KONA, HAWAII — Turns out traffic in paradise can be hell. After a breakfast of French toast made with Punalu’u sweet bread, caramelized apples and cinnamon gastrique, we stopped at Costco to pick up supplies.
Our plane neighbor had told us Costco is the lifeline for everyone on the island, and it was packed with people, many pushing carts piled high with crates of staples. We bought a case of local Aloha Maid soda pop, a dozen monster muffins, a six-pack of salami and provolone and two dozen pretzel buns — even if we had to give most of it away, it still would save us money. For lunch, we bought a half-pound of garlic-sesame shrimp.
Our tipster also had said the Kona-Kailua pier was worth seeing and has good snorkeling, so we were trying to have our lunch there. On the way, we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, and we could find no parking near the pier after the car ahead of us took the last parking spot — was it Friday the 13th already?
Taking the scenic coastal road, we drove through a strip of tourist traps and resorts. In Waikiki, the resorts are on one side of the main drag, and the other side is all public beach. Here, the resorts are right on the beach, and we felt squeezed amid so much development. We eventually found a place to park alongside Honl’s Beach on Ali’i Cove and had a pleasant lunch on the sand under a tree.
We continued south on Highway 11. Our tipster had mentioned a great fruit stand with smoothies just outside Captain Cook, and when we saw one, we stopped.
It wasn’t the right stand, but the cheerfully pushy owner wouldn’t allow us to leave without trying most of his wares — ginger lemonade, half a lilikoi (passion fruit), fresh coconut with lilikoi butter, a peaberry coffee bean covered with Belgian chocolate, a slice of perfectly ripe avocado and some “pog” juice, or passionfruit-orange-guava. We left with some mango lip balm and three of the juiciest oranges we’d ever had, for which we paid a grand total of $1.
The South Kona Fruit Stand was a few miles farther, so we stopped for smoothies. By then, Beth had developed a taste for the tangy lilikoi, so she had a pineapple lilikoi smoothie, and that turned out be the right choice.
Further along, a little off the main highway, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historic Park includes the Place of Refuge. If a commoner committed a sin, such as casting his shadow on one of the ali’i, or royals, he could be sentenced to death. But if he could flee and make it to the Place of Refuge, he could be forgiven by a priest and, after a few days, go home.
The oceanfront site also was used for relaxation by the chiefs. Stones still show the pockmarks on which white and black stones once rested, part of a checkers-like game that taught strategy skills.
The refuge is where condemned escapees could find shelter and hope for forgiveness from the royals living next door.
Next to the park is Two-Step Beach, a well-known snorkeling site (if only we had brought our snorkel gear instead of extra clothing and programming books — a thought that would haunt us more than once in following days).
We reached our day’s destination, Ho’okena Beach Park, shortly before sunset. Both our B&B host and a nearby store clerk had raised eyebrows when told we planned to camp there, and the clerk called us “hard core,” which puzzled us.
But the vibe was mellow, and the beach was gorgeous. We picked out a site on the sand at the base of a cliff, under a tree with large, curling red leaves. Someone was playing reggae music, and people moved slowly around the beach, from grill to picnic table, as the sun set and the nearly full moon rose. When everyone fell silent around 8 pm, and we could hear only the lapping of waves, we knew this place would be fun.