We fly to the Big Island. I am pleased to finally be able to pronounce a place name. We collectively decide that I would never be able to live on Kauai because I cannot say it correctly. We are sad that here there are no free roaming chooks which give an island that run down, lay back feel of Kauai. The inter island airports are small and have a sixties feel. The furniture is retro cool, the floors spanking polished vinyl.
In Hilo we are on a mission to buy Graham’s Kanile’a ukulele before finding the Cliff House further up the coast. Hilo has a rundown, Cuban feel to it. The weatherboards are harassed and shops disheveled. Flaky paint and uneven sidewalks. No Honolulu high-rise, no condos. It is altogether a different, better feel than Waikiki.
The music store is perfect. A ukulele paradise. Floor to ceiling instruments. The storeowner has a sister who lives in Fremantle. He has been around. He’s played and drunk with ACDC, back in the day. Now he’s sober. He advises on the best instrument for Graham while we all have a strum and a pluck. A concert Kanile’a is chosen made of solid koa wood. He restrings it for a left-hander. We ask him for his recommendation for somewhere to eat lunch and have a great meal, although slow, at Ocean Sushi in Keawe Street.
We have a bit of a drive to the Cliff House in the Waipio Valley. The drive is lush and tropical, a reminder of Northern New South Wales. We collect the keys from the Art Gallery and make our way to our accommodation down a grass driveway, past another house and a paddock with two chestnut horses. The host has prepared the house with fruit and chocolates and a pantry with many essentials. The view is so magnificent that we decide to stay in for dinner and cook on the BBQ. We ring Richard, the owner, and he suggests we drive into the town shop for some Spencer steak. After all the Big Island is known for its ranches and herds of beef cattle.
The house is all-alone on the cliff face. It stands on stilts, a twelve-step haul for Graham, but is on the level once inside. A verandah faces the ocean and the sitting room has an enormous six-foot square window that frames the Pacific Ocean hundreds of feet below. Whales can be seen often from this vantage but we are staying at the wrong time of year. There is mist and storms further out to sea and the horizon is smudged and indistinct. There is the distant sound of the ocean on the shoreline below. The valley is an ancient, sacred place for the Hawaiian people.
We feel privileged and lucky to have found this special place. Everyone who stays here feels the same. Reading through the visitors book are the oohs and ahs of welcomed travellers. Graham is straight away on his ukulele. It is an instrument suited to him. Easy to hold, to carry, to transport. It makes you smile. It is happy, joyful, friendly. Jasper is writing an adventure tale, based roughly on the travelling he has done so far. It has vomiting in it.
We have homemade fruit salad for breakfast made from all the in-season fruit left to us by the owner. Pawpaw, pineapple and banana. We are driving today around the Northern part of the island and will check out some beaches. First Jasper and Graham do a hike down to a black-pebbled beach while I read Joyce Carol Oates in the car. I watch as car after car stops and people pile out to do the trek and then return sweaty and red faced an hour or so later. We have lunch in a small town, green mango salad and chicken kebabs.
The beaches give the impression the hotel and condo complexes that line the coast privately own them but they can be accessed. We can get reasonably close and then Graham piggybacks me the final way across the sand and into the ocean. It looks like he is about to dump me on a rock submerged beneath the surface as my unspectacled eyes detect a dark shadow. But then a mottled head appears and we realise we are right next to a giant sea turtle slowly making its way along the coast. The ocean is clear and warmer than we are used to back home. The swell is gentle and mild.
The sand cannot compete with the pristine whiteness we are used to and take for granted. Here the world is new, geologically speaking, and the sand still fresh from its volcanic beginnings.
We check out some other beaches and stop on our way home at an art gallery to see a famous painting by Herb Kane of Captain Cook and his landing on the Big Island. We stop at the supermarket and are appalled at the lack of quality fresh produce, but then again we are only in need of Spencer steak, potatoes, onions and red wine before driving back to our cliff house for another night of BBQ and ukulele on the verandah. Jasper has made friends with the horses and we need a carrot to hand feed. A horse quality carrot can be purchased, luckily. As well as the much needed exercise notebook to write his adventure story. Leaving the car park the Stop sign reads Whoa.
We leave the next morning and on the way out of town have the local Hawaiian donuts so heavily commented on in the guidebook and visitors book. Plain with cinnamon sugar voted best.
We are heading for Volcano, the other side of the island, and are going to stop at Kealakekua Bay where Captain Cook met his death. We take a long road down towards Napoopoo pier to a car park where some locals have kayaks that they hire out to tourists. Kayaking across the bay is the only way to reach the secluded spot where the Hawaiians bludgeoned Captain Cook to death and where also some of the best snorkeling can be done. Jasper is both cautious and eager. You can see the tug inside him. Yes I want to see what Dad’s talking about, his interest in Captain Cook’s voyage spurred on by recent readings on this Hawaii trip, but the look of the choppy ocean in the bay and the dots that the kayaks turn in to as they disappear across the water holds his enthusiasm back. But Graham gives him no time to focus on why not. They are out of the car, they have warm gear in a waterproof bag, and they are off.
They are dumped in the ocean off the jetty and are paddling. Jasper sits in front, Lord Muck and Graham paddles from behind. I watch as the orange boat bobs along across the bay. I get a wave. Beside me in the car park various pick-ups come and go. Locals have a few kayaks they must try and rent out in between beers. More men, more beers. Special hand shakes. Fuckn this, Fuckn that. Board shorts, cap backwards, tight brown belly. Islander life. The man who Graham got his kayak from comes to check on me, like he’s concerned for me amongst the swearing locals. Xcuse me Ma’am, you ok? Just checking on you. They are not doing much trade with their kayaks. They sit in the open tray of the pick up. Mother fuckn Billy the Kid. A postcard is handed around and a discussion about how he died ensues. Burps like a blocked drain clearing.
I watch as kayaks returning come into focus. I can detect two paddlers. Not them. Eventually I spot them, making good ground across the choppy water. Yes they stood where Captain Cook fell. Snorkeling was luscious. Fish with yellow and blue stripes. The monument to Captain Cook had been defaced….
to be continued…