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.