Suzy and Dave Goetz

Big Island, Hawaii

July 4-12, 2009

Trip Summary:

July 4-5: Captain Cook, HI (Kona Coast) / Aloha Guest House

July 6-7: Volcano Village (Mt. Kilauea) / Cottage at the Volcano Garden Arts Center

July 8-9: Pauuilo, HI (Hamakua Coast) / Keolamauloa

July 10-11: Kohala Coast / Fairmont Orchid

Map of Big Island

Saturday, July 4

Land Noon at Kona airport on the west side of the Big Island. The airport is thatched huts. Baggage claim outside under a hut. Sun is hot! This is the drier side of the island. Kailua-Kona is the major tourist area on the Kona coast. Lots of resorts and such. We’re just flying in here to start our 8 day circumnavigation of the island.

Rent a Jeep Wrangler, stop at Ceviche Dave’s (of course) for lunch and drive south. We’re spending our first two nights at the Aloha Guest House in Captain Cook, about 40 minutes south of Kona. They are running a great deal where for $99 you get the best room available when you arrive. Lucky for the newlyweds, when we arrive the BEST room in the inn (Kohola Room) is available. It’s amazing! A welcoming living space and huge bed with a wall of windows overlooking the jungle and Kealakekua Bay directly west to the sunset. Right outside our door is the path to the hot tub. The Aloha Guest House is a mile up (and we mean UP!) from the main highway, up a crazy, steep, narrow, winding, rough Old Tobacco Road. Wild flora and fauna, coffee bushes, wild pigs, turkeys, jungle. We are glad we have the Jeep. Up in this secluded, rural perch the Aloha Guest House has no locks, no keys, no shoes. Ahhhhhh.

After we arrive, we pop into Captain Cook town for money and beer for the room. Get some Kailua pig right out of the pit at Jake’s BBQ and toodle around the rural countryside in our Jeep. We find ourselves on a secluded one-lane road and stumble across the locals' Ke’ei Beach. People have tents and domes set up outside their trucks and jeeps, playing reggae and island music, BBQ-ing, snorkeling. We find a perch and have our BBQ and beer, then back UP to the inn to watch the first part of the sunset from the hot tub and the finale from our bed overlooking the magnificent scene through a full picture window. Wow. Patter down to the lovely communal kitchen to get some hot tea and fresh fruit and to the communal lounge to pick some old movies to take up to our room for relaxing evening in bed. Looking out the window at the ocean, hanging out watching old movies is the Saturday night entertainment in this rural jungle perch. Our July 4 fireworks were private.

Sunday, July 5

Wake up when the sun wakes us up. Huge windows, no curtains. Open your eyes, and the splendor of the island jungle and coast is the enveloping vision. Smile. Head down with our fellow guests to breakfast prepared by Johann – delicious blueberry pancakes with raspberry puree, tequila lime chicken sausage, Kona coffee (the coffee bushes are in the view of the dining room).

Jeep down to Kealakekua Bay and rent a kayak to paddle one mile over to the Captain Cook monument for the best snorkeling on the island.

Supposedly spinner dolphins live and frolic in the Bay, but we didn’t see any. After a couple of hours swimming around with the colorful fishies, the vog (volcanic fog from the erupting Mt. Kilauea) rolls in, so we paddle back to get dry and get some lunch. We stop at teeny Kona Seafood for fresh, fresh, caught today by the local guys in town ahi poke (cubes of raw tuna steak marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil and garnished with chopped green onion, sesame seeds and macadamia nuts). Delicious! We also enjoyed another local delicacy – Donkey Balls. Nasty name, tasty treat – balls of chocolate about an inch in diameter with macadamia nuts inside. Dozens of flavors – we got cayenne chocolate.

Appropriate for a Sunday, we toodle up Napoopoo Road to the Painted Church.

Sunday is relaxing with your family day in Hawaii. EVERYTHING is closed. We were going to visit the little coffee towns in the area (Holualua, Honaunau, etc) which have tours of kona coffee facilities and lots of shops and art galleries, but nothing is open on Sunday, so we go back to the Aloha to hang out in the hot tub, chill in the huge bed watching movies and reading books.

At dusk, we head back down the hill to check out the spiritual Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park (aka “Place of Refuge”).

In the ancient Hawaiian tabu system, those who broke one of the extensive list of tabu could instigate the fury of the gods (volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, etc.) so they were hunted down and put to death before they could bring the fury upon their villages. Commoners who broke tabu could be spared if they reached the sacred ground of a “Place of Refuge” and performed a ceremony of absolution, no small feat since royals and warriors lived on the grounds which forced the sinners to swim through rough, shark-infested waters to reach refuge. The history reminded us of playground games where we'd have “safe” zones you had to run to without getting pummeled by your opponents.

The “Place of Refuge” did have a weird, spooky vibe to it. We went on a trail run along the coastal, volcanic 1871 trail. There wasn't a single soul out there. . . or maybe there were the souls of those who perished trying to reach refuge?

After the run, we found the only local restaurant open past 7pm (have we mentioned yet that the area around Captain Cook is RURAL), and had some pasta and played Trivial Pursuit with the local waitress. A lovely evening and we were asleep by 9:30 pm

July 6

Again, woke to the sun through the wall of picture windows at the foot of our bed overlooking the jungle and Kealakekua Bay. We took a quick run down and UP the steep Old Tobacco Road and enjoyed a refreshing outdoor shower just outside our room door by the hot tub. Co-proprietor Greg was our breakfast chef this morning. Two kinds of quiche, fresh mixed greens and papaya from the grounds outside. Sadly, we had to leave Aloha Guest House for our 73 mile drive around the southern side of the island en route to Volcano Village. It was only 73 miles, but there is only one 2-lane road with a 35-40 mile speed limit, so it took a few hours. Because we had all of our stuff in the Jeep, we were hesitant to stop at points along the way like South Point (southernmost point in the US), or a “green” sand beach. This southern region of the Big Island is called K'au and is incredibly rugged and rural. The towns were few and far between, residents must be hearty to inhabit the rough, rocky, and windy terrain.

At about 1:30 pm, we arrived at the Volcano Garden Art Center – we spent two nights in the Artist's Cottage on the grounds. It was a teeny wood cabin surrounded by Japanese-influenced gardens. When the proprietor, Ira Ono, left at the end of the day, we were the only people on the property. Secluded place at the end of a secluded one-way street. Volcano Village is at 3500 ft, so it is a wet, rainforest climate. It was misty and cold, so after we unloaded the Jeep, we drove 30 miles back south to Punalu-u Black Sand Beach. First time to use the backpacking hammock that Jeanette and Kathleen gave to Suzy at her bachelorette shower. It was awesome. Hung out reading and searching for sea turtles. On the drive back, marveled again at how rural the area is, but this region is rural in a sort of forlorn way. The towns are teeny, only have a liquor/convenience store and the nearest grocery store is in Hilo (at least an hour drive).

Back at the Artist's Cottage it was cold and rainy, so we walked up the short one-way street to get some thai food and beer and snuggied up in our leeetle cottage. In bed by 10pm. I have never gotten so much sleep. That's what happens when there is nothing to do!

July 7

Woke up to cold, pervasive rain. We planned to go on some killer hikes in Volcano National Park, but we'll see. Drive up there and the rain is coming down in driving, sideways sheets. Toodled around the park, but boy is the weather crappy. Forget hiking, we're driving off this mountain down to the beach! Volcano is located in the Puna district of the Big Island, known for being “off the grid”, a lot of Californians, hippies, artists, yogis and eccentrics relocate here. We stop into Pahoa town to get some grub at the Pahoa Bar and Grill (best mac salad on the island – freakin good!) and the bartender gives us a complementary newlywed shot of something disgusting (not exactly what we needed for lunch, but hey, it's free, we'll go with it). Local dudes show us iPhone photos of their middle of the night hike right up to the lava flow. Hmmm, a possibility? We stock up on reading material at the used book store, then we hit the beaches. No rain down here on the coast. There are tons of different beaches along this southeastern coast of the island, and we hit several – Kapoho (tide pools), Pohiki (rough, for surfing, not swimming), McKenzie, Kehena (black sand, clothing optional). Very chill day - toodling beach to beach along a beautiful tree-lined one-way coastal road, top off the Jeep, looking up at blue skies through a luscious canopy of leaves. Ahhh. Then. The. End. Of. The. Road. Literally, the road abruptly ends at Kalapana where a huge lava flow from Kilauea in 1990 wiped out all of Kalapna village and the island's most beautiful black sand beach, Kaimu. We park the car next to the bank of lava, and walk over to the little 'awa (kava) shack near the side of the road.

We enjoyed an hour or so hanging out with the local Kalapanans and few visitors assembled at the shack. The gents were very hospitable with the kava and such and took the time to show us the photos and history of their former village and the truly spectacular Kaimu Beach. The sea has already begun to erode the lava into a new black sand beach. Dave and I hiked the mile or so stretch over hills of lava out to the new beach. Along the way, the barren black lava is sprinkled with thousands of coconuts that locals and visitors have brought to the site, participating in the creation of the new black sand beach at Kalapana. It is a moving experience to stand out in the acres of desolation, with the huge plumes of volcanic steam visible from the nearby vents that destroyed this village and beach, surrounded by the hope and creation of the future. We finish our hike at sunset and are out on the new black sand beach by ourselves, soothing crashing of the waves and the fantastic sight of fiery lava rolling into the ocean in the distance.

At dusk, we drove back to Volcano to go to the “viewing area” for safe viewing of the lava roiling and crashing into the sea. The drive to the site winds through miles of land covered by lava. Here and there random houses that were not destroyed still stand, and renegade residents remain out here “off the grid”, others have joined this unique community in their Rvs and random pirate structures. The viewing area is very well organized and hundreds of visitors peacefully make the pilgrimage to the sea. Reverence for Pele is in effect – visitors are silent or speaking in hushed tones. Night falls and families gather in seated groups watching the red hot lava roll into the sea, sending bright plumes of spraying lava and steam hundreds of feet into the air as the waves churn the liquid fire in the crashing surf. Amazing. The crowd collectively ooohs and aaahs like Fourth of July. In between the ooohing and aahing, you can hear the crashing and churning of the waves and lava creating new earth from fire and water. Behind us the full moon rose from the ocean, encircled in misty haloes of gold and silver, a bright trail of light reflected in the calm sea. Surreal.

July 8

Meditated in the Buddhist gardens at the Volcano Garden Art Center in the morning mist before we depart. The cottage was very private, but we wouldn't stay at Volcano Village in the future – it's just in the middle of no where and it would be better to stay in Puna or Hilo and just drive to the Volcano National Park for dayhikes. Kalapana and the lava viewing are not to be missed.

We drove an hour and a half north to Hilo, capital city of the Big Island. It's Wednesday, and there is a fantastic Farmers Market in Hilo.

It's pouring rain (this is the rainy side of the island), so we chill in the Jeep a bit to wait it out. When it lets up a bit, we make a dash for the markets, set up under tarps – the merchants are used to the rain. It is a great market, with lots of fresh and unique foods – thai, korean, vietnamese homemade items, local produce, and crafts. Since we know we will be staying at an organic farm for the next two nights, we plan to cook for ourselves. We know that the farm proprietors will give us eggs from their chickens, so we plan our meals around “scrambles” and the “Tompkins Fry”, which consists of fresh summer green beans, potatoes, onions, garlic and bacon fried up in a pan. We also get some fresh bread, Puna goat cheese (basil macadamia nut chevre – fantabulous!), and bright red fresh tomatoes for appetizer and lunches. We stop by the honey stand and Filthy Farmgirl homemade soaps for gifts. We put the goodies in the Jeep and take advantage of the clearing skies to walk around town and over to the bridges and waterfalls on the river and stroll beautiful Lili'uokalani Park overlooking Hilo Bay. The rain starts up again, so we drive over to Mehana Brewing Company to sample the local brews.

North of Hilo, there is a gorgeous, scenic 4-mile drive, a section of the original road that encircled the island. Steep and winding through the thick jungle – it was awesome! We pull off the side of the road to hike on the Onomea Trail. Jungly hike to some secluded coves (we opt not to pay the $15 each to enter the adjacent botanical garden).

Too bad a couple of naked dudes were already frolicking in one of these out of the way coves. At the trailhead, we etch our names into the broad leaf of a “name plant” (there is a real name for this plant that escapes me). As the plant grows, your name stays in the leaf and the leaves around us are full of visitors' names.

We keep cruising north along the Hamakua Coast to Akaka Falls, making a pit stop at the freaking delicious What's Shakin' Smoothies! Akaka Falls is a wonderful diversion. A lovely, accessible hike through amazing rainforest flora. The path is paved, so families and non-experienced hikers can also visit this beautiful hilltop forest of lush vegetation and striking waterfalls.

Ok, continuing on up the coast to the small ranching / farming town of Pa'auilo (near Honoka'a). We are staying at Keolamauloa, the Lundberg family farm.

We read about the farm in the Lonely Planet, but the name sounded familiar, and sure enough Sally Lundberg and her hubby Keith Tallett were students at the SF Art Institute when Suzy worked there. They live on the farm with their supercute daughter and Sally's mom. The 2-bedroom vacation rental is in the bottom floor of Mom's house, and Sally's family has another home on the property. We arrive, a lovely basket of eggs and fresh produce on our porch, then get a tour of the fields of organic, native plants, the goats, sheep, chickens (in their nifty chicken-mobile), and huge domesticated wild boar! The vacation rental unit is awesome – huge, and would be great for a family. It's a real apartment – kitchen, dining area, living room with foosball table, two bedrooms, laundry room. We cook a delicious meal of “Tompkins Fry” then soak in the fantastic redwood hot soaking tub out on the trellised patio in the full-moonlight. It is so very peaceful up in the rolling prairieland, the ocean miles below, balmy breezes.

July 9

Woke up and made a delicious scramble of fresh eggs, kale, onions, peppers and collards. Bacon and toast with macnut goat cheese. YUM! Did laundry (yay) and packed a picnic lunch for our hiking in Waipio Valley.

Gorgeous Day! Perfect warm temperature. Waipio is amazing!!!! STEEP hike down into the valley, lovely streams, jungle and waterfalls in the valley floor, a beautiful black sand beach where we set up our hammock to hang out and read. During our initial planning, I was curious about camping in Waipio and backpacking from there over into the next valley, Waimanu. Now that we've seen the valleys and know the terrain, we are definitely camping next time. We also found a kayak company that will take you into the valleys of the Hamakua coast and guide the hiking and camping. Very cool. We hike the very steep “Z-trail” on the other side of the valley for spectacular views (and a good work out). Then the killer workout of getting back up the steep mile hike back to the Jeep. Whew.

On the way back from Waipio we stop in the town of Kamuela (Waimea) at a BBQ joint – Huli Sue's. It was so tasty as was the well-deserved cold beer. Back at the farm, we spent the evening drinking wine and catching up with Sally and Keith.

July 10

We're up at 7:30 am, just like we have been everyday of this trip. Funny, I thought we'd be sleeping in on vacation, but we're so well rested from lots of activity, good foods, and peaceful early nights to bed that we naturally wake up at 7:30 am. We use up all the eggs and produce in a “superscramble”, say goodbye to the Lundberg-Tallets, then head west across the northern tip of the island to our final two nights on the Kohala Coast at the Fairmont Orchid. This is where we have a couple of days of typical Hawaii resort vacation. Luxury hotel with pools, tiki bars, mai tais, overpriced food (except we go to the local grocery store to equip our room with meals). It was very relaxing. We got mai tais for “roadies” and walked along the Fairmont's private beaches, tide pools and secluded coves. We actually saw very few people, and saw our first sea turtles! Right up close! These beaches are their natural and protected habitat. We walk all the way up to the classic Mauna Lani hotel. Their drinks are better and their beach is even more empty, so we're able to lounge on their cabana seats with no fee, play Apple Scrabble and Bananagrams and watch the sunset. A local artist is selling watercolors, and we purchase one of smooching turtles as a momento of our afternoon with the turtles.

July 11

Suzy began the day with 9:00 am yoga at the beach, blue skies, breathing deeply in the warm sand under the rustling palms. What a fantastic way to begin the day!

We took a road trip 20 miles south to a beach we'd heard a lot about – Makalewena Beach at Kehaka Kai State Park.

It is one of the very very few white sand beaches on the island. Most are black sand or somewhat rocky because of the lava terrain. And, we had a LONG hike over that rocky terrain from the parking lot to Makalewena. Next time we're figuring out how the locals got parked in the campground there. It would be a fantastic spot to camp for a couple of days. The beach is soft and the water is still and calm. We got some sun and read books, then went back to the hotel for lunch on our lanai overlooking the gardens. Then a repeat of yesterday's beach stroll, “roadie” mai tais and board games in a cabana for another gorgeous sunset.

July 12

Bye bye Big Island. It was great to meet you. Thank you for the Aloha. We'll be back for more exploring. Next time there will be plenty of hiking, camping and kayaking. Aloha!