Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hawaii Day 9 - Aloha and Mahalo

Well our dream escape has come to an end. It was a trip of a lifetime and a wonderful adventure.
We had a great last day. As you may recall I had a surfing lesson at 8am. Turns out I am the only person wanting to take a lesson this early in the morning. So Jeremy gave me a private lesson. It was nice to have the one on one attention but also exhausting. I didn't expect quite so tiring but you know how it is when you keep getting knocked down. John took a couple videos of me and the best one is below. Unfortunately the two times that I actually stood on the board and rode the wave to the beach John wasn't there. There was an endangered monk seal on the beach that was competing for my attention. Overall the surfing was a great experience. I never actually paddled into a wave myself (Jeremy pushed me each time) so my nephew Justin won't have any real surfing competition when we go on the Macauley family beach trip.

Surfer chick.
Mother and baby Monk Seal on the beach.

Here is when I thought surfing was easy.

After surfing, we rested a bit. I was really wiped out. Then we decided to head off to the Spouting Horn area of the island. First there was a good snorkeling site nearby and second there was a craft market. (If you are ever in Kauai wait to shop for your jewelry gifts and other trinkets until you go to Spouting Horn.) Spouting Horn is actually a large blow hole even though a lot of people described it as a geyser.

Spouting Horn blow hole

We snorkeled a bit and then headed back to the resort for some lunch and a couple of last hours on the beach. This resort is really in a great setting. After driving around this portion of the island, we realize how rare it is to have such a long stretch of sand. Also this resort unlike others has a large amount of open space in the large great lawn and the many gardens. I don't think the newer resorts make such an investment.
Here is a picture of me trying to get the image from the brochure.
Before leaving for the airport we decided to have our last dinner in Hawaii at the resort's Plantation Garden's restaurant. This may have been the best meal we had on the entire trip. Everything about the whole experience was just right.

One of the large beautiful trees on the resort property.

Happy couple getting ready for one last delicious meal - this time at the resort's Plantation Gardens.
As we finished our meal, the sun was starting to set. We drove back to the Spouting Horn to catch the sunset and then it was off to the airport. All of the tranquility of the evening was lost as soon as we arrived. The airport was jammed and when flying back to the mainland you have to go through a bit more security. I made it almost all the way to the gate with an apple I had put in my bag for the beach when it was found by the agricultural agents. I was a bit embarassed because I had told them a couple of times that I didn't have any fruit. I had completely forgot about it but they must have a secret sense about that sort of thing.

Final sunset from Spouting Horn.
We got on the 5 hour flight to Los Angeles and I am sitting in LAX now as I blog. We are happy to be heading home to our children but sad to be leaving these beautiful islands. We want to say to Outrigger Hawaii that everyone has been so wonderful to us. We received the best of care at every location and can never repay the generousity that was shown to us. Thank you also to Conde Nast Traveler for joining with Outrigger to sponsor this contest. It was an amazing experience to draft a dream trip and have it come true.

Mahalo ya'll!
Bonus welcome home video of our Little Kahuna and Hula Princess

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hawaii Day 8 - Sunny skies in Poipu

Aloha from sunny Kauai. I don't know what happened to the rain but we have obviously done something right and woke up to clear skies. We spent the morning doing something that we have not done a lot on this trip; sitting on a beautiful beach. I am happy to say that our pale white skin is no longer white but a little on the pink side. This resort is located perfectly for spending a day on the beach, snorkeling and surfing. Did I mention surfing. Well I am going to take a lesson tomorrow morning and hopefully John will get some good video of me hanging ten.

After a late lunch we got cleaned up and got ready for our last activity on our dream itinerary - a traditional luau. We made a couple of pitstops on the drive over to the luau. First we went to Wailua Falls or as you may recall the famous waterfalls from Fantasy Island. We did not see "the plane".

Wailua Falls - Welcome to Fantasy Island

We then headed over to Lydgate Park where the Wailua River flows out into the ocean. This is the park to come to if you are looking for drift wood.

We also found a lovely pair of coconuts.

Then it was off to the "best luau on the island", the Smith Family Garden Luau. We arrived at 5pm and toured the 30 acre grounds. It is a beautiful place and a wonderful setting for a relaxing last night in Hawaii. Walking through the grounds is like walking through a botantical garden filled with beautiful peacocks and of course roosters. There are roosters all over this island. We both got a little more relaxed once they opened the bar and began passing out the Mai Tai's. Everyone (about 250people in all) then sat down for a traditional luau dinner. The food was great and was a mix of traditional Hawaiian dishes. After dinner we all walked over to an amphitheater for the show. The show was great and we got good video of the hula dancers. We both were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the whole experience. We thought that it might be cheesy and touristy but it was not at all. As a matter of fact we sat at a table full of native Hawaiians. They were just there to enjoy a nice evening out. We were there for four hours and it was a very pleasant experience. A really good way to say Aloha to the islands.
Michelle waiting outside the front gate.
One of many beautiful peacocks showing off for the crowd.
The beautiful botantical garden setting.
Sunset as we walked to the show.
Picture from the final dance number.
We weren't allowed to use flash and all of the closer shots were blurry. We did however get a good video (below). Aloha until tomorrow...our last day.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Hawaii Day 7 - Sunset Cruisin'

Aloha from sort of sunny Kauai. The weather was supposed to be rainy with a potential of flash flooding but we have managed to stay clear of the rain. Hope our luck stays the same.

This morning we walked the grounds of this beautiful resort and came across two large gardens. One is full of only cactus and the other is full of orchids. The staff takes really great care of the landscaping. The resort offers an island orientation for everyone on their first morning at the resort. We sat in and enjoyed getting a local's perspective on the island. It definitely gives us more options if the bad weather develops.

Orchid garden on resort property.

Another shot of the orchids.

We didn't have to check into the sunset dinner cruise until 1:45 so we spent a couple of hours after breakfast on the beach and snorkeling. It wasn't the best beach weather but we made the most of it. After grabbing a quick lunch in the town of Koloa, we headed off to Port Allen to check into our sunset dinner sail of the Napali Coast. As you read yesterday this is an activity that I was really apprehensive about. I was even more nervous today because of the rainy weather. The rain held off and we actually had a beautiful cruise up and down the Napali Coast. I am attaching a video below of a view of the coast from the boat. I think that this experience is going to go down in the top 10 of our trip. I would recommend this to everyone. There is only one other way to see the coast and that is by helicopter. While the helicopter would have been spectacular, we both realized that the flight and tour would have been over in a short amount of time. Cruisin along in a boat gave us really the chance to enjoy the scenery and the sea life. We saw turtles, dolphins and whales. As a bonus they served a great dinner and served cocktails.

Two whales..mother and baby calf.

Baby calf whale.

View of Napali Coast.

Another view of coast.
Second sister ship of Capt' Andy - duplicate the boat we were on.
Intrepid couple at sunset.
Tomorrow is our last full day and night in Kauai and we are hoping to spend some more time on the beach before we go off to the Smith Family Garden Luau.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Hawaii Day 6 - Zip, Zapped, Zonked Out

Aloha from Kauai. Sorry I didn't get a chance to blog last night but I was literally zonked out. We had a wonderful afternoon of ziplining (described below with video) that really wiped me out. But now a recap of how we got to this point.

Keauhou Resort. We got up early on Wednesday to enjoy one more breakfast overlooking the tidepools before we headed off for the airport. We arrived a bit early to breakfast and decided to enjoy to the hammocks in the large lawn adjoining the hotel. At the time, I tell John that this is going to be a glimpse of the beautiful grounds at the Kiahuna Plantation in Kauai and I was right. After breakfast we drove back to the airport and took two short rides over to the island of Kauai.

Hammocks before breakfast.

One last look at the Big Island Keauhou Resort.

Kauai - a breath of freshness. That is all I can say to describe the vast difference between the dry, desert landscape of Kona on the Big Island and the lush greeness of Kauai. It is known as the garden island and that is very clear once we landed. Driving along I was reminded of what it is like to be walking through the cool produce area of the grocery store when the vegetable misters are on. The weather forcast has changed since I first looked a week ago and they are calling for heavy rain everyday. We landed in the clouds and I was a bit down but as we drove to Poipu, the clouds disappeared. Poipu is known as the sunniest spot on the island and home to our hotel. As you drive toward Poipu you drive through a tree canopy street of eucalyptus trees. It really feels like you are about to arrive somewhere special and you do.

Tree lined drive to Poipu.

As we checked into the Kiahuna Plantation, I knew that I was right in selecting this condominium. You really get a feel of old Hawaii. We were again greeted with a lovely basket of local goodies and a warm welcome note from Gana, the assistant General Manager. As I have said before and will say again, Outrigger has been so generous and gracious hosts to us. Since this is our first stay in a condo unit, John and I had questioned whether we were going to buy all of the fixens for a pancake breakfast. (I had of course titled my dream itinerary essay, 'pancakes in paradise'. We decided to pass but when we looked in our small kitchen we found the Outrigger Housekeeping Team had already taken care of that for us. We found a very clever rhyming note (right up my alley), macadamia nut pancake mix, passion fruit syrup and of course coconut syrup. Yum.

Beautiful grounds at Kiahuna Plantation.

Doesn't this just scream Hawaii!

We didn't have much time to relax in our oceanfront room that is literally steps from the beach because we had an early check-in time at Kauai Backcountry Adventures for ziplining. We were in a group of 11 people and as the guides said we formed a tight-knit family. After some safety instructions we were all ready to zip. There were 7 zips altogether with the longest one 940 feet. I was surprised because I wasn't apprehensive at all. It doesn't really feel like you are jumping off. Because you are clipped into the line you feel like you are already supported before you take off on the zip. We took some great pictures and videos of the experience. The weather was perfect. It was cool and overcast with very little wind. It was all over way too quickly.

Zipline setting.

Michelle on the line.

Intrepid adventurers.

After the zipline John and I decided to enjoy dinner in our condo. We have been treated to so many wonderful and quite big dinners in a row that we decided to try something a little simpler. Just some wine, cheese, fruit and french bread. Our zipline guide Moses thought had never heard of such a meal. I don't know if he was being serious but acted like he couldn't imagine the combination. The plan was to enjoy a movie "Quantum of Solace" and dinner. Then I was going to blog. Well I feel asleep on the couch about 30 minutes into the movie.

Overall it was a very full day. We are getting ready today for a morning of relaxing on the beach (hopefully the rain will stay away) and then afternoon of sailing around the Napali Coast. I was not nervous about the zipline but I am nervous about the cruise. The surf is known to be rough and I really just don't want to get sick. I'll let you know how that comes out.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hawaii Day 5 - Big Island Volcanoes

Day 5 - Going to see volcanoes...
Volcanoes National Park

Today was the day that both John and I had been looking forward to - Volcanoes! Staying near Kona instead of Hilo meant that we had a 90 mile trip one-way instead of 30 miles but we weren't afraid of the challenge. The weather was cloudy and we ran into something that we in Atlanta are all too familiar with - signs saying Warning - Poor Air Quality. Happy to say that in this case it is caused by the active volcano spewing out sulfur dioxide instead of a jammed city full of cars.
We started out early about 7am after enjoying the hotel's complimentary breakfast buffet. What a wonderful treat that really made us miss our children. When you are a parent, hotel's with this kind of breakfast service is really a bonus. It was fun to see the children with their smiles beaming as they loaded up their plates with pancakes and sausage.

The drive took us southward along the Kona coast and past too many coffee farms to mention. Too bad we aren't coffee drinkers. About 1 1/2 hours into the drive we came across a oasis in the form of a local Hawaiian sweet bread bakery named for the small village where it is located -Punalu'u. We arrived just as they opened their doors and were treated to a full case of local sweets. We enjoyed one of the local favorites - guava iced malasadas. Wonderful, warm and sweet. A perfect way to perk up from the long drive.

Panalu'u Bakery

The bakery grounds really looked like an oasis.

Volcanoes National Park
As we arrived at the park we were greeted by the air quality advisory and told that a large portion of the 11 mile Crater Rim Drive and the 36 mile Chain of Craters Road was closed due to the air quality. Darn... But we didn't let this get us down because there was still a lot to see and do.

View of the new vent that opened March 2008 -
source the road closing gases

One of the many steam vents

Highlight #1 - Kiauea Iki Crater Hike
The two big highlights were the 1 1/2 mile hike down to the floor of the Kilauea Iki Crater and the Thurston Lava Tube. The Kilauea Iki Crater hike descends from the crater rim down 400 feet through a lush rain forest full of tree ferns to the crater floor. The crater floor is a rough, dry and steaming lava bed that is looks like an asphalt parking lot that is being broken up but the surface is not smooth like asphalt at all. It is quite rough and sharp, just like you imagine it to be. The hike down and back up was a lot easier than we thought and well worth this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Michelle on the trail down to the crater through forest of tree ferns.

Michelle on the crater floor.

Another view of the crater floor.

Highlight #2 - Thurston Lava Tube
Lava tubes are basically cave-like tubes that are formed when slow moving lava flows harden while the still molten lava streams below. These tubes can run for miles and are all over the Big Island. The Thurston Lava tube is one of the big attractions in the park and judging from the bus load of people entering along side of us, nothing to be afraid of. As you descend again through a lush rainforest you see the lava tube appear. The trail continues down a lighted path but after about 1/4 mile you come to the point where you have to make a decision. Are you a tourist or are you an adventurer? You have two choices, either descend up the stairs out of the maintained and lighted portion of the tube or go beyond the gate to the undeveloped (and unlighted) lava tube. At this point I asked the quintessential question, "what would Carl do?" For those of you who don't know of whom I speak, Carl is a friend and co-worker and second only to my father, the smartest man I know. Carl is a GIS guru and a spelunker (caver aficionado) who would love to have to make this decision. I wanted Carl to be proud of me for going beyond my comfort level so John and I ventured on - (flashlight in hand) down the 1000 foot lava tube. Of course it helped that there was a family with two small children who had just made the same decision. It was amazing to experience true darkness. John was quite proud of me and I know that Carl will be as well.

Michelle at the opening of the Thurston Lava Tube.

Decision point - go beyond the gate or not?

We went beyond and lived to tell...

After a great adventure at the park we started the 2 1/2 hour drive back to the hotel. Of course we stopped again at the Punalu'u bakery for a great sweet bread sandwich. As I blog now I am sitting looking out at the setting sun and the tidepools below. I am sorry that we are not going to be able to stay longer to enjoy this wonderful hotel. Tomorrow morning early we leave for our last stop on this dream itinerary, the island of Kauai.

One last activity however before we go. Heather has come again to the rescue and we have dinner reservations at one of the Big Island's top fine dining restaurant - Pahu ia.

More to come from Kauai!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hawaii Day 4 - The Big Island

First a disclaimer.. I have been working on the formatting of this blog for about an hour and I'm giving up. So please overlook all of the bizarre and random spacing. Can't figure it out....)

Aloha from Hawaii's Big Island and the beautiful Outrigger Keauhou Resort. We have had a wonderful day full of unexpected disappointments and exciting opportunities. But first let me begin where I left off yesterday. Dinner at Chai's Island Bistro.

Chai's Island Bistro.

I must admit I was a bit apprehensive as we drove to this restaurant. It was located in a shopping area near where the big cruise ships were parked. I promise I am not a cruise ship snob but I have found that the best of local food is not always found in their shadows. I was wrong about Chai's. Chai's is a fine dining (white tablecloth) restaurant serving classic Hawaiian with strong Thai influences. We ordered the prix fixe dinner for two and got to taste some of the best dishes the restaurant had to offer. The food was delicious. I can easily say this was our best hawaiian meal to date and it was accompanied by three live musicians performing a mix of hawaiian music and contemporary. We sat outside and relaxed in the ambiance of the music. It was a wonderful evening.

Happy couple outside Chai's.

For you foodies. Here is our appetizer platter. Yum yum.

Last morning in Waikiki.

It was so hard to say good-bye to Waikiki and our beautiful hotel. We enjoyed one last breakfast in the courtyard (coconut toast! yum) and drove off to the airport for a short ride to the Big Island.

Big Island arrival.

Okay this must be what it used to be like when you landed in Hawaii. We got off the plane on stairs and walked across the tarmac to a beautiful open air airport. I took a picture of it on my phone and sent it to my mom and she thought it was the hotel. It is quite picturesque. In addition to the pleasant surprise of the open air airport we were greeted by local musicians and a hula dancer. Aloha! I am trying something new in this blog. Go to the bottom of this blog entry and look for a link to a video I took at the Kona Airport.

Our tarmac arrival. (Please excuse the extremely bad hair - I should have put on the hat.)

Our first hula dancer. A wonderful surprise at the Kona Airport.

Drive to hotel: to dive or not to dive.
Once in the car we headed off to the hotel. I should mention during this time (actually just before we boarded) that we found for the first time that our night dive with manta rays was cancelled. Apparently a large group had cancelled their trip leaving the dive below the minimum number of participants. No fear Heather is here. We put in a quick call and during our short flight Heather came to our aide. As we arrived we learned that our dive company had called again and the dive was back on because they had found some other interested divers. Yeah! or so we thought. Then just after we arrived at our hotel and was settling into lunch overlooking the tidepools below we got the call that again that the night dive had been cancelled. This time apparently the dive instructor had just called in to say that he had been hurt earlier in the day and would not be able to dive. I took this as a sign that we were not meant to dive. It all worked for the best however because when we arrived at this beautiful hotel we found out that one of the best snorkel sites in Hawaii was located next to our hotel. So we again called in our savior Heather from Outrigger who went to work on plans for us while we went snorkeling. We had a wonderful time and were happy with the array fish we were swimming with when all of a sudden we were joined by a sea turtle. This made our day. Happy and tired we packed up our snorkel gear and walked back to the hotel to get ready for a sunset dinner at Huggo's. (This is supposed to be the site of our dinner tomorrow night but we moved it up after our night dive was cancelled). Back at our room we were greeted with a plate of fresh fruit and cheese to snack on as we showered, relaxed and got ready for dinner.

View of our hotel as we arrived.

Entrance to hotel grounds. Beautiful.

View from lanai (1 of 3 we have in our two room suite). Outrigger spoils us again.

View from lanai #2 overlooking tidepools.

Picture of me on hotel grounds rocking the hat but still extremely pale skinned. Hope to change that soon.

Picture of hotel from the tidepools.

The turtle. What a treat.

Me and the turtle.

Yikes...not too graceful in the water.

Dinner at Huggo's.

We had were seated a lovely waterside table for two and were treated to a beautiful sunset and great fresh seafood.

Sunset from Huggo's.

Aloha for now.
Tomorrow - volcanoes......

Video of Airport arrival.