The Aloha State and I are becoming good friends as I’ve spent a fair amount of time there during the last few years.
Admittedly, most of that time has been on Oahu, but this latest trip included my first visit to Big Island (aka the island of Hawaii). Big Island is a place I’ve long wanted to explore because I’ve heard a lot about the awesome farms, ranches, and artisans.
Our timing couldn’t have been better because the volcano, Kilauea, started erupting the day we landed. I rallied the troops and we geared up for a 5-hour hike to check out the lava. True to the laidback style of Hawaii, there wasn’t much regulation of the flow site beyond the few signs you see above.
It was a strenuous hike over the lava flow that looked like something from the dark side of the moon, but it was well worth it. Sure, I was freaked out that I was walking across liquid magma and that it was hotter than an oven but it was an experience I wouldn’t have missed.
It wouldn’t be a trip to the Big Island without a few outdoor adventures. The place is teeming with amazing things to check out from waterfalls and shore breaks to mountains. My brother-in-law went to high school on the island and always talked about Waipio Valley so it was high on my must-see list. Waipio was one of the most magnificent sights I’ve seen and is a treasured place with a history dating back to the Hawaiians who used the land for taro farming.
We ventured there to play in the shore break, check out some of the wild horses, and see if we could hike back to Hi’ilawe falls, which are so breathtaking that songs have been written about them.
Fate would have it that we met the unofficial mayor of Waipio, Lio, whose grandfather had written the song about Hi’ilawe and whose property abutted the waterfall. He let us on his land and led us to the river crossing that began our hike. Then, for over an hour, we swam through rapids, scrambled the riverbed rocks, and scaled the face of a few treacherous mini cliffs.
Along the way, we passed tons of taro, ginger, coffee, and mountain apples, and we got a glimpse into the way Hawaii used to be. It was well-worth the risky hike because, in the end, we found ourselves at the base of a jaw-dropping 1,400-foot waterfall.
WORTH CHECKING OUT
DRINK local beer and listen to local music: Big Island Brewhaus
From there, we headed up to Waimea on the north side of the island. This place is like a Hawaiian version of a Big Sky country with enormous blue skies, rolling green pastures, and lots of ranches.
Most of Hawaii’s cattle is raised on the nearby ranches by ranchers and the remaining Hawaiian cowboys, aka paniolos. Our friend who lives up there is as rugged and outdoorsman as they come and showed us the ropes, which began with a stop at Big Island Brewhaus.
The brewmaster, Tom, used to work at Maui Brewing Company and he’s not afraid to experiment with different flavors and styles. The Overboard I.P.A. was a winner as was the Red Giant, but, in keeping with my love for Belgian-style beers, my favorite of the night was the dark farmhouse style, Dark Sabbath.
EAT Hawaii comfort food and malasadas: Tex Drive In
After our epic waterfall hike, we stopped by Tex Drive-In for some Big Island-style plate lunch. Now, plate lunches are served all over the state but all the servings on the Big Island are, like the island, bigger than everywhere else.
My friends tried the classics like the loco moco and the burger, but I ordered the Korean Fried Chicken. Seeing as I live close to LA’s Koreatown, I’ve had a fair amount of K.F.C. but this stuff was seriously some of the best. Crispy, slightly sweet, and spicy, we polished off the plate without a second thought.
We then ordered the malasadas (think Portuguese pao doce or yeasted donuts rolled in sugar) to top off the meal. Though they didn’t edge out Oahu’s famous malasada joint, Leonard’s, they were warm, doughy, and just what I needed.
EAT responsible burgers with local ingredients: Village Burger
Our friends who live in the area were insistent that we stop by Village Burger before leaving Waimea and I was very glad we listened. Big Island has a slew of cattle ranches — with most of them based in Waimea — so Village Burger gets the meat direct from the ranch.
Most of the other ingredients are also direct from the source since all sorts of great produce is grown on Big Island. I got the local Kahua Ranch burger with local avocados, tomatoes, and goat cheese and topped the meal off with one of their — in their words –¬ù chocolate, chocolate, chocolate shakes.
It was a commitment of a burger but it was so delicious that it made me happy. Very, very happy and, a few minutes later, very sleepy from the fast-approaching food coma.
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Opening photo by Natalie Jeffcott