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Hawai’i (The Big Island)

Your Guide to the Volcano

Warren Costa packs a damn fine picnic. Big sandwiches bursting with fillings, the perfect pineapple, and those One Ton chips that I can’t seem to find on the mainland. That’s not, in itself, a good enough reason to take a volcano tour. Nor is the opportunity to gawk at Warren’s spectacular tattoos, though I don’t know when I’ve seen finer work.  Those are some nice extra benefits, but really, the reason you want to visit Volcano National Park is because Warren, the man behind Native Guide Hawaii, knows the park like, well, forgive the cliche, the back of his hand.

Warren says that he grew up with the park as his playground, he’s FBI, after all — From (the) Big Island. But also, he worked in the park for many years as a natural resources manager, building fences, removing invasive plants and seeding native species. He also worked as an archeologist, doing field surveys and mapping. All those years off the trail and in the back corners of the more than 200, 000 acres of park mean he knows where the cool stuff is — the vertical lava tubes left behind when floes wrapped around tree trunks, the spatter ramparts, and more. He knows the names of the plants and the birds and where to find them. Led by Warren, you’ll wander off the road, off the trail, and while you might not know where, exactly you are — or how to get back to the car — all those years in the park means he knows exactly where the minivan is.


Halemaumau Vent

Last spring, I spent a day exploring with a small group of visitors and Warren. During that time we stood in complete darkness in the under-visited part of the Thurston Lava Tube, learned about the difference between various kinds of trees, looked for but did not see honey creepers, petted giant hairy ferns and little red lehua blossoms, and stood watching the steam and gas stream in to the sky out of the Halemaumau volcano vent. Warren answered all of our questions with patience and good humor all day long, and hey, did I mention he packs a damn fine picnic?

Sure, you can take the ranger led hikes in the park — and really, you should. The park service does a great job of introducing you to the geology and natural history of the region. But if you want to slow it down and see the park from a  local perspective, planning a trip with Native Guide Hawaii can deepen your understand and appreciation for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and for Hawaii.

Video Postcard from the Big Island

Hawaii’s First Lady of Ranching

Anna Ranch

The big ranch house stands at the top of a green sheet of lawn and it’s surrounded by elegant gardens in full flower. Late in her remarkable life, Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske wanted white and there are white flowers and white cats and even white cattle roaming around the hilly pastures. The house is white with blue and white striped awnings, the barns are white, the fences are white — after the morning rain everything is wet and clean and it’s hard to imagine that this place once had the dust and smell of a working cattle ranch.

SaddleBut the saddles are worn and there’s a shelf full of weathered boots. There are pictures of Anna astride enormous animals, huge stocky horses and even a Brahma bull. She was something of a rodeo queen, with glamorous outfits custom made for her by Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors. But on work days she was a ranch and cattle woman all the way.

Anna has been called the “First Lady of Ranching” in Hawai’i and was, during her long life, a cowgirl, jockey, pā’ū rider, licensed butcher, community leader, rancher, world traveler and humanitarian. A rare woman in any era but especially so in her lifetime!

In 1943, Anna married Lyman Perry-Fiske who was descended from another part-Hawaiian family from the district of Kohala. Lyman, a keen horseman, encouraged Anna in her innovative ranching practices such as introducing Brahma and Charolais bulls to improve her livestock.– Anna Ranch

BlacksmithAnna died in 1995;, ten years later, the ranch was placed on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places. Visitors to Anna Ranch can take a guided tour of  the grand and beautiful home — it’s full of gorgeous Koa furniture and other period objects. There’s a demonstration blacksmith — you can watch sparks fly and hear the music of the hammer — and there’s a patio overlooking a stream where the white cows come down to drink. The ranch is adding a “Heritage Trail” — a short stroll around the grounds with interpretive signs and planning to add Hawaiian saddlery educational workshops.

It’s easy to blow by the ranch — it’s right on the Kawaihae Road as you’re driving inland to Waimea from the Kona Coast. It’s worth a stop — the ranch offers insight into the rich history of the paniolo — Hawaiian cowboys — and introduces visitors to Anna. She’s amazing, you’ll be glad you made the time.


Anna Ranch is at 65-1480 Kawaihae Road in Kamuela. Tours are twice daily, at 10am and 1pm. It’s 10 dollars, free for kids under 12 (though you’ll want to keep the little ones in hands, there’s lots of things that beg to be touched). Parking is no problem and there are restrooms. Stop for a look at the grounds even if you’re not taking the tour, it’s gorgeous there.

My trip to the Big Island of Hawaii was sponsored by the Big Island Visitor’s Bureau.

Hawaii After Dark


Honolulu City Lights by Dan Zen via Flickr

“If I were a tourist, I’m coming here for the weather, the culture, the sightseeing. But one night I might go to the casino, because what other entertainment is there to do at night?” said James Boersema, an investor of a Waikiki nightclub and restaurant. — MSNBC: Is Hawaii gambling with paradise?

That quote is from an article about the islands considering — again — adding gambling as a source of much needed revenue. Gambling might be a path towards income, surely, but it’s a willfully naive response to the question of what to do after dark in Hawaii.

For starters, there’s a staggering array of music options, and lots of them are free. Waikiki’s Kanikapila Grill hosts the stars of Hawaiian music — hang out poolside at the Outrigger and hear the sounds of island music for the price of a cocktail. You can do this at the Marriott, too, and a number of other places. The Royal Hawaiian has a newish entertainment series — it’s great fun to catch a show in this grand pink hotel by the sea. There are loads of nightlife tourist traps along Kalakaua Ave., discos and kitchy luaus, or you can book a package that includes transportation to and from the Polynesian Cultural Center to catch their big cultural showcase.

In the confines of Waikiki, it’s easy to forget that Honolulu is a real city with a university and residents that work in industries other than tourism, a place where people live and work and play after dark just like any other city. Crack a local paper — one that’s not labeled “Top 100 Things to Do on Oahu!” and you’ll find loads of other options.

There’s a burgeoning foodie scene in Honolulu — try Town in Kaimuki or, if you’re feeling flush, Chef Mavro‘s. You can attend a food event like Dining in the Dark where you’ll give up vision for taste. If you’re looking for alternative entertainment there’s Art after Dark at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and there’s Chinatown’s revival with bars and nightclubs and the First Friday gallery walk.

Admittedly, things slow down a little on the neighbor islands, but you can still dine in an amazing array of restaurants in Maui’s county seat, Wailuku, catch a jazz show at the historic Honoka’a theater on the Big Island or hear local music at the Hotel Moloka’i on, you guessed it Moloka’i.  There are nature activities too — star gazing and flashlight tide-pooling and night diving… it’s not over just because the sun is down.

What is there to do at night? Really? Pick up a local paper or look online and find out.

Hawaiiana Live! at Hilo’s Palace Theater

Palace Theater by Eye of Einstein via Flickr

Palace Theater by Eye of Einstein via Flickr

Inspiring the audience to recognize and honor the beauty and richness of the Hawaiian culture has been one of the goals of Hawaiiana Live! Since its launch on Jan.10, 2007, it has educated and entertained 4,000-plus people; Yuen hopes many more will come.

The program spotlights various aspects of Hawaiian culture through storytelling, videos, hula, oli (chants) and mele (songs). A changing slate of Big Island artists, musicians, kupuna (elders) and kumu (teachers) is featured each week. —Honolulu Star Bulletin

It’s a Big Island battle. It’s so easy to be seduced by the beautiful beaches, by the sunset cocktail hours, by the spectacular nature away from the beach. And sure, you can sit a a long table under the palms and watch a luau where the drums pound and shockingly fit young men spin flaming knives and the hula girls are so pretty you wonder how the missionaries could stand to cover them up. Getting away from culture as commodity can be a challenge.

Hawaiiana Live! is a weekly program at Hilo’s grand old Palace Theater. “The program spotlights various aspects of Hawaiian culture through storytelling, videos, hula, oli (chants) and mele (songs). A changing slate of Big Island artists, musicians, kupuna (elders) and kumu (teachers) is featured each week.” What a great opportunity. There’s a different program every Wednesday, so just because your neighbor saw the one about native plants doesn’t mean you will, you might end up in the land of ancient myth and legend.

Most visitors to the Big Island set up base on the Kona side, zipping over to Hilo or up to the volcano for the day only. That’s a shame —  they’re missing out on all the great things Hilo has to offer. Hawaiiana Live! is one more reason to stay a little longer on the windward side.

The full calendar for Hawaiiana Live is here.

The Farmer’s Market that Comes to You

A new Farmers Market has recently debuted on the front lawn at Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort & Spa. The market is open from 8:00 a.m. until noon each Wednesday.  This market is now in addition to a Saturday morning farmers market at the nearby Keauhou Shopping Center.

Along with local farm-fresh fruit, produce, coffee, and flowers, vendors also offer craft products with primary ingredients or materials that come from Hawaii Island’s land or waters.

I love the idea of falling out of my hotel bedroom into a farmer’s market first thing in the morning, without even having to tumble into my rental car. There’s freedom from the buffet and easy access to exotic local produce. Plus, there’s something about this idea that breaks the wall — just a little — between visitors to Hawaii and the locals that grow food in the islands.

This looks like both really smart marketing and a lovely, community minded action on the part of the Sheraton. For a traveler who enjoys a little luxury but still wants to experience some “real” Hawaii, the Sheraton Keauhou Bay just got more attractive.

Farmers Market, Hilo

Farmer's Market, Hilo by Kanu Hawaii via Flickr

Having a farmer’s market on your hotel grounds, doesn’t let you off the hook for exploring other markets in the islands. You’ll find great food, yummy local produce, beautiful flowers, maybe some nice locally made souvenirs,a little entertainment, perhaps, and you can’t beat the people watching.

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture keeps a list of farmer’s markets here — click through the island names to get the latest information. Go on, you need snacks to fuel your island adventures. Get a papaya or two and some flowers for your room.

January is Volcano Awareness Month

In a Proclamation from the County of Hawai’i, January 2010 has been designated “Volcano Awareness Month.” Throughout the month, the USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), in cooperation with Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, Hawai’i County Civil Defense, and the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, will sponsor various events to promote the importance of understanding and respecting the volcanoes on which we live.–USGS Hawaii

For Sale by Owner via [] on Flickr

For Sale by Owner via Tuman on Flickr

Imagine your home being buried under lava. Imagine your neighborhood destroyed by a creeping sea of liquid rock. The mind boggles, but it’s what happened in the town of Kalapana on the Big Island in 1990.

Ten years later, the USGS has declared Volcano Awareness Month, though certainly the (former) residents of Kalapana have been super aware of Kiluea for the last decade, it changed their lives. If you’ve got a four wheel drive vehicle, you can visit Kalapana, though it’s likely you’ll invalidate your rental car contract. There are some tour companies that will take you out there — and to Kapoho, another site taken by lava in 1960.

The Big Island remains an amazing place to become, well, aware, that you’re standing on a live volcano — even if you can’t see live lava, you can walk around on the open steam vents and sulfur flecked surface in Volcanoes National Park. Any time of year is a good time to learn a little geology, though during the month of January, there are additional activities on the calendar.

Thurston’s Big Ideas for Hawaii

In preparation for a upcoming trip to Hawaii, I’ve been reading Hawaii (On the Road Histories). In the geology section at the beginning of the book there’s mention of Jagger, the researcher who spent so much time studying volcanic activity at what’s now Volcanoes National Park. There’s also a passing reference to Lorrin Thurston, a politician, business man, and something of an explorer who was instrumental in the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Thurston Lava Tube by C.E. Anderson via Flickr

Thurston Lava Tube by C.E. Anderson via Flickr

In the lower rain forested region of Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island, visitors can walk through the Thurston Lava Tube, a dripping geologic wonder named after a guy who wasn’t very nice to the native Hawaiians. He had a great affection for the land, if not for her people; he lobbied for the creation of a National Park to protect and preserve the land where his namesake lava tube stands.

Thurston was born in Hawaii, spoke fluent Hawaiian and had a Hawaiian name, yet he objected to  traditional hula and the native Hawaiian government. He seemed to have been big on nature, but not so much so on culture. I can’t help but feel ambivalent about assigning his name to a natural wonder though I suppose it’s as good a metaphor as any for the complicated tangle that is Hawaii. A driving force behind founding Hawaii’s National Park and for overthrowing her government — I imagine Thurston thought he knew what was best for the land.

It’s hard to argue with the establishment of a National Park, but the annexation of the islands remains a tragic unresolved chapter in Hawaii’s history. The next time I stand on the shiny black lava that bears Thurston’s name, I’ll think of more than geology.

Connected Oceans and the Tsunami Watch

Tsunami watch sign by hansol on Flickr

Tsunami watch sign by hansol on Flickr

On September 29, 2009, the state of Hawaii was on tsunami watch. The waves — which hit Samoa, taking lives and destroying property — were caused by a 8.0 earthquake about 120 miles south of Samoa and American Samoa. First things first — the Red Cross of New Zealand has a special appeal for help to the tsunami victims; please give here.

It’s 2600 miles from Samoa to Hawaii. The mind boggles to think of that big sheet of water, shaken from the earth’s movement, affecting the Hawaiian islands so far away. It’s sort of terrifying to think of the hotel lined beaches, the crowds of blissful tourists going about their routine tanning, unaware of the folding and approaching ocean. It’s terrifying to think of Hilo, on the south side of the Big Island — in 1960, an earthquake off the coast of South America caused a tsunami that destroyed the ramshackle little downtown. 1960 — there are still people alive who lived through the 1960 tsunami, how awful it must have been for them to hear the news.

The Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo captures the stories of Hawaii’s tsunami survivors and educates visitors in tsunami safety. It’s a little place and it seems woefully underfunded given the important work they do. If you want to freak yourself out, you can click through the center’s site to the tsunami zone map for Waikiki and consider how likely it is that your Oahu hotel is right in the heart of that zone. To understand what a tsunami is, exactly, read this description.

A tsunami watch is just that — a watch — so if you find yourself on Hawaii’s beaches and learn that a watch is in place, there’s no need to panic. Do stay informed. This particular watch was canceled, meaning there’s no risk the islands will be hit, but according to this  Star Bulletin article, safety minded officials are saying beach goers should stay out of the water.

Because of possible strong currents and unusual wave action, state and county officials will be going to beaches to warn swimmers to stay out of the water between 12:30 p.m. and 7;30 p.m. Civil defense officials reversed an initial decision to close beach parks this afternoon and evening.

“We are asking for the kokua of all of our residents and visitors to keep out of the water and away from the beaches and river mouths,” Mayor Mufi Hannemann said. “These precautionary measures are being implemented to keep everyone safe.”

Top Notch Snorkeling

Coastal Living lists Papalaua Wayside Park as one of the planet’s best snorkeling spots. I confess, I haven’t been there, though I have snorkeled at Molokini, the pretty little crater off Maui’s shores and at Kona’s amazing turtle packed little beach at Kahalu’u Beach Park.

Yellow Tangs by Nivek Woods via Flickr

Yellow Tangs by Nivek Woods via Flickr

I’m not surprised that a Hawaii spot is listed in an article about snorkeling wonderlands, but what, no Kaleakakua Bay? Those sparkling clear waters? Those friendly and wierdly grinning eels? Those schools of yellow coral munching fish, all facing the same direction like grazing cattle? Not to mention the tragic history underlying this magical spot — it is, after all, where the great explorer, Captain James Cook met his end.

If you are on the Big Island and looking to do a snorkel boat trip, I can’t recommend the Fair Wind tour enough. Great service, a clean boat, well maintained gear, yummy snackage, and location, location, location. Go in the morning and book in advance. It’s not cheap — today the web is turning prices at nearly 125 per person, ouch, but you get the best part of the day in spectacular waters and a late afternoon cruise back to Keauhou Bay. You’re as likely as not to see dolphins and, in season, humpback whales at no extra cost. It’s a splurge and every time I’ve made the trip, I have loved every single minute of it.

Hat tip for the Coastal Living links to the LA Times.