Previously: Another Side of the Island (Part 1)
After we said goodbye to my mom at the airport, Ray and I headed up the coast to our next vacation rental outside Hawi Town. Our hosts had emailed directions to me, and I thought our GPS John Cleese would be able to lead us to the house easily.
Unfortunately, the map for the Big Island that was uploaded on our GPS was terribly out of date, and the road on which our vacation rental was supposed to be located didn’t seem to be in John Cleese’s files. Curses! I told John Cleese to take us to the center of town in Hawi, which was about a 2-hour drive up the coast anyway, and as we got closer, I navigated the old fashioned way: from the written directions.
The drive along the Kohala Coast was long. The highway is about a mile and a half from the coast, so the ocean was visible on our left, but there was nothing to see on the right except black, black lava flow from an eruption in 1859. Along the stretch of highway closest to the resorts there were examples of lava graffiti: stark white coral placed on the black lava to spell out words or messages like “Got Lava?” or “Aloha.”
The coast was peppered with luxury resorts, something that we didn’t see at all near Hilo or up by Volcano. We stopped at one resort area to find a bathroom (even though there’s tons of road on this island, there don’t seem to be any rest stops anywhere), and realized that most tourists fly into Kailua-Kona airport, where they are bussed to their hotel for their highly sanitized experience of Hawaii. Each resort is its own (luxury) shopping area, (luxury) restaurants, gas station, golf course, and beach (complete with reef for snorkeling). Helicopter pads are conveniently located across the highway for the helicopter tours, and all the bus tours stop at each resort. What a stark reminder that tourism is the main industry in Hawaii!
We finally made it to our turn onto Old Coast Guard Road (the road that didn’t exist on John Cleese’s map), and a cheery hand-painted sign with a picture of a whale and an arrow, and we breathed a sigh of relief that we were in the right place. Down we went towards the ocean, along a road that hadn’t been paved in 20 years.
“Does this count as off-roading?” I asked Ray. Our car rental agreement specifically prohibited off-road travel.
“Nah,” he replied. “It’s a driveway.”
We bounced down the pot-hole-ridden road for about a mile, seeing nothing on either side of the road except grass and shrubs and an occasional cow. Finally, we reached a driveway with three buildings and another hand-painted sign proclaiming “A WHALE XING.” We had arrived!
Our hostess greeted us at the gate and showed us around. Our cottage was really more of a one-bedroom bamboo hut with windows on all walls and not really as many curtains as windows. A kitchenette abutted the bedroom, and the “bath house” was another hut outside the bedroom hut and down a little wooden walkway.
The bath house had a very romantic claw foot tub and a beautifully hand-painted tile sink. The hostess then brought us around the side of the bath house and showed us the outdoor shower. The water was heated by a propane tank that she assured us would be changed today (their previous guests had just departed).
We asked her for some dinner recommendations, and she gave us a few restaurant names and pointed us in the direction of Hawi. We dropped off our bags and got back in the car to find some food. We found Hawi, but we only saw one restaurant, called Bamboo, and that place seemed way too fancy for what we were looking for. We decided to keep driving, but all we found were a couple small towns and no shops or restaurants at all.
We kept driving until John Cleese said there was no road left to drive, and then we drove some more on a road that was marked as a “trail” on the GPS map. It led us to Polu Valley lookout point, the northern counterpart of the Waipio Valley lookout point. There are several undeveloped valleys between Waipio and Polu, and this was indeed where the road ended on this side of the island.
After we took in this lovely view, we turned around, more determined than ever to find something to eat. We drove back through the little towns of Kapa’au and Hawi, past our guest house, and towards the resorts as the sun began to set. John Cleese had some restaurants on the map as points of interest, and the closest one was 15 miles away in Waimea, a town that was much more inland. I wasn’t too keen on going all the way to the resorts (20 miles away), so I told Ray to follow John Cleese’s directions to Waimea.
Once darkness came upon us, it was impossible to see anything. There were almost no street lights on the highway, and no buildings at all along the road. When John Cleese announced, “You have reached your destination,” we were incredibly confused, because there was nothing at all on the road. Nothing.
We turned around and made our way down to the first resort, which was protected by a security checkpoint. When we approached, Ray asked the woman at the gate, “Are there any restaurants here for non-guests?” She said, “Yes, the Manta, but…do you have a reservation?”
No, we didn’t, and we told her so.
“It’s fine dining,” she said. “They probably won’t let you in unless you’re dressed according to the dress code…um…it’s fine dining.”
Ah. Our shorts and t-shirts were a little too scruffy for the resort-goers. We understood. We certainly didn’t want to go eat to a place that had a dress code anyway. “Could you recommend any place to eat around here?” Ray asked.
“What kind of food are you looking for?” she asked.
I don’t know. I’m hungry. Food. “Seafood,” I answered.
“There’s the Seafood Bar up the highway in Kawaihae.” She gave us directions and told us we could either eat upstairs at the bar (that’s what the locals do), or downstairs in a more dignified setting.
Sweet. We turned around, followed her directions, and found the place right away. Dinner was quite good, and since we were in a bar, I decided to keep my promise to drink a fruity drink while I was in Hawaii. And as many of you know, I’m a lightweight, so one drink was enough to get me very happy and let me get to sleep very quickly as soon as we got back.
It’s a good thing, too, because as soon as we got back to our hut, we learned that the frogs and toads in the two ponds outside the room were very noisy. All night long.
Next: Exploring North Kohala