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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Some of you might be wondering just how how much spare change it took to fund our winter escape. Did we rob our 401(k)'s?  Spend our inheritances?  Mortgage the farm?


Below is a breakdown of our actual expenses from the eleven weeks we spent on the islands, broken down between "necessary" and "optional," and a comparison to the expenses we had before leaving the mainland.

Necessary Expenses:

Flights: $1606

This price included two one-way flights to KOA from BIL ($398 each), two one-way flights from KOA to HNL ($86 each), and two one-way flights from HNL to BIL ($319 each).

We might have been able to save some money on the flights if we had purchased round-trip tickets in advance. But we weren't sure when our daughter would be able to come out and visit us, so the one-way tickets gave us more flexibility.  As it turned out, it was far too expensive to fly her out to the Big Island anyway, so we flew over to Honolulu when she arrived.

Storage: $807

Three months rent on three storage units in Minnesota.

Food: $1540

$140/week, or about $10/day/person

We could have gotten through our time on the farm with little to no food budget. The farm provided some staples (bread, rice, beans, pasta) and whatever was ripe and they had extras of (mostly avocados, papayas and bananas).

Sometimes we'd also get some sweet potatoes or eggplant to toss into a stir-fry.  But basically they expected interns to supplement their staples with grocery items of their own choosing.  We would always purchase eggs, cheese, and whenever we could, grass-fed meat to supplement our pantry items.  We also purchased gluten-free wraps for Papa Bear as he has a gluten sensitivity and doesn't eat bread.

We did give up drinking coffee, as the good, local Kona coffee sells for $25/pound and up. 

We did routinely eat out Friday evenings at one of the local spots within easy walking distance of the farm. This averaged around $20 total for the 2 of us, and was part of the $150/week allocated for food.

There were a few times our food budget went over, for some special occasions like birthday celebrations.  When this happened we took some money out of our vacation savings to cover the expense.

Critter Care: $500

Boarding and hay expenses for 6 alpacas, 12 chickens and 3 house cats for 3 months.

Health insurance:  $890

Since I was still working we had no expense for my health insurance but with Papa Bear on leave of absence we had to pick up a copay for his insurance. 

Taxi & Bus Services:  $100

$30 from the airport to Kmart bus stop - we could have avoided this expense if we had been given better instructions (the bus runs from the Kona airport Sunday evenings).

All of our other expenses remained similar to what we normally spend on the mainland (cell phone, internet, car insurance, etc.)

TOTAL: $5443, about $500/week, or $36/day/person (including airfare!)

A single person without boarding, storage and health insurance costs who was willing to eat only what the farm provided and let's say $20/week for groceries/extras could have spent two months on the Big Island for as low as $1000 including round-trip air.

Compare to Minnesota Expenses: (for an 11-week period):

Rent: $1250/mo = $3173 (mo x 12 / 52 * 11)

Utilities: $250/mo = $634 (mo x 12 / 52 * 11)

Gas/Groceries/Misc.: $320/wk = $3520

TOTAL: $7327 or about $660/wk or $47/day/person

Optional expenses:  

Please note - our "optional" expenses were paid for out of our "travel/vacation" budget, which we created by setting aside money every month (normally about $200/month).  We've had this account for over 10 years and doing this has allowed us to take a fairly big trip every 3-5 years.

First weekend on the island, before we went to the farm:
VRBO Holualoa:  $245
Car rental 3 days: $91

Weekend in Volcano Village, Big Island:
Volcano Village Hostel: $115 ($25/night x 2 dorm beds x 1 night + $65/night private room 1 night)
Car rental 3 days: $145 (price increased over holidays)

Week with a car while friends were visiting Kona:
Car rental 7 days: $214
Luau: $60 x 2 = $120
Manta Ray Night Diving: $90 x 2 = $180 (+ optional video $40)
Surfing lessons $80 x 2 people = $160

Five vacation days on the Big Island post-farm stay:
Car rental 8 days:  $317
Hilo B&B: $290 (3 nights)
Waipio hostel: $100 (2 nights)

Six vacation days on Oahu with our daughter:
Car rental 6 days: $214
Waikiki Hotel: $180 (3 nights) (I traded in Priority Club points to reduce the $200/night fee to $60/night)
Waikiki Hotel Parking: $75 ($5/night discount with Priority Club status)
Diamond Head Parasail: $120 (for 3 people)
VRBO North Shore: $435 ($120/night + cleaning fee)
Glider Plane: $230 (for 2 people)

TOTAL: $3171 for 2-3 people (2 on Big Island, 3 on Oahu).

I hope this breakdown gives you some ideas about what you, too, can do with a little forward planning and a big dream, without breaking the bank!

Aloha -

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's hard to believe, but after 2 1/2 months of living in Hawaii we have officially left the islands.


Our last day found us with many hours to kill between dropping our daughter off at 6:45am and 10:00pm when our flight was scheduled to leave, so we decided to finish our circle tour of Oahu and drive up the leeward coast to the end of the road (where the pavement turns into 4WD tracks, a little out of league for our rented Ford Focus).

It was early morning and it was lovely.  Lovely!  I wish we had done this earlier instead of visiting the beaches in Waikiki, tourist-strewn and crowded.  The beaches at the end of the leeward coast were empty and vast and gorgeous.

Heading back towards Honolulu, we cut across central Oahu back towards the North Coast and followed Hwy 930 to the end of the pavement from the North Shore side of the island (where, no surprise, it turns into a 4WD track - the same one we left on the leeward side). 

Once again, just as on the leeward coast, the shoreline near the highway was graced by one gorgeous beach after another. We stopped at Ka'ena Beach near Dillingham Airfield for a picnic lunch and our last sunshine and beach time.

During our picnic we were entertained by small planes towing gliders up into the air currents above Ka'ena Point, the most western tip of the island.  We laid on our backs to watch them fly over us one after another, the gliders silent all but for the whistle of wind across their skins.

At long last we decided to head back towards Haleiwa, a small town near the home where we had been staying on the North shore. We hadn't spent any time exploring the little town as we had spent all of our time on the beaches.

Heading back down the highway, we happened to glance sideways while passing the airfield and noticed a sign on a small building on the airfield advertising "Glider Rides." It didn't take much convincing to turn the car around and go back to check it out.

A quick scan of the rates and time slots and we were soon booked for a 20mn flight. All we had to do now was wait for our glider pilot to land.

In what seemed like mere minutes, we were walking across the tarmac, helping our pilot pivot the blue and white glider aptly named 'Sky Surfer' into position and climbing in, Papa Bear first and me nearly on top of him.

{I didn't believe it when the pilot picked up the tow rope to hook it to our plane... it looked smaller than a water ski rope!}

Before we could even ask about the tiny tow rope, the tow plane was taxiing down the runway and we lifted off almost immediately. For about five minutes we watched as the tow plane carried us skyward, the coastline growing longer and the view growing wider.  Then our pilot disconnected us from the tow rope and with a small dip that made me yelp, we were soaring.

It is difficult to describe what it feels like to be airborne with nothing but a shell and 57' of wings holding you aloft while the western half of Oahu glides far below you, the surf-tossed shoreline stretching for miles, humpback whales jumping gleefully as you pass overhead.

Green mountains, turquoise water and white surf all vied for our attention as each turn of the glider gave us a new view of the land and sea.

The 20 minutes passed quickly and soon we were spiralling back towards the airfield, breathless and gleeful ourselves.

Another item crossed off of our Bucket Lists!

It's hard to say exactly what the biggest highlight of our time in Hawaii was... Manta Ray Night DivingSwimming with dolphinsParasailing

But I do know this - I didn't expect our last day on the island, with no real plan or purpose, to be so utterly perfect and give us one more amazing memory to take back home with us.

Which goes to show, the best days are always surprises.

A Hui Hou - Until We Meet Again!

In the interest of full disclosure, Papa Bear and C-baby and I are back on the mainland. But there were a few more really cool things we did or saw on Oahu that I wanted to share with you all.  So I hope you will forgive the tardiness of this post.

{Truth be told, all my posts from Hawaii were posted at least a week after the fact!}

After our three days in the Waikiki area, we headed for the fabled North Shore by way of the eastern coastline.

Our first stop at Diamond Head State Monument was an obvious draw, being one of the most famous landmarks on Oahu, and having admired it from the water during our parasailing outing.

Finding the park is easy - follow Hwy 92 out from Waikiki until it ends on Kalakaua Ave., at which point you turn right which turns into Diamond Head Road, taking you around the outside of the crater and along the coastline and eventually around to the entrance of the park.

Parking inside the park will cost you $5.00/vehicle and parking fills up early - we opted to park inside and they allowed us to wait until a spot opened up, which did pretty quickly.  Otherwise you'd have to walk a considerable way up the park road.

The hike to the cone's summit from the crater floor is .8mile/1.3km with an ascent of 560'/170m from the crater floor. I would have considered this strenuous prior to our two months picking jungle coffee and mac nuts on the Big Island - as it turned out, it was actually quite a nice little hike up.

The trail to the summit of Le'ahi (Diamond Head) was built in 1908 as a part of the coastal defense system. At the summit you'll find bunkers and a navigational lighthouse.  Oh, and an astounding view encompassing the city of Honolulu and the shoreline from Koko Head to Wai'anea.

A must see if I do say so myself.

The rest of the drive to the north shore was cloudy with spits of rain from time to time, some of the only rain we had seen during our time in Hawaii.  It suited the long car ride well, the mists giving the mountains the look of a Japanese painting, and gave us good reason to stay in our VRBO that evening and watch movies, something that had been nearly impossible to do during our stay in Honaunau.

Rested up after our relaxing evening, we were ready to hit the beach again. Even pasty-white-Midwesterners like ourselves have heard or seen glimpses of the famous beaches of Oahu's North Shore, and we were eager to spend as much time on them as we could over the next few days.

Although not swimming beaches per se (most of these famous beaches have very dangerous rip tides), we were not disappointed.  Watching scads of eager body surfers, stand up paddle boarders and regular surfers navigate 12'-15' waves - sometimes successfully and sometimes gloriously unsuccessful - was more exciting than any sport I've ever watched on TV.

Those little black dots are not ants, they're surfers.

There wasn't much to do over the next few days but soak up the sun and watch the wild surfing, eat from roadside stands and feed the wild chickens.

Tough life, I know.

Aloha ~

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Our second day in Honolulu we unanimously decided to visit Pearl Harbor.

This might seem like a no-brainer, but just as a back story let me tell you that nobody in my entire family except a couple of nephews and a cousin have ever served in the military.  Not because my ancestors actively tried to avoid it, but rather, they were in lines of service that were exempt from military duty - mostly farmers and teachers.

So although I thought I would enjoy the memorial from a historical perspective, I didn't really think it would reach me emotionally.  After all, I didn't know anybody who had served in WWII or any war thereafter.

I was so, so wrong.

I was fine through the short film you watch before you can get on the ferry.

I was fine on the ferry ride over to the USS Arizona memorial.

I was fine walking around the memorial, looking at the remains of the sunken ship barely below the surface, having difficulty imagining the harbor under Japanese attack - the chaos and smoke and fire, over a thousand men trapped for all eternity below the Arizona's decks.

And then we walked into the shrine room.  It wasn't all of the names on the marble wall, although that was certainly beautifully touching.

It was when I noticed the older gentleman in front of me. He wore a summery shirt like many of the other tourists enjoying a popular tourist attraction on a mild Hawaiian winter's day.  But there was a ball cap on his head embroidered with "USS Submarine Service Veteran." And then I thought I saw him shake slightly.  Silently.  Then dab his eyes with a cloth handkerchief.

That was enough for me. My eyes filled and my throat choked.  This memorial meant something powerful to this man.  I will never know his name or even what his story was - or even if he had been in the harbor that day or perhaps involved in the battles afterwards.

But it wasn't so hard to picture anymore - the harbor under fire, men trying desperately to protect their ships, to pull their comrades out of the burning, oil-slicked water.

Thousands died that day, with over a thousand entombed forever in the watery grave of the Arizona.

It would have been difficult to imagine at all, were it not for the silent tears of a veteran.

Aloha -

Our time in Hawaii is quickly drawing to a close. After two months working on the Big Island, Papa Bear and I completed a 6-day circle tour of the Big Island and then hopped over to Oahu to meet up with our daughter for six more days of bliss before we all return to the Midwest.

To celebrate being together again as a family we unanimously decided to cross one more thing off our respective Bucket Lists - parasailing!

After a quick Google of the available parasailing outfits we went with X-treme Parasail which offered a free trolley pickup near the hotel, to and from the waterfront.

It didn't take long to load the boat and head out of the harbor to the area we'd be sailing. The wind was picking up and the waves were getting choppy, but the captain was confident we'd have a good ride.  I was just hoping Papa Bear wouldn't get seasick as he had several times during our water-based activities on the islands.

Life jackets were handed out and a crew member helped us into our harnesses.  C-baby and I were first up and we inched ourselves backwards across the back deck of the boat wondering just exactly what the process would be for takeoff.

We didn't have long to wonder - we were airborne before we knew it.  700' above the ocean and gazing out over Honolulu is a sight we won't soon forget.

At one point C-baby pointed to a shadow on the ocean surface and asked what I thought it was. "Our parasail shadow," came my benign explanation.  "Oh.  I was hoping it was a whale.  Or shark or something exciting."

Umm... no sharks, thanks.

As part of the deal towards the end of our flight the captain slowed the boat enough that the parasail dropped slowly to the ocean and he dipped us quickly into the waves before gunning the boat and lifting us up again.

{Another good reason we don't want to see sharks below us, me thinks.}

The water was cold and exhilarating, our wet legs sprouting goosebumps on our wind-whipped legs. All too soon, the ride was over.

Our daughter went up again with Papa Bear and had another great sail. On their way back down they got a full body dip.  Off in the distance I saw a whale jump out of the water.

The rest of the time we got to enjoy watching one pair of tourists after another going up, up, up and away, Papa Bear doing his best to squelch his queasiness and me fighting a touch of my own. We were both successful, our first activity on water that didn't end up with him hanging over the side rails.

Both of us were happy to get back onto solid land again and fill our crops with the food that always magically aids my queasy stomach - popcorn.  Don't ask me why, but it works.  Every time.

After all of that excitement it was a no-brainer to lie around on Waikiki Beach for the rest of the afternoon.  The sun was shining, the waves mellow, the water warm, and the beach was packed, especially compared to the Big Island beaches we had enjoyed for two months.

But enjoyable nonetheless, as only a Hawaiian beach can be to non-islander escaping from a Midwest winter.

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy our Big Island Circle Tour posts found here:
Green Sands Beach
Scenic Hilo
Waipio Valley


Thursday, February 16, 2012

It struck me yesterday while watching a peacock trying to entice a peahen that peacock mating rituals resemble bad human dating rituals.

Below is my attempt at translating the encounter.

Cast of characters:
M = Male
DF = Dominant Female
NDF = Nondominant Female

M: "Hey baby, you're looking mighty fine today. How do you like my fancy feathers?? I preened just for you."

DF: preening, ignoring him completely

M: "I've been going to the gym a lot, too. You can tell by my awesome behind."

DF: yawn

M: "How do you like my new dance moves??"

DF: walks away

[NDF attempts to intercede and acquire male's attention]


[NDF retreats]

M: "Lookame Lookame Lookame!"

DF: "Walk away Martha."

DF & NDF: walk away

M: "Call me?"

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I didn't think our last few days in Hawaii could just keep getting better and better.  But they have.

I guess it would be hard to have a bad time spending a winter in Hawaii, despite the many challenges that occurred by uprooting our herds & flocks and moving everything we own into storage {except the critters of course} for three months.

After two months of manual labor on an organic coffee farm, we've been enjoying twelve days of sightseeing before we head back to the Midwest and resuming our hunt for a farm of our own.

Last week we visited Green Sands Beach which quickly became our favorite beach of the Big Island so far. We also enjoyed a scenic tour around Hilo and a few of the gorgeous waterfalls the area boasts. 

To top off our tour of the Big Island circle tour we hiked into Waipio Valley followed the very next day by a hike into her sister valley Pololu. Every new beach became a new favorite. Every new hike a test of our farm-honed muscles, strength and endurance.

The Waipio and Pololu valleys are like twin sisters, alike but with their own distinct differences.  Their main trails access the valleys from two different directions - Waipio from the SE (via Hwy 240) and Pololu from the NW (via Hwy 270).  Waipio boasts a 1000' descent over a mere mile of paved 4WD road {ouch on the knees - I had to walk sideways and backwards down most of it} which took us 50mn to hike.  Pololu's 15mn hike to the black sand beach is also steep and rugged but a walk in the park in comparison.

Both valleys offer breathtaking views from the lookout area preceeding the climb down. Both valleys showcase pristine green valley cliffsides and beautiful black sand beaches.  The beaches are large enough that even when there are many visitors, you will be able to carve out some privacy somewhere along the beach.  There are many surf breaks of various sizes for adventurous boarding and surfing souls.

We did not have time to hike over to the waterfalls in Waipio Valley, something we certainly plan to do upon our next visit. We did enjoy walking among the ironwood trees lining both beaches, scenery that reminded me of the pine forests in the BWCAW, one of my old Minnesota stomping grounds {therefore, near and dear to my heart}.

We loved both beaches, and it would be difficult to pick a favorite, but Papa Bear is leaning towards Waipio, especially when we come back next time and explore the valley further and locate those waterfalls I've been hearing about!

Happy Trails -

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy our Big Island Circle Tour Part I and Part II.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Driving around the Big Island of Hawaii it is difficult not to find something beautiful to stop and stare at, or a new beach to visit and a cool wave to dip your toes into.

Our drive around the Hilo area was no exception. It started out with a drive along the Hamakua 4-mile scenic drive, just north of Hilo on Hwy 19.  Look for the "4 mile scenic route" sign on the makai (ocean side) of the road which marks the beginning of this beautiful stretch of Old Mamalahoa Hwy.

Along this drive we stopped frequently to enjoy the 1-lane stone bridges, all of which were labeled "12 Ton Bridge," and pondered exactly which bridge was the infamous "12 Ton Bridge" folks jump off of, as none of them seemed to be boasting much water, despite the fact that Hilo is on the rainy side of the island.

Eventually we found it, the last bridge on the route, which did indeed have a large, deep pool below.  We opted out of bridge-jumping however, citing a fear of catching leptospirosis in the fresh water, something our farm in Honaunau warned us about.

{In actuality our fear of explaining to our family how we broke our limbs jumping off of a perfectly sound bridge was probably the real reason we opted out.}

Ua ka ua, kahe ka wai - The rain rains, the water flows

Our scenic drive led the way to a visit to Akaka Falls State Park, a 20 minute drive north of Hilo on Route 220, which ends at the park. We parked alongside the road outside of the park to avoid the $5/car parking fee, then paid our $1/person entrance feel to access the .4 mile/.6 km paved loop trail past both Kahuna and Akaka Falls.  When the trail branches, stay to the right to view Kahuna Falls first, as Akaka is more impressive so Kahuna will be overshadowed if you don't visit her first. 

Aside from the very impressive Akaka Falls with her 442'/135m drop, we also enjoyed the lush vegetation along the paved trail (much of which is, sadly, not native but rather planted years ago to create a lush, tropical jungle feel for visiting tourists). It is however still impressive nonetheless, and we were mouth agape at many of the gigantic trees in the park, including a banyan which had trunks on both sides of the Kolekole Stream which flows through the 65 acre park.

On our way back towards Hilo we stopped for what has become our new favorite tourist attraction - the local fruit stand, where Papa Bear has discovered the virtues of young, fresh green coconut. While he sipped coconut water I snapped pictures of my favorite tourist attraction, the Red Jungle Fowl, a pair of which were strutting around the fringes of the fruit stand looking for scraps.

The culmination of our day was spent wandering around the Rainbow Falls State Park, which is actually right in the city of Hilo itself. Here we happened upon our former WWOOF-mates also enjoying the park on their post-WWOOF-ing vacation with family.  Together we walked through the banyan tree forest and carefully climbed around the rocks on top of the waterfall. On misty mornings this 80'/24m falls casts a rainbow across the lagoon.  We happened to be there late afternoon, so we didn't get to witness this part of the attraction.  But it was well worth a visit nonetheless.
You don't have to travel far from Hilo to take in some amazing sights.  We spent the entire day within a 20-mile radius of the city. 


If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy our Big Island Circle Tour Part I and Part III.  Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

If you're going to be visiting the Big Island of Hawaii, and you're driving between Kona and Hilo, you really, really, really must stop at South Point Park at the southern tip of the island and visit Green Sands Beach (Mahana Beach).

If you've rented a Jeep, you can drive down the 12 mile paved road off of Hwy 11 and continue on past the parking lot to the rugged 4x4 road that will take you along the shoreline to the top of the cliff above the beach.

If you've rented an economy car, you will need to park it in the parking lot and hike in the 2 miles in on the 4x4 roads.  The hike is beautiful, following the lava rock coastline with ample opportunity to watch the surf crash and look for whales.

Either way you travel in, you win. (We hiked).

The climb down to the beach looks intimidating but is actually quite easy, with footholds seemingly carved into the cliff wall, and we saw several children on the beach with their families as testament to the beach's easy access.

There are warnings about this beach being dangerous for snorkeling due to the presence of a rip tide, but the day we were here (early Feb.) the waves were crashing but not seriously, and we experienced no current at all where we were swimming.

The beach is made up of black lava sand mixed with olivine mineral crystals and the effect is a dark green color which is only found on this beach.

The cove where the beach is located is breathtakingly beautiful and well worth the hike even if the beach were not so amazing.

We visited on a weekend and there were only handful of other folks there when we arrived around 2:00pm. We swam for at least 40 minutes before tearing ourselves away from the beautiful aquamarine waters and drying off a bit before our climb back out.

On our hike out, a local with a pickup asked if we wanted a shuttle out - for a mere $10/person.  We were in the mood for a little more hiking so we declined the offer and were glad we did when we saw a pod of whales off the shoreline blowing spray and doing tail-slaps and even the occassional full-body jump.

Not far from the Green Sands parking lot is another parking lot where you can stop and visit the southern most point in the entire USA.  We stopped there on our way back from the beach and were amazed to find cliff jumping platforms hugging the cliff's edge {um... no thank you}, and two kite-boarders getting some crazy air jumping over the sizeable waves {again, fun to watch but not on my bucketlist}.

After a fun day of hiking, sun and surf, we were ready to head back to our B&B room in Kurtistown and relax for the rest of the evening, a perfect ending to a perfect day.

If ever we return to the Big Island, South Point Park will definitely be on our "must-see-again" list.

Aloha -

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy our Big Island Tour Part II and Part III posts.  Thanks for reading!
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