Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden

Hawaii - Botanical Garden






































Hawaii Trip - July 16 to 18 Heli Tour and Home

Hawaii Trip - July 16 to 18

Thursday July 16

So my birthday gift was a helicopter tour of the Big Island.

Best. Present. Ever.

My pick-up driver's name was Hokey. Yes, this is true. It's not his real name, but as a white kid being raised on the Island, it seemed to stick. Nicest guy and a wealth of information. His previous career was outfitting Outback Restaurant kitchens everywhere. Hokey knows restaurants and he knows kitchens. He won an international omelet competition when he was 17 and still in high school. Just had a knack for working with food I guess.

So now, in a semi-retired state, he drives for Paradise Helicopters. He got me to the airport by 6:45AM, in lots of time. After weighing in (233lbs) I chilled on the deck.

Our pilot's name was Chris. Super nice guy. From Washington state. A family from Singapore was along for this three hour trip. He was Nathan, born in northern Australia - Cargoolie. She was Ava, from Netherlands. Their 3 kids made the trip fun, just by being kids. It was their first helicopter ride, and it was fun to see them walk through a real wild jungle for the first time. The youngest girl was a question machine. Five minutes into the trip she said, "When are we going to land?" Other fun questions like, "What's that smoke over there?" and of course the astute observation, "We're really high up. Everything looks small."

Here's one of the pilots explaining the tour route.

We flew over the Royal Kona resort just minutes after take-off.

Mauna Kea was clearly visible as we got into higher altitudes above the Kona coffee belt.

It wasn't long before we could see the steam plume from Mauna Loa.

Then we flew directly over the Mauna Loa craten.

And looked directly into the lava hole. The crater is covered in hardened lava. A few weeks ago the lava lake overflowed into the crater and hardened into the black colour. Now the molten lava has dropped down and you can see the glowing veins of lava.

After leaving the Kilauea craton, we flew over extensive fresh lava flows which are still carrying lava under the surface. It breaks out at random spots. If there are trees on the ground it burns that part of the forest. If it is a barren spot, you can see the sulphur smoke and the glowing bits of molten rock.

This was an exceptionally clear day and we could see the historic town of Hilo from several miles off.

Hawaii Trip - July 13 to 15 Touring the Island

Hawaii Trip - July 13 to 15

Monday July 13 - cont'd

This is the western slope of Mauna Kea, heading north before turning onto the Saddle Road. The road between the Big Island's two mountains was disappointing only because we couldn't see through the clouds. Mauna Kea was enveloped in clouds and it rained as we came across the middle ground. There are military areas up there too so it makes for a pretty boring trip visually. The road is excellent and very safe. There were many signs about "watch for sheep" but we saw none.

Descending gradually towards Hilo the rain and foggy conditions continued, we passed some big smooth lava fields where people were getting out of their cars and walking out onto the hard lava, and then as we got very close to Hilo the downhill slope got steeper and the sky cleared. Hilo is a more established city, and is less obviously a tourist place than Kailua-Kona where we are staying.

In Hilo, being good tourists, we parked in the free parking area and went and grabbed a rejuvenating cup of coffee. Then we hung around for a bit and took our photos by an enormous tree, I think it was a banyan tree, and then after getting some good directions from the tourist rep at the bus station, we headed on north towards the Botanical Gardens. She said, "look for the sign that says Scenic Drive, 4 miles" which we found without too much trouble!

Hilo near downtown.

The air and everything on the Hilo side of the Big Island feels more "lush." When you get out of the city, the forest was thick and had that sort of smell where you know that there is decaying vegetation mixed with floral scents and sea air. The scenic side road wound back and forth and tunnelled through forests and hillsides. One lane bridges crossed tumbling streams. Soon we came to a spot where cars were parked on the roadside.

The trail went downhill from the road and soon we found ourselves looking out over the ocean about 500 below our feet, where there were crashing waves.

We followed the trail down to the bottom, where the river intersected with the trail at the point where it entered the ocean. It was an easy crossing if you timed it so that the waves weren't coming into the riverbed and reversing the flow of water. Brenda was a good sport to go to the trouble of taking off her running shoes so we could continue up the trail. I grabbed some big leaves that were on the ground to help her clean the sand off her feet. This turned out to be the highlight of the day from her point of view; this moment of goofy kindness on my part!

We didn't go any farther up the trail at that point, since it was getting pretty rough and we weren't sure how far it went.

There were sure lots of warning signs to stay away from the edge of the cliff, and to be very careful of the water. There is nobody around to save you here.

After the hike we had worked up an appetite for our chicken sandwiches, made from my leftover Tandoori chicken from the Indian Restaurant. That hit the spot!

We continued in our exploration of the area. The Tropical Botanical Garden was nearby and was well worth the time and the admission of $15 each. There is another article I created about that, with lots of pictures. What an incredible spot. It was created by a man who bought the land back in 1978. He toiled to create a valley oasis and I would say he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

We continued down the main Highway 19 and followed the signs to Akaka Falls State Park. Admission was all of $1 apiece, instead of $5 since we parked on the highway outside the gate. It's a pretty impressive drop, and the falls looked great since there had been some rain that day. We also came across a rat enjoy a snack. Stopping in at a local town called Honomu we waited patiently while local families lined up to treat their kids to shaved ice in a cup and ice cream. "That will be 250 cents please," said the owner with a smile, when we paid for our water and can of pop. He was an amputee who rested his stump on a little 3-wheeled cart which he trundled around with. Handbrakes and all. I expect he used it as a seat too. With a distinguished white moustache and goatee he reminded me of Colonel Saunders.

Here's the rat we saw along the trail. Rats invaded the Island in the 1800s and decimated the local bird populations. When they brought mongoose in to try to deal with the rats, it didn't work because the mongoose were nocturnal and they never bothered the rats which feed in the daytime.

Further along we stopped at some scenic viewpoints, and ended up in a town called Honoka'a eating pizza at a spot called Cafe Il Mondo. This scenic outlook is called Laupahoehoe Point. It's a historic sugar cane and tourist settlement that took a hit from a Tsunami back in the 1940s, and is an end point for the railway that was damaged in the same storm. The railroad was not repaired and is now a historic symbol of the changing industry, travel methods, and economy of the Big Island.

Cafe Il Mondo in Honaka'a. That's our table right inside the front window. The surrounding area is forested with tall hardwood trees interspersed with grassy fields and rolling hills. It makes you think at times you could be in the English countryside or anywhere else! The tropical lushness gives way to a more temperate climate, but still there is no shortage of rain. The cows in the fields have got it pretty good here.

Here's a little lizard we saw at the Botanical Garden:

This is what the landscape is like on the west side of the island.

Dry, scrubby ranch land on the Big Island's west side.

Some views of the small volcano called Pu'u Wa'awa'a and Mauna Loa in the distance made our drive back to the hotel spectacular.

We were home by 6 PM and relaxed on the balcony for the rest of the day.

Tuesday July 14

Checking on the lagoon this morning we saw the tide at its lowest. What a difference! Now that I've checked a tide chart, we know when to go for our next lagoon swim - 3PM today.

Here's what the cooking ritual looks like for the roasting of the pig for the luau:

We headed over to the Daylight Mind cafe again so we could connect to the wi-fi. I can't believe how much junk email I get. The rest of our afternoon was just relaxation, enjoying a very cool breeze coming across our balcony on what ended up being an overcast day.

Brenda agreed that it would be okay for me to do the helicopter tour on my own, so I went down to the concierge and booked my flight. Thursday morning they will pick me up at 6:25 AM at the hotel.

We went out to check out the Ross store. OMG. Literally millions of articles of clothing on endless racks, row upon row, like the military cemetery. Un.Be.Lievable. We got out of there an hour later with a half dozen articles of clothing, including a bikini for Brenda. Apparently it has been 40 years since Brenda wore a bikini. Some other nice shirts for the kids too, and underwear and a Hawaii shirt for me too!

Then we went over to Panda Express Chinese Kitchen for supper. Not a bad value, we ended up paying less than $25 for a huge dinner. We watched the sun set beautifully, and then headed back to the hotel.

Tonight's card game was two handed Euchre. I prevailed over my opponent handily. I think we're going to be up for a rematch.

Wednesday July 15

Today was amazing. We went snorkelling at a place called Two Step. Heading south past Keakekua Bay and right beside the National Historic Site we visited last week, we parked our car and walked over to this very popular public waterfront area. The bay is nicely sheltered so there were no big waves. It was still a bit tricky getting in and out of the water because it is jagged lava rocks only. There are stepped areas which help. As soon as you put your mask into the water the underwater world leaps into view.

We thought the lagoon at our hotel was amazing. This was Amazing Times Ten. I'll never forget the sight of hundreds and hundreds of fish of all types, and the corals. So beautiful! We saw a ray about three feet wide sifting through sand along the bottom. A few minutes after we got out, a group of dolphins came into the area.

We left around 11:30 AM and then found our way to the Kona Coffee Living History Farm in the town of Captain Cook, where we got an informative tour of an old-style coffee farm that was operative in the 1920s up to 1994.

The farm was run by a Japanese immigrant family, so we got a dose of Japanese pioneer living, as the house was designed in Japanese traditional style with very little furniture, sitting and sleeping on the floor etc.

Brenda got acquainted with the farm donkey named Charlie, and with some assistance offered by the kiosk guy, she fed him a couple of bunches of nice sweet grass. She was rewarded with a nice donkey nuzzle.

We walked around the area enjoying the countryside on what turned out to be a damp and cloudy, misty day.


Macadamia nut trees, banana and orange trees, and of course all kinds of coffee plants were everywhere. The coffee crop is still harvested and sold from this farm.

Arriving back at the hotel by 2:00 PM for cocktails and a siesta.

We ended up going to grab some dinner fairly early at a restaurant near us called Laverne's. I had the pulled pork, Brenda had the hot roast beef on a bun.

That was a nice happy hour meal. We came back to the sound of the luau in full swing.

Euchre tonight was a different story. I won the first game, but Brenda took the second.

Hawaii Trip - July 3 to 13 Travels and Horseback Riding

Hawaii Trip - July 3 to 13

Day of departure

Friday July 3

The gas guys at Pearson decided to hold an unauthorized work stoppage by calling in sick en masse. Result - our flight was delayed about 4 hours. We ended up getting into Vancouver an hour after our Westjet flight to Kona took off. So Westjet booked us onto an Alaska Airways flight to Seattle at 6:30 AM the next morning, which would then get us onto an Alaska Airways flight to Kona at 10:30 AM. As a result we arrived in Kona at 1 PM on Saturday afternoon July 4, instead of 11PM on Friday night, July 3. It turned out that we didn't lose much time at all, and saved a few bucks because we could pick up the rental car right away. We only lost one night in the hotel, and spent Friday night sleeping on a bench in the Seattle Airport instead.

Saturday July 4

Picked up the rental car no problem, and got into town by 2 PM. We checked in and were doubly impressed with the great view and location of our room. We look out over the main central area of the hotel complex. 

We can listen to the Luaus every night, we can watch the waves crash on the shore all day long, and we can look out over the water and watch the cruise ships and other waterfront activities.




Headed over to the ABC store to buy some $5 a bottle wine and a few snacks. Tomorrow we'll go to Walmart and buy some real groceries.

Walked down to the street to see the Independence Day parade. "Happy Fourth!" is what they say. Lots of corny Uncle Sam symbolism and Apple Pie and all that.


Great fireworks display over the water; we watched from our hotel and could barely stay awake waiting. We hit the sack at 8 PM feeling like it was 2 AM.

Sunday July 5

Woke up at 6 AM bright-eyed. Headed over to Walmart around 9 AM to get some groceries. Vodka $10 for a big bottle. More $5 wine. Cereal, sandwich meat, cheese, snacks.


We went for a drive looking for a beach to the south of the city. We ended up at a historical site called "place of refuge" which was called Pu'u-ohonua o Honaunau National Historic Park. The best part was looking into the tidal pools out on the black lava rocks. We saw a couple of sea turtles and tons of fish.

The road to get there was desolate and narrow. It made us think we had taken a wrong turn. There were no pavement markings and no shoulder. If you took a couple of feet wrong turn, you would be off the road and rolling into a jumble of lava rock. Barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass.


On the way back we passed through a little town called Kealakekua which had some shops which were mostly closed. But we went into one gallery and the lady told us about an arts heritage area called the Kona Heritage district where we could see lots more local art. We also grabbed a coffee at the Donkey Balls shop.

The evening show at Don's Mai Tai Bar was an old guy who did covers using his sequencing keyboard, drum machine and who played vibes on the side. He seemed to be getting quite a response from the crowd, although the general impression we got was too corny. He did make a decent attempt at playing Brubeck's Take Five which I enjoyed. It is a great tune. After his gig folks were gathering around looking for CDs and autographs and photo ops.


Monday July 6

We started the day with a snorkelling visit to the lagoon, which is a sheltered tidal pool on the hotel grounds. We were pretty pumped to see a couple of sea turtles in there and we watched them swimming around. Our masks and snorkels work great. We met an Australian couple who borrowed our masks for a moment. They were pretty excited to see the turtles too. They had checked out the hotel pool and said it was way too warm for their liking. 


There's tons of types of tropical fish of all sizes and shapes in there. It's a great way to begin the day. Now we just have to work the kinks out of our necks!


We went for a walk down the street through the shops and bought a ukulele for Elinor, and some other gifts. The wood is the best - koa. The dude claimed that on the continent we would pay something like $800 for a koa wood ukulele. The Uke Shop dude said to not waste our time in Hilo, or driving around by the volcano. Better to spend time along the north shore exploring the waterfalls and hikes. We got his picture but forgot to ask his name.
(photo)
We stopped into a historic church building, the first one to built on the Hawaiian islands. Some pretty cool trees along this stretch of shopping district, and some nice restaurants. We tried some lychee fruit which was delicious.

I've got to to say, after a half hour of shopping an ambling through galleries at a snail's pace, two things happen. One is I get bored as hell. Artwork is nice, but after a while it all starts to look the same. And you're always wondering, what's the point? So many t-shirts, pieces of jewelry, carvings, pottery, etc! Second is my back starts to ache and I crave for a chair to sit down. I think I need some kind of kidney support or low back brace for this type of situation; I can get relief by walking and standing with my two fists shoved into my lower back.


After returning from our shopping trip we had afternoon cocktails in our room. They were setting up for the luau, which runs on Mon. Tue. Wed. and Friday here. We'll have the show memorized by the end of our stay! That roast pig smells pretty nice when they haul it out of the fire pit! We enjoyed the sunset down by the poolside.

Tuesday July 7

After our morning snorkel, we headed for a drive up to the Kona Art District. After missing the turn and driving about a half an hour too far up into the high ranch lands, we figured we should turn back. Then we found the road which was a winding and treacherous piece of pavement. There was scarcely any shoulder on the road, so if your attention lapsed for a split second too long, you would be off the edge and rolling hard onto rocks or down the hill into someone's driveway. I think the school buses here must be small ones since it would be impossible to navigate a full length bus easily. There were several roads that went off at right angles to the main road, either straight up the hill or down at about a 30 percent slope. No switchbacks required. The saving fact is that there is never any snow to worry about, only rain.

We had determined to make happy hour at the resort, and we got our table at Don's Mai Tai Bar restaurant. They make the best mai-tais, according to one person. 


Brenda and I each had a garden salad and enjoyed just being there and soaking everything in.






Wednesday July 8

Once again, we headed over to the lagoon at around 7:30 AM for our morning exploration and visit with the fish. Both the sea turtles were there as usual. They like to catch the leaves that fall from the bushes on the rocks beside the lagoon. 

Later we drove north to explore the Kona coast, hoping to find a cool beach to hang out on. Here is the excellent view from up there.




We ended up at the Lava Lava Beach Club in an area where there is a Hilton Hotel and lots of upscale condos and vacation rentals. We had an excellent lunch in the local shopping mall and then headed back to the beach. The Scenic Viewpoint on the way up towards South Kohala was spectacular.

Snorkelling here was a disappointment due to the murky water. So we gave up on that after about ten minutes, and then chilled in the hot sun for about half an hour. We chose not to fry ourselves silly, so we packed our stuff back in the car and hiked down the beach looking for some shells or interesting fish in tidal pools. That too was a bit of a let-down. After a little while we decided we'd had enough and headed back to the car for a pleasant drive back to Kona.

Thursday July 9 Paniolo Ranch and Horseback Riding

Today we passed on the lagoon swim. It's horseback riding day and we're heading up to the ranch which is about a two hour drive from here. This is a picture of the hills which can be seen from the town of Wiamea. It's the main town in the Kohala district (northwest area of the big island). The presence of the cattle and ranching industry is visible in town, but it looks like there are lots of retired people from all over the US living here, and it's also a popular place for people to vacation. The galleries and shops were pretty high end.



We came to a Scenic Lookout at about the 2500 ft elevation level. From there we could look down to see the entire North Kona/Kohala Coast laid out before us, from the volcano Mauna Kea to the sea.

The Paniolo Ranch was at mile 13. Coincidentally we ended up meeting a couple from Washington named Beth and Francy who were also in Hawaii celebrating their 25th anniversary, and who also happened to have three kids aged similar to ours. We had lots to talk about while we waited. The wranglers at Paniolo were two very capable and friendly young women Kara and Emma who looked after us and made our ride lots of fun. 








My horse Kohala was well-trained and cooperative and put up with my hesitant instructions. He went into a trot and then a canter without any trouble.

Stopping at our lunch spot we found that a herd of about three dozen cattle had taken over the shady grove, so Kara went in there with her horse and shooed them out. It sounded pretty hilarious with the cows mooing and howling and complaining. 


Then we moved in and sat down to eat with all the cows standing around the perimeter giving us the eye, entertaining us with curious looks and mooing back and forth with assorted squeals and yells, all the while sneaking back in closer and closer.

The location of our ride seemed like being on the edge of the earth. The lush green grassy fields sloped down gradually, and then all you could see was endless ocean and sky. These cattle and horses have got a heavenly existence up here. At the end of our ride we were surrounded by the mist of the clouds and a light rain began to cool us off just a little bit.

We got back to the resort around 5:15 and found a seat in the sun alongside the surf at Don the Beachcomber. Special performer Don Keawe was in the middle of his first set. Sounded good but we couldn't see for the big pillar blocking our view of him. Brenda had the burger and I had the Hawaiian Style Quesadilla.

I beat Brenda at Rummy in our last hand, by 5 points. Tournament to be continued.

Friday July 10

Yesterday was our first "lazy" day where we did not drive anywhere. We had intended to walk over to the library to use the wi-fi, but got there too early for the 11AM opening. Which turned out to be good, because we came across a really cool, breezy coffee shop/restaurant that had good wi-fi and an oceanfront table. We sat there for over an hour catching up on emails and other information. We're missing the kids!


Daylight Mind Coffee Shop




We came back to the hotel and basically just relaxed the day away by the poolside. We headed up to the room when the luau music started at around 4:30 PM. On luau days we have to basically endure the performance until it ends at around 8:30 PM. Totally scripted show, and the jokes are always the same. Different host each night, who does some of the feature songs, but otherwise everything else is the same.





Lunch today was just a peanut butter sandwich. For dinner we walked over to Subway. Brenda felt the need for less carbs and more greens, so she had a nice chicken salad. Funny how the prepared the salad: they threw the lettuce and all ingredients in a bowl and then took a curved knife to everything and chopped it all up. Kind of ended up in a wet mess, which was tasty nonetheless.

We stayed around at Don's Mai Tai bar to watch the sunset, which was pretty spectacular, and then headed upstairs to watch some TV and play round two of our Rummy game. Brenda beat me this time by more than 50 points. Not cool. On TV Canon O'Brien is at ComicCon in San Diego. Talk about hype. His guests tonight were stars from The Walking Dead. Last night they had the stars from Hunger Games. Crazy hype.

I've been reading this book, and today I finished it. Powerful, and highly recommended. My dad is the one who put me onto this book.

Saturday July 11

We tried hard to do very little today. The original plan was to go do some snorkeling at a place called Two Step, but we changed to a less ambitious plan. We put gas in the car ($35 to fill it up) and then went looking for book store which I had found in the Yellow Pages. Addresses are unfamiliar here, and we stumbled across a Thrift Store instead, and bought some books there. Then at the library we bought a used book:


This one looks intriguing. We actually bought it used from the library after the thrift store visit. No public wireless or computer use is allowed there. We ended up returning to the coffee shop by the sea which is called Daylight Mind. What a great lunch!

We went out for a drive and ended up back in the place we shopped at last Sunday, which is called Kealakekua. We popped into a nice boutique called Paradise Found and bought a nice purple "jumbo scarf" or beach wrap. Brenda found a really nice blue top to wear, which has sparkles in it. We bought a few more supplies in the local store.

We also visited a coffee plantation called Kona Joe Coffee, which is the world's first location for "trellis grown" coffee.




We had a chicken sandwich for supper and read books all afternoon.

Sunday July 12

Today we couldn't miss out any longer. We went over to the lagoon for our swim with the turtles. We're not used to the tide times, and the tide was very low. The turtles had moved out to sea for the low tide. I guess they didn't want to be trapped in the lagoon. But we had a good swim anyway and enjoyed looking at the tons of fish. I'll gather some images to add to this journal.


Today is a beautiful sunny day. The heat is strong in the sun, but the humidity isn't as thick as yesterday. A leisurely time was passed reading on the balcony, wrapped in a warm breeze and the sound of the surf. 

We went over to the lagoon for a swim. The tide was way out and the turtles weren't there. Eventually we headed out to do a little bit of shopping. It took a few extra turns to find the Target store, but we eventually stumbled across it on the outskirts of town. We finally bought a charging cable for our iPhones. Also, we bought a few groceries. Our biggest deal today was to go out for dinner for some Indian cuisine. Brenda had a curry chicken dish with rice, and I had some roasted chicken. Mine was a bit on the spicy side even though I had ordered "mild" so we brought it home to make sandwiches.

We've decided we're going to book a snorkelling boat trip for Tuesday. The half day trip goes from 8AM to 1PM and costs about $115 each. Our plans for Monday include a drive across the Saddle Road to Hilo, and to perhaps see some of the waterfalls and sights on the northeast coast.

Monday July 13

We were going to go swimming this morning, but instead we walked over to the lagoon to see if the turtles were there around 8AM, and they were nowhere to be seen. Se we didn't feel like swimming. Instead we turned today into The Ultimate Road Trip.

We headed out by 9:30AM on the highway to the north. We were planning to go to Hilo, visit the  Botanical Gardens and see what kind of other sights we might see on the way across the northeast shore. It turned out to be a great trip.

First, I have to say that the drive along the Belt Road is better than the lower route. There is a better view and a better sense of open space when you take the higher altitude route. We found the Saddle Road with no problem and were pretty impressed with the quality of the road. This is a high quality road! When we got half way to Hilo, at the Mauna Kea State Park, it started raining. To our right (south) we had a view of Mauna Loa shrouded in rain clouds. There were some military areas between us and the mountain, which basically cut us off from considering a drive in that direction.

We saw absolutely ZERO wildlife while we were on the Saddle Road. We may have well have been in a desert.  No birds, except the occasional Mynah Bird. Lots of signs were proclaiming "Sheep Crossing" but there were no sheep. Basically this area between the two main mountains on The Big Island is a wasteland. But nonetheless, the Saddle Road is like a vital lifeline to the east half of the Island, Hilo. This town has a history and a soul its own!

We were quite taken with our first impressions. The waterfront is protected for the use of the locals. We saw fishermen on the shore, and we saw an arterial road that circumvented the bay and allowed locals to move back and forth across Hilo Bay unrestricted. However, there was also a vital commercial area that was slightly removed from the shore, complete with lots of free parking.