Saturday, May 31, 2008

My summer vacation (Big Island, Hawaii)

We spent nine nights on the Big Island of Hawaii. S.O. had never been to the island before. I had been there back in 1981 and for two half-days on a cruise in 2006. With that prior experience I realized we should split up our trip between the two sides of the island. We spent two nights in Hilo, one night at Volcano House at the Kilauea Caldera and then six nights in a condo in Kona. We flew into Kona, picked up our rental car (economy class, Dodge Caliber) and drove to Hilo.

My boss had cautiously recommended a hotel in Hilo. “It’s not fancy” she warned. The Dolphin Bay Hotel is a small older hotel located in a residential area not too far from central Hilo. The accommodations are nothing special, though the rooms do include a full kitchen. It is the expertise of the management and the attention to detail that set this place apart. From the moment we arrived we were asked if we would like recommendations on where to eat and what to see. Maps were immediately pulled out, marked up, and detailed instructions were given to find all the special spots. The hotel property includes an extensive lovely garden with orchids, bromeliads, banana trees; a tropical paradise. The lobby area has free wi-fi available. Also in the lobby area are fresh bananas and papayas. Umbrellas are available for the inevitable rain. A bookshelf on novels for those that forget reading material sits in the hallway. The staff will gladly loan you flashlights for night-time lava viewing. There are even ear plugs in the bathroom medicine cabinet to help drown out the croaking of the frogs at night. I highly recommend the Dolphin Bay Hotel for anyone that doesn’t need first-class or resort accommodations.
Ear plugs to combat frog croaking at night
Due to traveling west three time zones we were able to get an early start our first full day. First heading north we visited Akaka Falls, Rainbow Falls, the Boiling Pots. We then headed south of Hilo, stopping first at Lava Trees state park. We ate our picnic lunch there, feeding the chickens that come out to greet each car as it pulls into the lot. We continued on to the Kapoho tide pools were S.O. snorkeled. He rates the snorkeling there as an OK. Then on to Ahalanui, a volcanically heated pool. That was a relaxing stop. We then drove to the end of road 137, rather to the end not wiped out by the various lava flows since 1990. Heading out on road 130 we went to the eruption viewing area. You can not see any lava directly but can see the steam as the lava enters the ocean. After a ¾ mile walk over lava to an observation area we waited for sunset. Once the sun went down a bright red glow could be seen from the lava vent area. At times what appeared to be sparks would flare. Everyone there oohed and awed as if watching a fireworks show. Afterwards is where the borrowed flashlights came in really handy as walking over lava in pitch dark is no easy task.

A late night snack at Ken’s House of Pancakes rounded out our first full day of vacation.

The next day we wandered through the Hilo farmers’ market, went back to Ken’s for lunch (fabulous French fries) and then headed for Volcanoes National Park. The Halema’uma’u Crater in the Kilauea Caldera is active, belching sulfur dioxide gas. Half of Crater Rim Drive is closed and all trails leading into the crater are also closed due to this. It was raining pretty steadily at the volcano but we did all the obligatory stops. Visibility of the crater came and went.

Rainbow by Halema'uma'u crater

See the May 11th postings for our Volcano House experiences.

To be continued…

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother nature spoils Pele's show

In order to take advantage of all the Volcanoes National Park we booked one night at the Volcano House and paid extra for a deluxe crater view room.

When we arrived it was raining steadily, creating a mist and fog that pretty much obscured the crater. We headed out to all the open look-out areas (a large portion of the Crater Rim Drive is closed due to activity at the Halemaumau crater.) At times the sky would clear but by the time we got back to our room the sky had misted up again.

After a decent night's sleep I looked out the window at about 5:45 a.m., the sun was rising behind us and the crater view was stunning. Within 10 minutes though the rain started and the view was obscured yet again. Almost missed getting a shot because the XO laptop takes so long to boot. My regular camera doesn't like taking pictures through glass.

If staying at Volcano House, our recommendation is to bring food along for dinner or leave the park. Dinner at the Volcano House restaurant was atrocious and very expensive.

No Returns

The restaurant at Volcano House has a dinner menu that appears to promise at least some good eats, albeit at exhorbitant prices. You must make reservations for dinner. On arrival at your time you check in with the hostess who has a waiter escort you to your white-clothed covered table.

I ordered shrimp scampi at $24.50. My S.O. ordered the chicken picatta from the special entrees for the day (at $20.95.) We got a choice of dressings for our salad, the usual selection; ranch, Italian, blue cheese, plus two specialties; papaya seed or liliani passion fruit. We were also asked for our "choice of starch" which consisted of white rice, wild rice or red potatoes.

The salad arrived and we immediately regretted our decision to stay in the park for dinner. The salad consisted of a small plate with a little iceberg lettuce, one cucumber slice, one cherry tomato, and some carrot shavings. The dressing was presented in a plastic cup.

The entrees arrived. The main ingredient in my scampi was mushrooms. At least it had enough garlic to be a little tasty. Not so the chicken. The capers were so vinegary they couldn't be eaten. The chicken was dry and tasteless.

We wonder why they even pretend to be a nice restaurant. They've got to figure on never having repeat customers.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Work vs. vacation

My S.O. and I have come to the stunning realization that a vacation is preferable to work, at least in the long run. Still stressful at times, but filled with new experiences and calming vistas.

We are now on the big island of Hawaii. We spent two nights at a real treasure of a hotel, the Dolphin Bay Hotel. In addition to reasonable prices they've thought of a lot of things to help make their guests' stay enjoyable. One amenity is fresh fruit for all to enjoy. They grow their own bananas and have bunches hanging in the lobby for the taking.

We had a full day of activities yesterday, culminated by viewing the glow of the lava vents as they hit the sea.

As it's hard to type on my XO and the Hilo farmers' market awaits us, that's it for now.