Big Island Favorites

By: Mark Verone

Hawaii Island also known as The Big Island is the youngest of the Hawaiian Island chain. It also boasts having the southern most point in the United States. The Island is still growing and is full of volcanic and seismic activity. In fact the Island is actually made up of 5 volcanoes: Hualalai, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Kohala, and the always active Kilauea. A 6th volcano, Loihi, is slowly growing underwater off the coast of Hawaii but is not expected to reach the surface for another 10,000 years. The Big Island is actually larger than ALL of the other Hawaiian Islands combined. You will find all but 2 of the worlds climatic zones on the Big Island. Yes it snows on the top of Mauna Kea and is the only place in the world where you could surf and ski in the same day. We decided to settle in the Kohala Coast area which is known as the desert or leeward side of the island. It is dry, sunny and the weather is perfect everyday.
The rich history of Hawaii and the Big Island began over 1,500 years ago when Polynesian voyagers landed on this magical island. It is a land of Kings and Queens where the Hawaiian royal family made their original home. It is the place where King Kamehameha unified the Hawaiian Kingdom and remained the seat of the royal family until they moved to Oahu in early 1800’s. This island has a rich history of agriculture. First, with the sugar plantations then Macadamia nuts and many fruits and vegetables and unique crops like cacao and the world-famous Kona Coffee – it is the only place in the United States with coffee production and a chocolate festival.
The Big Island quickly became our favorite Island in Hawaii after spending time on all of the islands except Molokai. Oahu is nice to visit once in a while but the bustle of Honolulu is no different from any other major city. Maui is spectacular – beautiful beaches, great diving and snorkel and surfing. Over the years we watched Maui become more developed and more commercialized and it has lost its charm for us. I still enjoy Maui but not like the other Islands. Kauai is the rain-forest island, spectacular canyons and maintains a rural small-town charm. Lanai is the place you go to escape but there is not much happening outside the two exclusive Four Seasons resorts. Lanai is a private island originally owned by the Dole Pineapple company and now owned by Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison. I am not sure that I would return to Lanai but it was good to experience one time.
When we first landed on the big island it felt like we were landing on the surface of the moon. The new Kona airport was built on top of a major lava field from Hualalai, (the old Kona airport is now used for recreation). When we first drove around the entire island, we fell in love with the Big Island. Outside of Hilo and Kona there are no big cities – buildings cannot be taller than the tallest coconut palm tree. It is rural with a small town charm. There are farms, ranches and cowboys – yes Hawaiian Cowboys are known a Paniolos. At some point while driving through those farms you forget that you are in Hawaii as the green and lush landscape looks like anything you would find on a back country road on the mainland.
Rachelle and I have been coming to Hawaii since our honeymoon in 2001. Rachelle had been to Oahu before on a high school trip during a stopover to Asia. Hawaii earned a special place in hearts after we got married. You see we got married on September 15, 2001 – 4 days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the mainland. We traveled to Hawaii 2 days later on September 17th just as the nation’s airports and airlines were recovering. We took a connecting flight from Chicago to St. Louis on TWA Airlines. Our flights were empty. Barely anyone was traveling a week after the attacks. Our 767 which normally seats 300 passengers probably had less than 40 people on board. The plane was empty and the crew was so happy to see people flying – they were grateful and thanked us for supporting the airline industry – they were humble – they treated everyone like we were 1st class but they were still scared. Scared about the future of air travel in the wake of 9/11, scared about their jobs and scared about more terrorism. We split our Honeymoon between Maui and Kauai – two places neither of us had been before. We had a wonderful time despite what was happening on the mainland. The attacks of 9/11 also had a major impact on Hawaii. It was a very tough time for Hawaii. You see the biggest part of their economy is tourism and when people stopped traveling and canceled vacations it meant people lost their jobs. It took a while for Hawaii to recover but we saw the most amazing outpouring of patriotism from our 50th state. I saw so much American pride 4,000 miles from home on an island in the middle of Pacific Ocean during our honeymoon.
The Hawaiian people are far enough away from the mainland that it feels like a foreign country but after 9/11 it was touching to see my fellow Americans in the middle of the pacific supporting everyone on the mainland…and Hawaii is no stranger to acts of terrorism and war. The attacks of December 7, 1941 while Hawaii was still a US Territory before statehood  is proof of the strength of the Hawaiian people. After our honeymoon we were smitten with Hawaii. Sure we’ve traveled the globe and have been to many exotic destinations over the past 15yrs, but every-time we went back to Hawaii, it felt like home. Once we discovered the Big Island, we knew this was the place where we would want to settle someday. That is when we found Kamilo at Mauna Lani and decided to invest in a home here.
Where to stay and do I need a rental car? This one is hard which is why we ended up investing in a house on the Big Island – Historically, we stayed at the Four Season Hualalai which is an amazing location – close to the airport, nice beaches, golf, spa, restaurants and luxury amenities but with a price tag – at some point we found ourselves needing 2-3 hotel rooms which was making trips to Hawaii for the entire family a bit challenging. Before buying our house, we rented a unit in the community and realized that renting in Hawaii through VRBO is also a great option and gives you the flexibility and freedom – then again if you want o be pampered at a luxury resort…that option still exists. We prefer staying on the Kona side north of the airport in the Kona and Kohala coast areas the Kohala coast is also known as Hawaii’s Gold Coast because this is the dry side of the Island or Leeward side – this mean less rain and more sun. On the Hilo side is the Windward or wet / tropical rain forest side. We prefer the Leeward side but enjoy visiting the Windward side.  The reason for this contrast in climate is the trade winds which blow from the northeast of the Hawaiian islands to the southwest. Locals sometime call the trade winds “the trades” – these trade winds bring moist air. On the Big Island as the trade winds hit a volcanic mountain, the air cools creating clouds which clouds produce rain on the windward side. The leeward side is always the dry side where the trade winds pass after they hit the mountain. The windward side is always the wetter side. Easy way to remember is winds produce rain for the windward side. Windward = Wet and Leeward = Dry. We prefer the Kohala coast. Our home, located within the Mauna Lana resort area is a perfect location. The majority of the hotels and resorts communities are on predominately on the Leeward side. You will DEFINITELY want to rent a car if you plan to explore the Big Island – all major Car Rental companies are at the Kona Airport and several have satellite locations in the resort communities.
Resorts & Communities in the Kona and Kohala Coast Area:
Shopping / Grocery: (don’t forget to bring bags for the grocery – Hawaii is a GREEN state – we have plenty of reusable bags in our house along with a cooler bag and a cooler to transport stuff from the stores – Costco is only 25-30 minutes from our house so we bring the cooler along)
Shave Ice:(most of these are cash only)
  • OBISIC: Original Big Island Shave Ice Company – http://www.obisic.com/ yes it is food truck that move around the island – Locals love this place and they have real fruit juice options – we tried it and I would go back again – check the website for the schedule. Rumor has it they’re opening a location in the King’s Shop at Waikoloa
  • ANUENUE ICE CREAM & SHAVE ICE: 61-3665 Akoni Pule Hwy, Waimea, HI 96743 located around the corner from OBISIC and is still a favorite option especially when the lines are long – its worth the wait – while you’re waiting you can grab a Taco or Burger or Dole Whip at Kohala Burger and Taco https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60588-d2104100-Reviews-Anuenue_Ice_Cream-Waimea_Island_of_Hawaii_Hawaii.html
  • SCANDANAVIAN SHAVE ICE IN KONA: http://www.scandinavianshaveice.com/ – The best part of this place is you can get Dole Whip here – only a handful of places outside of Disney have Dole Whip and we found 2 on the Big Island. The other is Kohala Burger and Taco
Attractions & Fun Stuff:
DINING: No shortage of good food on the Big Island – the best part is how much is actually grown or sourced from the island. Always good to make reservations for dinner. Most are on OpenTable or you can call them direct.
Restaurants & Chefs we enjoy:
Places we want to try:
Places we liked but they closed down:
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