Executive Editor Paul Martin has just returned from a two-week stay on Hawaii's Big Island, and he sends along his insider tips.
The view from Pololu Valley Lookout.
While exploring the Big Island for two weeks this summer, I got plenty of advice on the local sights—from the best place to view the current eruption of Kilauea Volcano (aboard a charter flight) to where to find authentic island souvenirs (skip the high-end shops on Kailua's waterfront and opt for either of the two open-air markets on Ali'i Drive—or better yet, check out the old-timey stores in any of the small towns outside the main tourist centers).
The best piece of advice I got was where to buy the island's prized Kona coffee, which sells for as much as $38 a pound in the tourist shops. Instead of shelling out that kind of money, I drove up into the hills above Kailua to the K Koma Store, a mom-and-pop general store in Holualoa along the twisty Mamalahoa Highway (+1 808 329 4011). The payoff: a cold can of guava-passion fruit soda and a bag of 100% Kona coffee beans for a more sensible $18 a pound.
And if you're nuts for the Big Island's other favorite take-home item—macadamias—you'll find better prices at the two Kailua open-air markets than in the tourist shops. My family and I learned how macadamia nuts are processed at the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company in Kawaihae (+1 808 882 1116), a 45-minute drive north of Kailua-Kona. Our guide noted that every part of the nut is used—the husks as mulch in the orchards and the shells as fuel to power the equipment at the processing plant.
If you make to Kawaihae, spend another half hour to follow Highway 270 to the Pololu Valley Lookout, one of the most scenic spots on the island. A steep hike leads down to an idyllic black-sand beach. Be sure to take along a bottle of water—and maybe a bag of chocolate-covered macadamias. On the drive back, stop for lunch or some ice cream in the funky town of Hawi, where the locals have wholeheartedly embraced the Hawaiian admonition to "hang loose."
Photo: Paul Martin