Hawaii Big Island 9/13

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A graduation celebration on familiar Hawaiian ground...

Waikoloa sunset over the fishponds

Craig's graduation as an electrical engineer from UCLA in August also marked for me the end of 9 solid years of tuition, room and board for Ben and Craig. Armed with the excellent Hawaii - The Big Island Revealed guidebook and accompanying Android app, Craig and I headed off to the Big Island for a little adventure and a lot of sightseeing and relaxation. We covered some familiar ground we hadn't seen in a while and explored some new spots as well. The Big Island has a great history with my family, starting with a trip Mary Lou and I took way back in 1982, along with many returns since. Craig and I had last been to the Big Island in February, 2008, although we visited Maui and Kauai just 9 months before.

Saturday, September 14th - Kailua-Kona


We arrived at KOA airport at noon, picked up our rental car and headed north 20 miles to the Marriott Waikoloa. Our room had a great view over the pools to the ocean (night shot, first picture below). We took a walk around the Kings Shops, grabbed lunch at the Queen's Market Deli, and rented our snorkel gear at Big Island Motorcycle ($25/week). We then drove south 25 miles to Kailua-Kona to pick up supplies for the week and do an early dinner at the iconic and excellent Kona Brewing Company. Returning to our hotel around 8pm, we watched the hotel's luau from our balcony and retired for the evening.

Pololu Lookout at the island's northern tip

Waikoloa room with a view nighttime

Craig snorkeling

St. Peter's by the Sea

Ranchos land view to South Pt.

Sunday, September 15th - South to Kau

We began a routine we would follow for the rest of our trip: breakfast from the Queens Market Deli, balcony planning & discussion, ocean swim & snorkel (second picture above) and then head out to sightsee. Since the Big Island is big - larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined, each day we headed in a different direction. Sunday's direction was south through Kailua-Kona to South Point in the district of Kau. Our first stop about 15 minutes south of Kailua-Kona was very familiar ground, Saint Peter's by the Sea (third picture above) in Kahaluu where Mary Lou and I were married in 1984. We have been back to this spot many times over the years, with a string of pictures chronicling over 30 years of our lives. Continuing south from Kahaluu, we drove the much improved Belt Road almost to South Point (Ka Lae in Hawaiian) before turning south into Hawaiian Ocean View Ranchos to visit our 3 acre piece of land (more accurately lava - fourth picture above), bought when Craig was born. It was a terrible investment, but after 23 years it remains our little piece of Hawaii. Both neighbors came out to say hello when they saw our car and caught us up on everything - and there hasn't been much, that's gone on in the area since our last visit. Heading back north, we stopped in Kailua-Kona for a good meal and sunset (first picture below) on the balcony at Humpy's, which replaced the former Kona Hard Rock Cafe. After sunset, we took a quick walk around Kailua-Kona before driving back to the hotel and retiring for the evening.

Kailua-Kona sunset

Waiale Falls

Rainbow Falls

Kilauea overlook

Monday, September 16th - East to waterfalls, Hilo & the volcano

After our morning breakfast, balcony and snorkeling routine, we headed east for our longest driving day of the trip. I was anxious to try out the just-opened western section of Saddle Road. Saddle Road crosses the island in the "saddle" between its two large volcano mountains, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. It used to be a very challenging road that rental car companies didn't allow driving on. Much has changed over the years. In 2013, Saddle Road is in excellent shape and the biggest challenge in driving it now is to keep your speed down to 55mph - a challenge I failed, collecting an unwelcomed Hawaiian souvenir speeding ticket. Arriving on the eastern side of the island we stopped at a string of waterfalls; Waiale (second picture above), the Boiling Pots and Rainbow (third picture above), all of which had very low flows because of the lack of recent rain.

After a quick lunch in Hilo, we continued south on the east coast to Volcano National Park, stopping at the Kilauea overlook at Volcano House (fourth picture above) and then continuing to the Jaggar Museum (first picture below). The volcano was active and the steam plumes in the pictures were toxic, causing Crater Rim Drive to be closed past the Jaggar Museum, but there were no surface lava flows visible. Heading back around the island counter-clockwise on the Belt Road, we stopped at Akaka Falls (second picture below) and just missed closing time at Umauma Falls, which we returned to on Wednesday. The Segway tour people near Umauma suggested the obscure Kamaee Falls (third picture below) up a rustic gravel road nearby, which we visited to finish our sightseeing for the day. Arriving back at our hotel around 8pm, we walked to Queen's Market for dinner and drinks at the Macaroni Grill before retiring for the night.

Jaggar Museum overlook

Akaka Falls

Kamaee Falls

Craig snorkeling outbound

Tuesday, September 17th - Northern Kohala coast to Pololu lookout

Tuesday we decided should be a more relaxing day, taking on just the short drive along the northern Kohala coast to Pololu Point. We woke late, did our breakfast, balcony and an extended snorkeling routine (fourth picture above) before heading north through quaint little Hawi to Pololu. We had never visited Pololu before and it was a good spot to see. It is very isolated, with wild horses roaming around the summit (first picture below) and some spectacular views from the top (second picture below and large picture top of page right) as well as halfway down the steep trail (third picture below) to the beach. Returning toward our hotel, we stopped in Hawi for a snack at the iconic Tropical Dreams. Having arrived back at our hotel for the first time on the trip before sunset, we set up my tripod near the fish ponds and captured the large picture, top of page left with my 24mm f1.4 lens. We had dinner and drinks at the hotel bar before a late night swim in the pool.

Pololu wild horses

Pololu lookout from the top

Pololu trail view

Waipio Valley lookout


Wednesday, September 18th - Waipio Valley & Umauma Falls

I booked the Waipio Valley Wagon tour as a fitting end to our visit. Craig and I had been on the same tour in 2008 and I had been in the Waipio Valley a couple of times before that. It is a unique place with a rich history. We arrived at the lookout for some shots (fourth picture above) around 11am before backtracking to the Wagon Tour spot to meet our guide, who grew up and still lives in the Waipio Valley. The tour starts with a four-wheel-drive van down the steep road to the valley floor (first picture below). In the valley, we piled into a mule-driven wagon (second picture below) that took us all through the valley on dirt roads (third picture below) punctuated by several creek crossings. Returning to the top around 2pm, we decided to continue clockwise on the Belt Road pick up our missed visit on Monday to Umauma Falls. We ate a late lunch at the wonderful Tex's Drive-In in Honoka'a, including their famous Malasadas. Umauma Falls has changed a lot since our visit in 2008. It is now a full "experience" venue along with a new-age type inspirational garden (e.g. a bury your negative thoughts bench with little gravestones of unforgiveness, hate, untruths, etc.) and riverwalk , which we walked through. The falls themselves (fourth picture below) had very little flow like the others on this visit because of the lack of recent rain.

Returning to our hotel in the early evening we watched the sunset and the beginning of the hotel's luau from our balcony and then walked to Merriman's at King's Market for drinks and an excellent dinner. On Thursday morning we packed and headed to the airport for our return flight to LA. All in all another great father-son getaway and a fitting UCLA graduation and end-of-tuition celebration.

Waipio Valley floor

Waipio Valley wagon

Waipio Valley road

Umauma Falls

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