Category Archives: Hawaii

Hawaii | Volcano Park

National Volcano Park is worth a drive to the southeast part of the island if you’re interested in seeing the remnants and quite impressive effects of centuries-old lava flows and possibly some volcano-in-action right now.

I was curious how far we could go into the park given the recent volcano eruptions there. Answer- pretty darn far, all the way up to the lookout point and museum, however that’s where they had barricaded any further traffic. Don’t bother trying to trek on foot across the barricades, rangers are stationed there and they will Gandalf your curious butt should you try to pass. Not that I know personally. Nope.

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There are many, many marked stops along the major artery through the park that will afford good views of lava flow effects; some are quite stunning. Definitely see the museum at the top, it will answer every question you didn’t know you had about how volcanoes are formed, become active, erupt and then become dormant or extinct.

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Another focal point is the ‘Sea Arch’. Don’t get your hopes up about how awesome the Sea Arch will be, its just a rock arch that juts out into the Pacific. Its interesting but more interesting is the drive down to the location. The views of the black, jagged terrain against the blue-green of the ocean are amazing.

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I did stop at the so-called petroglyphs on the way to the Sea Arch. Um, they looked fake to me but what do I know. Its an interesting walk out to the site but once you get there its just a bunch of black dots on rocks that your 5-year-old might have done. The upside was that there were some massive rainbows in that location.



Hawaii | Mauna Kea

I’m not a fan of organized tours, typically I get more out of just wandering and discovering things for myself. However, exceptions proving the rule, the highlight of my trip to the Big Island was a guided tour of the Mauna Kea Summit. You can tour it independently if you like but you’ll need a four wheel drive and keep in mind you will be sharing the rickety dirt road with tour buses much larger and and having less precise turning abilities. Your call.

Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano and  the highest point in Hawaii, 14,000 ft. Slightly higher than its sister Mauna Loa which you can see in its entirety from the top of  Mauna Kea,  along with all of the Big Island and some of the other Hawaiian islands. While both volcanoes are dormant, there’s ample gossip about one or the other destined to erupt in the next 5 years. Who knows how true that is? I like to think this is the same kind of urban legend as when I heard California would break off into the Pacific in 1985. And then again in 1997, 2000, 2005 and 2012. To my knowledge, that hasn’t occurred either.

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On the tour we had a lunch / elevation adjustment stop at about 7000 ft at an old, abandoned farm. Its interesting to note the vegetation here, since at 9000 ft, it changed drastically into a brown, black and burnt-red lunar-scape with no vegetation. Around this elevation we learned that Mauna Kea is one of the largest military training grounds around. Tour guide informed us when a big red flag is flying over the base that means training with live ammunition is in progress. The big red flag was up as we made our way up to 10,000 ft.

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After bumping and grinding our way up the impossibly twisty and small dirt road we landed on a paved road for the last 2 miles to the top. Once at the top the reality of the summit being ‘a little colder’ bitch-slapped us square in the face. From 80F coast side to 30F summit side. Its worse than it sounds since what they don’t tell you is that the wind is a constant 20 mph.

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The Mauna Kea Summit is  home to some of the highest-powered telescopes in the country. More than a dozen of these pepper the top of the summit and we were there at sunset to watch them all open and start their rotation to observe whatever they were observing. Big mechanical devices coming to life were the only sounds other than the constant wind. The clouds we were looking up at from the shoreline looked like the sea since they were so far below the summit. It paired well with the rest of the mountain top which at sunset faded into an icy blue cast, the outer islands disappeared and the big island started to shimmer like a distant star. The result left me feeling as though I’d had been dropped into an alternate universe. Then the space shuttle went overhead and I could actually tell it was the space shuttle with naked eyes.

Truly surreal and something you shouldn’t miss.

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Hawaii | Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau

The Pu’uhonua is a National Park just south of Kona. Today it is an interesting stop on a tour of the south end of the  Big Island.  In old Hawaii it was a place of refuge. Not just a retreat but the only place you could go to escape death if  you broke one of the many laws of the era. Creepy wooden statues and beautiful coastal scenery are notable.

Once you pass through the typical sights, there are a couple of places you can climb and rock hop out your way out into the water away from shore. I recommend if you have the right shoes – grippy and water resistant. There is a pleasant but eerie feeling about the place as you climb the lava rocks jutting out from the shore looking back on the contrasting black, white and green colours of the park. Not to mention the aquamarine water that looks fake even when your grippy water-resistant shoes fail to keep you from falling into it. Not that I would know that personally. Nope.

Allow about an hour to see the park, more if you do the rock climb away from shore. Even more to let your water resistant shoes dry out.

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Hawaii | Painted Church

We took a recommendation from some friends to stop at the Painted Church while touring the area south of Kona – glad about that. Its a small church, seemingly innocuous from the exterior but the interior has some unexpected and interesting murals. I loved the injection of Hawaiian objects into Biblical settings. Since we arrived in the late afternoon, the typical late afternoon dark clouds had already formed, making for some dramatic contrast against the white exterior of the church,

If you do decide to pop by here, definitely follow the small path around back to see the cemetery and gardens; the grounds are immaculately maintained and beautiful. Of course, that can be said of almost everything on the Big Island.

Give yourself about 30-45 minutes to see the interior and exterior.

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Hawaii | Da Poke Shack

When in Hawaii eat what the Hawaiians eat.

I did a little research on Hawaiian fare while stuck at LAX waiting for my flight. Turns out, aside from the roasted whole pig so often featured in Hawaiian tourist rags, the other dish that seemed fairly popular was poke. Poke is a raw fish dish, usually tuna, cubed and tossed in some sauce.

Fortunately for me, in Kona, there were two restaurants focusing on poke.

Da Poke Shack is very small and somewhat difficult to find since its on the main drag but the sign is small enough that once you see it, you’ve gone too far. Mostly outdoor seating, as is the norm for Hawaii, but even that is limited to several picnic tables – good luck trying to nab one of those. Better to order takeaway and plant yourself along the beach. Da Poke Shack is wildly popular with the surf set, so expect an intimidating line but keep in mind it moves quickly and you can entertain yourself with an abundance of eye candy.

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There were 8 different sauce-based combinations of cubed fish, while they all sounded good I went with the lighter flavoured sesame sauce mixed with tuna since I wasn’t sure the spicy pepper or wasabi sauces with tuna would allow for much tuna flavour. I thought that would be all the decisions I’d need to make but no. You need to decide which kind of rice and which side dish. Almost all of the side dishes were mussels or octopus, so I went with the creamy ginger mussels.

The poke itself was squeaky fresh and every bite of the tuna was buttery in consistency; the sesame sauce was light enough to let the tuna shine and added a little dimension – outstanding! I learned from one of the surfers in line that if you get there early enough you can actually see the fisherman delivering what will be on today’s menu – yes, that fresh. The mussels were steamed then coated in the ginger sauce – balanced with a dominant fresh ginger flavour but I also picked up a little garlic, green onion and sesame. It definitely paired well with the sesame tuna.

Da Poke Shack carries a variety of Aloha drinks with interesting tropical fruit flavours. While I’m not a fan of sugar based drinks, I couldn’t resist trying the Passion Fruit Orange soda. Definitely Passion Fruit dominant, which was good, but ultimately it was too sweet for me.

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Its a counter order and pickup configuration. The line was long, like out the door long, but we only waited 20 minutes from line entry through the order and pickup. Everyone was very helpful, friendly and relaxed,  which is the norm in Hawaii.

I had nearly a 1/2 pound of fresh, high-quality tuna and  steamed mussels. The bill was a whopping $9. I was sure there was a mistake but this is the supply/demand principle in play. Tuna is abundant in Hawaii, therefore it costs less than expected. I confirmed this in a grocery store where I noticed fresh tuna was less expensive than chicken.

Lunch: December 2014

Da Poke Shack | 76-6246 Ali’i Dr | Kona HI 96740

Hawaii | Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls is on the east side of the Big Island a short ways from Hilo. Since we had been in Hilo overnight we decided to take the north route around the top of the island back to Kona and it was on the way.

It’s definitely not worth going out of your way,  has a high entry fee and the falls themselves are not very impressive. However, for nature fans I highly recommend; it is a beautiful, low-impact walk weighing in slightly over a mile.

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Hawaii | Coffee, Pre-Cup

I have five coffee makers to brew coffee in five different ways. There’s the drip maker, espresso machine, the ubiquitous Keurig, French press and this odd contraption that allows me to make a 24-hour cold brew. Do I need them all? Umm, nope. But when has need mattered to a coffee aficionado?

You’d think with all the coffee gadgetry I’d know every last detail about how coffee is grown and processed before its brewed and hits the cup. Not so much true until last week when I went to visit a friend in Hawaii. It’s merely a coincidence that my first trip to Kona comes right as he bought a coffee farm. Really.

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The first step to learning about coffee, pre-cup, is to locate a coffee farm. Alright, that was easy. Now there’s the matter of knowing when to pick the coffee fruit, or what I learned are called cherries. They should be solid red. Also, you should check that there isn’t a tiny black hole at the bottom, this is evidence a coffee beetle has made a home there.  Now that you have the fruit you need to extract the beans. You can squeeze the bottom half of the cherry a little and the beans will pop right out of the top. Hand extraction is nice if you’re going to collect a few ounces of beans, otherwise you’ll need a sheller; a handy contraption that extracts the beans and discard the casings automatically.

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The soaking. When the beans are extracted they are covered in pulp. Out of curiosity I tasted the pulp, it was sweet and pasty. Soaking the beans overnight will help to remove the pulp. Also, any beetle-damaged beans will float to the surface for easy removal.

After the soaking, the beans are dried in the sun for about a day. I thought we could start roasting after the beans were dry but there was an outer coating, a husk, that needed to be removed first. These come off easily and you can do handfuls at a time. Congrats, now you have ‘green’ or unroasted coffee!

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Now comes the roasting. First go out and purchase a commercial coffee roaster and lease some space to house it, since its likely to be massive like the old school one I used.  Late model commercial roasters are all programmed but this one was not.  As an aside you can just roast green coffee at home on your cooker in a frying pan. Heat it up to high then dry fry the beans until they turn brown. Brown, not black; if they turn black or get oily, they are burnt – those you can sell to Starbucks.  Roasting is trickier than it seems;  I watched the beans closely and on my first round they went from brown to a black, oily mess in about 1 second. I also smoked out the restaurant where I was roasting them – good thing everything in Hawaii is open air.

That’s all, you’re ready to grind and brew! Now that I know more about how coffee is grown and processed, I feel it’s logical to drink more in appreciation.