When I think of Hawaii the pictures that come to mind are sun, sand and tropical drinks. And believe me -- I make sure I sample all of the when I visit this corner of the world. Each island has its own unique signature, but for this trip, I want to take you to the Big Island, specifically the Kona region.
The Big Island has two main cities on opposite sides of the island -- there's the wet side where the city of Hilo resides and the dry side where the city of Kona lies. In between the two cities is beautiful land, cattle ranches, waterfalls, lush flowers and plants, a live volcano and gorgeous drop-dead vistas and views.
Arrival to Paradise
Like most of us, I hate losing too much time commuting, so another plus for this destination is that I could take a direct 9-hour flight from Chicago. As we flew over the island, I could see green everywhere except the area around the airport, which was covered by miles of bare land, actually hardened lava that had once flowed from the volcano to the ocean. I had not been to Kona for more than 25 years, but stepping off the plane it all came back to me as I was greeted by the blue sky above and a warm pleasant breeze filled with the scent of flowers.
Local friends met me in the open-air baggage claim area with a traditional lei consisting of fragrant Plumeria and delicate Vanda Orchids. The smell alone confirmed to me that I was indeed in paradise, and in for a restful and fun time.
I was off to my fist hotel, the Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort for a two-day stay. Later in the week I would join a group assembled up in the hills at a private bed & breakfast guest house -- the Holualoa Inn. We were looking forward to the Inn because we knew we would have this hotel all to ourselves for the entire weekend!
The Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort is as a perfect place for couples and families. The rates are reasonable most of the year and the atmosphere is one of comfort and relaxation. There are tide pools with views of green turtles sunning themselves, a nice size swimming pool, snorkeling, tennis courts, and an adjoining beach for sun bathers.
The hotel is also proud of the island's history. On the grounds is a replica of a summer cottage used by one of the Hawaiian Kings and ancient Hawaiian artifacts nestled among the greenery and flowers. The open and friendly restaurant and bar are accessible and tasty! Needless to say we checked out the bar and watched the sun go down sampling yummy tropical drinks!
The next morning we were off to explore the shopping and arts and crafts areas. We drove from our hotel along the Kona coast on Alii Drive and saw a very small but lovely blue painted church that looked out on the ocean. The stained glass windows were beautiful and the church, St. Peters Church, was a reminder of days gone by. The drive took us past white sandy beaches and vacation rental homes jutting along the coast - basking in privacy.
We knew about Kona and its world-famous coffee, but we wanted to explore that and more! We stopped at a local flea market and browsed around for some unique gifts. I found fabulous handmade soaps made from local and colorful Hawaiian print purses, book bags, fanny packs and the like. There was an endless supply of homegrown fruit and flowers on display and the people selling them were so friendly, typical island hospitality in their interactions.
We also made a quick stop at the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory -- it's a must! We watched candy being made and of course couldn't resist buying the infamous the turtles and the macadamia nut brittle.
And now the coffee! A visit to the Kona Historical Society's Living History Farm in the town of Captain Cook was just the perfect experience. Visitors can take a one-hour docent-led tour of a working coffee farm. We learned how coffee was introduced to the island by an American missionary in the early 1800s as a plant to ornament Hawaiian gardens. Many of the original buildings still exist with the historic coffee trees, coffee-cutting implements, a Japanese bathhouse, and a coffee processing and drying mill. And we couldn't leave without buying some fresh Kona coffee beans and some of their other goodies like tropical jams and jellies, macadamia nut oil and kukui nut oil skin products.
The Holualoa Inn
Early the next morning we started our drive to the Holualoa Inn along a narrow two-lane winding road up the mountain. The inn is in Holualoa which is an artist colony of sorts founded in the late 1800's by local Hawaiian residents and immigrants of Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese and American ancestry. Sugar was its main form of economic support for more than 25 years. But soon coffee replaced sugar and the town began to grow. Many of the original buildings still exist and these same buildings now house famous art galleries.
We were greeted by a charming manager who showed us to our rooms. The inn is owned by two members of the Twiggs-Smith family. Built in 1978 as the private summer home of their uncle, the building sits on more than 43 acres of land that is still a working coffee growing farm. It opened as an Inn in 1987. With only six double occupancy rooms and a single, the layout and privacy of the Inn speaks of this family's love of the area and the commitment to offering guests a secret hideaway in the cool mountains all with killer views. They even have a telescope for guest use, and it was a real treat to use to ocean and star watch.
Created by a family member, large and colorful paintings adorn the walls of the Inn, creating a scenic depiction of the breathtaking outdoors. The floors were my favorite feature -- made of eucalyptus planks imported from Maui, the magnificent planks add a rich, earthy tone to the decor. The wood is deeply stained making for a warm patina that speaks of elegance. Guests are asked to remove their shows to preserve the historic floors. As you walk, your toes can't help but feel the wood come alive as one moves from room to room. We enjoyed an inviting fireplace with comfortable couches, and walked along the decks that wrapped around the building.
We took the stairs which lead down to the pool, a large hot tub, a barbecue grill and another comfortable sitting room. We went for a dip and it felt as if we were on top of the world, holding a drink in one hand and looking towards the amazing sunset and enjoy the Aloha spirit. Priceless.
Ahhh, the lovely memories of a wonderful getaway to Hawaii's Big Island -- alone or with the family.
Hope to see you there some day!