Our destination was the Big Island. My husband’s grandparents grew up there so the minute we stepped out of the Kona International Airport the tropical Hawaiian atmosphere hugged us like a comforting old friend welcoming us home. You can’t go wrong visiting Hawaii. Even for experienced people like me, some of the most memorable parts of any visit are the ones aimed at tourists. Anyone who disdains the popular island traditions miss the fact that people love them so much because they are so fun and wonderful. I thoroughly enjoy the sights, sounds, and celebratory atmosphere of a luau. During this last visit we joined the tourists at Waikoloa Beach resort’s Legends of Hawaii Luau with its all-you-can-eat-and-drink feast and the family friendly dance show that concluded with the traditional dazzling fire dance.
I have spent time on all the main islands and have learned to appreciate the unique charm, appeal, and hidden gems offered by each of them. Nevertheless, the Big Island remains our favorite destination. For one thing, we had family living in Hilo. It is always nice to renew acquaintances with them, to reaccustom ourselves to the local society, and regain the sense that we belong to the land and are not simply tourists dropping in to look around.
The other reason we love Kona is because I’m an adventure junky and the Big Island offers a nearly inexhaustible supply of wonderful things to see and exciting things to do. On this trip we decided to do some snorkeling at Honaunau Bay, which is where The City of Refuge is also located. Honaunau Bay is sheltered from the ocean creating perfectly calm waters with exceptional visibility and perfect for snorkeling. We saw schools of fish, some of them the most beautiful and vibrant colors I have ever seen in my life. We also swam with turtles through the crystal clear waters. We felt like we were in the movie Finding Nemo!
No trip to the Big Island is complete without a visit to the Hilo side and to the beautiful Rainbow Falls that offer a famous illusion. As you stare at the falls the rushing water suddenly appears to be flowing upwards instead of falling downwards. A baffling image! A winding pathway up the side of the falls leads past a truly gargantuan banyan tree with a base large enough to enclose a small home. Another favorite stop on the Hilo side of the island was at Tex Drive-In that is a large facility with half of it dedicated to the restaurant and the other half showcasing through a huge open window the baking process from start to finish but serving what connoisseurs acknowledge to be the finest malasadas to be found anywhere. Malasadas are fried Portuguese delicacies. The ones served at Tex will melt in your mouth. Tex’s is just off the highway between Hilo and Waikoloa and worth the drive.
The Big Island’s main attraction is a hot destination in the most literal sense. Kilauea is the world’s most active and approachable volcano. In the evening the volcano can be seen glowing and bubbling. During the day visitors can watch the hot magma flow into the cold Pacific waters causing them to flash instantly into steam and erupt violently into the air. Here’s an important hint: the sight is most safely viewed in the company of an experienced tour guide.
The town of Kailua Kona is a regular stop on any trip we take to the Big Island. The visit always includes a stroll through the Kona Farmers and Crafts Market, which is open every day and selling such delicious tropical fruits as papayas, guavas, coconuts, and macadamia nuts. We always purchase apple bananas that have an indescribable flavor far superior to the taste of our standard bananas. The place is actually as much Flea Market as it is Farmers’ Market because vendors offer for sale every Hawaiian souvenir imaginable as well as some that are pretty unimaginable.
We stroll around the picturesque town and end by drinking coffee and eating ice cream at a small stand with a breathtaking view overlooking the vast Pacific. People are generally aware that Kona coffee is acknowledged to be among the best in the world, but most people fail to realize that Kona ice cream deserves as much praise as its coffee. My husband Dino is convinced that Kona’s Tahitian Vanilla is the creamiest and best ice cream flavor on the planet. He may have a point, but I suspect that the Macadamia Nut might actually deserve the title of World’s Best.
The Big Island also features some of the world’s finest resorts and hotels. Whatever else you do and wherever else you go while visiting Hawaii, I strongly recommend that you get a room with an ocean view. After all, if you are going to spend the time and resources to make the 2,300-mile or longer trip, you might as well be able to see the ocean from your lanai, even though pretty much any view in Hawaii is usually beautiful.
To ensure a truly memorable trip, make whatever sacrifices are required to book reservations at a place that affords premium amenities and offers a variety of entertainments and fine dining experiences. The Hilton Waikoloa Village is not only my favorite location in all the Hawaiian Islands; it is one of my favorite destinations in the whole world.
Whenever we get out of the car in front of the Hilton Waikoloa, we experience a sense of relaxation, as though we are entering some magical realm where the normal pressures of life can’t exist. The 62 acre hotel grounds create an air of tropical paradise and are so extensive that two separate peoplemoving systems are available, without cost, to shuttle guests from place-toplace. Besides a system of convenient trams, small open boats move guests around on an elaborate interconnected system of lagoons. No matter where you are, you are only a short walk from the nearest boat landing or tram stop.
We took advantage of Hilton’s new digital concierge technology, enlisting the help of a virtual assistant to help us plan and organize the details of our stay and providing direct communication with the Hilton Waikoloa Village service team. Fine dining, of course, is one of the central activities of any resort experience and we’ve hardly feasted better anywhere than at Hilton Waikoloa Village. One restaurant is aptly named Water’s Edge because it offers a breakfast buffet on the shore of the lagoon. We loved starting every morning off there. The view of waterfalls and lagoon can be seen from any table because of the floor to 40 foot ceiling windows. Another venue, Kamuela Provision Company, affords elegant dining experiences overlooking the ocean and illuminated by flaring Tiki Torches and breathtaking sunset views.
Rooms and suites at Hilton Waikoloa Village are located in three towers, each with a different style and personality. This time we stayed at the recently renovated Palace Tower that features almost 400 rooms and suites at the Hale Ike “House of Senses.” The imposing six-story high atrium lobby is open to the air and centers on an extravagant water fountain, which is surrounded by tropical foliage, blossoming flowers, and palm trees. Hale Ike’s sensual experiences include warm island breezes, delicate floral scents, the sounds of flowing water at the atrium fountain and song birds in the surrounding trees, and finishing with the soothing touch of fresh linens at the conclusion of each fabulous day.
The sensual extravagance continued with snorkeling in the lagoon where we went swimming with turtles and fish. Guests can enjoy the sight of multitudes of fish and turtles through the crystal clear waters while standing by the edge of the water or sitting at one of the waterside tables. Paddleboards, paddleboats, and bike boats are available for rent. We rented kayaks and had a great time exploring the little inlets and bays off of the lagoon system. We could see brightly colored fish swimming beneath us. Sea turtles were present in abundance. We found a number of them gathered around a picturesque waterfall. The family friendly quality of the place is enhanced by spaces where children play in the sand under the casual supervision of parents who are relaxing on lounge chairs. I love the culture, history, music, and Polynesian dance of Hawaii. There really is no other place on earth like it. A family vacation there always quiets and engages my spirit.
I’m never quite ready to come home. I can’t wait to go back. And I will.