After what seemed like the busiest holiday season for me, I was happy to get away from it all and visit one of my favourite places in the world, Hawaii. I have been there several times over the past years and it never gets boring because each of the major Islands of Hawaii are quite unique and offer something different to do. This year I stayed in Kona on the Big Island. I have been to Kona before and after visiting some of the other islands I have decided for many reasons that this island is my favourite island. It's the biggest of all the Islands and there are many beaches and outdoor activities available. There's a real live volcano - Kiluea, which still has lava flowing and there is a dormant volcano - Mauna Kea that actually gets snow. On Mauna Kea scientists have set up many telescopic stations to observe the stars. The Kona coffee belt is a nice drive and you can pull into any of the Coffee plantations for a tour, etc. For my second visit to the Big Island, I did none of the above (because I did it all last time I was here) and still managed to find new things to do there.
This time I celebrated New Year's Eve in Kona. One of the biggest differences I noticed during this time in Hawaii, was that fireworks are legal and are sold in many shops. In fact, I heard on one of the Hawaiian news channels that there were shortages of firework permits which meant people could not buy fireworks to bring in the New Year. On New Year's Eve just as everyone was counting down to the New Year, you could see many fireworks lighting up the sky. I was driving on the highway and it was pretty cool to see row upon rows of homes with fireworks exploding above them.
One of the main objectives for my visit to Hawaii is the weather and the swimming. Swimming in the ocean is not something I ever do here in Vancouver because I find the water far too cold. During my one week visit to Kona, I spent about four days at the beach swimming. I went to Kahalu'u Beach Park for snorkelling. It's just a small local park and not very big. The water was not too deep but it was very rocky and I highly recommend you wear water shoes. There were rocks and coral everywhere and a very limited space to enter into the water. Once you were in, there were plenty of fish and turtles to see. There were turtles in the water and there were some sunbathing on the rocks. Reef naturalists were on hand to talk to you about the turtles. It is against the law to touch or disturb Hawaii's green turtles. You have to keep a healthy 20 feet away from them. I was just happy to see the tropical fish and turtles swimming about. Going to this beach early is definitely a good idea as it got very busy by the afternoon. It is a local park and you will see many local families with their young children. The next day I visited Hapuna Beach. You have to pay US $5 per car to enter the park. This beach can also be quite crowded depending on when you get there. It was a very long stretch of beach, sandy without any shade. You have to bring an umbrella if you want some shade. The waves are not too rough so you won't see anyone surfing. Instead, you will see many people boogie boarding. I spent a happy couple of hours there turning into a lobster!
My favourite beach would have to be Mahai'ula Beach inside Kekaha Kai State Park. This beach was really off the beaten path. You can only hike or drive a four wheel drive to get to it. There were lots of places to set up your beach mat and many shady spots to lie under. This beach was never crowded, and most times, I felt I had the beach all to myself. The shore break can be a bit rough for inexperienced swimmers and snorkellers. Unfortunately there were no lifeguards. Wary of the rough waters, I wore my life vest to be safe. There were many fish and turtles to be seen at this beach. I snorkelled and saw turtles, and I climbed (carefully) over the Lava rocks and sat in little rock pools and saw black crabs come out of their hiding places. It really is a slice of heaven here. I loved this beach so much that I went there two days in a row.
I also visited Puuhonua o Honanunau National Historical Park in south Kona to catch a glimpse of early Hawaiian culture. This park is sacred grounds to the Hawaiians. It once was a refuge for lawbreakers who went there to seek absolution before returning to society. The grounds are beautiful and you can rent some headphones and take a self guided tour to see the Great Wall which stands 10 feet high and 17 feet thick as well as wooden images of gods, thatched work houses called halau and a sacred temple called a heiau which housed the bones of 23 chiefs called Alii. All this is surrounded by a beautiful black lava rock shoreline.
Another favourite spot I visited was the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden near Hilo, located on the other side of the Big Island. It really was beautiful there with gorgeous flowers and foliage. Once you paid the US$15 entry fee you could spend several hours walking in their gardens. There were so many beautiful tropical flowers, many of which you won't see on other parts of the island. The garden is a nature preserve and sanctuary and home to over 2000 species of plants and flowers There was a short but steep climb to a bench that overlooked a beautiful cove called OnomeaBay.
On the way back up the path to the garden I came across Onomea Stream, which trickled down from the mountains through a thick Palm Jungle. It is a lush tropical jungle and does become hot and humid. On the day I was there it had rained earlier. Fortunately, the garden centre provided umbrellas for free and mosquito repellent for purchase. I love gardens and really enjoyed this one. Inside the garden centre, I purchased a very cute bejewelled bag in the shape of Hawaii's national fish called the triggerfish. Or as it's called in Hawaiian Humuhumunukunukuapua'a! After several visits to Hawaii, the one thing I still need to master is the language! With just 13 letters to their alphabet, you'd think it'd be easier. Just try pronouncing that trigger fish!