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Kona Update: Two more weeks, several day trips and a ton more photos

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Well it has been two weeks since my last post, and as of today, we have officially been here a month. We are beginning to settle in and every day this place feels more and more like home. Our new home. Yesterday I had the pleasure of experiencing the Hawaii DMV first hand in order to get plates for the jeep and a Hawaii ID card so we can start to get Kama'aina discounts at various places. Two and a half hours later I now have a first hand appreciation for what is meant by 'being on Hawaii time'. - Maybe I need to look for a government job here….

With that said, the people here are so stinkin' friendly. Everyone that we meet in town or encounter on some back country, four wheel drive only trail or just walking down the street is incredible. They all have stories to tell and will throw you a shaka as you pass. We are about as haole as they come - but so are most of the people on this particular island, and the few native Hawaiian people we meet are happy, friendly and genuinely nice. - Heck, whats not to be happy about. - they live here!

Over the last couple of weeks we have tromped all over the place, circumventing the island a couple of times and exploring its nooks and crannies. Our condo had a great book in it that we have since decided is really the definitive guide to this place. If you ever plan on visiting, It's called Hawaii: The Big Island Revealed. I highly recommend grabbing a copy off Amazon or from your local book store. They also have a companion iPhone app that is integrated with GPS maps and will tell you 'what your near' at any time. 

So without further delay - here is a photo tour of our last couple of weeks of amazing exploration. I even tossed in a couple of videos….

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This island is very diverse with cliffs, sandy beaches, green pastures, dense tree forests, and rain forests. Change elevation just 1000 feet and the climate, topography and views are completely different. Drive south around the Southern point to Naalehu and you would swear you were in an African Safari, crossing vast green plains with scrub trees. I swear I saw Simba sitting on a rock outcropping. The above pic is the Sheridan at the South end of Kona.


This is the road along Naalehu


Tree forrest near Hamakua - (North side)

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More coastline near Kona

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 There are gecko's everywhere here. This guy's name if Freddie. He lives on our Lanai and likes to hang out in the lampshade. - Colleen says he wears a lampshade on his head because he drank a little too much last night.

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We were recently down at the Four Seasons beach and there was a Honu (turtle) party going on. One of the things we discovered shortly after being here is the whole beach access thing at the resorts. All Hawaii beaches are public - so as a result there are beach access signs and paths every mile or so on the shoreline. Even in 'private' communities or between rows of nice beach houses. What that means for the private resorts is that they have to let you in, and give you access to their beach. All you have to do is drive up to the gated security shack and say, I'd like a beach pass please' and they will check you in and BAM - you're on their beach. Actually - they are all very nice about this and do a really good job of welcoming folks that are not staying in their resort. In the case of the Four Seasons, they also choose to place some of their really nice chairs on the public beach - so if they are not full (they never are) you can use them also. - Pristine beach access with a bar just steps away…. - what could be better.

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As the afternoon progressed the number of honu increased until they had a quorum. - I heard the resolution to hang loose on the sand for the next few hours passed unanimously.

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Jethro (my Jeep) arrived right on schedule from Matson so now we were able to shed the little rental car and really explore the island. There are lots of beach access areas and back country valleys that are four wheel drive only. - Although we did hear a good joke. Do you know what the difference between an jeep and a rental car is? - you can take a rental car ANYWHERE!  

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Next stop on our trek was Volcanos' National Monument. Madam Pele has been active here continuously since 1984. At the summit of Kilauea, the lava dome fills and drains as the eruption continues. After the Japan earthquake and resulting tsunami the dome emptied and the vulcanologists were not sure where the lava was going. It has since re-appeared and lately the dome has been so full the crater rim road is closed due to the sulfur dioxide levels in the area, so this is as close as you can get. At night we hear it glows - We had to leave but we'll be back for a night visit soon.

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Pano across the lava field

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The end of the road. Down chain of craters road at the end, you can still see where highway 130 was taken back by the island.  For a while they were maintaining it and charging $5 to pass but subsequent lava flows kept covering it again and now this way back to Hilo is gone - along with all the houses in the little village that used to be down this road. Currently lava is flowing from the Pu'lu 'O'o vent on the edge of the park property. The only way to see live lava flows is by helicopter, boat, or to hike several miles from here or the Hilo side of 130 across the old lava flow. After walking this lava field during the day I'm not sure if I have the skill to do the night hike… We might have to shell out for the chopper.

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Some street signs still exist - sort of….

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Hike in a bit and you can see remnants of the road.

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And very cool lava flow formations.

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The coastline here is steep, and very beautiful

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Arch at the bottom of chain of craters road

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Then - back across the saddle road for another fabulous sunset. This is the view from our Lanai - and it never gets old. I think i could probably publish a coffee table book with nothing but sunsets from here - every one is amazing and different.

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I've been keeping busy (when not exploring) volunteering for a non-profit called Advocats. So far I have helped out in two clinics and we have spay or neutered 218  feral cats. The organization has done more than 13k since 1997. More on them later in a future post.

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I have also adopted a feeding station for one of the feral colonies that live in town. About 20 cats total in this location I think. After cats are trapped and spay, their ear is clipped so you can identify them as such from a distance. Right for girls and left for boys (because girls are always right!) They are then returned to the colony to live out their life - but not produce any more kittens. Feeders monitor the colony for newcomers without clipped ears and if one shows up - notify a trapper. Stats on Oahu show this TNR (trap neuter return) program is humane, and effective reducing the population. They had more than 1 million cats and now estimate the population at about 300k. 

This guy (above) is waiting for me every night along with 3 of his similar marked siblings. In just a couple of weeks he has let me get much closer to him. 

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 We found this little girl at the BrewHaus in Waimea, although we don't think she was feral - as she had a collar and jumped up on our laps.  I sure miss my kitties in Colorado.

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Amazing colorings on this one. We named her Cloie.

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We had to chuckle at this one. - At the resorts the milk is on SALE for $9.99 a gallon. Most food is reasonable and commands about a 10% premium over what you would pay in a mainland city but perishable items and produce not locally grown is significantly more expensive.

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We found a great breakfast and lunch place just past Captain Cook called the Coffee Shack. It has good food and even better views.

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Next we stopped at Laupahoehoe Harbor. 

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Harbor is a bit of a misnomer. In 1946 a tsunami killed 159 people including 21 schoolchildren here. Then in 1960 another 38 people perished in a tsunami. Since then there are no more houses allowed and its not a working harbor, it is a park. The ocean here feels incredibly raw and powerful. Swimming is STRONGLY discouraged and I can see why. Our guide book tells of a Toyota barge that broke loose and dumped a bunch of new cars along this coast in 1985. The Lloyds of London insurance adjuster that came out to check it out insisted that his helicopter land on the deck of the wrecked ship. A rogue wave took out the chopper and him.

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Colleen captured this great shot from a safe distance. Mother nature is both execrating and a little scary from this 'harbor' - You really feel the oceans intensity here - and that was on a beautiful calm day….

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The color of the water is astounding.

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Time for another sunset. This one from the lanai of our new friends Debbie and Todd. - Their building is behind and a little higher than ours, providing for a completely different perspective and panoramic view of the coastline.

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The big island is also a Denver fan. It provides its own Kona version of a Bronco blue and orange sky.

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We have spent many hours walking along the coastline discovering sea arches, crabs and various other shore bound sea life.

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Including these guys that I have never seen before. They are called Helmet Urchins and have evolved to only have the bottom half of the typical 'urchin' spokes which allows them to be more hydrodynamic. (is that a word?) They can survive pounding surf without getting knocked off their perch.

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(not my photo) - they are brilliant purple and instead have these cool patchwork of scales where their predecessors had regular urchin spikes.

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Many people think Kona is nothing but lava rock and the few beaches it does have are small and not very nice. Not the case at all. Hapuna beach is a long crescent shaped example of a quintessential Hawaiian beach with beautiful sand, calm water, and a gradual slope that allows you to wade in for 40 or 50 yards and still only be up to your chest.

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And even though there were lots of people here this day - it never felt crowded.

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Along the Qween K highway, just north of Kona are several lava fields and thus lava tubes to explore.

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This one continued back for several hundred yards and had several skylights where the tube has collapsed above allowing for exploration without a flashlight.

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Here is the view into one of the skylights.

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Another cool area is the 'Queens Baths' at Kiholo bay. These are lava tubes that have since filled with natural springs. You can take a refreshing dip and if you want you can swim under the arch back for several yards to the next skylight.

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We were not bold enough to give it a try.but the water is cold, clear and full of little fish.

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Maybe next time - 

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Along the beach here the Honu are plentiful and just hang out in the shallow water.

Video of Honu at Kiholo bay

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The Paul Mitchell hair guy has a house here called the Bali house. It has very intricate carvings in the roof and was built in Bali the disassembled and shipped here in pieces.

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Put the lime in the coconut and drink it all drink it all up!

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Someone built a sundial on the black sand beach here out of white coral rocks and coconut husks. The metadata on my picture says I took this at 10:47 am - not too bad.

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Next up - the north shore of the island. Up North by Hawi is a great little four wheel drive path that takes you from the main road all the way to a green grassy bluff where a light house used to be. Now there is just a light beacon here. At this point you are only 30 miles from Maui and can clearly see it and Haleakala in the distance. The terrain here is very different with large quantities of very soft topsoil that just falls off the cliff and into the sea. Many signs warn of the danger and a few cars on the rocks below warn of the picnickers that did not heed the warning.

Here is a pano video.

Apparently when I shot this, I must have thought the area was 'absolutely beautiful'.

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The ground here is soft and squishy and covered with green grass

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The perspective in this picture does not do the place justice. It almost looks like a little cliff with small rocks at the bottom. - but check out the scale compared to the jeep on the far right.

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Also on the North shore is the Waipi'o valley. This is a stunning vista where Hawaiian Chiefs would meet to make important decisions and where Kamehameha I was hidden away as an infant. Lined by a black sand beach it was lush farmland but also devastated by the 1946 tsunami. Since then it has been sparsely populated by only a few people that live without power, water, sewage, TV or cell coverage. If you want to drop off the grid - this is the place. Residents practice subsistence farming and access is down a very steep (25% grade) four wheel drive only 1 lane road. Once in the valley it is lush, tropical and 'road' is more of a loose term.

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View back up the side from the bottom. Lots of waterfalls here and moss along with 100% humidity - Colleen thought it was more like 200%

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Most would call this a stream - 

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Nope - this is actually part of the road up the valley floor.


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There was a pretty cool 'parasite' tree down in the valley that was living and growing around another tree.

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One more sunset from our lanai for the road. Next up: We learn to scuba dive, try out the underwater camera, and hit the mountains for some star gazing on the top of Mouna Kea. I can't help but feel that we have just begun to scrape the surface of this amazing place. - check back soon - or subscribe to the RSS feed above for updates!



Kona Coffee 101: An Introduction


We have all heard of Kona coffee, but I knew little about the coffee growing process, and specificlly how labor intensive it is. We spend the day at a local coffee plantation and this is what I learned.

Greenwell Farms is a fourth generation coffee plantation started back in 1850 when Henry Nicholos Greenwell left England with his wife, and relocated to Kona to start a cattle farm. Coffee was a sideline business for the family, with only a few acres of trees dedicated to it on the land and the majority of the area was used for cattle ranching.  He would export some to relatives back in Europe. In 1873, Greenwell's coffee won a recognition diploma at the worlds fair in Vienna, and his Kona Coffee was now on the world map.

When he passed, his wife, who had no interest in continuing to cattle ranch, slowly converted the farm more to coffee and other fruit trees. Today, the fourth generation runs the 90 acre farm and has about 70 acres of coffee, 10 of macadamia nuts and 10 of random fruit trees, to include avocado, apple banana's, pineapple, and island oranges. - needless to say it would be hard to starve on this island.

Coffee trees are a pretty hardy bunch and grow like weeds, in very little or no topsoil, but they like the very rich volcanic rock. Taking a page from viticulture, in order to be 'Kona' coffee, it has to be grown in this terror, a section of the island about 20 miles long and only 1000 feet or so wide (in elevation). Not unlike a  vitas vinifera varietal, pure Kona coffee must contain at least 90% Kona Typica plant. In another interesting parallel to wine, a 1990 infestation of the rodi-knot nematode damaged many trees in Kona, and was solved using root grafting to a resistant strain. 

A coffee tree left alone will grow to 20 feet high, and mechanical harvesting still has not resulted in an adequate solution, due to the steep terrain and difficult landscape. As a result most Kona coffee is harvested by hand. Another reason its prices command a premium. To help facilitate this, coffee trees are cut - a process called 'stumping' ever three years or so (photo below) After a tree is stumped, it will not fruit the next year so usually a third of a farms coffee trees are not producing in a given season. Reason two its expensive.

A tree will bear fruit three or four times during a harvest season - from October to February. Fruit is harvested when the cherry is red. Wait too long and the result is bitterness.

These trees were harvested last a couple of moths ago and are just now beginning to show buds of flowers again. When in full bloom, the flowers are white and completely cover the trees - hence the term Kona snow.

 A typical tree will yeald about 15 pounds of fruit, which results in about 2 pounds of coffee, once all the multiple layers of the cherry are stripped away.

Once the cherries are harvested, they are 'wet processed' in a pulper that removes the bean from the cherry pulp.

As an interesting side note: this pulp used to be returned to the ground, but has recently been found to have extremely high levels of antioxidants. As a result t is now typically sold off to companies that will then juice the pulp, and turn it into a health drink such as Kona Red.

Once the coffee beans have been through the pulper, they have a green slimy surface layer on them called the pectin layer, that is full of sucrose. If they are not processed in a day or so, they will mold (yuck) and the flavor profile will be put off. In order to accomplish this, they travel down the PCV pipes, and get an overnight soaking in a big vat. This process is called fermenting.

Another interesting side note that I did not know: most coffee cherries contain two beans, and look similar to the two halfs of a peanut. Occationally (about 5% of cherries) however, contain only 1, smaller whole and round bean. This is called a peaberry. Initially thought to be 'runts' and discarded, the peaberries are now separated from the rest and when roasted correctly, produce a very good (some consider premium) coffee. - so its sold at a premium! I never knew where the "Peaberry Coffee' name came from…. now you do too.

Back to our little coffee story. Once the beans are done in their tub, they move to drying. they are laid out on large slabs and the sun kicks in and is allowed to naturally dry the beans. every couple of hours the workers use a rake to turn them and the moisture content is slowly reduced. - It''s pretty labor intensive to do it this way rather than use a mechanical drier. Reason number three Kona coffee is expensive.

Greenwell uses these cool little houses to dry their coffee beans. When the trade winds bring a shower, the roof of the building can be slid on and off (shown here in its closed position) to keep the rain off of the drying beans.

Finally, when the beans are dry enough, they head to a mill for processing. Here the beans are graded, and separated by size into several size classifications, that produce different flavor profiles. The peaberries are also separated at this point and the last couple of layers (the parchment and silver-skin) similar to a peanuts red skin is removed. 

Once processed and separated, the 'green' beans are then shipped to cofee suppliers who will roast them and possibly add other flavors, based on their particular specifications.

Our fantastic tour guide Keko, let us know that only about 1% of the total coffee market is comprised of Kona coffee. for Greenwell, they ship 90 percent of their beens wholesale to coffee roasters such as Starbucks and reserve about 10% to roast themselves and sell on the farm, so you won't see the name in stores, but yo can order it online from their website.

Our personal favorite is their chocolate macadamia nut. An A-M-A-Z-I-N-G blend produced with what else, local Kona chocolate and macadamia nuts.

Keko said that their farm produces about 250,000 pounds of coffee annually. If I'm doing the math right - at an average retail of $18-$20 a pound, - that farm is doing just fine, thank you very much.

Overall - a very interesting way to spend an afternoon in my new home, here in Kona. I would highly recommend the (free) tour, and the (not so free) coffee if you're in the area.

More random photos below.


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There is one section of the farm that still has very old coffee trees on it. These are about 110 years old. a coffee tree will last about 125 years, but apparently its yield will significantly reduce after about 25 years or so. As a result most are replaced at that time.

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these trees were 'stumped' last year and will not produce anything this year.

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Shot of the Greenwell Farm

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In the fall, during harvest season migrant workers from mexico also head here. its backbreaking, not very fun work so no one here wants to do it, similar to agriculture on the mainland. These are their bunkhouses. It takes 30-40 of them to harvest this farm.

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this is the old processing house on the property - very cool

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one of my new favorite things to eat on the island are these apple bananas. A local grown little dude thats about a third the size of a regular banana, and incredibly good.

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There are several different varieties of avocado here also - some as big as a melon

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A little baby pineapple growing near the old mill house

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This has nothing at all to do with coffee - but the hibiscus on this island - just growing wild and in random places is absolutely beautiful. 

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It comes in many different colors and we often find them just lying on the side of the road after falling from their plant. All you need is a hair clip and you're all set.

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I also like the fan palms in several places here. They are pretty cool.

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Again - nothing to do with coffee or the farm - this was just a random old dump truck that is sitting on Ali'i drive about a mile from our condo. Looks like it has been there quite a while!

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Aloha! - another great day in paradise.