It's always a bummer leaving Hawai'i and coming back home. Today is no exception.
I drop Lucie and our luggage off at the airport (the cloth interior of the car gets a bit damp because I have to lower the ragtop to get the suitcases out of the back seat) and I hitch a ride with the shuttle once I drop the car off at the rental agency (the attendant who signs the car in sees all of the rain spots in the car and on the cloth seats, just grins, and says nothing about potential water damage -- obviously not an uncommon occurrence here, I'm guessing.) By the time I get back, our luggage has been checked by the porters (love those guys!) and Lucie has our boarding passes in hand, and it's a relatively easy walk into the gates through the metal detectors and TSA agents with their grabby and judgmental hands.
Because we're hoity-toity Important First Class Passengers, we're able to access Hawaiian Airlines' "Premiere Lounge" while we're waiting for the connecting flight to Maui... and believe me, until you get to experience the Kona Airport's Premiere Lounge, with its fountain drink dispenser and free WiFi, not to mention high-speed PC hookup (note the lack of plural there), you haven't lived a full life. Okay, so it's not the Ritz or anything, but there are comfortable seats, and it's an air-conditioned room, and we do appreciate the WiFi, so it really is a nice touch. We sit at a table and pull out our iPads for the twenty minutes or so before our plane is set to arrive, and then make our way out to the gate.
It's a short jump over to Maui -- we wave at the sugar cane fields as we land -- but the ten minute wait for the flight to the Mainland turns into almost 45 minutes as the plane we're scheduled to board isn't yet at the assigned space. There's no early boarding because of this, and no "delayed" notice on the info board, but while we're not thrilled about how crowded the waiting room becomes during this time we're certainly not going to complain about getting to stay in Hawai'i for a little while longer.
The flight back (once the place finally arrives) seems to take much longer than usual, due to the turbulence that we hit on the way. The flight attendants are instructed to take their seats on two different occasions, the drink carts are delayed a few times for safety reasons, and it's a bit of a challenge to watch the movie selections on the entertainment tablets (iPad minis with Hawaiian Airlines branding and operating software) they loan us First Class passengers -- although if you time the turbulence jostling just right, it totally cancels out the camera shaking in Star Trek: Into Darkness so it looks like Kirk and Spock are just drunk. Hard to follow some of the archery shots in Brave, though.
After breakfast, we head up to our one scheduled appointment for the day, which is just a few miles up the Mamalahoa Highway. From Mamalahoa, we turn right onto Kaloko Road, and drive for several minutes up the steep curvy road, crossing Hao Street, and a few minutes later we cross Hao street... and a minute or two after that, we turn right onto Hao street. This is confusing for most people, but it's our fifth time coming here in four trips to Hawai'i (maybe it's only our fourth trip, but for some reason I seem to remember coming up here twice one time) -- I'm talking of course about the Kaloko Cloud Forest farm location for the Mountain Thunder Coffee Plantation, and it's always a welcome sight. It's also busy -- busier than it was last time, which was busier than it was the time before that, and so on. These guys have been getting more famous and popular in the years since Mike Rowe first visited them and featured them in his show Dirty Jobs back in 2005, and today there are two small tour buses and half a dozen cars parked along the road and in the courtyard of the Big Island's largest and highest (elevation-wise) organic coffee plantation. We still have a few minutes before our scheduled tour, so we hit the gift shop -- located off the main courtyard in what looks like two connected shipping containers -- and fill up a couple of bags of coffee-scented lotions and coffee (whole bean, "American Roast" [their name for a light roast]), several T-shirts and a tank top that actually fit me (albeit a bit snugly, but that's only for now), chocolate covered coffee beans, some children's books for our coworkers, and assorted other items with coffee or Hawaiian themes.
After I roast and then package the beans (heat sealed into nitrogenated bags, to preserve freshness), we head back down the mountain into town. We stop at the UPS Store and ship a suitcase full of souvenirs and food items (and, of course, coffee beans) to my work address so we don't have to pay ridiculous airport fees (although, since it turns out that we ship three 25-pound boxes of stuff, it's still not exactly cheap using UPS either!), then drive back to the hotel.
We attend the luau at our hotel that evening. The food is good, as it always is; Lucie hurts her foot when we arrive, however, so we retire from the luau a little early and do our best to nurse the foot back to health by heading to the breezeway bar and having her raise it onto the wall as we drink frozen tropical drinks and watch the ocean. Don's does a good job of making everything feel better (if maybe a little blurry after several drinks.)
It's our ninth day in Hawai'i (eighth morning), and on our books for for today is our trip down the Kona coast to Volcanoes Park. We didn't get to Volcanoes on our last trip, so it's about time to visit Pele's playground and pay our respects to Kilauea; plus, we have a scheduled hiking tour of the park with Native Guide Hawaii's native Hawaiian guide Warren Costa. We're supposed to meet him at the visitor center at 09:30, and it takes more than 2 hours to get there from Kona, so it's an early morning wake up for us.
We start off slightly behind schedule, but thanks to what may be my driving a tiny bit over the posted speed limit we end up down around the south point of the island a little bit ahead of schedule; so we decide to make a brief stop at the Punalu'u Bakery ("Southernmost bakery in the USA!")... but we pull into the parking lot before they're open. This is almost becoming a theme for our vacation, but like with Kai Lanai yesterday we just shrug and decide to come back later. We get to Volcanoes National Park (now open once again, after the temporary government shutdown) and meet up with Warren right on time (he's actually a few minutes late, but that's just Island Time, which is fine.)
We awake on another day in paradise, but even in paradise we feel the need to keep in shape; so we decide to check out the exercise room at our hotel and see what kinds of equipment it has.
The exercise room is actually a repurposed ground floor hotel room, and not exactly a large room at that, so there isn't much they can do with it -- there's a treadmill, an elliptical, a recumbent bicycle, some free weights, a small bench, and a couple Pilates balls. Lucie starts off on the treadmill and I give the bicycle a go, but quickly find that as with most exercise bicycles I can't adjust the seat to where my leg doesn't bend to the point of pain when pedaling, so I move to the free weights. We work out for a half hour or so, with Lucie moving to the elliptical and bicycle as I focus on the free weights, utilizing the Pilates ball for wall squats, and opening the sliding door and planking using the lanai wall facing the ocean right in front of us. It's not the best exercise setup, but we certainly can't complain about the view while we're working out.
After exercising, we head back to our room and prepare for the day. During our last visit to the Big Island, we had wanted to stop by Hawaii's favorite celebrity chef Sam Choy's new restaurant Kai Lanai; however, the construction had been running on Island Time and didn't open on time before our arrival, so we missed out. This time, however, the restaurant has been open for a while (not surprising, as it's been over two years since our last vacation) so we figure we can try them out for an early lunch before heading up to Hawi... but due to our being maybe a little too casual and relaxed on our vacation we don't bother to check out the restaurant's hours before we drive there, so we end up arriving about 45 minutes before they open for the day. D'ohh.
No worries -- we decide to try them again some other time, and instead of waiting around until the doors open we opt to drive up to Hawi and have lunch at one of the places up there that we've read about. We head up along the Kohala coast highway one more time, much like we did for the Hilo trip; however, at the point where yesterday we headed inland toward Waimea staying on highway 19 we instead turn left and take highway 270 along the coast. It's a beautiful drive, hilly and mostly straight, with an outstanding ocean view almost the entire way. It's pretty windy, but seeing as we're in a convertible with the top down the wind doesn't really matter to us. This stretch of road is what they use for the bicycle portion of the Ironman Challenge, which definitely gives us a huge amount of respect for the athletes for not getting distracted by the scenery and riding off the cliff and falling a hundred feet into the ocean. Oh yeah, and maybe that whole healthy lifestyle thing too, but mostly it's the willpower not to ride off cliffs.
We eventually arrive at the small artist colony town of Hawi, find a parking spot, and wander the stores for a bit. Our first stop is at the Kohala Coffee Mill (surprise -- a coffee store!) where we grab a refreshing coffee beverage, and head upstairs to the kava and fudge shop located on the second floor. We don't bother with the kava -- not for us, thanks -- but we do get some fudge for later. I get the Mexican chocolate, a dark chocolate flavor with cinnamon hints, and Lucie goes for the tiger stripe, a sweeter and more intense version of the Reese's peanut butter cup with peanut butter in white chocolate. With the fudge threatening to put us into a sugar coma there's really no need for kava anyway (not that it's something I'd ever drink regardless.) Needing something more savory after sampling the fudge, we look for one of the restaurants we'd read about before our trip... unfortunately, though, the popular local spot Bamboo isn't open on Mondays, so that's out; and we hear from one of the coffee mill employees that the Lighthouse Deli, home of what is supposed to be a downright fantastic reuben sandwich, suddenly closed about two weeks ago without any notice. Bummer. We decide to find someplace further up the road, so after one more walk up down the main street through town (lots of blown glass and lampwork jewelry, ridiculously expensive carved koa wood furniture, and the entertainingly-named-but-has-nothing-that-fits-me store Alohaman) we get back into Betty and drive a few miles into the small artist colony town of Kapa'au. Lots of small artist colony towns in Hawai'i.
We park at the North Kohala Civic Center in the center of town and visit the main attraction, the original statue of King Kamehameha I (originally made for Honolulu but lost at sea en route near the Falkland Islands in the 1880s; the replacement is in Honolulu but the original statue, found in 1912 and restored, is in Kapa'au near Kamehameha's birth place.) It's shortly after noon when we arrive and the statue is on a small hill facing west at the top of a set of stairs, so it's a bit of a challenge getting a good picture of the statue without the sun blinding you, but I manage. The statue itself is impressive, historic, and (sort of) appeared in an episode of Hawai'i Five-0 this season, but apparently is too aloof to sign any autographs or anything, but that's okay; we still pay our respects to the bronze dude, and to another nearby memorial for Hawaiian veterans, and also to the King's View Deli across the street for a cold drink and small bite to eat before looking for a real meal to satisfy us.
We find lunch at Fig's Mix Plate, where we share a loco moco. The burger patty is ground beef perfection, crunchy char on the outside and smoky flavor, roughly the size of a hubcap; the macaroni salad is a bit too heavy with the mayo but otherwise good; and the plain rice is raised to new heights by the best stinkin' soy sauce ever, Tabasco brand spicy soy sauce, which I desperately try to find at every store in Hawai'i for the rest of our trip but am unable to procure. We belatedly realize that this might actually be the first real mix plate we've eaten on vacation, which is surprising as well as a kind of nice indicator that we're willing to branch out with our culinary endeavors.
Heading back along the coast, we make a few stops at scenic points we saw on the way up, most notably at Mahukona Beach Park... this is a state park without an actual beach ("mahukona" in Hawaiian is "false harbor"), an old port with an abandoned building nestled amidst picnic tables; a former property of the Kohala Sugar Company. Back in the late 1800s it was a railroad stop and sugar mill, and became one of the busiest ports on the Big Island despite being destroyed by a storm in 1911, and which was shut down and eventually abandoned during WWII. There's still a run down but impressive building behind a safety fence, a concrete pyramid lighthouse, and parts of the sugar mill and even a sunken ship that can be seen by snorkelers about 25 feet beneath the waves. It's not much of a beach per se, and snorkelers need to climb up and down a ladder to get into the water to avoid the lava rocks along the shore, but the scenery is outstanding. We relax for a bit, take a few selfies, listen to the waves and watch the rock crabs scuttling around the water's edge, and then get back on our way.
A bit further down the highway, we take another stop at the Mauna Lani Resort and Rich Person Storage Facility, where we take a brief walk down to the water at Holoholokai Beach Park and dip our feet into the ocean (much more accessible than at Mahukona Beach Park) but opt not to take the half hour hiking path out to see the petroglyphs they have there. Another few miles down the highway we also drive around the Waikoloa Resort and Secondary Rich Person Storage Facility, through the shopping centers they have, and I find myself entertained by what could be perceived as the gender-biased difference between their Queen's Marketplace (featuring shops such as Lids, Starbucks, Crocs, and Sunglass Hut) and their King's Shops (with the much more costly Coach, Luis Vuitton, Tommy Bahama, and Na Hoku Jewelers.) We don't actually want to shop here -- and in the case of the King's Shops probably couldn't afford to anyway -- so we continue driving along the coast back to our hotel.
We spend the remainder of our day in full-on relaxation mode, watching the sun set from our lanai, then heading down to the mai tai bar for a drink, then getting a couples massage from the hotel's spa, and finally having another drink or two at the bar before heading upstairs to bed. the tropical drinks are sweet and potent, the massage is therapeutic (though a bit too vigorous in Lucie's case), and the sunset is, though obscured by clouds at the horizon, still beautiful.