All posts for the month August, 2023

Sunset in paradise

Palm trees in paradise

A cute little guy on our porch

From the volcano park we drove a few hours north and west to the sunny side of the Big Island for the final stop of our summer adventure in Polynesia. Kailua is the island’s second largest town. And it’s in a region called Kona. And apparently nobody can make up their mind about what to call the place, so it’s most frequently referred to as Kailua-Kona, as weird as that seems.

This is the stretch of the Big Island that is lined with beautiful beach resorts. And because it’s the Big Island, there’s a lot of volcano action, so the beautiful beach resorts are surrounded by lava fields. It’s an interesting and beautiful juxtaposition.

So we spent our last six days in Polynesia doing what we are very good at — enjoying a gorgeous beach and bunches of books and not much more. We had a rental car here, but it sat in the parking lot for six days because we weren’t motivated to leave the resort.

While we love nice beach resorts, we do tire a bit of fussy (and annoyingly expensive) resort restaurants. So we took a disproportionate share of our meals, sitting at the bar, at the restaurant that was more casual than the rest. And it turned out to be surprisingly homey, especially for Jim.

One great bartender turned out to be from Bemidji, Minnesota. Not only is she a member of the same Ojibwe tribe as Jim, but she is also the niece of Clyde Bellcourt, famed founder of the American Indian Movement. The other great bartender hailed from New Jersey, but his mother grew up in Billings Park, the same neighborhood in Superior, Wisconsin where Jim’s mom grew up. Weird connections at a fancy Hawaii resort!

And thus our adventure in Polynesia comes to a conclusion. As we await a long flight back to New York, I’ll just share the last pretty pics.

The beach in paradise

It’s not hard to spot Jim

A pretty relaxed lunch

From the beach we could see Maui in the distance, the beleaguered island that experienced so much tragedy while we were here

Frangipani blossoms always make me feel like I’m in a happy place

Palm trees and lava. That’s the Big Island.

Stopping for a selfie at a lava field on Chain of Craters road in Volcanoes National Park

Two quick stops with a long flight in between. From Bora Bora the goal was the Big Island back in Hawaii, but instead of trying to arrange a connecting flight we stopped for a day-and-a-half back in Tahiti. Same hotel that we liked, the Hilton, but this time we made reservations in advance to have dinner at a very nice French restaurant in downtown Papeete. Definitely better than resort food once again.

I walked around Papeete a little and it had the potential to be a cute place for a day or two. Nothing you ever need to see but possibly charming.

Steak tartare at L’O A La Bouche, a lovely French restaurant in Papeete

Then it was back to Hawaii, a six-hour flight north and then a connecting flight to the Big Island. (The island is officially called Hawaii but since that would constantly confuse people wondering if you were talking about the island or the state, everyone calls it the Big Island.) Our first stop was again pretty short, just two days in a rustic lodge very near the entrance to Volcanoes National Park.

If you are really into geology and how the earth was formed and all that, Volcanoes National Park would be just your cup of tea. There were lots of trails to hike around various volcanoes and lava flows, and lots and lots of boards explaining how this had happened and why that had happened. It turns out that I was just never a science guy and after just a few of those my eyes were glazing over.

One of the smaller craters we hiked by. If you’re from northern Minnesota it looks a lot like an abandoned iron ore pit…

With that said it was still interesting to walk around and see stuff. We hiked quite a ways around the rim of Kīlauea, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. Lots of steam but sadly no spewing orange fire balls. And we did a drive along the Chain of Craters road that passed by lots of smaller craters and lava flows.

That’s me out on one of a million lava flows

Beyond that I loved just the peace and quiet of the place. The park is up at a pretty high altitude and so the weather was surprisingly cool, a nice change of pace for us. Our little cabin was a decided change from the fancy resorts we usually stay in and it was a nice diversion. It was in a pretty remote spot so I could do long walks on quiet country lanes that were beautiful.

And that was that, four days and a long flight. We have one last stop on the other side of the Big Island before we go back to the small island we call home.

The Tahiti Hilton at sunset. Not too shabby.

The deck on our little cabin made for a great spot to read and maybe have a little scotch. The lodge was in the town of Volcano, so there we were, staying in a volcano!

That may look like a hiking trail but in fact Mark is just a couple feet from the door to our cabin

Part of my very cute and very relaxing country lane walk

Our hike along the crater rim

Mark up above the crater. We were high above the floor at this point and back further it got a lot deeper still.

Hiking the trails of Volcanoes National Park

It may not look it but that’s a long way down

At the entrance to a lava tunnel. Fortunately they had electric lights in there or it would have been a pretty challenging walk.

The Hōlei Sea Arch at the very end of the Chain of Craters road

From the tiny airport you step straight onto a boat headed to your resort, and you are immediately wowed by the scenery

The yellow star marks our resort. The blue dot is where we had lunch on the main island.

We found a phone booth in the main town, and Jim even checked for a dial tone!

A manta ray under a bridge at the resort

Bora Bora is a “Wow” place. It looked stunning from the airplane as we approached. The water was an unreal turquoise color as we stepped onto the boat to be transported to our resort. For six days we marveled at what a beautiful place this is. We couldn’t help making favorable comparisons with the most beautiful places we’ve ever been — the Maldives, Capri, Torres del Paine in Chile, Sardinia.

And it didn’t hurt a bit that the St. Regis Bora Bora is a truly world-class hotel, one of the best we’ve ever stayed at. The facility, rooms, service, food, and grounds all came close to perfection. The place comes with prices to match, but we were able to use the gazillions of Marriott hotel points we’ve earned to snag a beautiful over-the-water bungalow at a fraction the normal cost. There’s reason we’ve been hoarding those points.

The main island is formed by an extinct volcano, from which rise two dramatic peaks called Pahia and Otemanu. The island is surrounded by a lagoon enclosed by barrier reefs on all sides. The nicer resorts live on little islets along the barrier reef, affording spectacular views across the lagoon to the peaks of the volcano.

What does one do here? If you are Mark and Jim, the answer is not too much. We are more than content sitting on the lovely white sand beaches, reading and marveling at the brilliant colors of the water and the lush green scenery. Because our resort sprawled expansively across several of the islets, each room came with two dedicated bicycles, which we’d use to traverse the hefty distances between our bungalow, the beach, the restaurants, and the gym. Every time I got on that bike, I was amazed at how beautiful everything was in every direction as I rode.

We did venture into the main town of Vaitape on the main island one day, taking a complimentary hotel shuttle boat to get there. It was a pretty dusty little town with locals going about their business and a scattering of tourists checking out shops selling black pearls and assorted other touristy finds. After running a couple of errands we’d quickly had enough of the town and stopped into the one restaurant that had sounded good for lunch. Coming off the hot and dusty main road, we were amazed at the loveliness of the patio and the gorgeous views toward the water and the islets.

It was a heavenly little lunch. Other than that, we did very little more than enjoy being in one of the most beautiful places on earth. And naturally, this post come with a lot of pictures!

The scenery as our plane approached the island

These waters are heavenly

My view as I bike across the bridges that connect the bungalows to the islets

Our deck provided expansive space for drying our laundry — handy when the hotel charges $18 to wash a pair of shorts

Can’t get enough of that view toward the peaks

The center of Vaitape from our in-town lunch spot

Jim looks blue, but in fact he’s enjoying our wonderful lunch in town

Did we mention the VIEWS?

Sunset views are nice, too

Jim loves a great hammock, and this one takes the cake

The hotel bar is a nice place for sunset

More sunset

The ride back to the airport on our final day

World’s best airport sign