For the photographer in me, the grand finale of our week in Hawai’I was at Punalu’u.
The town known for the black sand beach is tucked on the south west corner of the Big Island. Amidst white surf pounding moss covered rocks, a green sea turtle stretched lazily. It hugged the warm stone achieving a posture of complete surrender or total disdain or both. That’s when I closed my little black notebook have checked every photo I wanted to take in Hawai’i. Mission accomplished.
You have to genuflect to the Brand Hawaii marketing engine. The sound of word Hawai’I triggers automatically a mental slideshow: miles of sun-drenched beaches lapped by the pristine turquoise water. Coconut trees swaying to the warm tropical breeze. Oiled, suntanned, well toned bodies on surf boards. Glorious sunsets witnessed over the rim of Mai Tai laced with slice of pineapple and little colorful umbrellas.
But I am not a beach resort vacation guy. If I were to visit Hawai’i, I want to see all of Hawai’i. The island that can be circum-driven in a total of six hours, after all, boasts 11 of 13 climate zones in the world! So I to split my week between the warm, humid beaches of the leeward Kona region and the wet tropical jungles of the windward Hilo after having set aside two days for the unique Volcano National Park.
Hawaii’s proximity to the equator guarantees astounding year round weather. “There is no bad time to visit Hawai’i.” the smiling girl selling lavender flowers at the farmer’s market said, “Though the best time to be here is is August.” It made sense. It is the month in which most of the mainland US is soaking in warm summer in that month and tourists stay put at home. Obviously the best time for incredible deals on the island.
In Kona, I stayed at a condominium resort, Aston Kona by the Sea, situated in the heart of the commercial center with a room that had a lanai (balcony) with a million dollar view of the Pacific ocean. Every night I would leave the french doors of the balcony open and succumb to sleep within minutes listening to massive waves crashing against the rocks below.
We spent a morning at the farmer’s market handpicking sugar sweet Papayas and Chickoos, chatting with local artisans and appreciating their artwork.
Another afternoon, we booked a snorkeling trip with Fair Wind who took us aboard a catamaran to protected Kealakekua Bay, where Captain Cook landed in 1779. The beautiful cove with it lukewarm, emerald green water has some of the best coral and tropical fish on the big island. Rhea took to snorkeling easily and we had a blast.
We made a day trip to the northwest part of the big island to the beautiful Hapuna beach on the Kohala coast. But not before we stopped at Puako Archeological Preserve and hiked through a jungle singed by the volcano to see hundreds of petroglyphs etched in the lava rock by Native Hawaiians. Through our stay, we favored the breakfast at Banjo Ben’s. For Mai Tai’s, there is no better place than Don’s Mai Tai Bar that is situated on the water and is a glorious spot for a sunset dinner. While you are there, make sure you ask for the Tiki Chips.
On the third day, as we switched from the west coast to the east driving around the scenic highway that hooks the horn of the big island. The climate zone change is perceptible. The terrain becomes rugged, drier, desolate. Long stretches of golden beaches are visible over the precipitous cliffs. On the way, we paid homage to the ancient Hawaiian settlement at Lapakahi that nestles the shoreline. The fishing tribe of Hawaiians lived here 800 years ago and not much is known about them. Rubble that faintly borders habitats provide very little clue into the lives and times of the ancient ones. The view of the sea is to die for.
We stopped briefly at the statue of King Hamehameha, (the trick while pronouncing the Hawaiian names is to know when to stop ) spent and exhilarating hour at the Pololu look out and touched down at Hilo.
We had booked ourselves in the beautiful Dolphin Bay hotel, though Hilo was a disappointment. Some pretty water falls, the beautiful Richardson beach (which is also a good green turtle site – though I found none) and that pretty much it. Not much of nightlife, not many restaurants and it rained. Akaka falls was the saving grace of the stay.
Volcano National Park made it up for me. After all, where else can you park a car, walk 300 feet on solid tarmac and witness a century old volcano slowly brewing? Unfortunately, the rain followed us from Hilo the next day and put a hole in my plan to traverse the vast expanse of the crater on foot. But then hey, what a trip without a bummer? Plus how about leaving something for the next trip?
On our last day, with a plane to catch mid-morning, I could not resist the temptation to stop at the Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Park to see the iconic statues. The park is today preserved as a place of historic importance. This is the very place a tribesman who broke a kapu could come to to avoid a capital punishment.
Strange land, strange rules.
Beautiful land, beautiful rules.