Travelling to Kona, Hawaii

If you’re not a fan of frat-boy-filled Waikiki, ?may we suggest laid-back Kona, Hawaii?

Kick back in Kona for a real Hawaiian island experience. Back: The BCBusiness Guide to World Travel

If you’re not a fan of frat-boy-filled Waikiki, 
may we suggest laid-back Kona, Hawaii?

I strongly dislike Honolulu. On a visit one year ago, it felt like America’s answer to spring-break-style Cancun, and I suspect little has changed. What was supposed to be a week spent sunbathing in Waikiki turned into one spent avoiding the throngs of lobster-red, loudmouthed tourists sucking back sugary cocktails. Sure, a day trip to the North Shore was my saving grace (and helped justify the airfare), but I nevertheless concluded that Oahu was not the Hawaiian island for me.

So given another opportunity to visit the state, I decide to head to the Big Island. The numbers alone show stark differences: where Oahu is home to more than 900,000 residents, the population of the Big Island is only 175,000, despite being more than six times the size. And while Maui is often described as the most beautiful of the eight major islands comprising the Hawaiian archipelago, I’d been promised that the Big Island too had picturesque beaches, but also volcanoes and villages begging to be visited.

WEATHER Tropical conditions prevail year-round, but temperatures drop drastically at higher altitudes.

CAN’T MISS Mauna Kea, an inactive volcano that peaks 4,200 metres above sea level and is often covered in snow during the winter. 

BEST BED Vacation rentals abound, but first-time visitors should check out the Royal Kona Resort, a massive oceanfront property overlooking Kailua Bay.

COOL EATS Kanaka Kava serves organic awa (kava). Historically served ceremonially, today it’s drinkable when paired with savoury pupus.

The capital is Hilo, but a week on the Big Island is better spent in Kailua-Kona, a west-coast seaside town that blends small-island charm and American conveniences. Most businesses are situated along a one-kilometre stretch of Alii Drive, which is essentially the main drag (and arguably the only street worth exploring). In fact, a stroll on day one has me wondering if my adventure-loving, South Africa-residing sister and I should have picked an activity-fuelled destination (bungee jumping in Bermuda, perhaps?). The names of restaurants along the Drive, such as the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company (a chain with locations in New York and Chicago), don’t help.

But once we acclimatize to the slow pace of life in Kona, the days easily slip away. We start at Lava Java, a busy café frequented by locals for its famous Kona coffee, then head to the beach with trashy novels or go snorkelling in the shallow shores. We take breaks from gaping at sea turtles to feast on pupus (appetizers) such as poke, a delicious concoction of cubed, raw ahi tuna, seaweed and sesame oil, and to run to an ABC Store, which are ubiquitous in Hawaii and sell everything from pool toys, sarongs and beach towels to spirits, souvenirs and sunscreen. Life is good. 

Two days later, however, we discover that we’ve become delirious from all the sun and free time. We burst into giggles at each of our attempts to correctly pronounce a Hawaiian name, having been told that anything with consecutive i’s, as in Alii Drive, is pronounced “ee-ee.” Add to this an abundance of words such as Kamehameha (the name of the king who unified the islands in the early 1800s) and our hotel concierge eventually suggests – politely but firmly – that we rent a car and explore other areas of the island.

So off we go. First we visit Mauna Loa, the largest active shield volcano on Earth, comprising over half of the Big Island. Evidence of lava is everywhere and, in one section of the otherwise-pristine highway, has even blocked the road. No matter. We turn around, keeping in mind the rental company’s warning that cars are prohibited, or at least uninsured, in certain areas of the island. We stop for ice cream in Hawi, buy homemade lilikoi (passion fruit) jam from Mr. Ed’s Bakery in Honomu, smell plumerias by the side of the road and take photos of one of the largest banyan trees I’ve ever seen in another town we would have missed if we’d blinked while driving through. 

Indeed, with all there is to see and do – and not do – on the Big Island, you’re well advised to slow down, relax and keep eyes wide open.

Karri Schuermans

My Secret Place

Who: Karri Schuermans, owner of Chambar Restaurant
Where: Carmen Restaurante Bar, Medellín 

Why: My favourite destination outside my native New Zealand is Colombia. It’s diverse, wild and beautiful. The people are friendly and I love how hedonistic they are about life. The architecture is incredible, especially in ­Medellín, where there’s this beautiful restaurant called Carmen. Carmen’s design and custom-made furniture 
are inspiring, and the chef serves the most beautifully plated food. Combined with a delicious cocktail list, the restaurant is well ahead of its time.