Big Island Hawaii 30th Anniversary Trip Report: January/February 2012
5 NIGHTS: Shipman House B&B, Hilo, (east coast of Big Island)
4 nights: Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, Kohala coast (west coast)
The Big Island of Hawaii is now my #1 favorite island in the world! The wide open spaces are refreshing to the spirit – natural features with stunning beauty, from the west coast where the dark volcanic rock meets the sea, to the awesome heights of Mauna Kea at 13,000 feet. The Big Island feels more Hawaiian and less touristy, to us. We felt more in touch with Hawaii's history and cultural heritage on the Big Island.
Mauna Kea left me breathless at 13,000 feet, literally, where I marveled at the view with cold wind whipping my face. I love the colors at Mauna Kea, where the 2 hills called “cinder cones” are streaked with a fire-red color. At night stars lit the sky, although the sky wasn't black due to the moon. I battled my fears to make it up to 13,000 feet to the highest mountain peak upon which I have ever stood.
Reports of the terrors of Saddle Road to Mauna Kea are exaggerated, in our opinion. My husband drove us up Saddle Road to the summit of Mauna Kea at 13,000 feet, and I didn't feel nervous at all about the road itself, but the high altitude made me feel so breathless, I panicked on the way up and feared I was having a heart attack.
Hawaii Volcanoes National park is a treasure! We didn't see lava flow at the time of our visit, but we loved the volcano for its majesty & beauty...stark and mighty, a glimpse of the powers of creation of the islands. The eerie glow of the lava lake in the center of the smoking crater behind the Jaggar Museum is especially beautiful at night, with stars winking overhead. (Halema'uma'u Crater behind Jaggar Museum.) On our next trip to the Big Island we will return to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
We spent 5 delightful nights at the Shipman House B&B in Hilo on the green, lush, and rainy east side of the island. The island was experiencing a drought and it barely rained at all during our visit. I love Hilo which is a local community, and the locals outnumber the tourists, which is very refreshing. There are lots of interesting local cafes and shops in Hilo.
Shipman House B&B
131 Kaiulani Street, Hilo, Big Island
Breakfast at Shipman House B&B was a fabulous treat we looked forward to for every one of our 5 mornings at the B&B, with an unsurpassed offering of a gorgeous fresh tropical fruit tray artfully displaying a delicious rainbow of island fruit. Fresh lilikoi butter (passion fruit) was made every morning, and it is addicting when spread on a slice of gently toasted Portuguese sweet bread, or on a whole wheat English muffin. Healthy oatmeal or quinoa was also offered, along with yogurt, home-made macadamia nut granola, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, and a different home-made baked treat each morning.
The tropical fruit was fresh and local and exquisitely ripened...some of it grown right on the grounds of Shipman House. My husband and I both miss the Shipman breakfasts, and I long for a return visit to the Big Island just to feast on the addicting tropical breakfasts! There were a dozen different tropical fruits at breakfast each morning, and the supply of fruit was generous, so we could have seconds of our favorite fruits. I was delighted by the sweet papaya with a scoop of passion fruit and a squeeze of a lime-like fruit.
I'm a foodie so I had to gush about the breakfast! We had booked a total of 5 nights at Shipman House B&B: 2 nights in a cottage room, and 3 nights in Aunt Carrie's room in the main house. Both rooms were lovely and comfortable, with Queen beds, and ensuite bathrooms with overhead shower heads plus hand-held personal showers.
Shipman B&B has 5 guest rooms: 3 in the main house, (a historic mansion), and 2 in the duplex cottage. On our next visit I will be happy to book any of the rooms which have a Queen bed in either the main house or the cottage.
Shipman B&B has a good location. You are close enough to walk into the town of Hilo, which is full of cafes and local shops. The historic family mansion is surrounded by beautiful tropical flora. The owners are wonderfully helpful and answered our many questions patiently.
We also splurged on a deluxe ocean view room for 4 nights at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel along the Kohala Coast on the west side of the island, to celebrate our 30th anniversary. (I must say that we enjoyed the Shipman House B&b in Hilo equally as much as we enjoyed the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, and I recommend them both for a romantic anniversary celebration!)
At the Mauna Lani, we ended up being “upgraded” to an ocean-view suite with King bed, since the deluxe ocean view rooms with King beds were full. I had to be rather assertive to get this “upgrade”. I wanted a King bed, since that is what we had booked for our anniversary. The suite was much bigger than the room would have been, although the suite was further back from the ocean, it did have a lovely view. We couldn't hear the ocean from our room, which was disappointing, but I had expected this.
The Mauna Lani is a luxury resort with a laid-back atmosphere, and a lot of “freebies” (free parking, free lounge chairs & cabanas; free water bottles in room; free guided tour of the ancient fish ponds; free rental of snorkel equipment for 4 hours; free Hawaiian musical entertainment & story-telling outside at twilight on Saturday night...)
The snorkeling on the Mauna Lani's beach in winter was good. I was thrilled to encounter my very first “honu” (green sea turtle) while snorkeling with my husband! We saw a total of 3 honu (green sea turtles) while snorkeling at the Mauna Lani's beach. From the Mauna Lani hotel we also walked to the beach at the Beach Club, for more snorkeling.
Mauna Lani Bay Hotel
68-1400 Mauna Lani Drive, Kohala Coast, Island of Hawaii
Snorkeling at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel's beach and Two-Step:
I'm awash with lovely memories of the warm tropical embrace of the Big Island of Hawaii. I slid into the water in front of the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel, and floated along on my noodle, snorkeling. I was thrilled with my first “honu” encounter...swimming with the green sea turtle! I floated above him, and watched him eating what appeared to be algae on an underwater rock below me. I swam with a total of 3 “honu” on this trip. I saw a variety of colorful fish and sea urchins. Snorkeling at the Mauna Lani Bay Hotel's beach was adventurous enough for me.
My husband also enjoyed even better snorkeling at Two-Step near the Place of Refuge on the west coast. He was fascinated to watch an octopus change colors and swim. He said there were so many colorful fish in the water, it was like a magazine photo! Two-Step is evidently one of the better spots to snorkel in the winter. However I couldn't bring myself to go into the water at Two-Step, as I panic if I fear being trapped in the water, and I don't like to snorkel where you have to enter and exit the water on a rocky coast. The Mauna Lani's beach was better for me, as you can enter the water from anyplace along the beach.
Be careful at Two-Step, as my husband cut his toes on some rocks as he pushed away from the “Two Steps”, and a boy who was swimming nearby also cut himself, and howled in pain. I observed many swimmers, and it looks a bit awkward to enter and exit the water at Two-Step, but most people raved excitedly about the wonderful things they saw in the water.
PERFECT MOMENTS & HIGHLIGHTS:
Bliss on the BEACH and SNORKELING:
Lounging in my free guest chair on the Mauna Lani's beach, sun-kissed and utterly satisfied with my first snorkeling encounter on the Big Island; warmed by the sun and cooled by my wet swim suit, as the warm tropical air whispered along my skin...I realized I could even be served lunch right here, without getting up! Ah, this is the life!
In that moment I was celebrating having had the courage to triumph over 3 fears so far on the trip:
--fear of snorkeling (death by drowning?!)
--fear of altitude (yes I ascended to 13,000 feet at Mauna Kea) (shortcut to heaven?!)
--fear of the volcano (gorgeous it was!) (death by lava?!)
In that moment on the beach, I was fearless!
BREAKFAST at Shipman House B&B:
Ah, sweet addiction! The exquisitely ripe papaya is delightful with a scoop of fresh passion fruit and a squeeze of a lime-like fruit. The quality, variety and exquisite ripeness of the tropical fruits at Shipman B&B were a highlight of the entire trip for us. This was easily the best presentation of fruit we have ever enjoyed in our lives, anywhere in the world.
Tasting amazing dark roast 100% Kona coffee, organic & pesticide-free, at a coffee plantation on the Big Island was a highlight for me! We stopped at the Holualoa Kona Coffee Company above Kona, in the hills. We had time for a quick visit, but not for the tour. I tasted the dark roast Kona coffee, made in 2 different types of roasting machines...one which traps the smoke, and the other which lets the smoke out (air roasted). Both varieties made an excellent cup of coffee, but I fell in love with the one which traps the smoke. I am nuts about a good dark-roast coffee, and this coffee is fresh and wonderful! I brought home a pound of it, and I wish I had brought home a suit-case full of it! The dark roast beans came out of the bag nice and “greasy”, like they should be, from the coffee oils. MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM! Now I am going to have to mail-order another bag! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED:
“Maika'i Kona Coffee Company, Ltd. dba Holualoa Kona Coffee Company”
Kona Le'a Plantation
77-6261 Mamalahoa Highway
Holualoa Hawaii 96725
My husband and I stood arm-in-arm and watched the sun set over the water at the Place of Refuge, a mystical, beautiful, and spirit-filled place. Don't miss the historical Place of Refuge on the southern Kona coast at Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical park on the Big Island of Hawaii. You can pay a few dollars to park in their lot, visit the park, and also walk over to nearby Two Step for excellent snorkeling. You can leave your car in the park's lot once you pay the fee.
HAWAII VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK:
The Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is fascinating and starkly beautiful! It was a highlight of our trip, and I recommend a minimum of 2 days to explore the park. Lava flow wasn't visible during our visit, but the park is amazing. Here you gain a sense of the power that creates a volcanic island. There are many awesome sights, such as the eerie glow of the lava lake in the center of the smoking Halema'uma'u crater, a memorable sight as dusk arrives, and the stars blink overhead as the sky darkens.
I spent 1 day at the volcano park with my husband, and he returned for a second day at the park while I took a slow day to write in my journal and browse around the shops & cafes in Hilo.
We spent 5 nights in Hilo, and Hilo is a convenient base when visiting the Volcanoes Park and Mauna Kea. It's about a 45-minute drive from Hilo to the Volcanoes Park. I liked using Hilo as a base because there are lots of local shops & cafes in Hilo. If you try to sleep closer to the volcano, you will find yourself in a more remote area with fewer choices of restaurants & shops.
I'm so happy that we didn't miss Mauna Kea! I was very nervous about the altitude, and wondering how bad Saddle Road would be. I left the decision about a rental car vs. a tour up to my husband, who is a biologist and experienced with all kinds of driving conditions including off-road. He rented us a car (either 4 wheel drive or all-wheel drive) and we were both surprised at how good Saddle Rd. actually is, after everything we had read about it. It's a good road, and paved most of the way. Only a part of it is unpaved, and it is similar to other mountain roads. Driving Saddle Road in good weather, with the right vehicle, seemed safe to us, and the road didn't make me feel nervous at all. If you have driven in Costa Rica, many roads there are far worse! We stopped in the visitor's center to inquire about weather and road conditions, and then drove up to the summit. It was a clear and sunny day, although there's a chilly wind up on the summit.
I want to thank all of you visitors who decide to pay for the expensive ($200) “tour” up to the summit, because you are keeping the traffic on the road to the summit much lighter for us independent visitors! Judging from the 8 tour buses that we saw, and the prices we heard being discussed, somebody is making some nice money off of all the tourists who choose not to drive up to the Mauna Kea summit.
The visitor's center up at Mauna Kea can give you information on weather and road conditions, and whether it is a good day to drive up to the summit. We took some photos in an attempt to show the actual road conditions. Eventually I will get those photos online if anybody wants to see them.
My husband was so patient with me! I was so nervous about the high altitude. We stopped at the visitor's center for a while. Then as we drove up to the summit, when we had almost reached 12,000 feet, I felt so much pressure on my chest, I thought I was getting a heart attack, and I remembered reading about pulmonary edema. We found a little parking area to pull over safely, and I got out of the car. My husband offered to drive me back down the mountain without any complaint. “I feel like something is pressing on me really tight, right here,” I said to him. Then I realized...wait a minute...this isn't a heart attack...my bra is too tight! I adjusted the situation...and then I felt much more comfortable! Then I was breathing easier at the high altitude.
So we did make it up to the summit of Mauna Kea at 13,000 feet! We didn't walk too far once we were up there, as the altitude does make you tired very quickly. We kissed at 13,000 feet to celebrate our 30th anniversary...a new “high” for me!
There are some beautiful sites on the way to the Mauna Kea visitor's center...you can see the fire-red color of the “hills” or cinder cones...so beautiful. Even if you don't go to the summit...go to the visitor's center at least! There are also a few easy walks that you can do, on the way up, before you reach the Visitor's Center.
We stayed to see the stars at Mauna Kea visitor's center. They were beautiful, but the moon was bright, so the sky wasn't really black enough. We felt the starlight at the Volcanoes National park had been just as amazing as Mauna Kea.
HILO FARMERS MARKET:
We enjoyed wandering through the Hilo Farmer's Market on a Saturday morning. The produce was colorful and there were craft vendors.
WAIMEA FARMERS MARKET & Cherry Blossom Festival:
We enjoyed the Waimea Farmers Market even more than the Hilo Farmers Market! We spent hours looking at artwork and jewelry by local artists, and tasting local coffee, tea, and macadamia nuts. Lots of locals come to the Waimea Farmers Market, which is on a Saturday. Luckily for us, the Waimea Farmers Market coincided with the Cherry Blossom Festival!
Waimea is an easy day-trip from the Kohala coast.
TO BE CONTINUED: (Coming up Next: Best Breakfasts, Lunches, & Dinners)