Day 5 – February 11, 2020 – Tuesday
Another beautiful day in paradise! It has rained here more than we ever remember. We all slept in a bit, and Matt and Sarah even went on a run down to the Petroglyph park, followed by eggs and avocado toast. Perfect start to the day.
Today we were going to head over the Waipio Valley – located on the extreme northeastern side of the island, it is where the Hawaiian kings lived for many centuries, and where taro farming is a way of life. It is exceptionally beautiful, and also known as “the place where the cats were last year”, per our children. Since we first visited the overlook for this valley many years ago, we have wanted to go down in it. It is only accessible by the steepest road of its length in America, an average 25% grade (up to 48% at times) over about a mile. You can hike down, but tours are better as they are given by locals who live in the valley and you are able to access a bit more of the valley.
So we made our way to the valley overlook (mostly to use the bathrooms and see the cats) and then drove to the art studio where our tour departed from. We rode in a 14 passenger van (that had the windows removed for maximal viewing) with a couple from Chicago and a couple from Milwaukee. The tour guide was a 23 yo guy who was raised in the valley – his family was from the Azores some 9 generations ago. He was an incredible speaker and still lives down there, farming taro – he does tours once a week for this company. We all climbed in, and made our way down the crazy steep road – it was wild. Only 4WD drive vehicles are allowed (NOT all wheel drive, and Sarah still doesn’t get the difference) and we stopped several times for pictures as he told us the history of the valley. We did see some people hiking down the road, as well as seeing the highest free flowing water fall in Hawaii from the road.
Once in the valley, it was lush vegetation and many flowing rivers – taro requires flowing water to farm (taro is a veggie kind of like potatoes). The valley was crowded with vegetation, and once we were down there it was clear that we had made a good choice to do a tour – there was only a small road leading through it, and no trespassing signs everywhere. As a hiker, I’m not sure where you would even go. As we rattled along, making deep river crossings in the van, a guy came up to us and asked our tour guide about hiking to the waterfalls – he kind of chewed him out nicely – “hey man, very disrespectful, you can’t walk to those”. There are wild horses everywhere – “we do not domesticate them because they don’t bother us and plus we are lazy – the horses chill, we chill, all is well”. There were fruit trees laden with fruit and beautiful flowers everywhere. It was amazing. Only a few of the several dozen people living there have electricity – our tour guide doesn’t and there is no cell service.
We made our way up the crazy bumpy steep road (Sarah’s Garmin suspiciously hit her step goal on the ride back up the hill). After thanking our guide, we made our way south along the northeast coast of Hawaii. We did stop at the best smoothie stand ever – “What’s Shakin” and got smoothies for all (B spilled half of his all over himself – “Why does this keep happening to me? My shave ice spilled all over too!” – “Bad news B, you got the klutz gene”, said Grandma).
We then continued on to the Botanical Gardens, which Grandma Barb was very excited about. By this point, it was a full on pouring rain. Highlights of that attraction:
- They advertise free umbrellas for use.
- When two elderly tour groups show up a half hour before you, they take all the umbrellas, leaving you with only your rain jackets (or for Sarah, her water absorbing fleece).
- Good news: the mosquitos were all killed by the driving rain.
- Beautifully labeled exotic plants in a wonderfully maintained attraction.
- Beautiful ocean views.
Bad news: the maps dissolve in rain, thus we had to wander around too long at the end, lost in the rain and unable to see in order to get out.
After this, we were done for the day! We decided we couldn’t bear to drive to Hilo and take the Saddle Road back (god no, not again, please) so we retraced our path – this part of the island is so scenic and lush. We then passed through Waimea and stopped at the Big Island Brewhouse. We all ordered food (the fish bites were delicious!) and we (Matt and Sarah) enjoyed beer – Sarah had a Red Giant IPA and Matt had a sampler (he choose all their premium beers for that, very sly, although a Champagne barrel aged beer tastes as bad as it sounds). We had a great time – we motored home and all relaxed. Except for Zoe who went crazy when she learned she could not negotiate her way into ice cream (let’s never speak of this bedtime again).
Day 6 – February 12, 2020 – Wednesday
Another beach day! So although we (Matt and Sarah) love the rich cultural heritage of Hawaii, we also love the beaches. The kids? Not so much the rich cultural heritage, all about the beach. So two of our days are beach days, any more than that and at least two of us will have skin cancer by the end of the year. Not Matt or Noah though, with their skin that seems to only darken nicely. Well, and Zoe seems to have half of those genes. The rest of us? Lobsters.
We awakened and because every day is the same, like Groundhog Day, ate eggs and avocado on toast, and guzzled down coffee. Packed up our beach stuff, and out the door at 9:30 am for another glorious Kohala coast day! We wish we could tell you that we are awesome and adventurous, and hiked across a lava field to a secret swimming beach. Instead, we are tired, with kids and parents along. So we went low rent and speeded the several miles up the coast back to Hapuna Beach, back like a bad habit.
Another beautiful day – although the winds were actually too high and the water was like a washing machine initially – kind of spooked us. But then it calmed down to 8-10 foot waves, and life was perfect again. A nice breeze, beach filled up, and sun beating down. Less boogie boarding today, more jumping into waves – the kids all had to be dragged home at the end of the day. Definitely a success.
And guess what was parked on the side of the road on our way home? Why, our favorite malasadas truck! Another dozen, please – eaten at home with coffee on the lanai. We all rested and napped for a couple hours, then the kids settled in with Bob and Barb to watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, while we got ready to go out for supper. We hit up Ray’s Waikoloa Grill – a restaurant chain owned by Ray Yamaguchi with Pacific Rim cuisine. More importantly, it was 5 minutes away and had decent Open Table reviews. Done, reservation made.
The place was pretty chilly inside, and incredibly busy. Both the hostess and the server asked what our “special occasion” was which Sarah had checked off on Open Table. (Um, being in Hawaii with a babysitter?) We ordered the Prie Fixe menu and did not regret it. The appetizer sampler was delicious, and we each got a different fish entree. Dessert was good too. Sarah had a tequila cocktail with an unpronounceable name and Matt and had ginger old-fashioned. We had another round that got comped (without us asking) because it took so long to get to us. Eh, we didn’t care – we had all the time in the world! We felt horrible for our server, who clearly had too many tables and was doing the best she could. Overall, food was good but our poor server was overwhelmed (but pleasant!). It really was a stark contrast to Merriman’s, where everything was perfectly done, and just so.
We drove home, and everyone snuggled into bed. Another great beach day in paradise!
Day 7 – February 13, 2020 – Thursday
Everyone staggered out of bed around 7 am, finally adjusting to Hawaiian time. Bummer, given we leave tomorrow and jet lag is real. Another breakfast of eggs and avocado, plus whatever anyone wants from the fridge! We have a lot of food to eat up before tomorrow. Eek. The downside of Costco, I guess.
Anyway, we had planned on hitting up the southwestern part of the island tomorrow, given it will be the anniversary of when Captain Cook was killed (we thought there might be events, we don’t know). However, we are a bit twitchy about what the timing with that and flights might be, so today is the day! It was exceedingly hot today – high 80s and winds (we call that tornado/storm weather in WI, here they call it “Thursday”).
We initially drove down to Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, just outside Kona town. Yah – national park stamps! Finally. It’s been days since our last one. Zoe procured a stuffed animal sea turtle. This is an area where there are fish ponds that the ancient Hawaiian kings/chiefs used to raise fish in. It is beautiful, and along the coast.
We drove past the marina to check out one of them (B: “Why do you mock me? Are you torturing me? Why can’t I go fishing?”). We hiked in a little bit to the coast, and admired the fish ponds, with waves crashing. We saw 3 different sea turtles happily swimming about in the fish ponds (one made a very slow getaway to the ocean as our family gathered near it (we were MORE than 20 feet away per federal law, we promise)).
Next stop was to admire the obledisk commemorating Captain Cook in Kealakekua Bay. Apparently it had been too long since we last were here, as neither of us recognized the route to get there (and we kayaked across that bay back in the day, and snorkeled here last year!). It was super crowded but Bob and Barb did get a view of the monument across the beautiful bay.
We motored on to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (MORE STAMPS) and it was stunning. There was a self-guided tour that talked about the history of the Place of Refuge (basically, if you were caught doing something forbidden by law, such as men and women eating together, you would immediately be killed. However, if you could get to this place before they catch you, you could be absolved by a priest). Matt and Sarah (and Barb and Bob) soaked it all up. Meanwhile, the children, with hot sun beating down on them, watched the snorkelers at the beach 50 feet away, bobbing in the water. Zoe enjoyed running around the tour area, but B and Noah were not as interested. More like hostile.
Until we found the tide pools scattered on the rocks. Definitely the highlight of the day. We saw sea urchins, yellow tangs, puffer fish (so cute!). All right next to us! We saw the most horrifying thing ever that made us so happy we were not snorkeling – a spaghetti worm. We also saw a spotted blue cornet fish EAT another fish literally 2 feet away from us. Sarah screamed, and the kids all jumped back.
We were exhausted and happy, and Barb treated everyone to McDonalds (had more Hawaiian people there than we have seen the entire trip). We motored slowly back to the condo, exhausted. We took the kids to the pool in the condo, where they enjoyed the rough horseplay that the pool rules strictly forbade them to do. We then told Zoe she could be 7 and could go in the hot tub, and she wept and just kept saying she was only 5. Try to give her an in, and she wouldn’t take it.
Tonight was a free for all for supper, and us adults enjoyed some take out fried food from Island Fish and Chips. The volcano shrimp are amazing! And now packing and getting ready for our last day tomorrow.
Day 8 – February 14, 2020 – Valentine’s Day has no meaning here where every day seems the same – Friday
Our last day on the island! We enjoyed a breakfast consisting of a free for all – if it’s in the freezer or fridge or pantry, you could have it! Children were limited to 3 ice cream treats each before check out at 11 (we aren’t total heathens). We had avocado toast, no eggs as we had eaten them all, Drumsticks and Nestle Crunch bars, overly ripe bananas, apples, kettle corn, leftover pizza, Caeser salad, turkey sandwiches, string cheese, tortilla chips and salsa. Lesson learned, don’t buy so much. Or eat more?
We packed up our condo and admired the fact that the entire condo village area was packed with cars everywhere. A long President’s weekend getaway to Hawaii is a thing in California (well, someone told us that 16 years ago when we were there over President’s Day, we’ll go with it). We motored out – our plan was to drive up to Pololu Valley on the northwest side of the island and make our way back. We drove through Hawi (cute town) on the way to the Valley overlook. None of us were dressed for hiking (and we had all our worldly possessions with us in the minivan) so we admired the view of the valley – several valleys over is Waipio Valley, where we had gone a few days ago. Stunningly beautiful. Today was another semi-clear day, and we could see Maui again in the distance.
As we looped back down the coast heading south back toward Kohala, we started to see whales. It was a beautifully calm day and we could see multiple whales – Sarah offered initially to pay the kids $5 a whale which was not a great plan after we saw like a dozen of them (note: Sarah does not learn her lesson and this game of spotting animals always turns into fighting and lying, combined with greed – and that’s just Matt).
We visited Pu’ukohola Heiau Historical Park. Won’t lie, we stopped for several reasons:
Barb and Bob – to appreciate the history of heiau and learn more about ancient Hawaiians.
Matt – all about the stamps (he already joined the National Park Stamp Club. Yes, it’s a thing).
Children – to shop in the NPS store (subset Zoe – the sea turtle already abandoned, she now got a shark and a whale. Braden got a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle of Hawaiian historical sites).
Sarah – bathroom (they were under repair so we instead had to drive to a nearby store).
We continued on down the coast, eventually making our way to Kona. We wanted to eat at Kona Brewing Company as we thought it was so decent last year. Then we remembered how crappy their service is. (Crappy enough for us to review it on TripAdvisor? Undecided). The crazy thing is, the food is excellent and the beer is fine. It’s more the lackluster service. TWO years in a row they forgot our appetizer! At least they are consistent. You cannot beat the setting – outside surrounded by jungle plants with fun music – we have a short memory, so if we are ever on the Big Island again, we guarantee we will eat here again and complain yet again.
We then drove down and let the grandparents do some shopping and wandering, and the kids had ice cream and shave ice again (because breakfast ice cream wasn’t enough). We then piled into the car and headed to the airport. An end to our beautiful trip. Also, we learned that Grandma Barb’s Delta flight terminal was not connected to the United one. Seriously?? So before security we had to bid farewell. Her flight and trip back was uneventful, except for the part where security demanded to search her carry on after she was already on the plane. Stop smuggling stuff, Grandma!!
We boarded our plane right on time at 9 pm, then started to taxi away, then taxied back to the airport and sat on the tarmac while some kind of “totally routine unexpected mechanical problem” (was one of the phalanges missing? report to Sarah if you know this reference and you will get a gold star) was fixed for a while. THEN we took off an hour later. All the kids curled up and slept peacefully. Kind of.
The real fun was our connection in Denver – we now had no layover because we left late. Well, we had a 1 minute layover. Matt was deployed to push past all the other people on our airplane (all of whom were missing their connections as well (side note: someone was connecting from Kona to Denver to Cancun – WTF?)) to run to our next gate. The kids were so excited to run through the airport just like in “Home Alone”. (The airport scene that was in O’Hare, which we calmly walked through later that day). Nothing like stepping onto a full airplane and being those people running in late. The flight was uneventful (more stroopwaffels, anyone?) – except for Noah who threw up. Poor Noah. He used the little airsickness bag correctly at least.
We dined at Chili’s Too in Chicago, and remembered how horrible it was from our prior travels. Why do we not learn? It appears to be a front for a money laundering organization or something, run by what appears to be a vaguely Eastern European mob-like family. Check it out, on the F concourse.
On to the plane we went, de-iced, and headed back to Appleton. We staggered out to the car and drove home, this time NOT in a blizzard. We came home to some very friendly kitties, and chilly temps. We all survived!
Next trip? Northern Montana appears to be calling us for this summer… Treasure hunting or fun? Or BOTH? We will see!