P is for Pu’uhonua

My plan to see the world from A to Z continued in 2017. When I started the plan in 2001, I had two rules: Don’t go back to places you’ve been before (at least as part of the A to Z plan), and wherever you go, it must be outside the 48 contiguous United States.

Pu'uhonua O Honaunau

Checking in at Pu’uhonua O Honaunau

As I considered where to go for “P,” I realized my desire to go to Hawaii (I had never been) could easily meet those rules … and there are LOADS of “P” places in Hawaii. I settled on Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, a National Park on “the big island” known as place of refuge to ancient Hawaiians. We chose our dates, booked our airfare and found a hotel.

We arrived in Kona late afternoon, grabbed the rental car and headed to the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha Beach Resort, settling into our room with a gorgeous view of the lagoon and Kailua Bay. Ali’i Drive beckoned as the sun started slipping lower in the sky.

Tropical Drink

A tropical drink our first night in Hawaii

We wandered the coastal roadway and looked for a dinner destination, settling on Foster’s Kitchen with a view of the ocean and the taste of Ono, the fresh catch of the day. It was late by our body clocks, so we headed back to our comfy bed to settle in for a good night’s sleep ahead of plans for an early showtime for our Dolphin/Snorkel Cruise.

Somewhere around 2 am, the sound of howling wind woke us up and we marveled at an overnight storm stirring up huge waves in the bay and tossing-about the palm fronds in the trees that line the lagoon. About 6:30, the phone range with the news that the storm meant the Dolphin/Snorkel Cruise was cancelled. The girl on the line was friendly, apologetic and happy to reschedule our cruise for the next morning. That was no problem for us … we could swap our plans and spend the day exploring the island, visiting Pu’uhonua and making our way to the volcano in the hopes of seeing flowing lava.

Flooded roads

Flash floods had us remembering, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” … so we did.

Less than five miles up the road, we turned around. Flash flooding left us seeking an alternate route in the now torrential rain. We laughed about the diversion and drove the 45 minutes to the National Park.

Rainy day

Don’t let the rain ruin your vacation! It’s just water.

We learned the rain was not typical when we found Pu’uhonua closed (we learned the next day that employees couldn’t get to work because of dangerous driving conditions). Not to worry, we snapped a few pics in the rain and headed back to KaiKona.

The rain eased. We wandered through the town, upgraded to front table seating for our Luau in the evening and sipped a few tropical cocktails.

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The Island Breeze Luau receives rave reviews online and it was, indeed, a fun, entertaining event. We were taken on a virtual tour of the South Pacific through dance and food. I even tried poi the way the Hawaiians eat it and was pleasantly surprised at how tasty it can be.

Morning two dawned with calm winds on the lagoon and the early sun peaking over the horizon. When the phone rang just after 6:30, I guessed it was Alia calling to confirm our rescheduled cruise. Unfortunately, she warned of high surf and let us know the cruise was once again cancelled. We’d looked at the calm lagoon without checking the far side of the bay where HUGE waves were pounding the sea wall. No problem! We got an early start and headed for the far side of the island and Volcanoes National Park.

On the way, we stopped at Pu’uhonua, chatted with the rangers and marveled at a 95-year-old, third-generation Hawaiian man weaving palm leaves into bowls, crowns and fun little fish. He gave me a crown and a bowl suggesting he would be offended if I refused his gift. We left a substantial tip in his jar, thanked him profusely and hopped back in the Jeep.

Na'alehu

Snack stop at the Southernmost town in the USA.

We’d mapped out the back-roads route to Volcanoes and were delighted to find ourselves cruising through little villages pushed right up against the sea wall. Lava flows now hardened into rock, lush green foliage, brightly colored tropical flowers and expansive views filled our drive. We stopped in Na’alehu where a farmer’s market was in full swing. A few minutes of wandering had us marveling at the delicious flavors of a cinnamon roll made with dehydrated banana strips instead of dough and crunching on teriyaki smoked almonds. We popped into the Punalu’u Bake Shop, which bills itself as the southernmost bake shop in the USA, for malasadas. From there it was a quick drive to Volcanoes.

Volcano steam vents

Steam flowing out of vents on the volcano

What a site to behold! Lava fields, smoking steam vents, everything we had hoped for! With plenty of time, we drove the 38-mile round trip Chain of Craters Road to see the Hōlei Sea Arch. The high surf that canceled our snorkeling trip pounded the sea wall with thunderous explosions of water and sea spray. We stared in amazement at the power of Mother Nature. The foggy mist lifted as we made our way back to the highway, revealing brilliant colors as the sun set.

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The sea arch was taking a beating from the waves

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Waves crashing against the rocks

We enjoyed a classic Hawaiian pizza for dinner and packed before falling asleep to the sounds of waves gently kissing the shoreline of the lagoon outside our window. Our exceptionally brief Hawaiian vacation did exactly as we had hoped – left us both wanting more. If you haven’t experienced Hawaii, what are you waiting for? After all, it’s one of the magnificent places in a whole world out there, just waiting to be explored.