Trip date: June 2018
Last June, just 26 hours after arriving home from San Francisco, I repacked for much more tropical weather and headed off for a little solo, chill trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. It had been 20 years since I had visited the island, for the funeral of one of my uncles, who passed away much too young, and I was looking forward to returning and exploring.
It was about 8:30pm when I landed, I picked up my convertible rental car and drove 30-minutes north up the west coast to the Fairmont Orchid. There was barely anyone on the road at this time so it was a very quick and easy commute.
Self-parking at the resort is free and is onsite, so after figuring out how to close the roof of my car in the dark, I made my way to the hotel lobby. Originally upon checking in I was given a room in the North Tower. It seemed a bit run down and really far from the restaurants and bars so after requesting to be moved, I was given a fantastic room in the South Tower. King bed, balcony with partial ocean & pool view, and huge marble bathroom with a separate tub and shower. Hello holiday! Of course it was dark so I wouldn't get a peek of my view until the morning. For the time being I settled for a mai tai in the bar.
The massage rooms at the spa are individual outdoor huts right on a waterfall/stream. OMG! My room also had a little glass pane in the floor that allowed me to watch fish while I was laying face down. To say that the atmosphere here was amazing would be an understatement. I loved this experience so much that I booked another 3-days later!
That evening I had dinner at Brown's on the resort, an outdoor restaurant that sits right off the beach. My meal was good, and service was great, but it was very overpriced.
The next morning the hotel grounds were very busy, with lots of very fit people. Turned out that the Fairmont was hosting the Ironman qualifier. There was a lot of good people watching!
I set out, past all the bicyclists, for a 3-mile hike to the Petroglyph park. There are lava stone carvings as soon as you enter the area, laid out to be viewed, but if you follow the trail, deep into the mesquite forest, you can try to spot them on your own.
Volcano National Park to spend a few days hiking around Kīlauea Volcano. Unfortunately for me and the residents of this area, the volcano had erupted and was still very active. With the park being closed and a lot of seismic-activity happening, I decided to cancel my plans and extended my stay at the Fairmont. The hotel was great and kept me in the same room.
Morning #3, I drove 30 mins south from the resort to do a 3-mile hike at Kiholo Bay. The thing I always forget about driving on the islands, is that the highways can be busy, and turnouts for beaches and trails can be hard to spot. You really need to pay attention to the mile markers and be prepared to turn off onto a dirt path quickly.
I loved this hike! Most of it was on this black sand beach which was stunning. I started at the far south end, and climbed up the lava for a view and also to peek into a few caves.
As I made my way north, the beach changed from all black, to black and white. There were huge flats of lava, worn smooth by the surf, hiding tide pools and even petroglyphs. There was no one on the beach when I was there. Normally it's known to have lots of turtles, but I didn't see any that morning.
I finally came upon a very large yellow house, with the proprietor enjoying coffee on his patio. It was Earl Bakken, the inventor of the pacemaker! My trip was in June and Mr. Bakken passed away in October. He had given me a very friendly wave and smile. RIP.
Not to much farther I came upon Bali House, built by the co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair products. Story goes that he had it built in Bali, then deconstructed, moved here, and rebuilt. It's pretty unique looking!
From here I followed a trail away from the beach, I was trying to find the Queen's Bath, a fresh water pool in an old lava tube, but for the life of me I couldn't find it. I did find part of the tube and caves further inland. As well as some friendly feral goats!
Back at the resort I spent the entire day by the pool. It was heaven! Because of the active volcano the area had a bit of VOG making for a hazy but pretty sunset.
The afternoon pool routine was improved by the Ironman contestants finishing their trials and relaxing with well earned beers, excited to talk about their races. After another full, sun-soaked day, I checked into the spa for another blissful massage in a hut on the waterfall.
Mauna Lani resort and had a cocktail in the bar. It seemed like the hotel was practically empty and when I spoke to the bartender he explained that it was getting ready to close, a new owner had purchased it and was going to start remodeling. They also had had a lot of cancellations because of the volcano erupting on the other side of the island. Late 2019 is the expected reopening.
On my last full day of vacation I skipped my walk, slept in, and woke up to a message from Alaska Air that I had been upgraded to First Class for my flight home! Fantastic!
I arranged with the hotel to borrow a picnic basket filled with ice, picked it up and went to Foodland in the nearby shopping center for, from what people told me was, some of the best poke on the island. They weren't wrong!
I was back at the Fairmont in time for a last Happy Hour Mai Tai and a dip in the pool.
That night I took the shuttle again, this time to the restaurant Napua, technically on the Mauna Lani property but not part of the hotel. They gave me a fantastic table, looking right out onto the bay. And the service was exceptional, with owner Brandon coming to sit and chat with me, and my server bringing me a gratis dish and pouring extra wine.
The next morning I only had time for a quick cup of coffee while taking in one last view from my lanai before packing the convertible for one last drive to the Kona Airport.
There was no traffic on the way, but the lines at the airport to check in and drop bags were really really long. I only had time for a quick pineapple mimosa before boarding. Good thing I was in First Class!
I'm hoping that the lava flows again at Volcanoes National Park, but that the mountain itself stays quiet. I'd still like to get back and hike that area. But I'd also go back to the Fairmont Orchid any day! I absolutely loved the property and the service. Mahalo!
All Big Island photos here.
Other post from this trip:
Dear Greg, Wish You Were Here, xo Hawaii
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