Big Island: Hilo

We drove to Hilo by way of Waikolo Village, Waimea, and Honokaa and stopped at Gramma’s Kitchen (a homey Portuguese restaurant) for lunch, which was excellent!  We ended up sitting next to a French couple from Paris on holiday. 🙂  


We spent the next day at the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden, which were gorgeous!  Note: There are lots and lots of photos below!! 🙂

The history of how the garden came to be was fascinating!


On our way back to the house, we stopped at What’s Shakin’ Smoothies for a coconut water, a smoothie, and a stunning view!  It turns out the business, house, and land are (were?) for sale for just over $2 million…in case anyone’s interested! 🙂 

G and L found a gecko near one of the pots, and we got some cool pictures of it!

After a super tasty late lunch/early dinner at the Pahoa Fresh Fish and Chips (which was recommended by our French friend, Nastia, at the Mariott in Kona), we headed back to the house, where we worked on our hackey sack skills! 🙂

The next day, we had a lower-key day as L had a nasty cold brewing.  We drove through kitschy Pahoa Village, stopped by the nearby transfer station that only a few years ago had lava running right up to its fences, and then headed into Hilo.  We ended up having lunch at the Hilo Burger Joint AND watching playoff hockey!  (Mike’s Note: The hockey game was about as exciting as the botanical gardens, but still hockey.)  On the way back to the house, we stopped at the Lava Tree State Monument. There’s a loop trail where we saw lava molds of tree trunks that were formed when a lava flow swept this forested area in 1790!  It was an easy, quick and interesting stop.

One of the lava mold tree trunks!
A huge monkeypod tree!
This one looks like a Dr. Suess tree!
You don’t see this type of warning very often!

On our way back to Kona for our last three nights, we took the Saddle Road, which allowed us to stop at the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy Visitor Information Station (Mauna Kea Visitor Center) at 9,200 feet!

According to its web site, “Mauna Kea is the world’s home of astronomy.  The clarity, stability, and darkness of our skies make us the premier location for astronomical research, and is why we are home to thirteen of the world’s largest, most powerful, and most productive telescopes.”

The summit, where the telescopes are located, is one of the only places in the world where you can drive from sea level to 14,000 feet in about 2 hours, so altitude sickness is a high possibility (there is 40% less oxygen at the summit than at sea level!).  For that reason, it’s recommended that children under the age of 16 (as well as others with various health issues) not go any further than the visitor center.

It is possible to hike to the summit, if you are so inclined.  However, reading through the information about what it entails (and the dangers/riskes involved) makes me have absolutely no interest in adding it to my bucket list. 😉  I was happy and content to read and enjoy the information at the visitor center.  We even got to look at the sun (!) through a special telescope and saw solar flares and sunspots!  Cool!

It was a bit chilly, so G and L enjoyed some Lipton Cup-A-Soup! 🙂
This is the facility at the visitor center that is available for astronomers and technicians working at the summit.
A misty view of the scenery along the Saddle Road.

Next stop, we return to Kona for our last 3 nights/4 days on the Big Island before we head home!

Big Island: Kalaoa

Our first full day in Kalaoa was Mother’s Day, so we called both Nana and Grandma to wish them a Happy Mother’s Day, and then I asked if anyone was interested in going to the Hulihe’e Palace (which historically served as a summer residence for Hawaiian royalty) with me.  I didn’t have any takers, so (as a Mother’s Day treat!) Mike and the kids dropped me off at the palace, and they went to check out a beach/playground on the grounds of an old airport! 


After visiting the palace (and getting an impromptu tour because there were only 3 of us there), I went across and had a quick look at the first Christian church in Hawaii, which is made of lava stone and mortar.


From there, I walked down Ali’i Road in Kailua Village and popped into a couple of the shops along the way.

As I was heading back toward the main street, a young sales woman in a pineapple skirt convinced me to stop into her shop to try some magical potion to make my wrinkles disappear. (Yes, it was Mother’s Day, and she was talking to me about eye wrinkles!)

The stuff really seemed to work…it should have!  Online, the between eyes serum was $350 and the corners of eyes serum was $750 (or vice versa…doesn’t really matter!)  If I would have been interested in buying it in the store (which I wasn’t!), I could get both for $250!

Just so she didn’t get the idea that I was at all interested in purchasing her magic potion, I told her that I wasn’t going to buy anything without talking to my husband first. 🙂 I think she almost fell off her chair, but recovered quickly enough to ask if I check before buying shoes or a new shirt…I said, “Yes, I do.”  At that point, I think she was wondering what century I lived in, but I nicely explained that’s just how it works — he works; I stay at home, so we discuss purchases. (Mike’s Note: That doesn’t seem SOOO wrong, now does it?)

She gave me her card with information about the product (which it turns out is some sort of caviar from Beverly Hills), wished me a Happy Mother’s Day, and I continued walking down the marketplace.

Just around the corner, a nicely dressed guy was handing out samples.  I tried to say thanks and keep walking, but he asked where I was from and wanted me to come in so he could take a look at the wrinkles around my eyes…!  I said someone just did!  He said, “I can’t tell…” At that point, I smiled and said that I needed to catch my ride and asked if he wanted his sample back.  He said, “No you keep it.  You’re too cute, Miss Minnesota.” 🙂  Too cute but with wrinkles around my eyes. 🙂  Ugh!  Happy Mother’s Day! 🙂

By the time Mike and the kids picked me up, the stuff the woman at the first shop applied had dried up around my eye, so it looked like I had concrete stuck to my face.  Pretty! 🙂 The kids weren’t big fans. 🙂

The day was saved, however, with a lovely Mother’s Day dinner of grilled meatballs and pineapple, a tasty cupcake, and some lovely drawings from the kids. 🙂


While staying in Kalaoa, we spent a day snorkeling at Kahalu’u Beach.  It was GREAT!  The water was calm, and we were able to see lots and lots of different fish!        

The next day, we headed out to check out various beaches for swimming/snorkeling, starting at Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. At the visitor center, G got another Junior Ranger booklet and started to fill it out after walking around a bit and reading and looking at the displays.  Not too far from the visitor center area, was a harbor where we walked down to the see the beach and historical/culturally important ruins, as well as found some more info for G’s booklet.

On the way to the beach, G found this thorn stuck on the bottom of her flip flop! Ouch!!

There was a sea turtle on the beach, so Leo drew a line around it to keep people the preferred 15 to 20 feet away, and one of the park volunteers thanked him. 🙂

A picture and information about the green sea turtles that was posted at the park.

Back at the visitor center, G answered questions and was sworn in as a junior ranger using Hawaiian words this time! 🙂

After a quick lunch at Costco (!!), we headed for another beach Mahai’ula Beach, which is part of Kekaha Kai State Park.  This one required us to drive was over a seriously, ridiculously rocky lava field!  It was worth it, though, as there was a beautiful bay and lovely beach area to explore.

It started to rain a bit, but it didn’t last too long.  By the time it stopped, however, we were back in the jeep, so we decided to check out another beach just down the road —Manini’owali Beach at Kua Bay.  There was a lovely paved road almost right to the beach!   

We just had to walk a few steps down a lava hill, where there was a long stretch of beautiful soft, white sand!  Gorgeous!!  There were lots of people in the water, splashing, snorkeling, boogie boarding, etc.  The kids weren’t in suits but had a great time getting wet and “riding” the waves, which were really big (to us at least)! 🙂  


The next morning, we headed to Hilo.  While we had planned to stop at Kua Bay again to snorkel, the road there was closed and being rerouted due to an accident, unfortunately.  We decided instead of snorkeling, the next best thing was shaved ice at Scandinavian Shaved Ice. (Mike’s Note: I was hoping for lutefisk flavored ice, but had no luck.)

As we walked along, I snapped this picture of a yellow hibiscus (the state flower of Hawaii) and called it “Beauty and the Beast.” Can you figure out why… 🙂


Big Island: Kona

From the south part of the Big Island, we headed to Kailua-Kona. Our first stop was at Snorkel Bob’s to pick up snorkel gear for all of us, including the super cool moflo snorkels, which are amazing!  As the kids hadn’t ever snorkeled, eliminating the unpleasant experience of water getting into their snorkels was definitely a plus!

The gal there recommended Foster’s Kitchen for lunch, so we walked down the street a block or so and had a great lunch upstairs on their lanai overlooking the bay — beautiful!  Mike and L split rack of BBQ ribs and G and I split a chicken pesto avocado sandwich.  Super tasty!

We didn’t tell the kids that we were staying at a hotel right on the beach, so they were super excited and then we told them we were going to the luau, too! 😉  FUN!


(Mike’s Note: Marriott Reward points are THE BEST!!  Very worth it to spend the points on a place like this.  One of the greatest customer service experiences at a hotel I’ve had.)
After getting checked in, the kids put on their snorkel gear and headed for the pool to try it out!  They both got the hang of them right away and had fun using them in the pool.  

That evening was the luau out on the lawn.  We each got a shell lei as we followed the line outside.  It was a really interactive evening, which was fun — not just dinner and a show. It felt like a party with Hawaiian games to play, tatoos, fire baton twirling (without the fire), hula dancing lessons, and Mai Tais and other drinks on the lawn.


Before dinner was served, we got to watch the imu ceremony, which is the uncovering of the imu (underground oven), where the kalua pig was cooked.  (An imu uses hot coals, stones and layers of leaves and cloth or mats to steam food.)  

Following that, the Royal Court (performers dressed as King Kamehameha and his court) arrived via an outrigger canoe and a rainbow!

The dinner was a fabulous buffet that the MC described, so we knew what we were going to find at the buffet before we were excused by table to the buffet line.   

As we were eating the actual luau show began.  It was called He Ohana Kakou and was focused on family and sharing cultural traditions and practices of both Hawaii and its “cousins,” the other Polynesian islands of Samoa, Tahiti, New Zealand, Easter Island, and Fiji.  It was a really fun evening!  


Afterward, G and I got a picture with some of the performers, and L got a fire baton to take with him!  As we were walking, a little voice started talking to L.  “Hey, hey guy.  I got one of those, too.”  He was a super cute little 3 ½ year old who thought L was a pretty cool big kid. 🙂

The next day at the pool, the little boy from the luau (Daniel) spotted G and L, so he was super excited to play with the kids and decided quickly that G was his best friend! 🙂  

We spent the next two days snorkeling in the ocean, swimming in the pool, and hanging out with Daniel and his parents (Bernadette and Tomasch), who were from Hungary but live in Dubai.  

On the last day, G was playing with a loose tooth when it suddenly fell out.  Daniel kept asking, “But, G, why did your tooth fall out?”  It was a little confusing for someone who hasn’t experienced losing a tooth! 🙂

One more picture and then time to say goodbye…Daniel wasn’t too happy about it, though.

On our way out, we stopped by the front desk to say goodbye to Nastia (who was the primary reason for the aforementioned customer service experiences).  She is a French woman we met when we checked into the hotel.  She’s from Paris and used to teach French.  She was so sweet and had several conversations with G and L in French, which was fun. 🙂  

Next stop, an AirBnB place in Kalaoa, just up the hill from the beach.

Big Island: 4. South of South – Black Crabs and Coffee

Before walking to a coffee shop, we called to wish Mike’s Grandma a happy 99th birthday, made pancakes that resembled tiki statues, and created some domino runs. 🙂

The coffee shop was nearby (about a 2-mile walk) that we’d passed by several times in the car, and I’d read good reviews about it.  It was a lovely little place and in such a beautiful location with a wonderful new, open-air building for events.  The owner and barista were super friendly.  It turned out that as we were walking, the owner had passed us on the way to pick up her kids from school and thought about stopping to see if we needed help. There wasn’t really a sidewalk/path, so we were just walking in the grassy shoulder. I’m guessing that there aren’t a lot of people walking that route. 🙂

In addition to the coffee/gift shop, the owner’s mom runs an orchid greenhouse in the back as well.  Both the coffee shop and the orchid farm are the southernmost of their kind in the U.S. 🙂  (Mike’s Note: At the time, I was the Southernmost left-handed brown-eyed Math major in the U.S. as well.)


Spent another afternoon at the black sand beach (Punalu’u Beach), but we parked on the other side this time and walked out onto the big lava rocks and watched the waves crashing on them.

There were also some super cool black crabs crawling around, but they were too fast (or shy) for us to get any pictures. Below is a picture from a web site with more information and about them.

The shed shell is red like this one we found next to a lost toy.

After the beach, we headed to the Punalu’u Bake Shop (again) for some pastries.  We each had $4 to spend.  G and L were so excited that they were able to choose two things!!  G got a pinwheel and a vanilla malasada (Portuguese donut).  L got a vanilla cream puff and a vanilla malasada.  I got a traditional malasada.  Mike got a bag of pineapple candy.  Yum!

The malasadas are the best donuts I’ve had!  I think it’s the consistency. 🙂

We headed home and the kids convinced Mike to stop at the coffee truck since I’d not spent my full $4. 🙂

Backstory — One day while we were sitting on the lanai of our house, we saw a coffee food truck drive by.  I was hoping it was like an ice cream truck in the neighborhood.  I was listening for a bell or music or something and was ready to run down the street with my money. 🙂  Sadly, that didn’t happen.  Happily, though, we spotted that same coffee truck (The Flyin’ Hawaiian Coffee Co.) parked on the lawn of a church in Naaleu on our way back from the beach! 🙂

I got a tasty cafe au lait with a little foam for the road.  The kids ran around in the yard, hoping someone would offer them some espresso and a kitten like a sign on the truck warned. 🙂 Thankfully, that didn’t happen! 🙂

Big Island: 3. South of South – Pu’uhonua o Honaunau

We decided to spend the afternoon at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park, also known as The Place of Refuge.  It was recommended as an interesting place to visit by friends (who were there with kids in February) as well as several guidebooks and travel magazines.

Before getting there, we decided to stop for lunch at a place nearby that Mike found on Google — Super J’s — that serves traditional Hawaiian food.  While we weren’t sure about what anything was when we walked in, we asked a couple of people in front of us about the choices and asked the woman behind the counter, who we found out later was Super J! 🙂  She was super sweet and definitely gave everyone the aloha treatment!

We ended up getting a plate with laulau (pork wrapped and steamed in a taro leaf), potato/mac salad, sticky white rice, tomato/salmon relish, and Kailua pork and cabbage.  All of it was so tasty!!  It’s the kind of place you might just drive by and not stop because it’s nothing fancy and even walking in you might not be sure of what kind of “restaurant” it is as it just had a couple of banquet tables set up inside with supply shelves lining the walls and a very small kitchen in full view behind the counter. (Mike’s Note: We tried everything, and then went back for seconds!)  

After we got back to our house, I was doing a little more research and it turns out that Super J’s was actually featured on a Food Network show about authentic Hawaiian food!

At the visitor center, G got a junior ranger book to complete, so she could get her Junior Ranger badge and pin.  She started filling it our while we waited for the ranger talk to begin.

It was a wonderful presentation with lots of interesting historical information that helped to explain and help us understand more about the meaning and reasons for the Place of Refuge. In ancient Hawaii, anyone who broke kapu (sacred law), which included such things as walking in the shadow of a chief to catching certain fish during the wrong season, could seek refuge inside the walls of the Pu’uhonua. Often the punishment for breaking the kapu was death, but if you made it inside the walls of the Pu’uhonua you were forgiven.

After the presentation, we walked around the grounds and G completed her workbook.

Traditional Hawaiian game.
L seeking refuge from the rain.
G working on her junior ranger workbook in the middle of the royal grounds!
Looking out toward the heiau (Hawaiian temple).
Closer version of the heiau.
Looking back toward the visitor center.

Palm trees and the wall that separate the royal grounds from the place of refuge.
L standing next to a stone that, according to stories, Kamehameha’s favored queen hid underneath!


We stopped back at the visitor center, where she recited the pledge and got her pin and badge. 🙂  As it had started to rain, one of the park rangers was taking down the U.S. and Hawaiian flags and asked G and L if they’d like to help fold them.

On our way home, we saw a rainbow on one side and the windmill farm on the other side!

When we returned to the house, we found a card for Grace taped to the door. She and the woman taking care of the house (Sherry) had a fun chat the previous day about Belle the parrot among other things.  It had a lovely note written on it and a few feathers from Belle!  We stopped by that evening to say thank you and had a long conversation about birds, fish, etc. 🙂
(Mike’s Note: It’s hosts like Sherry and Mac that make great experiences like ours even better!)

Big Island: 2. South of South – National Volcano Park

Hawaii’s National Volcano Park is located close to both Kīlauea and Mauna Loa, the two active volcanoes on the Big Island. The Chain of Craters Road weaves over lava. Trails crisscross the park.

We spent an afternoon at the park by driving the Chain of Craters Road, which travels 4,000 feet through lava fields down to sea level.  At the bottom of the road, we saw the Holei Sea Arch.  While the arch was created within the last 100 years, the lava from which it is created is from a lava flow from about 550 years ago!

Cool lava patterns.

Heading toward the plume of smoke where the lava meets the sea.  It’s an 10-mile round trip hike, which we didn’t quite finish.

Lava mounds and hills.

Getting a little closer…

Wahoo!  We made it to the one-mile marker!! 🙂

And now it’s mile 3!!!  Yay! Actually, all we did is take a step forward and look at the other side of the 1-mile sign! 🙂

A view from near the top.  That faint beige line running across the flat section is the road we drove on down by the sea.

This lava field reminded us of a pan of brownies! 🙂

On our way back to the visitor center, we stopped at the Pu’u’ Loa Petroglyphs.  We walked along a path out to a boardwalk, where we were able to see some of 1000s of petroglyphs that are in this area — a sacred and religious place for many Hawaiians.

As we continued our way back up, we stopped at several volcano craters. The photos don’t do these craters justice – they were huge, deep, and very cool-looking.  It’s hard to imagine them full of boiling rock.



I love how this hardy little plant (‘ohi’a lehua) just springs up here and there on the lava fields.

Big Island: 1. South of South

Naaleau, Big Island, Hawaii, May 4 – May 11, 2017

We took a turboprop plane to the Big Island, which I wasn’t too sure about doing. Mike thought it would be cool because you fly lower and can see a lot more.  I’m glad we did it, because we could see 4 of the other islands as we flew over them — Moloka’i, Lanai, Maui, and Kaho’olawe.  

After landing at the Kona airport, we picked up our rental car (a Renegade Jeep, good for 4WD!), met Ricardo the Rental Car Rooster (he showed up one day and never left) and headed south…way south.  

We stopped for lunch on the way at the Strawberry Patch Restaurant, a great little spot with delicious dishes made with fresh, local ingredients and a whimsically decorated interior with gorgeous chandeliers, quirky salt and pepper shakers, and various mix and match tables and chairs. (Note from Mike: I am vehemently opposed to the use of the word “whimsically.”)

Our house, between Oceanview and Naaleau was close to the southernmost point of the U.S.! In fact, a coffee shop down the street is the southernmost coffee shop, a bakery in Naaleau is the southernmost bakery, etc. 🙂  The neighbors who take care of the house came to say hello, introduce us to their beautiful (and funny bird) Belle, and gave us a tour of their amazing garden full of flowers and fruit and nut trees!! Unfortunately, L and G all of a sudden were being eaten alive by mosquitoes, so we had to head inside…but not before they generously gave us some bananas, limes, papaya, and oranges! 

We spent an afternoon at Punalu’u Beach (a black sand beach) playing in the sand, building rock towers, climbing palm trees, hiking, watching green sea turtles, and playing in the waves.   


While G and Mike went for a short hike for another view of the beach…

L climbed coconut trees!


As we were getting ready to leave, we spotted a turtle in the rock pools and watched it for a long time.  G was very concerned about its welfare, but Mike looked up info about sea turtles and rock pools, and we were convinced the turtle was fine and doing what he wanted to do — relaxing and eating algae on the rocks.

G reading on the info about turtles in distress.

On our way back to the house, we stopped in Naalehu at Taco Tita’s (a new Mexican taco shop), as the house neighbor recommended it. Unfortunately, it had closed shortly before we arrived.  Fortunately, the woman working there (originally from Hungary!) still had all the food out, so she let us order!  As we were getting ready to leave, the woman asked if we knew what “Tita” meant in Hawaiian, and then told us that it’s a woman or young girl who doesn’t “take crap from anyone.  You don’t like our tacos. Don’t come back!” 🙂  The tacos were delicious, so we knew we’d be back!!  

We went across the street to the Punalu’u Sweetbread Bakery (the southernmost bakery in the U.S.) but a tour bus was there, so we walked over to the Will and Grace Variety Store, which was a small food market, where in addition to finding some pineapple juice and coconut milk that we wanted, we found some canned squid, which we didn’t want!?!  


We walked back over to the bakery and each chose a treat — an eclair for G, a vanilla cream puff for L, a macadamia nut cinnamon pinwheel with cream cheese frosting for me, and a chocolate malasada (Portuguese donut).  Soooo tasty!!!

Down the street from our house was Paradise Meadows Orchard and Bee Farm. We’d driven past the signs several times, so decided to check it out one morning.  They were sampling their Hawaii’s Local Buzz deliciously smooth coffee and lots of their tasty macadamia nuts, cookies, and honey! We also got a tour around the gardens and orchard, which was fun!  


Just next door was this beautiful inn, and I couldn’t resist taking a picture of it.


We continued driving about 10 miles south to South Point, which is the southernmost point of the Big Island of Hawaii and of the 50 United States. We past a giant wind farm on the way and when we got to the point, we watched several building diving from the cliffs, despite the warning signs! 🙂  


For dinner, we enjoyed fresh papaya and pina coladas with our pizza. 🙂