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Many of you have been to Hawaii, but for those that haven't it's a 5+ hour trip from the West Coast. This can be a great opportunity to get into your "vacation" mindset and brainstorm with a travel buddy about all the fun things you want to do on your vacation! A dear friend always reminds me that a "good rule of thumb for travel anywhere is that you will likely never see all the wonderful places on a single trip! Finding a way to mix the short and nearby adventure with the daylong excursion is something of an art form. You never want to come home from your relaxing vacation feeling like all you did was rush from one place to another… that is NOT relaxing!!" He is SO right!!

The "Big Island" of Hawaii is my favorite and also the youngest of the Hawaiian Island chain that has formed as the Pacific Plate has moved across the earth's mantle. There is a "hot spot" that results in volcanos forming at the oceans' bottom and eventually building up enough magma so that it breaks the surface of the ocean and islands appear! A few million years from now, visitors to Hawaii may be able to visit a brand new island! The "Big Island" (so called because it is the largest of all the islands) is a unique mixture of lava fields and tropical paradise. It's home to the largest cattle ranch in the US… the Parker Ranch.

So, what happens when you take two retired but still "Type A" women executives and fly them to the Big Island of Hawaii? Well, after they arrive that first evening, they find a great bar and over some good wine, they plan their goals, set their priorities and then as you might expect in Hawaii… they "Book it, Danno"!

So by 8:00AM of our first full day in Paradise, we had walked a 3 mile hike across the beaches and lava fields AND we had booked our first 3 days of adventures: zip lining at the scenic Umauma Falls north of Hilo, a 3 hour open range ride complete with picnic with the Paniolo Riding Adventures near Hawi, and a Big Island Volcano Deluxe tour in the two front seats of a Sunshine Helicopter.

At 10:00AM we are on Hwy 19 for a drive around the island! We had received a recommendation for breakfast at the Hawaiian Style Cafe in Waimea. This is a small local place with a counter that seats about 12 and maybe has 7 small tables. In other words, there's a big line out front and you have to be prepared to wait. The locals are friendly and will visit with you and give you suggestions about everything! If you go there, you HAVE to order the pancakes, but realize that two of you won't even finish one of these light, fluffy monsters.

We had been told to stop at Waipio Valley Outlook, very scenic, and Akaka Falls, realized later we should have hiked a bit for the full beauty of the falls. A fun experience was following a beat-up old pickup with over 10 medium size dogs in the back. We had never seen that many dogs in the back of one pick-up, so continued to follow the driver when he turned off the main road. That made him stop to find out why we were following him. We introduced ourselves and inquired why so many dogs in the truck and he smiled and informed us they had been out wild boar hunting that morning as the dogs get "cranky" if they don't hunt at least once a week. We thanked them for stopping for us, letting us pet the dogs and bid them farewell and got back on the road.

We then stopped at The Pesto Cafe in Hilo for a great smoked salmon pizzetta, with not such great service. Oh well, at least we didn't have to tip a lot, but we left a "coaching note" for the waiter. What else would you expect two sales managers to do?

The drive continued around the island and we arrived at the Jagger Museum at Kilauea in Volcanoes National Park. It was very overcast when we arrived here, but the view out over the caldera with all the steam rising from the earth was fantastic. At times you could see how the fresh lava bubbling below would color the steam as it rose. We hoped to see the "real" lava on our helicopter trip. The last 3 hours home to Waikoloa were full of windy roads. The drive around the Big Island is definitely worth doing… once.

We awoke to a sunny, warm third day on the island and left for our zip lining adventure at Umauma Falls. On the drive over we had a great view of Mauna Kea and the observatories on the top of the snowy mountain (yes, even in Hawaii). I had done a "Sunset Trip" to almost 14,000 foot high Mauna Kea on a previous trip and would highly recommend it to anyone...if you get a sunset and not a lot of clouds. It was stunningly beautiful. One of those truly breathtaking experiences!!

Did I mention there were 9 zip lines at Umauma?! While D.A. had done this before, this was going to be my first experience! I have hang-glided and gone on a hot-air balloon ride, so was thinking I might be prepared to do this…NOT!! It's just downright terrifying that first time you jump off the platform into mid-air!! I don't care if you are strapped into a harness and clamped onto the cable. You're still going through the air at 20 to 30 MPH (or more if you're truly crazy) over treetops, valleys, rivers and waterfalls. And some of the folks, (D.A. included) will hang upside down for fun?! Now I have to admit that by the time I hit my 4th platform I was actually enjoying it , although I couldn't bring myself to do the upside-down thing… this time!!

We drove into Hilo again after the zip lining as someone had highly recommended the fish & chips at the Hilo Bay Cafe (by Walmart, not the bay!). They were truly some of the best we've ever had!! Definitely worth a drive to Hilo!

Day four was another sunny, beautiful day! We started for the north side and a chance to become "Paniolos" (Hawaiian for Cowboy)! If you have the time to explore downtown Hiwa, I highly recommend it. The folks at Paniolo Adventures are excellent and take great care of you. It's not just a "nose to tail" walk. You get to trot and canter, see some exquisite views from the high North slope and have a good picnic lunch. We were lucky and had some fun people in our 10 person party and enjoyed a great day riding and talking.

Dinner that night was the "Legends of the Pacific " Luau at the Hilton Waikoloa. Having been to several over the years, I figured we'd just eat and run. However, the show kept our attention, was informative and entertaining and we stayed all the way through. The food was also good, especially the pig.

Our fifth day was a relaxing morning as we had the early afternoon helicopter ride. We were just doing some of our best shopping when we got a call from Sunshine Helicopters saying that the weather was too bad and they were canceling the flights that day. While we had REALLY looked forward to this trip, we certainly appreciated them not taking us up when it might not have been as safe or as scenic. It's just another excuse to return! I have done at least three helicopter tours in Hawaii and can't recommend them enough. It's a good way to see sights you might not otherwise see and have an incredible experience doing it.

We made up for the disappointment (of the cancelled helicopter ride) with a trip over to the Mauna Kea resort and drinks at the beach bar! We were able to watch whales "breaching and blowing" off shore. It is thrilling to see a creature the size of a school bus launch itself from the water or a large tail the size of a car stand up in the water then slap it and disappear.

My final day on the island started relaxed and leisurely. The Kona International Airport is normally one of the easiest to fly in and out of. This was not to be the case on departure. After arriving to an usually LONG security line (over 300 yards) that was moving incredibly slow (even by Hawaiian standards), a Hawaiian Airlines representative, a petite woman named Shigeko, moved those of us from my flight out of the main line, into a shorter line. When this failed to get us through, she then moved us 1/4 mile to the United Terminal and after another "no-move" experience, she took us again to the front of the line. Then, after we finally cleared Security, she lead us across the Tarmac to the Gate we were to actually depart from! This determined woman made certain that we were all on the plane and that it departed only 5 minutes after the scheduled time! An incredible experience, but what I have come to expect from Hawaiian Airlines. Besides being a "Thank You" to HA, it's meant to be a reminder to always get to the airport EARLY!!

Whichever Hawaiian island you visit, there is always a good time ahead of you, but the Big Island remains my favorite!  

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