Tuesday, October 28, 2008

aaaaahloha....just what the doctor ordered

Yeah, I've been slackardly in my posting of late. I'll admit it. I've been slackardly in many things actually. But, now it's back to the grind.

Last Saturday, the 18th, we left for a long-awaited vacation. We'd originally planned to vacation last February in Maui. We were going to ride our bikes up Haleakala and to Hana and a bunch of other cool stuff. But, it got postponed, because the team I was working in was planning a major launch of our beta site and we had a ton of work to do before migrating all the users (100 million+) to the new site. Then, our team got all re-orged and that project was canceled. So, I found myself looking for a new home. After Kern, I found a new team and finally got settled in an area of the company. Then, the Broken Hip incident came down, which sidelined all plans for a while. Previous to that, we'd been in discussions with a mountain bike tour operator in Argentina about doing an October tour. But, that was obviously off the table after June. So, that is the long story of our long-awaited "consolation vacation" to the Big Island of Hawaii. Not that Hawaii is a bad fall-back plan!

The plan was to enjoy ample time in the water - be it swimming, snorkeling or surfing. And, we wanted to do a fair bit of easy walking, too, and maybe spend a little time in the car touring the island (but not too much). We basically left with no more plan than that, and hadn't even read a guidebook.

Saturday, the 18th, we arrived in Kona, HI late morning, picked up our rental car and drove south to find our condo. We located the complex and noted that Snorkel Bob's was practically right next door. So, we stopped in and rented some gear for the week. Then, we found a spot for a light lunch in downtown and headed off to shop for some provisions. We loaded up on toiletries that did not meet the 3 oz. rule as well as some healthy breakfast and lunch goodies for the week. We checked into the condo and got settled, and I spent the afternoon with my nose in a guidebook plotting the week. I struggled to stay awake through dinner, which was a tasty taro crepe place.

Sunday, we started the day at Lava Java, which we knew from Cathy to be a reputable place to pick up a morning brew. The Kona coffee was excellent, and we also had one of their cinnamon rolls, which was described by the tour book as "big enough to serve as a flotation device". I would later regret trying one on our first day, as it became a regular occurrence through the week. We attempted our first snorkeling adventure on Sunday. First we needed to find a small dry sack, since the rental car key had been permanently attached to the clicker, so the old safety-pin-key-to-swimsuit method would not work. We located something suitable and headed off to the beach at the end of the Old Airport for our snorkel. There was a bay there that was deemed OK for snorkeling, but better for diving. It was also extremely surgey with surf when we were there. Another bay a half mile north was supposedly great for snorkeling. It was inaccessible from the north, since it was on a private school land. The guide book directed us to take a short walk along the "lava strewn shore" to access it from the south. Well, 30 minutes of what could only be described as "bouldering" across a lava field (Rick with cane in tow), we finally saw the bay in question, completely packed with little kids on flotation devices and still 10 minutes of bouldering to get there. We cut our losses and turned back. Rick was a super-cranky customer at that point. We headed back south of town to the "sure thing" snorkel spot at Kahaluu Bay. It was calm and teeming with fish and turtles. Though, the corral reef was almost completely demolished by the tourists walking on the bottom with fins. So sad. But, a great snorkel nonetheless. Sunday evening was dinner at Kona Inn featuring decadent seafood and an excellent sunset.

Monday, we went on a coffee tour of the region south of Kona in the highlands. We stopped at Greenwell and Fike Farms. We had tastings and tours at each spot. After getting all buzzed up on coffee, we headed a bit further south to Puuhonua O Honaunau - or more simply the Place of Refuge. We checked the park and took pictures of some basking turtles. Then, more importantly, we checked out Honaunau Bay for the snorkeling. It was a beautiful reef in great condition. There were a few less fish than at Kahaluu Bay, but the reef was a great spot with a good variation of depths for lingering at the surface or doing some deeper dives. We arrived back in Kailua-Kona starved and headed to Kona Brewing Company for a very late lunch. It was great! We had just veggies for dinner.

Tuesday we headed out early for a trip to see the Volcanoes National Park. We saw the Halema'uma'u crater spewing ash and gas. We also looked at some of the prior eruption spots and walked through a bit of cloud forest to the Thurston lava tube. We opted out of a drive to where the lava was spilling into the ocean, because it was another 60 miles to the southeast and would require walking a mile over lava fields in the dark - not to mention a 150ish mile drive home after dark on sketchy highways. It was a good day with lots of driving and lots of walking and we were tired.

Wednesday, we bummed around Kailua-Kona and mostly rested. We did some swimming and sunning at the beach right by our condo. We also hit a taco place that was recommended in the guide book. We'd been trying fruitlessly to find it open. Well, we regretted actually catching them open, because it was the worst Mexican food I've ever had. I guess we're spoiled here in CA. The salsa seemed like nothing more than canned tomatoes blended. Even a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes would have greatly improved its condition. Fortunately, the day ended on a spectacular note with a beautiful sunset just outside our condo.

Thursday, we finally caved and plunked down some cash for a boat ride to Kealakua Bay for what is supposed to be the best snorkeling on the island. There were 4 options for arriving at the reef:
1. a 4 mile, 1300 ft. elevation change hike each way to the Captain Cook memorial on the north end of the bay where the reef is.
2. Drive to the south end of the bay and swim 1.5 miles across to the north end of the bay.
3. Rent a kayak from a sanctioned dealer on the highway, strap it to the rental car and drive to the south end of the bay for a 1.5 mile paddle to the north end of the bay.
4. Pay for a boat to take you to the north end of the bay.

Normally, Option 1 would have been a good pick for us. But, given the circumstances, we chose option 4. The boat ride was nice. They trolled for fish out and back and we caught 2 Ono. There was a videographer that took underwater video on board and then did an ecology lesson on the way back. The snorkeling was good - but probably comparable to the Place of Refuge. A lot of the fish left the reef when an earthquake knocked a lot of boulders into the bay a couple years ago. So, it's not quite back to its former glory. We had a great swim and I ended the day with a wicked sunburn. I guess 2ish hours in peak sun did it.

Friday, we toured the north part of the island. We started with a drive across Saddle Road to the bast of Mauna Kea. We drove up to the 9K foot mark at the Onozuka space center and checked out a small telescope looking at the sun and a sanctuary for silver sword. From a lookout, we could see the crater eruption at Mauna Loa and also the steam coming from where the vent is releasing lava into the ocean. The continuation of Saddle Road took us to Hilo and lunch. After lunch, we headed north and had a stop at Akaka Falls. It was one of the highlights of the trip. There was a walk through a truly lush jungle to the falls that had tons of flora to observe. We had a home made ice cream stop in town and then continued on around the north part of the island. We passed through the ranch lands of Kohala/Waimea in the north that looked like the area around Santa Barbara. One last stop took us to Anaehoomalu (A) Bay for an attempted snorkel. There was a storm coming in and the winds made it too turbid to see much of anything. So, we stripped of the gear and had a nice swim in the sandy part of the beach before heading back home. The sunset on the drive back to Kailua-Kona was the best of the week - a crazy light show of colors in the sky.

Saturday we headed to Kahaluu Bay for one last snorkel before turning in the gear. The weather was iffy, so it wasn't as clear as the first time we visited. But, we must have seen 30 turtles during our 1.5 hour swim. It was great! After that, we turned in our gear and spent the afternoon resting, reading and packing up our stuff. We ended with dinner at Lava Java (a first) and enjoyed some beef raised on the island in the form of hamburgers. They were too big to eat, so we should have shared one. Such decadence!

There's not much to say about Sunday. We had a leisurely morning and enjoyed our last Kona coffee and cinnamon roll at Lava Java before heading to the airport to fly home. I enjoyed our visit to the Big Island. I hope we can return someday to enjoy a couple of the more remote hiking things we were unable to do this time.


bbElf (a.k.a. panda) said...

That sounds really nice and relaxing. :) Any other pics of the reefs?

chatterbox said...

What, you mean you'd rather see a tropical fish than a sarah-fish?
Actually, we've been going through the pics, which seem pretty much universally crappy. Seems the pull-up viewfinder was not centering the subject. But, we have one eel and one of a fish that I will try to post.

Anonymous said...

that diving picture is so cool!

Angela said...

Fun! I'm glad you were finally able to get away to such a beautiful place.

alicat said...

you had me at the buzzed on coffee...i haven't had a sip in almost 15 weeks now with the little peanut here...
awesome sounding trip!

CyclistRick said...

We will have to do a similar tropical water trip at a time when I have fully functional limbs.

And next time I will know to re-slather you with the sunblock on a frequent basis.

Ready for another cinnamon roll?

chatterbox said...

panda - more pics coming shortly!

flandria & angela - thanks!

alicat - you are so disciplined! I bet the peanut is getting beyond peanut size now!

rick - yes, more slathering, for sure.