Hawaiian Vacation

I just got back from an insanely relaxing and enjoyable vacation on the big island of Hawaii. I'd previously visited Oahu, Maui, and Kauai before so I was looking forward to seeing a new island. After two previous winter trips to Hawaii, I realized 6-7 days wasn't enough to relax given all the travel time so this trip was planned as a two week trip, only the second one I've taken in my life (my honeymoon in 2001 was the only other time I've been away for that long). Here's a quick rundown of stuff that was great and not so great:

Stuff that was great:

  • The place we rented was amazing. It's called the Zen Cottage and you can check out their website here. It was a quiet, calm place in an absolutely perfect location. If the photos on their site aren't enough, I filmed a quick walk-through the place and put it on vimeo here. I can't recommend the place enough.
  • Renting a house is a great idea if you have a small family with kids. Getting to prepare most meals at home (especially breakfast) makes things easy for kids and you don't feel like you're running around spending loads of money eating unhealthy food.
  • Riding a bike in January on smooth roads while it's hot and sunny was great. I posted some tips here and big thanks to Bike Hugger for steering me to Bike Works and giving hints on where to ride.
  • The big island really does have it all. Volcanoes, wildlife, rainforests, lava flows, black, green, and white sand beaches are just some of the things we got to enjoy. I took over 2,500 photos in two weeks and I posted my favorites on this Flickr set. I also shot about 100 clips and edited them down to a few minutes of various locations and activities here.
  • My favorite places to eat in Kailua-Kona were Island Lava Java (I eventually ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner there and it was great each and every time) and Sushi Shiono (which I found from this flickr photo). The best shave ice was from Scandinavian.
  • This thread about stuff to do in Hawaii on Ask MetaFilter lead me to do the hike to the southern end of the Volcanoes National Park to see the lava hitting the ocean, which was awesome. There are only so many opportunities to see the earth creating new land.
  • I loved Hilo. I took a side trip there and didn't expect much, since there aren't many hotels and it was supposed to rain non-stop during January. We found a great classic Hawaiian city with plenty of history, tons to do and look at, and it didn't rain on us once. The Banyan Street hotels are relics of a bygone era (the place must have been hot in the 1960s), but the recently rennovated Naniloa Volcanoes Resort was pretty nice.
  • Island Naturals is the big island's answer to a hippie grocery store and they stock all the good stuff you'd normally get in the mainland. They make great sandwiches too.

Stuff that wasn't so great:

  • Food at restaurants was generally middling to poor. I guess with a big captive audience expecting to pay top prices, you don't have to compete on quality. The first few days we ate at one lame place after another, all while they were charging $80-100 for lunch and dinner for 4-5 people. I eventually used Yelp and other online review sites to find better places to eat.
  • I was surprised food wasn't typically local. I know being on an island means a lot of stuff is imported, but the big island really is a big island (about the size of connecticutt) and the weather is perfect for growing pretty much anything. Aside from farmer's market fruits and vegetables we got, I don't recall having more than a handful of things locally grown or caught. Most fish seemed to be from New Zealand, eggs were from California, most produce was from South America. It was kind of disappointing that restaurants didn't push local food sources more.