So we plan our route. Not having learned my lesson from our last trip, I enlist the help of Google Maps on my iPhone, and get directions to the Hawaiian Vanilla Company in Pa'auilo. We'd gone there on our first trip but weren't able to make it last time, so we figure we're due for another visit. Google Maps tells us to take a different route than I remember us taking (up along the Kohala coast before cutting inland to Waimea, while last time we took the Mamalahoa Highway until it hooks right and heads down the Kona Belt, then followed Hawai'i Belt Road -- which, confusingly, is also called the Mamalahoa Highway (guess those Hawaiians like at name as much as I do) -- to Waimea. We ponder this for a moment, then in a fit of insanity I suggest we go ahead and try the Google Maps directions; we do like the Kohala coast's continuous view of the ocean, and either way we get to Waimea, so it's all good.
You do see where this is going, don't you? 'Cuz I sure as heck didn't when this is happening.
The trip up Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway along the Kohala coast is as pleasant and calming as we remember; the ocean is that spectacular pāua shell combination of intense and vibrant blues; the locals' roadside messages created by white rocks arranged in the black lava landscape is still as quaint and cool as I remember (and I'm still tempted to grab some white rocks and make my own message for future travelers, though I don't); and the turnoff for Waimea is right where we remember it from last trip when we drove this route (although last time we continued along the coast, and this time we turn inland.) The weather ranges from partly cloudy to cloudy to slightly drizzly, but never really enough for it to warrant us putting the top up on our car. Before long, we end up in Waimea... we notice sadly that the German restaurant Edelweiss is no longer in business (apparently the owners retired in late 2007), which is a bummer, but we continue on our way, following the INCREDIBLY PRECISE AND ACCURATE directions from Google Maps.
We continue on past Honoka'a, home of Waipio Valley and Les and Renee, and drive just a few miles further to where my iPhone tells me to turn off the highway and head mauka ([mah-oo-kuh], adv.; toward the mountains; inland. Also, "place where haole tourist gets no cellular reception") so we do. The iPhone then tells me to turn from Kalopa road left onto Kalopa road, then right onto Kalopa road then left onto Kalopa road, then to shake my iPhone all about and to do the Kalokey Pokey, then -- aww, CRAP, we're lost again! By the time I'm willing to admit that this looks nothing like what I remember from our last trip here, we're way up in the mountains, a mile or two up a one-and-half lane road, and have driven over several one-lane bridges, built apparently for two-way traffic, and we don't have cell service so we can't verify the directions using a different source. I make a truly frightening eleven-point turn in a "wide" spot of the road, hoping that nobody comes along the road from either direction and slams into us broadside, then we head back makai ([mah-kaee], adv.; toward the ocean; seaward. Also, "get off of our mountain, devil white man") until we find a place where we get a whole one bar of cell service, and I do what I probably should have done in the first place, namely go to the stinkin' Vanilla Company website and get the directions they offer, because the Hawai'i Vanilla Company wants our business, and Google Maps is apparently in cahoots with either Hawai'i or the nēnē, to either kill me or mock me, respectively (yet at the same time without any respect whatsoever.)
Using their friendly and easy-to-follow directions, we get to our destination without incident. In a fruitless attempt to feel less like a complete idiot, I encourage Lucie's impulse buys in the Vanilla Company store, grabbing vanilla-infused soaps and lotions and coffee and tea and home fragrance spray and lip balm and Hummel figurines and everything else they sell. Finally, my ego slightly mollified and the trunk of our Mustang filled, we get back onto the highway and continue on our way to Hilo.
(Incidentally, the directions on Google Maps would have taken us to the vanilla plantation as well, just not by the fastest or most direct, or most paved, route. Hopefully the new mapping app that Apple is rumored to be working on has more features.)
The rest of our trip to Hilo is relatively hassle-free. There are a few lane closures where road crews are reinforcing cliff walls and trying to unbend "danger: falling rocks" signs, but other than that it's smooth sailing.
Once we get to Hilo, our first stop is at the Discount Fabric Warehouse located on this side of the island -- Kona's was closed yesterday so we make up for it here by buying several different colorful prints to have shirts made back in California. Lucie also scores a huge bonus when she snaps up a bolt of garlic print fabric. Awesome.
This is a polar opposite from Edelweiss; it looks and feels as though it's a diner stuck in the 50's, the waitresses are local aunties who move on Big Island time, and the booths are orange vinyl. But, you don't come here for the ambiance, you come here for the hearty food, the big portions, and the experience. The hearty food in our case is corned beef hash moco for Lucie (eggs and gravy over corned beef hash) and the "Kilauea" for me (a triple stack of huge buttermilk pancakes, with ham and bacon between the pancakes, and fried eggs on top), which is downright delicious when I alternate with the maple and coconut syrups they offer. Lucie also orders me a Vietnamese iced coffee, which is passable, and we order dessert, which is awesome -- my coconut cream pie is smooth and sweet and creamy, and Lucie's pineapple upside down cake is intensely flavored, still steaming hot when it gets to the table, and gone in seconds. Ken's (referred to as "K-HOP" buy the locals) has been voted best breakfast on the island for 14 years, and we agree with that assessment.
After lunch, we head on over to Hilo Hattie's. Sure there's a Hilo Hattie's in Kailua-Kona, but this is Hilo Hattie's... you wouldn't go to an Outback Steakhouse anywhere other than in Australia, would you? Or shop at a Tommy Bahama's anywhere other than Nassau?
Okay, yeah, well sure -- so would I. But it's right there, on the way to the Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory, so we might as well. The nice lady behind the counter as we come in asks us if we're locals -- and honestly, that seems to be happening to us more often this trip than before -- and we regretfully say no. We poke around, I try on some clothes (which I've never bothered to try and do before, since they don't have my size), and I actually find an amazingly bright floral print shirt that fits! Woo-hoo! We also find some jams and macadamia nuts and candy and other stuff, which is pretty much one size fits all, so we load up on those as well.
After that, we head to the Hershey's Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation Visitor Center, formerly just the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory but now apparently yet another cog in the giant foodstuff machinery of Hershey's. We buy some mac nuts, and some mac nuts, and then some mac nuts, and a bottle of water along with some mac nuts (seriously, what else would you buy here?), then head back toward Kailua. We had also wanted to stop by Big Island Candies but it's too close to closing time, so a tour of their facility will have to wait for another day, perhaps one where we don't waste a lot of time trying to get unlost after listening to what Google tells us to do.
We stop in Honoka'a, at Tex Drive-In -- they're rated pretty high in Yelp for their malasadas, and it's about dinner time, so we figure we might as well take advantage of the situation. Unfortunately, we didn't read through all of the reviews, or we'd have seen several comments about the rest of their food being somewhat hit or miss, and it is... the filled malasadas we buy (pineapple for Lucie, mango for me) really are awesome, but the saimin Lucie has is a bit too strong on the fish sauce and the variant on Hawaiian pizza I get (pineapple and what they call kalhua pork) is overly greasy and barely passable; but the bento box of teriyaki, SPAM, Portuguese sausage, fried chicken wings, and a krab omelet over rice is pretty good, and fills us both up decently even if we don't finish our first choices.
We take the inland road back to Kailua -- it's a little windier and wetter, and more hair-raising than the coastal Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway, but I kind of missed driving this route on the way out -- and make our way back to our hotel. We head upstairs and listen to the ocean as we relax in our room. The ocean is a bit louder than usual, as the surf is still high (Lucie says there's a high surf warning for tomorrow, but it seems to be arriving earlier than expected), but it's still some of the best background noise one can ask for.
We go to bed for the night, with the ocean still barely audible behind the closed doors and the sound of the AC.