax in the shade, and soak up as much peace and relaxation as possible. Return home for a last dip in the pool and hot tub, then head up to town for dinner at sunset at Kona Inn. Walk Alii Drive and take in the festive, warm spirit of the place. Sit in the sand and watch the canoes come in right in front of the King Kam hotel at the end of Alii, down by Palani Road. We’d always check Kona Web before heading up to Kailua, because it’s always fun to take in the Village Stroll, a local concert, some hula, or a parade if you have the opportunity.
Day 14 Travel day: We’d sit on the lanai and admire the view one last time, then head up to the airport slowly. We’d stop for gas and sashimi to-go (and maybe made-in- Hawaii aloha shirts as final souvenirs) at Costco on the way up. We’d buy leis at the little lei stand there so the distinctive sweet scent of the islands could accompany us home. We’d be sad, but we’d feel relaxed and peaceful and ready to plan our next visit.
If you’re ever traveling in Kona in October, don’t be afraid to be a part of Iron Man day. This amazing event takes place the second Saturday of every October. The hotels in Kailua will fill and the roads surrounding Kailua up to Hawi will be closed to accommodate the course that day, and the race finish and the crowds will center right downtown on Alii drive. Kailua will be filled with incredible energy and excitement leading up to race day, as athletes and their friends and families come to the Big Island from around the world to train, acclimate to the climate, and compete.
Saturday October 13 we went up mid-afternoon to watch. We parked at Lowe’s and walked down Henry Street into town, then followed Palani to Alii Drive and the area where bikers transitioned to the marathon portion of the race. We watched here for awhile, and then walked along Alii Drive to see athletes as they finished the race. The professionals start coming in around three (for around a ten-hour finish time), with the rest of the athletes following throughout the afternoon until cutoff at midnight. This year an eighty-three year old man completed the race just before midnight.
It was amazing to be a part of the excitement of the crowd. As we stood watching competitors who’d just finished have their pictures taken, we were struck by how jubilant so many of them were. Some needed assistance and looked to be in pain, but others passed by as if they’d just finished a normal run. As we were watching the professionals on one side, many older athletes were entering the bike transition area on the other side of the street near us. It was incredible to us, to see these tremendous athletes with grandmotherly or grandfatherly faces hopping off their bikes to begin the marathon portion of the race.
We continued to walk along Alii Drive, watching and cheering the athletes as they passed by, then stopped for dinner at Island Lava Java. We sat on their lanai facing the ocean, and watched athletes continue to pass by on their way towards the finish as the sun set and the sky turned black. Everyone cheered as the silver-haired athletes ran quietly by, and I think all of us felt incredibly moved. For anyone to compete in such a grueling race is amazing, and watching athletes of all ages struggle determinedly towards the finish line was a deeply inspiring, unforgettable experience.
For animal lovers, there are lots of cool creatures to look forward to seeing while in Hawaii. The most common things you’ll see around are geckos. There are two kinds, the green stardust gecko, which has beautiful bright colors and is diurnal, and the native brown gecko that chirps (barks) and is nocturnal. While the brown geckos are shy and tend to spend their time outdoors, the green geckos are so prevalent that they’re often referred to as “kitchen geckos”. You’d be hard pressed to find a house or restaurant with outdoor seating that doesn’t have them around.
There are also at least two different types of chameleon. There is the kind with googly-eyes and horns that lives “up mauka” in cooler, more wooded areas. And then there’s Anole, which lives down here where it’s hot and dry. Anole has a long, thin body and little claws. We have one living in our back laundry room.
One of the first things you’ll notice about the islands is the prevalence of birds and all the wonderful birdsong. You’ll hear mynas and doves right away, but on our property you’ll also see and hear saffron finches, Japanese white-eye, South American cardinals, francolins, North American cardinals, Java finches, and waxbill finches. There are also two big beautiful native birds: pueo, the owl, and io, the hawk. We see io riding the winds during the day, hunting for mice in the neighboring farms, and we see barn owls and pueo at dusk, flying silently over our yards and sometimes sitting on our fence posts or in our trees. There are also various lovely shorebirds near the water, and the native goose, Nene, who favors dry areas like parts of the volcano and the golf courses up north. Native honeycreepers (I’iwi) and apapane favor cool, damp areas of the island like the mountain slopes and rainforest pockets in the volcano. There are also wild turkeys, pheasants, and lots of chickens.
The low-slung weasel-like little creature you see darting across the roads is the mongoose, imported in the 50’s to control Hawaii’s rat population. That experiment was a bust, and many of the Big Islands ground-nesting shorebirds are now extinct because not only is the mongoose diurnal (rats are nocturnal) but they are also egg-eaters. Hawaii doesn’t have any snakes, so they haven’t made themselves useful in this way, either. They are smart and interesting, but they are not a loved animal here.
When you come home late from dinner one night don’t be alarmed if you see a large stone sitting on the walkway that suddenly hops away. This is just one of our bufo frogs! They are huge frogs (or some call them cane toads, but they’re not like the ones in Australia, apparently) that come out at night and hang out on the grass. They are so large you can hear them hopping across the grass, but they won’t hurt you. They freeze and pretend you can’t see them when you get too close.
As you drive down our road at night you may also see feral pigs. During the day watch out for wild turkeys, who travel in groups and take their sweet time getting out of the way.
In addition to huge frogs, there are loads of busy insects in Hawaii. We have beautiful black Sphinx moths, lots of gorgeous butterflies, boaring bees, honeybees (we live around the corner from Kona Queen, where queen bees are raised), dragonflies, praying mantises, and lots of pretty beetles. A note on mosquitoes: they come out at dusk on our property, and then disappear. But our property is open, dry, and bright, and they tend to like overgrown, woodsy/jungly, wet places, so the botanical gardens, and the Hilo side, or even properties “up mauka” will be different. There are nocturnal centipedes in Hawaii, as well as small, sad-looking spindly scorpions, both of which will sting, but there is nothing deadly here. The biggest animal-related danger to tourists is stepping on a sea urchin while snorkeling.
In the ocean, you’ll see a wide array of gorgeous reef fish, and if you’re lucky, green sea turtles. The turtles eat algae off the rocks so are often spotted in shallow water just offshore. If you’re kayaking or swimming in Kealakekua Bay during a full moon, you may also be pursued by spinner dolphins. They are inquisitive creatures and will sometimes come check you out. But please do not swim towards, approach, or touch any of these fantastic creatures: both are highly endangered and protected by Hawaiian and federal law. Just float, relax, keep your hands to yourself, and consider yourself lucky. You’re in their home, after all.
November through May is humpback whale season, so if they’re nearby you’ll see them from shore. They come here each year to give birth and mate in our warm, shallow waters, and then swim all the way back up to Alaska to feed (they eat krill). They are awesome to see. We can see them from our house when they’re down near Keei Beach, and they’re also often visible from Pu’uhonua O Honaunau.
If you’re really, REALLY lucky, you may glimpse a Hawaiian monk seal. These seals are extremely endangered, so please tell the park ranger or call NOAA if you see one. There are only 24 left in the main Hawaiian islands, with the other approximately 250 remaining individuals living up in the northern Hawaiian islands. You are incredibly fortunate to see one of these beautiful creatures.
Remember, this is the country, and even the finest resorts will have some wildlife. Hawaii is overflowing with life, and it gets in everywhere, no matter what.
South Kona is beloved by locals and tourists alike for two main reasons. First, Kona has the most beautiful weather on the Big Island. Second, South Kona has two of the most famous snorkeling spots in all of Hawaii: the Captain Cook Monument, and Two Step, at the City of Refuge/Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Park. The following driving tour will give you a sense of the layout of our South Kona (Kealakekua/Captain Cook) neighborhood and ocean access.
The closest water to Luana Inn is: Kealakekua Marine Preserve and Underwater Park (bordered by Napo’opo’o Beach, Manini Beach, and the Captain Cook Monument), Keei Beach, “Two Step” at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (City of Refuge) National Park, and Hookena Beach.
Our immediate area is famous for outstanding snorkeling due to the gorgeous lava rock coastline and coral reef. From the Inn, walk or drive down Napo’opo’o Road (.8 mile) to reach Napo’opo’o Pier and the Bay at the bottom of the road. The Road will “T” at this point. Turn right and the road will end at the bay, turn left and it will turn into Pu’uhonua Road. The area across the Bay at the Captain Cook Monument is the most famous snorkeling spot, and is accessible via snorkel or kayak tour, kayak or hike. The trailhead is near the top of Napo’opo’o Road. The hike is steep but very quiet and beautiful.
Follow Pu’uhonua Road to Manini Beach Road to reach small, quiet Manini Beach. This is a small local park with an easy sand entrance into shallow water with healthy reef right offshore. This is our favorite snorkeling spot because it’s never crowded. Stay on Pu’uhonua Road and pass Manini Beach Road, Kahauloa Street, Keawaiki Street, and turn onto an unmarked rough, dirt road on your right to access Keei Beach (if you reach the transfer station you’ve gone too far). Keei Beach is about a half mile back. The road is very rough so take your time or walk back. Keei Beach is a quiet, private, sand beach with cocoa palms and soft clear water that the green sea turtles frequent.
If you pass the road to Keei Beach and continue to follow Pu’uhonua Road you’ll end up at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (City of Refuge). This national park is beautiful to walk through, and there is an area on its northern border known as Two Step that offers outstanding snorkeling. To reach Two Step, park in the Park, walk back out and down the bordering residential street to reach the lava shoreline. You will see where other visitors are leaving their things and jumping into the water. It’s deep and protected and you can see gorgeous coral, lots of fish, and often sea turtles.
Hookena Beach is a mixed black sand/coral beach and is located approximately twenty minutes south on Hwy 11 (follow signs). It is a small beautiful crescent bordered by cliffs at the base of a long winding farm road. Hookena has excellent water for body surfing and boogie boarding. You can also swim and snorkel here.
August 11, 2012
ANNUAL "CREAM OF THE CROP" COFFEE AND DESSERT TASTING - FOUR SEASONS RESORT
From 9:30am to 1:30pm, the Kona Coffee Council will be holding its annual Cream of the Crop coffee and dessert tasting competition at the Hualalai Four Seasons Resort in the Haku Amphitheater. Admission is free. Twenty-one select Kona coffee growers will each have booths in the amphitheater providing sample cups of their brewed coffee along with education about coffee growing and processing in the Kona region of the Big Island of Hawaii. The competition is divided into three categories of coffee growing: Organic, Estate and Open, which allows all growers an opportunity to participate in the event. To complement the delicious coffee there will be live Hawaiian music, & chefs from local restaurants and resorts, as well as amateurs, will be offering desserts made with Kona coffee as one of the ingredients. Visitors to the event will be encouraged to vote for their favorite coffee in the three categories. Local chefs will be voting for their favorite coffees as well, so visitors can see how their votes compare to those of professionals. Finally, the desserts will be judged by a panel, and the results of the voting will be announced before the end of the day. Interspersed with the coffee and dessert booths will be a number of local artists who will be demonstrating, and have for sale, coffee related arts. This event is being sponsored by the Hualalai at Four Seasons Resort, Kamehameha Schools, and the Kona Coffee Council. For more information, call 808/328-1666 or email email@example.com
August 11-12, 2012
ESTABLISHMENT DAY HAWAIIAN FESTIVAL - KAWAIHAE
The public is invited to join the to participate in the cultural demonstrations and workshop activities at Pelekane (royal courtyard) located near the beach below Pu'ukohola Heiau with only one stipulation: that each visitor learns at least one craft before leaving the area to help preserve a part of the Hawaiian culture. Parking will be on the coral flats south of Kawaihae Harbor. On Saturday only there will be a special sunrise cultural event at the heiau itself at 6:30am followed by a reinactment of a battle with warriors and spears below the heiau. Arts and craft workshops and demonstrations will take place from 10am-3pm both days. There will be Hawaiian double-hulled canoe rides and much more. Local musicians will play songs of Hawai'i. Bring water and lunch if planning to stay the entire day. It is recommended that comfortable clothing be worn and the use some type of sunscreen. PNHP is located about a mile south of Kawaihae on the Kohala Coast. Call (808) 882-7218 for more info. Visit http://www.nps.gov/puhe/2012festival.htm for more info.
August 18, 2012
DON THE BEACHCOMBER MAI TAI FESTIVAL - KAILUA-KONA
Battle of the BBQ and Marketplace (Free Entry) 11am-2pm; 2:30-4pm, Henry Kapono Poolside Party (Free Entry); 4:30pm Mai Tai Mix-off (Free Entry): 30 bartenders from around the globe will compete for the title of Best Mai Tai and a $10,000 cash prize. Call 808/329-3111 or visit http://www.donsmaitaifest.com/ for more info.
August 18, 2012
NA PALAPALAI AND ALI'I KEANA'AINA CD RELEASES CELEBRATION - SHERATON KEAUHOU BAY RESORT CONVENTION CENTER
Excellent music and cultural presentations, plus vendors, from 12 noon till 6pm; main concert will begin at 1:30pm. Na Palapalai is one of Hawai'i's favorite Hawaiian music groups, and Ali'i Keana'aina is a winner of the annual Kindy Sproat Falsetto Contest. Food will be available for purchase. Tickets are $15 advance/$20 at the door, and are available at the Sheraton front desk, Parker Ranch Store in Waimea, Ha Makua Designs in Hilo, and from Kai 'Ehitu Canoe Club members. For more info, call 640-7738.
August 19, 2012
PUNA MEN'S CHORUS FAVORITES CONCERT - KEAUHOU BEACH RESORT
The Puna Men's Chorus (PMC) has gone back through their performance files and picked out the most meaningful and popular songs they've performed to date. The show will be called "Flashback!". You will be hearing (and seeing) things never before heard or seen on any stage before - cowboys and boas, hippies and Broadway, ABBA and Hawaiian mele – this is the essence of four years of Puna Men's Chorus distilled into one show. Begins at 7:00 pm with a silent auction. $15 General Adm/$12 students and seniors (60+). Purchase tickets at the door or at the Basically books, Hilo Bay Books, Kona Bay Books, Kalani Honua, Jungle Love, My Bar, and The Mask-Querade Bar
August 22, 2012
Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park will be hosting a talk by former Chief of Interpretation, Law Enforcement and Resource Management Gordon Joyce. The subject of the talk is "European Contact to Hawai'i prior to Captain Cook's Arrival". From 6:00 pm.
August 26, 2012
Kailua Village Stroll
On the Fourth of July many locals enjoy spending the day at the beach and/or heading into town in the late afternoon for the sweet little local parade that runs along Alii drive, followed by a small fireworks show off Kailua Pier. Yesterday we wrapped up work early and spent a hot sunny couple of hours on the beautiful sand at Old Airport Park (one of our favorite Kona secret spots), then decided to treat ourselves to a leisurely dinner at Jackie Rey’s restaurant.
We’ve been to Jackie Rey’s many times over the years and it has always been one of our favorite Kona restaurants, but last night everything seemed extra special. The sun was shining into the dining room, which already has a sunny, happy feel due to its bright red and yellow walls and vintage surf posters. We sat near the open door at the back, pre-sunset light flowing in around us, and ordered the specials of the day: fresh ono and ahi with sweet local potatoes, blackened steak with buttery mashed potatoes. One thing we’ve always appreciated about this place is that the kid’s menu features excellent, quality kid-friendly choices. For instance, their fish and chips consists of fresh ono battered in a fresh, crusty homemade batter, fried quickly in fresh oil, and hand-cut fries fried the same way: fresh, seasoned deftly, carefully made. Kid’s food is not always treated with such care, and we note this as a reflection of the generally high standard of food preparation and service at Jackie Rey’s.
Ken’s steak was rich and flavorful, the potatoes fresh and creamy and properly seasoned. I mention this because mashed potatoes are one of the most delicious and beloved classic sides but are not always treated with the care they deserve. (Case in point, the last time we went to the beloved Keei Café, both our dishes came with watery potatoes that were unseasoned and clearly had not been made fresh for that night’s service – so disappointing.) This mash sang.
I had the beautiful tower of fish that was just perfect. I’ve had this sort of preparation here before and love it: sesame-crusted fish (I get it seared only, so it’s nice and raw in the middle) on top of sweet purple potatoes (which don’t need anything extra), a little layer of fresh veg cooked with care so still crisp, and a couple of local flavor-inspired sauces. In the past they’ve done two sweet sauces, like passion fruit and another fruit, but last night it was passion fruit and a chili-infused beurre blanc sauce – wow! I had this dish with a passion fruit martini which was just right: that gorgeous mix of tart and sweet that only fresh passion fruit juice can deliver.
The food was excellent, the service was excellent. We happily give Jackie Rey’s five stars and recommend them gladly to any visitor. To view their menus, please visit their website: http://jackiereys.com/. They are located just off the Kuakini Highway, about twenty minutes from the Inn, and about five minutes out of Kailua.