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Here is our recommendations on activities and restaurants to visit. You'll always see new content here and also at our official blog site. Enjoy!

Things to do in Mauna Lani: Events

Posted: Tue Mar 17 20:53:26 UTC 2015

On Tuesdays the Shops at Mauna Lani have a Culinary Festival. The festival consists of chef demonstrations (and most importantly, tastings of that demonstration), fruit and vegetable stands, food trucks, and prepared food items like seaweed infused popcorn, artisan sea salt, gelato, shaved iced, etc. I highly recommend getting a malasadas (Portuguese doughnut). They are made fresh right in front of you and you can choose the filling. The lilikoi cream cheese is "I could eat a dozen of these and not even feel guilty" good.

On Monday and Thursday the Shops at Mauna Lani host a Hula and Fire show. The show is free and is a great representation of the entertainment that is provided during a luau. The show is about 40 minutes long and demonstrates music and dance from different eras and different Polynesian islands. Don't miss the end of the show, where the climax is performed by one brave dancer who throws, twists, spits and manipulates fire.

Many American, Hawaiian or Asian holidays will be celebrated at the shops whether it be President's Day or Chinese New Year. There will be special entertainment, food, and decorations, so check the calendar to see what is coming up www.theshopsatmaunalani.com/events.

20150226_181646433_iOSDSC_0068Fire breather

 


Whale watching on the Big Island

Posted: Mon Feb 16 21:24:44 UTC 2015

A whale checking out our boat

A whale checking out our boat

I can speak whale, or so my 2 year old thinks. It is a rare skill and I don’t get to use it very often, except in Hawaii.

Our most recent visit was in February which is peak season for whale watching. Every time we went to the beach we saw whales spouting, tails slapping or breaching off in the distance. You know these mammals are enormous when you can spot their tails from a couple miles away. But to really get a good scale on their size you must take a tour.

The number one spot to go whale watching is in Kaanapali, Maui and the number two spot is Kohala Coast, Big Island. It has to do with the depth, 600 feet is the magical number, but one big difference between the two locations is population of boats.  We were one of two boats that were watching the whales, whereas in Maui there would be a dozen boats jockeying for the best position to see the whales.

There are many different outfits that do whale watching tours.  We used Ocean Sports.  They launch from A-Bay and Kawaihie. The great thing about Ocean Sports is that kids under 6 are free. We took the 8:00 A.M. boat because there is less wind at this time as opposed to an afternoon or evening tour. If you get any sort of motion sickness I would highly recommend you take Dramamine. They say you are not the first and won’t be the last to get sick on their boat but it is a two hour tour and you don’t want to be miserable the whole time.

Our boat did not have to go far, just about half a mile offshore, until we saw some whales swimming towards us. There is a certified naturalist on the boat talking about different facts on whales and calling out their location. For an hour and a half we saw several whales spouting, jumping, and slapping, but the real action started towards the end of the trip. Just as we had turned to head back to shore four whales decided to check us out. They came right up to the boat, swam under us and waved hello with their tails and fins. There was a lot of excitement on the boat from everyone, including the crew. 
Waving hello to us
By law the captain had to turn the engine off.  It is illegal to approach a humpback whale up to 100 yards, so if they just show up next to you then you better sit still.  Since we couldn’t go anywhere our tour lasted a little longer (I don’t think anyone was upset by this).  After about 30 minutes of the four humpbacks doing an underwater and above water ballet they started to move on up the coast, so we headed for shore. 

If you are visiting during whale season (December to April) a tour is a must do.  You will not regret it.
It isn't water that they are spouting from their blow hole, but snot.  Yuck.


Visit the Waipi'o Valley

Posted: Sun Feb 15 01:03:23 UTC 2015

Waipio Valley

Waipio Valley

You have probably seen this picture in many advertisements for Hawaii. Maybe it was this picture that inspired you to visit the Big Island, now it is time to visit your inspiration.

From Waimea, the Waipi’o Valley lookout is about 22 miles. The lookout sits more than a thousand feet above the ocean so you are able to get a spectacular view of the black sand beach, a portion of the 5 mile deep valley and the 2,000 foot tall cliffs that surround it. Plaques around the lookout describe the history of this valley which includes some of the first inhabitants of the islands, kings that fought over this land, and a tsunami that devastated it.

To explore the valley you can either hike down or join one of the many different tours. Links to the different tours are listed at the bottom of the article. The hike down to the valley is steep and that is understating the fact. The road is paved and gains 800 feet in about 0.6 miles with an average 25% grade (more in some areas). Let’s just say you will earn that Parker Ranch hamburger on the hike back up. As you descend into the valley you get different views at different points in the road. Once you start getting near the bottom of the road the vegetation will become denser and some of it falls on you, literally. The valley is full of fruit trees (mango, papaya, lilikoi, and star fruit) and when in season you can hear them crashing through the trees and the eventual splat on the ground. Try and catch one, there is nothing like eating fruit that has fully ripened and almost smacked you in the head.

Once at the floor of the valley the road will fork, if you go left you will encounter a patchwork of taro fields, the river, and dense foliage. You can walk along this road, which slowly disintegrates into a muddy path, all the way to Hawaii Island’s tallest waterfall, Hiilawe Falls which cascades down 1,300 feet. Remember that the Waipi’o Valley is home to about 50 residents so be respectful and don’t trespass when private land is indicated. Believe me, they will tell you when you do. Story for another time but it involves me, star fruit, a horse, and a big Hawaiian man. Don’t worry, it ended with the horse enjoying some star fruit.

The fork to the right leads to the beach. The beach is a mile long and cut down the middle with the river that is created by Hiilawe Falls. The surf is pretty strong here which is great for surfers but not the best swimming water. On the other side of the beach is the hike to Waimanu Valley. If you plan to continue hiking bring lots of water.

This valley is amazing, a must do activity on the island. You can also travel along the rim of the valley but only with a tour. If you would prefer to take a tour instead of hiking around the valley check out: www.waipiovalleyshuttle.com or www.ridetherim.com.


The Best Travel Rewards Credit Card

Posted: Wed Nov 12 21:46:06 UTC 2014

I travel to Hawaii a lot…because I love it there and because I own a vacation rental property http://www.yourbigislandhome.com. Recently I decided to look into the different travel reward credit cards to make sure that I was using the best credit card for my particular travel habits. What I discovered is that the credit card that I was using for all our household expenses (Alaska Airlines Visa) was not actually giving me the best ROI. So I have now switched. Here is what I think is the best travel reward credit card out there.

Barclaycard Arrival Plus: First year perk is no annual fee ($89 after that) and, 40,000 points after you spend $3,000 in three months. For every dollar that you spend you get two points. This is on everything not just gas and restaurants like other credit cards. You can redeem your points as cash or by getting reimbursed on your credit card statement for travel purchased within the last 120 days. If you use your points to be reimbursed on your credit card statement then you will receive 10% of those points back. No foreign transaction fees, no restrictions, no blackout dates.

Here is an example of how it all works: I spend $25,000 in one year which equals 50,000 points. I buy an airline ticket that cost me $500. I use those 50,000 points to get reimbursed on my credit card statement. I then get 5,000 of those 50,000 points returned to me. So really I only use 45,000 points to buy a $500 flight.

For those of you who live in a city that Alaska Airlines services it might be worth keeping the card solely for the $100 companion fare that you get with it (or really any other airlines that has a credit card with a companion fare). But remember that there is an annual fee of $75 (usually $99 on other airline cards) so you need to factor that in when you are calculating whether or not to keep the card. You won't want to use these cards for any of your purchases because they only get you one point for every dollar spent instead of the two points that you could get using the Barclaycard.

Here's to more trips to Hawaii!!!!!


Hiking the Polulu Valley (North Kohala)

Posted: Tue Aug 05 20:11:45 UTC 2014

The drive up the Kohala coast is an amazing 40 minute transition between climate zones. Driving north you start in the desert of the South Kohala district, this barren land (barren with the exception of the amazing resorts and beaches) only gets 9 inches of rain a year and it shows. As you continue north you start to notice more grasses and wind torn trees. The Hawi Wind Farm with its sixteen turbines welcomes you to the town of Hawi which lies just around the bend of the Kohala volcano. You have now reached the lush tropical side of the island.

Hawi is an old sugar plantation town, but unlike many sugar towns when the sugar left the people did not. They decided to stick it out and reinvent their lovely town. Hawi is now known for its art galleries, knick knack shops, and dining.

When you reach the end of highway 270 you really do reach the end of highway 270, if you kept going you could just drive off a cliff. There is no turn around and not much of a parking lot but there are amazing views. Here the Big Island looks like Kauai. There are dramatic vertical cliffs that are slowly crumbling into the ocean, waterfalls that all the sudden appear after a rainstorm, and valleys that stretch back into the island for miles. The view from the top is movie inspiring (watch Water World, these valleys really did inspire a movie), but if you hike down even just a few minutes you are rewarded with a panoramic view of the ocean, cliffs and valley. Polulu Valley HikeView of cliffs

The hike down is not so bad (15 minutes if you didn't stop at every turn to get a new perspective on the Polulu valley), but the way back up can be a little tough. It is very steep, but keep in mind, it is short. My father (who is in his 60s) made it up with our 25 pound child on his back, so it is very doable. The trail can be a little slick if it has recently rained. You can usually find hiking sticks (literally just wood sticks) that folks leave at the top of the trail, grab one, it will help steady you on the trail.

The trail

The trail

Hiking is a great way to see the real Hawaii

Hiking is a great way to see the real Hawaii


Once down in the valley you can explore a black sand beach, which has been created by the surf mercilessly pounding the lava rocks. Multiple sand dunes that are over 100 feet high and mostly covered in vegetation make for fun exploring and camping spots. On the opposite side of the valley you can start to climb the trail to the next valley, Honokane Nui. There are seven valleys that you can climb in and out of (though the trail can get a little hairy at times) from Polulu to Waipi'o. If attempting this you should read up on trail conditions because storms and earthquakes are constantly altering the terrain here.
The valley stretching back into the cliffs

The valley stretching back into the cliffs


After the hike I like to treat myself at the Bamboo Restaurant. It is an amazing restaurant with a quirky history. It was built sometime between 1911 and 1915 as a hotel for the plantation works, and rumor has it, hosted ladies of the night for the businessmen staying. In 1926 it was bought by the Takata Family and turned into a dry goods and grocery store. In 1991 the Takata family built a new grocery store and in 1993 the old building was turned into the restaurant that I now love.

The Bamboo Restaurant is famous for their lilikoi (passion fruit) drinks. The drinks they create are Lilikoi Iced Tea (FYI, you get free refills), Lilikoi Margarita, Lili Mojito and Lili-tini. They make their own syrup with all natural ingredients so you are getting an authentic sweet and tangy flavor with every sip.
The food is Pacific Rim and unbelievable. With flavors like Thai, Vietnamese, Hawaiian and good old American there is something for everyone. I dare you to go out on a limb and try something you have never tasted before, you will not be disappointed. I especially loved their pot stickers and Hawaiian pork sandwich, yummy.

The restaurant has not changed much in the last century, the hard wood floor is the same one. The decorations are Hawaiian knick knacks, Christmas lights, floral prints, and of course bamboo covered walls and screens.


My review of Mauna Lani Restaurants (Kohala Coast)

Posted: Sat Jul 19 22:49:10 UTC 2014

One activity I love to partake in while on the Big Island is eating. With so much cultural diversity on the island you get a lot of choices in what you eat. I am definitely no food critic but I know what I like and what I don’t. So here is a list of the restaurants in the Mauna Lani area and what I think of them.

Tommy Bahamas – probably one of my favorite restaurants to go to when on the Big Island. I love the ambiance, the island décor, and the open walls that allow the breeze to flow through. Live music is played almost every night which adds to the relaxed island feel. Every dish that I have had here has been wonderful. The menu changes a bit but they always have a fresh catch of the day and most of their beef dishes are local and grass-fed. The bread that comes out as an appetizer is fresh baked and comes with an amazing cinnamon honey butter. They have a great happy hour that goes from 4-6, I highly recommend the coconut cloud martini! Coconut cloud martini recipe

Entrance to restaurant

Entrance to restaurant

Monstera-This is Hawaii after all, there needs to be a sushi restaurant at least within a few miles of where you are staying. You can tell that the fish and other seafood used in Monstera's dishes are fresh. There always seems to be a wait so you are better off making a reservation. The atmosphere is like any other higher end sushi restaurant, nothing too impressive.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House-I have actually not eaten at this restaurant, I have only gone to have drinks. Since I have been to other Ruth’s Chris before I just haven’t felt the need to try this one out yet. One little advantage is Costco has gift cards to Ruth Chris. You pay $80 for $100 worth of gift cards.

Napua Restaurant- see previous post on activities to do in Mauna Lani.

Bay Terrace at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel – I have only had breakfast here but oh my gosh…what a breakfast! You can either get a buffet for around $30 or you can order off the menu. I love the coconut encrusted french toast. The french toast is coated with coconut flakes and cornflakes cereal. It is then baked so that it has a nice crunch to it. Fried bananas and ginger syrup add to this already tasty treat. I also really like their omelets, flavorful but full of healthy ingredients. All of this food is enjoyed on the terrace of the hotel, in the shade, with a view of the ocean, the pool and the ancient Hawaiian fishponds.
Coconut French Toast

The CanoeHouse at Mauna Lani Bay Hotel – It is hard to beat the view at the CanoeHouse, it is right on the ocean so it has a prime spot for sunset. It is also surrounded by fish ponds with hammerhead sharks and many tropical fish to gaze upon. But I have to say I was a little disappointed with their food. I went when their regular menu was not available and they were having a crab and prime rib buffet. I usually love buffets because I like to try a little of everything, and especially at an expensive buffet like this one I expected a lot of great food to choose from. Not so, there was not that many choices and the crab they used was snow crab (one of the smallest crabs so not very much meat). Maybe their regular menu is better, I will have to try the CanoeHouse again to find out.

Orchid Court at Fairmont Orchid – there are many restaurants at the Fairmont Orchid but I have only tried this one so far and that was for breakfast. They have a great buffet. Lots of different ethnic foods. You have Asian, Hawaiian, and good old American. One thing that I love about this breakfast is the free Keiki buffet. No one likes to spend a lot of money for breakfast for their little one when they barely eat anything. Here they can have eggs, bacon, pancakes and a smoothie, all for free.


See the jungle without needing your machete

Posted: Wed May 28 20:19:34 UTC 2014

The colors always seem more vibrant in Hawaii. Maybe it is because I come from a city that most of the year only has two colors: gray and green. Or maybe it is because there are thousands of different plants and flowers from all around the world congregating on a small island (or rather the Big Island). Hilo's "Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Gardens" is a must for any aspiring botanists or anyone who just plain loves the beauty of nature. The gardens have over 2,000 different species snuggled together in a 40 acre valley on the coast.

The entrance to the Botanical Gardens is beautiful and daunting, with a 500 foot walkway that goes straight down to the valley floor. As you pass the visitors walking up the path you can't help but laugh at all of the out of shape jokes that are passed between them, and then you start to dread the fact that you will be them in a couple of hours. But the steep descent/climb is worth it (if you need any assistance a golf cart can take you to the bottom).

As you walk through the many trails you will see every color of the rainbow and more. This is what most envision Hawaii to look like before they visit: lush, vibrant, and unique. You will walk under almost 200 different palm trees, graze the lobster claw shapes of Heliconia, and enjoy the sounds of six macawsthat contribute to your jungle experience. Two of my favorite plants were the Turtle Shell and the Aglaomorpha Coronans. The Turtle Shell is true to its name, it looks like the back of a green sea turtle (maybe just a little greener). The Aglaomorpha Coronans is very unique in how it grows. It climbs the trunk of a neighboring palm and sits a few feet off the ground. It then begins to grow and wind around the trunk until the palm tree is wearing its own grass skirt (for modesty of course).

Aglaomorpha Coronans Turtle Shell Plant

The Botanical Gardens are in the historic Onema Valley. As you are walking through the gardens not only do you see exotic flora but you can also see remnants of this valley's history. The valley was first a fishing village for the early Hawaiians, then in the 1800's early settlers cultivated it and terraces were made for growing taro and sugar cane. Soon a sugar mill was built and sugar was exported around the world. The beginning of the 1900's saw the desertion of the Onema Valley, and the vegetation soon reclaimed the land, until 1977 when on vacation with his wife Pauline, Dan Lukenhouse decided to purchase the Onema Valley. Not sure of what to do with it they decided that everyone should be able to enjoy the beauty of this valley and so created a botanical gardens.

At the end of the Oceanfront Trail you can see four unmarked graves. No one knows who they were or even which country they might have come from, but they definitely have one of the most beautiful resting spots that anyone would die for (pun intended). Also on the trail are the "Twin Rocks", legend has it that the Hawaiian village was going to be attacked by a neighboring enemy. Two lovers agreed to sacrifice themselves and while the entire village went into hiding they remained to face the enemy. In the morning the two lovers could not be found but the villagers could now see two rocks had formed offshore as if guarding the entrance to the bay. The chief declared the area a sanctuary.

The trip to the gardens takes about an hour and half from Mauna Lani. They are open every day from 9:00-5:00. Admission is $15 for adults and children 6-16 are $5. For directions and more information on the garden visit their website at www.htbg.com.


Swimming with Manta Rays – don't worry they don't have stingers

Posted: Sat Aug 10 19:14:00 UTC 2013

One of the great things about staying on the Big Island is the opportunity to dive with manta rays.  At first it is a little nerve racking because you can’t help but think of a giant stinger stabbing you in the leg, but Manta Rays don’t have stingers.  They are harmless and maybe even a little friendly. These creatures look like they are dressed up as a cloaked batman when you look at them from above.  At night they feed in the shallows and unlike a lot of other wild life tours you are pretty much guaranteed a good show.

From Kona you can take a night snorkel or scuba dive tour.  We took our tour with Neptune Charlies during their sunset tour and had a great experience.  You take a short boat ride out to Keahole Bay, the staff gives you a little instruction and then you jump in with your snorkel and grab ahold of the circular pool noodle.  Everyone has a flashlight and the staff instructs you to shine your light into the center of the noodle ring.  You then wait, but it doesn’t take long though until you start to see shadows slipping by the perimeter of your vision. Then you see them…Huge! With wingspans of up to 20 feet you will never believe that this large of an animal will not swallow you whole.  They begin to make loop de loops at the ocean floor and slowly start to rise towards you!  As they roll, you can see into their gaping mouths (and you thought your best friend had a big mouth) as they scoop up plankton.  This makes them look a little like the grill on a Ford Shelby Cobra.  They continue to get closer and closer until they are literally skimming your stomach (you are trying as hard as possible to float completely horizontal so as not to purposefully get in their way).  I hear delighted screams and laughter as each Manta Ray skims another belly (my brother included in those screams).  I can only image what it must be like for the scuba divers that are hanging out below us on the ocean floor.

Once the show is over we climb back in the boat, get a quick warm shower and then bundle up for the boat ride back to the docks.  Couple of tips for this trip: bring warm clothes to put over your wet bathing suit after the dive, it can get really cold; if you get sea sick take dramamine a half hour before you get on the boat; bring an underwater camera; and have a great time.

If night diving is not your thing you can still experience the manta rays at Rays on the Bay, a fun outdoor restaurant in the Sheraton hotel. The restaurant has a large patio and once it gets dark they shine powerful spotlights on the water. Soon you see the clocked creatures flapping their wings on the surface.  Don’t forget to have dinner, their guacamame (guacamole made out of edamame) is a fun appetizer.