Seventeen years ago, about three months before my husband and I got married, we traveled to Kona, Hawaii, with most of his family. Since that trip, we have been trying to plan another trip with his family to do Hawaii again. Two years ago, we threw a dart at a date and landed on 2018. That would be the summer that we would plan to go back.
It seemed so far out there, and yet, here we are; Kona, Hawaii, 2018.
Day #1 – Sunday
We arrived mid-day on a Sunday. It had been a loooooonnnnnng day. Leaving our home in Virginia at 4 am, we arrived in Hawaii at 2 pm that same day absolutely beat. If you’ve never been to The Big Island (Hawaii), the setting is quite unexpected. Think more ‘landing on the moon…with flowers’ and less Gilligan’s Island. The terrain is rough and rocky courtesy of eons of volcanic eruptions. But as arid as it appears, life still finds a way to take root and grow. The flowers are lovely and they are everywhere.
We went straight away to move into our new home for the trip and then headed out for dinner. The hilltop restaurant, Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai, provided an outstanding view of the Pacific, but the jet lag was a heavy weight to muscle through. In hindsight, cocktails were probably a bad idea that evening, but when in paradise….. We went home and crashed hard for the night.
The majority of homes in Hawaii depend on “the trades”, or trade winds, so central air is rare. Our rental had 3 air conditioned en suites, plus two more bedrooms in a loft. A typical beach style home, we had a very small pool to cool off in, an amazing west facing view of the ocean, and and a very colorful tree outside of our second story Lanai that attracted the most spectacular collection of birds. And let’s not forget the occasional visits from ferrel cats, kalif pheasants, and mongoose. Our literal bird’s eye view made it easy to take in the sights.
The REAL Day #1
Hawaii-Aleutian Time is 6 hours behind our home Eastern Standard Time, so waking in the morning is a non-issue, especially early in the trip. My husband and I were up before 5 am, and made our way to a local craft coffee shop, Green Flash Coffee, right when they opened for the day. There we could purchase our favorite coffee beverages and some yummy pastries, bagels and cream cheese, and egg sandwiches.
All together, our whole group was a total of 20 people. Three generations of family. A real population explosion since our last trip together. The group decided to meet at Magic Sands Beach for some sun and fun. A small, white sand beach, was a beautiful host for the day. Soft sand and gentle waves made for a great first day out in the sun.
That evening, we ventured, once again as a group, to a restaurant popular with the locals. Big Island Grill; not a fancy place at all, but the food was good. The menu had a huge variety of choices for some of our more choosy eaters. Fish and Chips, the clear favorite for the night. Still jet lagged, we made an early night of it to live to fight another day.
Day #2 – Tuesday
We started our day, once again, with Green Flash coffee and Holy Donuts! The yeast donuts were awesome and came in interesting flavors like, S’mores and Girl Scout Samoas. I tried soooooooo hard to resist, but the siren song of fresh, unique donuts is impossible to resist.
On Tuesday, we all met at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. Probably the most spectacular beach I’ve ever been to. A spacious white sand beach with pristinely beautiful water. Great body surfing and minimal rocky hazards. Bath houses and a snack bar are on the premises. Totally worth the drive, but boy did some of the group get fried. The trade winds are gorgeous and really fool you as to how much sun you are actually getting.
We traveled a route back to our rental that took us through very arid, and sometimes grassland type scenery. Wild goats were dotting the landscape so often that we finally stopped saying, “Goats!” every time that we saw one. Those tough animals spend a lot of time perched and posing on the mini cliffs of lava rock.
For the evening, we explored the main town of Kona. We had dinner at Bongo Ben’s Island Cafe which had a memorable view of the sunset, as well as a collection of homeless folks. The food was really good and the people watching quite interesting. We tooled around town a bit after dinner and then, once again, wimped out and headed home for bed.
Day #3 – Wednesday
Wednesday was a much needed day out of the sun. My one son got super burned the day before, so we opted for indoor activities. We had paid a visit to Walmart to purchase breakfast necessities, so we ate at home before heading to Kanaloa Octopus Farm. This super cool research facility offered a lesson on the diminishing population of octopus in the wild that are captured for aquariums and for food. Fully funded by tourism, the little farm studies and cares for octopi in hopes of cracking the mystery of how to replenish and restore the numbers of animals in the wild.
Patrons get to invite the octopus to touch their hands. Each octopus is named and has its own distinct personality. Some are shy and some are much more friendly and outgoing. These fascinating creatures can turn from brick red to white in an instant and can even change the texture of their skin to help camouflage them from predators or woo a potential mate. At the end of the visit, each person is allowed to feed the octopi. It was an engaging and educational trip and not a huge time commitment. I encourage everyone to pay them a visit.
Now you might find this lame, but after the Octopus farm, the family and I went to the movies. I know this seems crazy that we would travel all the way to Hawaii and duck inside for hours to see Incredibles 2, but this is vacation. We don’t often get the opportunity to see a movie as a family back home, so why not go here while we have the opportunity?
After the movie, we were able to walk over to Royal Thai Cafe for some tasty takeout of Thai and Asian fusion cuisine. Delish!
Day #4 – Thursday
Ok, today, we had some plans. We woke early, which at this point was still not an issue, and made our way to Kona International Airport for a quick 35 minute flight over to Honolulu on the island of Oahu. Prime objective was to visit the Pearl Harbor Historical Sites. A tremendously moving collection of artifacts and stories, we worked our way through several Smithsonian-esque, museums. (Being from the DC area, we are quite spoiled with the quality of our museums.) Each pavilion contained loads of exhibits, informational and emotional accounts of the infamous attack on American soil, and some hands-on activities to let you get a better feel of responsibilities of the servicemen of that era. Personally, I found the memorial very interesting, but as a parent…. There is nothing I love to see more than my teenage, gamer engaged and interested in a museum and American history. A day I’m quite excited and proud of. (Heart hands!)
Due to some structural damage to the observation platform, the opportunity to view the USS Arizona, that still rests at the bottom of the harbor, was not an option for us, so our trip was limited to the land exhibits. Our next stop was the gorgeous Waikiki Beach Walk. A plethora of fine shops and restaurants, there really was something for every part of our party. From 10 years old, to 80; from cookies to hats, every one of us found something to fall in love with during our walk. We strolled through the Sheraton Waikiki to get a glimpse of the water and beach. A breathtaking view of sparkling white sands and clear light aqua waves, it was just gorgeous.
We drove by the public beach of Waikiki. Heavily populated, it is quite odd to experience the beach in the midst of a sizable city. But it works! We headed up to Diamond Head to see what we could see. We were not correctly outfitted to summit the hill, but it was obvious and shocking to our kids that we were enjoying our icy treats inside a dormant volcano. We wrapped up our visit and headed back through the city, past the University of Hawaii, to the airport to return to our home base, Kona.
We were able to meet up with some family at Umeke’s Fishmarket Bar & Grill for some delicious cocktails and meals. If you ever see a cucumber lemonade cocktail on a menu, do yourself a favor and order it. I could really go for another one right about now. So refreshing.
Day #5 – Friday
Today we stayed close to home. Directly across the street from our house, is a black sand beach that boasts the 2nd best snorkeling in the area. The very rocky terrain, in and out of the water, made it difficult to move around, but gobs of species of fish and sea life could be viewed in super shallow water. Eels, sea turtles, sea urchins, and many colorful fish were a plenty. The beach has on-sight bath houses, snorkel equipment rental and a food truck for a snack or lunch.
The dark sand really holds the heat, so it was a very hot day with or without the trades. Dips in the perfect temperature of the ocean were a must, but you better run for it, or wear your shoes ’cause that crushed up lava rock may as well still be on fire. It’s HOT!
After getting cleaned up, we headed back into town for dinner. This time, we tried Foster’s Kitchen. Now we’re talking. On the second floor of the building, this open air restaurant had a gorgeous view of the Pacific and the impending sunset. The food was spectacular and the drinks were even more so. Anything from pastas, to the fresh catch of the day were offered and beautiful and refreshing cocktails were to die for.
We ended the evening with some Kona Coffee from the cafe just downstairs and strolled around the shops until we made our way to the car for the ride home. Keep in mind, the sun sets in Hawaii around 7:30 pm give or take, so it gets dark (and I mean really dark) really early. It makes our weary East Coast bodies even MORE tired. So bedtime is hard to resist.
Day #6 – Saturday
My husband and his brother and father went deep sea fishing for the day, bringing home a sizable Wahoo that we would partake in for dinner on Day #7.
My sons and I stayed home for the day. In the afternoon, we walked down to the black sand beach to grab a snack. I stayed behind to snap some pictures of St. Peter’s by the Sea Catholic Church. My husband and I discovered this little seaside church on our trip 17 years ago. I was so excited to learn that we were going to be staying nearby. The little church was established in 1880 and looks to seat maybe 30 people. I was disappointed that we could not attend a service there, but I did get some sweet photos. I finished up my walk for pics with a dip in our tiny pool and took advantage of the quite to read my book.
Showers all around and we headed back to Foster’s Kitchen for dinner. It was that good.
Day #7 – Sunday
In the morning we had our sights set on hitting a local shopping market. Filled with booths selling all kind of wares. Sadly, the majority of the shops were not open, so our trip there was quite short. We grabbed a quick lunch and headed home to prepare for our afternoon snorkeling trip.
My husband and I have been lucky enough to have snorkeled in some really great places; Haiti, St. Thomas, and Aruba. I have to say, in all sincerity, this was the best snorkeling trip by far (with our private snorkeling trip in Aruba a close second). The crew of Fair Wind Cruises was very helpful and the boat was outfitted with excellent equipment and amenities. The standard masks, fins, and flotation devices were provided in addition to inner tubes! These were brilliant for newbies. The boat also had a high dive platform off the upper deck and two wet slides off the main deck. Our kids went CRAZY for these activities. Juice, water, and chips were available while we cruised out and the cash bar opened up and platters of fresh fruit were brought out for our trip home.
Well spent from our day of activity, we got cleaned up and headed over to the home that my husband’s sisters were renting. They cooked up a feast for the family with the star of the meal being the Wahoo that my father inlaw caught the day before. FRESH FISH!!! DELISH!! (Take that Dr. Seuss.) We closed out the night with cookies and cheesecake and a round of Happy Birthday in honor of my husband’s sister. You know what comes next? Night night for us.
Day #8 – Monday – Final Day in Kona
I neglected to add, that most mornings began with the family gathering around the tv to watch the World Cup Soccer tourney and this morning was no exception. We watched Belgium come back and beat Japan and then had to high tail it to the beach to meet up with the rest of our group. We met up again at Hapuna Beach State Park. We just loved this beach. It is so beautiful and appointed with some really nice amenities. I think most would argue that it is totally worth the 40+ minute drive.
It was a short trip to the beach for us this day. We had a luau to get to. We said our goodbyes to those that we would not see again on this trip and entered into the line of cars crawling back to Kona through road construction. Some quick primping and we were out the door for our luau reservations at Royal Kona Resort. This is the same luau location that we attended as a group 17 years ago. Everyone in our party felt that the quality of the food and entertainment was even better now than it had been all those years ago. The food was really good. Buffet style, so even the choosiest eaters (and if you’ve traveled with kids you know the struggle is real) can find something they will like. They made a great production of the unveiling of the pig and even provided stations of activities like flower bracelet making, faux tribal tattoos, and wood carvings. The show was an excellent education in the life of the indigenous people of several islands in the Pacific.
Time to go complete the laundry marathon and pack for the next leg of our trip. Oh, you didn’t think we were done did you? I will pick up with you in our next post for the completion of our summer vacay in Kauai. See you there!