Hawaiian Vacation: October 2013

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Monday, October 7 - Day 1 on the Big Island

We woke up Monday really early, before 6:00 am -- still dark -- because according to our internal clocks it felt more like close to noon. We had breakfast in the room (atmeal for Neil, cereal for Ginger) before setting out for the day.

View photos from the morning around the hotel (9 images)

One thing to note about the Big Island: it's big, really big. Drive times from one side/end to another can be measured in hours, yes hours. There are no actual freeways on the Big Island, just highways where the MPH is sometimes limited to as little as 25.

As we drove around the island to our spots of interest, we were struck by the stark landscape. When you think of Hawaii you probably think of lush jungles and sprawling, well-manicured lawns. As it turns out, much of the Big Island (South and West sides) is miles and miles of bleak, black hardened lava flows and rocks -- barren, dry rock and dirt, brown and dry grass and bushes, much like you'd see on the gulf coast in Texas, but not as flat. We guess it has its own rugged beauty, but still it was a shock.

On our first full day, we drove through the lava fields up to the Polulu Valley Lookout. Here, we saw the quintessential Hawaiian scene: the view looks out over the very green valley and cliffs, and then down to the black sand beach below. We met a couple there (before the end of the road) who took our picture with this scene in the background. Just a few hundred more yards later, the road ended at a small parking lot. We hiked down the trail, a 400 foot vertical drop, to the black sand beach where the Pololu Stream comes down from the valley into a pond before reaching the ocean. Our guidebook says it should take about 15 minutes to go down, and if you make it back up in the same time, they'd be proud. Though surpassed by Neil, Ginger made it back up in just 18 minutes, much to her delight.

View photos from the Polulu Lookout and beach (31 images)

After stopping to take pictures of the King Kamehameha statue in Kapa'au, we headed back around the point and toward a couple beaches along the northwest coast. Just South of Kawaihae, we stopped at Samuel Spencer park, which turned out to be a redneck style campground that happened to be next to a beach. The park is right next to the Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site, which we intended to visit, but it was closed due to the Federal Government shutdown. The one remarkable thing at Samuel Spencer, though, was the French Fry Tree. There's a type of tree that drops French fry looking seed pods -- if you see a pile of pods it looks like, you guessed it, a side of fries. Now if only we could find a burger bush...

View photos from Samuel Spencer Park (11 images)

From there we headed to Hapuna Bay. According to our guidebook, Conde Nast Traveler Magazine has named this beach the best in the entire nation more than once. Though it is indeed a very nice beach, we went for the snorkeling. The first place we put in was at the South end of the beach by an outcropping of rocks -- we saw a few fish, but not many, and sure got tossed pretty good by the waves. Neil went around to the other side of the rocks –- ah, much better there! He got Ginger and they both returned, climbing over the rocks along the short cliff. Here was where Ginger ungracefully glided into the water via a slippery rock and came up sputtering all the while trying not to lose her mask and snorkel. She got a nice set of gashes on her legs and bumped her bum pretty good, but all in all it was "only a flesh wound". The fish, water clarity, and coral were much better here, so the the snorkeling was pretty neat-o, and we took a few pictures with the GoPro camera to prove it.

View underwater photos from Hapuna Bay (6 images)

It was then over to Anaeho'omalu Bay, or A-bay for short. We didn't get in the water here, but we did take a nice long walk along the rocky shoreline. There were lots of condos here, but there didn't seem to be anyone home in any of them. Maybe they were all out enjoying the beach like we were!

A note about underwater scenes: Don't expect for the reefs themselves to be colorful. There are bright spots of color here and there and some interesting formations of rocks and corals, but don't look for bright, cheery, amazing coral like you see in TV documentaries. When you snorkel in Hawaii, you go to look at the fish. We saw little fish, big fish, dull colored fish, rainbow fish, you name it and we probably saw a fish to fit the description.

View photos from Anaeho'omalu Bay (13 images)

Further along our way back into town, we made a stop at a town square type area called the Queens Shopping Center where we grabbed an all too expensive lunch at the Paradise Grill in the food court (where Neil was able to get his coffee fix, too). We saw a rather large bird eating his lunch too, grabbing a fish about as big as his head out of the fish pond in the courtyard and eventually downing it in one big gulp!

View other photos from the day (13 images)

It was then a plunge into rush hour traffic and back at the hotel... well, not quite the rush hour you'd see in the big city, but 35 MPH state highways into town on which no one is in a hurry... and add to that the relative congestion of having all those Ironman people making the streets obviously more packed than they were designed for. We spent an hour or so walking through the shops up and down Alii Drive, sampling some 100% Kona Coffee straight from the hills above us, and winding up with a t-shirt and some gelato (of course!).

We wanted to get some lunch/snack type things, so we went over to the area Walmart. And you thought your Walmart was bad... this place was atrocious. We wanted apples, but all we could find was about 15sq feet of a produce section with some tiny pre-bagged apples. When we asked the attendant where they might have more produce, he led us to the automotive section. Moving on, we ended our day with a stop at a Sac N Save instead where we had much better success. We got some pita bread, sliced sandwich meat, and cheese to have with us on the road for the next couple days.