Sunday, January 22, 2012

“Top 20 Tips and Tricks from a First-time Kona Tourist”

20. Kona is not a town. Kailua-Kona is. But Kona seems to be an accepted term for the area south of the airport and north of Captain Cook.

19. Find a farmer’s market. Buy fruit. Eat fruit.

18. Don’t plan anything for your final day – you will find a way to fill it.

17. KOA is an awesome airport to fly into / out of. Small open air. 

Outdoor waiting area of the airport. The baggage claim was open air as well.

16. Read up on a little history, or at least know who King Kamehakameha the Great was (united the islands via conquest), and his sons (who were not named Kamehameha at birth.) You will pick up a lot more if you have a little knowledge to begin with (oh, and the last monarch was the Merry one with the ‘stach).

15. Watch for coupons, but use with a grain of salt. The Big Island is like a small town, and there is a limited amount of choices. Whereas some coupons are totally worth it (2 snorkel sets for the price of one), others may just be trying to upsell to you.

14. WATCH out for TURTLES! While I was busy talking about how they sometimes crawl up onto the shore to bask, I just about tripped over them. I also almost swam into one while snorkeling.

13. The Volcano National Park is a full day’s worth of stuff, and quite a drive (3 hrs.) from Kona. Find out the lava reports and webcams of the volcano here

12. Luaus are like Vegas shows. All you can eat / drink food and beverages are included. We did not see poi anywhere else. Kinda like Riverdance is a little different than traditional Irish folkdancing, you might want to temper your experience with a visit to a local hula school .

11. Fair Winds tours were suggested to us, and we could see their boat from our hotel. Though we didn’t go, we would have had we more time and money. We also didn’t go to Bamboo restaurant (far north) but it was recommended 2x for good local food. In Hilo, if we had the time, we would have checked out the Lyman Museum and the Akatsuka Orchid farm.

Fair Wind's II sailing passed.

10. Don’t worry about bringing snorkel gear – it is available to rent really cheep, or you can buy a set (sans flippers) for under $10 at a convenience store. $1.50 per day for a pair of flippers and they make you go really fast! You float better in salt water. Go snorkeling, it’s worth it. The most expensive rental right now is stand up paddle board. When you go to a beach, watch where the people enter and exit the water, and where they congregate. Most of the time, that’s where the coolest stuff is. P.S. don’t touch anything, and keep your feet off the coral (most of the time it looks like rocks, so wait until you get to a sandy place to put your feets down.)

9. Parking – can be very difficult to find. Sometimes you luck out and find street parking but watch out for dead end / one way / one lane streets. Otherwise there is a pay lot near the Kona Inn. If you get a rental car (you will want one unless you enjoy biking long distances) you might want to consider bringing some travel tunes as there were only 2 radio stations we could get. 

8. You will probably be solicited – we were offered drugs, a kayak ride out to Captain Cook Monument, and there was a lady with drawings “for donation only” at a beach (a clever way to circumvent peddler laws.)

7. Hawaii is a TALL island. Driving along the coastal highway that encircles the island, don’t think you will be toodling along at 65 mph a short distance from sandy beaches. The speed limit is 25-55 most of the way, and you will be on a 2-lane highway snaking around about 1500’ elevation through tiny towns. Expect rocky cliffs and plunging vistas of the waves crashing miles away. Portions of it feel a bit like Hwy. 1 in CA.

6. Food. Food food food food food. Study up on it before you get here, and be ready to seek out and experience it all! You may need to get use to seeing tasty passion fruit rotting on the trees and falling into the street tho.

5. There are a lot of used bookstores here. Don’t waste luggage room packing many books – and feel free to leave yours behind (seems like lots of travelers do!)

4. Antique, second hand, and thrift stores are a good place to grab a unique souvenir (I got a cookbook put out as a fundraiser for a high school marching band in Honolulu), or beach blanket.

3. Looking for cheese? Go to the Kona Wine Market.

2. Wanna tour a certain coffee plantation or farm? Contact them ahead of time. Cell reception can be spotty, depending on your location and carrier. Schedules can change, so try to set up something you can actually adhere to. We tried to find the Big Island Goat Farm and Buddah’s Cup Coffee, but got lost or couldn’t contact them via phone once we got here.

1. You are in the land of cloud forests and ghost crabs. Enjoy the magic.

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