Saturday, November 6, 2010

Hawai'i — The Good, Pt. 1

Confusion generally dominated my psyche while considering trips to Hawaii over the years. Many islands with so many confusing names with so many letters, especially k’s. They really like k’s in Hawaii. Gradually, however, I drew a few conclusions. O’ahu – that’s the island with the big city and famous Waikiki Beach. Too urban. Lots of people. Not my bag.

Maui: That’s the place where an increasing number of people my age go for their second weddings. No plans for a trophy wife….

Ka’uai: Wet and small. Probably less kid-friendly than…

Hawai’i: The Big Island. Twice as large as the other Hawaiian islands combined. Volcanoes, some decent beaches, coffee plantations. Plus, a number of friends had recommended it as the most family-friendly for “things to do.”

So when, on a whim, my parents and my family decided to visit the 50th state, The Big Island came out on top.

My lovely bride cashed out all of our frequent flyer miles, so four of our five family members could fly free, and through Costco Travel she found a great room at the Waikoloa Hilton (west side of Hawai’i) for a ridiculous price. I’m not averse to bragging about numbers. Airfare, oceanview room, two breakfast buffet tickets per day, and minivan cost about $3,500 for our family of five for a week. (Little guy was free for breakfast and by skipping one other day, we all ate breakfast basically for free on the trip.) This trip obviously occurred during the off-season; the boys had the entire week off from school for MEA week. We had to pay for gas, some other meals, and incidentals, but we found ways to do that as cheap as possible. We bought every gallon of gas that flowed through the carburetor – er... fuel injection chambers – at Costco in Kona. Grabbed a few lunches and miscellaneous items there, too. No, I’m not above plugging Costco.

The flight. It’s a long damn way to Hawaii from the Mainland. (Don’t call it the States, or “Back in the U.S.” Hawaiians of all races don’t like that. You’re in the U.S.) From MSP, you’re looking at three hours-plus to LAX, then another five-plus to the surprisingly undelightful open-air airport at Kona.

To Delta Airline’s credit, all flights took off and landed on time, and they conveyed my clan to and from the tropics safely. Those compliments behind us, the airplane was small, dirty, and had lousy airflow. There were NO overhead air vents on the flight from LAX to Kona, so it was stuffy and hot the whole flight. How is that possible in 2010? Gotta love monopolies.

The boys, age 11, 8, and 5 handled the flight better than me. Logan got airsick, but rolled with it very well. Will give my boys credit: They love to travel. They’re always pretty well behaved, but especially when they know they’re doing something special – like a trip to Hawaii. To the credit of my fellow Americans, we didn’t deal with any crabby babyboomers – or any other generations – who took offense to the mere presence of children on the aircraft. Thank you fellow travelers.

Driving from the airport to our lodging, we were surprised to see… rock.

Lava. Rock. Is. Bleeping. Everywhere. On. The. Big. Island.

Hey, you’re sitting on a still-growing island about the size of Connecticut with five volcanoes, three of them potentially active. Guess one shouldn’t be surprised to see a whole lot of rock. Still, for those who expect to view waterfalls around every corner, miles and miles of vast, black lava rock fields generated surprise.

Aside from the irritants I'll mention in separate blog, which we will pretend don’t exist here, the Waikoloa Hilton was a great place. Friendly, helpful staff, clean rooms, great pools and other amenities, and a reasonable drive to and from Kona Airport. We made lots of time for the boys to swim in the magnificent swimming pools, snorkel the lagoon, and watch the sunsets every night from the lava-rock and coral-strewn coastline.

The lagoon had surprisingly good snorkeling! We saw many species of fish, including some small baracuda, eels, parrotfish, plus sea turtles. Though the lagoon lacked coral, we arguably saw as many different fish species in its calm waters as we did while snorkeling a half-day with Seaquest Adventures in two prime spots. (See future blog specific to Seaquest.)

Though we skipped the $90/person luau, the boys and I enjoyed watching a couple of staffers bury a pig in a fire pit. The friendly pair of Hawaiians provided ample insight into the history behind this style of cooking and their personal backgrounds. Annette and I perhaps can tackle a luau together someday when we’re paying for two.

The Waikoloa resort complex contains some of the best examples of Hawaiian petroglyphs, stone carvings, in the state. The petroglyphs, I understand, are possibly the closest thing to a written language that Hawaiians used. Info from the resort website says some petroglyphs are thought to be astronomical symbols, travel markers or commemorations of historic events. What struck me was how the semi-urban resort area was simply built around them. Park near Tiffany’s, walk past the ABC store, cut through the gas station parking lot to reach the trail through the petroglyphs carved into the lava rock. (Try to ignore the clearly more recent – often phallic – graffiti.) Oh, and don’t forget to dodge the sliced golf balls bouncing through the sacred ground. Some idiot missed the fairway by 100 yards (even I’m not that bad!) and his ball came within a couple feet of me. He witnessed multiple foul gestures from yours truly. Ban golf.

More to come…

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