Welcome everyone, and thank you for the great reception my last few posts and pages have received! Today I am happy to present Day Trip II: Kona by Day and Night. I had to complete this trip backwards, arriving in Kona at night and spending the next day there. However, the timing should work out just right to allow you to do plenty during one single day.
The blue line shows the route I took to Kona. Highway 190 and Highway 200 (Saddle Road) were the two main highways I was on. As for my first Kona day trip, here are the items I tacked off, with assistance from the great family I was visiting:
10:00-12:00: Shop Big Island Style (#34)
12:00-1:00: Break for Lunch
1:00-4:30: Take a Break in Holualoa (#17), Roast Your Own Private Label (#18), A Town Built Around Coffee (#20)
4:30-8:30: Go to a Lua’au (#79)
8:30-10:30 Navigate the Saddle Road (#73)
Driving from Hilo to Kona
As shown on the map, the drive from Hilo to Kona was done taking Highway 19 to Highway 190 into Kona. You may remember I have already taken Highway 19 up to Honoka’a, an absolutely beautiful drive that takes you in and out of gulches lining the mountain. I again stopped for some of those tasty malasadas at Tex Drive-In. This time I got a dozen for the family I would be staying with. I prefer them plain, but they can be filled with chocolate, bavarian creme, apple, lemon, guava, mango, strawberry, apricot, cherry, raspberry and more. This rest of the drive takes you through Waimea (pronounced Why-may-ah), which is considered Big Island horse country. The final part has you driving up high, overlooking the ocean as you enter Kona. You go from rainforest to lava fields to plains and back to rainforest during this drive. It’s great that it’s such an interesting drive, because the speed limit never goes above 55 along these winding highways.
Vacationing on the Big Island
For anyone considering traveling here for a vacation, I thought I would take a short excursion to show one of the absolutely gorgeous vacation rentals in Kona. My host family told me that this house was less expensive than staying in a hotel along the beach for a week, when vacationing with a family of four. While you may not be able to walk to the beach from here, you could easily see the ocean and it would be less than a five minute drive to the ocean, restaurants and shopping.
Shop Big Island Style
While there are a couple of malls in Hilo and Kona with regular department stores like Macy’s and JC Penny, there are many more small name shops to find in the main districts. Our trip was concentrated on a small part of Ali’i Drive, located right on the coast of Kona. There are several places to park along Ali’i Drive; some lots charge as much as $15 while some lots charge nothing. Most of the stores we visited were very touristy (i.e. magnets, Hawaiian shirts, grass skirts, shot glasses, etc.). However there were several specialty stores for items such as jewelry, coffee and woodwork. This is a great stretch to pick up gifts and souvenirs for loved ones back home. Although most of the stores carry the same classic souvenirs, each store has something a little different than the last. We stopped for lunch at a nice restaurant with a resident cat, and sat down overlooking the ocean.
We were able to watch some of the all-day canoe race from our seating, which was possibly for the upcoming King Kamehameha Day (pronounced King Ka-may-ha-may-ah). Remember, King Kamehameha was the king who united the Hawaiian islands for the first time, the king who lived his boyhood in Waipi’o Valley. Along with the classic burgers and fish, these items were also featured on the restaurant menu: Can you find the odd ones out?
Roast Your Own Private Label
Visiting Holualoa (pronounced Huh-loo-ah-low-ah), also known as the town built around coffee, touring Kona coffee farms and roasting your own label all happen on the same 5-10 mile stretch of Mamalahoa Highway, just 15 minutes from Ali’i Drive. I’m not much of a coffee drinker (actually I never drink coffee at all), but I had the best time at Ueshima Coffee Company (UCC). This farm is located just outside of Holualoa on a gorgeous estate overlooking Kona and the Pacific Ocean. The website (which is currently being updated), advertises free coffee tastings from 9:00-4:30, and you can even roast your own Kona coffee to take home! During my stay, we left Kona around 3:00 and made it to UCC by 3:30. We called ahead because we weren’t sure if they would be shutting down for the day, but our guides Peggy and Geoff were more than accommodating in giving us a late-afternoon tour for only two people! When we arrived it was lightly raining, so unfortunately we did not tour the estate itself. While we got familiar with the company we were given multiple samples of Kona coffee. Peggy told us that they used beans not just from their estate, but from all over Kona, and each batch tastes slightly different depending on how much water the trees received, how often and how they were pruned, what fertilizer was used and how often the trees were fertilized.
We then got right down to the business of roasting our own label.
Geoff took us step by step through the whole process, giving us a detailed explanation along the way. For someone like me who knows nothing about coffee, it was a great learning experience. We first had to choose how deeply roasted we wanted our Kona coffee beans.
For all of the seasoned coffee drinkers out there, bear with me as I explain my understanding of the process for people like myself. All of the Kona coffee beans start out green, as seen in the upper left of that chart. The longer you roast them, the darker they get and the less caffeine remains (it is a common misconception that the darker roasts have more caffeine). The lighter colors tend to taste more sour, and the darkest colors more bitter. I wasn’t sure who I would give my roasted coffee beans to, so Geoff helped us pick out the safe choices that most people like, which were the City and Full City roasts. Since there were two of us, we each decided to roast one and split the beans afterward. As the beans are roasting, you move across each row and then down one. See the progression below:
Big coffee corporations normally use industrial sized roasters and precise timing to get the exact right roast, but we were taught how to roast the coffee using our senses. As you get toward the Light and Cinnamon roasts, you start to hear the coffee beans popping, like popcorn. This is due to the moisture being released from the beans. At this point you can also check the color of the beans and see that they’ve darkened. The popping slows down between the Medium and High roasts, like you’ve taken the popcorn out of the microwave. In just a few more minutes, you reach the City roast, and the beans start popping again, this time due to oil. Right around the second pop is when it’s time to take the City roasted beans out of the roaster, a quick but controlled movement to remove them from the heat as soon as possible without spraying yourself with scalding hot beans. Unfortunately there are no pops for the Full City roast, but we were told it takes about 90 seconds past City. This is where we also used our eyes to gauge how dark the beans were getting, using a wooden spoon to continually sample from the beans inside the roaster. After both beans were removed from the roaster, they were poured into a wooden bowl with wire mesh for the bottom. These were placed on top of running fans for fast cooling. As I stirred my beans over the fan, I could hear them cracking for several minutes as they cooled! The last step is to bag up the beans in our own labeled bags, for use at home or as gifts. The whole experience gets a very enthusiastic thumbs up from me. In my “101 Things to Do on the Big Island” magazine, there is a coupon for free coffee ice cream after you roast your own label. I enjoyed that much more than the coffee itself, but again I am no coffee drinker. We did the regular package, which provides two small bags of coffee beans for $35. Larger packages are available for a higher price. The experience was well worth the price to me, but if you do not want to spend money on roasting your own coffee, visits and tastes are free!
Take a Break in Holualoa
Holualoa is a great small arts community, located right down the road from Ueshima Coffee Company.
The biggest and brightest feature of Holualoa is the Kona Hotel, a bright pink building built in 1926 and still open today. Walking inside, it also looks as if nothing has been changed since 1926. The Inaba family emigrated from Japan to Hawaii where they opened the hotel in 1926, all while raising nine children! They still own and operate the hotel today. Rooms go for $37-$42/night with shared bathrooms, although I’m not sure I’d want to stay there due to the dilapidated appearance on the inside. Like the bright pink Kona hotel, other buildings in the city all seem to have a signature color, including the movie theater and the post office.
Unfortunately when we arrived in Holualoa, most of the shops were closed. I will have to return to this town when everything is open and bustling.
Go to a Lu’au
First and foremost, for anyone who does not know, a lu’au (pronounced loo-ow) is a large Hawaiian festivity full of cuisines and dances inspired from all around the South Pacific. At the luau I attended, we saw several dances from Tahiti and Samoa in particular. The lu’au we went to was at the Royal Kona Resort, also located along Ali’i Drive. The cost was $70 for all-you-can-eat food and an open bar. There are many hotels and places that host traditional lu’au’s and I can only speak for the Royal Kona Resort lu’au, but it was AMAZING. I’m sorry to say I had so much fun documenting everything that I forgot to listen to what our host was saying! So for everyone who really just likes looking at pictures, this is the section for you, because it will be lacking in text. The lu’au gates opened at 5:00 I believe, and people line up early. I’m not entirely sure how reservations worked, but there was reserved seating in the front and general seating in the back. Front seating is definitely where you want to be, so make sure you check the seating options when making reservations. Our host was very engaging, taking guests through every step of the process, from unearthing the roasted pig to each traditional dance to how to pronounce Hawaiian words. HINT: Lu’au (pronounced loo-ow) is a traditional Hawaiian festivity, filled with food, dance and celebration. Lua (pronounced loo-ah) is a toilet. So don’t tell someone you had a great time at the lua! The host made sure to congratulate all newlyweds, honeymooners and anniversary celebrants, even calling out a large wedding party where the couple was getting married the next day. He worked his way through the audience, asking guests to raise their hands if they were celebrating a 20-30 year anniversary, 30-40, 40-50, and finally found a couple celebrating their 54-year anniversary. When he asked them to give advice to the upcoming newlyweds, the woman said their marriage works because “he keeps his mouth shut.” When the host prompted the man, his response was “same thing.” I guess that translates into “don’t argue about the small things.” We were also able to sing “Happy Birthday” to many people in the audience, including one of the members in the family I was with! My only recommendation would have been more audience interaction, especially for the general seating in the back. NOW: without further ado, the videos and images!
Starting with the unearthing of the roasted pig. WARNING: This is fairly graphic toward the end:
Credit to Connie Walker for this video.
Included in the food was a basic salad with several dressing choices, coconut pudding, poi (traditional Hawaiian meal made from the corn of a taro plant), purple sweet potatoes, white rice, macaroni salad, coconut rolls, spinach and chicken, teriyaki chicken, steak and pork (glad I did not see the unearthed pig before I ate the pork). For desert there was coconut and pineapple cake. Open bar had a large selection of alcohol for mixed drinks, as well as soda and juice for the underage. Aside from sodas, I stuck with the mass-produced mai-tais (three huge punch bowls continually refilled with mai-tai). At the end of the bar line, the bartender would give your drink “a little extra fun.”
One of the first dances early into the evening:
Sunset overlooking the Pacific:
The Hula of Love (the entire dance is in the hands):
This entire dance is in the hips:
And the grand finale: Words cannot do it justice, you’ll just have to watch.
Next Up: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park