A September 2004 trip
to Hawaii (Big Island) by smmmarti guide
Quote: Hawaii’s Big Island, the most historic, explosive, hefty, exotic, lava-laden, rugged, mysterious island in the state, caught me in the grip of its powerful mana. Kilauea expands the island with continuous lava flows, Mauna Loa rumbles in the background threatening, but harmony and serenity are the island's true driving forces.
Lava, lava, lava.
As we drove up the Kohala Coast from the airport the landscape looked like Hell to me -- you know, as in the mythical afterlife for those serving long sentences. Black, dark, sharp, treacherous and uninviting, I wondered at first what people saw in this bleak landscape.
However, the next day I drove the same route and had a startling change of perspective. Following an afternoon shower the light switched within minutes from the blinding flash of sun on molten rock to brushing subtle colorful shadows across the mountains. Behind it all was a sky so blue, so huge, so panoramic and changing I was captivated. I’ve rarely seen a landscape more alive.
Everywhere along the main road revealed views from ocean to sea -- crystal blue spilling into grey-black crags pouring into fields of gold. Following the incline of the most immense mountain on earth, its spires back-dropped with clouds so beautiful they give chicken flesh to hard-line businessmen arriving in private jets down the road, suddenly the Big Island takes on a miraculous resemblance to heaven.
After landing in the Kona airport before setting out through miles and miles of broad, open vistas we took an detour upcountry of Mt. Hualalai.
Leaving the lava-strewn delta of the coast, we felt at home in the lush mountainside where mulched and crunched volcanic soil has provided a bassinette for a wide variety of growth, including coffee. In the little art enclaves upcountry inspiration is born -- and sold. Business is brisk in the cafes, galleries and restaurants in the chocolate (mocha) box community of Holualoa.
Meanwhile, find archeological evidence of Hawai`i’s cultural past in Hikiau Heiau at Kealakekua Bay where a monument also marks the remembrance of Captain Cook‘s demise in a skirmish with the locals. The bay is also home to Pu’hunonua O Honaunau (Place of Refuge) National Park, where Hawaiians banished after breaking kapu (laws) could take sanctuary. (Look for secret sea caves nearby!)
At the royal summer palace, Hulihee , guests can sneak a peak into the royal and distinguished lifestyle led by the last of Hawaii's ali`i.
Along the Kohala Coast the landscape is reminiscent of other cattle states -- except that the immense "meadow" before you is actually a delta formed by the pitch remnants of Madame Pele’s various outbursts. In the lower elevations of the Kona side of the island, life is dry and barren with the exception of those fingers of land spared the volcanic flow. Not far beyond that, in the ranch country of Waimea and the Kohola Mountains near Kamehameha’s hometown you’ll find beautiful tropical scenery. Mauna Kea, the tallest of the island’s five volcanoes hosts the world’s biggest observatory as well as the clearest views to the stars.
By continuing further afield, however, on Hwy. 19 you will eventually arrive in Hilo, the state’s second largest city and one of the wettest towns in the country. Here waterfalls plunge through ravines just outside the city limits.
Further south, encounter the Big Island’s piece de resistance Kilauea and Volcano’s National Park. Continue the circle tour with a stop in Ka`u where the very first Polynesians settlers are believed to have spotted Hawaii, then wrap it up at Hookena Beach Park, one of Hawaii’s most beautiful beaches.
It happened to be my birthday as we eagerly approached the object of our desire from the Kohola Coast highway. The only thing that hinted at the wonderland nearby was the lone windswept tree adjacent a sign plunked in the lava field.
Following the lane from highway to ocean we watched the earth undergo its ultimate make-over, from barren lava to lush tropical enclave.
"What was here before the resort?" I asked the knowledgeable bellman offering us a property tour.
"So this wasn’t an oasis spared from molten destruction?" I asked, looking around at flora profuse enough to create a botanical garden.
"Every blade of grass, ounce of dirt; every bush, tree, plant, flower -- even the sand for the beach -- all brought in from elsewhere. Instant resort in a former field of molten rock."
I wasn’t sure what I thought about this manufactured paradise - until we arrived at our bungalow. The bellman explained the villa’s many features from special relaxation CD’s to the double set of robes - one for use inside the room and another kimono considered appropriate public attire. We were asked to fill out a request card for our favorite beverages. Tropical fruit, candies and snacks were already stocked on our behalf.
Marble baths, whirlpool tubs and steam showers are de rigeur for luxury resorts, but the Hualalai private rainforest shower had me spinning with delight, allowing me to release my self-righteous indignation over the fact the resort was less than "natural." (Those are real plants and sand after all, are they not?)
Further enhancing its esteem is the fact that the Four Seasons doesn’t overlook a thing, with particular homage paid to the native Hawaiians who formerly farmed the ancient fishponds and surfed the shores of Hualalai. Special programs augment the Hawaiian cultural center, where an edifying advisor is on hand to enlighten guests.
Our room overlooked the King’s Pond, a man-made reef filled with 47 species of thousands of tropical fish where guests can snorkel sans waves. A boardwalk along the beach meanders past four different oceanfront pools each with their own special ambiance. Along the route three anchialine ponds, restored in the style of native Hawaiian fishponds, provide additional serenity and meditation zones. (The pond near the Pahui`a restaurant is currently home to a rescued baby shark that will be released when he reaches the appropriate weight.)
What makes the Hualalai top in its category is foremost its exquisite service. When my husband awoke at 3am with a tummy-ache we called room service. At 3:05 a hushed rap at the door delivered antacids and a smile, the single act transforming a potentially sleepless night into the blissful rejuvenation the resort exemplifies.
Falling back asleep in paradise and dreaming under a mountain of down; priceless.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 22, 2004
Four Seasons Hualalai
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
My husband made a vain attempt to distract me with view-rich restaurants at the Hilton Wailoloa Village next door, the mega-resort with a staggering Asian art collection where guests swim with the dolphins and laze away the day in man-made lagoons. But no, I wanted a regular old mall restaurant, the Big Island Steak company or nothing.
By the time we’d finished browsing the Hilton waiting for my digital downloads at Rex’s photo finishing nearby, lunch service at the BISC was wrapping up, leaving us the sole customers.
It wasn’t quite as I’d envisioned it from the outside. Rather than the swinging door, hardwood floor ambiance I’d imagined, the tidy little ranch-style establishment was whitewashed and strewn with Hawai`iana and kitsch. We took a table by the windows where adequate views over a small lake set me to thinking I just may have been upcountry after all. Glancing at the menu I gasped.
"What’s wrong?" Sweetie asked.
Eyeing up the selection of pasta, chicken salads, fish sandwiches, nachos and pupus -- the usual lunchtime favorites -- I grew downhearted.
"No steak! There’s no steak on the lunch menu." I admit I was whining and ready to concede the stir fry at the Hilton wasn’t such a bad idea after all.
"It’s a steak house. They have steak."
"Not on this menu."
Sweetie, always the hero, summoned the waitress.
"This is a steak house, right?"
"Best on the island!" the well-trained employee intoned.
"So you won’t mind bringing my wife a rib-eye medium rare? Want fries with that, honey?"
"Fries. Sure." I agreed. "It‘s my birthday!"
"Well then," the waitress said, "you’ll get steak and the house special."
I shrugged but moments later the lady returned with a lovely glass of vegetables swimming in a stout, red-hot, horseradish ripe Bloody Mary.
"This is fabulous!" I assured her (since it was).
Sweetie went with the low maintenance version of the Big Island’s lunchtime menu and ordered a giant hamburger with cheese and bacon which he seemed to heartily enjoy. I wish I could say my hard-won steak was the best I’d ever had but in truth I’ve had slightly better steaks in larger cattle-producing States (such as Texas and Colorado).
That said, the food was good, real good, and the Bloody Mary even better.
Best of all was receiving ultimate, attentive service by people willing to stay open late for lunch and borrow from the dinner menu for a birthday girl.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 22, 2004
Big Island Steak House
250 Waikoloa Beach Drive # C-1
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii 96738
Restaurant | "Pahu i`a at The Four Seasons"
I’d already indulged in that memorable late lunch in harmony with my heart’s desire, swam in the oceanfront pool, cat-napped after a soothing massage -- but my birthday wasn’t over yet.
"I’m not sure how much more of this I can take."
"I’ve seen you in action. You’re just getting warmed up," Sweetie chided.
"Well, all right. Since I’ve come this far I suppose I can hang in there for another few hours."
We strolled the winding paths through the resort, (slowly as I was wearing those Jimmy Choo‘s.) Every few minutes we’d pass another couple in the dim glow of the tiki torches. Hushed conversations, arm-in-arm, wearing faint smiles, they offering Aloha -- obviously captivated by Hualalai's spell.
We entered the Pahui`a from the ocean front boardwalk. We might have spent longer studying the restaurant’s centerpiece, a dazzling aquarium brimming with colorful fish, but within minutes the hostess beckoned us to our table on the Naupaka Terrace. Named after a native shrub bearing half-flower blooms, according to legend the flower is made whole when paired with the sister shrub that grows upcountry.
A few yards beyond us the ocean waves danced under strategically beamed moonlight. The waitress flashed tiny pocketlights adorned with vintage hula girls - ours to keep - to facilitate reading the menu in the candlelight.
The first course was an easy choice. The chef worked overtime to pack all of my favorites into the salad - yellow and red roasted beets, baby greens, goat cheese and walnuts in a citrus vinaigrette, perfectly matched and balanced. Sweetie had the Tom Yum Goong, the traditional Thai shrimp soup scented with lemongrass. It was presented with vegetables and shrimp already in the bowl over which the waiter poured a heady broth infused in a French coffee press.
"Everything sounds so good, I can’t decide," I told the waitress when asked for my choice of entrée.
"Have it all!" she suggested.
"Oh, I couldn’t!" I thought aloud.
But I could. It just so happened the chef was offering a special bento box presentation of the top three entrees; seared, panko crusted ahi, coconut cream ono, and a very petite slice of filet served with baby vegetables and truffle risotto.
"This is amazing," my husband commented, savoring his food.
"The whole place is amazing."
We felt exceptionally light after such a grand feast but my eyelids had grown heavy after a glass of wine. Making our way back to our villa under a veil of stars, I caught a second wind.
"Is it midnight yet?" .
"You’ve still got half an hour," Sweetie winked.
"More than enough time…" I smiled, kicking off my shoes, "for a moonlight swim, that is."
Four Seasons Resort Hawaii
100 Kaupulehu Drive
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii 96740
Remember those rare vacation times when you were allowed to have it all, stay up late, splash in the water after the sunset, eat three desserts and drink as many sodas?
Whether these are part of your cherished memories or you'd like to start now making up for some you never had, you can relieve/recreate them with a visit to the Hualalai's Saturday night Surf, Sand and Fun feast.
Enormous tables of exquisite food, you, barefoot in the sand, tiki torches blazing, Hawaiian music playing, moonlit waves lapping the shore, campfire stoked for making s’mores, what more could you possibly ask for? A tropical drink, perhaps? They have those too. For the next few hours it‘s life as you always imagined it.
After a handmade Mojito at the seaside bar, we browsed the salad tables where tabouli, hummus, ceviche, fresh locally grown salad fixings and Hawaiian specialties such as purple yam salad and seafood poke filled our plates. Settling into the covered lanai area next to the hula dancer and falsetto duet, we lingered as the sun set. Was that a full moon making the foaming waves so bright? The sky was soon dark. The mysterious painter of light was revealed as strategically placed spotlights high in the palm trees above us.
We'd waited too long, wrapped in conversation and the music. Now we had to summon our strength, having grown so relaxed, to make our way once more over the sand to the carving tables and chafing dishes. I tossed off my shoes. I didn't need much more to eat, but the assortment of entrees was too tantalizing. I settled on two grilled lobster tails, fried rice, more ceviche. My husband piled on the carved beef, barbeque ribs and grilled ono.
The music stopped, conversations were muffled under the sound of the waves.
A haunting, sweet smell drifted past our table. Waffle cones? Crème brulee? Roasted marshmallows? Cookies, pies, tarts, cakes, ice cream, risen-before-your eyes miniature soufflés -- all of the above were at the ready for those wise enough to have left a little room. We hadn’t.
The waitress offered Kona coffee but I sipped the last of my dinner wine instead. When I asked her to call a rickshaw to take me back to the villa, I was only half-joking. In this setting, ripped out of time and space, I’d nearly forgotten where I was, momentarily forgetting I was too grown up to expect someone to carry me back to the villa.
Then reality sunk in. Ah, yes, it was the Hualalai. I was smack in the middle of paradise. I was old enough now to fully appreciate its wonder.
Such a rare moment of clarity has seldom felt so good.
Surf, Sand and Fun at the Hualalai
Hawaii, Big Island, Hawaii
It's not difficult to imagine the challenges that could result in this scenario. From controlling fishing lanes to determining laws for environmental protection, from establishing passport control booths on inter-island flights to arguments over whale-watching boundaries, all manner of trouble may ensue. Worst of all, I'd need a passport to hop to the Big Island. So why didn't Japan, Holland, Australia, Russia, Britain or France each nab a piece of this island pie as they have elsewhere in the world?
Before King Kamehameha united the major islands of the Kingdom of Hawaii, it was all but inevitable that Hawaii would be overtaken by an outside power once fellows began arriving in sailing ships. Realizing this, the wise king surmised that unification would be the only stronghold against such a takeover and accomplished the task with the help of haole (outsider) weaponry and strategy.
Dragging a borrowed cannon up the `Iao valley, Kamehameha crushed the Maui King's forces in a battle resulting in the infamous "river of blood."
Kauai presented more challenge, as it was further away and separated from the other islands by notoriously treacherous channels. By the time Kamehameha arrived there, he wasn't the only king with weapons, as the king of Kauai had already been awakened to the possibility by their own visiting friends from Russia and Japan. Just about every major political force at the time sent emissaries to the islands with the intention of gaining a stronghold on what was now an important whaling center and shipping lane.
Eventually, between winning battles, slaying rulers and making wise treaties, Kamehameha the Great united the islands of the Kingdom of Hawaii and called the new kingdom "Hawaii" after his home island (now known as both Hawaii and the Big Island to distinguish it from the state as a whole).
In spite of Kamehameha's victory, Hawaii was to remain exposed and vulnerable to outside domination. The civil battles had taken their own toll on the population, but much more treacherous were the germs and disease brought by the arrival of outsiders.
Since Hawaii's people had been isolated for so many centuries, they had no antibodies to fight even the simplest cold, influenza or measles, a severe disadvantage that decimated 90% of the population. With no armies, no weapons, and no ability to defend themselves, having been unified mattered little in the long run, except to assure that whoever did take control would assume command of the entire island chain.
The original settlers of Hawaii, the mighty Polynesian adventurers, bested the best of the famed European navigators by nearly a millennium with their amazing voyage across the Pacific. Traveling in outrigger canoes, guided only my natural awareness and intuition, they sailed uncharted waters and found paradise.
How did they know it was out there to be found? How did they manage to travel so long in open waters in open vessels? Their journey remains one of the most mysterious, impressive and mind-boggling journeys in human history. How ironic that these gifted seafarers would eventually become victims, falling under the moist breath of mere latecomers who "discovered" their island by far less impressive means.
In the case of Captain Cook, the also-ran was also mistaken as a god. Arriving from the sea in a billowing sailing ship, wearing alien finery and presenting gifts of exotic, glimmering metals and silks, the locals believed him to be Lono, the god of fertility and abundance, and treated him with all due respect.
Who could have known the result of this hospitality? Everything seemed to happen so fast at the turn of the 19th century. Amidst civil war and unification, great explorers arrived on the scene, whaling developed as a major industry, and missionaries hoped onboard intent on civilizing the natives and sailors.
Within 50 years, the landscape of Hawaii had changed dramatically. The traditional rural lifestyle, kapu order, and land divisions were all replaced with a plantation lifestyle fueled with workers imported from around the globe, resulting in the most highly mixed cultural melting pot anywhere.
The late 1800s signaled the end of the Hawaiian monarchy, the takeover of a kingdom, the annexation of Hawaii by the United States of America. In short order, the world watched the growth of one of the planet's most prized tourist industries, and in 1959 Hawaii was granted statehood, becoming the 50th State of the Union.
Hawaii has been recreated, as has all the world, in the past 200 years. Although we may long to hold on to the old ways, the romanticized version of the past, the simpler life we see represented in images of Old Hawaii, one thing is true -- change is inevitable. Yet, the spirit and culture of the original kingdom of Hawaii is very, very strong.
Hawaii may be part of the U.S., but it is truly a world apart in so many ways. As to the inevitability of change, who should better accept this than Hawaiians? After all, the Big Island is only a baby in geological terms (only 400,000 years old and growing), and changes daily as it grows even larger as the result of the tenaciously spewing Kiluaea. Gigantic fingers of lava streamed from Mauna Loa a number of times in recent history, annihilating everything in their path more than once. It's not over. Further eruptions continue to threaten.
According to local legend, the volcano goddess Pele was angered when King Kamehameha ignored her, being more intent on his fishponds. Her wrath destroyed those favored ponds and they are just now starting to blossom again with life.
Meanwhile, man has sped up the process in certain places, turning barren black ash into vibrant tropical oases. Multimillion-dollar home sites sit on land the early Hawaiians have avoided at all costs - barren lava fields.
Kamehameha attempted to ward off the inevitable demise of his kingdom, but he certainly couldn't ward off disease or volcanic destruction. If you take a snapshot of history at any given time, I'm sure it appears things are not as they should be in that moment. But step back a bit, let time pass, and as things change, you see it's all meant to be.
After a thoughtful visit to the Big Island, where locals go to commune with the spirits of the ancestors, goddesses and gods, you will likely come away convinced, as I was, that it's all good, even the lava flows and apparent violent forces of destruction. Nature has a way of straightening things out.
For one thing, I'm happy I can go from Maui to Oahu to the Big Island without a passport. For another, I'm glad I live on the island where the volcano is dormant... or so they say.