Archive for September, 2011

Used: 2011

After the airfare and place to stay, hiring a car was the next thing on my to-do list. For some reason, it was just impossible to find a decent rental car company on The Big Island. Yes, it was peak season and there are few companies to choose from, but prices were just not budging. Not via a 3rd party (such as Orbitz), through my credit card (like I did last year and got an awesome price) or even booking directly with the companies. Prices were just out of control.

I am not even sure how I found Aloha Rents, not sure if it was in my guide-book or if I just randomly google’d Big Island Hawaii car rentals and this came up. Usually I avoid searches like that, so that is why I can’t remember. Either way, this company looked okay. It had lots of good testimonials and they didn’t require you to provide your credit card number with request, so I proceeded. Since I emailed in the middle of a week day, I got a quote back via email within 20 minutes from the 3rd party company as well as a confirmation from Alamo a minute later, quoting a price way less than anything I found anywhere else online. A credit card was not needed for confirmation, just to provide one when I picked up the car. And to email the 3rd party if I had any changes to my reservation.

The whole thing seemed a little weird, but than, it is Hawaii. I checked my reservation on the Alamo website and it couldn’t pull up my reservation, that I should check with my booking agent. So that was oddly a positive sign. I figured I would take my chances and go with the flow.

After landing and hauling ass to the outdoor rental counter at Hilo Airport, everything went smoothly! My reservation was pulled up and I was processed very fast. There was no one checking the cars for damage, but since I read a lot of horror stories about clients getting screwed on return, I walked quickly around the large car and found nothing wrong with it, even though the car had dew on it and it was parked in a dark lot. I knew I had a long drive ahead of me and wanted to get going, so I just left, fingers crossed nothing would come back to kick me in the ass.

And luckily, it didn’t! The car was fine and drove really excellent and had an awesome radio, so no complaints from me. On return, there was just a guy sitting outside under a tent checking people in. The car was wet from a morning rain and the guy quickly walked around the car and checked the gas and my card was processed, and actually ended up costing about 15 cents less than my quote. WHOOO!!!!!!! As with everything in Hawaii, the whole process was so super easy. My parents hired a car the same way, even though they got a car from a different company (but pretty much the same car, funny enough) and they had the same experience as I did.

Moral: As with everything, read your contract carefully. I know I always do. Aloha Rents rentals include in their agreement that you get two free drivers with every rental, but the company my parents used tried to charge them for an additional driver before my mother chimed in with proof on the printed out agreement and the company agreed immediately. Other then that, there was no problems with either rental car or company, thanks to the help of Aloha Rents! I would highly recommend them for any of car rental needs on any island in the state of Hawaii, though I have an alternative way to rent a car based on needs on Oahu.

Used: 2011

I had about 5 hours to kill in between my snorkeling trips, so I ventured into the town of Kona, since I would be spending the rest of my time on the Hilo side. I was a bit tired since I got up so early and was also not yet used to the humid weather. I spent part of the day napping in my car until I couldn’t stand it and had to find a place with a breeze or air conditioning.

I drove in search of Kona Commons but first came across the Kona International Market and pulled off the main road to see what kind of Hawaiian crap people were selling. I am a total sucker for stuff like that. I am good about not buying (for the most part) but I do love looking at it all. Most stalls were selling the same things over and over again, as what tends to happen in really touristy places.

I came across Trudy’s Island Arts which actually had some good stuff and not your typical cheap Hawaiian junk. All the stock is made by local Hawaiian artists and what seems like good quality merchandise. Trudy was very welcoming and while a bit of a sales person, didn’t breathe down my neck as I wondered around. The jewelry was beautiful and was actually temped to buy some of the pieces but I actually ended up buying a wine stopper with a decorative sea glass top instead.

I wondered around the market a bit more and got sucked into one of the random shops full of crap by the owner who teased me with the tasting of local jams. While I enjoyed the tasting and conversation with the owner, I am not really a jam person so I didn’t buy any. I did end up buying a packet of coffee as I was meaning to buy a packet anyway for some friends. I could have gotten probably a better deal somewhere else and I wasn’t pressured to buy anything during the tasting, but whatever. It’s not like I do this all the time.

Moral: Most tourist places sell the same things over and over again and they all are super kitsch. Even though I hate shopping and most places like this annoy me, Hawaii is on the few places that the same stuff doesn’t annoy me and I will still walk into every store and look at the same things over and over again and still find it interesting. But toss in something slightly different, like upscale local art, minus all the crap, and I feel rejuvenated and can then restart looking at all the crap again. How about you, can you look at the same things over and over again when you are a tourist? Or does it eventually annoy you?

Used: 2011

Since I was coming to Hawaii a day before my family, something I knew I wanted to do, but I knew they would is go some snorkeling trips. I had heard good things about “swimming with dolphins” on The Big Island and snorkeling with the Manta Rays get a whole write up in every guide book. I knew the latter was a must do! But I am always up for a dolphin swim and found Manta Ray Dives of Hawaii that had a deal that you could book both for a discount. So sign me up!

Of course, it doesn’t really matter which company you use as they all pretty much do the same thing, just see which is offering the best deal, either through their website or maybe your hotel or if you have time, check out the information center in Kona and see what deals can be held. I have no complaints with Manta Ray Dives.

I was emailed some sort of vague directions about where exactly to meet in the morning for the dolphin swim. I had to ask two people where I was supposed to be, as I actually arrived too early and was a bit lost about where I was supposed to meet the boat exactly. Luckily, even for the shiest of people (me) and everyone is so nice in Hawaii (I had to remember to turn on my New Zealand brain for that!) I had no problem asking random other boats and people in the area and found where I was supposed to be. Check in was easy, there are bathrooms at the dock to change and we were quickly loaded onto the boat and onto the water! There were only 12 of us in the morning and plenty of room to spread out with our stuff and sit or enjoy the upper deck as we zoomed along the shore in search of dolphins. There were a couple of other boats out in the water searching for dolphins with us and we quickly found a pod. They got so close to the boat! The pod wasn’t big and we jumped in the water for a bit and they actually got really close to another person from our boat! I love the water in Hawaii, it is so warm and clear, you could see straight to the bottom.

Blue and Blue, my favorite combo! Beautiful day on the boat

We climbed back onto the boat and zoomed around to follow the pod down the shore. I popped a ginger chew as I wasn’t feeling the best (they work really well!) and we jumped in and out of the water about 5 times all morning, trying to follow the pod. It was a pretty small pod and there was a baby with them, so I was surprised we even got to jump in the water, but each country has it’s own rules (you aren’t allowed to swim with babies in New Zealand) but apparently the pod was small for the day. We then road back to the bay where we loaded on, but before going back, there is a small natural reef were we stopped and had sandwiches for lunch (as well as all sorts of chips and candy provided throughout and a large cooler of ice water, my favorite!) and then could jump into the reef at our leisure to swim around and snorkel a bit. Not Australia by any means, but still pretty decent!

Snorkeling on the reef

Lava rocks into the reef

I had about a 5 hour break in the middle of my day, but I was so tired, I spent most of it, driving around the small (to me) town, a bit of shopping, eating and napping before heading back to the marina for the Manta Ray swim.

The manta ray swim was way more popular. There were over 20 people on the same boat and we were so squished in, that I ended up sitting on some stairs, so I could have more room. Everything was very well organized with little glow sticks attached to our snorkels, different colors for every boat. All boats vary on their floatation devices and lights provided and I felt my boat was very prepared. We had giant floating rings we all would hold on to and were given a waterproof flashlight to attract the plankton, which then attracts the manta’s. It’s such a professional endeavor that they have lights screwed into the ocean floor that go on when all the boats are there and the divers (you can scuba too) and snorkelers come around. And there are so many boats!!! In floating around as a group, you are continuously running into other groups, which got super super annoying, always getting kicked in all parts of your body. Luckily, you are wearing a wet suit, but after about 30 minutes you can only help but kick everyone else back. It got really annoying.

But ohmigod, it was so beautiful! All the lights swirling around, and the manta’s come around instantly, you feel like you are in outer space, but you are really underwater, it is insane. The manta’s are HUGE and just float around. They look a little scary at first, but if you look closely, you realize that they have no teeth and there is no way one is going to “accidentally” swallow you. It is crazy how close they swim to you! Between all the lights and the warm water and those crazy creatures swimming so close to you, it was an amazing experience. Since I don’t have an underwater camera, I don’t have any pictures, but you can google it, but it is seriously NOT the same thing at all.

Moral: Anytime I can jump in the water with animals is a good day for me! The dolphins were pretty cool and the manta rays were just amazing! If you are prepared for just how crowded it will be once they throw you into the water, you’ll be fine. I just love the water in Hawaii and am amazed by its temperature and clarity that I don’t have to be right up close to anything and I still have a great time. I really liked the company I went with, the crew was great and they seemed to be prepared for everything and the gear was in great condition.

Home Sweet Home. In Hawaii!!

Used: 2011

As soon as I bought my plane ticket to Hawaii, my mom started looking at vacation rental houses to rent. Since we knew at least my mom, my sister and I would be going, she thought it would be better to rent a house rather then random hotel rooms. She got the recommendation for VRBO from some friends who had used it in the passed and sent me the link for a house she liked. She is normally the worst at looking up places to stay in that she just emails the first listing to come up on google or whatever search she is doing and then acts all shocked when it’s book (you should have seen her when I was booking stuff for New Zealand during the highest of the high season in major tourist towns). When I search VRBO for listings in Hilo, this was the first place to show up, I’ll admit, I was skeptical. I checked out loads of other listings in Hilo and around the island and after about a week of searching, this house seemed to fit us best, so my mom made a reservation. And then extended it once she realized that she, my sister and my dad who also got in on the action, should stay at least an extra 2 days as they all had nothing urgent to get back for.

Can't beat this pool and view!

The house was fantastic! Located on the less popular but beautiful Hilo side of The Big Island, it was located in a residential track area that I liked to call Hawaiian Holiday Pineapple Park (in reality it was called Hawaiian Paradise Park). We had a lovely large deck complete with a private pool and hot tub. From the pictures, I thought the pool was going to be a doughboy, but when we arrived, it was permanent above ground and quiet large! It overlooked the ocean and dropped right into the sea if you ventured out too far on the lava rock shore. When the tide came in, the waves would nearly come over the lava rocks and spray into the pool. Every morning was spent on the deck, jumping in and out of the pool depending on how fast the weather changed, from sun to rain and clouds and back, all in the span of 30 minutes.

I'm walking on lava rocks, next stop: cliff into the ocean!

The upstairs and the downstairs were not connected, you had to go outside and use the stairs, which at first was kind of shocking, but not really an issue for us. It included three large bedrooms with full and king beds and two full baths. An open plan living room, kitchen, dining and day bed area filled out the main living area and it was just all around perfect. Sheets and towels and all sorts of toiletries were provided so all you had to do was show up with your clothes and tooth brush and you were set! Due to the full kitchen (and distance from town, which was about 25 minutes) we ate at home for pretty much all meals. Heck, we didn’t even really get started with our day until after lunch, which is just how I wanted to spend my days! My sister fell in love with the French Press provided and we had Kona coffee every day.

Large windows downstairs, letting in loads of natural light and a large lanai upstairs to enjoy the view, but take shelter from the daily rain!

Moral: If coming to The Big Island with a family, I would highly recommend renting a house or condo over staying in a hotel. I had the best time and loved staying in a “locals” area, away from all the hustle and bustle of tourism and the towns. If you don’t need to be waited on hand and foot and looking to save a bit of money eating (food is very expensive in Hawaii, compared to the mainland) you’ll get your own kitchen with a house/condo. And if you are lucky, maybe even your own pool!!

Hula Bear greets you as soon as you pull up!

Hostel Paradise

Used: 2011

It took me a while to figure out a place to stay my first night on The Big Island. My family wasn’t going to arrive until the next day and I knew my first day I wanted to spend doing some snorkeling trips over on the Kona side. The problem is, Kona is like 3 hours from Hilo. I had a few options. I landed in Hilo around 8pm and I could stay in Hilo and just get up at the asscrack of dawn to get to Kona by 8am. Or hire a car immediately after landing and drive 3 hours in the dark to Kona. I debated these options for a long time before one day I was browsing Airbnb and found a nice cheap hostel exactly half way between the two towns in Waipio, on the north part of the island. I immediately emailed the owner and asked about arriving late and he replied immediately and said it was fine so I proceeded with my reservation. A great first experience in using AirBnB as well!

This ended up being a great choice! After great directions and a quick 90 minute drive up from Hilo, I found the house easily, even in the dark. There was another guest staying there at the time, playing with his computer on the outdoor picnic tables that over looked the (dark) ocean and I said hello and thankfully he told me where my room was. There was a note taped to my door and I quickly gave myself the grand tour and made myself at home. I poked my head into the other empty room (and even the room that the other guest had) and decided that I liked my room the best, so that was a good thing! I took a shower in the awesome bathroom with loads of hot water and good water pressure. People have left loads of bathroom stuff, so don’t worry if you forgot yours, there is plenty there, if you don’t care what you use.

My comfy room, complete with towel sculpture!

Bedroom desk, chair and closet!

Bathroom, shower and toilet

Bathroom, sink

The place is super cute with lots of little touches. All the rooms empty out into a living area which has coffee and tea provided with all the utensils included. There was a tv, which I am not sure it worked as for the first time ever, I never turned it on and books about Hawaii and especially The Big Island scattered everywhere. There was a large fridge to store your food and cooking facilities outside which was just in the form of a BBQ as well as sink and all utensils. Bugs and frogs make nose nearly all night long and a bag of disposable ear plugs were on one of the nightstands in my room, in case you need them. Once all the lights were off, it was so dark, I loved it! There was no cell phone reception, but internet, if needed, which I didn’t use. The house is a bit old and once the wind picked up over night, the place rattled a bit, but that is just part of the charm of a place like that.

Lounge room

Outside "kitchen"

Outside "stove"

And the best part, your view while cooking and eating!!

After I had showered and was reading one of the books lying around before I went to sleep, Steve, the owner came around to welcome me and see if I had any questions and I paid him the taxes requested ahead of time in cash. Since I was really only staying about 9 hours, he recommended that I drive out to the Waipio look out before I left the area in the morning and he gave me the dead simple directions from the hostel on how to get there.

Come for the hostel, stay for the nearby view!!

Waipio Valley

Ohmigod, the view was amazing!!! Fun if you have a whole day, but okay for just getting out early in the morning and snapping a few shots. There is a shelter of picnic tables at the overlook to stay and eat which seemed really fun. Unfortunately, I had to be off! I stopped in the town of Honokaa at one of the few places to eat that seemed to be open, Blane’s Drive Inn, and stopped and got a plate breakfast. It totally cracks me up that an option for starch in Hawaii is rice but I passed on it at the take-away and got hash browns. I was such a tourist, but I love interacting with the locals in Hawaii. I forgot how much being there reminds me of New Zealand on so many levels.

Hike from Waipio Lookout to the parking lot. Steep, but short.

Bring a lunch and stay for the view!

Moral: A terrific welcome to The Big Island! A simple great, family run hostel that I think would be kind of fun to rent the whole place out when looking for a base to discover the north part of The Big Island. Also, to use it how I did as a great way to break up the drive from Kona to Hilo as it’s pretty much a half way point. Not 5 star by any means and not even your normal hostel, more like a cute little home stay. The whole thing is just so rustically Hawaiian, just be prepared for that and you’ll have a great time!

How Easy Was That?!

Used: 2011

When I get an airline route in my head that I want to take, there is little you can do or say these days to make me change my mind. Since I work a full time job, my schedule is way less flexible then it used to be and I’ll pay nearly any price to get what I want. Obviously, it’s all within reason but I’ll now pay a little more then the cheapest price if it’s the days and times I really really need.

After going to Hawaii a few years back and flying out Thursday afternoon and taking the red-eye back Monday night, that is the route I burned in my head when starting to plan my 30th (EKKK!!!) birthday on The Big Island. I kept my eye on flights and prices for nearly a year and had a price in mind that I wanted to pay. For months, nothing seemed to budge as my birthday falls during one of the many high seasons and I started to think about other options.

All of a sudden in February, a flight appeared on the new United/Continental merger that dropped the price by about $300 AND flew the exact times I wanted. I immediately jumped on and bought it. I was so excited! I actually found out later from my friend Melanie that this was a new route that they weren’t even starting to run until June (my birthday is in August) and I was probably one of the first people to buy it, about 6 months out. While still expensive and more then I normally would ever pay for a flight (hell, my flight to Peru was only about $70 more, you do the math on distance from Los Angeles) I ended up getting the best deal compared to the rest of my family and I was the only one who flew non-stop.

All in all, a decent flight. I am so not picky as long as I get where I am going in one piece with no delays. Terminal 5 at LAX is pretty much my idea of a nightmare (see my flight on Spirit) but luckily, it was pretty empty when my flight was leaving. Since it’s all holidaymakers heading from LAX to ITO, the load time for getting on the plane was one of the longest I have ever experienced. It took FOREVER! So many families with so much stuff, plus throw in people who rarely travel, oy. At first I got really excited because my plane was equipped with individual tv screens and for the first time ever, I was willing to pay the price to watch tv as the flight is over 5 hours. But if you fly often enough, you know what is coming. Once you get 200 miles away from the shore, you loose the signal. AGH! They stock the screen with other crap, but I was totally disappointed and didn’t pay for the service. Oh well. But everything was on time, so no complaints from me.

On the day I was leaving, I checked my phone for emails and this is the first time I have ever said this, but thankgod! for smartphones. Quiet early in the day I got an email alert saying that my flight was delayed over an hour. So I didn’t have to be at the airport until later! Yay for smartphones and email! Throughout the day, I got 3 more emails, moving my flight back and forth, but never back to its original time. Since it kept moving, I didn’t want to get to the airport that late. When I told my mom this, she was like, “ohmigod, getting to the airport so early, that has to be the worst thing ever” which is like the biggest exaggeration ever. The Hilo airport is AWESOME and if you have to be delayed anywhere, I highly recommend ITO. While there isn’t anywhere really to shop, the waiting lounge looks like your living room with comfy Hawaiian print bamboo chairs everywhere and there is no shortage of availability. Plus there are like no windows and you feel like you are outside in most of the place. So Hawaiian! The check-in counter was a joke as well. I was so lax about this trip that I forgot my e-ticket print out and when I went to check in, I stared at the screen for a minute before the girl behind the counter asked if I had any luggage to check (I did not) and even when I said that, she was like, let me check you in and I just handed over my id and she printed everything for me. Since Hilo is such a small airport, I asked if the Continental flight back to LAX was the largest flight they had every day and she laughed and said yes. Even at the counter, there was a sign that said it was only open a few hours a day because really, there is no point to be open “normal hours”.

If only this really was your living room!

I love tiny airports. No parking police driving around clearing out the arrivals and departures passenger area, you can take your sweet time loading and unloading. After check in, security was a joke. I mean, you do all the normal stuff that you do at all American airports, but it’s a little more casual. The guard checking id’s made light conversation with me saying “I know where your going” and not in a creepy way, more in a depressing, “your going home” type of way. And unlike big airports, it was quick and painless and not nerve racking at all. The whole thing took like 15 minutes, if even. The only other flights that leave from Hilo throughout the day are going back to Honolulu and there was a flight that was very delayed as well going back to HNL at the same time my flight was supposed to leave. It was delayed longer then mine and there was announcement made over the loud speaker, asking people not to leave because security was closing at 10pm and there would be no way for passengers to get back in after that time. I had to laugh, you would never hear that announcement at a major airport!

It’s the same plane that comes out earlier in the evening (that I flew out on) that turns around and goes back to LAX on the red-eye. The plane on my return flight was super basic compared to the plane I flew out on. Besides the ample leg room, it was just like a Spirit or Southwest flight in that there was no entertainment what so ever. No screens anywhere and no music in the armrests. It didn’t matter too much as the flight back is a red-eye and quiet quick, but I feel bad for the passengers who flew out earlier in the day who had no entertainment options at all! I love flying over water, the ride is always so smooth so I look forward to it, unlike the people who hate flying and are scared to fly over water, I actually prefer it.

Moral: Realistic waiting on airfares can be worth it, within reason. Of course, taking into consideration time in advance and season can make a huge difference. And always sign up for the delay alerts directly on the airlines website so you can know in advance if your flight it going to be delayed, though for most major US airports, it doesn’t make a difference as you have to get there hours early anyway. But for a place like Hilo, it pays off and alerts you so you can arrive later as it takes like 3 seconds to check in. Also, I had a pleasant experience with Continental/United as I rarely fly with them, I don’t really care that much. They kept me alert for all delays and that is really all I can ask for.

As expected, I am not ready with any proper posting this week. One thing I worked on last month, was a post for my buddy Brooke‘s website Her Packing List which she asked me to write about packing for summer in New Zealand. My first guest post!!! I couldn’t say no:-). I am like the worst packer, but I love making lists, so hopefully it will help someone out!

So as you can tell I survived Hawaii (not too hard) and Peru (a bit harder) and I took ton of notes and pictures which will hopefully fill this place with posts about topics big and small for a long time to come! And I am still not done with my adventures downunder! I have had a post in the queue about my trip to the Outback waiting for ages (super out of date now, I am sure, but whatever) as well as a post on all the jobs I held in Sydney. You’ll be surprised to hear which one was my favorite!

Depending on internet connection, I hope for the regularly scheduled posting to start again next week!!

Me on my birthday (hence the lei) in front of Kilauea Volcano!