The Big Island – Food

5 08 2007

One of our must-dos in Hawaii was to attend a luau. We went to the luau at the Kona Village Resort. This was a great luau! The food and entertainment were both top notch, and I especially enjoyed the pork cooked in the imu oven and my first taste of poi, the ubiquitous Hawaiian staple made from the taro root. During dinner, there was a stage show featuring hula dancers and fire twirlers, in addition to singing and storytelling. This is one of the pricier luaus on the Big Island, but it is considered the best one. The only drawback I can think of is that it is not on the beach. We didn’t feel that this was really a drawback though. We certainly enjoyed it!

The hostess describing the cooking of the pig:

imu oven

Some Hawaiian men unveiling the pork:

imu oven 2

The buffet line during a surreal sunset:


Other Big Island Restaurants we went to included:


Jake’s on Alii Drive – While this is a touristy restaurant, it had a fun vibe and tasty burgers and fries. Our waitress was also wonderful – Charles had started to get heatstroke and she was a great help to us. Thank you, kind waitress!


Bamboo in Hawi – interesting local fusion place, on the way to Pololu Valley
Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill in Kona – yummy family owned restaurant, Hawaiian/American food


Daniel Thiebalt in Waimea – This is one of the top restaurants on the Big Island. To save money, we went during lunch time. The food was fresh and delicious!

Brown’s Beach House at the Fairmont at sunset – This was one of our favorite restaurants. I had reserved a waterfront table at sunset (a month in advance) and it was like being in a postcard. We were serenaded by a Hawaiian group and a hula dancer while eating a great dinner. They even gave us a free dessert since we were on our honeymoon! We liked it so much that we came again two nights later. We were still able to get a good table since we were Fairmont guests, AND we got our free dessert again (same server). The Fairmont really went above and beyond our whole stay.

Kilauea Lodge – We were quite surprised to find such a great restaurant in the small village of Volcano. I mean, I had heard it was good but the restaurant really exceeded our expectations. I had the hunter stew as an appetizer and the day’s special of tristan lobster as the entree. Both were superb. The stone fireplace also added to the overall cozy ambience of this fine restaurant.


The Big Island – Hawaii Volanoes National Park

1 08 2007

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park ( is one of the state’s treasures. It is home to two of the volcanoes on the Big Island, big ol’ Mauna Loa (yup, the macadamia nut company is named after it) and the still active Kilauea volcano. Now I’m not really a big park person, but this was definitely an experience I didn’t want to miss. It’s not often that you have an opportunity to walk on a live volcano (unless, I guess, you live in Hawaii).

A view of the volcano crater that we walked on via the Kilauea Iki trail.


HVNP is located in the southeast part of the Big Island about an hour south of Hilo. On the way to HVNP, we actually did stop by the aforementioned Mauna Loa macadamia nut factory because it’s one of Charles’ favorite foods. It was neat because you drive down a few miles of macadamia nut trees and they have signs that tell you about the production of these wonderful nuts. We mainly went there to go to the Mauna Loa factory store. I love outlets and Chas loves macadamia nuts so this was a logical stop for us. We bought an ungodly amount of macadamia nuts in seemly every shape and form for, um, gifts. Yes, for gifts.

There is a small village just outside HVNP called, quite appropriately, Volcano Village. There is one main road on which there are several charming bed and breakfasts. Be forewarned though, as there seems to be just one general store and a gas station and that’s about it. We stayed at the Kilauea Lodge in Volcano Village because of its restaurant’s great reputation. There are several types of buildings containing 4-5 rooms from which to choose. We stayed in the newer building, and found it very clean and rustic. The restaurant was fantastic! You can read all about the restaurant just by googling it, but the restaurant is situated in a large log building with a huge stone fireplace and specializes in game. I had the hunter stew and tristan lobster and it was excellent. The free breakfast of French toast we got the next morning was also yummy. Most people recommend that you stay in Volcano Village for two main reasons: so that you can spend more time at the park and the so you can go see the lava flow at night. Also, it’s a long drive from Kona.

We had planned on trying to see the lava, but the accessibility of the lava flow depends on Madame Pele (the volcano goddess). When we were there, you had to hike 2 miles from the end of Chain of Craters road to see the flow so I chickened out. If you want to see the lava flow, you need to check with the park beforehand online or by phone to ask about the lava flow for that day/week. However, there is still plenty to do even if you don’t see the lava flow.

When you first drive into the park, stop by the visitor center. You can check current conditions there and learn a little about the history and science of the two volcanoes. There are also bathrooms there. There are a plethora of activities in the park, including seeing the Thurston lava tube, hiking several great trails, and of course lava hunting. If you are short on time, you can simply just cruise around the park on Crater Rim Drive and see the highlights of the park, including recent lava flows that have hardened. This road takes about 40 minutes by car to make the loop. HVNP is often referred to as a “drive-thru” park because of this feature.

The rainforest portion of the Kiluaea Iki trail.


Since we only had one day at the park, we decided to do the Crater Rim Drive, then go hiking, and then drive down to the end of Chain of Craters road. There are several great hiking trails in the park but we chose to go on the popular Kilauea Iki trail because it is about a 2-4 hour hike that leads you through a rainforest and through the crater floor of the Kilauea caldera. The rainforest was very peaceful, green, and gorgeous in the way that only nature can be. The crater floor was really really hot. Sunglasses and lots of water are musts. Although at times when I was in the crater I felt like I was on a death march, I was really glad that we did the hike. The hardest part is making it back up from the floor of the crater. We started in the rainforest portion first because it is said to be an easier hike.

Unfortunately, my camera battery died and I left my charger in Chicago so I don’t have a lot of pictures of the park visit. In case you ever need to know, nowhere on the island can you find a place that has a Canon charger.

Next: Restaurant Reviews

The Big Island – Waipio Valley with Horses

31 07 2007

If you are among the dozen or so people who have seen the movie “Waterworld” starring Kevin Costner, you may have wondered where that beautiful valley featured at the end of the film is located. Even if you have never wondered this, I’ll tell you anyway. The valley in question is Waipio Valley. Well, technically, I believe they filmed it in Waipio Valley and the next one over.

A view of the mysterious Waipio Valley as seen from the overlook.

Waipio Valley Overlook

Waipio Valley is the southernmost valley in the chain of 7 valleys in the northeast side of the Big Island. This valley is a sacred place for Hawaiians and has both cultural and historical significance. Not only is this the most fertile valley in the islands, but it is also the setting of many ancient stories about gods and kings. In the past, this valley was well populated and had schools, churches, restaurants, and even a hotel. However, a great tsunami destroyed these structures in the 1940s and since then it has not been repopulated. Only about 50 people live down there now, mostly locals whose families have lived there for ages and um, nature lovers.

A waterfall in Waipio Valley

Waipio Valley Waterfall

Because it’s such a sacred place for Hawaiians, it’s best to take a tour. There are donkey cart tours, van tours, and horseback riding tours. I believe hiking straight to the beach is ok, but hiking into the valley and the back of it is definitely a no-no. However, I don’t know who would want to hike down because the road down into the valley is super steep. I mean it feels like you are falling over if you stand up straight and it is steeper than the steepest street in San Francisco. ONLY 4-wheel drive vehicles can even make it down the road and back. There is no sidewalk so you need to share the road if you walk, which is not my idea of a good time.

We opted to enjoy our tour of Waipio on horseback with Na’alapa Stables. This is the only stable actually in Waipio Valley, and they take you through streams and right into the thick of Waipio Valley. They are locally owned and operated, so you know the guides are good.

Waipio on Horseback

Our guide Keoni was very gregarious and funny. My horse was great. Very gentle and easy to direct. Actually, my horse is famous – he starred in “Waterworld.” I am a horseback riding novice and it was fine. The company gives you a quick overview of how to ride a horse before you go out. It is a nose to tail ride, but you go at a leisurely pace so that you can enjoy your surroundings. The views were amazing, and we even saw some wild horses! There are fruit trees everywhere – you can just reach out and pluck a guava. The valley is absolutely beautiful, and it was great to be given a tour by a longtime resident.

I would suggest some insect repellent though. This was the only place on the entire island where I got bitten by mosquitos. I got 4 mosquito bites on one arm, although I think it’s because it’s where I rested on the saddle blanket.

It was an honor to be able to visit such a beautiful, special place.

Next: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The Big Island – Ocean Tour (and Dolphins)

30 07 2007

When in Hawaii, one of the activities you must do is take an ocean tour. The sea is such a huge part of the culture and daily life in Hawaii that not doing something on the water is like going to New York and not seeing the Statue of Liberty. Most outfits do the same thing – they take you out on a boat, take you 1 or 2 places to go snorkeling, view sealife, and maybe check out some sea caves. There are two main kinds of boats – huge party boats that provide a big lunch or dinner with booze and are crammed with 30 people OR small boats with fewer people on a more personal tour. Most companies provide the snorkeling equipment, but you can also bring your own.

Dolphin Discoveries Boat

Even though the large boats had bathrooms, we chose to go with the smaller boats. We did our ocean tour with Dolphin Discoveries (DD) on the recommendation of a few people on the Tripadvisor Hawaii forum. DD takes you to the two best snorkel sites on the island, the Captain Cook monument and the Place of Refuge, and each tour has less than a dozen people.

Near the Captain Cook Monument

Near Captain Cook

The snorkeling here is incredible!  We spent about 45 minutes at the Captain Cook monument.  We saw a fish that looked like it was made of rainbow sherbet, lots of bright yellow fish, brain corral, and many other beautiful reef dwellers.  After that, we moved to the Place of Refuge for about 30 minutes, where we saw dozens of turtles all hanging out, and Charles and I also managed to get a glimpse of a white tip reef shark before it zoomed back into the deeper parts of the ocean.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have an underwater camera and I was too chicken to use the underwater bag for my camera.

A friendly honu, the sea turtle seen all over the island, shot with my regular above water camera.


Now I will take a moment to say a word about dolphins.  I know everyone wants to see a dolphin and secretly wants to frolic in the water with them and maybe even pet or ride one.  Heck, I am one of those people who would really love to do that.  However, we have to remember that we need to respect dolphins and that when we are in the water we are in their territory and habitat.  You should not chase dolphins (actually it’s against the law) and should try to do the least harm as possible.  Companies that chase dolphins only hurt the very animals they seek.  That being said, there are several reputable companies out there that are respectful of nature and wildlife but you may still get to see dolphins.

When you go on an ocean tour, there is a big chance you won’t see a dolphin.  The big rise in snorkeling and kayaking has disturbed many of the dolphin resting places near the island coasts, which is why preservation of their habitat is so important.  However, you still get to snorkel in two of the most amazing underwater sites, see lots and lots of turtles, and other wild sealife.  Think of the ocean tour as a sealife/nature tour in which dolphins may appear.  If they do appear, it is that much more special!

We were incredibly lucky because as we were leaving the Place of Refuge after snorkeling, one of our fellow boaters spotted a spinner dolphin.  Our captain stopped the engine completely so that we were completely quiet and still on the water.  Then we saw two more dolphins, and four more, and then what looked like hundreds of dolphins slowly making their way into the dolphin sanctuary that is just to the left of the Place of Refuge.  Apparently dolphins “sleep” in this sanctuary, although they use it less often than they used to.  2-3 dolphins were still not completely asleep, though, because they spun through the air.  Their bellies were pink, and they were SO CUTE!  Even though I had prepared myself for the possibility that we would not see any dolphins, I was SUPER excited to them.  They really made my day/week/month!

I am not the fastest photographer, though, so this is the only good picture I have of my dolphin experience.  It’s still proof I saw these wonderful creatures though!

Spinner Dolphins

After our dolphin experience, everyone on the boat was pumped to see more sea creatures so we drove around.  The captain followed the flight of a seabird and we were zooming through the water.  Then, someone spotted something in the water – a pod of pilot whales!  Madame Pele must have been smiling down on us that day because we had such an amazing experience seeing all the different life in the ocean.

Pilot Whales

I know I have used amazing and incredible a lot in this post, but this was really one of the best experiences of my life.

Next: Waipio Valley

The Big Island – Pololu Valley

29 07 2007

Note: We went to Hawaii in August 2006. To start from of the beginning of this series of posts, see the post titled “The Big Island (Hawaii) – August 2006.”

On the northeast part of the island is a chain of 7 lush valleys. Pololu Valley is the northernmost valley and can be reached by road. On the way to Pololu Valley you pass through the town of Hawi. We stopped by this town to have lunch at Bamboo (pictured in the previous post) and some shave ice at Tropical Dreams before arriving at Pololu Valley.

On the drive to Pololu Valley, you pass through these green hills.

Near Waimea

Looking down into Pololu Valley

Pololu Valley

As you hike down, you are greeted with expansive views of the lush valley. It is about a 20 minute hike down a steep path. A fellow hiker gazes across the valley.

Pololu Valley

When you get to get to the bottom, you can frolick on the black sand beach. Swimming is not recommended.

Black Sand Beach
On the inland side, there is a view of the river crossing through the valley.

Pololu Valley

Unfortunately, it takes at least twice as long to climb back up to the parking lot.

Pololu Hike

Although this hike is not too strenuous, we were sweating when we made it back up to our car. Fortunately, an entrepreneurial man was selling coconuts on the side of the road. We picked a coconut for him to machete, and were able to enjoy a nice cold drink. I highly recommend this hike, as it was the best free activity we did on the island. Exploring is encouraged here.

Next: Dolphins!

The Big Island (Hawaii) – August 2006

29 07 2007

Charles and I went to the Big Island, Hawaii, for our honeymoon in August 2006. Since there is a lot of information on Hawaii online, I will just go through the highlights of this trip, and our recommendations for hotels, restaurants, and activities.

Hawaiian Sunset

We chose the Big Island over the other Hawaiian islands because it is less developed than Oahu and Maui, yet still has all the positives. In addition, it was less expensive than Maui and has retained much of the “old Hawaii” vibe. The Big Island, also called Hawaii, not only has beaches, rainforests, and waterfalls, but it also has a snow capped volcano in Mauna Kea and an active volcano in Kilauea among its 5 volcanoes. Although I’m not a particularly active person, I considered this an adventure vacation. Within a span of 9 days, we hiked in a rainforest, crossed lava fields, snorkeled in a dolphin sanctuary, and went horseback riding in a sacred Hawaiian valley. It really was a trip of a lifetime!

The Big Island is separated into two main areas, the dryer West side, where most of the resorts and the city of Kona is located, and the humid East side, where the town of Hilo and the Kilauea volcano is located.

Old Hawaii can be experienced in the town of Hawi. Bamboo, a Hawaiian fusion restuarant, is pictured below.

Shave Ice in Hawi

Where We Stayed:

Since it was our honeymoon, we splurged a bit and stayed at the Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast for 5 nights, then 2 nights at Hale Hualalai, a B&B on a coffee farm in Kona, and 1 night at Kilauea Lodge in Volcano Village . I recommend all these places to stay. I found Kilauea Lodge and Hale Hualalai through B&B reviews on

We lucked out a bit, as we got a fantastic deal for this entire vacation. Since we went to August, we didn’t experience some of the high season winter prices for airfares. We bought our airfare and hotel package through AAVacations after researching several different vendors, including,, and pricing the airfare separately through Be on the lookout for deals the hotel itself is offering – often other online sites will match this deal. We were able to get our 5th night free at the Fairmont through AAVacations.

The view from our hotel room. You can see the volcano peaks behind the hotel’s landscaping.

View from our room


You will need to rent a car, as the Big Island is BIG! The cheapest gas can be found at Costco (if you have a membership) in Kona. For groceries and inexpensive but high quality souvenirs, go to the Walmart on the hill overlooking Alii Drive. If you do not want to shop at Walmart, there are many smaller grocery stores found all over the island.

Information on Hawaii and Guidebooks: We used the guidebook “The Big Island – Revealed” extensively in the planning of this trip.  While the book was invaluable,  it does go a little overboard in some more “adventurous” sections.  Use your common sense when using this guidebook.  I also got specific activity and restaurant recommendations from (I’m going to sound like a broken record) the tripadvisor forums for the Big Island.

Next: Hiking in Pololu Valley

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