With the bachelor party and wedding to attend we hadn’t strayed too far from Waikiki in our first 5 days in Hawaii. With only one full day left in Oahu, we thought it would be best to rent a car and see what else the island has to offer. We made an early start to the day and collected the car and I was delighted that they had upgraded us from an economy to a mid-size Honda Civic. Anna didn’t notice (nor really care) but on a backpacker budget free upgrades are very exciting. We pulled out the map and decided to head to the North coast through the centre of the island and then follow the east coast back around to Waikiki.
The first stop was the Dole plantation which showcases their pineapple farm along with the world’s largest garden maze and other touristy things. They had free demonstrations on how to select the freshest pineapple and prepare it. Naturally once it’s all prepared someone has to eat it right??? We stuck around for that, but the funny thing was we both agreed that Australian pineapples are much sweeter. They also had a train that took you around the farm, but planting was just about to occur so there wasn’t much to look at.
We then headed to the north coast which is where all the pro surfers go for the big wave competitions. We parked at Waimea Bay and took a walk along the beach. The surf there is incredible and apparently it wasn’t a large day. The most amazing aspect of it is how close these big waves came into shore. When you look at the photos below it looks like they’re zoomed in, but they aren’t really. We drove along the coast stopping at various places along the way to check out the scenery. Feeling a little peckish, we pulled up at a shrimp truck on the side of the road that looked very popular. They made the most amazing shrimp with spicy garlic sauce stir-fry and it was cheap too. Turns out that the area has a bunch of shrimp farms, so tasty seafood is plentiful.
Feeling like we needed to do some exercise for the day (we’re used to walking everywhere) we headed for Hanauma Bay for the best snorkeling in Oahu – according to Lonely Planet. Now don’t get me wrong, it was nice but the author has obviously never been to places like Coral Bay in Western Australia or Bora Bora. I’ve also never been to a beach where I had to pay AU$7.50pp to enter and then watch a 15 min orientation video on why you shouldn’t step on the coral. Being 20 minutes drive from Waikiki might have something to do with this, but you’d think some signs would do the trick. If you haven’t done much snorkeling then I’d still recommend it, but make sure you stop at Makapuu Point lookout which is right around the corner. On our way to returning the car we may have popped into Leonard’s for a Malasada which is a Portuguese donut. This place is very popular with tourists and locals, frequently causing traffic jams in the area. The Malasadas look like Polish pączki but definitely aren’t as good. I’ve only had Anna’s Mum’s pączki with plum jam filling before, but they’re the best. Too bad Anna doesn’t know how to make them.
The flight over to the big island was over before it began with only 35 mins in the air. Unfortunately they still climb to a decent altitude so there wasn’t much to see, but the steep aggressive approach into Hilo airport with a sharp turn just before landing was fun. Well fun for me, not so much for Anna. We collected our rental car but no free upgrade this time… we’ve got a pimpin’ Ford Fiesta. It seems like we’re the only couple who didn’t hire a Mustang or Jeep Wrangler. Our accommodation in Hilo was fairly minimal and seemed to be staffed by guests on extended stays working for a bed. It was close to town centre though so we took a walk to see the sights. We reached a number of conclusions not long into our walk around Hilo: 1. Most of the Americans who live in Hawaii seem to be a little white-trashy supported by the abundance hanging around town during business hours; 2. The towns felt typical USA with an old style downtown area and then the modern strip mall area with big box stores like Walmart; 3. People don’t walk around town, everyone drives. We did however find a Mexican restaurant that was no-frills but served fantastic food. When I say no-frills, I mean basic eatery where you even cleared your own table and wiped it down. Naturally I opted for the salad in an attempt to watch the waistline, but I should’ve avoided a taco salad. If you’re not familiar with a taco salad check out this short clip… https://youtu.be/7ZvOqYVs2ao
Since Hilo wasn’t overly exciting, we decided to do a day trip around the northern part of the island. We did the loop along the coast to Waimea stopping in at various waterfalls, beaches and lookouts. The Akana Falls and Waipi’o Valley are worthy of special mentions, however we didn’t venture down into the valley as it is a sacred place to the locals. On our way back we drove to the Mauna Kea visitor centre which is 9,000 feet up the volcano. You can take a tour to the summit at an altitude of 13,800 feet which has 13 high powered telescopes used by leading astronomers from all around the world. We were tempted by the tour, but in hindsight we’re glad we didn’t book because the cloud cover was thick and too high up the mountain. The forecast for the remainder of our stay looks the same as well. Disappointing but we’re glad we didn’t spend the US$160pp because they’ll take you up whether there is a view or not. We’ll keep our eye on the forecast but it doesn’t seem likely.
When we first arrived in Hawaii we were tossing up whether to spend our second week in Maui or the big island. The volcanoes of big island were the ultimate determinant, so we were very excited about leaving Hilo and spending 2 days in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This park encompasses 2 active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea with the latter being the most active volcano in the world. The park offers ample opportunities to hike through craters, walk through lava tubes and explore the barren landscapes left by lava eruptions. For us though, the best experience was visiting Kilauea at night and spotting the lava glowing on the steam and clouds being released from the volcano. It’s a weird experience to think that at any moment the volcano could erupt. The park is a definite must for anyone visiting the Big Island.
From the volcano national park we drove to Kailua-Kona stopping at a few places along the way. We went to our first black sand beach which is pretty cool. The surprising part was that you’d expect to have black dirty feet afterwards but the sand was clean, just tiny ground up granules of black volcanic rock. We have spent 2 nights in Kona and have another 2 to go before we fly back to Oahu. Yesterday we visited a coffee farm and went on a tour of the facility. It was really informative and learned a few things about the actual cherry that’s picked and the processes completed to produce the roasted bean. Best parts of the tour was that it was free and they provided unlimited samples. I’m pretty sure that the tiny cups were supposed to encourage sample quantity but I have no shame going back for more. They also pushed the gift shop quite a bit, but we can’t be affording that… sorry.
We’ve also driven around a bit to see the local sights, but we’re really surprised that the beach scene here isn’t that great within walking distance. Most of the coastline in this area is rocky, and we expected it to be like Waikiki where you could spend the day beachside and have little need for transport. It’s fortunate that we found a cheap deal on a weekly car rental because we were looking to return the car on our arrival to Kona to save some money. We would’ve been stranded here or ended up renting another car to get around. One thing I’m surprised with is that everything is open over Easter. The Australian’s know that everything is closed on the back of endless public holidays. Some stores will be closed here on Easter Sunday, but it’s essentially business as usual. We did use the hotel pool yesterday though which was a bit surreal. Swimming pools and budget accommodation don’t seem to go hand-in-hand.
Over the next 2 days we plan to hit up the best snorkeling spots and beaches on the west coast of the big island. We’ve had some great recommendations come from family and friends so far, so please keep them coming. Over the next week we’ll be flying back to Waikiki for one night before we head for China. We’re not sure if we’ll be able to access the blog with China’s strict internet regulations, so don’t be too worried if we don’t post next week. We’ll do a double post when we arrive in London to catch up if that’s the case. Either that or our organs will be changing hands on the black market. Ever seen the movie Hostel… nevermind we’ll be ok.
China is going to be a little interesting I think. Wish us luck.
Cheers & beers,
Fail of the Week
Quite an obscure one this week but it ties in with my earlier comments on how no one walks here. We arrived in Kona and decided we need some supplies like cereal, milk etc. A quick check of google maps and there’s a Walmart 13 min walk away. We set off and realised that the hill is a bit steep but that’s ok with us. We walked to where the store was supposed to be but realised that the block was divided into separate malls. Then the side of the road we wanted to be on had no sidewalk, so we doubled back. Then the side with sidewalk was in complete darkness so we felt slightly exposed with some undesirable locals around. In the end we did make it to the store after 30 mins of walking, but we were definitely the only people that walked to the store. I can see why the locals have given up and embraced the ways of mainland USA.