We traveled to The Big Island of Hawaii last week and then they made us come back after only four days! There’s a reason they call it “Paradise”, in truth there are a zillion reasons. Here are a few.
Hawaiian Airlines flies out of the International Terminal at SFO and the airline “employs” a friendly army of volunteer greeters to welcome travelers as they check-in. I asked my greeter about her job and she told me she was 89 years old and just “loved the idea of getting up in the morning and having something fun to do”. She and her co-greeter laughed and kidded around with me, then taught me a few Hawaiian catch phrases. The Aloha spirit was setting in hours before I set foot on Hawaiian soil.
The ride over the Pacific is always perfect on one of Hawaiian Airlines’ new fleet of Airbus 330s. With on-demand entertainment installed in every seatback, touch screen monitors make it easy to choose from an array of music and video options and then there’s the free meal and Mai Tai. That’s not a typing error; the meal and adult beverage are free. The flight attendants are friendly, warm and always helpful. I asked Hawaiian Air’s SVP of Communications Ann Botticelli about their approach to service and she explains it like this, ”We’re inviting you into our house, so why wouldn’t we serve you like a welcome guest”.
Typically when I travel to Hawaii I visit my hometown of Honolulu for a few days then I’ll island hop to Maui or Kauai, but this time I went straight to the Big Island of Hawaii, and now I can’t wait to get back for more. We met our driver Ray at the Kona airport and he delivered our group (The two Tonys, Clint, Oscar, Ray and my sister Bonnie) to the Sheraton Kona Resort and Spa at Keauhou Bay. John Dominguez, Director of Sales, Marketing and Aloha, greeted us in the beautiful lobby overlooking the glorious Pacific Ocean and I could literally feel all my cares and worries float away.
We took our first swim that evening…yes, in the dark. It was very exciting, diving off a two-hulled canoe, guided around Keauhou Bay looking at sea life, ranging from colorful fish to manta ray. Everything under the water was spectacular, and then I remembered to look up at the night sky, and its endless blanket of stars. It was an amazing way to start our Big Island adventure. We settled into dinner at Rays on the Bay, where we dined numerous times over the next few days and nights. From ono (Hawaiian for delicious) little puu puus (Hawaiian for appetizers) to island grown salad greens, tender rib eye steaks and luscious passion fruit desserts, we were always delighted by our meals at Rays.
Everyone slept like happy babies in our spacious rooms with balconies for sunset gazing, to manta ray, dolphin and whale watching. Every night I was lulled to sleep by the sounds of the waves crashing against the lava rock walls that surround and protect the property. It’s nature’s perfect sedative.
Day Two was all about shopping at Kailua-Kona. The trolley from the hotel runs throughout the day and drops visitors off along the way to shop, eat, snorkel or visit historic sites along the Coast. This is the island of the Alii--the noble class, and it’s the place to understand the history of Kamehameha who conquered and ruled the Hawaiian Islands.
When you visit the Sheraton Kona you absolutely must take the cultural-historical tour of the hotel’s grounds with Lily Dudoit or one of her staff. Lily guided our group through an area along the water’s edge of the hotel. She gave us a rich and surprising historical perspective of the area but also helped us understand the legends that guided the ancestors of this special piece of Hawaii. Lily concluded the tour by chanting for us in an ancient Hawaiian voice, and we were left feeling deeply connected to the land, the mana—which is the spiritual energy of the place. The tour available to all visitors of the hotel and it’s guaranteed to give you a richer appreciation for your vacation on the island.
Here are some quick highlights from our days on the Big Island. We hiked up Hualalei with Uncle Danny from Hawaii Forest and Trail, to sacred places where we had the chance to sit in a lava tube, to stare down the vast open pit of massive crater and to learn about the native plants and animals of the sprawling Big Island. We toured the Mountain Thunder coffee farm and found out why Kona coffee is the best, why the conditions on that island are perfect for producing such delicious coffee.
My husband joined the trip on Day Three and we traveled to the tiny town of Hawi and ate fresh Mahi Mahi, just off the boat at Bamboo Restaurant & Bar, followed by “shave” ice drenched in fresh Lilikoi (passion fruit) juice. Hawaiian dining is the ultimate farm to table eating experience. We drove through the ranch lands of Waimea and Kamuela. We covered mile after mile of the lush, green rolling hills, blanketed in fog at times, shimmering in sun at others. We slowed down for cattle crossing, we stopped to take a picture of a double rainbow, and we stood under the massive King Kamehameha statue—an iconic image from my youth on the Islands. We found the little town of Ookala where my mom was born in 1921. Not much is left of the place that was once a bustling sugar plantation, but I could feel the history around me as I gazed up at the Laupahoehoe Gulch and it’s endless rainforests. As it grew dark we got on the “Saddle Road”, recently upgraded and renamed the Senator Daniel Inoye Hwy. It was a smooth ride back from Hilo to Kona…we watched the sun set as we traversed the highway. We pulled up to the bar at Huggo’s Restaurant in Kailua-Kona. Most visitors opt for a tropical drink with miniature umbrella, but I still order my old standby—a Manhattan straight up, and you can sip a perfect one at Huggo's while watching the waves roll in.
We managed to fit in a kayak adventure the day before we left. The gang at Ocean Safaris Adventures set us up with a two-person craft and sent us out in search of dolphins and whales, which we did not see, however, it seems everyone else did. We did flip over on the open ocean and thankfully my husband had paid attention to the instructor before we set off, and he was able to get us upright and back to shore in time to sit at the bar at Rays and watch the Superbowl. As Forty Niner Faithful we were more interested in the delicious crunchy phyllo wrapped spider shrimp with sweet chili dipping sauce than football.
The Big Island has cast its magic spell on me. I could’ve stayed another week, okay, maybe another month. I need to get to Volcano next time and zipline through a rainforest, maybe even ride a helicopter over a lava flow, and I want to eat more fresh Mahi Mahi and Waimea Greens and start my day with 100% Kona coffee fresh off the farm. The good news is it’s easier than ever to get to Kona, with direct flights on Hawaiian Airlines from Oakland to Kona beginning in June. Contact me before you go and I’ll give you all my tips and even teach you a few Hawaiian words.
For now….A hui hou kakou.