Kona Coast to Volcano National Park – Driving the West Coast


westsunsetWe had four wonderful nights on the Kona Coast in Kailua where we stayed in the Hale Kona Kai Condos.    This snapshot was of the sunset from our lanai the night we arrived after our trip around the north end of the island from Hilo.   We were a little apprehensive about the place because we had booked at the last minute and so got the worst condo i.e. the ONLY one not booked for our four nights and it was not ocean front, but on the side.   Here are a couple of shots from the pool deck.   There are rocks and tidal pools accessible from this area.westpoolviewcruise

westpoolviewThis turtle was feeding in the shallow water below the pool.
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It turned out that our condo on the side of the building was fine — we had a great view out to the ocean and of the lagoon next to the building.  The place was not gorgeous, but it was comfortable, had an excellent kitchen and a great view of the ocean from the lanai.  And the location was perfect.

Here we are just below our little terrace,  kitted out to go snorkeling in our Lands End rashguards.  The last time I was in Hawaii was in Honolulu 50 years ago with my family; I got fried to a crisp the first day (this was before spf ratings and good sun screen) and I was determined not to let that happen again.
westsnorkelgearWe got gear from Snorkel Bobs about a block from our condo.  First rate gear; you can even get a mask with a prescription faceplate if needed.  And it was not particularly expensive.

This is  Kahalu’u  beach which is a popular site about 5 miles south of Kailua.  The water is shallow and thus the reef is trashed here from people standing on it.  Advantage of the site are real ease of entry for newbies (last time we snorkeled was about 10 years ago in St. John, Virgin Islands) and lots of support services like lockers for valuables, food, picnic areas and beach.  There is also a huge variety of fish; we saw almost every fish on the card we were given by Snorkel Bob’s.  There were also volunteers helping people who were new to snorkeling.

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After our swim, I got one of the standard Hawaiian summer treats, shaved ice with flavoring.  You can also get it with a scoop of mango ice cream in the bottom.  Once was enough.
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The next day we headed for Honaunau Bay where the water is deep directly off the entry point on the lava and thus the coral is not damaged.  This is the snorkel site called ‘Two Step’ because of the entry off of two steps of lava.  It makes getting into the water easy;  getting out is a little trickier as you have to wait for the water to wash up and sort of grab the ledge and turn with the surge and plant your butt on the step.  Oh and avoid the sea urchins in holes on the rocks while you do this.
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Here Ed is poised to enter the water.  We enjoyed the beauty of this undersea spot so much, we came here again the following day.
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The snorkeling at both sites was excellent.  This is a raccoon butterfly fish.  There were several different gorgeous types of butterfly fish at both snorkel sites where we swam.
twostepraccoonYellow tangs are perhaps the most common fish; the striped angel fish looking things are Moorish Idols.

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The black durgeon has these wonderful electric blue stripes near the tail.
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This is a yellow trumpet fish; the fish is about two feet long.
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We loved the location of the condo; after an evening drink on the lanai watching a spectacular sunset every night we headed out to find dinner.

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This was a restaurant not far from the apartment.  I was a little concerned when they rolled out the hula dancers; a little of that goes a very long way for me.   But they were very good and the little girl student hula dancers were cute and this part of the program was mercifully short.
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The dancers were followed by a really very fine local folk singer singing his own songs in Hawaiian; we stayed until he was done; it was a lovely evening.
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There are loads of beach bars with decent food and excellent drinks; here we are the next night further down the beach.  The location was perfect for a relaxed vacation.
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As we left this restaurant we spotted this little guy in the glass between the stair steps to the exit.
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After four relaxed wonderful nights in Kona we headed south around the tip of the island to Volcano National Park where we planned to spend 4 nights.  (if we had to do it again, we would have done 5 on Kona and 3 on the volcano; we liked both, but we would really have loved another day of snorkeling)

Our first stop on this trip was Honaunau Bay again where we visited the ‘Place of Refuge’ or  Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Park.  This was a spot where native Hawaiians who had broken tribal rules could find refuge from capital punishment.  There are remains of old stone structures as well as recreated wooden buildings as well as instructional video available.

Here I am standing in the park looking across to the area where we snorkeled the day before.  The Two Step launch for snorkeling in Honaunau Bay is across from the park and at one point Ed got hung up in the rocks and ended up on the shore of the refuge.
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Here is a traditional game played with pits and rocks.
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There are of course coconut palms throughout the island with many signs warning that a falling coconut can do a lot of damage.
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Carved totems near an old lodge.
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Effigy on the shore of Honaunau Bay; Ed’s reef in the background.
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There is a lot of very interesting lava flow here; this stuff looks like ropes and is called pahoehoe lava; a lot of it looks like brownies but some of it is in interesting ropey twists.  The other form of lava is called a’a and looks like plowed up dark dirt.
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Old walls enclosing ceremonial areas and encampments.
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Traditional outrigger canoes.
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On our way out we spotted these orchids near the parking lot.
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Our next stop was the Greenwell Farms coffee plantation.  Ed loves coffee and really wanted to stop at a coffee farm and several people recommended this one. There was a casual but professional tour here and the opportunity to pick up some coffee.  Unfortunately they were out of bags of green beans as we wanted to buy some for Zach who roasts his own.   Here we are in front of a coffee tree.
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Coffee plants are cut back every so often; here you can see those that were cut back after harvest last fall and are just coming back.  The trees to the left are larger coffee bushes.

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Ripe coffee has red berries; you can see signs advertising ‘cherry for sale’  or ‘wanted cherry pickers’  or ‘we buy cherry’.  They are talking about coffee which looks like cherries when ripe.  This time of year there are green beans and blossoms; these are often on the same stem of a plant so that harvesting is very labor intensive as the ripe berries are plucked leaving the green berries undisturbed till their time.
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They ship green beans all over the world where they are roasted and sold under a variety of brand names.
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These are the green houses where new plants are being nurtured before they are transplanted to the fields.
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The Kona Coast has the right climate for growing coffee but the rain makes drying it difficult.  The beans dry in the sun and these red roofs are retractable so they can be drawn back for morning sun and  then shelter the beans from the late afternoon rain.westcoffeedryingsheds

This was one of the original plants set over 70 years ago by the matriarch of the family who decided to build a coffee farm here.
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In addition to coffee there are a number of other fruit and nut trees on the farm.  Here is one of the ubiquitous apple banana trees.  The small sweet bananas on the island are sold at stands along the roads and are extremely tasty.
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Here is a papaya.
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The farm is also home to a number of horned chameleons; like all of the island lizards, it is an import;  the Jackson chameleons were introduced into Hawaii in the 1970s; they were originally African.    One of the guides on the farm wrote a book for kids starring this chameleon.   The chameleons really do blend into the background.  This green guy is in the green foliage.  The second chameleon is doing a good job of imitating the tree trunk.
westchameleonwestchameleon2After our visit to the farm, we headed to one of the many small independent cafes we found in Hawaii for another nice meal.  This little guy is a red billed cardinal, a type of bird we had not seen before.  He was on the patio hoping for some lunch.
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The special was ono — every special we saw was either Mahi or Ono.  This is about half the daily special — we shared one.  As always there is a big scoop of rice.
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After lunch  we had one more stop before the volcano.  We had heard of a black sand beach where sea turtles were reliably found resting in the sun.  The beach, Punaluu, is on the south end of the island and is a beautiful spot.
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westblacksandsAnd indeed there were turtles in the water near shore and resting on the black sands;  these critters really look extremely awkward as soon as they get near land.  They are so graceful when you encounter them in deep water snorkeling, but they are not designed for shore.
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After a quick stop at Punaluu, we headed for Volcano, the little town near the National Park.  We stayed at the Bamboo Orchid Cottages B&B.   We had a lovely little studio room with a fireplace and a heated waterbed which turned out to be welcome in the chilly nights.   Our room was over a garage and so a bit separate from the main building and private.  This is the view from our balcony into the rain forest.
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The landlord’s specialty was a papaya boat at breakfast; rarely have I had an actually ripe and tasty papayas here at home.  These were excellent.
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Our first night we drove up to the end of the road nearest the active volcanic Kilauea crater.  One can’t get close enough to see in and there is no lava flowing at present that is visible to visitors, but at night the glow of the molten lava lights up the sky.  It is an impressive sight and we were glad we went to see it that first night as we planned our hikes for the coming days.
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