Archive for the ‘Islands’ Category

As a family, we’ve hiked in locations around the world and have been lucky enough to hike in Germany, Slovenia, Guam, Hawaii, Virginia, and many more. But I wasn’t surprised when my daughter deemed the Kīlauea Iki Trail on the Big Island as her all-time favorite hike. It’s a fascinating place located within the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kilauea remains an active volcano to this day.

At the Kīlauea Iki sign, you can go in either direction but I would advise taking the trail to the right and hike counter-clockwise which will lead you through a rain forest, the 1959 lava lake, steam vents, cinder cones, and large fissures in the lava. Keep an eye out for the native nēnē (Hawaiian Goose) ~ we saw two but they were too fast to get a photo. The nēnē are the sixth most endangered waterfowl species in the world.


The rainforest section of the trail is well-worn but be careful with the rocks and occasional exposed roots. We started early in the morning and didn’t see anyone else until we got to the lava lake.

On hikes, my daughter only uses her phone to take photos but while we were on the trail, her college released the dorm assignments and she was excited to learn where she would be living for a year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the dorm she preferred and it was the only sad part of the hike. But, fast-forward six months later, and she’s thrilled with her suitemates and her dorm.



The ‘Ōhelo berries are a favorite treat for the nēnē and can be found throughout the trail. It is a hardy plant that even grows on the lava. The plant is a relative to the blueberries and the berry can range in color from dark red to pale yellow.

The amazing view from the rainforest.

It was a little surreal to see a runner come through as we walked along the deserted and isolated lava crater but he obviously runs this trail frequently.

Be sure to follow the Ahu (stacked rocks) to find your way through to the other side of the trail. Please don’t disturb them!


If you go, here are a few words of advice:

  • The trail is moderate to challenging. It’s steep and rocky. The descent/ascent is 400 feet (122m).
  • It’s a 4-mile (6.4km) loop. It took us approximately 2.5 hours and we stopped for a snack.
  • The trail head is 2 miles (3.2km) from the Visitor’s Center.
  • Once you’re at the Kīlauea Iki parking lot (off of Crater Rim Drive), you may go either way from the trailhead. We preferred to go right which took us through the rainforest first then down to the crater floor.
  • Be sure to bring water, food, hat, sunscreen, camera and rain gear. Be prepared for all types of weather conditions: hot, dry, wet, windy (!). Please remember to “leave only footprints” and bring all your trash and items back out of the area.



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My visits to the Big Island follows a familiar pattern: land in Kona, rent a vehicle and head to the Volcano Nationals Park for a couple of nights. Many of my mother’s family live on the Hilo-side of the island and it’s always great to see them and catch up with all the happenings.

We landed later than usual (after 8pm), and since the drive to Volcano National Park is about 95 miles from the airport, we decided to stay the night in Kailua-Kona. Kona is probably the most “touristy” spots on the island ~ reminds me of Lahaina on Maui. Lots of shops, restaurants and activities. And traffic.

Kona Parks and Recreation

The Parks & Rec building in Kona

Kona waters and seawall

Early Morning in Kailua-Kona

Kamehameha the Great, the first king to rule all the Hawaiian Islands, chose Kailua-Kona as his home. It’s not hard to imagine why ~ the waters are bountiful with fish, the area is beautiful and, if you can picture it without throngs of tourists, it would be an ideal place to call home.

Here are a few highlights of the town:

The historic sites include Hulihe’e Palace, built in 1838 by Governor Kuakini, is now a museum run by the Daughters of Hawaii. Directly across the street from the palace is the Mokuaikaua Church, built 1820. It’s the first Christian church built in the Hawaiian islands.

Kailua-Kona is the start of the swim and the finish of the world-famous Ironman Triathlon. Below is the swim start:

Kona start of the Ironman swim and end of the run

Every October, about 2,000 athletes compete in the Ironman by swimming 2.4 miles in the rough ocean waters, 112-mile bike ride and to finish it off, there’s a 26.2 run which must be completely within 17 hour deadline. It’s a brutal event and, many years ago, I was thrilled when I had a chance to cheer some of the participants during the running event.

Kailua-Kona is a great stop for a day or two but don’t let it be your only experience on the Big Island ~ there’s so much more to do and see elsewhere on the island.

Kona sailboat on the waters

Sailboat in Kailua Bay


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Palau is my ideal tropical vacation spot. Our 2007 visit was a trip of a lifetime. More than a few times, when I was there, I would pause to savor the moment and commit to memory some of the beauty I couldn’t capture in a photo. Especially the unbelievable night sky with stars so close I felt I could reach out and touch them.

On our way to Milky Way, Palau
Heading to one of the outer islands

Rainbow's End, Palau

Palau rainbow and rains
Seems every time it rains, there’s a rainbow

Kayak (Day 1) Palau

Palau racing the rain
Racing the rain in Palau

Milky Way 4
The Milky Way lagoon is a natural spa treatment which is supposed to make you look 10 years younger. I’m due to go back soon! The white mud felt great ~ cool and soothing.

Early morning swim Palau
Early morning swim

Palau The Rain
Beautiful arch

Palau Sunrise at the dock
Morning at the dock

Dolphin Kiss
One of the best kisses ever!

Palau Dolphin

Palau Community College
Gorgeous, colorful mural at the community college

Palau cocktail hour
Cocktail hour (for me at least)

Sunset at PPR (4), Palau
Sunset in Palau

Sunset at PPR (3) Palau
Another beautiful Palau Sunset

Palau Hammock
Ah, a great place for a hammock

Palau consists of approximately 340 islands across 400 miles of the North Pacific Ocean. There’s a small population of only 21, 186. In 1994, after three decades being under the U.S., the Republic of Palau became one of the youngest nations in the world. The official language is Palauan but English is spoken everywhere. If you get a chance to go, GO!

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“We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.”        Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt Island Statue

Theodore Roosevelt Island is a living memorial to the 26th President of the United States. It’s a perfect way to honor a man who was a great conservationist and loved being out-of-doors. During his presidency, Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation achievements included adding approximately 200 million acres to the national forests, reserves and wildlife refuges. He also advanced large-scale irrigation projects. President Roosevelt created the U.S. Forest Service and established five National Parks. He was a busy and effective conservationist.

Roosevelt Island The Path

In the 1930s, Mason’s Island was revamped from being overgrown and neglected to what is now the beautiful, forested wilderness called Theodore Roosevelt Island. The island is covered with trees and surrounded by water giving the feeling of being away from it all when in reality the city is very close-by.

Roosevelt Island Runner

The island is a great place to spend a morning or evening with your family, friends or your dog. There are several trails on the island for walking or running. My favorite is the Swamp Trail ~ about 1.3 miles around the island. I’ve visited the park several times and even if the parking lot is full, I haven’t felt crowded. On this visit, I saw two big yellow school buses but the students were all in one area doing exercises.

Roosevelt Island Fishing
Fishing off Theodore Roosevelt Island

Roosevelt Island near the water
Walking along the water

Roosevelt Island Log
Fallen log along the trail

Roosevelt Island Benches
Relaxing along the trail

Roosevelt Island view of Georgetown
View of Georgetown from the island

Roosevelt Island Youth
“Youth” statue on the Roosevelt Island

IF YOU GO: Theodore Roosevelt Island is open year-round from 6 am to 10 pm. No fees to enter the island but a permit is required if you plan an event on the island such as a wedding, memorial service, or group activity. The island is a .6 mile walk from Rosslyn Metro Station (Blue, Orange and Silver lines).There are restrooms on the island but they are closed during the winter (usually from October to April) ~ during this time a portable toilet is located near the restrooms. There are no food vendors so bring your own water/food. Occasionally there are ranger lead tours, for more information click here for the schedule.

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After a vacation, it’s tradition that we list our top 5 things about the trip. We went to Oahu for a quick three-day trip and here’s our Oahu top five:

1) Snorkeling at Shark’s Cove on the North Shore. The ocean is calm in the summer and we got to the cove early enough to get a prime spot on the beach. The snorkeling was fun and being back in the pacific ocean felt fabulous.

2) Spending time with our friends, The Karamaths and The Petersons. Always great to see Army family again.

   Heather, CJ and Hayden

 Jake, Shelley and Hoss

3) Parasailing with Hawaiian Parasail Inc ($62 per person and $30 for their photos) in Waikiki:

4) Paddleboarding in Haleiwa, lots of turtles in the river/bay:

5) Driving along the North Shore ~ checking out all the beaches such as Sunset and Waimea Bay. For a few days, I was no longer a Displaced Beachbum. I will never tire of being on a beautiful beach!

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It’s very exciting (and a little scary) flying directly over the Kilauea Volcano and watching the lava flow to the ocean.  In spite of the woman with motion sickness on our flight, it was wonderful! My daughter and I got to sit in the front seat with the pilot.

Lift off

The Caldera

Steam as the lava enters the ocean

Try to get insurance on this property 🙂

Back on land…

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Cinnamon Bay should be called Sugar Bay because the sand is so white and soft. Like Trunk Bay, Cinnamon is located within the National Park. The beach has a small rental shop for items such as snorkel gear, boogie boards, etc. It’s a long winding beach with more waves than the other beaches on the island so it’s more popular with the “surfers” ~ a little more eye candy at this beach 😉

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Skinny Legs in Coral Bay

My friend, Sandie, who lives on the island, suggested we eat at Skinny Legs while we’re here. My older brother used to call me skinny legs when I was little so how could I not give it a try?! Even though we were looking like a trio of salty dogs from our snorkeling adventure, we wandered into Skinny Legs for dinner. No one gave us a second glance as to the way we were dressed or how we looked. Definitely my kind of joint:

Coral Bay is on the other side of the island, about a 45 minute drive from Cruz Bay. It has a beautiful harbor and there’s no doubt as to why the sailors would want to stop in:



 It’s very quaint and less affected by the cruise boat tourist trade and caters more to the sailing crowd. Very different atmosphere. We didn’t spend a lot of time there but it would be a place we’d go again on the next visit. Yes, we’re already thinking about the next visit.

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We decided to be adventurous and rent a Jeep for a self-guided island tour. Driving is on the left here and I only had to remind FM a couple times. The roads are hilly, narrow, steep and have hair-pin turns every 100 feet or so. The maximum speed limit on the island is 20 miles per hour with several sections at only 10mph.

Before leaving the hotel property, we decided to take a quick snorkel dip at a beach we hadn’t been to yet: Scott Beach. Children under 13 are not allowed on the beach so we went to the far end of the beach, put our snorkel gear on and got into the water quickly. The reason for the no kids rule is there are a lot of honeymooners at the hotel and they attempt to have a peaceful place for them to enjoy. Since there are 7 beaches here at Caneel, having two as a no children beach is a good attempt on the part of the hotel to please all their guests. It used to be no children under 13 allowed at the hotel at all but that was back in the day (80’s and before). The beach is beautiful but then again I haven’t seen a bad beach yet:

We picked up our rental Jeep at 1:00 pm and headed off to the Annaberg Ruins:

Annaberg Ruins are located at the northeastern end of the North Shore Road and this is where they made rum, sugar and molasses in the 18th and 19th Century. The hill was named after the plantation owner’s daughter, Anna. The windmill of the plantation (see photo above) was the tallest of the 5 windmills on St. John. When we toured the area, it was already hot and humid which made me think of the poor slaves and the beasts of burden (mules, horses and donkeys) who were the backbone of the plantation. How awful it must have been to work in such abhorrent conditions.

Leinster Bay is very close to Annaberg Ruins, so we left our jeep parked there and walked .8 miles down an easy, well-maintained trail. Originally, FM wanted us to swim to the nearby Watermelon Cay but once we got to Leinster Bay, several people told us they saw more fish and sea creatures snorkeling in the bay rather than around the Cay. Plus those pesky jelly fish were out at the Cay. We snorkeled in the bay and what a treat. We saw several sea turtles who were so unaware of us. They just swam around and ate the seagrass on the ocean floor. FG loved the turtles but was not as calm when she got a glimpse of the sting ray who was also just hanging out and digging in the sandy bottom. I was fascinated by it all especially the rays and the turtles. They are so interesting to watch and I was very close to them. I’m very leery of the ray though and can’t help but think of the freak accident that Steve Erwin had with the sting ray. I try to stay on the head side of the sting ray but that’s easier said then done. I didn’t have to worry about FG ~ she was “out of there” as soon as we said “look at the sting ray, it’s swimming below you.”

Looking lovely with our “snorkel” hairstyle and feeling wet & sandy, we headed to the town of Coral Bay for an early dinner…

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Besides the fabulous fishes in the sea, we’ve seen some great wildlife just outside our room. This handsome fellow was wandering around the other day…

An employee told us he has a much bigger brother living outside the cottages just up the hill. We’ll have to check for him tomorrow.

The donkeys always bring a smile when we see them. I can’t help but think of Donk-kay from Shrek:

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