A Week on Hawaii’s Big Island
Life on Mars
Each Hawaiian island has a personality all its own and after experiencing the crowds on Oahu, the Big Island was the perfect place for a little peace and quiet. The high season is summer and winter, but Danny and I were still surprised to find that during this time of year, it felt like our own private island. It also felt like Mars. The topography is like nothing I’d ever seen; Lava deserts, rocky terrain and beaches, and massive volcanos gave the island an apocalypse in paradise vibe.
Home Away From Home
The Fairmont Orchid on the Kohala Coast was home base for the week. The spa on the resort offers a wide variety of treatments, but I was intrigued by the bamboo massage. I mean, wtf is a bamboo massage? I was assigned a waterfall “hale” (hut) with a glass plate on the floor directly below my face in the massage table where I could see an orange coy swimming anytime I opened my eyes. Sticks of varying sizes were used to roll out my muscles like pie crust and it felt ridiculously good. The birds and waterfalls made it its own spa soundtrack.
I Think I’ll Name Him Steve
Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm offers daily tours at 10am, noon, and 2pm ($43/adults and $33/kids). The tour is about an hour and, IMO, is super heavy on the educational stuff. I knew that holding a seahorse was part of the deal and that’s all I wanted to do. You fold your hands into a little basket, a seahorse will wrap its tail around your finger, and will stay until you gently unfold your hands. Unless you’re me and it held on just long enough to get one photo with no clear seahorse in it. They are fascinating creatures. Seahorses can look in several directions simultaneously and I could totally see this little guy looking up at me. Did you know that males are the ones that carry and deliver babies?
Gimme Two Steps
Danny and I heard about a snorkel spot called Two Step from a few locals. One beach over from the Pu'uhonua O Hōnaunau National Park, Two Step received its name due to a rock formation that naturally created a chair with two steps — one to sit and put on your gear, the second to push off from. About an hour and half drive from the Fairmont Orchid, we didn’t know what to expect. Maybe we would see a few more fish or turtles than when we did a little cursory snorkeling at the resort. You’ll probably never believe this, but I swear to God it’s true — We swam with a pack of 16 dolphins in the wild. They swam below us and we could see them with our goggles as we bobbed on top of the water. We’d see them change directions and head up to the surface. Sometimes they would breach and flip over in the air, crashing down into the ocean. At times we were as close as 6 feet. This is pure nature. No lifeguards, no vendors. We brought our own gear, rented from Snorkel Bob’s for the day. There are no handrails or anything but I think we did well because the only injury sustained was when Danny scratched me with one of his Howard Hughes toenails. Those dolphins made my week. Hootie, I now understand why dolphins make you cry.
Take Me to Church
On the way back to the resort, we visited St. Benedict’s Catholic Church, known as the Painted Church. The exterior of the church is white and quite traditional, but step inside and behold a prism of color illustrating the lives of the saints. Father John Velghe, a priest with no formal training, used house paint to complete his work. It’s like the poor man’s Sistine Chapel. The church dates back to 1842, still holds mass and along with its cemetery is an important historical site. Whether or not you practice religion, the art alone makes this a valuable destination. On the way out, we picked up a couple of beaded bracelets and a papaya at an honor-system table by the parking lot. (Yes, we paid for them.)
Kanikapila: A Jam Session
We poked our heads into Gertrude’s Jazz Bar in Kailua-Kona on their open mic night just to see what it was like. It was so fun and welcoming, Danny got up and played Act Naturally (the Buck Owens’ version) and Chris Jansen’s Buy Me A Boat. I was so proud, a total stage wife. Earlier that night, we were enjoying live music and happy hour snacks in Waikoloa and the house musician kept looking over at Danny with recognition. This happens sometimes, but this wasn’t for the reason you might think. It turns out they had the same probation officer in 1976.
One of the best things about travel is the food and I made so many discoveries on Hawaii. Like, poke bombs! This mash-up, which I first found at Umeke’s, is native to this island and is basically inari (rice stuffed tofu pockets) cut in half and topped with raw fish, like spicy tuna. They also make a killer strawberry lemonade. Another cool spot is the Coffee Shack. The restaurant in Captain Cook is perched right up above the spot where the captain sailed into Hawaii and also where he met his untimely death by the hands of Hawaiians. The views of the bay are gorgeous. They make delicious sandwiches with homemade bread and if you’re lucky, a gecko might crawl in through one of the many windows and join you. An honorable mention goes out to Annie’s Island Fresh Burgers — home to the The Clipboard of Fun™’s fave onion rings.
The Perfect Vacation
Just before sunset, we looked forward to the daily torch lighting back at the hotel. Half-dressed Hui Holokai boys set out with fiery sticks throughout the property. The lighting of the torches and the ancient echo of a conch shell mark the end of a beautiful day. And a stunning rainbow on our final night marked the perfect vacation.