aloha! adventures from the big island, hawaii

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Well, we’re back! We both look a little like lobsters with our sunburns, but at least, I no longer look like a pasty-white Pilgrim.

Hawaii felt like another country. I kept having to remind myself that we were still in the United States. Everything felt different: the vegetation, the climates, the food.

vegetation

When I think of Hawaii, I think of the lush, leafy vegetation, but in reality, this is only one part of the island. There are hilly plains that reminded us of the American West like Wyoming or Nebraska; there is the desert made of rocky black lava rock; there’s the snow-capped mountains (I know, there’s snow on a tropical island! Mind blown!). Then there’s the lush leafy greenery and the beaches.

the green and black sand beaches

Going to the Green Sand Beach was a fiasco. We made a last-minute decision to detour there on our way to the Black Sand Beach. Without reading any reviews, we thought we’d check it out. We followed Google directions until Google announced we had arrived. A guy comes over to the car and says, “You going to the Green Sand Beach?”  We tell him we want to hike it. He tells us it’s a 4 hour roundtrip hike. He says they caravan people over for $15 a person. I look over to see a nice van and think that won’t be so bad. We say sure. The guy then ushers us into the back of a battered pick-up truck. I hesitantly take a seat and he says, “Oh, no, you’re not going to want to sit.”  I stand and look around expecting to see a road but just see an extremely rocky beach.

“Where’s the road?” I asked Justin.

“I don’t think there is one.”

We both start wondering what the heck we had gotten ourselves into. I’ve had some bumpy rides in my life, but nothing compares to the one on the back of that truck to the Green Sand Beach.  It was like being on one of those full body vibration exercise machines my grandpa used to own. For 30 minutes (though it felt like forever), we were rattled back and forth like rag dolls and gripping the truck for dear life. I was surprised no one lost a kidney.

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We finally arrived. The beach was forest green. It is green due to a mineral deposit from lava called olivine. It is a heavier mineral so it isn’t washed out to sea like lighter minerals. The beach was beautiful….and uncomfortable. The beach is at the very southern tip of the island so the high winds were coming in off the Pacific Ocean. It was like some new-age intense exfoliating torture with the 45 mile-an-hour winds pelting us with sand. Two brave (or crazy) twenty-something year old women went down there to sunbathe, but after a few minutes, we saw them taking shelter. After only a few minutes, Justin and I were more than ready to head back.

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Am I glad we went? I think so. Would I do it again? Probably not. Maybe there’s something to checking the reviews before attempting a new adventure.

The Black Sand Beach was much easier to get to. We drove up, took some pictures, and headed out. The sand is black because it is made up of black lava remnants. It was kind of surreal to see but very cool.

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big island bees

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It turns out when you start researching tours and excursions just a couple weeks before a Hawaii vacation, most tend to be booked. One of the tours that still had spots available was the Big Island Bees tour. I had never been to a bee farm so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Here are the main points I remember: Each unit (each unit is made up of multiple shelves) has a Queen. And all the bees work for her. Most of the bees are female.

What I found most interesting is that they put the bees near the plants that they want the honey to taste like. Every few months they will load up the bees, bring the honey back to the store for processing, then set up the bees in another location on the island with different plants that will produce a different flavor of honey.

I also learned there is such a thing as a bee speed. It’s a speed that’s perhaps a little slower than normal that doesn’t alarm the bees. The beekeeper would slowly and gently pick up some bees and show them to us. And afterwards, she would fling the bees off her hands (to our horror). And the bees would go back to work as if nothing had happened.

Below is the truck they pack up the bees in to relocate them to a new location for a few months. The bee farm was a very cool place. If you ever have an opportunity to visit a bee farm, I’d recommend it.

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lion’s gate farm

Early on in the vacation, we headed to the Lion’s Gate Farm, which grows a ton of different produce but specializes in coffee and macadamia nuts. It looked like a private driveway and the house looked like a normal house. Nothing about the place made it look like a commercial enterprise except one little hand-written sign that said, “Come in.”

Justin said, “If I hear banjos, we’re leaving.” I agreed.

We cautiously crept up to the house and knocked because we felt it was the polite thing to do. Two dogs raced to the door and barked at us. We half expect someone to come out and ask us what the heck we’re doing on their property. And I was all ready with my apology and explanation of faulty Google directions, but then an elderly lady sauntered to the door barefoot, bra-less, and wearing a moo-moo.

“Y’all here for the tour?” she asked.

We were in the right place. She told us she has bread in the oven, but we should feel free to show ourselves around the property. Lion’s Gate Farm grows everything from avocados, pineapples, oranges, coconuts; you name it, they have it. Around the island, you could just walk up to a tree and pick the fruit from it. Fruit and vegetables were growing, not only in plantations, but in non-growers backyards, in church yards, and by the side of the highway. Vegetation was everywhere.

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The lady eventually came outside and invited us to crack some macadamia nuts with her. She told us a little bit about the property. The property was her daughter’s, but she led the tours when her daughter was away. We bought some Kona coffee and macadamia nuts from her and headed on our way. Lion’s Gate is not what we expected, but it was a cool place filled with friendly local color.

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hawaiian food

We ate really well while there highlighted by the tightness of my clothing. I love trying local food and the restaurants there and breweries tend to use a lot of local ingredients. My favorite dish was something called Pork Lau Lau. It’s pork that’s cooked inside a taro leaf and served with white rice and macaroni salad on the side.

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We ate it in a restaurant that we originally thought was condemned, but it turns out they had great food. The pork was tender and flavorful. We both licked our plates!

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Ahi tuna was everywhere. We had it in poke, tacos, salads, etc.

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My least favorite things about the trip:

  • Lack of highways—On the big island, there’s only one two-lane highway around the island. When I first saw it, I thought, you’ve got to be kidding me! It took 20-30 minutes to go anywhere, even just down the street. We tried to adapt to Island Time where the pace of life is a little more relaxed, but in some cases, it was too relaxed. I’m thankful for DFW four-lane highways.
  • It was expensive—I supposed it’s to be expected on an island, but everything was pricey.

My favorite things about the trip:

  • The food–We ate fresh Ahi tuna everywhere we went. It was awesome!
  • The coffee plantations—The Kona region is known for its coffee, but we never had any bad coffee while we were on the island. We probably spent most of our money on coffee, which was expensive ($20 for a 12 ounce bag).
  • The fruit and vegetables were growing everywhere, even on the side of the road.

We had a great trip despite a few misadventures. To me, aloha seems like a way of life. It means living well, eating well, appreciating the earth, being kind to one another, and enjoying life.

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