Hawaii - The Big Island
November/December 2019 -
Visiting the Big Island around Thanksgiving is becoming a tradition for us. Not sure when you are allowed to start referring to recurring events as tradition…Wikipedia describes a tradition as “a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past”. I’m optimistic and sticking with calling this a tradition as I know it will become one even if it doesn’t yet meet the qualifying criteria.
Make sure to click on the < or > arrows in the photos to view all in each group
This year we meet up again with longtime friends and frequent travel companions A&M along with a fun new couple that I’ll call M&M for this reference. Our travel styles match well as each of us is comfortable with doing our own thing or as a group with no pressure to do either. Since M&M were first-timers to the Big Island they were off to explore many of the sites the Island offers that first-time visitors must-see. They Drove the loop from the Kohala Coast over to Hilo and back through Volcano National Park, Took a snorkel trip from Kona to the King Kamehameha statue, Hiked along the shore from the Hotel to Hapuna Beach, took in a Luau at the Mauna Kea Resort, and enjoyed some beach and ocean time at Mauna Kea Beach, and chartered a Hawaiian Canoe sail from Mauna Kea Beach for the group through Authentic Hawaiian Sails.
Mary and I travel quite a bit and truly enjoy spending quality time in our destinations to learn about the area’s history, Cultures and way of life. For some, travel often includes an agenda to ensure that you see all that your destination offers leaving you exhausted from exploring. The thing we enjoy about Hawaii and especially the Mauna Kea Resort is that it provides a great opportunity to rest and recharge without the feeling that you need to rush around seeing all there is to see. Most likely this is partially due to the frequency of our visits here which allows us to see areas in smaller doses. In the end, This destination allows us to spend quality time at the beach, in the water and enjoying the little things like snorkeling with tropical fish, hiking the shoreline trails in search of Sea Turtles or an occasional drive to small towns or rainforest hikes. The Island is filled with Families for the Thanksgiving week but the crowds start thinning and the number of families traveling start to dwindle around the weekend leaving the week after Thanksgiving one of few travelers, bliss
The Mauna Kea is our favorite of the Hawaiian resorts combining just the right amount of history, old Hawaii and timeless feel both homey and exotic upholding a timeless tradition of luxury and aloha. Designed in a style that is contemporary yet traditional, an oceanfront setting with a stunning soft-white-sand beach at Kauna’oa Bay. Plenty of open-air space and tropical landscape both inside and out of the 1950’s modernist classic in one of the most celebrated locations in Hawaii. Alchemy of design, setting, and service that makes you forget yourself, that lulls you into its rhythms, that encourages both discovery and relaxation.
It's a magical place! We've traveled to all of the islands and return here annually to relax and recharge. The Mauna Kea and its location embrace you with Aloha spirit as soon as you arrive. The soothing sounds of gently crashing waves on the immense white sand beach, the warm tropical breeze through the open architecture, the genuinely gracious staff, and available amenities work together to make this one of the most beautiful experiences in all of the Hawaiian islands.
Arriving in the afternoon of day one we spent the day lounging at the beach taking in the warmth of the tropical air, sand, and sea. Dinner later that night on the beach at Lava Lava Beach Club.
Day 2 started with a quick early visit to the gym followed by a hike with Mary along the coast north of the resort past beautiful secluded homes and beaches. We met A&M on the beach for some sun and sea but the day's events quickly turned to a hospital visit which I will detail later. While “A” was in surgery the rest of us caught a casual dinner at The Fish and the Hog in Waimea.
Day 3 (Thanksgiving Day) was spent mostly at the hospital supporting our injured friend. While “A” got some needed rest the rest of us including new arrivals M&M enjoyed a really great Thanksgiving dinner together at Napua @ Mauna Lani Beach Club.
Day 4 The 5 of us (excluding our injured friend still in the hospital) took a pre-planned Traditional Hawaiian Canoe boat sail and snorkel off the beach at Mauna Kea Resort. The family-owned and operated boat was a great experience. The rest of the day the 3 of us returned to the hospital to check up on “A” while M&M continued their exploration of the island. Dinner tonight for the 3 of us at Merriman's in Waimea, a go-to restaurant that consistently provides high quality, well-prepared dining.
Day 5 started with a walk and photo excursion along the waterfront to Hapuna beach. As the sun cast light on the rocks and water, I snapped a few shots of the glorious landscape and a few sea turtles that were playing in the surf near the shoreline. The afternoon was spent at the hospital again with hopes of our friend “A”’s release but another day of rest and observation are needed. Dinner with the rest of the group at Tommy Bahama’s restaurant upstairs from the store in Mauna Lani. Good food, atmosphere, and great company made for a nice evening together
Day 6 Started with a walk along the coast south this morning but pleasantly interrupted by a call from “A” that she was being released this morning so we headed back to the hotel and up to Wiamea to bring her back. A&M were scheduled to depart Hawaii on Sunday but ended up extending until Thursday based on the incident and Dr’s recommendations. Once back at the hotel, “A” rested the rest of the day while we returned to the beach and surf. Dinner for the 4 of us was casual at the Copper Bar at the resort
Day 7 After some morning beach time, Mary and I ventured out today to do a little exploring in the town of Kona and vicinity. A tropical rain greeted us as we approached Kona and lasted a few hours off and on. We initially wanted to visit the open air craft market in Kona but they were closed due to the rain showers. We ducked into the historic Kona Inn Restaurant (Former Kona Inn Hotel) for a cocktail while we waited for the rain to let up. Not long before the rain subsided so we walked the town and shops ending up at Fosters Kitchen for lunch. After a nice lunch overlooking Kona bay, we headed south to Honaunau-Napoopoo, the landing across Kealakekua Bay from the Capt. Cook Monument. The bay is a resting place for Hawaiian spinner dolphins, and we were treated to a show by them soon after we arrived. Jumping and spinning further out in the bay for about 10 minutes before they moved on we were happy to see them. Dinner tonight with all 6 of us for the first time! We made our way down the coast to the Beach Tree Restaurant at the Four Seasons Resort in Hualalai. The experience was below average from arrival through dinner and departure, not what you would expect from Four Seasons
Day 8 Following a bit more beach time Mary and I ventured north to the small town of Hawi and Halaula for shopping and sightseeing. Dinner tonight with A&M we went back to Tommy Bahama for a bit of shopping and to make sure “A” got her Tommy B Fix.
Day 9 Hiked the loop south from Mauna Kea, a little turtle watching along the way, To the Hapuna resort then back through the golf course and trails to the resort. “A” had part of her stitches removed this morning then met Mary and I on the beach for some sand and sea time. M&M departed today but vowed to return and fell in love with the place as expected. Later we hit the King shops in Waikoloa to fine A&M a few more gifts for themselves and others then ventured uphill to Waikoloa Village to a neighborhood Italian restaurant Pueo’s Osteria
Day 10 departure day we met A&M for breakfast then caught our last hour of sand and sea time before preparing for our trip home. Relaxed, recharged and filled with Aloha spirit ready for whatever life presents us.
Restaurants we visited
Merriman's Waimea – One of the high-end Go-To restaurants on the island. A true farm to table dining as the majority of the items on the menu are sourced locally from local farms and fishermen. You really can't go wrong with any item on the menu. Check out the “shared” Dinner menu served family-style for a nice sampling of their best selections
Kuleana Rum Shack Waikoloa – A little disappointing, food quality was below average, service and beverages were good. They should stick to making rum as they do this very well. The Distillery is located in Kawaihae, the small fishing port just north of Mauna Kea Hotel. There is a package tour on the website if you wish to experience the rum-making process from the field to distillation and includes lunch.
Lava Lava Beach Resort Waikoloa – Located on a beautiful bay, food quality has declined since our last visit, but the service, setting, and beverages are home runs. Come during the daylight for lunch or sunset but be prepared to arrive early or wait as it is very popular. There are plenty of activities to partake in on the lawn while you are waiting. Be sure to take a walk along the water, head south to see beautiful secluded beaches and if you are lucky, see the large turtles resting on the beach or frolicking in the shallow shoreline.
Napua at Mauna Lani Beach Club – Not many people know about this place but probably our most favorite high-end restaurant on the island so far. An open-air restaurant beachfront on Makaiwa Bay, enjoy the flavors of locally-sourced food and the pleasant hum of live Hawaiian music in the background,
The Fish and the Hog Waimea – Also one of our favorites! Enjoy the relaxed environment of this casual locals hang out. Simple well-executed dishes from the outstanding BBQ (you have to try the Brisket!), Fresh fish Tacos, Poke Nachos, and Homemade desserts (Don’t pass up the Banana Cream Pie) Great Cocktails and selection of local beer.
Hot Malasadas – If you are driving North on the Kohala coast or through the town of Wiamea you will no doubt pass the Hot Malasadas truck. These are hot Portuguese donuts served fresh with or without creative fillings of choice of sugar toppings. Eat them while they are still warm!
Pueo's Osteria Waikoloa Village – A new find this trip. If you are looking for a casual spot with great food and like to get away from the typical touristy joints within the resorts, look no further. Worth the short drive up the hill to the village where you'll find Pueo's amid a shopping center but once inside feels like a neighborhood restaurant anywhere. Comfortably casual, the food is outstanding, service is informal, and beverages are well done. Had the Bruschetta, Buratta Caprese, Gnocchi ala vodka, Pappardelle Alla Cinghiale with braised wild boar all were outstanding.
Tommy Bahama Restaurant Mauna Lani – A fun experience at any time. The food is good and consistent. The mac nut encrusted Mahi Mahi is a popular dish but don’t pass up the Ribs, Poke or Fresh Fish selection.
Beach Tree Restaurant @ Four Seasons Hualalai - Only here for dinner but from arrival to departure the service and interactions (or lack of) were far less than expected from a Four Seasons. We have traveled extensively, staying at and visiting many four seasons properties and understand what the experience should be. Except for our server, and the physical property it felt like we were at a generic Marriott. The chicken was overcooked, service was spotty.
Copper Bar @ Mauna Kea Resort – Here for a casual dinner and sunset. Service is on Hawaiian time but the food was good and the setting spectacular
Kona Inn Restaurant Kona – Stopped in drinks only getting out of a brief downpour. Drinks were good, food that was being served looks nice too. Old Hawaiian setting on the water in the open air.
Fosters Kitchen Kona – A casual place to stop in for lunch while exploring the town of Kona. The upstairs location provides a great vantage point for water views and people watching below. The food is casual and well prepared.
One word of caution based on an unfortunate incident experienced by one of our friends on this trip. Always pay close attention to the Ocean conditions and posted warnings. Sometimes we get lost in our travel experiences and either ignore or choose not to follow posted warnings.
Case in point we were all enjoying the warm waters and taking advantage of the high surf for a little wave riding. We failed to notice the posted red flag and signs warning of strong rip tides and Dangerous Shore Break. Riding the waves in, our friend “A” unfortunately caught the force of a large Shore Break which picked her up a slammed her headfirst into the compacted sand in the shallow water near the shore. She was transported by ambulance with significant head trauma, required surgery that night and spent the next 5 days recovering in the Hospital. It could have been much worse as there were 11 additional ER cases brought to the hospital from the same area with 4 having to be airlifted to the main island of Oahu with broken necks and fractured legs. She was able to walk away with no long term permanent damage (other than to her vanity and ego). The moral of the story is to look for and react appropriately to the posted warnings.
If you ever do find yourself in the need of medical assistance while on the big island, I highly recommend the North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea. They were efficient, competent and friendly during her visit. The surgeon, ER doctor, Anesthesiologist and nurses were highly skilled and competent. After all, if you have to practice your medical specialty why wouldn’t you do it in Hawaii.