Farewell to Hawai'i
Saturday, March 3
We had finished our tour of Pu'uhonua o Honaunau NHS around noon. Our flight left the Kona airport shortly after 6pm, meaning we still had a chunk of time to kill. We decided to wander back up the coast towards the airport, stopping for lunch, some souvenir shopping, and whatever else looked interesting along the way.
Lunch at Annie's
We stopped for lunch along the Belt Highway in a little town called Kealakekua. In an unassuming little strip mall we discovered Annie's Island Fresh Burgers. It turned out to be a very nice organic-upscale sort of place - one that used local organic ingredients and which had several nice interpretations on burgers and fries. Sitting at a table in the open-air section of the restaurant, we all tried some type of burger. I decided to go the non-meat route today, and had the Mala burger: a veggie burger made from chickpeas, herbs, garlic and onion. An order of sweet potato fries with a delicious aioli dip rounded things out nicely.
Continuing back northwards in the direction of the airport, we decided to stop in the urban area of Kailua-Kona, a 12,000-person strong city on Hawai'i's west coast. We first stopped at a large general good market, where several large open buildings contained a maze of little knick-knack and general merchandise shops. Brian and Jenn spent an hour or so perusing and picking out some items for their respective families.
We then decided to drive down to Kailua-Kona's waterfront. This turned out to be a rewarding experience: the little downtown area had a much more historic feel than the outlying areas, with an important historical church, an old palace, and a scenic harbour with a seawall.
Making Shaved Ice
We decided to try a traditional Hawaiian treat for which we had seen many signs but had not partaken of - so far. Shaved Ice, it is called (or more precisely, it appears to be called 'shave ice'). It is widely made and sold on all of the Hawaiian Islands. Shave ice is made from the shavings of a block of ice - which is the primary way in which it differs from crushed ice desserts. Syrups with a flavour of your choice are added to the ice, as is a scoop of ice cream or a drizzling of condensed milk.
Jenn and her shave ice
We chose to have our first shave ice experience at a place incongrously-named "Scandinavian Shave Ice". Hopefully we'd still be getting the local Hawaiian experience, and not some sort of european interpretation!
The shave ice shop was just a few feet from the harbour and the sea wall, so we decided to perch ourselves atop the wall and dangle our feet over the ocean as we ate our treat.
After finishing with our afternoon treat, we walked a short ways down the main drag to where a couple of interesting-looking historical sites were located. The first was the Hulihee palace, a former vacation home of Hawaiian royalty. It didn't look particularly Hawaiian (at least not in the sense of old pre-western Hawaii), but was still beautiful. It is built in a New England-ish sort of architecture, but is made from lava rock and coral. We thought about going inside, but the fact that pictures weren't allowed kind of turned me off, so we didn't go. I sometimes wonder about these arbitrary rules; I don't even have a flash on my camera!
Directly across the street from the palace was another interesting structure: Mokuaikaua Church. It was the first church to be founded in the Hawaiian Islands - in 1820 - and thus played a pivotal role in the conversion of the native Hawaiians from their old beliefs and systems to christianity.
Like many of the other old churches we'd seen in Hawaii, this church had an attractive but plain rustic exterior, and an even more rustic interior. Lavish decorations were not the name of the game in these places!
Mokuaikaua Church Entrance
Interior, Mokuaikaua Church
It was getting on close to 4pm - and that meant it was time to head back to the car and get over to the Kona airport. Once at the airport, we returned our rental car back to Avis, making sure that all of the many nicks, stratches and dents were not attributed to us (I had carefully marked all of them down on the supplied damage sheet when we had picked up the rental), and took the short shuttle ride over to the passenger terminal.
Open Airport Concept
Kona airport is, like other Hawaiian airports, built with sections that are permanently open-air. Being a tropical locale, they never have to worry about cold weather, so they can do this. This particular airport seemed especially into the outside-is-inside concept, to the point where I was surprised that some sort of paranoid security concern hadn't intervened. Our gate, for instance, had nothing more than a low berm of shrubs and a line of coconut palms separating us from the tarmac. I was surprised - pleasantly so. It was perfect for a plane nut like me - no glass or fences to get in the way of my airplane shots!
The sun sank towards the west as our shiny and clean Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717 (nee McDonnell Douglas MD-95) landed, then taxiied to our gate. We sat and watched as a very casual ground crew went about turning around the plane (not physically, of course). Soon, it was time for us to board, and once again, things weren't the same as on the mainland: we presented our boarding pass at a small archway, then walked unaccompanied onto the tarmac towards the airstairs that had been positioned up to the plane. I liked it - very relaxed!
And so began our long journey back to eastern North America: four flights over the course of a full elapsed twenty-four hours - from the Big Island to O'ahu to Phoenix to Philadelphia and finally, to Ottawa.
Apart from the lack of a way to get to see some fresh lava, we'd accomplished everything we'd set out to do on this trip to the Hawaiian Islands. My general takeaway is of a place that is nicely laid-back, casual, and friendly. The food was more interesting and distinctive than I had expected. The scenery was incomparable, which was mostly expected, but the two-dimensional cutout type of impression I had of Hawaiian scenery before the trip had been replaced by the much more intimate impression one gets from first-hand experiences. Now that I had set foot here and experienced it first hand, it seemed less exotic, but somehow more scenic. A fair trade.
If I had to create a set of "top three" lists describing my visit to Hawaii, I think it would go something like this:
Top three scenic experiences:
Top three personalities:
- The view from the end of the Kalepa Ridge trail, Koke'e State Park, Kaua'i
- Emerging from the clouds early in the morning on the floor of Haleakala National Park's crater, Maui
- Looking across the proto-earth like terrain from the summit of Mauna Loa, Big Island
Top three food experiences:
- Ex-marine and dedicated trail savior Bill Winters - Kalalau Trail, Na Pali Coast, Kaua'i
- Surf Maui Taxi driver Steven Joshua Blue, Maui
- Retired park ranger Ted Rodrigues - stalwart rejuvenator of Haleakala National Park's backcountry, Maui
- Homemade axis deer teriyake jerky and fish tacos with Lois and Ted in the backcountry of Haleakala NP, Maui
- Big Island Luau at the Coconut Grill Restaurant, Maui
- Fresh, homemade tacos at Red Hot Mama's roadside taco stand in Wainiha, Kaua'i