When Ben and I started booking flights and accommodations for this trip, I knew right away I wanted to start in Hawaii. Why? Because it’s Hawaii! I’ve been to Hawaii before (Maui for a few days back in 2010 and Oahu for a work trip in 2014, with some days tacked on for fun of course), and I loved it so much that I wanted to come back. We decided to spend 9 days on The Big Island and then 5 days on Maui–both trips staying in Airbnbs. We’re close to wrapping up our time on The Big Island, but here are some highlights from the first 3 days:
Day 1: Grocery shopping in Hawaii is not for the faint of heart
We crashed hard once we arrived at our Airbnb in Kailua-Kona from the airport and waking up was bizarre with the time difference, but step 1 was obviously food. We had breakfast at Island Lava Java – fully recommend! – and while we were there, we tried to find the nearest grocery store. [Eating out for every meal on a trip like this isn’t sustainable, especially not when we’re still talking about US prices, so occasional cooking is required–thus our choice to stay at an Airbnb for this leg of the trip.] A few options popped up, including Costco and a Walmart, but we decided to go with Safeway–it’s a grocery store I’m familiar with from my time in Baltimore and it made us both a little nostalgic, so why not? Well, I can’t say this only applies to Safeway, but walking in there nearly gave me a heart attack. Everything seemed normal enough but prices were astronomical for anything that wasn’t ‘local’…which is basically everything that’s pre-packaged. If I remember correctly, a 3-pack of Orville Redenbacher’s pop-up bowl popcorn was nearly $6? Looking on Google now, I can find this for under $3. While $3 seems trivial (and I would agree), those small amounts start to add up fast and could mean a missed tour in Thailand or Argentina. Popcorn isn’t worth missing an elephant playdate, right?
We also went to a beach later that afternoon (Manini’owali Beach) and soon discovered that rain doesn’t scare Hawaiians the way it does New Yorkers. They just keep on sitting or walking at their normal pace, as if precipitation were not falling from the sky. I’m not going to pretend that I’ve become quite that zen yet, but it is sort of refreshing to see.
Cooking dinner that night (decided to make rigatoni with meat sauce) was an interesting experience too. When we shopped at Safeway, we didn’t buy spices with the hopes that our Airbnb host would have the ones we needed. Later I learned that we only had access to the few spices that were left over from previous visitors, which seriously limited our options. At least there was salt and pepper, but I can’t remember the last time I cooked without garlic (fresh or powdered). There was combo spice bottle available with a little compartment for granulated garlic that we used, but I had to shake it loose pretty hard to use it, so you can only imagine how old that must have been…😒
Day 2: Ben’s Birthday
For Ben’s birthday, we went to Bongo Ben’s Island Cafe for breakfast, where I had a delicious passion fruit (or lilikoi, as it’s referred to in Hawaii) mimosa–the food was good enough too, but I loved the mimosa best.
Since Ben is a coffee aficionado, we then went for a tour of the Heavenly Hawaiian coffee farm. The reviews on Trip Advisor are true–this is a great experience! They run tours as people show up (rather than official tour times) and Bill was a great host & guide. I’m not a coffee drinker but I was interested the entire time and even tasted their 100% Kona coffee. Ben said it was ‘delicious, very smooth with no bitterness’–from a slight coffee snob, this is a rave review. If you’re interested in trying it, they seem to have their coffee available via their online store. The best part about the tour? Finding out that Bill used to be a politician in DC and one day just decided to pick up and move to Hawaii with his family. I’ve been trying to find more information about his previous life online, but haven’t had any luck (he says he was Newt Gingrich’s Chief of Staff when he was Speaker of the House during the Bill Clinton presidency)–if you find anything, send it my way!
On our way to dinner, we decided to stop at this huge lava tube that’s along HI-19 on the way from Kailua-Kona to Waimea, where everyone seems to stop for a photo op and a little spelunking. It’s an uneven climb down and walk through it, so be sure to wear the right shoes (i.e. sneakers) if you decide to head down there. Some people were going down in flip flops or barefoot, but that just seems stupid.
Ben’s birthday dinner was at Merriman’s in Waimea, at the recommendation of a friend (thanks Neha!). Our drinks and food were delicious–I had yet another passion fruit flavored beverage (this time the Lilikoi Margarita, mmm mmm good). Go here for a nice meal out!
Day 3: Desert hiking is not for me
After a light breakfast at home, we decided to head down to the infamous Green Sand Beach. There are some incredible views on the way down there on HI-19, including this mind-boggling vista (which only got better each time we drove by):
I could talk (write) about this ‘adventure’ forever but I will spare you (most) of my theatrics. Venturing out to Green Sand Beach on your own requires a 4WD vehicle (which we have) and the hills/bumps/ditches along the way are no joke. We attempted to make the trek but pulled the Jeep over after a couple of really rough bumps to park and walk the rest of the way. I wasn’t excited about the walk but it didn’t look too long on the map, so I was ready to roll. Much to my joy and Ben’s dismay, a few steps into our walk a local guy driving out there (with two girls standing in the bed of the truck) offered to give us a ride and I was more than happy to take it. We had to hold on for dear life on the truck bed with all of the bumps and ditches along the way, but I was so grateful after seeing how long the trek would have been on foot.
Once we got there, I’ll admit that the views were beautiful. It was hot as hell because this beach is, in fact, at the end of a desert and there is zero shade, plus green sand gets WAY hotter than regular sand, but it’s not really appropriate to complain when you’re staring at something like this. I had the added dilemma of needing to figure out how to change into my bathing suit (Ben convinced me that it would be terrible to wear it under my hiking clothing, since at the time we thought we’d be hiking for 2+ miles), and as you’ll see in the photos, there’s not really a good place for that. Ben held up a towel for me in a corner while I did some acrobatics, but I’m 97% sure that someone probably saw a naked body part. Oh well.
I decided to lay out in the sun for a bit, and this was most definitely a poor choice. Despite sunscreen, I got a killer sunburn (to be fair, I think it was a combination of sun exposure throughout this entire day, not just the 30 minutes I laid out), but I didn’t realize any of this until after we got home. The water felt amazing and there were some good waves, so definitely go for a swim if you come all the way out here. We decided to leave, which meant it was time to change back into regular clothes (there is nothing fun about hiking 2+ miles in a wet bathing suit under pants)–yet another acrobatic performance with inappropriate flashing, I’m sure.
By now it’s 2pm and just hiking back up the rocky slope to get to the top was a struggle–I felt a little woozy. I’m certainly not fit, but I shouldn’t have felt that yucky from just a short climb…in retrospect, I think I was dehydrated. We made the hike back to the car in about an hour and 15 mins, and I honestly felt like I was dying 90% of the time. The hike itself (meaning the terrain) is not that bad, but the combination of 1) a desert landscape with no shade, 2) the 90 degree (32 degrees Celsius) heat, 3) limited water supply, and 4) hours without food is a formula for disaster–at least for someone like me who hates hiking. During the walk, we saw a couple more of those local guys with pick-up trucks and tons of people piled in the back on the way to the beach, and I kept praying that someone would be traveling in the other direction and save me from my misery, but no such luck. I was too traumatized to take a picture of this epic shamble, but here’s a semi-accurate picture off Google of the general landscape:
After finally making it to the car and chugging a liter of water, we made the off-road drive back to the main road and headed back home. Along the way we saw a sign that said “Green Sand Beach This Way, Hike or Shuttle” and came to the tragic realization that those ‘local guys in pick up trucks’ who I thought were just being nice people were actually running the ‘shuttles’ back and forth…we suffered (or really, I suffered because Ben was fine of course) for nothing. 😭😭😭
So, lessons for Green Sand Beach:
- Wear your bathing suit under your clothing if you can, to avoid flashing half the world, unless you’re into that sort of thing.
- If you’re an avid hiker (or have survived the Arizona desert), you’ll probably enjoy the hike out there and back, just be sure to avoid making the hike during the hottest hours of the day (11am-3pm) given the lack of shade.
- If you hate hiking or are not a fan of non-shady hiking, wait for one of the ‘shuttles’. I have no idea if those guys charge something for their trouble (maybe $5-10???), but it is most definitely worth it.
- Bring tons of water to keep yourself hydrated and some snacks to keep your blood sugar up (especially if you’re going to hike back).
- Wear sunscreen and re-apply, re-apply, re-apply, even if you take the shuttle–that 10-15 minute ride is long enough for a solid sunburn.
- If you can, bring a beach umbrella to give yourself a place to hide from the scorching sun–and this is coming from someone who LOVES the sun.
- If you’re going to hike, wear appropriate footwear (flip flops will not cut it).
In summary: even though I basically died, I’ll admit that I enjoyed the beach and I don’t regret going–but if I went again, you better believe I would wait for a shuttle ride. We went to Sam Choy’s Kai Lanai that night, because there’s nothing that can’t be fixed with a little booze and fried chicken.