Visiting Friends, Shopping and Exploring on Hawaii’s Big Island

Days 35-36, 2024 Grand World Voyage

Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 6-7, 2024; Kailua-Kona and Hilo, Hawaii.

What do you do when you return to the United States after more than a month at sea?

Apparently, the answer is to go shopping. Two days in a row.

After six days at sea sailing west from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, we arrived at Kailua-Kona, on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii. My sisters and I treked a mile – mostly uphill – to Walmart. I had a short list of nothing vital (button batteries, hair clips, etc.), but it was good to get out and stretch my legs. On the way we stopped in a quilt shop, where I purchased some small pieces of colorful Hawaiian fabric. They will make nice little gifts for Japan, where on past visits locals presented me with similar tokens.

Then to the post office to mail birthday cards and finally to Kona Brewing, where Barbara and Richard had snagged a prized outdoor table. A flight of beers sure quenched my thirst, even on a relatively cool and clear day. The pizza and nachos we shared were even better.

Back along the touristy shore-front drive, we headed for a shop where Barbara said she saw the perfect dress for me. She was right, but as she also predicted, the price wasn’t so perfect for my budget. I would have been tempted by a Dole pineapple whip or shave ice had I not been so full already. Instead we sat on the edge of the coast to watch the sunset.

Earlier, before our morning arrival, our Hawaiian ambassadors led a small sunrise group in a ceremony to mark the return to their home.

Before disembarking, we had a mandatory face-to-face “inspection” by U.S. officials, which for U.S. citizens consisted of a quick pass-by with open passports. Tendering didn’t start until after 10 a.m. The Zuiderdam is very efficient at the tendering process, and we seldom need to wait — as long as we don’t need to depart first thing, when the shore excursion groups typically leave. Even better, I didn’t face the long line waiting for the return tender as I did when visiting here in the fall of 2022.

After a quick overnight sail around the island, we docked today in Hilo. It’s one of my favorite spots in Hawaii, perhaps because I have friends who live here. We met a couple of decades ago when we both owned early versions of the Audi TT. My friends are astrophysicists (or something like that) who moved to Hilo to work with the huge observatories near the top of Mauna Kea.

Today Atsuka and her daughter Mari met Elaine and me for afternoon desserts and coffee in downtown Hilo, catching up on life since we last saw each other in 2016. I have the worst luck in being in Hilo at the exact times her husband Scot is traveling.

Earlier we had a great fresh ono fish-and-chip lunch after – once again – shopping, this time at Target. I picked up more of my malaria medicine (in case I need it for a safari as we reroute around Africa). And some surprise Valentine treats for my sisters. (We’ll see if they read this blog and ruin the surprise.) We browsed the cute storefronts along Kamakameha and the farmer’s market.

Eloise had the grand adventure today, taking a shore excursion to the top of Mauna Kea (13,803 feet). It is not unusual to see snow. She is slowly checking off the highest peaks on each state, but admits it is unlikely she will ever summit Denali in Alaska. A lot of passengers visited the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, where we stayed at the lodge for several days a few years ago.

As we sailed away toward Honolulu on Oahu, we passed rowers in Hilo Bay and surfers further north along the coast.

Tomorrow the first segment of our cruise will end. I hear about 170 guests will depart and another 70 come aboard. Some who are leaving live in Hawaii. Others either didn’t have the time for a longer cruise or were only interested in sailing the Amazon River and transiting the Panama Canal. Likewise, some joining us tomorrow already had those experiences and chose not to repeat them. It will be interesting to see if – given our itinerary change toward the end of the cruise – some opt to leave in Singapore. It’s always an adventure!