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

Lunch at the venerable Halekulani, where the service was amazing — like when the bartender asked if he could take this great picture

After Kauai we made one more two-night stop in Honolulu before embarking on the six-hour flight to Tahiti. Two notable things about this stop:

First, we decided to give another hotel a try. So this time we stayed at Halekulani, a venerable Waikiki hotel that recently went through a huge renovation.So you got the best of all worlds: A great old hotel with a storied reputation and super contemporary design and amenities.

But the best part of our visit was reconnecting with our friends Andrew and Maia Rosen, whom we hadn’t seen in decades. Andrew was one of our classmates at the Kennedy School at Harvard. Maia was his girlfriend back then who went to the Harvard Education School and lived in the same dorm. We’ve kept tabs over the years but just hadn’t managed to connect in person until now — after they’d moved to Honolulu, married, and raised three sons.

Arriving at the credit union’s new headquarters, we knew we were in the right place when we found this life-size picture of Andrew building the place

Andrew is President and CEO of the Hawaii State Federal Credit Union. He suggested we meet him at the brand new headquarters he just devoted a couple years to building. So we agreed — but had to joke a bit about coming to Polynesia to tour a credit union. As we entered the building, Andrew told us how he wanted to build a space where people would love to work. And he insisted that his staff really liked working there. Of course, we kidded, that’s what they’re going to tell the boss!

The building, which they’d barely just moved into after a long renovation, was loaded with spaces for socializing, relaxing, and doing teamwork. The design was sort of Polynesian, sort of Japanese, sort of Zen. And when we reached the top floor we found a huge kitchen/entertaining space with expansive outdoor patios with really comfy furniture. And lo and behold, we met a bunch of super friendly staff, who were hanging out together after work and cooking, drinking, and having fun. And we heard an earful about how much they LOVE working there. It was all very impressive. In my next life I want to work for Andrew at the credit union!

After enjoying some wine on the lanai there, Andrew took us to the lovely and serene Pacific Club where well-heeled Hawaiians gather for drinks, meals, sport, and mingling. Then on to his home near Diamond Head to meet Maia and finish off a wonderful evening of catching up. It was as if no time at all had passed since grad school.

Martinis at the Pacific Club

At home with Maia

The pool and beach from the Halekulani gym

Waikiki at night rom our balcony