Day 4: The Day We Go To Hilo... And, a Handbasket.
Day Four starts... the days are extremely relaxing, but all the same, they seem to be going by far far too quickly. We head up the Mamalahoa highway once again through Waimea, as we had the day before, only this time our goal is to continue past Honoka'a, past Pa'auilo, and all the way to Hilo.
The road along the way is smooth, with only a few winding areas that remind me of Hwy 1. There are several gulches along the highway that are filled with amazingly lush foliage, reminding us that while it's an ocean view the entire way, it's also a rain forest. Fun little-known factoid about the big island that almost everybody knows: the big island contains eleven of the fourteen climate zones -- everything from rain forests to desert lava-strewn desolation to sub-arctic tundra on the top of Mauna Loa. Odds are we won't be witnessing the Mauna Loa snow this trip, but we're certainly enjoying the others.
Once in Hilo, we stop at a farmer's market, marvel at the fruits and veggies we've never heard of before, much less seen (avocados nearly the size of cantaloupes!), buy some jewelry from a vendor there (some for family as gifts, some just for us, and I pick up a koa wood medallion of a turtle that for some reason really strikes me as being way cool) as well as a floral bouquet that had flowers you only see in photographs, and then we have a late breakfast at a nearby cafe.
The plate lunch (of course!) for which I opt is called the Hungry Tigah... four eggs sunny side up, 2 strips of bacon, 2 slices of Portuguese sausage, 2 slices of fried Spam (can't go to Hawai'i witout havin dah Spam, brah), placed on top of a large pile of fried rice, and accompanied with a short stack of pancakes and the beverage of your choice. I choose a root beer float, since any chance of it being considered healthy was out the window anyway.
We waddle (well, I waddle; Lucie can walk normally since she ate a normal-sized meal) over to a gift store where Lucie gets her shop on, buying a woven straw handbag for herself, a carved bamboo kingwhistle for me, and several other small gifts for friends and family.
From there, we head on out to the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory, where we pose with MacNutty, the Mauna Loa inflatable mascot, view a video tour explaining how the nuts are processed, and raid the gift shop for edibles.
(Just a side note -- almost all of the tour books we read said to turn on Macadamia Nut Road to get to the Mauna Loa factory, but it's actually Macadamia Nut Drive. Lucie thought it was the correct place to turn, but I disagreed and kept on driving until I had to admit I was wrong. Tourists beware!)
Not having an ice chest to keep the chocolates from melting, we make only a short stop at Onekahakaha State Beach to dip our feet into the Pacific on this side of the island before heading on back. One thing about the big island that's different from most of the other islands -- the beaches here are still relatively new, and contain more lava rock than sand dunes. One or two small missteps and you learn to really watch your step afterwards.
Now, nothing against Hilo, but I personally found it to be way too urbanized to be relaxing... people were cutting each other off and speeding, I saw a couple of near-accidents and ensuing arguments, and I could feel myself starting to tense up. I find Kailua-Kona, while more tourist-oriented, also a lot more calming and welcoming. Of course, since we were only there for that one day, I might be judging prematurely. I'll leave it to other tourists to decide for themselves.
On the way back through Waimea, we stop at an authentic German eatery called Edelweiss, run by the very Germanically-named Hans-Peter Hager. Although the critics panned the place when it opened, saying that the heavy food would be too strong for the Hawaiian palate, the restaurant not only has flourished, but is consistently listed as one of the top restaurants on the big island. Reservations are recommended, although Lucie and I get there early enough that they're able to fit us in without waiting. We get our menus, enjoy a bottle of tasty Reisling, and listen to our waitress go through the list of OVER A DOZEN daily specials by memory before placing our order. The menu offers local beef from Parker Ranch right up the road, and the very European menu offers more veal than you can shake a baby cow at, but Lucie and I go for adult-cow-based steaks instead. Our waitress once again impresses us with a list of over a dozen desserts available that day, and we enjoy a cup of coffee before heading back to our hotel.
Once back at the Royal Kona, we finish off the night with some cocktails by the ocean in those crazy comfy chairs (we each have a Malibu and Coke, Lucie supplements it with the trusty piña colada and I with my new friend, the mango daiquiri). Once again relaxed and in the Aloha frame of mind, we head upstairs to our room, where I distress Lucie a little by breaking out the kingwhistle and playing my very first tune on it... the riff from Smoke on the Water.
We fall asleep listening to the ocean crashing against the rocks.