Day 1 – February 7, 2020 – Friday
Waupaca, WI to Kona, HI
Hello, friends! Welcome to another trip blog installment. NO, we are not pregnant with twins, although the misleading title was perhaps deliberately placed to make you worried about that. We are way too tired to have more children, although if someone left a few more kids at our house, we might not even notice.
So last year on our whirlwind Costco-should-have-sponsored-us trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, we had so much fun. When we came back, Grandma Barb (Sarah’s mom) and Grandpa Bob (Matt’s dad) both longingly read the blog, and both mentioned one photo that captured their eye:
They both had never been to Hawaii and talked about how wonderful it looked. So we thought about this, and how much fun we had. This year, as a treat to our wonderful parents, we told them, as well as Grandma Darlene (Matt’s mom), that we would love to go back to Hawaii and bring them with. Grandma Darlene is busy traveling the America West in her RV and couldn’t make it, but Bob and Barb were all over it! Thus, we have expanded to the 7 of us. We have all been so excited for this!
Our journey began at the Appleton airport, where we met Bob. Thank god we checked our flight (“we” meaning Matt) as it had been moved a half hour sooner to 6:00am. We boarded our full plane to Denver from Appleton, all snuggled in for the flight. We uneventfully landed in Denver, which was a mess of snow and wind. This time we didn’t have to run — nay, we even had time to get food (yogurt and sandwiches from a cafe, an upgrade from last year). Our gate looked suspiciously empty for a flight to HI. In addition, it was empty enough that the Denver mayor was holding a crowded press conference for unclear reasons (which in retrospect we hope were not Coronavirus related) at said gate while we were waiting.
Sure enough, our flight from Denver to Kona was only half full. The flight attendants did say people could move up – we were 5 rows from the back. A bunch of people ran to the front of the plane. Meanwhile the couple in back of us each took a bank of 3 seats for themselves and stretched out laying down on the seats. Great idea! For the 8 hour flight, we had ALL the seats we wanted. Bob wandered around talking to people, and met a lady behind us from Eagle River. After consuming too many Stroopwaffels, Sarah laid down on her own bank of three seats. EVERYONE got a window seat when we got there! Haha, suckers crowded in the front of the plane! The back is where it is at, baby.
We descended into Kona, the children screaming and misbehaving, having been fed a steady diet of cans of Coke and crap on the plane, supplemented by electronics (they did spend 10 minutes on some math workbooks, at least). We have this down: Matt leapt off the plane and ran to the rental car shuttle buses and got on, beating the thousands of people pouring off of planes. He was first in line, and by the time we grabbed our suitcases, he pulled up with our super cool Dodge Caravan. Breathlessly, he told us about how the people after him were stuck with large SUVs after all the minivans were gone. Yes, thank god he was able to be at the front of that line.
For this trip, we rented a “villa” or “condo” near Mauna Lani Beach – about 20 minutes up the road north from the airport. We found it on VRBO – four bedrooms and kitchen and all. This place is gorgeous – we have a golf course and mountain view, and are within walking distance to the ocean. We wish would have taken pictures before we trashed it, but we were exhausted when we got there, so these pics will have to suffice:
After getting all our stuff in, we left Bob and kids in the condo, and drove back to the airport – Barb’s flight from Minneapolis via Seattle was just arriving. We picked up here and her red suitcase (note: everyone on her flight had a minimum of 4 suitcases each and a full 33% of those suitcases appeared identical to hers) and headed back to the condo. We picked up frozen pizza and sushi for supper. Everyone’s stomach hurt from the plane. Not so much they couldn’t pound down pizza and sushi, though. We collapsed and were in bed by 7:30. Barb and Bob appeared to be laughing and hanging out in the kitchen, appearing more spry than the rest of us. Unknown what time THEY went to bed.
Day 2 – February 8, 2020 – Saturday
Everyone woke up refreshed! At 5 am. We told Zoe that they could have iPads at 7 am, and she wandered away. We all staggered into the kitchen, then we went for coffee (“4 20 ounce black coffees, please”) and muffins, while Barb and Bob and kids got ready for the day. First agenda item? Costco shopping for food.
Matt and the parents went to Costco and came back with loads of food – including such Hawaiian finds as tuna jerky (strangely delicious (we hoarded it and brought it back, let us know if you want some)). They then went to the local grocery store down the road to fill in the gaps left by Costco. Meanwhile, Sarah and the kids played Cooking Fever (so addictive) for hours. After everyone had lunch (thank you Costco!) we decided to take a drive into Kona to hangout downtown. Bob wanted to check out where the Ironman start/finish was, and go shopping.
We motored down to Kona, enjoying the waves (gale warning, again) and enjoying the view of the rescue helicopter scanning the coastline at our scenic lookout point. We continued on down to Kona, regurgitating facts from Matt’s new “Facts about Hawaii” book but pretending we knew them from a prior visit (to appear smart in front of our parents (Barb and Bob: “you didn’t fool us”)). We also found the last Kmart in existence, located in Kona (strangely, that information was not in the fact book).
We parked downtown and joined the hoards of tourists and eclectic locals milling about downtown on the waterfront. Bob visited the Ironman store and we went to the pier where the Ironman swim starts. We all visited the rock shop and some other touristy shops. Sarah’s mom used the scariest public toilet ever (weird how we didn’t include that particular bathroom in last year’s blog, think we blocked it out, it is actually frightening). We did get the requisite shave ice (best combo ever? Orange creamsicle with vanilla ice cream in the middle). Zoe got her usual, a stuffed animal – this time a dolphin, who will be loved for the next few days until it is abandoned with the others forever.
After walking around, baking in the sunlight, we were done. Back to the condo (villa? whatever this place is), mac and cheese for the kids and pizza and salad for adults. We enjoyed a beer and sat out on the patio, listening to the birds fight with each other and watching the full moon dance across the sky. What a great start to the trip!
Day 3 – February 9, 2020 – Sunday
This day will be so hard to beat! So in all fairness, we had planned to go to Volcano National Park today. Beaches on the weekend tend to be way crowded compared with during the week, and we thought spending the day at the National Park would make more sense. Well, we were informed by Mother Nature (Weather Channel app) that the first ever time rain would be forecast while we were in Hawaii would be Monday, our beach day. So we decided to spend today at the beach instead. The only issues? Gale warnings, again. Black flags at the beaches, the usual.
Our morning started with a 5 am phone call from someone we with curl with, informing us that curling today was cancelled due to the bad weather. Then we were awake for the day. For what it’s worth, last year we were awakened 3 separate mornings in Hawaii with notices from the school that it was closed due to snowy weather – always at 2-3 am. So 5 am is like sleeping in. Plus, we feel smug that we are in paradise, not at home shoveling. We timed it right again!
So this morning Matt and Noah went to check out the Mauna Lani beach here, and it was like glass. Noah was like “eh, really?”. We said, screw it, and off to Hapuna Beach we went! This is the beach that Barb and Bob saw pictures of, and inspired this whole crazy trip. We pulled in to a partially full parking lot at 9 am (we are early beach people) and made our way down. The waves were crashing, boogey boards were out, palm trees swaying. It was the BEST, again.
We rented a beach umbrella (note: Tommy Bahama has a monopoly on these, and yes, Costcos everywhere carry them), got out the boards, and spent the next 5 hours in the water. We took brief snack breaks, but we were in the water most of the time. The beach did fill up, but never felt crowded. 80 degrees, sun beating down, and huge waves crashing! If this is a black flagged beach, then we live for this. Sarah did lose another pair of sunglasses (she doesn’t learn her lesson) and may have herniated a disc in her back getting tossed in a wave. Zoe almost got swept away multiple times. B and Noah wouldn’t get out of the water. Even Barb tried boogey boarding!! She kept saying “I couldn’t imagine a place like this existing until I was here”. Bob strolled the beach and sat in the waves. This is the beach where everyone is happy! (note: does not include us yelling at the kids to stop kicking sand).
We were exhausted by 2, and staggered back to our (sigh) minivan. We could have charged money for our spot – there was a line of cars waiting for it. We cruised out of the beach onto the highway, and then passed by the malasadas truck by the side of the road. We stopped there last year and they were so good! So we turned around and drove back in, screeching into the gravel on the side of the road in the van. We went up and ordered a dozen, and the lady running the stand was like “I was right!” She likes to guess when people pull in how much they will order. Minivan = a dozen, apparently. We ordered Li-hing (plum sugar), sugar, and cinnamon flavors – they make them fresh while you wait. We motored back a couple more miles to the condo and feasted on them there.
Everyone showered up and settled in, except for us. We feel like we need to stay in some kind of reasonable shape on the trip (why? we’ve never felt like that before. Eh, marathon training starts next week…). So we changed up into running clothes and cruised out for a run around the resort area. It was still like 80 degrees and we were running in barren lava fields. With no water. After spending a day at the beach. We don’t know WHAT we were thinking. We did drink a bunch of salt water at the beach, though, so maybe that kept our electrolytes up for the run. Either way, it went about as well as you might think.
We decided for supper to try a restaurant near here (reasons to try: near here, not in a hotel, and open on a Sunday past 5 pm). This place was vegetarian/vegan, but we were hungry enough to try it – was called Under the Bodhi Tree. We ordered take out and everyone was pretty pleased! A few of us had veggie burgers, Matt got the vegetarian Reuben, and Bob ordered a Mango Madness salad. We thought it was pretty good, would eat again.
After some laundry and beer, we are calling it a night. We are so done. Off to Volcano National Park tomorrow – and a date night! And we are sort of curious about the 100 mph winds that have been predicted tomorrow – oh well, we will figure it out.
Day 4 – February 10, 2020 – Monday
Off to the park we went! Bright and early, we set a departure time of 6 to 6:30 am, and we were pulling out in the pitch dark at 6:30 am (note: we are used to when it is warm outside, it is light from like 5 am to 10 pm in Wisconsin – in Hawaii, you are close enough to the Equator that it is light from like 7 am to 6 pm but it is still warm – it feels very strange). We made out way up to the Saddle Road, then the rain started.
The Saddle Road cuts across the middle of the island, and it is about 2 hours from Kohala area to Hilo taking this route. It is not picturesque, but definitely filled with interesting things. There is a military installation that looks like it is from pre-electricity days on the Saddle Road, filled with ramshackle equipment and broken down barracks. There is an access road to Mauna Kea, the highest point on the island at >13,000 feet. Now more interestingly, this access road was blocked by a bunch of homemade tents (also ramshackle), strapped down piles of belongings, and old Toyotas (because everyone on this island drives Toyotas). Turns out, at the summit of Mauna Kea there is an observation point with astronomy facilities with telescopes maintained by over a dozen facilities. They want to construct a new telescope, but native Hawaiians believe this interferes with the sacred land on the summit itself. So they are protesting and had blocked the summit road.
We eventually came into Hilo, and Barb and Bob oohed at the lush greenery of this side of the island. We did pick up a couple snacks at McDonalds (hey, we were in the big city) and motored on to Volcanoes National Park. We always forget that it is cooler here. This is our (Matt and Sarah’s) FOURTH time here, and we always show up dressed for a day at the beach. Meanwhile, everyone else has rain gear on, long pants, and 42 hiking poles, and canvas hats on with hiking boots. Sigh. We hit up the visitor’s center, where Zoe tried to buy a stuffed nene animal – bad news, curly girl, you have one at home already. Nice try.
We decided if we only had a few hours, then we wanted to show Bob and Barb some of the more dramatic features of the park. Unfortunately, a lot of the park remains closed after the 2018 eruption, and a lot of it is unrecognizable to us from our first few trips here. We did drive to the Devastation Trail, and hiked the 1 mile trail alone the perimeter of where the lava flow was many years ago. We then went around the corner and hiked on Crater Rim road where it was closed. You can hike about 1.4 miles down the road until it is closed, and see evidence of earthquake damage on the road, and it does stop at overlooks over the crater. At the end, you can see a hunk of road that fell partially into the crater with the last eruption. Very cool.
We then drove partially down Chain O Craters road to a few overlooks, where you can see where the new land formed from the last years of lava flow, as the lava hits the ocean. There is no active lava flowing at the park, which is probably the safest for our family (let’s call a spade a spade). Again, we were bummed at some of the closures – Devil’s Throat (this is unmarked and yet was even closed with a sign) and Kilauea Overlook.
We circled back up near the visitor’s center and looked at the steam vents. At this point, there was a steady rain coming down. (Note: when Matt says “yes, I packed all the rain jackets” that actually meant “I packed the kids’ and my jackets, you are a grown adult and can pack your own”; also Sarah’s fleece jacket absorbs water and becomes three times as heavy in the rain). The rain hitting the steam vents was pretty cool.
Off we drove back up to Hilo – the wettest city in the United States. We hit up Starbucks because we were falling asleep, cozy in the warm car. We then drove the dreaded Saddle Road back to Kohala. All it takes is driving it twice and we are so done with that road. We read up more on visiting Mauna Kea, as we were enjoying the view of all the snow falling on the summit. It is one of the few places in the world where you can go from sea level to above 13,000 feet in two hours, so altitude sickness is a real thing for some people. After reading who is allowed to go up (not children under the age of 13, not people with heart issues, etc), we realized that is not a family vacation opportunity for us at this time. Plus we would not want to mess with the protestors (at least not this vacation).
We made up pizza and veggies for the kids and Barb and Bob, and we were off to a nice restaurant for dinner! Thanks to our friends Kara and Mahesh for recommending a restaurant in Waimea called Merrimans to us. We made reservations last week, and headed up to Waimea in our “resort casual aloha wear” (god we love it here) for our Hawaiian-American cuisine. It was VERY nice, a farm to table restaurant with everything grown in Hawaii. We started with cocktails – a fancy vodka one for Sarah and a barrel-aged Negroni for Matt, and then ordered a wine flight/sampler. We started with an appetizer that was an Asian inspired fish appetizer (amazing) and then Matt had snapper and prawns, while Sarah had filet of beef and whipped jalapeño mashed potatoes. We finished with french press coffee and creme brûlée and strawberry-pineapple tart. It was just perfect; best meal that we have had in a long time. It was pouring rain the entire time we were in there, which made it even more cozy. We then journeyed back to condo, where we collapsed (note: got back too soon and kids were still awake, will plan better next time).
Note: Sarah’s Aunt Cathy and Uncle Dave (her double relatives, look it up if you don’t know what it means), happened to be on a cruise ship to Tahiti that stopped in Kona on Sunday and Hilo on Monday – we tried to meet up with them but the fates didn’t allow it. Aunt Cathy misspelled her name on a WhatsApp text as Aunt Vathy, and that is now her new name. The kids thought it was the best, and talking about Aunt Vathy was the highlight of this part of the trip. “When do we get to see Aunt Vathy??” “Where is Aunt Vathy?” said the kids (and Barb). Every time we saw a tour group from their cruise at the Park, our kids were yelling “Aunt Vathy!!” at random strangers. Thank you, Aunt Vathy, for the hours of entertainment that single spelling error gave us.