One idiosyncracy of traveling to Hawaii that I didn’t think about much in advance is the fact that they don’t observe Daylight Savings Time, with the result that the sun rises and sets a lot earlier than most summer visitors are used to (about 6 AM and 7 PM, respectively). This actually softens some of the effects of jetlag (you wake up very early, but that’s okay because it gets light very early), but it can limit some of your time for sightseeing. Also, because Hawaii is 10+ degrees south of even the southern parts of the mainland, there is noticeably less daylight in general in the summer than on the mainland. In general, expect to do everything – get up, eat meals, and go to bed – an hour earlier than you’re used to. I don’t think I slept past 6 AM any morning I was there, nor did I even make it to 10 PM any night.
All that to say, when I woke up at 3:30-ish my first morning in Hawaii, I was a little bummed! But by 5:15-5:30 it was getting light, and by 6 I was ready to head out and explore. I had an appointment at 9:30 that I was very excited about, but that was hours away and I wanted to explore first.
I set out on a LONG walk that took me all the way to the beach at the Old Kona Airport State Recreation Area.
Kailua-Kona was an interesting mix of touristy resorts, standard American shopping centers, humble local Hawaiian town, and old hippie surfer hangout. I can’t say it was my favorite place on the Big Island, but it was a fun introduction to Hawaii. If I had to do it over again, I would only stay one night here instead of two and continue on to Captain Cook the next day… but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I jumped in the car and drove a little ways down a beautiful stretch of coast. For the first time, but far from the last, I was struck by how easy and commonplace it is there to drive from sea level to 2000 ft/610 m and back, all in the space of 20 minutes or so. That wasn’t something I had ever experienced before. After winding up the hills, I arrived at my first appointment, a tour of a cocoa orchard! This was my first real Hawaii experience, and boy was it something special. A small group got a 90-minute guided tour of an orchard – actually containing far more than cocoa, including coffee, macadamia nuts, avocados, and bananas, which I learned are technically not a tree but an herb. We also got gourmet chocolate tastings and once-in-a-lifetime experiences like cracking a macadamia nut, picking a cocoa pod off a tree, bashing it open, and eating the seeds and pulp, all for $25!
The tour, by the way, was very informative, talking about the history of cocoa and coffee farming in Hawaii, the process of growing and picking them, and extracting the cocoa and roasting the coffee beans. The chocolates was delicious (I later bought some at their store in Hilo), the cocoa seeds weren’t, but who cared? It was wild – I was absolutely agog at all the plants and crops I had never seen before and the sheer coolness of the experience. I highly, highly recommend it.
Let me say a word about the climate in that area. I mentioned a while ago that driving along the coast, you constantly and easily weave up and down between sea level and a couple thousand feet. Well, as you do, the climate changes quite a bit, far more than it does on the mainland. Sure, on the mainland temperature drops as elevation increases, but you still have cities at 2000+ feet that get roasting hot (Midland, TX; Tucson, AZ)… but not in Hawaii. While it might be warm and sticky down on the coast (though never horribly hot and oppressive like the South in summer), go up 2000 feet and it’s a paradise. Cool, green, lush… and apparently perfect for growing coffee.
So, after the cocoa orchard tour, I went practically next door to tour a coffee farm at Buddha’s Cup. It was fun (we got to ride around and take curves alarmingly fast in a beat-up open air old jeep) and cool to see the different terraces and levels of coffee growing, but it was kind of just a retread of what I had seen and learned in the cocoa orchard.
I did see some more alien-looking plants!
And try unsuccessfully to get some beautiful macaws to talk to me.
I was elated after my first morning of adventures in Hawaii! Stay tuned for my next escapades!