The Teenage Tourist in Hawaii
Travelling at its best should always be an adventure. Travelling with a teenager is guaranteed to be a challenge. Sometimes though, as we found out on Hawaii’s Big Island, the quest to keep a teenage daughter amused and entertained works out great for a parent too.
Lured by incredibly low airfares to the island of our dreams, we left the hardworking father of our family at home and set off for the land of volcanoes and sea turtles. We knew there would be no shortage of cultural, geographical and underwater entertainment, but we were really overwhelmed by all there is to do on the Big Island of Hawaii. Here is the itinerary of the most perfect day my 13 year-old daughter and I spent there.
Up early in the morning to beat the tour buses, we headed up the highway into the mountains south of Kona. The highway is a driver’s dream road, winding and well maintained. The black asphalt, made of volcanic lava, runs like a licorice whip through cliffs lined with hibiscus and palm trees. After a pleasant half hour drive, we arrived at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, or Place of Refuge, National Historical Park.
Built around a turquoise lagoon, the home of royal chiefs or ali’i became a sacred ground when their bones were laid to rest in the temple. The pu’uhonua was a sanctuary for anyone who could reach its shores. Those who had broken the kapu or ritual laws were punished by death. Looking at or touching the chief, or even walking in his footsteps was forbidden as was refusing to fight for the chief – and there was a lot of fighting. If they reached the sanctuary, they could be absolved by a ceremony performed by the kahuna pule or priest.
A massive stone wall 15 feet high and 12 feet thick, built without mortar in about 1550, separates the royal grounds from the place of refuge. Reproductions of a temple and several traditional leaf covered buildings can be found on the grounds. On the day we were there a Hawaiian artist dressed in traditional garb was carving a massive 15-foot wooden statue using a rock and chisel. It will soon join other ki’i, wooden images, that stand guard over the temple and mausoleum. After completing a short quiz and taking an oath to protect the sacred site, the teenager was awarded a coveted Junior Ranger badge (also useful for holding up a pareau).
After an hour of investigating the site in the cool morning breeze, we were back on the highway to visit the Kona Coast Macadamia Nut Factory. Built in 1983 this quaint little factory surrounded by macadamia nut trees has just what you’d expect – lots of nuts! Prices are much lower than in Kona and you can even peel your own mac nuts (as they call them) on an ancient hand-cranked machine. The teenager got a chuckle out of this Rube Goldberg contraption. Check out the bins in the back with tons of nuts drying in the sun and be sure and pick up some of the chocolate coconut macadamia nut brittle for a snack.
A little farther north on the highway, perched on stilts with a view of the entire Kona coastline, is the Coffee Shack. The coffee you are served is picked from the Arabica coffee orchard that grows below the lanai, open porch, of the restaurant. We shared our table with a tiny green gecko, a symbol of good luck and we certainly felt lucky as we enjoyed the huge sandwiches made from bread freshly baked at the restaurant and the best cup of coffee ever. Their special homemade pastries and pies are also worth a try as everything is freshly picked and prepared. Watch for hang gliders floating down the mountain side.
What day with a teen would be complete without shopping. Our next stop was Hilo Hattie in Kona – a great place with reasonable prices for all those gifts you have to buy and inexpensive sandals that you forgot to bring for the rocky beach. There is a huge selection of Hawaiian shirts and dresses, of course, as well as fabric, souvenirs and beach wear. It’s a good place to pick up a couple of those surfboard magnets too.
Our last stop of the day was Kahalu’u beach just down Ali’i Drive from Kona. This spectacular snorkeling beach is loaded with dozens of different fish that seem to be completely unimpressed with the people who are so impressed with them. Endangered sea turtles also feel comfortable enough to swim in this large shallow bay and to bask on the surrounding volcanic rocks. From late afternoon to sundown, this is a great place to end your day. Picnic tables and change rooms are available as well as shady spots under the palms. Unlike other beaches there is also a lifeguard to watch over you as you bob around with your snorkel. Didn’t bring one? They’re available for rent on the boardwalk.
Of course, this day and our week in Hawaii was over far too soon, but we’ll be going back. There are many more adventures waiting for our travelling teen.