Monday, April 4, 2011

Merry Monarch Hula Festival in Hilo Hawaii

The week of the Merrie Monarch Hula Festival  starts on Easter day, April 24, in Hilo, Hawaii.  From April 24 to 30, Hilo showcases Hula with  daily events at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, Hawaii Naniloa Volcanoes Resort, and ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center. Arts and crafts fairs show off Hawaiian art around the town.

The Music festival, Ho'olaulea, at the Civic Auditorium on Easter day is our favorite event. It showcases hula performed by dancers and musicians from the Big Island including popular and traditional hula songs.  On Wednesday night is the free Hula exhibition, Ho’ike, showcasing hula and dance in the  Edith Kanaka'ole Multipurpose Stadium. The event is worth the long wait in line to get a view of the pageantry and feel the excitement of the Merrie Monarch festival.  The hula competitions are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, but if you don’t have a ticket you can watch the performances live on KITV or on the internet at KITV’s web site.  Saturday is the colorful Merrie Monarch parade through downtown Hilo.

If you can make it to Hilo for even part of the week, you will not be disappointed and may be surprised at the depth and intensity of traditional Hawaiian Hula being preserved by the Merrie Monarch festival. Here is a calendar with all the Merrie Monarch events, which is being updated as new information becomes available.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hilo Hawaii Tropical Rainforest Zoo

If you get a chance to visit Hilo on the east side of the Big Island, then consider visiting the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens. The 12 acres of gardens are the only tropical rainforest zoo in the United States, located in a forested area which borders Hilo and the Puna districts.

Hilo’s zoo is the perfect place to spend a couple of hours strolling along the paths lined with flowers, palm trees, bamboo and tropical plants.  Along the way there are cages of brightly covered birds, lilly ponds, peacocks strutting free. It is home to over 80 animal species including the Hawaiian State bird, Nene.

The most magnificent resident is Namaste – a white Bengal tiger from India. He lives in a huge enclosure and is usually napping near the fence line with one eye on his visitors. You can watch the tiger feeding every day at 3:30PM.

The zoo is a great place for kids to have fun. There are interesting displays like the huge butterfly cage that you can walk through. On Saturday’s from 1:30-2:30 a petting zoo is open for the children.

There are benches to rest, many in the shade, and picnic tables if you want to bring lunch or a snack. You can rent a stroller and there is a a gift shop at the front entrance.

The Pana'ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens is open 9am-4pm daily (except Christmas and New Year’s Day) and entrance and parking are free.

The Zoo is located on the outskirts of Hilo Town at 800 Stainback Highway. From Hilo, take Highway 11 (Hawaii Belt Road) South towards Volcano. About two and one half miles past Prince Kuhio Shopping Plaza look for the "ZOO" sign on a lava rock wall, just after "Kulani 19." Turn right on Mamaki.

Bring water and sunscreen and a camera.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mark Twain in Waiohinu on the Big Island of Hawaii

Mark Twain visited the island of Hawaii in 1866 after touring other Hawaiian islands known then as the “Sandwich Islands”.

Twain landed at the village of Waiohinu, just west of Na’alehu in the district of Kau as a part of his trek to the active Volcano on the Big Island. There are many stories about his visit as well as his own writings for the Sacramento Union newspaper about the islands.

Twain’s trip to Waiohinu has been memorialized in the South Point area in Mark Twain Street, Mark Twain Square, the residential area of Mark Twain Estates, and the historic Monkey Pod tree. The story goes that Twain spent the night in Waiohinu at the home of Captain Charles Spencer who later became Minister of the Interior under King Kalakaua. Twain is credited for planting a monkey pod tree on the property in June 1866, though no one seems to know why. The tree was destroyed by high winds in 1957, but was re-grown from a sprout of the original tree.

The property in Waiohinu, named Mark Twain Square, is owned privately but you can stop at the historic site marker to admire the tree and from his description easily imagine what the area was like when Twain arrived in 1866.

“We went ashore in the first boat and landed in the midst of a black, rough, lava solitude, and got horses and started to Waiohinu, six miles distant. The road was good, and our surroundings fast improved. We were soon among green groves and flowers and occasional plains of grass. There are a dozen houses at Waiohinu, and they have got sound roofs, which is well, because the place is tolerably high upon the mountain side and it rains there pretty much all the time during September. The name Waiohinu means "sparkling water," and refers to a beautiful mountain stream there.

A sugar plantation has been started at Waiohinu, and 150 acres planted, a year ago, but the altitude ranges from 1,800 to 2,500 feet above sea level, and it is thought it will take another year for the cane to mature.”

We had an abundance of mangoes, papaias and bananas here, but the pride of the islands, the most delicious fruit known to men, cherimoya, was not in season. It has a soft pulp, like a pawpaw, and is eaten with a spoon. The papaia looks like a small squash, and tastes like a pawpaw.

In this rainy spot trees and flowers flourish luxuriantly, and three of those trees - two mangoes and an orange - will live in my memory as the greenest, freshest and most beautiful I ever saw - and withal, the stateliest and most graceful. One of those mangoes stood in the middle of a large grassy yard, lord of the domain and incorruptible sentinel against the sunshine. When one passed within the compass of its broad arms and its impenetrable foliage he was safe from the pitiless glare of the sun - the protecting shade fell everywhere like a somber darkness.”

If you want to stay in the area longer, there are Bed and Breakfast's nearby like the 8 acre Macadamia Meadows Farm near Mark Twain Square and the Hobbit House.

Location: Mark Twain's Monkey Pod tree is located on Highway 11 between mile marker 65 and 66 next to Waiohinu Park.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Swimming the Kona Ironman Route

One of our favorite places to swim in Kona Hawaii is off the Kona Kailua pier. The small beach on the south side of the pier is the starting place of the annual Kona World Ironman Championships. Because of the popularity of the Ironman race and the year-round athletes that train in the Kona area, the route is usually crowded with athletes doing their daily workouts from the beach to the buoys and back.

The route is marked with buoys along the way so you can follow them for a short or long distance swim. The buoys are known locally and named for their round trip distances, so the 1/4 mile buoy is really only 1/8th a mile from the beach. There is a string of small buoys close to shore attached by a rope line from the beach to the 1/4 mile buoy (located 1/8th of mile from the beach). It is best to stay on the shore side of the rope line to avoid the boats using the pier to load and unload passengers to the Kona submarine, para-sail, and cruise ships.
After the 1/4 mile buoy, there is a 1/2 mile buoy, which is in front of the Kona Inn restaurant.

Currently the 3/4 mile buoy is missing, so the next one is the 1.2 mile buoy which is located in front of the Kona Resort. The swim to this buoy and back to the beach is 1.2 miles. You can’t see the 1.2 mile buoy from the 1/4 mile buoy, so if you want to swim to it, head towards the Kona Resort, making sure not to get too close to lava shoreline. The 1.2 mile buoy is the half-way mark of the Iron man swim. Beyond the 1.2 mile buoy there is an unmarked white buoy at the 2.4 mile mark (the turn-around point for the Ironman's 2.4 mile swim portion of the race), but we have yet to swim out that far to confirm it.

Since we aren’t hard-core swimmers, we snorkel along the route to take in the colorful reef fish below the swimmers. There is a turtle that hangs out at the 1/4 mile buoy. If you are lucky you will run into a pod of dolphins playing with the swimmers or schools of colorful fish. Depending upon when you go, you may see water aerobic groups, scuba divers, standup paddlers, kayaks, and of course swimmers blasting past at Olympic speeds.

If the Ironman route seems daunting, you can snorkel on the other side of the Kailua pier, in front of the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. There is a larger beach and calm cove with great snorkeling at the mouth of the cove next to the Ahu’ena Heiau (temple) across from the pier. We prefer this area when we are with kids, non-swimmers, or if the surf is too rough for us to feel comfortable snorkeling the Ironman route.

There are no lifeguards at the beach, so look up frequently to make sure you aren’t getting to close to the shore or heading out to sea toward an oncoming boat, jetski, paddler, or fast moving swimmer. Getting too close to shore could result in crashing against treacherous black lava. If you aren’t up to the swim, you can still enjoy the scene from the Kailua Kona seawall above the  beach.

Kailua Kona pier is located on Ali'i Drive in front of the King Kamehamameha Kona Beach Hotel. You can park for a fee at the hotel or behind Ali'i Drive at one of the public parking areas.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Kona COSTCO saves big money on a vacation to the Big Island

A vacation to the remote island of Hawaii includes spending extra on food, drinks, and gasoline which all have to be flown in or shipped to the island.One way to save money is to buy your food, gas, and Hawaiian gifts from COSTCO. There is only one COSTCO on the Big Island and it is located between the Kona airport and Kailua-Kona town. The prices are cheaper than most of the stores and restaurants on the island and they carry a large selection of local products and gift items.

Depending on the season, you can find Hawaii grown pineapples, papayas, mushrooms, broccoli, lettuce, avocados, tomatoes, and ginger. So don’t miss the huge cold-room with fresh produce tucked away in the back of the store next to the bakery.  Other local Hawaii foods are available in the deli and bakery like poi, lau lau, taro bread, POG, fresh poke, Volcano wine, and local brewed Kona beer.  Depending on the luck of the local fishermen, you can find fresh caught ahi (tuna), mahi mahi, and ono as well as sashimi platters in the refrigerated counters.

Even if you are staying in a hotel without a kitchen, a trip to COSTCO will save you on snacks, drinks, water, and prepared meals.  Their food court serves pizza, hotdogs, wraps, chicken and beef bakes, and ice cream drinks.  On weekends, food demonstrators set up so many booths with food samples that locals call it a free buffet meal.

If you are looking for something to take  to those not lucky enough to be with you in Hawaii, COSCO has a large selection of Hawaii themed gifts and souvenirs.  At the front of the store they have a huge area dedicated to gift boxes of Hawaii chocolates, mac nuts, cookies, and snacks.  In the coffee section, you can find Kona coffee and in the center area you can find Hawaiian kids books, Hawaii history books and novels, Hawaiian music and moviess, and Aloha shirts.  If you don’t want to lug gifts back in your suitcase, you can fill Hawaii-labeled priority- mail flat rate boxes available from the Kona post office with goodies and send them back to the mainland.

COSCO's gas station has the cheapest gas on the island, so you can fill your rental car after driving around the island or before returning it to the airport, to save.

And if you need towels, beach chairs, bathing suits, camera supplies, memory sticks, batteries, camping equipment, surf or paddle boards, then COSCO is usually the cheapest place to find it. Wal-mart and Target are other stores on the island that have local items at reduced prices.

You have to be a member or join to shop at COSTCO. The store is tucked away above the Queen Kaahumanu Highway between the Kona airport and Kailua-Kona town. Turn on to Hina Lina Street and drive up to Maiau Street; turn right and follow the road until it veers to the right and you will see the large COSCO parking lot below on the left hand side.
The hours are Monday to Friday 10AM to 8:30PM (Business Member hours 10-11AM), Saturday 9:30AM to 6PM, and Sunday 10AM to 6PM.  The gas station opens at 6AM daily.

Kona COSTCO has an ATM, 1 hour photo service, bakery, food court, deli, fresh meat and produce depts, hearing aid center, optometrist and optical department, pharmacy, inkjet cartridge refill, gas station, and tire service center.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Indian Food in Kona

Indian food is uncommon in Hawaii, so the recently opened Shivalik Indian Cuisine  in Kailua Kona Village stands out among the other Asian, Hawaiian, and American restaurants  in the Kona area.  But we were more enticed by the restaurant’s excellent location, upstairs with a commanding view of Kailua Bay, than its Indian food.

Shivalik has as an extensive menu of vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indian foods including popular Indian favorites from the tandoor (clay oven cooked), paneer (Indian cheese), dal (lentils), breads, samosas, pakoras, curries, and specialty deserts ranging in price from $12.50 to $21.95. For those that are not into Indian food, the menu includes Asian and American selections.

Owners Naresh and Sunita Chand opened their first Shivalik restaurant on the island of Kauai in the Waipouli Town Center, before expanding to Kona on the Big Island. The Chands, originally from New Delhi, India, owned a restaurant in Michigan before they moved to Hawaii to start a chain of restaurants.

If you're in a hurry, you may want to go with the daily lunch buffet, available from 11AM to 3PM.  We opted for the buffet so we could sample a variety of the dishes and to shorten the wait. The all-you-can-eat selection included vegetarian curries, chicken, rice, and breads. The food was great, but not as spicy as we are like. The $15.95 price tag is steep for lunch, but the view is really fantastic.

Shivalik Indian Cuisine is located above Whaler’s General Store in the Kona Square building on Ali’I Drive and open daily from 11AM to 3PM for lunch and from 5PM to 9:30PM for dinner. They don’t have a liquor license yet, but you can bring your own bottle for no fee. We parked across the street at the King Kamehameha Beach hotel and there is also parking at the Firestone center on Kuakini Hwy.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Volcano Winery on the Big Island

If you like wine, you might be surprised to know that the Big Island has a winery located near Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The Volcano Winery has managed to grow grapes in harsh lava fields and produce wine in one of the most remote places on earth for over 20 years.

Volcano Winery was started in 1986 by retired Oahu veterinarian, Lynn “Doc” McKinney. He planted Symphony grape vines in the lava to take advantage of Volcano’s climate and high altitude (4000 ft) which has dry and cool weather similar to Napa Valley in California. The Symphony grape is a hybrid of the Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache gris grapes developed at UC Davis, California. Doc McKinney experimented with different Hawaiian fruit and grape blends and expanded the vineyard to 14 acres. In 1993, Volcano Winery was opened to the public with a selection of unique Hawaiian wines incorporating grapes and tropical fruits. McKinney and his wife were forced to sell the winery after he was in an accident, but he remains a consultant to the winery.

In 1999, Delwin Bothof, who runs a high-tech media company in Summit, N.J., purchased the winery. His son, Scott Bothof,learned about wine-making from Doc McKinney and is the now the winery’s General Manager. Scott has continued production of the winery’s unusual wines made of tropical fruits like their Guava Chablis and Volcano Blush (made of jaboticaba berries blended with grapes).They have created an after-dinner sweet Macadamia Nut Honey Wine made from the blossoms of the Macadamia Nut tree. And they produce traditional wines made with the white Symphony grapes.

Though the wine is made on the premise, there are no tours available. But a store on the property is open for free wine tasting every day from 10AM to 5:30PM and the staff is friendly and the view picturesque.

Volcano Winery is located 30 miles from Hilo in the town of Volcano.
From Highway 11, turn at the 30-mile marker onto Pii Mauna Drive.
The winery is located next to the Volcano golf course at the end of the road.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Hilo’s Big Island Candies Factory and Store

Our favorite place to buy omiyage (housewarming, holiday, and thank you gifts) is at Big Island Candies in Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii.  When you enter the store, you are greeted with a smile and a sample of one of their shortbread chocolate-dipped cookies and nutty chocolates and offered Kona coffee.  As we slowly savor the treats, we love to wander around the store and take in the brightly colored decorations.

The decorations reflect the season and are changed every few weeks to reflect the season and new holiday. Along one side of the store are huge windows where you can watch factory workers carefully dipping cookies into vats of chocolate.

One of the big attractions of Big Island Candies products is the box wrapping.  They have created special gifts by using brightly colored wrapping paper, boxes and special containers.  You can buy their products without the special wrapping, but if you want to offer a gift that really stands out, they have created the perfect combination of beauty on the outside and delicious on the inside.

Big Island Candies was founded in 1977 by Allan Ikaiwa to make cookies and candies from products grown on the Big Island, like macadamia nuts, coffee, and eggs.  All the candies and cookies are made at the factory in Hilo and sold in the gift shop or online where they are shipped worldwide.  They have come up with some great candies in addition to their famous chocolate dipped short bread like corn chips bars, chocolate covered ika (dried squid), red chili toffee, guava cookies, green tea shortbread, brownies, truffles, and more.

We became particularly fond of Big Island Candies when we were searching for something special to send our Japanese friends.  Cookies from Big Island Candies are served as special treats on JAL and other Japanese airlines, so they have a high-end reputation in Japan. The presentation of a gift in Japan is very important and so Big Island Candies cookies combination of an exclusive reputation and fantastic wrapping allowed us to make a big impression on some people that we wanted to impress in Japan.  Another unique distinction of their product  is that each cookie and chocolate is individually wrapped which is a common practice for high-end cookies in Asia.

We admit, sometimes we just go to the Big Island Candies store (after a great lunch at our favorite Don’s Grill located at the other end of Hinano Street – across from the credit union), just to get a tasty treat and enjoy the upbeat displays.  In addition to the free samples, window into the factory, decorations, and exquisitely packaged products, the store has a counter that serves homemade ice cream, shakes, smoothies, and other drinks.

Big Island Candies is located at 585 Hinano Street in Hilo.  The gift shop is open 365 days a year from 8:30AM to 5:00PM. The factory operation is viewable from 8:30AM to 3:45PM

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hawaii's Akaka Falls State Park

Akaka Falls is a great place to get a taste of the tropical side of the island of Hawaii. We consider it a must stop place when showing visitors the island. It is easy to get to, takes less than an hour to see, and gives people an experience of the tropical forests of the Hamakua coast as well as a memorable Hawaiian waterfall. In our experience, Akaka Falls has yet to disappoint any visitor and children find it particularly delightful.

The hike to the waterfall from the parking lot is less than a half mile through dense tropical vegetation to a grand viewing spot of Akaka Falls which drops 442 feet into a pool of water below. Though the path is not wheelchair accessible (it has stairs), it is a fairly easy course to walk for young and old.

The hike takes about 30 minutes and leads past huge bamboo plants, ferns, vines, flowers. and across bridges spanning miniature waterfalls. There are actually two waterfalls on the route, both with overlooks. The smaller waterfall is Kahuna Falls, which falls 100 feet. The Akaka Falls scenic overlook is above Kahuna Falls and has a better viewing area of the falls and the pond below.

Akaka Falls State Park is north of Hilo above the town of Honomu, an old sugar cane plantation town. The parking lot is paved and has bathrooms. The State recently instituted a charge for non-residents of $5 per car and $1 for people walking into the park. The trail head is located just off the parking lot. If you are short of time you can take the “Akaka Falls Only” path to the left (south) from the first junction on the path. This bypasses the hike through the rain forest and the water fall is just a short walk up the path

Bring umbrellas because a downpour can happen at any time, but it won’t spoil the beauty of the waterfalls.

If the hike makes you hungry, stop in Honomu on the way back to the highway. The tiny village has galleries, shops and restaurants. We stopped at the Woodshop Gallery & Café for lunch. Their fish was great and we loved the smoothies. The restaurant is vegetarian and vegan friendly.

Directions- Take Route 19 north out of Hilo and turn right on Route 220 (after the 13 mile marker) towards Honomu and drive through the town. Route 220 ends at the parking lot for Akaka Falls State Park.

If you are interested in a more in-depth tropical garden experience, consider visiting the nearby Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens off Route 19 toward Hilo just after mile marker 7.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Hawaii Island Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site is a little known National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is located between Kawaihae Harbor and Spencer County Beach on the Kohala coast.

The Pu’ukohola Heiau was constructed around 1790 and is one of the best preserved heiau’s (temples) in Hawaii. In addition to its historic significance, the park is located above the coast line with a wonderful path overlooking a small bay. The park’s walkway above the shore is part of the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail that runs along the western coast of Hawaii island next to the Kawaihae harbor.

The park has three ruins, the Pu’ukohala Heiau at the base of the "Hill of the Whale", the older Milekini Heiau which sits below, and offshore the Hale o Kapuni Heiau, dedicated to the shark gods, located in the water buried under sand and silt. Sharks are a frequent site from the lookout over the bay and during the winter season whales can be seen from the park’s lookout.

The Homestead of John Young, friend to King Kamehameha I, is also on the property. Young was a stranded British sailor who proved himself in battle and became an advisor to Kamehameha. He was given the heiau lands for his home as a reward for his service and he built a plaster covered stone house, the first western style house on the island of Hawaii. He married Hawaiian chiefess Namokuela of Oahu and later King Kamehameha’s niece, Princess Ka’oana’eha. His granddaughter was Queen Emma married to King Kamehameha IV. Young also became governor of the island. In 1972 the Queen Emma foundation donated the land and Congress designated the site as a national treasure to be protected and preserved as a National Park.

The park’s Visitors Center is open from 7:45AM to 4:55PM daily. It has a museum, displays, movies, book store, and very knowledgeable park staff. Cell phone tours are available and park staff give tours of the grounds. There are bathrooms and plenty of parking.

Directions: From Highway 19 turn north (toward the ocean) onto Highway 270 (Kawaihae Road) and go 1/2 mile to the Park entrance (on the left side of highway). Spencer County beach park is located further down Kawaihae road and is a perfect place for an ocean side picnic after a few hours enjoying the park.