Saturday, March 14, 2015

Keep it simple - Basic essentials to family backpacking

In 2009 I had won a photo contest and the prize was a $500 gift card to Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC).  We (hubby Joel and I) decided to use it towards purchasing backpacking gear.  Namely tents, sleeping bags and pads, camp stove and the other essential items specific to backpacking.  We pretty much started from scratch and had to outfit two adults and two small children aged 2 and 4 years old at the time.  Needless to say…we went a tad over budget but managed to purchase all the gear without depleting the pocketbook entirely.  Over the years some of the gear has been replaced.  We switched from blow up type sleeping pads to the Therm-a-rest type, which are much warmer.  Replaced hard metal dishes with plastic bendable snap together type dishes.  They fit anywhere and take up no room.  Then we added an axe, tarp, and backpacks for the kids plus backpack covers.  Other than that we are pretty much still using the bulk of gear purchased from MEC back in 2009.

The gear is quite simple.  Nothing fancy but meets our needs.  It facilitates us doing what we love and to be honest, I don’t measure the quality of my outdoor time on what I am sleeping in or eating from.  Who thinks back on a backpacking trip through pristine backcountry and says, “Hey, my tent looked absolutely beautiful or those dishes made the meal so much better.” In fact, before writing this blog post, I had to scour through hundreds and hundreds of photos to even find a photo of our tents and backpacking dishes to no avail.  So I made a point of taking a few photos of our gear while out on our last backpacking trip.  They turned out terrible because I was so distracted with the ocean views, rope swing near a cascading waterfall and exploring sea caves.  Even as I write this I can’t focus on gear!

FOCUS Jill! As I started to work out the details and ideas for this blog post I thought about who my readers may be.  I am very cautious about claiming to be an expert on anything as I just do what works for me and the family.  I certainly am not an expert on gear and am happy to use whatever I have or rely on the gear Joel researches and buys.  Part of the appeal to backpacking is how empowered I feel with less.  That is what I want to share with my readers.  Perhaps you have never backpacked before, perhaps you want to bring the family along, maybe you are looking for the “what to buy” or maybe you are just curious how we do it. Whatever the reason may be, if it gets you inspired and out backpacking then I am happy.

A quick look at how we set up camp...in 17seconds

I consider our backpacking gear to be a modest collection.  There is still a financial commitment required to build up an inventory of backpacking supplies but it can be managed.  We certainly do not have the most expensive gadgets or top of the line gear.  Of course the proper gear can make the experience more enjoyable and easier but it should not deter you from backpacking at all.  There is a wide range of products to suit everyone’s pocketbook.  What we find important and value is that it works and facilitates us getting into the backcountry and spending time together.

Back in February we were able to sneak in a quick backpack adventure along the Juan de Fuca trail. It was an overnight backpack trip (day 1 hike in and stay overnight, day 2 hike out).  Pretty simple and basic as far as backpacking goes.  But it will give you, the reader, a look what our adventure family uses to make it happen.

Backpacking gear (most of it pictured here)

2 tents (with footprints) - MEC Camper 2
4 sleeping pads – Therm-a-rest 2-lite, MEC Reactor Explorer 2.5, MEC Kelvin 3.8, and Therm-a-rest Pro Plus Women
4 sleeping bags – 2 Chinook Thermopalm Mummy 32F, Chinook Microloft Hooded 23F, and Outbound Hike Lite Mummy 26F
MEC Integral Designs Silttarp
4 Backpacks – 2 MEC Brio (older models and think they are 60 – 90L sizes), MEC Deuter Junior, and MEC Aria 30L plus 3 MEC backpack covers
MSR Dragonfly liquid fuel stove (fuel canister and lighter)

MSR Base 2 Pot and a GSI Outdoors Halulite Minimalist mug
2 Guyotdesigns Microbites cooking utensils, 2 GSI Outdoors Pouch Spoons, and 4 Sporks, 2 Pocket knives, and assorted Fozzils bowls and plates

Gerber Gator Combo Axe II
2 large and 2 small Tektowels
2 LED Cree headlamps and 4 Black Diamond Spot Headlamps
First Aid and safety supplies (would include maps and guide books when applicable)
Toiletries (mini versions)
The extra stuff:
Gopro Hero 3 with a few attachments and a Nikon camera plus extra lens and battery
2 cell phones
The Life Saver III battery pack
Charging cords – (enough to get tangled in…pet peeve)
1 stuffed animal, a deck of cards, 2 books, and a KEEN journal and pen
Luxury items:
Bottle of red wine in a Platypus Platy Preserve wine bladder.

3 Firelogs – we brought ONLY because of the short hike and being February, a fire was an option.  Normally Vancouver Island experiences fire bans due to dry conditions so this was a first for us, having a fire while backpacking.  Other times we are hiking in the backcountry and fires are not permitted.
Footwear and clothing:
Men’s KEEN Marshall WP

Women’s KEEN Gypsum

and Boy & Girl KEEN Chandler CNX.  Being the WET-coast, kids also wore rubber boots because they both have outgrown their KEEN hiking boots - time to go shopping.

4 Raincoats (MEC, Patagonia, and 2 North Face)

4 pairs of extra socks (kids always get wet feet) 

4 toques, pairs of gloves, under armour wear (shirt and pants)and light sweaters

We all wore hiking type pants (mostly MEC brand) and non-cotton type short and long sleeve shirts.

We are pretty basic with our cooking and food is always a hassle, namely how much we have to bring because the kids are constantly hungry. Being only a quick overnight hike, I was able to keep them somewhat satisfied this trip.  That is not usually the case.

Supper was one of our 1 pot wonder meals - 2 Mac & cheese, pre-cooked chicken and fresh cauliflower.

2 Backpackers Pantry strawberry cheese cakes for dessert 

Breakfast – I pre mix oatmeal and brown sugar in a bag, 2 small vanilla yogurts, 2 apples, 2 oranges, instant coffee and cream packed in a small container.  (risky, I know)

Lunch and endless snacks - bag of mixed munchies, 8 Oreo cookies, 8 granola bars, peperoni sticks, 8 bagels, cream cheese spread, 1 bell pepper, salami, 2 apples, 2 oranges, bag of babybel cheese, 2 Gatorades, 4 water bottles, and water purifying drops.

For us, this is what works.  There is certainly room to improve the gear as far a weight and size are concerned but as the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

Monday, February 16, 2015

West Coast Winter Backpacking

Winter backpacking has been on my list of adventure things to do for a few years now.  I want to experience a pristine winter wonderland and take in the snowy landscapes, cold air, freezing temperatures, sunsets and sunrises all from the comfort of a tent.   

This year I finally was able to fit in a weekend winter backpacking trip with my family.  Problem is winter on the West Coast of British Columbia has not arrived.  It is early February and the mountains that are usually covered with white peaks are bare, the ski resort on Vancouver Island has halted operations due to lack of snow (not that there was much to start with), temperatures are above normal, and a Pineapple Express x 2 came a rolling across the Pacific Coast and has washed away the little snow there was on the higher elevations.  Bummed at missing yet another opportunity to winter backpack I realized a winter backpacking adventure was still possible.  I just had to trade snow for sand.

Enter the Juan de Fuca Trail, a rugged 47-kilometre wilderness hiking trail along the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island.  This trail is special to me.  We have hiked and backpacked along several sections of the trail over the years and back in 2010, it was the first location for us to backpack as a family.  Liv was 3 and Ben was 5 years old.  Neither of them remembers that adventure.   So I decided to make a special trip back to the Juan de Fuca Trail and Mystic Beach to celebrate our west coast winter.

Mystic Beach is the ideal location to try backpacking for the first time or as an introductory family camping adventure.  The trailhead is easy to access, hiking distance to campsite/beach short, amenities like outhouses and bear caches are available, and the scenery is stunning.

Then there are the special features that make Mystic Beach so darn memorable.  On one end of the beach there are small sea caves that are accessible at low tide.  Tall enough to stand up in and with multiple entrances, the sea caves are pretty cool to explore.

On the other end of the beach is a waterfall cascading off the cliffs on to the beach.  When tide goes out one can walk around (or under) the waterfall.  Just for an added bonus, a rope swing is set up close by the waterfall giving some pretty cool vantage points of the whole scene. 

Check out the video of the OTBP crew swinging from the rope swing.  Fun for the whole family.

Like all coastal hiking trails camp life offers ocean front views and a five star dining location.  Bonus was being able to have a camp fire, something that is not usual because Vancouver Island becomes very dry in the summer.  Often there are island wide fire bans from May til September.

The West Coast version of winter camping may not have been the snowy landscape I was looking for but it certainly was every bit as magical.  Like every adventure, there are lessons to be learned.  I learned that not all adventures need to be long, epic hikes into the backcountry.  Sometimes it can just be a quick jaunt down a coastal forest trail, pop up a few tents, explore the area and let the adventure of spending time with the people you love most take over.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

68 hours of Hawaii – The Big Island [Blog Series] Part 5 Going out with a Splash PLUS our GoPro video

I had the great pleasure of becoming one of Fairmont Hotels Destination GoPro Heros.  With this privilege came the task of filming our story and experiences at one of Fairmont’s North American resorts for three days.  I choose Fairmont Orchid in Hawaii and armed with a GroPro Hero 3, our whirlwind adventure to Hawai’i and “My destination story” begins.

A quick recap of the blog series so far:  Part 1 Fairmont Orchid and luxury travel.  Part 2 A cultural and historical journey.  Part 3 Outdoor adventure.  Part 4 Helicopter tour.  All this travel, adventure and experiences in 68 hours! And we are not done yet.  Part 5 Going out with a SPLASH!

During our short trip to Hawaii, we certainly covered a lot of ground and air.  Now it was time to get wet and explore the beautiful warm ocean surrounding Hawaii.  The choices are endless.  Hawaii waters are warm, clear, full of sea life and easy to access.  The perfect combination for a morning swim and snorkel with Adventure X Boat Tours.  Highlights of this tour was swimming with wild spinner dolphins and snorkeling on a beautiful reef with a variety of fish and turtles.

To be able to swim with the dolphins, the boat travelled just off the shoreline to where these resident spinner dolphins hang out.  Then we put on our snorkel gear and jumped in.  Immediately I felt as though I entered a new world.  The clear waters allowed us to see the sandy ocean floor mixed with lava rock.  Then the spinner dolphins would swim around and underneath us.  To be swimming in the waters with such beautiful creatures was pretty amazing.  I could hear the spinner dolphins make their high pitch squeaks and clicking, watch them twirl and spin around each other, and feel them move around me.

After a few hours of swimming with the dolphins, the boat then took us to snorkeling on a beautiful reef known for the colorful coral, variety of fish, and turtles.  I could get used to “morning swims” in Hawaii.

Throughout the blog series, I have mentioned “My Destination Story” and filming our story at Fairmont Orchid.  What happened was, I won a video contest through Fairmont Hotels and became one of 42 Fairmont Hotels Destination GoPro Heros.  The task of being one of the Go Pro Heros was pretty simple.  Travel to Hawaii (for 3 days), enjoy our stay at Fairmont Orchid, take in as much of our destination as possible, film it all with the GoPro, and then create a 90 second video to be entered in a contest for a week-long trip for two to a Fairmont Hotel of my choice.  Even though I did not win the grand prize, winning a three day trip to Hawaii was pretty wicked.  And we have a pretty sweet video we produced to show for it! 

Friday, January 30, 2015

68 hours of Hawai’i – The Big Island [Blog Series] Part 4 A Bird's Eye View

Being one of Fairmont Hotels Destination GoPro Hero’s and given the opportunity to film our story at Fairmont Orchid was a once in a lifetime experience.  In Part 1 of my blog series, Joel and I were introduced to luxury travel.  Part 2 took us on a cultural and historical journey that exposed us to the many different traditions, agriculture, and landscapes that make up and define the people of Hawaii.  Part 3 was where we experienced some good old outdoor adventure with a beach run, valley hike, ocean swim, and trail run.  What’s next?  There is no better way to view the diverse landscapes and sheer size of Hawaii Island than from above.  Bring on the helicopter!

For me, travel means explore, adventure, and experience.  When traveling and adventuring as a family, our preferred method of exploring would be human powered.  Unfortunately, to explore as much of Hawaii as we possibly could in 68 hours and film a kick ass video of it all meant looking at other modes of transportation.  We considered renting a vehicle.  This would have given us the freedom to discover hidden gems and allow for spontaneous travel experiences.  However, the distance covered would have been drastically reduced and time was not on our side.  While planning our trip, the wonderful concierge staff at Fairmont Orchid suggested we go on a helicopter tour.  I will admit that a helicopter tour was not on my radar.  Not for a lack of interest, excitement, or even affordability.  Simply put – it is not something we usually think about and work into our travel and adventure plans.  Once the option was presented though, it made perfect sense.  Half a day in a helicopter meant Joel and I could explore 70% of Hawaii by helicopter while capturing some pretty sweet footage for our video.  SOLD.

Our thanks to Paradise Helicopters for an amazing adventure!  The experience is described on their website as follows: A premier air adventure.  Experience Hawai‘i and explore all five volcanoes, hidden white and black sand beaches, lush waterfalls cascading down 2,000-foot valley walls, breathtaking coastlines and 11 different climate zones.  It is exactly as it sounds plus more!

At the end of Part 2, I wrote “Does Hawaii really grow rock?”  It does.  A large portion of Hawaii’s landscape is lava flow, easily seen from land but the scope of size and power becomes obvious when flying over it.  Our trip to Hawaii was when Kilauea was active and witnessing the volcanic smoke, hot burning lava, and lava flowing (growing rock) added to the dramatic fly over the crater. 

Our tour in the helicopter came after our cultural experience with Kona coffee and hiking the Pololu Valley.  Being able to fly over the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai, where Kona coffee beans are grown and along the lush rainforest and valleys of the Kohala, Pololu being one, really helped put the landscapes previously explored into perspective.   It provided a greater appreciation of the vast contrast of landscapes Hawaii holds.  An added bonus was combining these two experiences with the helicopter landing on top a valley and enjoying a fresh cup of Kona coffee, brewed by our pilot, Mark, who knows coffee.  Talented guy!

The excitement of flying in a helicopter, touring Hawaii, taking in breathtaking waterfalls, coastlines, and even a lone humpback whale swimming in the Pacific Ocean was enough to fulfill my desire to “explore, adventure, and experience”.  Of course Paradise Helicopters knows how to make the experience even better.   Wearing the stylish headphones for safety also meant being in total communication with our pilot, Mark.  He provided great information during the entire tour and delighted us with humor.  Pilot Mark and Joel had a great comedy routine going and at one point I really wished I could have tuned them out.  They seemed to think everyone on board enjoyed their humor as much as they did. (I tried to warn them but they didn’t believe me) But I knew if I did I would miss listening to “Somewhere over the Rainbow” by Hawaii’s very own Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole.  When Mark flew over the crater, through the valleys, and beside waterfalls the humor stopped, music increased ever so softly, and it felt as though I was flying through the air.  I can close my eyes and listen to that song and instantly I am back in the helicopter, truly a magical experience.

I learned from this travel experience that sometimes it is ok to step outside of my usual adventure style and embrace the moment.  I will always seek out ways to outdoor adventure under my own energy but am now open to try other methods.  I will say one thing for sure.  The footage from the helicopter was pretty darn sweet!  And when can the video we produced be viewed you ask?  Soon, very soon. 

Coming up on Part 5 - The final adventure on Hawaii and we go out with a splash!

P.S. I was able to cross two things off my bucket list with this adventure.  (One a bit more glamourous than the other.) Helicopter ride & Requesting a pit stop (mid-flight) to a helicopter pilot (Thanks Mark)

Monday, January 12, 2015

2015 Calendar of Outdoor Adventures

Yes, I am late on getting out a 2014 year in review and am not much of a resolution maker.  So instead or in place of a year end recap of our adventures I thought it would be cool to create a calender for 2015 that highlights the top adventure from the past year for each month.  

All photos are from our actual adventures taken during 2014 as a family.  I hope it gives you, family or not, some fresh ideas and inspiration to get outside in 2015.

JANUARY - West Coast Winter Fog while hiking Mount Maxwell on Salt Spring Island, BC

FEBRUARY - Surfing on Chesterman Beach Tofino, BC

MARCH - Snowshoe Mt. Becher in the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island, BC

APRIL - Night hike on Mt. Benson Nanaimo, BC

MAY - Backpacking the Sunshine Coast Trail near Powell River, BC

JUNE - Kayaking Ladysmith Harbour Ladysmith, BC

JULY - Backpacking the Vancouver Island Spine Trail near Port Alberni, BC

AUGUST - Mountain Biking the trails of Cumberland, BC

SEPTEMBER - Hiking to the summit of Mt. Arrowsmith, largest peak on southern Vancouver Island

OCTOBER - Rock Climbing on Thanksgiving near Penticton, BC

NOVEMBER - Remembrance Day hike to plane crash site on Mt. Bolduc, National War Memorial

DECEMBER - celebrating the winter solstice while traveling home for the holidays Slave Lake, AB

It certainly was a power packed year of adventures for the On the Beaten Path crew.  2015 is shaping up to be just as adventurous as we continue embrace the #followyourfeet campaign KEEN Canada promotes.  This year our feet will be going on another international adventure and as usual, exploring the wild spaces of Vancouver Island.  Now, if I actually get around to printing a calendar, that would be a miracle.  Cheers!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

68 hours of Hawai’i – The Big Island [Blog Series] Part 3 Adventures on Land

The third blog post in my five part series gets back to what I know best - outdoor adventure and Hawaii has plenty.  Being one of Fairmont Hotels Destination GoPro Heros and given the opportunity to film our story at Fairmont Orchid was a once in a lifetime experience.  In Part 1 of my blog series, Joel and I were introduced to luxury travel.  Part 2 took us on a cultural and historical journey that exposed us to the many different traditions, agriculture, and landscapes that make up and define the people of Hawaii. Now it is time to share the adventures we had, all 20 hours of them!  It was crazy busy, given we only had 68 hours to spend on the Big Island, but Joel and I still managed to sneak in three very different adventures that showcase the best of what Hawaii has.  First up – Adventures by Land.

Our arrival to the Big Island was at 11:30pm which was essentially torture.  It meant waiting six more hours before we could begin taking in the sights and adventures we had been planning for weeks.  Normally waking up at 5:30am is a chore but in Hawaii it was heaven.  We started off our land adventures with a morning run along the shores of the Kohala Coast.  For an hour we ran up the coast to Waima Point and back down to Malaiwa Bay.  Running on lava rock was a first for both of us and requires your attention.  Dare I say tripping hazard?  I may have taken a few trips but regardless, it was a beautiful day, gorgeous views and I had the best running partner.  A girl could get used to this paradise.

Our second land adventure of the day has us travel north along the Kohala Coast to North Kohala and the Pololu (long spear) Valley.   Hwy 270 ends where the Pololu Valley lookout begins and the view is breathtaking.  Steep cliffs with lush forests of the Kohala Coast meet the blue waters and black sand of the Kohala Coast.   

From the Pololu Valley lookout we hiked down the steep windy Awini Trail and enjoyed our first Hawaiian swim.  So refreshing and powerful.  Rough surf and strong currents are common so we stayed close to shore.  We were also aware of Portuguese man o wars (blue bottle jellyfish) that are sometimes seen in the waters.  They pack a painful sting.  Some like to add relaxation to their beach time, we like to add adrenaline to ours.  

Along the valley bottom, groves of hau and ironwood trees fill the landscape and offer a bit of shade.  After our swim we sat on the beach for a while but as I often say “Ain’t no rest for the wicked” so off we went to explore the Hawaiian forest.

Across the beach the trail heads up the cliff opposite of what we hiked down.  This would take us over the next ridge.  There are 7 major valleys that are carved along the North Kohala coast.  Unfortunately time did not permit us to explore further even though we knew there was a bench on top the cliff with more stunning views of the coastline.  At one point the trail did continue past the bench through to the next valley but the 2006 earthquake has destroyed sections of the trail but there are always die hards who seem to do the impossible.  I have found a few blogs and videos that show as recent as 2013, that you can do a 10 day hike from Pololu Valley to Waipia Valley.  Before we suffered the hot climb back up the cliff, we briefly explored further into the Pololu Valley.  Streams flow through these valleys and are prone to flash floods.  Today all was calm. 

Our last land adventure of the day was a spontaneous one.  We were racing back to Fairmont Orchid, for our luau, via the scenic Kohala Mtn. Road when we noticed a sign for the Koai’a Tree Sanctuary.  Without speaking a word, Joel turns into the parking lot and we both hop out of the Jeep and take a quick tour of this patch of forest surrounded by green pastures.  By quick I mean run, all 13 acres of it. A rough trail has been built thru the forest with numbered signs that I expect will have map and interpretive signs to accompany.  The Koai’a Tree Sanctuary represents all that is left of the native dryland forest in the area, an area that used to be over 40,000 acres large.

Domestic farmland has since taken over the hills along Kohala Mtn. Road.  It sounds odd but it is here I have the fondest memories of our day of adventuring by land.  It was here Joel and I ran thru the forest like so many times we have done before.  Different forest but same feelings of freedom and appreciation for nature, together doing what we love doing.  Because we were to film our Fairmont’s Destination Go Pro Hero story, we had many moments of setting up video opts while creating multiple videos of us running back and forth.  There were moments of silliness, moments of miss-steps, and moments of spider webs (spiders and all) unexpectedly coming into contact with my face.  You can’t recreate or plan these moments. 

Adventuring by land in Hawaii is not without its discomforts.  Stubbed toes on jagged lava rock, steep climbs in the hot afternoon sun, threat of venomous tentacles delivering a painful sting, and coming face to face with spiders…literally! But if you asked me to do it all over again, I would have it no other way.  In between these discomforts were firsts.  First lava rock beach run.  First Hawaiian swim on a black sand beach all to ourselves.  First dreams of adventures that are possible at Pololu Valley.  And first looks at what a native dry land forest can become.  8 and a half hours of adventuring by land had me head over heels in love with Hawaii.  Can adventuring by ocean and air compete with this?  Guess we will find out. 

KEEN gear used:
Joel and I both wore KEEN sandals for our hike down to Pololu Valley and our run thru the tree sanctuary.  Venice H2 & Clearwater CNX Wearing these sandals allowed for a seamless transition from hiking to swimming and back to hiking. They dry fast, protected our toes from roots and rocks and held up for our short but fun run on a rough trail.  The KEEN sandals allowed us to travel light, be spontaneous and take on a full range of outdoor pursuits without any restrictions.  
Follow your feet

Friday, December 5, 2014

68 hours of Hawai’i – The Big Island [Blog Series] Part 2 Kohala & Kona Culture

I am 2 blog posts in to what will be a 5 post blog series showcasing Hawai’i, The Big Island.  Back story - I was fortunate to be one of Fairmont Hotels Destination GoPro Heros and with this privilege came the task of filming our story and experiences at one of Fairmont’s North American resorts for three days.  The first blog post unveiled the luxury Joel and I enjoyed at Hawaii’s very own Fairmont Orchid, not something we are accustomed to but certainly worth experiencing. Read - 68 Hours of Hawai'i Part 1 Fairmont Orchid  Next up - Culture and you need not look any further than along the western and northern shores of Hawai’i. (After this I promise to get to the outdoor adventures unique to Hawai’i)
From touch down to take off, our time spent on the Big Island was 68 hours.  11 of these hours consisted of Joel and me exploring the history, culture, agriculture and taking in the diverse landscapes along the Kohala and Kona Coasts.  Being an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, obviously there is a need for growing and producing its own food.  The Big Island has mastered the perfection of growing coffee and nuts and it just so happens I am nuts about coffee!

Kona Coffee, a market name for coffee cultivated on the Big Island, comes from coffee beans grown specifically on the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualalai.  The coffee plant originates from Brazilian cuttings that were introduced to Hawaii in 1828.  The Kona Coast provides ideal growing conditions; morning sun, afternoon cloud, and rich volcanic soil.  Better than any other region within the Hawaiian Islands.  Since we are both coffee drinkers, the plan was to visit a coffee farm but it just so happened that our visit to the Big Island coincided with Kona’s 44th Annual Coffee Festival.  So we did what any self-respecting coffee connoisseur would do.  We checked out the festival and drank some coffee.  Damn! The coffee was good.  Smooth, clean, and no bitter after taste at all.  I could easily go back to the Kona Coffee and Tea Company and sip cup after cup of delicious 100% Kona Coffee.

Fully alert and packing a sweet coffee buzz, Joel and I continued our cultural adventure with a scenic drive along Painted Church Road, a narrow windy road in Captain Cook territory.  Nestled in between churches and a peace sanctuary we stumbled upon Joe’s Nuts.  I am not making this name up, I swear!  Joe’s Nuts, a macadamia farm, is an eclectic mix of agriculture and interesting characters.  We never met Joe, if there even is one, but we were greeted with a warm Aloha by the lady of the farm.  We learned all about her nut farm, the collecting and processing of macadamia nuts, her goats, mango trees, vanilla plants and history of ownership of the farm.  Of course, no visit is complete without sampling some of the many different flavors of macadamia nuts.  Needless to say, the 100% Kona coffee macadamia nuts were my favorite! Brewed with Bills’ best coffee, (Joe’s brother maybe?) kissed with sea salt, raw sugar and vanilla.  Mmmmm.

Prior to visiting Hawai’i, my knowledge about agriculture on the islands included the obvious; tropical fruits, coconuts, and coffee.  Never did I consider the Big Island to be home to one of the oldest, largest, and most historic ranches in the United States.  Driving along Kohala Mtn. Road took us right into the heart of Parker Ranch country.  Founded in 1897 by an eighteen year old John Parker, his job was to bring the thousands of wild cattle that multiplied from the first 5 cows that were delivered in 1788, by Captain George Vancouver, under control.  The grazing lands and pastures that make up Parker Ranch provide a beautiful landscape.  Rolling open grass fields, scenic views of the Pacific Ocean off in the distance and Kohala Volcano, the islands oldest volcano, as a backdrop.  Such a contrast from the lush tropical forest and dessert like terrain of the Kohala Coast that border Weimea and Parker Ranch country.  These are only a few of the diverse landscapes that Joel and I were able to explore in the 68 hours of being in Hawaii.  We need more time!

The part of travel that I love best is talking with locals and listening to stories they tell about their history, their land, and their culture.  Stories like the one that was told to us by one of our cab drivers who was born and raised on Hawai’i.  Joel and I, being the typical tourist, asked about what it was like growing up with active volcanoes and had he ever been affected by lava flows? Not directly affected was his response but he did tell us all about Pele, the volcano goddess of fire.  How she had the power to create and destroy through lightning, volcanos, lava flows, and fire. Those who are greedy or unkind were punished by having homes or crops destroyed by lava flows.  She was known for her temper.  I’ll say!  Legend has it that if lava flow threatened your home, you were to clean it and present her with a beautiful gift and she would spare you.

Another notable historical tidbit that was mentioned to Joel and me by numerous people was King Kamehameha.  Had we seen the statue? Did we know about their most beloved Hawaiian hero? Because so many people had mentioned the King, we had to learn more and stop to check out the statue.  King Kamehameha was born on Hawaii, in North Kohala near Kapaau, in 1758.  The year Hailey’s Comet passed over Hawaii.  After many years of conflict between the Hawaiian Islands, in 1810 King Kamehameha was able to unite the islands and maintain peace and tradition values.  He was a great warrior that is respected and known as the monarch who founded the Kingdom of Hawaii.
Kings, gods, curses… these all seem to be part of history on Hawai’i.  Joel and I are not ones to sit poolside or play beach bums for a day while on vacation and certainly not with only 68 hours of vacation time.  Stories we are told while exploring has always been a large part of our family adventures and so is learning more about these stories.  A great place to relive days when those who broke kapu (sacred laws), defeated warriors or non-combatants could go to find refuge is in Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, a National Historical Park on the south Kona Coast.  It was a place where blood could not be shed.  A place where kahuna pule (priests) performed a ceremony of absolution so offenders could return home safely.  For a few hours Joel and I walked through the self-guided grounds, snapping pictures of old religious sites and temples.  My favorite feature of Pu’uhonua was the Great Wall, built in 1550 and is 10 feet high and 17 feet thick of stacked stones so tightly stacked, no mortar was required.  A flood of memories from our time on the Great Wall of China came over me.  What is that travel quote? I want to make memories around the world.
We wrapped up our cultural experiences with a Hawaiian Luau, traditional Polynesian feast and Fairmont Orchid’s presentation of Gathering of the Kings, a performance that retells the settlement of the Pacific.  We were taken on a journey throughout Polynesia; Samoa, Tahiti, Hawaii, and New Zealand, and how each chief would be linked to a star that guided them.  An entertaining way to explore dance, costumes and traditions throughout Polynesia.  This also served to be one of the few times we could explore the Hawaiian culture through food, like Poi and Ahi Poke.  So many wonderful dishes and the Mai Tai’s were pretty tasty as well.
That is it.  11 hours of Hawaiian history, culture, agriculture and landscapes explored, experienced, and sandwiched in between our 68 hours of Hawai’i.  Coming up on Parts 3 – 5.  It’s time to adventure by land, ocean and air to see for ourselves what Hawaii is made of.  Are those beaches really what some refer to as paradise?  Does Hawai’i really grow rock? And can I out swim a fish?  The final 20 adventurous hours of our 68 Hours of Hawai’i coming soon!