The beauty of the Big Island

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When you land at the Kona International Airport (KOA) on the Big Island, you are greeted by the unique beauty of West Hawaii. This is the island known for its active volcano, gorgeous coastlines, diversity in climate and natural, rugged beauty. Once in a while, you find yourself stopping to take it all in, such as when you discover an orchid thriving in a bed of lava rocks. As you explore, the scenery is difficult to describe or categorize. Ocean views or a trip to the 4,200-meter high summit of the Mauna Kea Observatory. Snowboarding or surfing? It’s your choice. The Big Island of Hawaii lives up to its name. It will call you back again and again.

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Kalalau Trail – Napali Coast Kauai

At the end of the Kuhio Highway on Kauai–Highway 56– you will find the magical entrance to the Kalalau Trail. Kauai’s Napali Coast is one of the most spectacular sights you will ever see. This trail has it all. Cliffs, gorgeous views, waterfalls, spectacular ocean views. For the adventurous, this 11-mile trail will lead you to some of the most gorgeous scenery on earth. The pali, or cliffs, offer one of the most majestic views of the earth meeting the sea you will ever find. For most experienced hikers, this 11-mile trail will take you a full day. The signs warn you to be cautious and this is good advice. Enjoy the wonder of beautiful Kauai. Aloha.

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The sweet smell of Hawaii

The minute you step off the plane, it welcomes you. What is it about the smell of Hawaii? Is it the fact that you are on a Pacific island with pure, light tropical breezes?

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DSCN2983Or, the flower-lined paths that warmly welcome you wherever you go? This path laced with Bougainvillea, is especially inviting. Everywhere you look, you see color. On the Big Island, the black of the lava, mixed with the ocean blues and tropical flowers, is especially inviting.

Or, is it one of the world’s sweetest scents of all—plumeria? The yellow ones seem to make the most fragrant leis. When you see them in a natural setting, it’s one of life’s best reminders that you should never get too busy to stop and smell the flowers.

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Monkeypod Kitchen – Wailea, Maui

Since it’s almost Friday and much of the country is stuck in Polar Vortex 2, it seems like an appropriate time to profess my love for Monkeypod Kitchen on Maui. Oh, how I wish there was a Monkeypod Kitchen just down the street. And that it was 78 and sunny with a light tropical breeze.

Peter Merriman is one Hawaii’s most recognized, celebrated and well-known restaurateurs. Credited for developing the locavore concept in food, his work to elevate the farm to table concept is a big contribution to Hawaiian cuisine–and to locally grown, harvested and simply prepared foods all over the world.

After a tip from a server at Merriman’s in Kapalua, we made a beeline to Monkeypod Kitchen to burn off that awkward time when you have to check out of your hotel (weeping) and it’s much too early to sit at the airport in Hawaii when it’s so incredibly gorgeous everywhere you look.

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So, off to Monkeypod Kitchen for happy hour we went. Wow. This place puts the happy into happy hour.

IMG_1204For starters, there is the Monkeypod Mai Tai. Old Lahaina light rum, Maui dark rum, lime, orgeat, orange curacao, honey-lilikoi foam. Did I mention honey-lilikoi foam? Unbelievable. Luckily, I wasn’t driving to the airport. The handcrafted culinary cocktails are imaginative, reflective of the Hawaiian setting and yummy. What’s not to like?

Then, there are the appetizers and salads. The pumpkin patch ravioli was delicious and more than enough to share.IMG_1208

The wood fired pizzas were hand tossed and with a variety to choose from such as Hamakua wild mushroom & truffle, roasted butternut squash, bourgeois with Big Island lobster, mushrooms, white sauce, parmesan, thyme. To top it off, they had live Hawaiian music and a beer list featuring high-quality brews from top breweries and microbreweries from around the world. Although I am not a beer expert or a beer drinker, I know quality and selection when I see it.

Gotta go! Time to search for some flights to Hawaii.IMG_1211

Lovely Wailea Beach on Maui

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If ever there was a quintessential Hawaiian beach, this just might be it. Wailea Beach on Maui is a classic, soft sandy beach. It’s often voted as one of the best beaches in America and for good reason.

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It doesn’t hurt that it sits in front of some of the finest hotels and resorts in Hawaii, including the Grand Wailea, the Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea and the Fairmont Kea Lani.

But, in true Hawaiian style, this beach is not just for the rich and famous—or for those staying on one of these luxury resorts. Although it’s small, a  parking lot is available and it even offers showers and restrooms.

Snorkeling, boogie boarding, a walk on the beach, or perhaps just relaxing and listening the ocean waves. What are you waiting for?

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Orchid House on Lana’i

While the Polar Vortex of 2014 brings record-breaking, dangerous and bitter cold to much of the United States, it’s nice to know that there’s a place on earth where orchids bloom year-long in paradise—a flower lover’s dream come true.

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On social media today, the comments about the cold snap are filled with humor: “Actual thought in my head just now: -14 degrees, that’s not too bad. What’s wrong with me?”

“Strangely, -14 isn’t really that bad if the wind isn’t blowing.”

And the one that Midwesterners often ask ourselves this time of year, especially when we are dealing with a predicted high of -13 for tomorrow: “Why do we live here again?” (Usual answer: Family, roots, the people, or the glorious fall and summer weather. And, even today, it’s brilliant and sunny despite the Polar Vortex gloom and media reports.)

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So it’s nice to know that somewhere out there, on the meticulous grounds and gardens of the Lodge at Koele on Lana’i, sits an Orchid House filled with hanging and potted orchids and tropical flowers–yet one more reason to love the Aloha State.

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Aloha to 2014

There’s a trend in the business world of asking employees to set annual SMART goals—goals that are specificmeasurableattainablerelevant (or realistic) and timely.
 
So, in that spirit, my personal SMART goal for 2014 is to visit Hawaii, specifically the Big Island. This goal is especially SMART considering the temperatures and images of our Midwest home in comparison to the Aloha state. Yes, that’s a 125 degree temperature difference. Right now and always, 81 and sunny sounds like perfection.
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Annual year-end lists have always fascinated me. The New York Times even has The Top 10 Top 10 Lists of 2013. I love the idea of a clean blank slate to start another chapter in life, while pausing to recognize the wonder of the past year. Most years come with an unpredictable mixture of happiness and sadness, highs and lows, struggles and successes. I wish you peace warmth and joy in 2014. Thank you—mahalo—for stopping by to read this blog about my favorite place.
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Aloha.

Climb every mountain: Sunrise at Maui’s Mount Haleakala

When it comes to guidebooks for the Hawaiian Islands, I always recommend the blue books—the Revealed series including Maui Revealed, Hawaii the Big Island Revealed, Oahu Revealed and Kauai Revealed. The Maui Revealed book includes sections on the islands of Lanai and Molokai.

Besides spot-on reviews and updates, which always seem to steer us in the right direction, they are fun to read and offer many interesting tidbits to help plan your visit. Whenever a friend says that they are planning a trip, these are the books I recommend. They also make great gifts!

So, during a visit to Maui earlier this year, I read the section on Haleakala National Park with great interest. We had not witnessed sunrise from Haleakala (gasp!) and we really weren’t certain that it would be in our itinerary for this trip. Hiking, beaches, a trip to Lanai and relaxation were calling us instead.

But then, we found ourselves thinking about this legendary pilgrimage and decided to just do it. If you read the summary on sunrise from Haleakala in the Maui Revealed sixth edition guidebook, you’ll see why we had pause to make the long trek. First, we needed to leave at 3 a.m. to make it in time for sunrise. Second, is this description from the guidebook: “The first time we came to watch the sunrise up here, we thought it was the most overrated, overhyped event we’d seen. Pleasant, yes, but hardly worth the effort. Those around us seemed to agree.”

Still, we wanted to experience it for ourselves. And we decided that with realistic expectations we would have a great time and enjoy the journey. If nothing else, this would be a unique experience.

We weren’t prepared for what we were about to experience. In a word: amazing. My husband and I were discussing our favorite experiences from 2013 and we both agreed that Haleakala was at the top of the list.

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A word of warning: It’s freezing up there. Now, we are from the Midwest where it’s a balmy and unusual 36 degrees here today, but tomorrow we are plunging into the deep freeze again with a predicted high of -1 and a low of -15. (Yes, a high of -1. Yet another reason I am obsessed with the islands of Hawaii.) The cold at 10,023 feet in Hawaii is different. It’s damp, bone-chilling cold. Hard to describe, but still so worth it. And since my husband refused to pack mittens and hats for a trip to Maui, we improvised with lots of layers.

The road, despite many twists and turns, is well maintained and fairly easy to navigate, even at 3 in the morning. Another option is to visit Haleakala in late afternoon to watch sunset. Others told us that this is also an incredible experience if the weather and clouds cooperate.

The view of dawn from above the clouds is indescribable. It gives new meaning to it’s always darkest before the dawn. It’s a miracle that the sun rises each day—and in our daily routines we don’t typically have the opportunity to pause and reflect on that.IMG_6697 IMG_6707

When a blanket of clouds formed just before the sunrise, we thought that perhaps we had picked a bad day to visit. They do happen. We met a couple right next to us who had made the trek just a day before and it was so cloudy that they couldn’t see anything through the fog. But on this morning the most glorious sunrise appeared out of the darkness. Dawn above the clouds is an experience one doesn’t forget. I could live off this memory for years.

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The drive back down is just as magical as you marvel and wonder at the world’s largest dormant volcanic crater and the majesty of the sea off in the distance. Take your time and hike to the summit. Enjoy the plants such as the silverwords that only grow here.

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Haleakala means House of the Sun. There isn’t anything else like it on earth.

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Mele Kalikimaka

IMG_2717Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say on a bright Hawaiian Christmas Day. That’s the island greeting that we send to you from the land where palm trees sway. Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright. The sun will shine by day and all the stars at night. Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way to say Merry Christmas to you. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Nakalele Blowhole – West Maui

IMG_6487One-half mile past the 38-mile marker on Highway 30 heading north, you’ll find the Nakalele Blowhole. It’s about 1,200 feet from the road and 200 feet down to the ocean.

IMG_6493A more dramatic photo is possible, I am sure, but after seeing this sign I wasn’t a fan of standing too close to this wonder of nature. I admired from afar. This is a reminder of the power of the ocean—a lava shelf with a large hole the size of a grown man with pounding waves underneath. Wait, wait, wait and just when you least expect it…poof!

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Even from afar, it’s impressive. Always changing, it may seem tame at one visit and explosive, powerful at the next. Sometimes, the smallest of waves will produce a giant and furious splash and scream—a wonder to admire, from a distance.

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