Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Big Island, Hawaii - The Volcanos

On day 7, the 9th of August, we left Maui for the Big Island of Hawaii. We flew into the Hilo airport and our hotel, the Royal Kona Resort was located in Kailua-Kona the complete opposite end of Hilo. So after we picked up our rental convertible, we decided to drive north along the Hamakua coast to the Waipio valley lookout. We started with the 4 mile Onomea drive, an incredibly lush drive that goes through moss covered trees, glimpses of sea cliffs that remind you of Jurrasic
park and narrow wooden bridges. Further north, we stopped at Akaka and Rainbow falls. The country side was all fields, I think it was sugarcane plantations and a lot of orchards.

From Waipio valley we turned west to drive towards the Kohala coast then south west on to the Kailua-Kona coast. The landscape on the drive west was very different from the lushness of the Hamakua coast. Initially, a lot of rolling hills covered by pasture with Mauna Loa in the
background. The further west we went, the more the volcanic rock. There were places where it was all black rock... nothing grew. It was so barren and seemingly charred. This drive south west was long and tiring. It was just about dark by the time we got to our hotel. The town of Kailua-
Kona was very pleasant. There were a lot of restaurants and cheap eats and night life just within walking distance from our hotel. Our hotel itself was very comfortable, oceanfront with tennis courts and a small private cove with a small beach but there was nothing fancy about it like a Sheraton.

The following day we went out to breakfast at a local bakery nearby. I loved their fresh baked croissants and hubby loved their coffee. The kids ate fresh baked danishes. We then stopped at the local farm market next door and picked up some fresh fruit. I stocked up on lichees. Then we drove south along the Kona coast towards the Volcano National Park. We saw lots of Kona coffee plantations. Further south we stopped at Punaluu, the black sand beach.
The sand is really as black as it can get, looks as if made out of soot just much coarser. The beach was big with lots of tourists. The travel guides say the beach is good for swimming and surfing, but we found it to be quite rocky and the sand quite coarse not much for swimming. There were a few kayakers and they seemed to be having a good time. We also stopped at Hookena beach park, a small beach surrounded by sea cliffs. The beach itself and the shoreline was mostly rocky.
Finally after a late lunch, much later in the afternoon we entered the volcano national park.
The drive from Kona to Volcano national park with a few stops took almost 4 hours.

The park was amazing and an anti-climax at the same time. It was wondrous to walk on living breathing and an active volcano. It was simply amazing to stand on a wind swept cliff and see the place where the molten lava must have flowed into the deep waters, where the lava just swallowed up the road. But, seeing the same volcanic rock everywhere, the same scalded landscape almost felt like an anti-climax too. Originally, we had planned to hike across the Kilauea Ike crater, but due to the long drive and the fact that we had stopped on a couple of beaches along the way, no one in our family was in the mood for long hikes. We ended up hiking the Thurston lava tube and the devastation trail both easy and short trails. If you are going to do the lava tube hike, every family member should have their own flash light. After a certain point there are no lights in the tube and it is so pitch dark that you can't even see your own nose. After the hikes we drove down to the coastal area of the park via chain of craters road where the lava swallowed up the road back in in 2003. The view of the coastline
with the surf smashing against the clifs was gorgeous. It was windy. Once it started getting dark we drove back to the Crater Rim drive to the summit of Kilauea volcano. As it got darker you could see the red glow of the lava in the crater and massive amounts of white fume. During our trip a portion of the crater rim drive had been closed as a new vent had recently opened and the fumes were very blown close to the road causing sickness.

Day 3 on the big island, we decided to venture up north along the Kohala coast. On one side of the road the landscape was dominated by lava rock meeting the ocean and the other side of the road was dominated by the majestic presence of snowcapped Mauna Kea volcano. We did not have enough time to drive up the Mauna Kea summit (hosting the worlds largest observatory facility) but it's presence dominated our drive up the Kohala coast. This northern end of the island seems to be undergoing quite a bit of development as all the large and new luxury resorts are being built on this side of the island. We drove all the way north to Puuhonua historical state park. On the way back we stopped at Anaehoomalu bay beach and the Hapuna Beach. Hapuna beach is one of the most popular and most visited beach on big island. It is a huge white sand beach with gentle rolling surf. There are showers right off the beach and a small fast food vendor. While the beach was incredible, it became hard for us to spend much time there as there was absolutely no shelter on the beach, no trees, no facility to rent beach shades nor umbrellas. Since we did not have our own beach umbrellas, after a while it became very hot and hard to stay in the bright sun. Anaehoomalu beach on the other hand was a smaller beach compared to Hapuna but it had plenty of natural shade. The entire beach was covered with palm trees. The sand was coarser and pebbly so beach shoes are needed. This was our last day in Hawaii.

Overall, our trip was beautiful we loved every single minute of it. Maui is a paradise. The beaches, the warm water, the gently flowing cool breeze, the sunny days, the hula dancing, it really is as beautiful as on the postcards. The people are very nice and friendly. The Big Island is entirely dominated by the presence of volcanoes and volcanic activity everywhere. There is the molten lava everywhere, the snowcapped peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea and the Volcano National Park. Both very different but incredibly beautiful islands. It's a pity Hawaii is so far away from the east coast. I do look forward to another opportunity where we may get to visit Oahu and Kauai this time.

Maui, Hawaii - Our search for Guri Guri

It was summer. It was time to leave the Beltway inferno. So, this past August, we decided to go on an adventure in search of Guri Guri.
The only place on earth where Guri-Guri can be found is on the paradise islands of Hawaii. Accordingly, on August the 3rd, we boarded a United airplane departing Dulles Airport with Maui as our destination. We landed at Kahului airport at approximately 2 pm on a beautiful sunny day. After we picked up our rental car, a jeep, our first stop in our search was Costco. Thats right, you read it correct, if you are looking for something, anything, you gotta start at Costco. Unfortunately, we didn't find any Guri-Guri there, but we did buy bottled water, cookies,
milk, trail mix, cereal, and a slice of pizza each for lunch.
Once armed for our adventure ahead, we started our drive to the Kanaapali resort area.

The drive from Kahului airport to Kanaapali took approximately an hour. For the most part, the road was one lane each way with no traffic until we got to the town of Old Lahaina. For those of us who live in the nations capital, even the traffic of Old Lahaina was barely noticeable. We were staying at the Sheraton Maui. A beautiful resort hotel on the north west end of Kanaapali beach
next to the famous black rock and a short hop skip and a jump away from the Whaler's Village. At the check in we were greeted with leis and a refreshing Mai Tai. By the time we settled in our
ocean view room it was almost time for the black rock cliff diving ceremony, an enactment of a Hawaiian legend. We grabbed a Mai Tai from the lagoon bar and settled down on the beach with the most beautiful sunset as our backdrop awaiting the ceremony. The ceremony seemed to have historical and mystical roots. A Hawaiian warrior dressed in ancient Hawaiian garb ran out from the Sheraton onto Ka'anapali Beach, where onlookers and sightseers were sitting along
the beach, in boats and catamarans and some even wading in the water to watch the ceremony. The warrior climbed up the Black Rock, known in Hawaiian as Pu'u Keka'a, and lit the torches that were fixed upon it. He offered lei to the heavens above him, addressing the Hawaiian gods, and then beautifully dove into the calm ocean below. The ceremony itself lasted barely 10 mins, but it created a beautiful and magical ambiance for
our evening and for our whole trip.After the ceremony we walked to Whaler's Village, a small shopping mall with lots of restaurants, convenience stores, trinket vendors, and high end shops like Rolex, Gucci and Tiffany's. Our first order of business was to look for Guri Guri but no luck there. We did grab a light dinner and after 20 plus hours of non stop traveling, we called it a night.
Our following two days, day 2 and 3 in Maui were spent almost entirely at the Kanaapali beach. We bought cheap snorkeling gear from the ABC store in Whalers Village and spent our days snorkeling near the black rock or lounging by the pool. A couple of times a day we’d walk to the Whaler’s Village for some froyo, or pizza or simply for an evening stroll. The evening of day 2, we went to the Luau feast organized at the hotel grounds.

The kids got to see the roast being taken out of the pit and carved, they enjoyed the various hula and fire dance performances following
the feast. Luaus are never cheap and the food is never great this one was no different. But you gotta do Luau at least once. This was the first time for our kids, the 2nd for us. The other
evenings, we would go either to Whaler’s Village, or to Old Lahina town– an old capital of Hawaii now a beach town with restaurants like Bubba Gump and Hard Rock Café for dinner.
Twice we saw free hula dance performances by the local dance troupes at the Whalers Village. I really enjoyed the Polynesian hula more than the Hawaiian hula. The dances were beautiful and those performed by the kids were especially
moving. We tried several restaurants– Leilanas, Cheeseburger In Paradise, Hula Grill. None of these restaurants were cheap, but they were not outrageous either. The food was good but nothing to rave about. For lunch, I really enjoyed the fish tacos at most of these places. Sushi at Sansei seafood near Napili bay was great. It was fresh and good and expensive and the restaurant was crowded. We ended up eating at the bar due to the long wait. One restaurant need a special mention. Called the Gazebo, a small, hidden but a very popular family restaurant overlooking the Napili bay serves a killing breakfast. One of our friends had recommended this place and we definitely second their recommendation. The day we decided to go to gazebo was pouring, and having heard that it is usually crowded, we went a bit early too, but still there was a line waiting when we got there. We waited approximate 30 min before being seated. It was well worth the wait. My husband and kids had the famous pineapple and macadamia nut pancakes, while I tried their omelet. Food was great and big portions too. On day 4 we decided to take the road to Hana. We never quite made it all the way to Hana but we did stop at several beautiful
beaches and
overlooks along the way.

We enjoyed watching surfers at Ho'opika beach park, the body surfers at Paia beach, and a couple of other beaches where we stopped for a short while. Every time we came across a shopping center of any kind, we would stop and hope to find Guri-Guri. Up until now we had no luck.
After 4 very beautiful, warm and sunny days that were spent beach hunting, snorkeling and lounging by the pool, we decided to see the sunrise at the summit of Mt. Haleakala, the world's largest dormant volcano that peaks at over 10,000 feet. We got up around 4 am, packed grumbling kids still in pajamas in our jeep with blankets and drove two hours to the crater rim. We ended up seeing the sunrise on our way up the mountain, unfortunately, missing the sunrise at the rim by about 30 mins. The sunrise was still beautiful, the sun peaking out of the early morning haze and the top of the volcano still enveloped by the clouds. However, more amazing were the changes in the landscape. We went from lush flora at the sea level to barren, no

vegetation tundra type landscape at the crater, 10,000 feet up within a matter of 2 hours and 37 miles. The temperature went from comfortable cool no jackets required to freezing and windy need a winter parka at the rim. The crater colors were outer wordly (if there is any such word) I remember standing by the rim and thinking,
perhaps all of Mars looks like this crater. All red and brown, and grey and rocky. On the way back down the volcano we saw loads of tourists downhill biking. Truth be told, downhill biking 8000 feet looked very dangerous to me especially with the sharp S road turns, chilly temperature and strong winds at the top, but hey whatever gives the big rush.
Day five in Maui arrived and we had not yet found Guri Guri. We had not even found anyone who could tell us where we could find some. We asked our hotel staff, we asked folks at the various restaurants but no luck. Either we were completely mis-pronouncing the word and were beginning to think whether such a thing even existed. Perhaps our quest was going to be futile. Our plan on day 5 was to go on a snorkeling excursion with a guided sailing charter. We had selected Teralini as our operator as they operated right from the Whalers Village. Our excursion included two snorkeling spots, all snorkeling gear and a hot BBQ lunch with a total tour duration of approx 4-5 hours. The catamaran was wide, very stable, clean and open, the gear was sanitized, the staff was friendly and most importantly our tour left right on time. We were served juice, coffee and a continental breakfast almost right away. The first snorkeling stop was at Kapalua bay a small calm bay with abundant marine life. Our second stop was at Honolua Bay. Honolua bay was beautiful. The bay water was deeper, completely calm and very clear. There
were tons of turtles, corals and every kind of colorful underwater life I could have imagined. We spent a lot of time here, coming out of the water only to get warm and then jumping back again. The staff never made us feel rushed. There were cut fruit, cookies and chips available to snack on. After spending about an hour and a half of snorkling here, our group headed back. Enroute we were served the hot BBQ lunch. There's was ample food and well prepared too. The best thing about the staff, oh yes....they knew where we could find Guri Guri. yippee!!! finally !!!
Day 6, our last day in Maui and best of all we knew where to find the Guri Guri. Right after breakfast (at Whaler’s Village) we left to seek out the only place left on the island of Maui in the town of Kahului that still served Guri Guri, a place in the Maui Mall. A tiny shop, in a corner of the mall, not crowded at all, and hard to spot ,there it was...the Tasaka's Guri Guri.

The phrase Guri-Guri is thought to originate during the Hawaii's plantation days in the late 1890s. This treat was supposedly sold to Japanese plantation workers as "goodie-goodie", who pronounced this as "guri-guri". The name stuck. The treat is best described as something close to a sherbet and a gelatto. I confess, I like sherbet and gelatto more than I liked Guri Guri, but it was a worthy excuse for a trip all the way to Hawaii.