After the usual, baggage collecting, rental car pickup, and hotel check in we grabbed some lunch at a Pancho & Lucky's down the street from our hotel...yum, more Mexican food I didn't have to cook!! Afterwards, we headed to part of Richard's Christmas present....I'll explain in a bit.
So Richard is a BIG coffee drinker....as in Richard's parents were surprised that he married someone who doesn't even like coffee...lol. Given Hawai'i is the only state in the USA that is able to grow coffee commercially, going to a coffee plantation was on his to-see list! So while doing pre-trip research, we found several places that offer tours, but I found one place that offered an "Ultimate Tour"....not only did you see/learn about coffee plants and the art of roasting and packing coffee beans, you got to ROAST YOUR OWN COFFEE!! For a major coffee drinker, that would be a pretty cool experience (and you get to bring home 5 pounds of your personal roast!). Hawaiian coffee in general costs a pretty penny, so averaging $30/lb (and you take home 5 lbs) if you take the cost of the coffee off the "Ultimate Tour" price....it wasn't too outrageous for a likely once in a lifetime experience....so I twisted his arm, called it his Christmas present, and he agreed to do it!
So after lunch we headed out to Kona Joe Coffee Farm. We started our tour with a little movie about the history of the how Joe started the farm and their unique method of trellised grown coffee. Mason really dug the old movie projector. Afterwards, we started our tour looking at two plants: one growing using the trellis method and one using the traditional method to see how it allows more cherry production.
Cherries on a given tree ripen at different times. So they all have to be hand picked! Our guide said that the pickers work their way down the mountain (which I didn't get a picture of as a lovely fog had rolled in and it would not have been that great of a photo). Apparently every afternoon a fog rolls in, which keeps the plants cool, allowing the coffee to thrive, without it there would not be a coffee industry in Hawai'i. When the pickers get to the bottom of the mountain (I don't recall how many days work), they then return to the plants at the top which now have more ripe cherries.
After picking the cherries are dried. Clarissa didn't like the noise in this area so I didn't hear what the guide said about what method of drying they used to dry.
The noise bothering Clarissa was from the milling process on the hulling/sorting machine.
So peaberry beans are the rarest of the beans. Instead of the typical half bean shape, the peaberry is more of a rounded bean (it is the cup labelled Pb - you can click on the picture to see it larger).
After sorting the beans are put into cold storage until roasting time. They have two roasters a big and small one, which they call Big Joe and Little Joe...hee hee hee - coffee jokes.
So we learned that as you roast coffee it reduces the amount of acidity in the coffee bean decreases while the bitterness increases some, so the medium roast tends to have that sweet spot in the middle. Also, since coffee beans expand while roasting, if you scoop your beans before before grinding you will ended up with less caffeine with a darker roast (if you measure your beans by weight your fine).
The different roasts (I forget which was which...but I remember they smelled nice). At this point, we had come to the end of the general coffee tour and we went to the sampling room/store. We got to sample some of the different brews and got our souvenir mugs (they are really cool with a little rubber coaster on the bottom). We gave the kids the option to taste the coffees. Clarissa passed but Mason tried several (I've heard from a little mouse that there may be a certain grandparent (or two) that may or may give them coffee for sleepovers ;)..). Mason really liked their chocolate coffee....so much so that he begged for us to buy a bag (I served some to some friends I had over the other day, they really enjoyed it). At this point I took the kids and we went exploring around a little town up the street from the farm while Richard did his roasting.
Coffee beans turning in the roaster. Ideally you want to slowly heat up the beans and keep them at a constant temperature to avoid burning the beans. You know the roasting is done when you hear the beans "crack" - that is the oils bubbling and causing the bean to crack/pop.
Roasted beans coming out of the roaster and into the cooling tray.
In the cooling pan, the beans are spread about to evenly cool the beans. If not, the beans on the bottom will continue to roast and will burn.
After our coffee farm fun, we picked up some snacks for that night and for our day trips and then headed back to the hotel. On the big island, we opted to earn some points and stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. We had initially planned on doing a VRBO, but I wanted a vacation from cooking....so I took one! Richard and the kids headed down to the pool while I unpacked and organized our stuff for our adventures the next day. Richard started chatting with another guy at the pool, as luck would have it he knew a guy that we were posted with in Tbilisi, Georgia....small world! The next morning we got up to do some exploring. Our first stop was called the Boiling Pots.
Unfortunately, it had not rained recently so they were not "boiling" the day we visited. From what we read, when the pools are full, air bubbles out of the holes in the volcanic rock making it appear to boil. It was still very picturesque with the Peepee Falls (and super neat that it was in the middle of a residential neighborhood).
Note: Ms. 'Sassy Ain't Nobody Got Time For That' not wanting her picture taken in the background....sorry grandparents.
Our next stop about a mile away, Rainbow Falls. At different times of the day you can see a rainbow forming off the mist coming off the waterfall. Clarissa finally put on a happy face.
Yippee, we could see a rainbow coming off the mist....not in sight of the water, but rainbow check!
Cool lizard checking us out as we walked by!
Just past the Rainbow Falls up a small trail is an ancient Banyan Tree. It is rumored to be 500-600 years old and is overgrown by figs that attach themselves to the tree and send roots down. We walked into the tree.
There may have been a Harry Potter joke or two made about it being a whomping willow attacking Mason...lol.
After eating, the kids ran around Queen Liliuokalani Gardens.
Afterwards, we rinsed the salt off at the outdoor showers and changed into dry clothes. Next Hawaiian destination for the day.....Shaved Ice! Richard and I both ordered a SMALL! We took a picture with my head for a little reference.....it was huge!
After leaving the shaved ice place....we saw another rainbow...in fact it was a double rainbow! Go Hawai'i!
So, it was rainy/drizzly leaving Hilo and actually seemed to get rainier as we drove on. Richard and I were a bit worried for our last stop of the day. The Maunakea Stargazing Program is located midway between Hilo and Kona on top of the largest mountain on earth! Measured from the bottom of the ocean it stands at 33,476 feet (from sea level it is "only" 13,796 feet). The stargazing program is located at the visitor station which is at 9,200 feet. As we were driving up Maunakea, we drove into the clouds that were dropping all the rain. Then we popped out the top of the cloud and it was completely clear. We knew it would be cold....but we live in Fiji and don't really have any "warm" clothes....so we brought all our airplane clothes, some PJ, and lots of layers. Luckily, it quickly got dark and no one could really see what a fashion don't we all were (so don't go all posting any pictures of us on the internet.....oh wait.....). The sun was setting as we arrived and the interns were setting up the telescopes.
We brought our camera, but didn't have a tripod and it was quite breezy. So we have a little camera shake. This was a little after sunset and all the stars were not out yet (the bright dot to the right was a planet, I don't recall which one - I think Mars or Venus). The interns had multiple telescopes set up. One was set up on Saturn, we could see the rings....that was the coolest thing ever!! They also had a computer set up displaying the images from the largest telescope in the world. The Milky Way was very bright. It was great, I think Clarissa was too cold to realize how amazing it was. We stayed for a bit of the stargazing program but some vertically challenged people were cold and not listening so we left a little earlier than Richard and I would have liked to.
The next morning, we slept in a bit...lol. We warned the kids it was going to be a long day in the car.....we headed to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. We took the scenic route along the coast there. I showed you a pano we took when we stopped at one beautiful spot on the drive a few weeks back. Here's a few more shots.
Just so you don't get the idea our trip was all sunshine and rainbows....keeping it real, not facebook fake....we also had Princess Sassypants in full force....sorry for the blur I was laughing too hard....
Much to the kids relief, we finally answered "yes" to the question "are we there yet?". We hit the visitor's center to get a map and apply sunscreen. We then headed out to the observation deck by the Jagger Museum. From the observation deck you can see activity occurring in the Halema‘uma‘u Crater. We got there midday, we could see some smoke spewing out of the crater. Unfortunately, we weren't able to time our arrival for dusk/dawn to see the glow (and just checked online 11 days after we were there and you could see bubbling lava from the observation deck....sigh).
Photoshop fun....I'll make it look all hot and lava-ey.....
People pics with the steaming crater.....
Next, we went to the Thurston Lava Tube (or Nāhuku). According to Wikipedia, a lava tube forms when a low-viscosity lava cools and develops a hard crust above a still flowing lava flow. Once the lava completely stops a tube/tunnel is left over. So we walked down a ton of stairs and a pathway. Richard and I began to fill with dread knowing Clarissa would suddenly be too tired to walk back up that, but the park planners were smart and the walk back was very easy and she did fine.
We finally reached the bridge into the lava tube. Clarissa freaked out a bit as you can see.
It was a bit dark and spooky at first, with water dripping from the ceiling.
Then we hit a stretch with a rather low ceiling.
Her fear entirely disappeared as she explored with daddy and it opened back up with a higher ceiling.
The complete walk down to the lava tube and back, was listed as 1/3 mile, so it was pretty easy. Finally, we headed over to the Chain of Craters Road. We skipped most of stops along this road as there are inactive old craters. The drive was really interesting (to Richard and me...the kids just asked how much longer). A couple months before our trip, we got excited the lava had started flowing, unfortunately where it was wasn't easily accessible (the National Park Service recommends kids be at least 12 before attempting the grueling 7.4 mile round trip hike (their words not ours). So when we turned a corner and saw the hot lava flow hitting the water and releasing steam we got excited. This was as good as it was going to get for us.
There was one stop on the drive I thought we would all really enjoy, the Pu‘u Loa Petroglyphs. It is estimated the petroglyphs were made around AD 1200-1450 and it was only a short 0.7 mile walk "over a gently undulating pahoehoe lava bedrock trail". That shouldn't be too bad. We made it....but it was brutal to a certain person who made sure to tell us how hard it was every 5 steps or so! Once there, the kids realized, they had been seeing these "petroglyphs" all over Hawai'i on souvenirs and as decorations.
Note the turtle on the left side of the big rock.
Kids waiting for us and making sure they see everything...lol!
Clarissa found more (now that she knew what to look for) on the walk back to the car.
Just past the petroglyphs is where people were parking to head out for their hike to the lava flow. So we turned around and headed out of the park. On our way back through the park, we took GoPro video of the changing landscape. It was crazy how quickly it would go from Mars-like to forest to dinosaur era like. We would point to the kids the different lava flows compared to how old Daddy was then (there was a lot of activity in the 1970s). We drove from sea level to about 4000 feet in about 20 minutes (though I sped the video up to 400x so you don't have to watch a very long video of us driving the posted 35mph). It was the middle of the day so the sun is bright and the glare sometimes washed everything out a bit.
After leaving the park, we were only about 30 minutes from Hilo, so we headed there lunch at a wood fired pizza place and then drove back to Kona past Maunakea. It was definitely a long day in the car and once we got back the kids quickly enjoyed the freedom and headed to the pool.
Our last full day in Kona, we had an early morning planned. We had to be at a boat landing at 7:30 in the morning! We wanted to see spinner dolphins (since we had failed so horribly in Fiji) and we went with Dolphin Discoveries, there were several companies and how does one choose online? Though their website had a bit of cheese factor, they have been in business since 1990 and the cater to small groups (6-12), so we went with them. Spinner dolphins feed at night and return to shore to rest in the early morning (hence the 7:30 departure). Our tour boat operation would find the dolphins traveling towards their rest site and drop us in the water in front of the group a few minutes before the dolphins got there. They then told us to just float at the surface and look down as the dolphins swam under us (so as not to disturb the dolphins). After the dolphins had all past us we would get back in the boat and move offshore and get in front of the group and do that again.
We only did that three times total and left the dolphins as it was getting close to the time when they'd be settling down to rest and the tour operation doesn't want to disturb that. Other tour groups were out there, as well as locals (one who lets his dog swim with the dolphins). I didn't realize tell we got home, I had gotten a photo of the dog swimming with dolphins.
After snorkeling with spinner dolphins, we headed over to the marine sanctuary in Kealakekua Bay to snorkel the reefs some. It was very different compared to Fiji since it was mostly hard coral vs the soft coral we have been snorkeling here. Watch out on the video for what we think is a whitemouthed moray eel!
After our snorkeling adventure, we headed back to the boat landing/hotel. We all got cleaned up and headed to the Kona Brewery for lunch. Richard had hoped to do a Brewery tour, but we dropped the ball on making a tour reservation....so lunch it was. Richard ordered a beer sampler and had our waitress surprise him, he said the Lemongrass Ale was his favorite. We then got some Kona Brewery swag at the little shop.
We headed back to the hotel to get all our stuff packed up, though we weren't leaving until late the following day, we still had to check out in the morning (they did have a luggage room and some showers we could use in the evening though). That evening we just walked around downtown Kona. The following weekend, the Ironman triathlon was occurring so there was lots of athletes in town training/ acclimating so shops were all open (so happy we were not going to be around for the race though) so we piddled around being the tourists we were.
Clarissa knowing how tasty Shaved Ice was had no fear ordering some now. While waiting for our shaved ice to be shaved, I peeked around the corner and saw a beautiful sunset and got a quick shot.
We then went and found a spot on a sea wall to watch the sunset while enjoying our shaved ice.
A beautiful sunset for our last night!
Mason reenacted a scene from Forrest Gump.
So the next morning, we took our time checking out of the hotel, we had a lot of time to kill before our flight left that evening. Richard totally lucked out as was able to score a spot on the Brewery Tour! So the kids and I dropped him off for that (you have to be 15 years and older, so I took one for the team...lol).
Liquid aloha lives here!
99 kegs of beer on the wall....
The Kona beer that you find in Hawai'i is only brewed in Hawai'i due to the limited amount of space they have. Kona that you find on the mainland is brewed by one of their partner breweries. Richard asked if he could get a keg to take back to Post - you know for America - but they wouldn't allow it.
The sign is made out of recycled materials.
So while Richard was sampling some Purple Grain (a little shout out to Prince), the kids were having one last Icee at Target. Clarissa found some Star Wars cut outs.
After picking Richard back up, we drove over to Costco to piddle around, because we could....got our only fall orange pumpkin picture of the kids...but of course they couldn't be bothered to smile for a photo....sigh.
We found a hair cutting place and Richard and the kids all got trims, we walked around a pet store, drove around some neighborhoods trying to decided if maybe we'd like to retire in Hawai'i, we grabbed a big meal at Outback, and piddled around some more (had to get a picture with these cut outs....Clarissa always draws kissy lips on girls she draws).
We then headed back to our hotel to grab showers and pick up our luggage from the baggage room. After returning our rental car, we got our luggage checked, and through security just in time to catch our last sunset in Hawai'i and it was another beauty!
We arrived back in Honolulu around 9:30 pm and our flight to Nadi didn't leave until 2:50 am the next morning....ugh! We also couldn't check our luggage in until 3 hours before our flight....so we hung out on some lovely concrete benches....our kids are learning how to sleep anywhere...they will be so well prepared for college (Clarissa cheated sleeping on my legs mostly)!
Due to taking off in the middle of the night, no one closed their window shades, so as the sun started rising it woke me up from what little sleep I got on the plane....so I got a nice sunrise shot.
A little while later, we were welcomed back home. We had a great trip and taste of home but still enjoyed exploring some place new that we had wanted to visit since our 5th wedding anniversary trip had gotten postponed (this trip just had the kids too...lol).