Tales of a wandering lesbian

The Big Island

The Big Island of Hawaii is my favorite island so far.  It’s striking – looking from the beach up over the high desert or the jungle to the top of the Mauna Kea observatory.  From the blast of flowery, hot air that hits me in the face when I step off the plane, to the birds that wake me in the morning, I enjoy being here.

Yesterday was a good sampler day.  We hit a beach for some sun and boogie boarding, watched whales throwing themselves into the air, had lunch in an old-school café, and looked over cliffs onto a stunning black-sand beach.

I’m staying with my parents on the Kona side of the island.  We’ve been coming here for over 15 years.  At this point, it really does feel like a home away from home.  This 3-week trip is the longest time I’ve spent in the island.  It’s a long time.  Still it’s nice to feel like I can pass on activities one day without fear of missing out.  I know we’ll go snorkeling more than once, and the beaches are always there.

After a breakfast of papaya and apple bananas from the local farmer’s market, yesterday’s Hawaiipalooza started with a trip to Hapuna State Park.  This beach, about 30 miles north of Kailua-Kona (the big city and airport on this side of the island), is awesome.  The beach itself is about half a mile long, and super wide.  There’s plenty of parking up top and a short walk to the ultra-fine white sand.  There are bathrooms, showers, covered picnic areas and a burger shack just up from the beach.  But that’s not the important part.

Hapuna State Park

Hapuna is gorgeous.  The sand runs up from the turquoise water to the green bushes that grow along the coastline.  (Snorkling tip:  The leaves of the beach naupaka plant, which grows along a lot of the beaches, can be crushed and wiped on the inside snorkel masks to cut down on fogging.  It’s at least as effective as spitting.)  The bay is protected by lava outcroppings on either side that send the incoming waves crashing into the air.

Hapuna waves

Some people come for the swimming and snorkeling, but on wavy days they come for the boogie boarding.  Depending on the size of the waves and the strength of the current (marked on beach signs), the waves range from gentle for beginners, to expert only.

The past couple of days have been red flag days, meaning there’s the possibility of high surf.  With our little, drugstore boggie boards, we hit the waves until the lifeguard started announcing “advanced body surfers only” from her bullhorn.  It was pretty much great.  Dad ended up snapping a board, and I laughed like a little girl as the waves sailed me through the air and then brought me bouncing down into the surf – over and over again.

Serious boogie boarders - serious

Yup, we were cool.

After a morning of such rigorous activity, we were pretty much starving.  There’s something about a combination of sun, sand and surf that makes me ravenous.

One of our favorite places on the island is the town of Hawi.  Situated in North Kohala, Hawi is a super-charming look at old Hawaii.  For sports buffs, it’s also the turnaround for the bike portion of the Ironman.  We go there to browse the shops (there’s a great crystal shop there), eat ice cream on the main strip, and for lunch at the Bamboo Restaurant & Gallery.

Bamboo Restaurant & Gallery

The place was a hotel at the turn of the last century, and has a colorful history right out of the old west, starring horses, traveling workers and “ladies of the night”.

Bamboo specials

The food is great and the service is delightful.  My favorite is the Hawaiian veggie stir-fry.  I get it with tofu, Thai coconut sauce, and this year, whole wheat noodles.

Hawaiian stir fry at the Bamboo

I’m not much of a fan for fried tofu, but this stuff was perfect.  Fresh and slightly crispy, it had none of the sogginess that plagues badly done tofu.

Yesterday, the table also hosted a kalua pig (cooked in a pit, not with the liqueur) sandwich with pineapple slaw and waffle-cut fries, a mon chong fish-plate, and a quesadilla.

Kalua pig sandwich at the Bamboo Mon Chong plate at the Bamboo Quesadilla at the Bamboo

The menu provides tons of options – almost everything can be done with pork, chicken, fish or tofu – and the food itself is really tasty.

Directly across the street, is the Kohala Coffee Mill, a little complex that serves all manor of treats.

Kohala Coffee Mill

You can get Kona coffee and mac-nut ice cream at the parlor downstairs, or fudge samples and shave ice – the real kind that they shave right in front of you – upstairs.

Shaving of the ice

I need to have at least one ginormous shave ice during my trip to the island.  Yesterday was the day.  My favorite combo is two-flavor pina colada and peach.  The more traditional shops serve it with either ice cream or red beans in the bottom of the paper cone.  I like mine with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Shave ice - yummy

Tasty.  The flavoring melts down to make a slushy, sugary smoothie in the bottom that can be sucked out with a straw.  Yummy.

Just up from Hawi is the village of Kapa’au, and the statue of Kamehameha the Great.

King K

The statue has a fantastical history, including the shipwreck and salvage that brought the statue here instead of Honolulu, it’s original destination.

From there, we headed up to the end of the road – literally.  The road through Hawi rings the island, except for the stretch where the Kohala mountains stretch up in great cliffs, and empty their rain-forests into the ocean.


The Pololu lookout provides exceptional views of the forest, cliffs and black-sand beach.

A trail at the end of the road leads down to the beautiful – and rugged – beach and a beautifully peacefully tree-covered area where you can listen to the crashing waves, and feel completely nestled into the island.  Yesterday we stayed at the top and watched as triumphant hikers emerged from the trailhead, grinning and sweating.

The island is pretty amazing.  Eleven of the world’s fifteen climate types can be found on the island.  Yesterday’s hour drive from Kohala to the Kona coast took us from dense rain forest that looked like it could be South America, and across high-desert that could put you in southern Idaho.  And then there’s the lava.  Great stretches of lava look like they’ve tumbled out of the earth yesterday, covering swaths of land in a black, rich blanket.  People create graffiti using pieces of coral, stark white on the lava background.  The island is simply beautiful.

Last night, after a long day of adventures, we settled in for dinner on the patio – the lanai.  Looking out over the lava and the golf courses, up into the hills around Mauna Kea and its observatories, we ate sushi, sweet potato pie, and haupia (coconut) cake.  We relived the day – and planned the next set of adventures.

Haupia and Sweet Potato

Tomorrow we’re heading around the island to Hilo and the volcano.  To the jungles and waterfalls.  And I’m sure to more food.  Always more food.

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January 29, 2010   2 Comments