Why I Didn’t Run in Hawai’i (part one)

Hawaiian Islands

Hawaiian Islands

To be sure, I did run, and I’ll get to that, but certainly not as much as I had planned. Since we, being my wife and I, were already on the west coast for my daughter’s graduation, we felt, “why not extend our trip a few days, and have a real vacation”. We decided to take a trip to Hawai’i. Never having been there before, we decided to visit the “big island”, because of the opportunities for adventure. It took a bit of reading to find there are two main airports on Hawai’i, in it’s capitol Hilo, and in Kona. Yes, Kona, the home of the Ironman Triathlon World Championship. Kona is also the more touristy of the cities on Hawai’i, with more hotels, restaurants and bars than Hilo, and it is where we decided to stay. Our flight from San Diego took us eastward first to Phoenix, then we changed planes for Kona. We left San Diego at 6:30 AM, and arrived in Kona at 2:40 PM, a total of eleven hours travel time. It’s not a quick trip. The arrival in Kona, though, is other-worldly, though, as the plane descends over barren lava fields to the airport. Once on the ground, we we disembarked the old fashioned way, by a stairway rolled out on the tarmac. I felt like waving as I stepped through the doorway of the plane onto the stairs. The terminal itself is completely outdoors. No walls, just open air, with some overhead coverage for rain. Exotic looking plants and flowers were in abundance around the terminal. We collected our bags and rented our car without a problem. It was a short drive to Kona and to our hotel. We stayed at the Courtyard King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. This hotel is built on grounds of the royal court from the time of King Kamehameha I. It faces a beach, a rebuilt temple of the royal residence, and a pier. The first room they gave us did face the water but was adjacent to a busy street and parking area. They were kind enough to move us to a different room which was much more what I had in mind, overlooking the beach and a grassy area surrounded by palm trees.

View from our balcony, King Kamehameha hotel

View from our balcony, King Kamehameha hotel

While we had investigated the various things to do on the island, we had not yet made any plans. So, once settled, we began making some reservations. This island is the home of the famous Kona Coffee, and we put visiting a coffee plantation on the list. Most dominant on the island are the two major mountains, both volcanos, and both reaching close to 14,000 feet high. The higher of the two, Mauna Kea, is the home of the largest observatory in the world. There are a number of zip line opportunities, through rain forests and over waterfalls. Hawai’i is known for the opportunity to see giant manta rays doing ballet on nighttime snorkeling boat trips. Of course, there is Volcano National Park. With five days to get this all in, it took a lot of calling, reserving spots, and adjusting plans when one tour was filled and we had to shift things around. While I had the job of getting us to the island and finding a hotel, my wife, Kat, handled most of the engineering of the schedule. I should add, all these touristy things do not come cheap. We anticipated that, and while there are plenty of free or reasonable things to do in Hawai’i, organized activities are expensive, but, as we found, very much worth it.

The next morning I awoke feeling frisky and ready to run. I got out at 6:00, which was no problem given Hawai’i is three hours behind west coast time. There are few roads on which to run, so I followed the path most of the runners in this area seem to take, which is along Ali’i road, which runs south along the coastline from Kona. The road is narrow, but does have a shoulder/bike lane, and there were other runners along the route. It is a beautiful route, since there are frequent areas where the waves crashing against the lava rocks are in view. Getting out early, it wasn’t too warm, about 74˚F, but it was very humid.  I ran out a bit past the 2.5 mile mark, then turned around and ran back.  The road is undulating, with a few hills of significance over that distance.

Ocean view while running along the Ali'i Highway

Ocean view while running along the Ali’i Highway

Another beach view along Ali'i Highway

Another beach view along Ali’i Highway

Big Island Running Company

Big Island Running Company

End of the run, quite sweaty.

End of the run, quite sweaty.

After running, I took a quick shower and joined my wife for breakfast at Honu’s, the hotel restaurant.  It is such a temptation to want to fill one’s plate with every tasty item available at hotel breakfast buffets.  I held the line at a made-to-order omelet, a mini Belgian waffle with coconut syrup and blueberries, loads of pineapple, and coffee.  I may have added a few other items as well….  After breakfast we headed out for the coffee plantation.  While there are several dozen on the island which give tours, we chose Mountain Thunder.  It had been featured on an episode of “Dirty Jobs”, and it was located high up Mauna Loa.  It also grows organic coffee, and seemed like a good bet.  We not only took a tour of the coffee growing and roasting operation, we arranged to roast our own organic Kona coffee.

Here is our bucket of 5 pounds of raw, organic Kona coffee

Here is our bucket of 5 pounds of raw, organic Kona coffee

Unto the roaster it goes.  This is a small roaster for the visitors.

Unto the roaster it goes. This is a small roaster for the visitors.

It doesn't take long to get the beans to the proper temperature.  There is a very narrow range between not roasted enough, and over done.

It doesn’t take long to get the beans to the proper temperature. There is a very narrow range between not roasted enough, and over done.

A wandering rooster with a tiki statue in the background, at the coffee plantation

A wandering rooster with a tiki statue in the background, at the coffee plantation

We found that growing and roasting coffee, at least here, is a very “hands-on” job.  The trees are very productive but take a lot of care and feeding, and as we discovered, donkey dung and the outer skins of the beans make for good fertilizer. The beans are picked by hand, since on one branch there can be many beans in different stages of ripeness.  The roasting, too, requires close attention to get the degree of roasting exactly right.  I’m sure at big operations this is all done without human intervention, but here, it was all done by well-trained and obsessive people.  In fact, we detected a note of competitiveness among the roasters, regarding who gets it exactly right.  Five pounds of raw coffee made four pounds and a bit of roasted coffee.  No doubt it’s the most expensive coffee we’ll ever buy, but looked at from the standpoint of price per cup, it still beats the local higher end coffee shop.

That afternoon, our next adventure was to head up to Mauna Kea, to go to the visitor’s center of the Mauna Kea (means “white mountain”, because it gets snow!) observatories.  The visitors’ center is at 9200 feet elevation, while the summit, with the telescopes, is at 13,796 feet.  We stopped at the visitors’ center and did not go to the summit, the drive for which a four wheel vehicle is recommended.  There are summit tours on weekends, when one can go inside one of the observatories, but during the week they are closed to visitors.  Many people do go up to the summit for the view of the sunset, but we decided to listen to the ranger’s talk at the center, and then do some viewing through the many telescopes they had set up.

Visitor's Information Center at the Mauna Kea Observatories.

Visitor’s Information Center at the Mauna Kea Observatories.  Note the winter coats.  It gets cold up here.

The ranger gave a laser guided sky tour once it got dark enough, and we saw the Southern Cross, alpha and beta centauri, and many other constellations.  We were able to get amazing views of Saturn and Jupiter through the telescopes, and a view of a star cluster called omega centauri, or “the jewel box”, because of the different colored stars.  After about two hours of viewing, and getting thoroughly chilled, we headed back to Kona.  The road to Mauna Kea is an adventure itself.  It is called Saddle Road, because it goes between Mauna Kea and Mauna Lea.  It is a very narrow, twisting, rising and falling road over bleak and dangerous looking lava fields, often with no shoulder, and with the occasional one-lane bridge.  There are signs posted regarding which car should yield when two approach these bridges.  It was challenging on the way to the mountain when it was still light out.  In the dark, it was scary.  We were told later that this road was built this way on purpose by the army, as a way to foil an enemy that might try to use it.  But, I have serious doubts about that story.

The next morning we planned to get in some snorkeling.  After another scrumptious breakfast at Honu’s (which is the Hawaiian word for sea turtle), we walked into town to rent some masks and snorkels.  Also, Kat was very interested in getting a henna tattoo.  She stopped in at Kona Henna Studio, where a delightful and artistic young woman put a very nice, temporary tattoo on her left shoulder.  I’m not sure if the side has any meaning, but it did look nice, and included a honu, which I requested.  Meanwhile, I went across the street to Boss Frog’s Dive, Surf and Bike shop to rent the gear.

The henna goes on at Kona Henna Tattoo.

The henna goes on at Kona Henna Tattoo.

Kat needed to let the henna paste dry, so she couldn’t go in the water right away.  But after a few hours she would be able to get it wet, once the paste fell off, as long as it was not in the swimming pool, since the chlorine would bleach it out.

We drove along the coast, looking for the passageways to the best snorkeling beaches as recommended by Boss Frog’s.  About thirty minutes drive down the coast we headed for Honaunau Bay.  We found our way to the bay, but wound up in a National Historic Park, where snorkeling was not allowed.  We were directed back to the road we came in on, but missed the turn for the cove.  Instead, we wound up on City of Refuge Road, a four mile long, single lane (that’s right, just one lane, not two, and traffic goes both ways), road along another bleak, sharp-rocked lava field.  Turning around was not an option.  I was starting to think that, aside from a few main roads, driving in Hawai’i is a huge driving challenge.  We finally reached the end of the road, where it joined with another which took us back up (about a thousand feet up) to the main highway.  It took looking back at the map later to realize where we had gone wrong.  Instead, we headed north, to check out other possibilities.  The walkways to the beaches are marked as public access walkways, but often there are no areas to park, and the hike out to the water can be a few miles.  We finally found our way to a beach near the Honokohau Marina, north of Kona.  The walk to the beach was a challenge, and the beach itself was tiny and rocky.  But, I was able to get in and see some beautiful fish.  No turtles, though, even though this beach is known for them.  The water was uncharacteristically pretty rough.  Getting in the water was no problem, but getting out, I needed to find my way to the least rocky egress in order not to get hurt.

Formerly known as a lifeguard tower, at Honokohau beach.  I think this was put up with tongue in cheek.

Formerly known as a lifeguard tower, at Honokohau beach. I think this was put up with tongue in cheek.

The sand and palms at the little Honokohau beach.

The sand and palms at the little Honokohau beach.

Testing the water, in a sandy spot.

Testing the water, in a sandy spot.

Our search for an ideal snorkeling experience did not turn out as we hoped.  The next time we are in Kona, we’ll know how to get to the “two step” beach at Honaunau Bay.  That evening, though, we had plans for another expedition.  Kona is well known for night time viewing of manta rays.  In fact, the guy at Boss Frog’s said if we see the Mauna Kea, see lava, and see manta rays, we’ve done the big three items on his list of the best of Hawai’i.  We arranged to go out with Sea Paradise tours, for the boat ride out to what they call “Manta Ray Village”, out of Keauhou Bay.

Awaiting darkness in Keauhoa Bay, before boarding the Hokuhele for our trip to see mantas.

Awaiting darkness in Keauhoa Bay, before boarding the Hokuhele for our trip to see mantas.

The boat trip is a short one, only about 20 minutes.  One checks in at their office about an hour before the trip, to sign the inevitable legal release and get fitted with a wet suit.  Everyone shucks their shoes before getting on the boat.  As they motor out to the spot, one of the hands on the boat gives a brief lecture about manta rays.  It turns out they eat only plankton, can be quite large in size with wing spans up to 14 feet, and will often turn flips as they eat up the plankton.  The plankton are attracted to the lights attached to a boom, similar to moths being attracted to light, which then pull in the mantas  The boom is a long contraption with floats and attached lights.  The thirty or so members of our party were provided  masks and snorkels, and led down a stair into the water.  We were directed to line up along the boom, with our hands outstretched on the boom and a “noodle” float under our feet to keep us suspended, so we wouldn’t touch the mantas.  It was a bit eery being out in the dark water, with only the light from the boom shining down.  True to our captain’s word, the plankton massed under us, their tiny bodies in constant motion as their cilia propelled them.  After watching and waiting for about thirty minutes, while all those delicious plankton cavorted like a Vegas stage show, no hungry manta rays wanted to show up.  We gave it another twenty minutes.  A woman opposite me on the boom had a very large underwater camera, the type professional divers use, but it was of no use that night.  Before the hour was up, we were all back on board the boat, stripping out of our wet suits, and trying not to be upset that we had not seen a single manta ray.  The captain and crew were very nice, and assured us that this is a rarity.  In fact, they had just seen several mantas the night before.  One let slip that their hit rate for mantas was 88%, so one in eight trips is a dud.  No matter.  Kat and I realized that these are wild animals and cannot be commanded to show up.  The company did allow us to sign up for another trip, which would be two days later.

After disembarking, we headed back to our hotel, then went out for a late supper.  We wound up at a Thai restaurant which was okay, not great, but did know how to make a passable green papaya salad, although the papaya was not really green, more ripe.  We then walked back to our hotel, passing along the sea wall where the waves splash over onto the sidewalk, tired from a very active, if not so productive, day.  The next morning, we needed to get up very early for the trip to the other side of the island, and our first encounter with a zip line, which will be covered in part two.  Stay tuned….

Daytime view of the sea wall and the Kamakahonu Bay

Daytime view of the sea wall and the Kamakahonu Bay

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  1. When I originally commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from
    now on each time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the exact same comment.
    Perhaps there is an easy method you can remove me from that service?
    Appreciate it!

    • I understand. I’ve done the same. There should be a “notifications options” link in the email they send you which you can use to stop the flow of emails. I don’t have access to that. However, thank you for reading my blog. Please let me know if you were not successful turning off the emails. Frank


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