This morning we had an early start. Unfortunately the weather was quite overcast and a little drizzly. After a quick breakfast, we left the ship and once through the terminal found the line for the car rental shuttle bus. We only had maybe a 10 minute wait before the shuttle came to take us to the car depot at the Hilo airport.
Once we received the car (actually a van), we were off to see Rainbow Falls in the town of Hilo. The GPS took us through many back streets where we observed, this side of the Big Island was not as lush as the area around Kona and certainly far more populated.
Rainbow Falls are very easy to access from the road. There is a good sized parking lot alongside the road and an easy walk to the lookout where you have a terrific view of the falls. There is also a set of stairs that lead up to an area located above the waterfall so you can have a wonderful view of the falls from the top. Unfortunately, the rain became heavier while we were on the top so it was a quick visit.
From here we were going to make the drive to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The drive is quite a distance inland and took us approximately 45 minutes to reach the Visitors Centre. Along the way, the road was narrow and windy with occasional (but magnificent) vistas of the ocean at some of the hairpin turns. Fortunately for us it was not raining in this area.
The entrance to the Park is well marked and we easily found the Visitor’s Centre. The park ranger provided us with a detailed map and suggested that we could listen to a series of audio recordings by calling a dedicated phone number provided by the State.
We first drove to the area where the steam vents are located. You park in a lot and then walk towards a flattened area down below what is a portion of land leading to the crater. You can see a lot of steam vents with the smoke billowing from cracks in the earth. It is hard to imagine that we were actually walking on top of where an active volcano resides and amazing how much heat is captured underneath the ground. It was very interesting to see.
We then drove to the observation area of the Halema’uma’u crater. We could see the steam rising from within but unfortunately from this vantage point, the lava level was too low for us to see. Apparently, the levels change regularly but we didn’t catch it on a day where it was visible.
Also within the Park is the Nahuku Thurston Lava Tube where we were able to walk through an incredible rainforest with lush vegetation. The steps up into the forest were numerous but it was a great walk where we saw flowers, trees, vines and so many types of different vegetation, it was hard to take it all in. Eventually we came to the enormous lava tube (600 foot cave) that has a path cut right through it. The walls drip with condensation and vines and moss hang down from the top. It is lit from within with electric lights and in some areas the ceiling is more than 20 feet high. It was an amazing sight – especially when you think that this was originally created by coursing lava dating back 500 years.
After our trek through the forest, we were starting to get hungry. We stopped at a small café in Kurtistown and ordered hamburgers to go. After a short stop we were on our way again to find the Ahalanui County Beach Park to swim in a thermal hot pond. We started off in what seemed like the right direction only to realize after our GPS delivered us to a small village on the coast, that we weren’t in the right spot. A lovely lady at one of the local food stands told us to continue along the coast for another 25 minutes until we came to a stop sign and then proceed another 10 minutes until we saw a park with beaches on our right. We kept going in that direction but seemed like we were driving for a very long time. Along the way we came across a stretch of the road that has trees growing overtop making a canopy that was gorgeous. We got out of the car to take a picture and noticed the sweeping coastline with crashing waves and craggy, black rocks framed by incredible greenery. The sea was so loud we couldn’t even hear each other talking. It was a stunning area that we were so glad we stumbled upon.
Just as we were beginning to give up on finding the hot pond, we finally came to the clearing where the parking lot was located. We went directly into the water and found that it was mostly locals swimming and playing in the huge natural pool. The water was so warm – almost like a bath. We found out the water is fed by an underground thermal spring that keeps the water super warm year round. At the edge of the pond was a natural breakwater of boulders where waves regularly crashed over from the sea. For just a moment you would have the cooler water of the open ocean flood into the pond in a refreshing stream. The local children were having an amazing time sitting up on the breakwater and having the waves push them down into the pond. It was a magical place and we were so glad we didn’t miss it.
After a wonderful swim, we started on our way towards the Hilo airport to drop off the car. Along the way we stopped at several state park beaches in search of sea turtles since someone had told us they were plentiful in these areas. We only saw a couple of turtles that were in the water – unfortunately not up on the sand like we were expecting.
We were now very tight for time but just made it to the car rental depot to catch the last shuttle to the port.
Upon our arrival to the ship, we got ready for dinner (our first formal night) and met our fellow dinner companions to compare notes from the day. The food was terrific while we enjoyed prime rib and stuffed ravioli.
This evening we first took part in the Captain’s reception, followed by trivia and then one of the Headliner’s Craig Dahn, who was a terrific pianist. A very full day but all in all, our adventures in Hilo had made for a really great day.
Continue to Day 4 - click here
Our second morning we woke up to find the bright blue skies of the Big Island. We had arrived in Kona.
Denis got up early and went to secure us tender tickets so we would be one of the first groups off the ship. After breakfast in the Solarium, we proceeded to the tender deck, boarded the boat and took the quick trip into Kailua Village. Immediately at the end of the pier was the King Kamehameha Hotel where we had pre-arranged a car rental from Thrifty Car Rental. We were glad that we had pre-booked since they had no available cars aside from the reservations made in advance.
We were ready to go earlier than expected and decided to head to the snorkel gear shop first. We found Snorkel Bob’s right off the main road on Kahakai Street. It was very close to the pier. There was a wonderful woman who rented us the necessary gear and gave great advice about where to find good snorkeling and a spot to purchase authentic Kona coffee. We immediately headed up the road to Green Flash Coffee where Denis ordered Kona coffee and we had super flavourful smoothies. Great start to the day.
From there we drove down the coast to the Kona Country Club where Denis had booked a tee time. It wasn’t busy and he was playing by himself so he took his time and thoroughly enjoyed the surroundings. The grounds had lush greens, gorgeous flowers and views of the sea that were all spectacular. He had a terrific day playing golf and enjoying a lunchtime meal at the club house.
After dropping off Denis, the kids and I headed off to a recommended spot further down the coast to snorkel at a place the locals call Two Step. The coast line along this area is made up of large black volcanic rock. While this makes for wonderful snorkeling – it can prove challenging to enter the water. You don’t walk in like you would on a beach but instead, you pick your way along the rocks, look for an area that has shelf like steps where you can sit and then jump from them to get into the water. Once in the water, it was an incredible sight. The water was so clear you could see all the sea life underneath as if you were looking in an aquarium. Tropical fish, colourful coral and so much plant life it was stunning. We circled around for 1 ½ hours enjoying the warm water and pointing out all the incredible fish to each other. This was a fantastic experience.
While heading back to our towels and bags, we noticed up on the rocks were crevices where water collects and in one of them there was a sea turtle swimming. He was drawing quite a crowd so we sat and watched him for some time.
Afterwards I rested on the rocks and watched the numerous butterflies flying all over the area. Laura spent more time with the turtle and Ian recorded a little tune on the uke. See his performance by clicking here.
Eventually we decided to start the trek back. Along the way we stopped to take pictures of the lush surroundings including gorgeous road side fruit stands and properties that were abundant with flowers. We also went to a few other beaches to see if we could find more turtles but unfortunately didn’t have any success.
We came back into the charming little town of Kona that looks like a California hippie town from the 1960s. The shops and restaurants that line the main street are really cute and we loved the laid back feeling of each person we met. We stopped at the restaurant Lava Java and enjoyed a meal where we had a wonderful view of the sea. Everything was simple and fresh – Ian and I had avocado and chicken sandwiches and Laura had a hamburger. It filled us after a busy morning at the beach.
We continued our drive along the coast and realized we were back at the hotel. I decided to leave the kids here so they could enjoy the air conditioning and wi-fi in the hotel lobby. I then made my way back down the coast to go and pick up Denis. After exchanging stories of our great experiences, we made a stop at a local market to purchase Kona coffee beans to take home.
With our shopping complete, it was time to head back to the ship. We picked up the kids at the hotel, dropped off the car and made our way back down the pier to the tender. We boarded at 4:00pm on one of the last scheduled boats for the day and by this time there was a light drizzle starting. This we would find is the norm is Hawaii.
Upon our arrival at the ship, we showered, had some wine and then headed off to dinner. Again we loved our meal of lamb, stuffed pasta and a white fish.
We didn’t go to see the show this evening but instead opted for the Karaoke night at the Quill & Compass Pub. Always fun to watch amateur singers and of course we enjoyed Ian when he was at the mike.
We also went to the evening Abba Tribute in an effort to stay up until 11:30pm. That was when the captain navigated the ship around the southern part of the Big Island for us to see the molten lava spewing into the sea. The captain brought the ship quite close and since it was so dark, we could see the steady stream coming from a break in the side of the volcano. This was quite a treat to see from the water and definitely made the late night worth it.
Continue to Day 3 - click here
We flew WestJet through Vancouver departing at 1:55pm from Toronto for the standard 5-hour flight. We arrived in Vancouver with enough time to have a quick bite to eat and then proceed on our next 6-hour flight to arrive in Honolulu on time at 9:30pm. Stepping off the airplane and walking through the open-air terminal was a wonderful welcome to the warm, tropical breezes of Hawaii. Denis left myself and the children to watch for the luggage while he went to secure the rental car from Dollar Car Rental. It is an offsite lot so once we collected the luggage we took the shuttle over to meet him, where he was waiting and ready to go.
The ride from the airport to our hotel in downtown Waikiki took approximately 25 minutes. We had pre-booked a night at Coconut Waikiki Hotel on Lewers Street. Parking is quite difficult in Waikiki and after circling around trying to find a spot on the street, we opted for the valet parking offered by the hotel.
We had an easy check in, brought our bags up to the room and after a quick clean up, fell into bed. We were all pretty exhausted after a long day of travel and a time change of 6 hours.
The next morning Denis and I were up early at 6:00am to have a quick breakfast at the hotel and then we were off to visit Pearl Harbour. Ian and Laura chose to stay at the hotel to sleep and eat leisurely. Afterwards Ian took a long walk around the area to check it out and take some photos.
Our drive from Waikiki to Pearl Harbor was uneventful. There was some traffic as people made their way to work but we arrived around 7:15am and joined the line of people wanting to see the Arizona Memorial. The first 1300 people are issued free tickets and we needed to be on one of the first tours in order to see everything and make it back to Waikiki. We received our tour ticket for the 8:00am tour so we walked around the grounds and read the signs and viewed some of the monuments placed around the Harbor edge.
The tour of the Arizona Memorial begins with a 20-minute movie narrated by Sigourney Weaver and it was a very well-produced piece detailing the history, the failed U.S military strategies and the ultimate devastation of the Harbor and nearby Airfield. The movie included real life footage and was very forthcoming about the horrible tragedies that took place, taking the lives of so many. It was quite emotional and also gave us insight that we didn’t have prior to our visit.
After the film, we boarded a boat that took us to the actual memorial. We were incredibly impressed by the structure. It was very tastefully created with a platform and partially covered structure that is secured overtop of the sunken U.S.S Arizona. There are many plaques detailing the different parts of the ship, describing how it was hit and caught fire, eventually leading to the ship sinking in the Harbor. At one end of the memorial, there is a large white wall that holds the names of all of the men that went down with the ship and still remain inside. It was a sobering display and we found it to be an emotional experience that was also affecting all of the people around as they whispered to each other and showed a tremendous amount of respect for this amazing piece of history. Incredibly you can still smell the fuel that continues to rise from the ship in the water.
There were military personnel who explained that of the survivors have passed away, many have had their ashes brought down into the ship to be laid to rest with their colleagues. Pretty incredible.
Once we were taken back to the land, we reflected on what a well run attraction the memorial had been. Very minimal wait time, an easy boarding process and a well thought out display of something that is a very disturbing wreckage. We were definitely impressed.
Our next stop was on a bus where we visited the U.S.S Missouri. This ship was the same class as the Arizona however it was only commissioned in 1944. The ship was active in World War II fighting battles in Japan. And then was the actual site where the Japanese surrendered and the war came to an end. The Missouri was decommissioned shortly after the end of the war but in 1984 was modernized and provided support during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Since that time the ship has been decommissioned again and now resides as a museum ship.
We started with a fascinating tour of the upper decks of the ship hearing about the history including the battle stories and intriguing people who had attacked the ship. As well as the immense cannons, anti-aircraft guns and missile launchers. They even have a whole area dedicated to where the signing happened with the Japanese.
After our tour, we started downward to see the underbelly of the ship. It was amazing to see the barracks, the kitchens and all the offices and utility areas that are required to run this small city at sea of 2700 men. The ship is an engineering marvel.
Once we were finished discovering the ship, we took the shuttle bus back to the main entrance after we passed by the U.S.S Bowfin – a U.S Navy submarine that is also on display as a museum. Will have to see this one next time.
Back at the hotel, we packed up our luggage and left it down at the front desk. The hotel provided us with towels and beach chairs and we headed towards the beach area for lunch. Under recommendation from the hotel we ate at Duke’s. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch right beside the ocean that included nachos, shrimp tacos and the fish special of the day. Everything was tasty and you couldn’t beat the view.
Our afternoon was spent lounging on Waikiki beach enjoying the sun and surf. The water there is so clear and blue and we had a great time riding the waves. We were looking forward to many more beaches in the coming days. Alas, we eventually had to make our way back to the resort to pick up the car and make our way to the ship.
The car rental location had a shuttle bus that took us directly to the ship terminal. Upon our arrival (close to 4:30pm) we found the counters and security to have absolutely no one around and our embarkation was a breeze. We later found out that just two hours prior the terminal had been jammed with people as the ship was delayed due to multiple inspections upon its return to the U.S. We had timed it perfectly!
Of course, we were right on time for our emergency drill and then went for dinner. The first night of the cruise is very casual since not everyone has their luggage so we joined the guests at our table wearing our shorts and suits directly from the beach. Our servers were both from India and provided a wonderful meal – fettucine, seafood pasta and prime rib. All perfectly prepared and thoroughly enjoyed by all.
Afterwards we listened to some music in the piano bar and then went off to an early bedtime. We were looking forward to our first port of Kona on the Big Island.
Continue to Day 2 - click here
Sharing Our Travel Dreams
Sharing our personal experiences onboard and on the road, along with tips and insight for creating memorable vacations.