Saturday, February 2 – Waupaca to Kona, Hawaii
In honor of our 10th wedding anniversary (which was 2 ½ years ago) and both of us turning 40, we decided to do something wild and take a trip to Hawaii! With the whole family. Mostly because we didn’t think anyone would watch the kids for an entire week. Also, we found a pretty awesome Costco deal.
Matt put in lots of time for this trip, reviewing airline policies, remembering bizarre facts from our previous trips (bring your own shopping bags for groceries, they don’t have them here), calling boat captains (a story for another day), making sure we all had clothes that fit, etc. Without his wonderful planning, this trip never could have happened. Or it could have, but would have been a shitshow.
So we were up this morning at 4:30 – off to the Appleton Airport and on our flight to Denver. Sarah sat next to a woman from California who was full of information about her previous trips to Kona. Takeaway points: if you go on a snorkeling tour boat, be prepared to swim in the vomit of the other people on board who are throwing up over the side; always wear shoes on the black sand beach because the sand heats up otherwise you will be dressing your burn wounds for an entire week (happened to her friend); if you are thinking about a lava boat tour, watch out because once the lava sprayed out and hit the boat (we confirmed that 23 people were injured last year when this happened). She was so excited for our family on our trip!
For unclear reasons, we thought we had a nicely timed layover in Denver before the 8 hour flight to Kona. It was mostly us sitting in the plane on the tarmac waiting to disembark for 45 minutes, and then frantic running once we got off, praying we could make our flight. We almost lost a kid. At one point Sarah hoisted Zoe in her arms as she sprinted down the moving sidewalk. We frantically purchased food from the only place without a line, so we had turkey sandwiches and fruit. Meanwhile everyone else at the gate had delicious looking pizza and Chic-Fil-A.
There is no configuration of seats that makes sense for 5 people. We got 2 seats (E and F in a 3-3 across plane) and the row behind D-E-F. The poor poor man who had the aisle in our little 2 row configuration was amazingly tolerant. He was somehow able to sleep through most of the shrieking. For what it’s worth, the kids were actually pretty good until the last ½ hour on the plan. It did involve hours of electronics and candy and allowing them to have regular Coke (though Z prefers water with ice) and unbridled game playing. We all watched movies – Sarah highly recommends Crazy Rich Asians! We played Spot It and Cooking Fever. Our brains are mush.
As we landed in Kona, the inside of the plan got muggy immediately. Sarah’s hair frizzed out to 3 times its size. Matt saw an opportunity to go get the rental car and we were worried he wouldn’t come back. We rented a Jeep as that appears to the be the generic rental car for irregularly numbered families such as ours (five plus). The kids ooed and aahed over the palm trees, the lava rock everywhere, a cat in a parking lot, some baby goats by the road. They are pretty easy to impress.
But they were wrecked. Like you have never seen. We got to our rented condo (Aston Waikoloa Colony Village, courtesy of Costco) and they had been awake basically from 4:30 am to the equivalent of 10 pm. We found a DQ and they had hot dogs and collapsed immediately asleep. We ate something from Big Island Burrito – a rice bowl and a burrito. Eh. What do you expect when the motto is “from Hola to Aloha”?
Now for a beer and bed. It is 8:30 pm here and we might not need a beer to feel impaired at this point. Matt came back with a bag of beers because here you just randomly take cans off of whatever you want at the liquor store – so he went right down the line, ripping a can off of each 6 pack. Tomorrow is a day of sleeping in, Costco (why not?) and planning our week!
Beers drank: Ola Brew Company IPA, Maui Brewing Company Big Swell IPA
Miles Driven: We’re on an island 🙂
Sunday, February 3
The day began with a 4 am text from one of Matt’s friends followed by all the kids waking up at 4:30 am. Still on Central Time, eh, kids?
We stumbled out of bed around 7-8 am and gave the kids a lesson on how food is expensive in Hawaii so don’t waste it (their usual Wisconsin morning of half eaten bananas and throwing bagels around in the air cannot happen here). Thanks to Matt’s grocery shopping, we at least had food for breakfast (and nothing else). We ate smashed avocados on toast and scrambled eggs, and copious amounts of coffee. The only plan for the day was to get settled in and go to Costco.
We laid around the house until about 10 am, and then made our way over to one of the two pools in our complex. So this joint is a collection of villas in a gated community within a resort area full of those, hotels, shopping and restaurants. We suspect a good percentage of these villas are owned and rented out as AirBnBs, VRBOs, and through places like Costco. The other percentage are probably cranky elderly people who live here some portion or all of the time, and younger couples. Anyway, the pools are labeled as “Pool” and “Children’s Pool”. Well, we headed over to the “Children’s Pool” which was nestled among tropical plants and within the collection of villas.
We quickly changed our minds – this was not the “children’s pool”, but rather the “pool of no fun”. Rules were listed: No yelling, no jumping in (which a worker helpfully reminded us of), no excessive splashing, no toys. We were the only ones in there, and won’t lie, it was gorgeous with clean water, nice lounge chairs, and sun and warmth. It just wasn’t fun quietly telling the kids repeatedly that they needed to be quieter and stop splashing. I mean, for god’s sake, it was labeled children’s pool. WTF?!?
Back to the house for PBJ and leftovers and we started our drive down to Kona to hit up Costco. As we left the complex, we heard splashing and screams. We stopped the car and looking back, the other “Pool” had visible pool floatie toys visible above the tropical hedge plants, screaming, and sounds of fun from children and adults alike. F that. We stopped at a scenic point to look at the gorgeous coastline, and got chatted up by a very friendly couple from Georgia who were from Kansas City originally and had some strong feelings about the Super Bowl and in fact, still were bitter from when the Packers played them in the very first Super Bowl. Oh geez. They too were heading to Costco and took our picture for us.
We cruised down to Kona and drove around downtown to check it out before heading back to Costco. We saw where the Ironman swim course was and found the Kona Brewery (to be eaten at another day). Cruised into Costco and found our people. Their eating area was mobbed and all outdoors. Inside you could barely move. People yelling “we now have enough food to get us through the next two days” and throwing Hawaiian Costco shirts into their carts. Piling ice cream treats, avocados and Cheetos Munchies Fix into their cart. Oh wait, that was us. We also bought a 3 pound tub of cream cheese so we don’t have ration the bagel cream cheese like savages anymore.
Back to home and after Costco pizza and Kirkland imitation Haagen Daaz treats, we were rejuvenated. (We only half watched the Super Bowl, feels weird to watch it in the middle of the afternoon). Matt was reading up on the beaches on the internet, and found one of the nicest beaches on the island, Hapuna Beach, was black flagged today due to high surf and 9-11 foot waves. WELL. We wouldn’t be the Durst-Kolinski family if we didn’t read something like that and all immediately get in the car to go there and check it out. Which we did. We had an hour before sunset and we wanted in on the fun. It was a gorgeous night with people boogey boarding, huge waves, a man metal detecting in the water (huh?), kids playing in the sand, and a gorgeous sunset. We will be back at that beach when going in the water won’t kill us!
Back to home and a couple beers later, we are planning our week of adventure!
Beers drank: Mehana Brewing Company Mauna Kea Pale Ale, Maui Brewing Company Double Overhead IPA, Mehana Volcano Red Ale – we’re going to try every beer brewery on the island!
Miles Driven: “several”
Monday, February 4
The kids were up again at 4:30 – damn time change! All working together happily making bagels and putting on a movie. At 4:30 in the morning. Plan for the day was to go to Volcano National Park – we figured we wouldn’t have the energy for the drive later in the week (and no one would be interested later in the week).
Our basic plan was to drive over the Saddle Road over the middle of the island – we are staying on the northern part of the west coast, and we needed to get to the southeastern part of the island. You can also get to the Volcano area by driving south and over to the east, but that seemed to be about a half hour longer and had less fast food options (priorities). So up and over the Saddle Road we went – kind of boring. Lots of military areas which were mildly interesting, with clouds and old volcanos. There was the laziest road construction we have ever seen. You are way up high in elevation (for Hawaii) and all of a sudden it goes down to one lane. They don’t care to the point where cars were driving in that one lane directly at each other. The guy who should have been flagging and keeping track of traffic flow was lighting his cigarette and drivers were just shrugging their shoulders at each other and veering off the road. It was fantastic and definitely in the spirit of Hawaii.
We eventually made our way down to Hilo, otherwise known as the town time forgot. All the paint is peeling, probably due to being the wettest city in the US. Also, there are more churches than we have ever seen, all very very specific. Samoan Seventh Day Adventist? Wow, how many of them can there be?!? We stopped for snacks (Matt picked up Shrimp Chips which he thought were gross, and then ate the entire bag). We then journeyed down through Kea’au and on to Volcano National Park!
Some of the park was closed, having been destroyed in the last eruption, and also due to nesting ne-ne birds. Ne-ne’s are interesting – many years ago, a flock of Canadian geese got lost and ended up in Hawaii and never left. They are the state bird and super mean, just like real Canadian geese! Don’t worry, we stopped at the gift shop (honestly, the kids’ favorite part of any National Park and our second stop whenever we are at one (the first being stamping those damn park passports)) and Zoe immediately clung on to a stuffed animal ne-ne bird. Right now, it is now sitting in a nest she made from her blanket, incubating eggs (we didn’t look to see what she meant by that).
Anyway, on to the fun. We drove down the road that surrounds the main crater of Kileaua and saw some steam vents. We got out and hiked around and then saw what appeared to be a trail near the rim of the new crater that formed last year. Yes, that would be the trail we hiked 12 years ago and a helpful ranger told us that it still exists, just with a sheer drop off down of 2000 feet in the middle of it. Well. We then drove to the Devastation trail, where you can hike along a path that borders a lava flow from the 1960s and the jungle it tried to destroy. It is quite beautiful.
We then drove down the Chain O Craters Road – previously this went down to the ocean, and you drove for a bit and then could park and get out and walk to the active lava flow. Well, now it appears that the road may have had lava flow over it and it kind of cuts off (maybe this isn’t right, but that’s what it looks like on the map). Plus, this is the first time in 30 years there is no active lava flowing (traveling with kids, we are ok with that). So we drove down, admiring the sweeping vistas. You could hike out across lava fields, which the kids (who been deprived of their electronics and were bored to tears) all of a sudden found fascinating. They spent a half hour playing in the barren lava field, desperate for any kind of entertainment. Mission accomplished!
So next stop? The NEW black sand beach. One of the fun things about the Big Island is that there are all kind of black sand beaches (on Maui we think there might be a couple, for comparison). With last year’s lava flows, a portion of residential areas was destroyed in the Puna region, along with Isaac Hale County Park. Apparently this park was more secluded and local, and unfriendly to tourists who really had no reason to venture that far into the wilderness. Well, now an eruption with fresh lava in 2018 covered the entire area including the park, and after only 6 months of waves hitting the lava, there is a new beach there! We heard about it from Sarah’s friend Kara, who heard about it from some guy in the elevator in her hotel here 2 weeks ago. Done! You basically drive to the end of the earth, then turn left and go to the other end of the earth to get there. The road there is gorgeous and jungle like. Then all of a sudden, the road is made of lava and you are driving through the recent eruption. Then bam, a parking lot and a bunch of hippies. There is a pond formed near the beach from the former boat ramp that looks like a great way to catch hepatitis. The kids had tons of fun building with the black sand and not swimming (waves were too high (kids: “can we go to a real beach, like the one we went to yesterday?”)).
And off we went. Our day was complete now that we got to see something amazing – a beach less than a year old! None of us will ever see that again. We drove up to Kea’au and hit McDonald’s. We love Hawaiian Mickey D’s. They have the usual fare but other more regional cuisine, especially their breakfasts. Matt got a McTeri burger which was covered in teriyaki. Who says you can’t get local food at a chain restaurant?
We decided to head home via the Saddle Road, but avoiding the construction zone of death. All was well, and we ended up at home by 7:30 or so. Everyone was exhausted and got tucked in for the night, and we collapsed. No beer today. Too tired.
Beer: none, despite earning it today
Miles Driven: too damn many
Tuesday, February 5
The kids woke up at 5:30 am, a modest improvement from the last two days. We were all up and out of the condo by 7:15, ready for our day on the water! SO. We had decided to do a snorkeling trip a few weeks ago as we hastily planned this trip. We had a good recommendation for which tour to go on. THEN Sarah was looking in “The Book” (Hawaiian book with blue cover that has been our Bible every time we come here) and they recommended a place called Kona Boat Rentals where they screen you to make sure you aren’t a moron, and then rent you a boat! No license needed, and you can fish and snorkel and go out to International Waters in your very own power boat! We are NOT sure why we thought this was a great plan, but Matt called and must have passed the moron screening test because they took his credit card number. Then two days before we left, Sarah panicked and was like, maybe piloting pontoon boats on the chain is NOT comparable to the ocean?!? So Matt sighed and called and hired a boat captain to captain our boat. BEST PLAN EVER.
Today was the day. We show up, and our boat captain is Eric, the owner of the outfit. We got to know everything about him, but most importantly, he went to Penn State, so he is like us (Big Ten). Kind of. Anyway, we got outfitted with snorkel gear and the boys got life jackets (Z came with hers) and off into the boat we went! He asked us what we wanted to do, and we said snorkeling and fishing, not so much dolphins or whale watching. As we left the harbor, we then saw numerous spinner dolphins flying in the air and a humpback whale with calf. WOW! It was pretty cool.
We motored down the coast to the Captain Cook monument. (Matt and Sarah had kayaked this back in the child free days and snorkeled there, although we didn’t remember the snorkeling being all that great). It was just a beautiful day (“cold for Hawaii” – boat captain Eric; “why am I so sunburned and hot?!?” – Sarah). It was amazing – in the small bay you are in water more than a hundred feet deep, you swim 20 feet, and then you can see the coral and fish in the shallow water that is in the 20-30 feet next to the shore. Turquoise water. Boats pulled up and people bobbing. Sunning themselves (illegally) on the monument. Amazing. We all put on snorkeling gear and jumped in. The first thing Sarah saw was a mask and snorkel slowly sinking that someone had lost! Then looked up and saw Braden had lost his snorkel. Yup, that’s about right. Looked down and it was out of sight, a hundred feet down. Thank god the boat captain had an extra one. Then Matt lost his. Then Zoe lost hers and just wanted to ride around on our backs anyway. Off to the boat they all went to eat lunch.
Just Noah and Sarah floating around, looking at yellow tang fish and sea urchins and all the other life under the water. Really calm clear beautiful water. Then Noah began shivering uncontrollably, probably due to his -5% body fat not keeping him warm in 80 degree water. Off to the boat he went. Sarah stayed out a bit longer, then made her way back.
Our boat left the Bay and continued on – we started to trawl with our fishing lines and all the kids got a chance to steer the boat for a while. At one point the fish finder showed a fish and the line started to go out, but the fish got off. B was still pretty excited to be fishing. Our captain gave a great tour of the coastline, filling us in on real estate (“can you believe that little yellow house is for sale for 1.5 million?!? They will never get that!”) and local opinions on the island (“Many believe Pele erupted and covered the rich houses with lava because she was mad the rich people are hogging the coastline and not sharing it” (lol we like that)). He was great.
We rolled back into harbor exhausted, which was weird because we snorkeled for a half hour and spent the rest of our time eating and baking and napping in the sun for 6 hours. We hit Starbucks and journeyed home, to lay around for a few hours until another freakishly early sunset at 6:17 pm. Dinner was from Pele’s Wok, a Hawaiian-Asian fusion place, eaten in front of the TV (Brooklyn Nine Nine). Whatever, this is vacation! What a fantastic day!
Beer drank: Big Island Overboard IPA
Miles driven: the distance between us and our sweet ass boat office – 20 miles round trip