Well, we find ourselves back in Hawai’i for the second time this year, same resort and almost the same room. That’s fine with us, we have no where near exhausted the opportunities on the Big Island. With each trip we find more interesting, educational and just plain fun sights, trips and people.
We arrived Sunday morning, just after breakfast, so we went to lunch instead. We wanted to try Kona Brewing, a microbrew pub in Kona. If I remember correctly, and I probably don’t, we couldn’t get in last trip. Dawdling slightly we had an early lunch and an excellent porter not too long before noon, but hey, its vacation.
Monday morning found us at the pool. We had lunch in our cabana and aside from winds gusting to 50 mph, it was an excellent day. Actually, the wind added to the entertainment as the lounge chairs kept blowing across the pool area keeping the attendants hopping.
Monday night we returned to Kona for dinner on a balcony overlooking the Pacific to enjoy a beautiful sunset. Foster’s Kitchen was mentioned in a NYT article we saw and definitely lived up to the hype. Everyone, starting with the reservationist, and continuing to the hostess and waitress was perfectly Hawaiian, welcoming and friendly.
Tuesday we were back at the pool and a short walk to and along the beach. The winds lessened overnight and the pool was perfect. We opted to not take a cabana as we were going on a tour that afternoon. The pool attendants greeted us as if we were old friends. Let me rephrase that, long time friends.
At 2:20 we met Jeff, our tour guide/driver/waiter/masseur, and headed out to Mauna Kea. Fran booked a small group tour with Hawaii Forest and Trail for their Mauna Kea Summit and Stars Small-Group Adventure Tour. Jeff stopped in Waikoloa to pick up our pre-ordered dinners at Island Lava Java and headed up, and I mean up. Our Waikoloa resort is only 0 feet above sea level. Jeff told us we would stop at an abandoned sheep shearing station where the tour company had an arrangement with the government to erect a dining tent for their exclusive use.
Jeff efficiently served dinner in the tent. The stop also gave us a chance to acclimate to the altitude. Dinner was served at about 6800 feet above sea level, or half way up Mauna Kea.
After our early dinner we headed out and up. Right after the Visitor Center the paved road ends and only 4 wheel drive vehicles are allowed to the summit. Luckily, our super Mercedes is so equipped. Actually it is 6 wheel drive as the rear wheels are double. The washboard dirt road provided Jeff’s promised massage. The dirt road is about 4.5 miles long, then turns back to pavement. Jeff explained this is due to either dust control, so the mirrors of the telescopes don’t get dirty, OR the dirt road reduces crowd control. Both explanations seemed very plausible, although Ginny, the woman seated next to me, Fran and I thought crowd control was most likely.
We were running ahead of schedule so Jeff took a 5 minute side trip to one of the VLBA telescopes. This is remote controlled telescope, from Socorra, NM., is etworked together to form the largest (Very Large Baseline Array) radio telescope.
The observatories lie at 13,796 feet above sea level. The mountain of Mauna Kea actually starts 19,700 feel below sea level making this mountain the highest in the world at 33,500 feet, nearly a mile higher that Everest. Do you know how cold it is at 13,796 above sea level? I can tell you, it’s cold. The wind chill is -55 deg F. Wind chill is a measure of how fast your body loses heat.
Jeff provided parkas for everyone and gloves for anyone who wanted them. I would have taken them but then I couldn’t use my iPhone to take pictures. Having never used my iPhone in cold weather I had no idea the battery would drop from 87% to 3% in a few minutes. The battery didn’t actually die, its just the lithium ion batter doesn’t operate at extremely low temperature, and it was extreme. My spare battery, which I luckily kept in my pants pocket, charged the phone back up to 20% to allow a few more pictures but then it too stopped functioning. We went from 85 deg at our resort to -55 deg at the summit. Amazing.
After sunset, Jeff drove us down to a parking area, out of the wind, on the leeward side of the mountain, thank you Jeff! He set up a Celestron telescope for us to view stars, planets, comets and the moon. I am not sure how big the telescope was, but I would guess somewhere between 8″ and 10″ diameter. For the first time I saw the Andromeda galaxy, the body (although hazy) of a comet, and the Orion Nebula. For the second time I saw the rings of Saturn, although a little fuzzy. It was near the western horizon and we had to look through a lot of atmosphere. The most amazing sight to me was the Milky Way. Of course, every time you look toward the stars you are seeing the Milky Way, unless you happen to see Andromeda. I have seen the Milky Way on dark cold nights in Vermont and it was beautiful, but at 13,796 feet with 6% humidity, the sky was absolutely pristine and the view was outstanding. If you have ever seen photographs of the sky showing the gaseous background of the Milky Way, THAT is what we saw.
On the ride back down the mountain, I mentioned to Fran this was one of the two best tours I have been on in our travels. (America’s Cup racing yacht sailing, in Cozumel, was the other.)
Wednesday, guess what? Pool time until 11, then off to Merriman’s in Waimea for lunch. Peter Merriman created the first of his award winning restaurants 25 years ago and emphasizes local sourcing to support local farmers and fishermen.
We had fish tacos and a fish sandwich. Both delicious. A different style from Coconuts Fish Cafe, which remain our favorite, but until they come to the Big Island, Merriman’s will do very nicely.
After lunch we drove north, through a light rain on Hwy 250, the Kohala Mountain Road.
This is a beautiful, rural, drive that leads towards Hali on the north shore of Hawai’i. To call any road on the Big Island “rural” is almost redundant, but when there is a house every mile or two, this was truly rural. It was also very well maintained and an easy drive.
In Kapaau we turned right, past the statue of King Kamekameha and then turned left towards a county park on the shore.
With only a truck or two in the parking lot, we had the place to ourselves and it was beautiful. The wind was blowing and surf was high.
Less than an hour’s drive later we were back “home” in Waikoloa for dinner at the Lava Lava Beach Club, located right next to our resort. We wish we had ventured over here before. Loud and lively, great food and very nice people. Maybe the best guitarist/vocalist we heard so far. I cannot imagine why this beautiful island attracts the best and most talented people. There must be a reason. Hmmmmm.
At 5:30 the wait for a table was more than an hour so we elected to sit at a “first come” two sided bar opposite a couple from Denver. We compared our activities over our two perfect hamburgers and their fries. They wanted the Volcano Fries but were there just after happy hour, the only time those fries are available.
Check out at 10 this morning. The resort offered us a complementary hour, until 11 am, then off to the airport for a 5:20 flight. The airport is only 30 minutes away so we decided to rent one of the pool cabanas for the day. The rental fee included two Mai Tais. “Breakfast” Mai Tais, well, it is the last day of vacation. It turned out we weren’t limited to Mai Tais. Margaritaville here we come. Maybe a cheeseburger in paradise for lunch.
We occupied our cabana from around 8:00 and kept it through checkout and left for the airport at 2:00. The Kona airport is interesting. The concourses and waiting areas are all outside. This if fine if it isn’t blistering hot, unusually cold or a pounding rain, and it wasn’t .
Home and Rosie tomorrow. Can’t wait!