Behind the Scenes: Summer Vacation (June 16 update)

Behind the Scenes: Summer Vacation (Day 6, June 17 update)

WAIKOLOA VILLAGE, Hawaii – After our failure to reach the bottom of the Waipi’o Valley on Sunday, we made it a point that we were not going to be defeated by the Pololu Valley.

I mean, the trail was only a 13-percent grade. Half as bad as Waipi’o.

While heading down the very steep, mile-long, 420-foot descent we noticed that nearly every single person coming up needed frequent breaks, was covered in sweat and potentially dying.

That didn’t deter us and the valley was more than worth it. A secluded black sand beach, stunning vistas, rope swings, peace and tranquility awaited us.

After playing in the water a bit and riding the swings, we headed back up the hill. Our guidebook said if you could do it in 15 minutes it meant you didn’t stop.

We did it in 19, but I made up stop three times. It was rough, but if you ever visit the overlook be sure and take the risk of going into the valley.

It was a perfect ending to our week-long trip to Hawaii.

Other Observations

  • On our way back to the hotel, we visited Mo’okini Heiau one of the most sacred sites in Hawaii. It is believed to be the first temple constructed on the island. The 20-foot walls were constructed with stones hauled by hand from six miles away. There is a lonely rock down by the fence line where tens of thousands of Hawaiians were skinned alive and sacrificed. It’s a lonely, unsettling place to visit.

  • Our one regret has certainly been that we didn’t try snorkeling. We’re not huge ocean folks, but in hindsight we should have done it. One reason we didn’t was mainly because of opportunity. If we would have bought our own gear then I think we would have done it multiple times, but since we had to rent, it was always easier to just put it off until the next day.
  • I can’t get over that our room doesn’t have a microwave. Every hotel I’ve stayed in for the last five years has had a microwave, but not the Hilton Waikoloa Village Resort.
  • On our way back from Pololu Valley we stopped in Haw’I and ate lunch at Sweet Potato Kitchen, a vegan/vegetarian restaurant. I had my first salad as a meal in my life and Veronica enjoyed a kale salad and a smoothie. Their smoothies were delicious, though not quite as good as South Kona Fruit Stand.
  • One of the strangest things about Hawaii is the lack of animals. Other than the sea creatures and birds, the only wild animal we saw was a weird squirrel thing. Otherwise, it was chickens, goats, donkeys, horses and cows.
  • We found a house for $325,000 near Haw’i. It needed a little – ok, a lot – of work, but I still think we should do it. There is a Division II school in Hilo, maybe they need a Sports Information Director?

  • Coming in to our trip to Hawaii, we figured it would be a place you visit once and then move on, but after our time here we are already planning a return trip. It is just so amazing.
  • Hawaii rankings, hotel division: The Whale House, the Westin at Hapuna Beach, Hilton Waikoloa Village. Restaurant division, Craig: The Brewhaus, Ning’s Thai Cuisine, South Kona Fruit Stand. Restaurant division, Veronica: Ning’s Thai Cuisine, Sweet Potato Kitchen and South Kona Fruit Stand. Beaches, Hapuna Beach, Kehena Black Sand Beach, Pololu Valley Black Sand Beach. Attractions, Waipi’o Valley, Pololu Valley, and kayaking with Bay Side Outfitters.

Behind the Scenes: Summer Vacation (Day 5, June 16 update)

WAIKOLOA VILLAGE, Hawaii – Hills, hills, hills. If you want to see cool stuff in Hawaii, you have to be prepared to hike.

I did not prepare my legs for hills. I do live in the second flattest place on earth, so there aren’t exactly a lot of hills to work out on. Let’s be honest, though, I could live in the Alps and I still would be too lazy to exercise in preparation for Hawaii.

Next time, maybe I will.

On our way to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden we saw a pullout with a path headed down the bluff to the ocean. We stopped, got out and decided it looked cool enough to do.

So, we headed down the 250-foot cliff, grabbed a few photos and hoofed it back up.

No big deal.

One mile later, we reached the garden. This magical gulch features 2,500 plants, amazing waterfalls and stunning views of the ocean. It also has virtually the exact same hike we just did. So, we paid our $20 entry fee and immediately hiked back down to the ocean.

The hike up required one rest stop and a water break.

Things were still looking good as far as my leg strength.

Enter Waipi’o Valley. Possibly the most picturesque place on the island. The overlook offers stunning views of the valley and the cliffs in the distance.

You have two options to visit the black sand beach below. Drive down a 25-percent grade that requires 4-wheel drive or hike down it.

At the time, the idea of driving down it freaked me out. So, we started walking.

We got about a third of the way and my legs balked.

Up we went. Three pit stops later and we finally reached the top.

I don’t know what the lesson is here. Learn to drive on really steep hills? Be satisfied with photos from the overlook? Build some much-needed leg strength?

No matter what, it was certainly an adventure.

Other Observations

  • Hilo is awesome. I wish we had stayed there a night or at least gone and visited it for a full day. Between the cool looking buildings to the beautiful bay to the waterfalls in town to the cracking farmer’s market – this was our kind of place. As it was, we only spent about 45 minutes there.
  • Veronica finally got her lychee at the Hilo market. She’s been rambling about it all trip. She finally tried it and … she wasn’t a fan. I thought it was OK. It looks like strawberries on the outside. After you peel off the skin, it looks like a clear marble. Tasted a bit like grapes to me.
  • The botanical garden felt like we were at Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. They had some of the weirdest plants I’ve ever seen. Definitely worth the $20 entry fee, even if you have to climb up the hill.

  • Going from the Whale House to the Hilton Waikoloa was jarring to say the least. Who are all these people and why are they all so near me? This sprawling resort is perfect for families with kids as there are pools everywhere, a salt water lagoon with fish and turtles in it, multiple hotel room towers, a golf course and plenty more. Not sure it’s a place we will seek out in the future, but I can certainly see the appeal for some vacationers.
  • We made sure to drive as much of the Old Mamalahoa Highway as we could, as it gave us a look at old Hawaii. We drove through the old sugarcane fields, stumbled upon a historic Japanese cemetery cared for by a Buddhist temple, houses for sale (we were tempted, very tempted), historical places, great views of the ocean, old bridges and much more. Any chance you get to leave the beaten path, you really should. Though it takes a lot longer.

  • We crushed the last of our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That has been a great cost saver on this trip. We are way, way under budget since we’ve yet to eat breakfast or lunch at a restaurant. This does not mean Veronica – I know you are reading – gets to go shopping to spend the rest of our Hawaii money.
  • I’ve been wearing my water shoes without socks this whole trip and I’ve now paid the price. Some sort of blister on my arch. That has made the hill climbing even more enjoyable. What can you do? Just got to work through the pain until I can walk around barefoot in Idaho.
  • The Hilton did not give us leis when we checked in. Sorry, Veronica, no leis for you on this trip.
  • Our room doesn’t have a microwave. We do have a safe, though. Not sure why, but whatevs.
  • We got a free upgrade to an ocean view and that has made for some great people watching and water viewing. I will miss the sound of the waves and the deep blue color of the ocean.

Behind the Scenes: Summer Vacation (Day 4, June 15 update)

PUNA, Hawaii – We called our first audible of the trip.

After creating a detailed itinerary for our vacation (I like to plan things), we had followed it pretty well. On Saturday, we were supposed to go back to Volcano National Park and hike the Kilauea Iki trail through the crater.

But we liked the Whale House so much that we decided to just explore Lower Puna and skip the one-hour each way drive to the hike.

It was worth it.

The Red Road, which the locals call Kapoho Road, is a magical drive. We took it eight miles to our northeast to Isaac Hale Beach Park. The narrow, at times one lane, road winds along the coast with dramatic views of the ocean pounding the black cliffs. It travels through multiple tree tunnels, dense rain forest and eventually, through the newest road on the island which was built on the most recent lava flow.

The road eventually ends at Isaac Hale where the lava flow ate it.

Of course, we all remember seeing the videos and photos of the lava flow the last few years, but to see it up close is something else.

I never imagined it would be so high. It was at least 25 feet tall in places. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t that.

Seeing all of the trees broke in half and burned as well as the haphazard path it took to the sea was fascinating.

Other Observations

  • So, about that coffee we bought as a gift. We stopped for groceries in Pahoa on our way in on Friday, but Veronica accidentally bought Cacao coffee (why is this a thing?) which she discovered Saturday morning at 4:30 a.m. when it was time to get our day going. Instead, we enjoyed the absolutely delicious Greenwell Farms Estate Blend. Sorry, Chris and Jenna. We’ll get you something else.
  • The guest log book at the Whale House suggested it’s possible to swim with wild dolphins at the black sand beach across the street. So, we headed over there early Saturday morning to see if we could find these mythical beasts. We never saw any dolphins – and there is no way I’m swimming at this beach as the waves are insane – but I did capture a couple of sharks or something in a few photos of the waves.
  • The beach in the morning was full of people settling into life and starting their day in a peaceful way. One guy had a full setup with incense, statues, a bell and more. Veronica enjoyed some peaceful meditation while listening to the waves crash. I enjoyed attempting to wade in to my waist and instead getting knocked over by a wave and then decided not to go into the water anymore.
  • The beach across the street is clothing optional. At one point, I was sitting on the rocky path, taking photos of the surf crashing into the rocks before me. Some guy came up to me and said, “We really don’t like cameras at this beach.” I responded, “Don’t worry, I have no desire to take a photo of you naked.” He left. It was awkward.
  • If you know Veronica and I, you know we love the rain. It’s one of the things we miss most about living in Tacoma. Well, Saturday was a real treat as it poured off and on throughout the day. We enjoyed a long hike along the coastline in a downpour, which really made us feel like we were in a true jungle.
  • We enjoyed an early lunch at Kaleo’s Bar & Grill in Pahoa, which was recently named the second best restaurant on the Big Island. I had a cheeseburger – really trying out new things on this trip – that was gigantic and the patty was certainly made in house. Veronica had their minestrone soup and a Haiku salad.

  • Our No. 1 restaurant so far has to be Ning’s Thai Cuisine as we grabbed it to go and enjoyed dinner on our lanai.
  • On the way back to the beach from Pahoa, we stopped at the Star of the Sea Church. This Roman Catholic church was built in the early 1900s and has been moved twice to avoid lava flows. It was decommissioned in 1975 and is maintained by a local group.
  • We visited the Uncle Robert’s Farmer’s Market. While there were very few vendors – perhaps because of the rain? – we did get some delicious dried pineapple.
  • I haven’t quite decided what I like better – resorts or the Airbnb. While you have to do a little bit more work at the Whale House, it is nice to have the privacy a house offers plus the access to a full kitchen has been a good addition. Veronica has enjoyed making mango and papaya smoothies for breakfast. On the flip side, at a resort everything is taken care of for you. We paid $120 for two days of resort fees and parking at the Westin, whereas that paid for more than one night of the Whale House. Maybe I just answered my own question about which I prefer.
  • Veronica and I have a major rule when we travel that involves not putting ourselves at risk just to get a photo. We’ve only had two occasions where I thought I might be featured in the Idaho Press-Tribune.

“A middle-aged Nampa couple was swept out to sea in Hawaii while celebrating their 10-year wedding anniversary Saturday, as they attempted to get a video of waves crashing on the rocks. Ignoring the high-surf advisory, Craig and Veronica Craker foolishly crept to the edge of a high cliff and were overcome by a giant wave.”

In reality, only I went to the edge and at the last minute decided that was dumb, backed away and shot video from a safe distance.

Behind the Scenes: Summer Vacation (Day 3, June 14 update)

PUNA, Hawaii – Just because you have a 4-wheel drive rental car doesn’t mean you should use it. Or maybe it does.

On our way from Hapuna Beach to our AirBnB on the southeast side of the island, we decided to try out the Road to the Beach that we read about in our Big Island Revealed guide book. The first mention of the road says it is a dirt road to two very private black sand beaches with tons of turtles.

Sounds good to me.

If we would have looked up the other mention of said road, we would have discovered it is a 6.2-mile long road over lava rock that routinely causes flat tires and unwitting tourists to get stuck.

I can’t say I have a lot of experience in off-roading, though I do now.

We made it about four miles before we decided to turn around. This was no Road to the Beach, it was the Lava Road to Hell.

Steep, rocky terrain had Veronica closing her eyes and even hitting her head on the side of the vehicle at one point.

It was certainly an adventure, even if it didn’t end at the beach.

Other Observations

  • Early on the Road to the Sea we came across a bunch of crumpled up police caution tape, with broken glass and what appeared to be scorched earth. Obviously, this was a warning sign.
  • Volcanoes National Park was a must-see is what everyone told me. And while it was cool, with no lava flowing it kind of just looked like southwestern Idaho with some steam vents added in.
  • Tourists really are the worst. There are signs next to all the steam vents saying not to throw anything into them. So, what do people do? Throw coins into them.
  • At said steam vents, a big blast of steam immediately fogged up our glasses and we wandered around blind for about 20 seconds waiting for them to clear.
  • We started our day off with a tour of Greenwell Coffee Farm. While the coffee harvest isn’t for a while yet, it was still interesting to hear how the farm got its start, see some of the 115-year-old trees, hear what they do with coffee beans and how they are prepared. They also sold some very good coffee that we are bringing home for gifts.
  • Our AirBnB is called the Whale House, cost just $90 a night and is across the street from the ocean. It is amazing. Our lanai has a view of the water and we went to sleep listening to the crashing of the waves, the wind in the trees, lots of birds and tree frogs.

  • There is a secluded black sand beach across the street. You have to climb down a very steep path to access the beach, but the view is stunning. There is a high surf advisory currently and the waves have been fun to watch.
  • We made sure to hit the South Kona Fruit Stand for another smoothie. So, so good.
  • For dinner we ate at Ning’s Thai Cuisine in Pohua. They have signs all over the restaurants that they won’t remake your food if you find it to be too spicy. I opted for mild on my dish, while Veronica risked medium. She said it tasted more like hot spice. Very, very good food.
  • There appear to be two types of hippies in this part of Hawaii. Deadhead Hippies and Cadillac Hippies. The Deadheads wander around looking stoned, dirty, hungry and generally listless. The Cadillacs are straight out of a Whole Foods and transplanted on the coast of Hawaii. It’s interesting to watch the two coexist.

Behind the Scenes: Summer Vacation (Day 2, June 13 update)

HAPUNA BEACH, Hawaii – Veronica and I aren’t really the “lay on the beach and never leave the resort” kind of people.

So, we have an action-packed trip planned out.

Today started with an hour-long drive to Bay Side Adventures, where we rented a two-person kayak and rowed a mile or two to the Captain Cook Monument. We felt like we were on the set for the show LOST in this area and even saw a dolphin jump.

After two hours of rowing – we were both very proud of ourselves for not stroking out – we headed back to shore and then drove to the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park.

This park, known as the Place of Refuge, is where “criminals” would retreat to avoid punishment by death. The highlight was probably walking way out on the old lava flow and watching the waves batter the shoreline.

We capped the day with a trip to the Queen’s Bath. This freshwater spring moves through a lava tube, which was pretty creepy frankly.

Veronica didn’t have the stones to get in, but I had to do it for the ‘gram. So, I climbed down into this ancient hole in the ground, got a few pictures and then got the heck out of there.

Other observations

  • Based on the lady who kept trying to fall down on the lava bed, you shouldn’t wear flip flops while walking on lava. I was pretty embarrassed for her.
  • “Women have been doing it for centuries” so extolled my wife when I saw my belly in our photo. Apparently, I should learn to suck it in for pictures.
  • We have relied on the guidebook Big Island Revealed for this trip and it has rarely led us astray (until Day 3). Can’t recommend it enough.
  • South Kona Fruit Stand has perhaps the best smoothie I’ve ever had in my life. They also had crazy colored lizards.
  • Many. Mosquitoes. We went out of our way to buy bug spray and then promptly left it in our car in valet. Not very smart. We were told by a local that they aren’t usually this bad. Just this time of year — aren’t we the lucky ones!
  • We visited the Painted Church, which was built in the 1800s and painted on the inside from 1899-1904. The grounds of the church featured tons of fruit trees including bananas, pineapples and more. It was very cool.
  • We drove up to Waimea for dinner, eating at Big Island Brewhaus. Their steak and dipping sauce was to die for. Veronica had a falafel salad and raved about it.
  • I’ve only experienced three bouts of road rage so far. I can’t decide if people have never drive on windy roads or if they are just giant wusses, either way, they should get out of my way.
  • I seriously am like a new person here. Two nights in a row I’ve gone to bed before 10 and snapped awake at 4:30 a.m. with no adverse effects. I’d try this at home, but I doubt sitting on my back deck in Nampa listening to my neighbor’s air conditioner is the same as sitting on a deck in Hawaii listening to the wind in the palm trees, the waves crashing on the beach and the birds sing.
  • While I’ve still been on my phone a lot, I haven’t been trying to stay up to date on current events which has been refreshing. I’ll get back to my Trump bashing next week.


Behind the Scenes: Summer Vacation (Day 1, June 12 update)

KONA, Hawaii – I can’t think of a bigger tease than your plane landing in Hawaii only to be told you will be sitting on the tarmac for 30 minutes while they get your gate ready.

Veronica and I flew to the Big Island in Hawaii for a week-long trip to celebrate our 10-year wedding anniversary.

After a 20-minute delay getting out of Seattle, we suffered through the six-hour flight in economy. As we began our descent into Kona, the tropics appeared with colorful water as far as the eye could see.

It was certainly the happiest plane ride I’ve ever been on.

After the long wait to reach our gate, we were greeted with an outdoor airport. Never seen anything like it.

We grabbed our rental car, hit a grocery store and checked into the Westin at Hapuna Beach.

Other observations

  • Taking your shoes off on the plane is next level. I guess I haven’t been on any flights long enough recently to do so, but it felt heavenly.
  • Alaska Airlines doesn’t have WiFi over the ocean. What am I supposed to do for 6 hours? Veronica did homework, I read a book and slept, and we both stared out into the blue nothing.
  • If you know me, I’m not exactly someone to stop and chat with strangers. When we pulled up to the Westin, Veronica stayed in the car while I went inside to check in. I rolled right past the person handing out leis and went to the front desk. As I checked in, the lady gave me two cups of fresh passion fruit juice. Since Vero was in the car, I went ahead and drank both. Eventually, Veronica came inside and I was admonished for being oblivious to normal hotel check-in customs.
  • The four-hour time change from Idaho to Hawaii is nothing to sneeze at. Plus, the sun goes down at least two hours earlier here than in the Treasure Valley. Combine those two things and we went to bed at 8 p.m.
  • This is our first time at a resort and it is pretty cool. Stunning views, amazing pools, access to a pristine white sand beach, and lots of annoying tourists/rich people.
  • Never eat at the restaurant that overlooks the kids pool. We paid $40 for so-so entrees that we could have gotten at any chain restaurant in America.
  • My so-called Summer Feet – walk around barefoot for a long time to build up the bottom of your feet – came in handy when I wandered off to climb on the volcano rocks trying to get a better view of the crabs.


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