I’m writing this blog post from my desk in chilly Lawton, OK, home safe and sound after a tumultuous and (predominantly) wonderful trip to Hawaii! It’s a long one, so if you don’t have the stamina, the short version is: we’ve ticked off another state, I am definitely a summer child, and there’s list of our recommendations at the end. Now, onto the post!
Friday, 05 January. We started off less than ideally when we decided to spend Thursday night in OKC before our flight. It sounds like a good idea, right? WRONG: if you answered ‘yes’ to that question, then you are wrong. Now, it’s not your fault. We both thought that this was the way to go, and we arrived in OKC on Thursday afternoon full of vim and vigour, ready to begin a great big adventure the following day. After overeating at Texas Roadhouse—every time I go there, I swear I won’t go back… and then I do—we crashed into bed ready for a good night’s sleep. But it was not to be. Unbeknownst to us, we’d managed to score a room next door to perhaps the most inconsiderate human being ever born, a man who felt the burning desire to carry on very loud phone conversations all night long. He was loud. He was so loud that the thin hotel room walls were no match for him, and neither were we, eventually moving from the bed onto the couch/floor (thanks for giving me the couch James) of the entryway in the apartment. Simultaneously, I’d begun to get a sore throat.
By the time we ‘woke’ up in the morning, we’d amassed about three or four hours sleep. My throat was sore, my voice was hoarse, I felt like death warmed up, and we were both struggling with residual rage issues: a great way to face a full day of travel! It was a long one.
The hop from OKC to Denver is short, but James was glued to the phone during our tiny little layover, rearranging our Saturday/Sunday scuba diving plans for Big Island and shifting other things around to fill the gap. And I don’t think either of us actually realised how far it is from Denver to Big Island, Hawaii until we got on the plane and heard that the flight time was almost 8 hours. Gulp. All in all though, apart from my painful struggles to equalise on our descent to Hawaii, it wasn’t too bad, but I do have a bone to pick with America: what, on earth, is with not getting fed on a flight??? I mean, an eight hour flight and all you get is a packet of pretzels? That’s some ridiculous nonsense. Only the cheapest budget Australian airlines don’t feed you something substantial for longer flights, especially those that go over a meal time. So we showed up at Kona International Airport tired and hungry and, in my case, sick: but absolutely delighted by the warm weather that greeted us. We were sure that now that we’d arrived, things would be on the up and up…
We found ourselves a taxi and headed for our AirBnb at Kona Plaza Condos, looking forward to checking in, having a shower and finding something to eat. It was only once we’d FINALLY pulled into the carpark, after one of the slowest taxi trips I’ve ever had (our introduction to ‘island time’), that James’s worst fears were realised: the cabbie didn’t take card. Cash only. Seriously? So he jumped back in and the two of them went to try and find an ATM (which was an epic in and of itself, since the place the guy took James didn’t have one anymore). While James was off on that adventure, I decided to wrangle our two sizeable bags across the carpark and out of the way and, in the interests of being industrious, also thought I might find our apartment and get all of our stuff moved in. It wasn’t hard to find, but the key was missing from the lockbox, and I could hear noises coming from inside; despite my knocking there was no answer. I was a little perturbed. A quick phone call to the on-duty manager yielded a promise that he’d be there in 10 minutes.
Hardly surprisingly, James groaned to hear what was going on when he came back from his own lengthy battle and we both had to laugh at the absurdity of how we’d started what was supposed to be a beautiful and relaxing escape! Luckily, the couple who were in our apartment showed up not long after, and after the four of us figured out what had happened—they were staying in another apartment owned by the same person and when upon arrival they’d found it filthy, he’d moved them into our booking—they got in touch with the owner, and subsequently generously offered to move to the alternative upstairs apartment.
So, finally, we got in and got a bit settled. It had hardly gone the way we’d have liked, but we were in HAWAII! The weather was gorgeous, and my nose was running like a faucet, so we went out to look around and find some cold & flu drugs.
Saturday, 06 January. It’s hardly even worth noting what we did on Saturday because most of it was spent in bed, me surrounded by a pile of tissues… We did, however, bestir ourselves for a delicious breakfast along the Kona boardwalk.
Then in the afternoon we walked a mile down the road to Big Island Divers to confirm our booking for dives on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (and buy ourselves a shorty wetsuit each!), only to discover that the departure dock for diving was much further away than we’d anticipated. So we were off to Enterprise to get ourselves a hire car for the rest of our stay (in hindsight, it probably would have been a good idea to organise that prior to going) and then decided to capitalise on our new-found mobility to go buy groceries.
Sunday, 07 January. In the interests of doing something and not wasting our whole trip while I was crook as a dog, James had organised for us to do a tour—‘Big Island in a Day’—in place of diving. We were up a little earlier and headed to a nearby hotel for pickup by Ryan, our friendly tour guide.
The tour is aptly named! We saw everything from delicious baked goods (don’t worry, we ate plenty), to the gorgeous Punalu’u black sand beach complete with a number of turtles (the black sand is a result of the erosion of volcanic rock).
We got to look out across the Kilauea Iki crater before strolling through a short portion of the Thurston lava tunnels and visiting the active Halemaumau Crater at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. A delicious packed lunch eaten at the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens not only filled my rumbling stomach, but taught us the importance of orchid placement (behind the left ear means you’re taken, behind the right means you’re available).
We drove through Hilo, the rainiest city in the US, and visited Rainbow Falls and Akaka Falls. Finally, we stood at the Waipio Valley lookout, gazing out over the southernmost and largest of the seven valleys of Kohala Mountain, the Valley of the Kings.
Monday, 08 January. We’d hoped that I’d be ok to dive on Monday, but I felt pretty average on Sunday afternoon and wasn’t sure I’d be able to equalise when descending… So diving was out. Instead, James organised for us to go on a rather different kind of adventure with UFO parasailing! It was amazing: we didn’t get to see any whales below us, but it was beautiful and serene up in the air over the harbour, and neither of us died… Though James got us completely soaked at the end by agreeing to a ‘big dip’ (after telling me not to worry about wearing swimmers).
In the afternoon, we decided to do some snorkelling in Kailua Bay, which is just in front of Ali’i Drive, the main drag along the water in Kona. From the start, the variety of underwater life absolutely knocked my socks off. There were fish everywhere. I was pointing and squeaking like I’d just seen a great white. With the sun shining, and the water crystal clear and cool, it was the perfect conditions for finally starting to get some salt water treatment for our souls. And while we were out there, we agreed that I’d try to dive down and equalise while snorkelling, since we were both aware that my blocked sinuses had already cost us one day of diving. My pitiful little attempt ended with pain in one ear and a whole heap of dizziness: hardly a nice feeling when you’re in the ocean out of standing depth! The prognosis for diving on Tuesday looked grim. Despite this, we decided that, at the very least, we’d head out on the boat on Tuesday and I’d give it a shot. If I couldn’t dive, maybe I could snorkel a bit, and James would still have the opportunity to dive. With that decided and on the strength of Ryan’s recommendation, we headed to Island Lava Java for dinner and yet another beautiful Kona sunset.
Tuesday, 09 January. We relaxed for most of Tuesday—me with an ever-growing pile of tissues by my side—before heading out to the marina for our scuba diving jaunt! I will openly admit that I wasn’t feeling suuuuper keen as we hung around waiting for departure: my head felt stuffed with cotton wool and my nose seemed to be permanently dripping. We mentioned to one of the crew, Josh, that I was having some sinuses and he confirmed that I’d be able to snorkel, which was a relief: but mostly, I was just determined that even if I couldn’t dive, James should be able to and have a good time. I felt sure that there was no way my body was going to play the game… and at that point, I wasn’t overly fussed. Still, as we motored on out to the site and received the dive brief, I started to realise just how great this dive could be and felt a bit maudlin that I was going to have to miss out. I’d decided that I would just resign myself to snorkelling when Josh mentioned to Cody, the captain, that I was going to try diving; even full of doubt, I nodded and suited up, and got in first.
And it worked. I made it down slowly and a bit hesitantly, with a lot more difficulty than normal, but when James reached me, I was comfortable and not in any pain, keen to see more of the underwater sights. And what sights there were! Bear in mind, we’ve never dived in the ocean before: the most we’ve ever seen is a few fish and couple of yabbies in Tenkiller and Blue Hole… and now we were not only diving in this incredibly clear and temperate water, but we were surrounded by sealife. Fish of every possible colour and description filled our vision like a vast be-gilled kaleidoscope. Jost was our dive master, and he pointed out a sea slug to us, then an eel.
Then I turned around and found a huge manta ray swimming right towards us. We saw two in the area on our first dive, and got to get up close and personal to them, with me spending probably a full second being fairly sure that one of them was going to try and eat me (even while knowing that mantas only eat plankton). It was also the longest dive we’d ever done before, which was amazing.
Between dives we were hanging around on the boat (and snacking fairly liberally… though there wasn’t any ‘boat cake’ which I was disappointed about), when I saw something black flicker out of the corner of my eye and beckoned to James. “I think I just saw something jump out of the water over there,” I said, and James looked at the empty ocean vista stretching out before us, then back at me a little skeptically. There are few things worse than the moment when you’re the only person to have seen something, and you’re frantically crossing every digit in your body that it’ll happen again so that people know you’re not just making it up. I wish I’d had the camera out for this, because just as I was sure that nothing was going to happen, a manta ray launched itself out of the water and executed a perfect floppy leap. It was brilliant.
Once the sun was well and truly below the horizon, we saddled up for the night dive, joined by a host of other boats in the area: all of us in search of the elusive feeding manta ray. It didn’t go precisely to plan—though we lay on the ocean floor for about 20 minutes waiting for them to show up, there were no mantas to be seen, so Josh led us off and we did a bit of night diving instead. Unbelievably, right before we were about to ascend and finish the dive, we spotted an absolutely massive manta ray feeding, looping backwards over and over and over, its mouth gaping wide. It was mesmerising.
Wednesday, 10 January. Flushed with Tuesday’s success, we were up early on Wednesday, ready for more diving adventures. We were on a far bigger boat with quite a few more people, but as with the day prior, the crew were funny, friendly and extremely knowledgeable, and the snacks were flowing (as much as snacks can flow. Still no boat cake in sight, however). We did two dives, both of which saw James coming pretty close to running out of air—he likes to live on the edge and apparently is a big breather—and became ever more enamoured with scuba diving than we were before. That’s probably pretty normal: again, the water was perfect, and thriving with sealife. We saw turtles, numerous eels, sea slugs, and a shark! Then, between dives, we saw a whale breaching less than a km away from the boat. Talk about magical. Excited and thrilled doesn’t even begin to cover how I felt—and still feel—about these dives in Hawaii. Being so certain that I wasn’t going to be able to dive and then not only miraculously being able to, but to have a heap of fun, to dive for so long, and to see such magnificent things while doing so… It was absolutely magical.
Thursday, 11 January. We returned the hire car and headed to Kona International on Thursday morning to fly to Kauai, mostly memorable because James woke up with the warning signs of my sickness and the two of us were struggling with equalising and our sinuses together. I was on the up and up though, and had my fingers hard crossed that James wouldn’t get as sick as I’d been.
The shuttle driver who took us to the hire car pick up mentioned off-handedly that Kauai is known as ‘The Garden Island’… And she couldn’t have been more right [DISCLAIMER: However, I would like to mention here that I think it could also feasibly be known as ‘The Chicken Island’ without being inaccurate: there are a LOT of chickens on Kauai], which became more and more apparent as we drove north from Lihue airport to our Airbnb in Princeville. Kauai is like something from a lost world. It is dominated by trees of every kind that tower overhead, and dwarf everything around them except for the massive mountains strewn across the island. It is a mesmerising, prehistoric kind of beauty that it seems impossible to capture in photographs.
Friday, 12 January. We had a fairly leisurely day on Friday, heading North East to check out beautiful Queen’s Bath. Of course, there was an unexpected detour due to my subpar navigation skills (I got distracted), but we finally got to the right place and after a struggle to find any parking, began the hike to the ocean. Luckily it’s not very long or super arduous, but we were grateful it hadn’t rained recently, as it was pretty slippery in spots. The area of Queen’s Bath itself is gorgeous but unfortunately, the huge winter swells made it to dangerous to swim. We did run the risk and dip our feet a little, only to be promptly swamped by a massive way that soaked us both to the skin! I would love to see what it’s like in summer (which is when most of the photos on the internet are from), and paddle around, but having seen the brutal power of the huge swells in winter, I wouldn’t risk it!
We decided to splash out for dinner at Piazza in the nearby Princeville shops and it was absolutely phenomenal — we got some beautiful cocktails, a luscious beet salad to share, some tasty mains, and (wait for it)… a salted caramel pudding for dessert! Not sure if I’ve made it clear just how much I love salted caramel, but I really, really do. A lot.
Saturday, 13 January. After trying and failing to get into the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Saturday morning, we decided to get some time in the water first instead, our excursion to Queen’s Bath the day prior having really whetted our appetite for the sea. The ocean was fierce, an inevitable part of a winter visit to Kauai, with a pull that sucked our feet out from under us, but we stayed shallow and enjoyed simply being on the coast again. Something that really struck me was how much plastic there was, washed up all over the beach and floating in the water: clearly indicative of wider ocean pollution that ends up on Kauai.
Once we’d dried off a bit we decided to take another stab at getting in to see the Lighthouse at Kilauea Point—the process of letting people into and out of that place was completely woeful—and finally succeeded. It was a nice place to walk through, and gave us a great view of the waves smashing into the shoreline cliffs; plus, as a nice little bonus, we saw a friendly turtle amongst the foam and froth.
Afterwards on a whim, we decided to spend the afternoon playing mini gold at the stunning Anaina Hou mini golf and gardens, an 18-hole course complete with water obstacles and informative displays about Hawaiian history, set amongst lush and sprawling gardens. James got a hole-in-one, and I learnt a lot about golfing terms that I had no idea of before, we groomed the zen garden at one of the holes, and then finished up our trip with perhaps the world’s largest shaved ice. Homemade nachos for dinner and early to bed, because James had a huge day for us planned on Sunday!
Sunday, 14 January. It was a dark and early start as we hit the road to visit Waimea Canyon State Park, almost 2 hours from our Princeville Airbnb. By the time we arrived it was light and we were ready to get some hiking in… After buying some apple and banana lumpia and fresh pineapple from the handy little stall at the official Waimea Canyon Lookout, of course. James had planned out two hikes for us for the day. The Canyon Trail was first up, a 4-mile round trip journey that in some spots took us along the edge of the canyon, and culminated at the top of a beautiful waterfall. Afterwards, we found a comfortable sitting rock with convenient butt-shaped dips overlooking the canyon and feasted on the best fresh pineapple I’ve had in a looooong time (not that that’s saying much, when one lives in Lawton), before trekking back to the Pu’u Hinahina lookout.
Once we got back, we loaded into the car and drove out to the Kalalua Lookout (apparently the wettest spot on earth) before hitting James’s second planned hike, the Awa’awapuhi trail, a 10.5km round trip. Despite some issues finding parking at the trailhead, we got underway in the early afternoon, at about 1ish… It was rapidly becoming apparent to me that not bringing some serious snackage with us had perhaps been a rookie error. But it was too late for that now! This hike was less steep throughout than the Canyon Trail, but had one fatal flaw: the whole 3.25 trip out was downhill, and before long, our knees were putting up a strong protest against their treatment. The trail takes you from 4120 feet elevation in the Kokee State Park down to the valley rim of Nualolo and Awa’awapuhi valleys at 2500 feet… and I think we felt every inch of that. It was a quiet and peaceful walk though, through an intriguing mixture of rain forest and drier, desert-like terrain (we saw quite a few gum trees as well!), before bringing us to the awe-inspiring overlook of the valleys.
We decided to walk a bit further out than most people seemed to want to, and with good reason; I’m sure that a wrong step out there would mean the end. Despite that, it was stunningly, stunningly beautiful (if a little scary when I saw James walking over the narrow path), and the depth of the canyons surrounding us was staggering.
At one point we heard a distant bleat—a sign earlier having told us to keep an eye out for goats, which we’d found strange and amusing—and managed to zoom our eagle eyes in to spot a group of 3 goats frolicking without fear on a sheer canyon face. We were ridiculously excited (animals always make me excited), and despite some hassles getting the right lens on, and the goats jumping all over the place, James managed to get a few photos.
We were tired and hungry by the time we got back to the car, but exhilarated by our huge day—and we stopped for chocolate-coated almonds, ice blocks and drinks at the Kokee Lodge before heading back to Princeville. Of course, we couldn’t resist a quick stop on the way to check out the ruins of the 19th Russian Fort Elizabeth (I know, I know: we were bemused too), and saw a cat in the bushes while driving out! Again… I was excited.
It was just our luck that we stumbled onto the Princeville night markets (which we’d completely forgotten about) when we set out to find something for dinner, especially as we bought ourselves some seriously good lamb burgers from a food truck. And of course, once those had been summarily polished off, we bought ourselves some huge ice cream cones from Lappert’s to round out the day!
Monday, 15 January. Somehow, the kilometres trekked on Sunday had only whetted our appetite for some more hiking, and thank goodness, because this one was a doozy. The Nã Pali Coast boasts the incredible 11-mile Kalalau Trail leading from Ke’e Beach to Kalalau Beach right along the coastline. Sadly, you need a permit to do the full trail (and we didn’t bring any camping gear), but we were lucky enough to do a two-part hike for the day.
The first, a 2-mile jaunt, was from the Ke’e Beach trailhead to Hanakapai’ai Beach, where the mouth of the gorgeous Hanakapai’ai Stream feeds into the ocean. Though this trek undoubtedly asked a bit of my legs and cardiovascular system, the never-ending views of the mountains and the ocean more than made up for it. By the time we reached the stream, I was buzzing with enthusiasm… But we were also hot, so James changed into boardies and we took a quick dip in the delightfully cool water.
We were so enthused by the beauty of the coast and the refreshing waters of the stream that we decided to continue on to the Falls, another 2-mile hike. I’m so glad we did, because it was one of the most fantastic experiences I’ve ever had. For a start, the whole trek was alongside the Hanakapai’ai Stream, and I have a thing for running water—especially when it is cold, crystal clear, pouring over countless small waterfalls and forming numerous natural pools. It was the most beautiful thing I have seen in a long, long time, and it was incredibly soulful. And at the end of the trail waited the final piece of the puzzle: the falls themselves. Into water that was achingly cold, we dove. We swam beneath the falls and floated on our backs looking up at them cascading down from above. No words or photos can do justice to the experience.
Unfortunately, we had (yet again) forgotten to bring snacks—mostly distressing to me and my whinging stomach, not to James—and we knew we had 4 miles to get back to the car, so after our swim we got dressed and headed off again. The final cherry on top for an absolutely phenomenal day was sighting three or four whales frolicking a few kilometres off the coast as we hiked back to the trailhead. We finished by taking off our boots and strolling along Ke’e Beach for a little bit (though not for very long, as I’d developed a pretty sizeable blister under one toe) before hitting up Hanalei for baked goods, smoothies and a take-home pack of ice-cream.
Tuesday, 16 January. We got up early on Tuesday to watch the sun rise over a quiet beach in Kealia, right near The Green Pig (a little food truck that I seriously regret not patronising during our time in Kauai!). It was a bit chilly, but gorgeously serene, and a nice way to start our last day in Hawaii before we headed off to the Sleeping Giant Trail to put some more kilometres on our legs. Though nothing could match up to Monday’s amazing Nã Pali coast hike, this one was a fun adventure… but it was also easily the hardest hike I’d done in Hawaii, mostly because my body was staging a vehement protest against all the work it had had to do in the days prior. My legs felt like lead and my blistered left foot (why only the left? Beats me) was complaining, but we made it all the way to the Giant’s chin in an hour… And James had brought some seriously delicious chocolate-cherry cookies for summit snacks. Perhaps we’ve learned our lesson? Afterwards, James followed his nose and led us straight to some amazing pastries (some of the best we’ve had since moving to the US, though Atlanta will always be in our hearts) at Haole Girl Island Sweets: sweet and savoury, and oh so delicious.
We spent the afternoon relaxing, napping, reading, and watching TV (as one should on holiday, especially if they’ve managed to hike 40km in 3 days!), and couldn’t resist a final hurrah at Piazza for some garlic flatbread and mushroom pizza to finish up our trip.
Wednesday, 17 January. A casual start to the day turned a little frantic when we found out that our Airbnb check out was at 10am, not 11! We managed to get an extra thirty minutes to make some breakfast before we cleared out, then spent most of our final day in the stunning climes of Hawaii in Hanalei, taking up space and eating tasty tasty snacks at the Hanalei Bread Company. I heartily recommend their BLT! James ploughed through some more of his most recent challenging book, while I devoured some uni readings and finally ticked off my last piece of assessment for Trimester 3. Here’s to five weeks off before Trimester 1 for 2018 kicks off!
Our flight didn’t leave until almost 9pm, so we had a relaxed dinner amongst the fairly limited eating options at Lihue Airport, and then began the long and butt-numbing journey back to Lawton. We arrived home yesterday to a fairly chilly house: about 4 degrees Celsius. And a frozen toilet. Twenty-four hours later, the toilet is defrosted, the house is significantly warmer, James has shaved off his beard and we’ve shaved Hawaii off the to-do list… Now we’re looking ahead to our Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana trip in March, and our West Coast trip in April/May! Check out our big Hawaii recommendations below, and tune in next week for some thoughts on the ongoing Australia Day #changethedate controversy!