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.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

High Surf in Kona Hawaii

The west facing beaches on the Big Island of Hawaii in Kona and Kohala are under a National Weather high surf warning today. Surf heights are forecasted to build to heights of 8 to 12 feet.

We walked down to Honl's beach on Ali'i Drive in Kailua-Kona to catch the action. The waves were huge and the surfers were struggling to get under them. But they were rewarded with some great sets.