Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Big Island revisited and WOWEEE, MAUI!!!

Richard and I took a real vacation!  You know, with no real work to do.  Well, very little on his part.  A while ago he answered a call from the Hilton franchise and agreed to exchange two hours of our time for a bargain price at their hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii, The Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort.  He didn't realize at the time of his phone conversation with them that this was the same hotel to which I had won a 7-day trip back in 2002, my first time to Hawaii and our first time to Hawaii together.  We left for this current trip on January 5, 2013, and our flight back to the mainland left on Saturday, January 12.  Leaving paradise is always tough and even tougher because it takes two days.
  The picture above was taken from the balcony off our room.  This Hilton has no real beach but it does have a man-made lagoon in which they brought in sand for a little beach.  The water in the lagoon does come from the ocean.  Richard snorkeled there and was very surprised to see a moray eel.  
The resort is very spacious; the Ocean Tower where our room was located was a 7-minute walk from the entrance of the hotel.  They have two other modes of transportation around the grounds: a train and a water taxi.  But by the time you wait for either of them to arrive at the 'stop' you can walk the distance and get to where you're going ahead of them.  
This is a picture of Richard at one of the water taxi stops with a walkway bridge above him.
Here are some pictures of the Hilton's grounds.
(I believe you are able to click on these pictures to bring them up bigger if you care to see more detail.)  

Me with the lagoon and waterfall in the background. Note the WONDERFUL sunshine hugging my body!!
There sure are a LOT of turtles in Hawaii.  This one was hanging out near the lagoon catching some rays.
We spent four nights on the Big Island first then three nights on Maui.  On our first full day on the Big Island we went to a well-known spot near Kona for snorkeling.  We had found this spot back in 2002 and decided to return because it is sheltered by a natural break wall.  Richard promised me that he would stay within the break wall this time; in 2002 he ventured out pretty far and had trouble with the undercurrent when he tried to get back to shore.
After snorkeling we decided to check out a black sand beach that our concierge told us about.  This picture doesn't show the sand but does show the black (lava).  
We stumbled upon something our concierge didn't tell us about: the Keanalele grotto - a river that runs inside a cave with two openings (that we could see in the area - not sure if there were others).  
Of course Richard wasn't going to miss the chance to explore.  Someone placed a ladder that lead down to the water.  I managed to make it down a bit but the water was FREEZING so I decided to stay up and take pictures.
Here he goes, swimming to the other hole...
...and surfacing for air.
Richard took this next picture looking up through the smaller hole then went on into the cave and took more with his flash.  He said the cave went further than he was comfortable exploring without a flashlight.
When we continued along the black sand beach we came across this guy lazing in the sun.
On our second full day on the Big Island we decided to take a drive from our hotel north on highway 270.  We first stopped for a reasonably priced breakfast at a place where the locals frequent called the Seafood Bar.  After spending $65 on our first breakfast at the resort the first morning, the $20 for two of us was needed to bring down our average!  We ended up going back for dinner that same night, eating upstairs in the larger restaurant.
While eating our breakfast we noticed a couple of monarch butterflies fluttering around us.  When we asked the waitress about them she pointed to a bush bordering the road, saying that the butterflies liked the bush.  Richard confirmed that it was a milkweed plant.  We checked it out and found a bunch of caterpillars eating away.
After we left breakfast we continued on highway 270.  The northern area on the west side of the Big Island is so beautiful because it loses the barrenness of the lava fields and dry vegetation, turning into bright green fields. I promise this photo has not been enhanced. 
Highway 270 curves around the north point of the Big Island and offers a treat at its dead end on the east side, north of Hilo.  The Awini Trail and the Polou Valley begin where the road ends.  

Upon your approach this is the view with which you are greeted.
Layers of cliffside.
After talking with two young gentleman who camped at the bottom of the trail the previous night we decided to take the time to hike to the bottom.  It was about a 500ft decline and took about 35 minutes to get to the bottom and only 30 minutes to get back up because we weren't stopping as often for pictures of the breathtaking views.
This is the view you would see opposite to looking toward the water.  Pololu Valley.
There were some twists and turns...

The end of this part of the trail rewards you with the sound of the surf against the black lava stones (the trail continues on the other side of this black beach - we did not hike there).

Nathan Bennett, this is why I have started working out with you.  When I'm 20 years older I still want to be able to climb trails like this.
After working up an appetite we stopped at this great little restaurant called PAU where you order at the counter and they bring it to your table.  When we walked in the aroma of freshly baked cookies was overwhelming!  So much so that we had to order a cookie a la mode!  
Our goal for the day's drive was to end up at the active volcano, Kilauea, to see the infamous glow.  This first picture is of the setting sun-kissed clouds falling behind a mountain.  I saw this view when I decided I needed my Michigan coat because it was COLD up where we were viewing the volcano. 
It was still pretty light outside when we arrived at the viewing area. You can see the size of the caldera although this picture is deceiving.  We were much farther back; I was using a zoom. 

As it got darker the glow became more visible.  The viewing area is located such that you don't actually see the lava, only the light of the glow against the 'steam.'  
Wow!  It's amazing to me that I've visited an active volcano!
Our third full day started with a two-hour sales pitch from Hilton to which we were able to say "no."  We decided to just hang around our hotel; Richard went snorkeling in the lagoon and I chilled on the 'beach.'  We had a great dining experience at Roy's that night.  Richard sure likes his beef short ribs!
And his dessert!
The Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort owns a collection of artwork and artifacts (mostly of an Asian flavor) that they display along an airy walkway from the main lobby all the way to the Ocean Tower where our room was located.  Remember, it's a 7-minute walk so there are LOTS of pieces to entertain on the walk.  Here are just a few of them.  I'll start with one of my favorite pieces.  Every time I saw this I thought how nice it would be to have that many arms and hands!  And I like the dancing nature of the piece.
But in case four hands isn't enough, check this one out.

More artwork for your eyes.  This was Richard's favorite.
Note the placement of stones in this next shot.  People would put them there to be funny and the hotel workers would remove them only to start over the next day.
This guy didn't look too happy.  Maybe Richard's 'high-five' will put him in a better mood.
The detail in the wood carving pieces was amazing.  

The next day it was time to head to Maui.  Aw, shucks.  :-)  Quaint is the word I would use to describe the airport terminal.
I wasn't sure but when I saw this plane my guess was that this was the baby that would take us to Paradise, Chapter 2.  And I was, ugh, correct.  Fortunately, it wasn't choppy until the last 10 minutes so I was able to hold it together.  "Horizon.  Keep looking at the horizon, Karen!"  Definitely the smallest plane I've been on.  It seated nine plus the two (extremely friendly) pilots.
This little guy was waiting with us at the terminal, lapping up something someone had spilled probably getting quite a sugar buzz.  What a striking color!
It's so relaxed in Hawaii - they have putt putt at the terminal for biding time while waiting.
Pilot #2 is letting us know where the barf bags are.  It's funny that they have to give all the same instructions as they do on the big planes.
Not sure I like or understand the name they have given this plane.  
The views were spectacular!  I like flying on smaller planes because you don't go as high as on the bigger ones so it allows you to see more of the land and seascapes.
Bye-bye Big Island!
Since they distribute the passengers by weight, Richard was sitting diagonal behind me.
The horseshoe-shaped island you see is Molokini Island.  It is a preserve.  There are snorkel and scuba boats that can take you out there that cannot dock; they have to stay a certain distance and I believe it is because of the coral.  The island you see in the distance is Koho 'Olawe.  It is uninhabited and was used as a bombing range by the US during WWII.  It can only be used by natives for their cultural purposes.  
Here is Koho 'Olawe from another angle.
Richard took the next two pictures from his side of the plane.  This is a view of the hotel we were on our way to on Maui, Makena Beach and Golf Resort.  Now THAT'S a beach!!

Maui was incredibly awesome!  We both fell in love with the island.  I'll start with pictures from our hotel and the grounds.  Here is a shot from the beach.  It was a short walk compared to the walks at the Waikoloa Village on the Big Island.
This canoe greets you in the lobby.

Very inviting lobby.
These next pictures were taken inside the 'O' grounds, inside the 'U' of the hotel, as seen from the arial above.

Zen stone sculptures lined the walkways.
Like a number of hotels I've stayed at, Makena keeps carp in their landscaped ponds.  The breakfast restaurant will give the children fish food with which to feed the fish.
In case you find yourself staying at Makena, this is a very nice room to ask for.
This was our room.  You can see through the doorwall the fantastic view.  It was so nice to keep the screen open all night.  Maui is a bit windier than the west side of the Big Island so when we also kept the entrance door to the room open there was a refreshing wind that swept through the room.
And this was one view from the balcony of our room.

Breakfast was included and was a very plentiful buffet including a chef cooking eggs to order.  We couldn't see the ocean from the restaurant seating but there was still water to look at and nice landscaping.  Oh, and plenty of birds to help clean the crumbs!
More views of out and about the hotel.
Richard found this guy while digging around in the sand.  He's really in there!
Evening on the beach.

For the first night's dinner we decided on Mama's Fish House, a very well-known restaurant on the north side of the island.  Thank you to friends Veronica and Alex for pointing out this gem.  (They were also responsible for our choice of hotel!  We're going to use them for references more often!)
I unfortunately didn't take my good camera into the restaurant.  We were there after the sun went down so didn't get the full experience as it sits on a beach.
This was the walkway leading into the restaurant.
Intimate ambiance.  I know these pictures don't capture much of the setting but it's all I have from my phone camera.  :-(
In the bathroom at Big Mama's hung framed newsprint from the 1938 earthquake experienced in Hawaii.
I took long walks around the area of the hotel.  Some parts of my walks took me through streets of private homes and some through public land.  Here are some pictures.  Of course I had to get pictures of the beautiful flowers.
This church was built in 1832.  Wowee, Maui!  I love the lava stone wall in front.
The private homes were pretty extravagant.  I love the gate shown here.
Of course if you're in Hawaii during whale-watching season you MUST go.  Here are some of the pictures I took of our experience.  We were so fortunate to see whales breaching. I kept my camera on continuous shoot which enabled me to get a couple good shots.  First I start with the boat that took us out.
It was impossible to predict the breaches or where they would be so this series starts a bit off center.
On our last evening on Maui we ate at Merriman's restaurant, again on the water.  It's also an Inn and first we visited the bar that faces the water and listened to some Hawaiian music.
Once we were inside there was more music.  This husband and wife duo played their own style of folk music.  The instrument this woman is playing is called a koto.  It is Japanese in origin.
Hawaiian cuisine does not disappoint.  
I opted for the scallops.
Now that we're on the subject of food, we found that there is a funny staple in the Hawaiin diet.  Spam.  Yes, Spam.  Here is an offering at McDonald's.

On our last day on Maui we experienced a little rain.  And a rainbow!
We were also treated to quite a show right off the balcony of our room.  There was a pod of whales playing not too far from the shore.  We were planning on a nice walk before we left the hotel but decided this was much more entertaining.
People were stand-up boarding out to the pod to join the kayakers and other boats vying for an eyeful.  Thank you, Maui whales for such a wonderful good-bye!
What could be more fitting than to end a blog post about a trip to Hawaii with pictures of the most romantic sunsets.  Wish we could say we saw the green flash but I guess that will have to wait until next time because there will definitely be a next time.