‘vacation’ Category


Hawai’i Trip, Part 4

Monday morning we were able to sleep until 6am which was a nice improvement. At this rate, we’ll be used to Hawaiian time right before we have to head back home! We wanted to keep it relatively easy since Tuesday would be our big volcano day. We grabbed some yummy pastries from Lava Java and headed south.

Mike at Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau (Place of Refuge) National Historical Park

Our drive took us through Kona coffee farm country, a swath of land 2 miles wide and 20 miles long. After some zig-zags through the mountains and a drive back down to the coast, we arrived at Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau (Place of Refuge) National Historical Park. This was where royal chiefs lived but it was also a place of refuge for defeated warriors, woman and children during times of war, and those who broke the royal laws and needed absolution. The royal grounds were separated from the place of refuge (pu’uhonua) by a massive stone wall. When we entered the park, we were given a brochure that provided information and a map for a self-guided tour. We saw recreations of temples (thatched huts), canoes, wood carvings of gods, and other indications of traditional Hawaiian life. There is also a canoe landing area that is now used by the endangered Hawaiian Green Turtles (honu) to sun themselves during the day. While we were there, there was one turtle already relaxing on the beach and we were also able to watch another turtle swim up.

A Hawaiian green turtle basking in the sun

Partway back up the road from the coast we stopped at St. Benedict’s Painted Church, the walls and ceilings of which are painted to show numerous biblical scenes. Back on the main highway we stopped at a macadamia nut farm where we experimented with some old farm equipment to process nuts. Kathie particularly enjoyed snacking on the fresh nuts right out of their shells.

Next we stopped at Bay View coffee farm, and the gentleman manning the gift shop took us on a thorough tour of the farm. Since this coffee farm is a bit off the beaten path, it was quiet and we were the only ones there. Coffee trees are pretty small overall, they almost appear to be a cross between a tree and a bush. Cherries (the fruit of the tree) are picked when they turn bright red. The cherries are then taken to the coffee mill where the green beans are separated from the cherry (imagine the seed inside a cherry, that would be the coffee bean). The cherry pulp is used as fertilizer, and the beans are soaked in water for 24 hours to remove the protective clear coating around the beans. Then the beans are dried — either in a dryer or laid out and dried by the sun. Next, the husks on the beans are removed and re-used as mulch, and the beans are sorted by size — the larger the bean, the more flavor, so the big beans are extra fancy, and smaller are fancy, then prime. Most cherries contain two coffee beans, but sometimes there is only one bean and it’s round. These are called peaberry and are used for milder coffee. The green beans can be stored in burlap bags for 2 years before roasting, so while they only harvest cherries 6 months out of the year, they can roast and sell beans all year long. The difference between medium and dark roast is only one minute of roasting time — medium roast is 16 minutes while dark roast is 17 minutes. The tour was very interesting and for a coffee-lover like Kathie, very intriguing to see how the entire process works.

Having sampled the Kona coast the whole morning, we opted to have lunch and spend the afternoon exploring the northwest Kohala coast, looking for a nice beach to relax at, get some sun, go for a swim, and read our books. Lunch at Huggo’s On The Rocks was really disappointing. The fantastic location and views (the tables and chairs are in the sand 15 feet from the beach) unfortunately couldn’t make up for the food.

The Kohala coast is famous for its beaches, and is where most of the expensive resorts have been built up recently. The resorts look incongruous in this setting, since the northwest quadrant of the island is a stark moonscape of lava beds devoid of almost any life. Then occasionally along the highway is a fancy resort entrance, complete with beautiful palm trees and perfectly manicured grass. Turning in to the resort, the grass and trees end abruptly after a hundred feet, and the drive through black rock continues to the resort at the beach. Interestingly, Hawaiians have their own form of graffiti, where they arrange dead pieces of coral (which is bright white) into words and patterns on top of the jet-black lava landscape along the highways (see photo below). This continues for 50 miles along the western coast, and also elsewhere on the island. The grafitti is continuously changing as people re-arrange the coral daily to personalize their own messages.

Much of the Big Island is a barren landscape of ancient lava flows.

Our beach hunting didn’t go as well as planned, since the day before, Big Island Civil Defense spotted approximately 15 large (6- to 16-foot) tiger sharks along the Kawaihae coast beaches. After a few unsuccessful attempts at finding an open beach, we came to Spencer Beach Park which was open, mostly empty, and a great place to spread out in the sun (or shade from trees along the beach) and read in front of the shark warning sign. Several hours later, having both finished our books, we packed up just before sunset and headed back down the coast.


Before returning to our condo, we stopped in Kailua as usual for a light bite to eat. We had a fairly light pizza / salad dinner at Boston Basil’s, followed by some ice cream and a giant snowcone for Kathie from Scandinavian Shave Ice which froze her insides until we could get her wrapped up in a sweatshirt.

Evening in Kailua-Kona


Hawai’i Trip, Part 3

Further adjusting to the time change, we were able to sleep until 4:30am on Sunday morning. We had a morning snorkel planned aboard the Fair Wind II, so we watched some TV, read our books, and relaxed until it was time to head to the boat at around 8:30am. The Fair Wind II is a large catamaran that usually holds 150 people. Only 50 people had signed up for that morning (due to slowing economy and off-season, they said) so we had plenty of space. We were able to secure two of the four chaise lounges on the top deck of the boat. The boat took us to Kealakekua Bay, an underwater state park, marine sanctuary, and site of the Captain Cook Monument, known as one of the better snorkeling sites in Hawaii.

Snorkeling near Captain Cook Monument

During the morning sail to the Bay, we were fed a light breakfast (tea, juice, muffins, danishes, and fruit) and watched the coast go by. This morning the ocean had some pretty heavy southern swells coming into the coast so there were some amazing views of the swells breaking against the coast into huge sprays. It looked almost like fireworks as the water exploded up and outwards.

Ocean swells breaking along the coast

Kealakekua Bay is surrounded by sheer cliffs and the water felt great. While the snorkeling was very good, we think Molokini crater near Maui was more beautiful with a greater variety of coral and fishes. At Kealakekua there were a lot of interesting sea urchins and various other sea creatures stuck to the coral, but you had to look pretty carefully or dive down to get a closer look.

After a BBQ lunch on the boat and a little more snorkeling, it was time to head back home. We headed back to the condo, showered, and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon. After all, this is vacation! We drove to Kailua-Kona for some dinner at The Fish Hopper and walked around the shopping area. The shops are surprisingly interesting and fun to browse, not as full of tourist trinkets as other islands we’ve been to.


Hawai’i Trip, Part 2

The island of Hawai’i (also known as the Big Island) is pretty darned big — who would have known? It takes around 6 or 7 hours to drive the loop around the entire island. The island also has very different characteristics in different areas: hot, dry, and barren on the west coast, lush rainforest on the east, and snow-capped peaks in the middle. We are staying on the west coast — the Kona coast — where it rarely rains, and vast fields of black lava rock make up the landscape. Most of it doesn’t look like what you’d expect of Hawai’i.

Map of Hawai’i

Not a big surprise, but we woke up very early Saturday (3:00am early), due to the 6-hour time difference between Hawai’i and Virginia. After trying to sleep some more, then reading books for a while, we gave up and decided to make the best of things and get an early start to the day. We headed to the nearby town of Kailua-Kona and enjoyed a very good breakfast at Island Lava Java.

Kathie on the beach

Kathie checking out the beach after breakfast

We decided to drive to Hilo on the other side of the island, via the northern route, and see some sights along the way. So by 7:30am we were heading North on the Māmalahoa Highway, and continued on, climbing steadily in altitude, until we reached the town of Waimea. There, we decided to take a detour and turned onto Kohala Mountain Road, a steep winding road that took us up to around 3,500 feet and a view of the western coastline.

On the advice of some locals who were also at the overlook, we continued on our detour to the northern tip of the island, and to another overlook, this time above the Pololū Valley. After admiring the view, we decided to attempt the hike down the 420-foot cliff face to the black sand beach, knowing that the hike back up would be an even greater challenge. There’s a zig-zag path cut into the side of the cliff which makes the hike manageable for us amateurs, but I was still impressed that we made it (mostly, that we made it back up). Think about climbing to the top of a 42-story building… in the hot tropical sun… on a steep rock and dirt trail. At the bottom, we got to check out the very fine black sand, and watch a few locals surfing, swimming, and fishing at the beach. Back at the top, we gulped down our water, turned the air conditioning on full-speed in the car, and retraced our route back to the beginning of our several-hour-long detour.

After hiking down to the black sand beach

Shortly after turning East again, we crossed over to the rainy side of the island — rainy means it gets 130 inches of rain per year — and the Hāmākua coast. Because of the rain, everything grows huge and dense here. Our next detour took us to Waipi’o Valley Overlook, which was so similar to the Pololū Valley Overlook that for a few minutes we thought we were looking at the same valley from the opposite side. Luckily no downward trail for us to hike down this time. There is a meandering drive one can take to the bottom of Waipi’o Valley but only with a 4×4. This valley was once (13th through 17th century) the center of Hawaiian life, with 20,000 Hawaiians living here.

Looking out over Waipi’o Valley

Our next stop on the journey to Hilo was Laupāhoehoe Point Park. This local watering hole was full of kids swimming and diving off rocks. The waves crashing on the rocks were sending up giant plumes of ocean spray, and Kathie was thoroughly enjoying sitting on the pier and watching the show.

Watching the waves at Laupāhoehoe Point Park

We were quite hungry by now (no doubt due to the strenuous hike earlier in the morning, and the many hours since breakfast), but decided to make one more stop on the way to Hilo. This time we drove to ‘Akaka Falls State Park, where a 10-minute walk on a paved trail took us into the rainforest to witness two giant (over 400-foot high) waterfalls: ‘Akaka falls and Kahuna falls. Kahuna falls was further away from the trail and cut into the mountain surrounded by trees, so it almost looked like a very fast waterslide. ‘Akaka falls into a large basin so it’s very open and visible. The water falls so far that much of it turns into mists and fine sprays.

‘Akaka falls

Finally exhausted and hungry, we pressed on until reaching the city of Hilo around 3pm. Hilo is considered less touristy and more “Hawaiian” than Kona. Most of the locals live on the Hilo side and commute to Kona. We stopped on the main drag and grabbed some food from Café Pesto. After feeling refreshed and ready to see more sites, we walked towards the Big Island Visitor’s Bureau. Unfortunately it was closed on the weekends so we decided to walk around further and see some of the shops. Shortly after walking around we realized something very odd: many of the museums and shops were either closed on Saturdays or closed early on Saturdays so we were unable to actually visit many of the sites. Since we were tired and still had a 2 ½ hour drive back to the hotel, we decided to call it a day.


Hawai’i Trip, Part 1

Today was travel day, a VERY long travel day. We started with a helpful ride from Scott to BWI at 5am. We had no airplane issues or delays but it’s probably since they were such early flights with no weather problems. After 10 1/2 hours in the air, and a 2-hour layover in Phoenix, we finally made it to the Big Island. It was only 2:30pm in Hawai’i when we landed, but was already 8:30pm back home. By the time we got our rental car, grabbed a quick dinner, and got our room we were exhausted. It was only 6pm here but since it was midnight at home and we had gotten up at 3am that morning we just crashed early. Tomorrow we plan to just drive up the coast, check out some sights and maybe hang out on a beach.



About two weeks ago Kathie and I rented a cabin in the Shenandoah mountains for a couple days. We went hiking with Max at Skyline Drive, we did lots of reading, played Scrabble, did a jigsaw puzzle, watched a Harry Potter DVD, and ate lots of snacks.

We also had a fireplace.

Shortly after starting the fire, I realized I have never really tried photographing fire before, so I gave it a try. Here are a couple of pictures. The first two were taken at 1/30 and 1/10 second exposures. The last one is with the flash on, which obviously isn’t a good thing.

2007-11-12-045281.jpg Fire Fire