Monthly Archives: November 2012

Hawaii: Beaches first post

allright, allright. Enough with the posts about restaurants and trees and other stuff, I know you came for the BEACH! In total, we visited SIX beaches and swam at 2. If you are impatient for the punchline, here it is:

  1. Snorkeling beach – great on fish, lifeguards, turtles, facilities. Low on waterfront acreage. Biggest shaved ice I ever saw.
  2. Kukio beach – oh my, oh my, oh my….this is the perfect swimming pool, I mean beach. Turtles and showers included.
  3. Wawaloli beach – striking, really striking – no way I’m going in that water!
  4. Green Sand beach 1 (Papakolea) – never seen anything like it and the jeep ride was a rock ‘n roll bonus
  5. Green Sand beach 2 (Papakolea) – awwww, what a gem…a really, tiny itsy bitsy gem
  6. Black Sand beach near the road (Punalu’u) – damn it! my camera can’t compensate for this much contrast!

There are beaches and there are beaches. The Big Island has them all. Some you can’t help but want to dive right in, others are more primal and raw. Each was unique and completely different. A beach’s character came from so many things – the emotion of the water, the sand and shade, the facilities and for some, it was the journey AND destination.

Here are some snapshots to tide you over until I write individual posts!  (Can you match the photo to the beaches? hint: 2 are missing and if you can’t get the #6 then I’m really doing something wrong)


Review: Bamboo restaurant (Hawaii)

Hawaiian cuisine – I had no expectations in this area as I was headed to the beach!!!!  Plus I had heard that the luaus were very expensive and a lot of them were very touristy. We had just been on a day trip when we ended up in Hawi close to dinner time. My Aunt and Uncle always wanted to try this place so we decided to stay until service started (about 30 min) and made reservations.

Bamboo is a restaurant, store and art gallery all rolled into one. And it’s in a little town of Hawi, which was actually one of the bigger settlements in the North part of the Big Island. But the restaurant is well known and it was a “destination” – it must have been because by the time we came back for our reservation at 6pm, two tables were already seated before us and by the time we got the menu, the front room was full. On a Wednesday night. Before 6:30.

Travel tip #76: Restaurants crowded with LOCALS are always good bets. If they are crowded with TOURISTS….well, at least the drinks are fresh for sure.

Between the 4 of us at the table, two had the fish of the day (mahi mahi) done two different ways; one had the luau port and I had the Vietnamese salad. Both of the fish dishes were good (and one person didn’t even like fish usually!). The coconut  crusted, pan fired fish looked delicious and the Hawaiian baked was done as ordered (well, well, well done) and my Uncle cleaned his plate. My Aunt kept raving about the pork and cabbage saying it tasted like it really did come from a genuine luau. My Vietnamese salad was just what I wanted. Light, crunchy with a nice flavour. The veggie spring rolls that came with it were flavourful and the soba noodles held onto the sweet chili sauce in just the right amount. The grilled chicken (also came in veggie and tofu variety) was also done nicely and the lettuce and other crunchy veggies set it all off well.

If you are in the area, I would definitely recommend Bamboo!


Drat, that was a mosquito

Fair warning: there isn’t anything about mosquitoes in this post – it was just a great title to follow up from the previous post about Akaka State Park. Also, please click on the photos in this post to see them properly.

I couldn’t fit all my tree photos in that last blog, so here they are! I think I might have a tree fetish, but I still haven’t figured out the best way to photograph them. One thing I had this trip was my Dad’s new Nikon camera that let me do wonderful panoramic shots of the canopy and really tall trees!

This photo to the right really shows the vines (perhaps a banyan tree in the maing?) that were literally dripping off the trees in the forest.  The pathway was so close to everything and the foliage was so dense in most areas that it would be almost impossible to capture this even with the best wide-angle lens. You can see in the photo below showing a look back at the beginning of the walk that after this, the flora closes in on you.

However, not only were the trees impressive, the canopy overhead was out of a fairytale. I, unfortunately, could not identify the types of trees (I’m only good when they are in bloom or if they’re typical North America or London, UK trees and my Uncle P is good for Jamaican trees – I can spot a birch at way more than 20 paces), but the leaves created a lacy effect against the late afternoon sky.

And just to round things off, here’s a shot of the ground level view with huge ferns in the foreground and just the trunks of the tall trees in the background.

Is that a MOSQUITO??

I do not consider being attractive to insects an asset. I react horribly to mosquito bites and so there I was on a warm autumn evening in Hawaii wearing a long skirt, long sleeves and sprayed with some awful chemical all in an attempt to ward off a bloodletting (little did I know that 3 of them had already gotten me before I sprayed).

The walking trail around Akaka Falls was a surprise to me and a bonus on top of being able to see the falls. It was the type of lush rainforest that I love with deep greens dripping with life.

Walking in Rainforest tip #4: stop, bend down, look closely

I’m enchanted by the small life that clings to rocks, trees, moss – anything it can get a hold of. A macro lens is so worth it for these shots.

But then, you also get hit between the eyes by the bold beauties like these. The forest was so dark (and it was approaching evening) that I had to use fill flash and back off a ways to mute the flash effect on the hibiscus. On the second flower (I think a Hawaii red torch), it was so far away from the trail I was using the flash for just that little extra light.

Of course, since it was a RAINforest, we ran into little rivulets of water everywhere and sometimes they spilled over into mini waterfalls. Note that this is where the mosquitoes were (don’t believe the thing about no mosquitoes near running water – they do just fine, thank you very much!). Due to the skeeters, my shot of the water is at a fast exposure, freezing the water. My Uncle, whom the little bloodsuckers don’t like as much, managed to stay and take a longer exposure to get a motion shot.

And we wouldn’t be in the tropics without fruit somewhere! I’ve seen bananas before – no biggie. But here, they were growing like they were little bushes lost amongst the massive greenery! It’s hard to get the scale in the photo – I needed a massive tree or tiny person, but if you know how big bananas grow, you get the idea!

Sigh….too many photos….next blog….trees

Second Hawaii Goal – See Waterfalls

I’m a sucker for a waterfall – I have no idea why. So, other than snorkelling, I had to see at least one good one while I was on the Big Island. Turns out that I was on the wrong side of the island. Good thing it wasn’t that big of an island. There are 3 or 4 waterfalls on the Hilo side that are all relatively close together so we could do a road trip and hit them one after the other. The plan was: Rainbow Falls, then Boiling Pots, then Pe’epe’e Falls, then Wai’ale Falls and lastly, Akaka Falls.

Travel tip #54: the weather affects things other than whether it’s raining

Case in point: no rain, no waterfalls. Drat!!  Rainbow falls weren’t falling – didn’t even take a photo. Boiling Pots were barely simmering.

Pe’epe’e Falls were a slender ghost of themselves (in the background of the Boiling Pots) and Wai’ale Falls were almost non-existent.  All of these were connected by the same river system with Wai’ale being the furthest upstream.

So, we headed to Akaka Falls which was in a different direction out of Hilo. While they too looked like they had been on a diet, they were still impressive with the long (over 400 ft/120 m) drop to the pool below.

There was even enough water here that Akaka had a little brother to one side

Next post….the rainforest around Akaka…..

Review: Blue Sea Cruises and a Night out with Ray

Was I crazy?

The setup: I had just learned to swim (see here) and had just snorkeled out too far and scared myself (see here) by running out of breath about, oh, 200 metres from shore.

The adventure: Get in the water, at night, with a giant Kona manta ray.  This is apparently, one of the highlights of visiting the Big Island – you can swim with a weird and wonderful sea creature (there are diving trips too).

My thought process: “wow! I’ll never have this chance again! This is so cool, I have to do this! Surely they haven’t lost anyone yet!? And these rays don’t have stingers or barbs, right?” Obviously, my priorities might be different than some people’s.

The verdict: yeah, maybe just a bit crazy. I apparently don’t mind putting myself in situations where the risk-consequence factor is high (as opposed to the risk-probability factor), but I still will detour around big spiders and cockroaches who are more afraid of me than I am of them (or so I’m told – I never really believed that one)

Best quote (from the Captain in an attempt to reassure us): “There’s nothing in the ocean at night that wasn’t there during the day.” I’m not sure if that made me more afraid of snorkelling in the day or more interested in seeing the ocean at night……

Yes, I did it. I got in the water with my safety floating noodle and entrusted my life to a couple of college kids and some plastic piping framework. And it was totally worth it.

I chose to go with Blue Sea Cruises after researching the whole thing. Just like the whale watching boats, I’m afraid that the industry has taken off and you will always have those that play fast and loose with the rules. Blue Sea Cruises avoids all that by going out later – after most of the others have gone out and taking less chances with their guests and not crowding the animals. Once company lets you paddle around by yourself which sounds exciting at the time, but when there are up to 10 boats all clustered around the same area and a ton of people in the water, it starts to get a bit sketchy. Blue Sea really took care of all of us beginners and I felt totally confident with them and I had a great time.

We’ll skip the bit where I was nervous and the bit about people getting seasick (only one person) and the bit about suiting up in a wet suit (something that simply cannot be done elegantly) and move on to the interesting bits. As we were getting into the water, I’m looking at the plastic frame that the lights are on and that we all hang onto around the edges. I see a white spot under the light which I think is a reflection. When I put my head down, I see that’s no light! That’s a flipping 10 foot manta ray! (the Captain said it was probably over 10 feet)

When you put your head in the water to snorkel, your world changes. And when that new world is filled with a creature that is bigger than you, moves quicker than you and is far more powerful than you, that is an awe-inspiring sight. It’s not quite the same when you are standing on dry land looking into an aquarium.

The Manta would swim up to the surface where the light was and gracefully arch it’s back and do a loop-di-loop, showing us it’s underbelly with a little remora fish hanging on.

Once or twice it would go to the bottom and pivot on a wing tip so we could see the grey shadings on its back. A few of us got bumped by its wingtip (my uncle almost lost his camera! thankfully, he didn’t so that I could get these photos for you to see!) which was considered getting “kissed”!

If you’ve ever gone on safari or encountered a large wild animal where they are clearly in charge, you may have felt the same things I did. We are puny little physical things and there are forces ever so much bigger than us….how you choose to greet those forces is what will make you just that much bigger. Happy Adventuring!

On evacuating for a tsunami

I have a friend who used to have disasters follow her or precede her when she travelled. Not your garden variety ones either. We’re talking a typhoon there, a bombing here, etc. Travelling the way we do, our idea of adventure may be a little skewed – all my friends admit that. So, when I heard there was a tsunami warning and then evacuation, fear wasn’t the paramount feeling. Let me start from the beginning.

We were out at a Hallowe’en pa’ina (party/gathering) put on by the local radio station when the concert was interrupted to announce that there had been an earthquake off the west coast of Canada and a tsunami could be headed to Hawaii, but so far, it was just a “watch”; the lowest of the warnings. No biggie…keep drinking my milkshake. Then after one song, they came back up to say it had been upgraded to a warning and they would close down the show so that everyone could go home. Allright. Interesting, but as we were staying across the road, this was also not a big deal. As well, the shopping mall where we were was the evacuation point, so we would have come there anyway.

Travel tip #44: even when travelling for a total escape from it all, it pays to be aware of the local disaster routines – even if all you do is check what the emergency number to call (it’s NOT 911 in all areas of the world)

Eventually, we decided we should go home to at least listen to the news….and pack a bag, just in case. After frantically (slightly) trying the TV, the radio (couldn’t get the shortwave channels) and the internet (wow, heavy traffic that night), we figured out that the Warning meant that certain coastal areas had to evacuate (no, not all of the island is considered coastal). The areas were marked in the phone book.  Wait. No phone book. Drat! Back to the internet…..we finally figured out that we were in an evacuation area…just. The intersection less than 20 feet away from the entrance to the resort was the edge of the evacuation area.

Travel tip #45: always know where your essentials are – passport, ID, medicines

My uncle and I wanted to go take pictures. My aunt wanted us out of there. My other uncle was already packed. We ended up back at the evacuation point, but this time with a car and food and drink and entertainment.

Evacuation tip #1: bring pillows if you have a chance

In the long hours ahead of us, we discovered that the supermarket was kept open, the movie theatres were open, the bathrooms were open and the pharmacy was closed. Also that some cars make really funny overheating noises when they are left running just to hear the radio and maybe for a bit of air conditioning and that some people play their radios much too loudly for a crowded parking lot.

Evacuation tip #6: don’t be a nuisance to those evacuating around you – you may be stuck with them for awhile

There were people trying to read by the flourescent light of the outdoor shopping mall and people trying to sleep laid out on the grassy bits between parking spaces. Others gathered around tailgates to exchange news and share a beer. And lots of people trying to find electrical outlets to charge their computers and ipads. But mostly, it was about waiting patiently as the reports came in from the tsunami warning centre in the Pacific and official government announcements. Thankfully, this tsunami was much lower than expected and there was very little damage. Everyone filed out of the parking lot and went home for a good night’s sleep.

Evacuation tip #10: don’t sweat it. Patience is essential when waiting together.

Review: The Hawaiian Vanilla Company

mmmm, Vanilla! An unexpected treat was finding a vanilla farm on the Big Island. This company is the only vanilla farm in the US. Their story is interesting and their products are top quality, but what we really loved was the lunch! We signed up for the lunch and farm tour not really knowing what to expect, but it sounding like something different to do. The lunch was actually a guided tasting, demonstration and information session all rolled into one. First, we chose between vanilla iced tea or vanilla lemonade or a mixture called the Arnold Palmer. Now, you don’t expect much from a drink with vanilla (remember that you don’t actually taste vanilla), but this was yummy!  As we learnt, vanilla acts to meld and combine flavours so it lessons the tartness of the lemons and mellows the astringency of the tea.

Then, the chef demonstrated the appetizer. I may not get the whole thing right, but it was a vanilla curry shrimp on a toast point with pineapple vanilla chutney. As I was allergic to shellfish, I had it with brie instead of shrimp. Again, the sweetness of the chutney was just right – not too sugary. Now, at this point, what was supposed to have been just lunch and a tour was rapidly becoming a shopping trip since they carried most of these products in the store. But my Aunt and I thought we would still be able to get out of there with under $100 worth of goods.

The main was a chicken sandwich and salad – with vanilla of course! The salad dressing was vanilla-raspberry vinaigrette and it wasn’t like any vinaigrette I’d ever tasted. The sharp acidic notes were all rounded out and complemented the feta and pecans beautifully. The sandwich, which already had a marinade of citrus-bourbon (vanilla) on the chicken and onions also came with 2 sauces: mango aioli and barbeque (with vanilla). But the bread itself incorporated the vanilla.

Now, at this point, you may be thinking enough with the vanilla! But it really added to the flavours that were already there. Not overwhelming at all.

With the 2 sauces (3 eating possibilities if you blend them) and the actual sandwich, we decided on a empirical eating experience, cutting the sandwich in quarters so we could have all 4 tastings. Personally, I preferred the vanilla barbeque sauce by itself, but it was all yummy. At this point, my aunt and I decided we’d probably be going over $100 walking out of the store.

(oh, did I forget to mention the oven-roasted taters?)

Lastly, dessert. Finally! THIS is what vanilla was made for – the sweet stuff! Dessert was vanilla (duh!) ice cream with a lilikoi (passionfruit) curd. (Note the empty glasses in the background). One of the best desserts I’ve had in a long, long, long time. The curd was neither sickeningly sweet as some can be nor terribly tart as commercial lemon ones can be – just right.

Ian (the oldest son) was the one who gave us the farm tour as well as hosted the lunch and is a wealth of information (how can you really argue with anyone who’s been growing vanilla since he was 6 years old? – although I still say he should have sang for us the way we saw on the video). The tour is interesting for anyone who has never seen a real vanilla plant or who is interested in orchids!

In short, I’d highly recommend this as one of your stops on the Big Island!  (oh, and if you were keeping track, I did make it out of the store with less than $200 worth of products!)

First Hawaii Goal – Snorkel (and Don’t Drown)

Hawaii, specifically snorkeling in Hawaii, was my goal for taking swimming lessons (that, and not drowning).  Two months before my vacation, I couldn’t swim. Two weeks before my vacation, I could technically swim; or, as I liked to say, I took a lot longer to drown. However, I succeeded! By success I meant that when I got to Hawaii, I wasn’t afraid to go into the water up to my neck even when the lifeguard kept calling out when a strong wave would break over the barrier and be coming towards us. I put that rented snorkelling gear on and dunked my head into the water. Yay! What was even MORE fun was that I actually saw fish!!!! I saw so many fish, I had to get a book. The one I really remember that day was the bright yellow one and the black ninja one. The 4 months of very expensive swimming lessons in a cold condo swimming pool pushing little kids (and the occasional adult) out of the way was totally worth it.

Snorkeling, for those of you who haven’t tried it, is like going on safari with wild animals who are less likely to bite and eat you. If you haven’t gone on safari, it’s like being in a zoo without cages while flying. Not everyone loves it. When I went night snorkeling with the manta rays, I met 2 people who were very uncomfortable with knowing exactly what was under them. But the combination of fish body shapes, colours, behaviours and species is astounding!

The “don’t drowning” part came into play as I recognized my limits. You don’t actually have to know how to swim to snorkel – because when snorkelliing, you just float. You can even use the floating noodles if you like. So as I merrily floated and paddled my way out to where there were actual coral (and therefore, more types of fish), I didn’t realise that there was still loads of effort involved and even if you could breathe while under water, it was still possible to run out of breath! At that point, I turned back and saved the lifeguard a trip out to get me.

Snorkeling rules:

  • don’t feed the fish (for a whole load of reasons, but mainly because they are WILD animals)
  • don’t stand on the coral (we’ve killed enough by now, don’t you think?)

The photos below were taken by my Uncle R who needs a much better underwater camera

How to enjoy a holiday in Hawaii

pfft! You’ve got to be kidding, right? Why would ANYONE need a blog post on this topic??


  • arrive in Hawaii
  • enjoy

Ok, so a couple caveats:

  • don’t sweat the tsunami, but do follow the evacuation instructions
  • there are no sea snakes in Hawaii, but the snake eel you just saw still has teeth
  • take both sunscreen and after-sun care (preferably aloe with lidocaine)
  • 11 foot wingspan manta rays don’t have teeth, but are really, really big
  • the volcano looks pretty until it erupts (learn how to read the seismograph)

Yes, my vacation had it all!!!  I’m still sorting through the photos, but will start posting really, really, really soon (as soon as the sunburn cools down – ow!)
Ok, ok, one photo to tease you: