Every few years, Andy and I take a couple weeks off work and venture off on a big trip. While I have a huge list of new places to visit, for our trip this year, I wanted nothing more than to return to an old favorite - the Big Island of Hawaii! Usually when Andy and I go on a vacation, I have every day planned out months in advance. Apparently the laid-back nature of Hawaii is contagious, because for this trip, other than loose plans to go hiking a couple times, and one restaurant we absolutely had to visit, I made no plans at all. Over our 12 nights on the island, we decided to spend 7 at the same condo south of Kailua-Kona we'd stayed in on our last visit, 3 nights at a tiny cottage near Volcanoes National Park I'd found on Airbnb, and our last night at an historic Japanese hotel in Captain Cook.
After an extremely late arrival to the island, we spent most of our first full day of vacation stocking up on food and other necessities for our stay, but we did find time for a late lunch at Kona Brewing. Between their extensive menu of seasonal beers and their delicious pizzas, we quickly decided we'd need to return at least once during our time on the island. The next morning, we got an early start and headed to one of our favorite snorkeling spots from our last vacation. There's no reef at Kiholo Bay, and because of the mixture of cold freshwater and warm saltwater, the water is usually hazy, but the bay is absolutely packed with turtles! We spent so much time in the water that we both ended up with sunburns.
To allow our sunburnt bodies to recover, I decided we should spend the next day exploring coffee country up in the clouds above Kona. Before leaving town, we made a stop at Da Poke Shack, a tiny restaurant in the main building of the condo complex we were staying in. On our last stay in Kona, every single local we spoke to told us we absolutely has to stop by Da Poke Shack, but we never made time for it. This time around I knew I didn't want to miss it, and their incredible poke bowls totally lived up to the hype! I especially enjoyed our side of edamame and wild rice salad, and the spicy Pele's Kiss poke, but really I don't think you could go wrong whatever you order.
After lunch, we headed south for some coffee tasting, starting with the tour at Greenwell Farms, one of the largest coffee growers on the island. Their tour gave us a lot of interesting background on the multi-step process of turning ripe coffee cherries into the chocolate colored beans we're used to. Of the three farms we visited, our favorite was definitely Buddha's Cup. We didn't have much room in our bags to bring purchases home with us, but after tasting the coffee at Buddha's Cup, we agreed we could make room for a pound of their delicious beans.
For our last stop on our coffee tour, we visited Hula Daddy, and while their coffee was delicious, what I enjoyed the most was their tea made from dried coffee cherry. It hardly tasted of coffee, reminding me more of earthy elderberry juice. I had to buy a bag of this unique tea, mostly to experiment with using the tea in cocktails. I have yet to experiment with it, but I have high hopes for the results! Hula Daddy also had a truly impressive collection of coffee preparation equipment that I really enjoyed looking through. It was almost like a little museum!
After a few more glorious days of beaches and snorkeling in the Kona area, and one slightly more active day where we hiked into Pololu Valley, we headed to the east side of the island. From the tiny cottage that was our home base for the next couple days, we had one last snorkeling stop to make before we could leave the island. The Kapoho Tidepools were a favorite snorkeling spot from our last stay on the island, and couldn't wait to get back in the calm, crystal clear water of the deep tidepools where tons of new coral was growing. Swimming through the pools, there was one magical moment where I saw over a shallow and emerged into a deep well that was absolutely packed with brightly colored coral and glittering yellow tangs. If it weren't for the snorkel in my mouth, I probably would have burst into an underwater rendition of Part of Your World from The Little Mermaid!
On our last day on the east side of the island, we got an early start and headed to Volcanoes National Park, starting with a hike through an inactive crater, which I'll have more to share on soon. During our hike, we'd see a thick plume of smoke rising from the active Halema'uma'u crater a short distance away. After our hike, we ate a quick lunch, then almost on a whim decided we may as well drive to the end of the road to look into the crater. On our last trip, Kiluea had been smoking, but all the activity was below the crust of Halema'uma'u and had been since, so I didn't expect to see much of anything. Astonishingly, just that morning lava had started to bubble to the surface of Kiluea's heart, and I spent a long time transfixed by the show Madame Pele put on for us. Nothing is quite as spectacular as standing in complete safety within a few miles of an erupting volcano. Hawaii certainly knows how to send someone off with a bang!
Where we stayed:
What we Ate:
Kona Brewing which we liked so much we visited twice!
Da Poke Shack (get the Pele's Kiss poke!)
Foster's Kitchen great place for a sunset dinner, if you don't mind a few powerlines between you and the ocean
Don's Mai Tai Bar $6 Mai Tais at happy hour. Need I say more?
Snorkeling in Kiholo Bay and Kapoho Tidepools
Kona coffee tasting, including a farm tour at Greenwell, and visits to Buddha's Cup and Hula Daddy
Hiking to Pololu Valley
Lounging on several gorgeous Kona beaches including my new favorite, Waialea
Volcanoes National Park, including a hike through an inactive crater, and an awesome view of lava bubbling away in the Halema‘uma‘u Crater