Visit the Painted Church in South Kona, Hawaii

The St. Benedict’s Roman Catholic Church in South Kona is worth a visit if you’re in the area. Located not far from Two Step, the church is famous for its detailed frescos dating back to the turn of the 20th century.

History

The church itself was built in 1842 and was moved to its current site in Honaunau in 1880. It wasn’t until 1899 that Father John Velge started work on what would become an extensive collection of frescos on the inside of the church.

The frescos depict a large array of biblical scenes including the Temptation of Christ. The paintings themselves were actually used as a teaching tool. Very few Hawaiians could read during this time period and Velge was able to use the paintings as a way to explain the events in the Bible.

Velge painted the scenes directly onto the wooden surface of the church walls using house paint. He was not professionally trained.

The paintings took Velge almost five years to complete. He was recalled to Belgium soon after completing the paintings and he died in 1939.

The church and grounds

The exterior of the church is notable for its belfry and the lattice work that adorns the front entrance. There is a small museum of Hawaiiana at the rear of the Parish Hall across the parking lot. In front of the church is a cemetery, and beyond that a view of the ocean in the distance.

How to get there

Painted Church Hawaii

The church is located about 45 minutes from downtown Kona. From the intersection of Highway 11 and Highway 160 (the Honaunau Post Office is at this intersection), turn towards the ocean and follow Hwy 160 for about 1 mile. Right after the green one mile road marker, you will see a sign for the ‘Painted Church’. Turn right on to Painted Church Road and follow the winding road for slightly less than a half mile. Turn right into the church grounds.

The Painted Church is a popular local attraction in the South Kona area and is worth a visit to admire the unique frescos.

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Restaurant review: Izakaya Shiono

Izakaya Shiono is a sushi and Japanese resturarant, serving fresh fish dishes with locally sourced fish, all prepared by experienced Japanese chefs.

We arrived on a weekday in the early afternoon. The restaurant was about half-full and we didn’t have to wait long for a table.

Izakaya Shinono’s is in the same district as Kona Brewing Company, Umeke’s Fish Market Bar and Grill, and right next door to HiCO (Hawaiian Coffee). There is a parking lot behind the restaurant that serves a number of local restaurants.

There is outdoor seating alongside the restaurant, and also a separate patio area where we found a table in the shade.

The menu

The menu is a mix of sushi, ramen and tempura. We decided to order off the lunch menu and had one main dish with a side of miso soup (included).

What we ordered

(Above). Sushi Nigiri Set – unagi cucumber ($20.50). The unagi was delicious and the sushi was excellent. Extremely tasty!

(Above). Sushi Nigiri Set – Spicy Tuna ($20.50). It was the perfect amount of tuna and the flavors were wonderful.

Unfortunately, the miso soup could have been a little hotter but this is a small complaint. The service was great, the sushi was exceptionally good, and the fish tasty and fresh.

Izakaya Shiono sources the freshest locally caught fish as well as importing the best fish from Japan. Note: the restaurant uses Tamaki Gold Koshihikari, which is considered by many to be the best short-grain rice in the world. All very good reasons to visit Izakaya Shiono for some of the best Japanese on the Big Island.

Izakaya Shiono

74-5599 Pawai Place B4 & B5

Kailua-Kona

Hawaii 96740

Ph. 808 657 4388

Hours: Mon-Sun, 11am-8pm

https://www.sushishiono.com/izakaya-shiono/

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Restaurant review: Teshima’s Restaurant

Teshima’s Restaurant has become a firm favorite among locals and tourists on the Kona Coast. Located in Kainaliu, just south of Kona, they serve a mix of simple Japanese and Hawaiian cuisine. We stopped in for lunch, early on a weekday.

We arrived at Teshima’s on Monday morning at 11:30am in time for an early lunch. Surprisingly it was already busy, but we didn’t have to wait long for a table.

Teshima’s is next to the Buddhist temple at the juncture of the old and the new Mamalahoa Highway. There is parking in front of the restaurant and also in the parking lot directly to the right of the building (in the direction of the gas station).

There is plenty of seating inside, with a mix of booths and tables.

The interior has been nicely decorated and is spacious with large ceiling fans. They do not take reservations but they do accept take-out orders and serve alcohol.

The menu

The menu is an eclectic mix of Japanese and Hawaiian. From traditional Japanese dishes, like sashimi, sukiyaki and shrimp tempura to Hawaiian dishes like ‘Kona Up-Country’ Chop Steak, homemade corned beef hash patties and Kona Coast fried ahi.

What we ordered

(Above). Beef Teriyaki with miso soup and rice ($17.99)

(Above). No. 1 Teishoku – Miso soup, sashimi, sukiyaki, tsukemono, sunomono, rice ($17.99)

(Above). Sakura Tray (Mondays only).  Sushi, beef teriyaki, fried fish, sashimi and served with rice, miso soup, tsukemono, suomono and hot green tea ($17.99)

Service was quick, friendly and efficient. The dishes we had were delicious, and the flavors simple. The range of Japanese dishes isn’t as extensive as a dedicated Japanese restaurant (there are only a couple of sushi options on the menu) but the Hawaiian dishes are very popular with the locals.

Make sure you check out this local institution when you’re next in Kainaliu.

Teshima's Restaurant

Teshima's Restaurant Hawaii

79-7251 Mamalahoa Highway

Kealakekua

Hawaii 96750

Ph. 808 322 9140

Hours: Mon-Sun, 11am-8pm

https://www.teshimarestaurant.com

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Visiting Green Sand Beach Hawaii (Papakōlea)

Green Sand Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii is one of the most unique beaches in the world, in one of the most isolated places in the world. Access to the beach isn’t easy and we explore the best ways to get there.

Kau District

Green Sand Beach is very close to Ka Lae (South Point) in the Kau district of Hawaii. South Point is the southernmost point in the United States and is also well-worth a side-trip or a separate trip on a different day.

Green Sand Beach is not far from the small settlement of Naalehu, one of the few towns on the main highway between Volcanoes National Park and South Point. The beach is about 2 hours south of Kona.

How to get there

Drive towards South Point, between mile markers 69 and 70 on Highway 11. At the end of the road it will fork. To the right is South Point itself and to the left is the Green Sand Beach parking lot.

We visited Green Sand Beach on a beautiful sunny Thursday afternoon and found the parking lot at the end of the paved road already close to full. There are a couple of options for visiting Green Sand Beach from this point:

  1. Take your own car – keep in mind that you will need a 4×4 and you will need to check your rental car company’s policy to ensure that you can take it off-road in this location (we recommend against this option – the road is extremely challenging and the landscape had been devastated by the off-road activity).
  2. Hitch a ride with a local. Locals do a roaring trade here by offering a ride on the back of truck for around $20 per person. (We also recommend against this option. Potentially dangerous, you’ll be standing in the back of pickup truck hanging on as best you can while the truck bounces precariously around like a demonic rollercoaster).
  3. Hike. Our recommended option. Park in the parking lot and walk in.

The hike

The hike to the beach is approximately 4.5 miles roundtrip. Key to making this an enjoyable hike is avoiding the sun. There is no shade on the hike and it will be dusty (passing cars kick up significant amounts of dust). Start early, bring plenty of water and proper hiking shoes.

From the parking lot, make toward the boat ramp and once there head to the left and onto the trail. The hike will take about an hour each way depending on your pace.

There are no restrooms but there are port-a-potties in the parking lot and also back at South Point.

Papakōlea Beach

Did you know that Green Sand or Papakōlea Beach is one of only four green sand beaches in the world? The others are located in Guam, the Galápagos Islands and Norway.

The beach used to be a cinder cone volcano. The lava ejected from the volcano was full of olivine. Subsequent to the eruption, erosion caused by wave action and weather began to erode the basalt rock until only the olivine was left remaining – hence the green sand!

We discovered the hard way that the road from the parking lot to the beach is in fact a collection of roads, many of which are treacherous, even with a 4×4. Unfortunately, these dirt tracks have caused significant damage to the landscape and the land is deeply scarred by the effects of large-scale traffic. 

We had to backtrack a number of times when we found that the route we had taken would not be passable, or the ground too unstable. At one point we followed a local truck ferrying people to and fro which turned out to be the best strategy. 

A parking area is visible just above the access to the beach.

Access down to the beach by foot is steep. A ladder makes the descent easier but make sure to wear sensible shoes, especially if you intend to hike there and back.

What is olivine?

The olivine group is made up of eight minerals, including forsterite (magnesium silicate, MgSiO4) and fayalite (iron silicate, (FeSiO4). These minerals are end members of a solid-solution series based on the mutual substitution of iron and magnesium.

Olivine crystals are formed at depths of at least 25 miles below the earth’s surface, in the high pressure zone of the Earth’s upper mantle. Volcanic eruptions bring the magma to the surface and these magmas solidify into basalt and basaltic pumice.

For example, Kilauea has a magma chamber that is between 3 to 6 miles beneath the surface but draws magma from much deeper where olivine crystals are present.

Visiting Green Sand Beach is well-worth the effort but how you get there is just as important. Off-road access is causing significant damage to the landscape, while catching a local ‘shuttle’ is not only considered illegal by the state it’s also dangerous. We recommend reducing your environmental footprint by hiking in and enjoying one of the Big Island’s amazing natural attractions.

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Restaurant review: Black Rock Pizza

Black Rock Pizza has become a favorite with locals and tourists. Located in the center of Captain Cook they make a large array of delicious pizzas and tasty salads, plus they have local beer on tap. We stopped by for an early dinner.

We arrived at Black Rock Pizza on a late Sunday afternoon and the restaurant was in a languid quiet phase before the dinner rush.

Black Rock is opposite ChoiceMart on Mamalahoa Highway with a small number of parking spaces directly outside the restaurant as well as adequate parking on a nearby side street.

The interior has been nicely remodeled and there is plenty of seating inside as well as outside in front. But of you want to sit outside (but not look directly onto the highway) there is also a spacious lanai at the rear with views of the ocean.

The outside seating is a big plus when it comes to remaining socially distant from other patrons when eating out, and enjoying the late afternoon breeze. We grabbed a table at the far end with a great view.

The menu

Black Rock has an extensive menu of pizzas and salads (they even do dessert – check out their cannoli) and they make their own special sauces. We ordered the Veggie Head (red sauce, spinach,  mozzarella, red onion, eggplant, zucchini, artichoke, roasted red peppers, black olive) in medium size, and the BBQ chicken (Kiawe Mango BBQ, chicken, bacon, red onion, roasted red peppers and smoked mozzarella) also in medium. They also serve wine and local beer on tap (from the Kona Brewing Company and the Ola Brewing Company).

What we ordered

(Above) Veggie Head ($20) – the pizza was delicious. The crust was just the right thickness, not too thick and not too thin. The sauce was great, and the combination of veggies was extremely tasty.

(Above) BBQ Chicken ($22) – The BBQ sauce was delicious and the chicken was crispy. Great flavor combinations.

The medium-sized (12″) pizza was a lot of pizza for one person and we both agreed that next time the 8″ pizza would have been just the right amount. Having said that, we ate every slice and were well-satisfied!

Service was quick, friendly and efficient. Black Rock Pizza also has an option to pickup uncooked pizzas so you can take them home and bake them in the oven (which might be a good option if you’re far from home). Best to call ahead if you want to pickup during the busy dinner rush. Check out their menu here.

Black Rock Pizza

82-6127 Mamalahoa Highway

Captain Cook

Hawaii 96704

Ph. 808 238 0571

Hours: Mon-Sun, 11am-8pm

https://www.blackrock.pizza

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The Big Island from the air: helicopter and fixed-wing tours

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters
Photo credit: volcanotours.com

What could be better than seeing the Big Island from the air! There are a number of options when it comes to helicopter and fixed-wing tours of the island.

Book a tour and get a better idea of the natural landscapes on the island, see the volcano from a unique perspective, or perhaps create your own custom tour of the island.

1. Paradise Helicopters

Circle Island Private Helicopter Tour in the Big Island (Paradise Helicopters)
Photo credit: paradisecopters.com

Paradise Helicopters is Hawaii’s largest locally owned and operated helicopter company and is committed to caring for the local community – you have the option of offsetting the carbon emissions from your flight via the planting of native and endemic trees. They even hold a sustainable tourism certification! 

Choose from a large number of different tour packages depending on the location of the airport (they have offices at Kona, Waimea and Hilo airports).

Selected tours include:

  • Circle Island Experience Tour – the tour starts at Kona airport and heads south over the Kona Coast coffee district, over the western slopes of Mauna Loa to the southern tip of the island, before heading for Kīlauea Volcano, Hilo and then the Kohala valleys and waterfalls. ($795 per person – 2 hours).
  • Kohala Coast Waterfalls & Remote Hike – explore the Kohala valleys and hover over huge waterfalls. At the halfway point the helicopter will land at a remote location and you’ll enjoy a short hike in the forest. ($564 per person – 1 hour plus 45-60 mins hike).
  • Experience Hawaii – explore all five volcanoes, fly over the island’s amazing beaches, valleys and coastlines. Departs from Kona, and heads south to the volcano before skirting the Kohala Coast ($725 per person – flight time varies).

For more information paradisecopters.com

EcoTourismCertified_anpwta
Hale O Keawe. Photo credit: NPS / Walsh

2. Blue Hawaiian Helicopters

Big-Island-Heli
Photo credit: bigislandhelicoptertours.com

Blue Hawaiian Helicopters is known as one of the premier aerial tour operators on the island. Super quiet, eco-star helicopters and knowledgeable pilots make for a great experience. 

Blue Hawaiian offer three main tours of the island:

  • Big Island Spectacular – Get a bigger picture of the island with this island tour. You’ll see tropical rain forests, waterfalls, valleys and of course the volcano ($649 per person, 1 hour 45 minutes). There’s also an option to add a waterfall landing. Departs from Waikoloa.
  • Circle of Fire – Take in the amazing Hawaii Volcano National Park and experience Kīlauea in all its beauty ($369 per person, 50 minutes). Departs from Hilo.
  • Kohala Coast Adventure – Explore the breathtaking Kohala coast on the island’s northwest. Stunning sea cliffs, Waipi’o Valley, and the dramatic valleys of the Kohala Mountains make this an amazing experience ($359 per person, 50 minutes). Departs from Waikoloa.

Got something else in mind? Why not book a private charter! Create your own itinerary ($3200 per hour).

For more information bluehawaiian.com

bluehawaiian
Photo credit: bluehawaiian.com

3. Safari Helicopters

Photo credit: safarihelicopters.com

Top rated by Trip Advisor, Safari Helicopters has been operating since 1987. They fly tours on the Big Island and on Kauai. 

They have just one tour on the Big Island and that’s the Volcanoes National Park & Waterfalls Safari. This tour takes in the park and the amazing waterfalls nearby (As low as $264 per person, check the website for the latest rates, 55 minutes).

Book as a private tour for $1450 and get better value per seat.

For more information safarihelicopters.com 

safari-helicopters
Photo credit: bigislandguide.com

4. Big Island Air Tours

big island air
Photo credit: bigislandair.com

Big Island Air has been operating fixed-wing tours of the Big Island for over 35 years. They use a Cessna P337H Spymaster which is air conditioned and pressurized. Every seat is a window seat and the plane holds three passengers, pilot and co-pilot.

There are four tours available to choose from:

  • Premier Island Tour – this tour takes in the entire island and departs daily from Kona Airport ($598 per person, 1 hour 30 minutes).
  • Twilight Tour – Timed to take in the amazing Big Island sunset, this is a unique tour. Includes the volcano, valleys and coastline ($688 per person, 1 hour 30 minutes).
  • Summits & Waterfalls Tour – This tour takes in the Kona Coast and heads first to Mauna Loa and the Volcano, before flying over Mauna Kea and then the Kohala Coast ($599.99 per person, 1 hour flight time).
If you’re in Maui you can also try the VIP Air Adventure tour. This tour takes in Maui and the Big Island before returning to Maui.
 
For more information bigislandair.com
 

Aerial tours are a great way to explore the island and for those wanting a close-up view of volcanic activity there is nothing better than a flight over the crater! 

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What to do in South Kona: Our top 5 attractions

South Kona has a charm of its own. We’ve compiled a list of our top 5 attractions so you can find out what makes this part of the island so special!

web1_Kainaliu-Kalikimaka_0044
Kainaliu Town. Photo credit: West Hawaii Today

South Kona is famous for its coffee plantations, spectacular snorkeling, one of the best ancient Hawaiian historic sites, and its arts community. Make sure you get your snorkeling in early – the light is better first thing, and you’ll beat the crowds, especially at popular snorkeling spot, Two Step. Later, head to a coffee farm, like Greenwell Farms, to find out how coffee is produced, shop locally in Kainaliu Town, or just relax by Kealakekua Bay or at a favorite local beach – Hoʻokena Beach Park.

1. Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historical Park (Place of Refuge) & Two Step

royal-grounds
Royal Grounds. Photo credit: Lovebigisland.com

This well-preserved historic site is one of the best in the state. The park covers 420 acres and was once a safe haven for those seeking redemption for crimes or the breaking of certain taboos. Once they reached the boundary of Place of Refuge they were safe! The wall still stands and is awe-inspiring.

There’s lots to see at Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau but if you’re stretched for time we’ve picked the highlights:

  1. The Great Wall – the wall measures 12 feet tall, 18 feet wide and over 950 feet long. Over 400 years old, the wall is constructed entirely using the dry-set masonry method (uhau humu pohaku) in which are stones fitted together without mortar. 
  2. Hale o Keawe – the main temple housing the bones of the 23 ali’i (chiefs). The temple is only able to be viewed from the outside, but it’s worth an up close visit to appreciate its mana.
  3. Pu’uhonua – take a walk past the Great Wall and into the Pu’uhonua itself. 
  4. Keone’ele – this sheltered cove in the Royal Grounds was only for the ali’i to land their canoes. Look out for turtles here, but make sure to keep a safe distance. 

For more information check out our in-depth blog post on the park here.

NPS Walsh
Hale O Keawe. Photo credit: NPS / Walsh

Two Step

Two Step Hawaii
Photo credit: bigislanddivers.com

Located just next door to Place of Refuge, is the amazing snorkeling spot known locally as Two Step. Two naturally-formed lava steps make entry into the water incredibly easy (hence the name two step). It’s mostly lava here, and not a lot of sand, but the snorkeling is easy, the currents non-existent and the parking is free. It can get busy here, so either try for first thing in the morning, or toward the end of the day. Alternatively, park in the national park next door and walk around to the bay (it’s an easy 5 minute walk).

Photo credit: Bigislandguide.com

2. Kealakekua Bay

Fair Wind Kealakakua Bay
Photo credit: fair-wind.com

The crown jewel of South Kona is undoubtedly Kealakekua Bay. This beautiful bay is part of a marine reserve and is home to beautiful coral and an amazing array of tropical fish. Dolphins are commonly seen here as they use the sheltered bay as a place to avoid predators and to sleep.

On the south side of the bay is Napoʻopoʻo Beach, a small beach where access to the water is easy, though there are no lifeguards and limited facilities. 

On the north side of the bay is Captain Cook’s Monument. To access the monument you’ll need to hike down from Napoʻopoʻo Road. Read more about this hike in our blog post about top hikes on the island here. The north side of the bay is where the best snorkeling is located and you’ll find that the tour boats typically congregate here.

There are tour operators offering snorkeling and kayaking tours, or you can rent kayaks yourself. This means you can kayak across the bay, and snorkel off the kayak (we’ve done it and we recommend this, especially if you aren’t keen on hiking down to, and back up from, Captain Cook’s monument).

Kealakekua Bay
Yellow Tang. Photo credit: thatadventurelife.com
Captain Cook trail Kona
Captain Cook Monument Trail. Photo credit: Lang Parker

3. Greenwell Farms

Photo credit: greenwellfarms.com

Don’t miss out on the internationally famous Kona coffee! We always recommend Greenwell Farms if you’re looking to visit a local coffee producer (and there are many!). The Greenwell Family were crucial in the production of the very first commercial coffee in Kona. Take one of their frequent tours around the property (the tour lasts between 45-60 minutes) and then sample some free coffee afterwards. The gift shop is the perfect place to stock up on Kona coffee or take some back home as a gift. 

No reservations are needed for a tour. The farm is open daily for tours (9am-3pm).

For more details https://www.greenwellfarms.com

Greenwell Farms Hawaii
Photo credit: greenwellfarms.com

4. Kainaliu Town

Kainaliu Town Hawaii
Kainaliu Town. Photo credit: thisldu.com

Kainaliu Town is the first town you’ll come across when you head south from Kailua-Kona. It consists of a small stretch of both old stores, that have storied histories, and the new – including clothing boutiques and galleries. The Aloha Theatre is also located in Kainaliu, so keep a lookout for their regular productions and you might be able to catch a show. Stop for a bite to eat at Rebel Kitchen, a local institution. Stretch your legs in Kainaliu and get a feel for small-town Hawaii!

Aloha Theatre Kainaliu
Aloha Theatre. Photo credit: lovebigisland.com

5. Hoʻokena Beach Park

The Hoʻokena Beach Park is located at the end of a 2.5 mile road that winds through classic Hawaiian ranch country. This coastal settlement has quite a history. In its heyday it used to be a bustling port town for steamships. It had its own post office as well as a number of stores. 

The beach park itself is now managed by a non-profit and is a local favorite. The sand is a mix of dark brown and gray, and a stretch of cliffs line one side of the beach. Swimming and snorkeling are both easy to do here. Facilities include showers and toilets. You can even camp nearby. Find out more on our blog post about the beach park here.

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Restaurant review: Umekes Fish Market Bar & Grill

Umekes restaurant has become a Kona favorite with locals and tourists. Their menu is a mix of traditional Hawaiian cuisine made with the best in local ingredients – with their own special twist.

We arrived at Umekes for lunch at 1pm on an overcast Wednesday and the restaurant was already a hive of activity. They don’t accept reservations online, instead when you arrive you check in via tablet setup outside and they send you a message when your table is ready (there is a seating area out front).

Umekes is situated in Pawai Place in Kona in what is quickly becoming a vibrant restaurant precinct. Beside Umekes is Willie’s Hot Chicken and HiCo Hawaiian Coffee, while across the road is the popular Kona Brewing Co.

Located in the courtyard of Umekes is a small stage where bands play live music in the evenings, Thursday through Saturday. Check the calendar on their website for more details on what’s on.

There is plenty of seating inside and as well as outside – which is covered. The outside seating is a big plus when it comes to remaining socially distant from other patrons when eating out.

The menu

Umekes has an extensive menu and prides itself on serving dishes using as many locally-sourced ingredients as possible. Meat and produce are sourced from local fisherman, farmers and ranchers. 

The restaurant is famous for its poke bowls (umeke is Hawaiian for bowl), like its spicy aioli with Hawaiian salt & onions or creamy avocado, with Hawaiian salt & onions and avocado aioli.

What we ordered

Umekes Fish Tacos ($24) – three cajun grilled (or tempura fried – we chose grilled) ahi tacos with avocado, pineapple lomi salsa, cabbage slaw, crispy fried onions and garlic aioli in a flour tortilla. 

The fish was delicious, and grilled to perfection. This might be a dish to share as they were three good-sized tacos, and one of us couldn’t quite get through them all!

Korean Chicken ($20) – Boneless deep fried chicken tossed in a sweet and savory Korean sauce.

Generous servings and the verdict on this dish? Delicious!

Umekes Kona Hawaii

Seared Ahi Caesar ($20) – Crisp baby romaine tossed in house caesar dressing with fresh blackened ahi and crispy wonton strips.

Perfectly seared ahi and a generous amount of salad.

Service was quick, friendly and efficient. Umekes also offers a unique fishing experience. Choose from a number of different packages that include a boat trip and then a dinner afterward in which your catch is cooked the way you want it! For more information on how it all works click here.

Umekes
Vege Stir Fry ($18)

Tofu and seasonal veggies stir fried in our house teriyaki sauce in a crispy lumpia basket.

Update: August 2022

We went back for lunch and tried out some of the other items on the menu. We chose the ono for the fish and chips and it was perfectly done.

Umekes 3
Fish and Chips ($17)

Beer Battered and Deep Fried Fresh Catch with our Homemade Furikake Rémoulade & Fries.

Umekes
Seared Ahi Caesar salad ($20) and Poke Lettuce Cups ($18)

Update: November 2022

We went back for lunch. This time we chose the Big Boy Plate and Boneless Kalbi Short Ribs.

Boneless Ribs
Boneless Kalbi Short Ribs ($24)

Tender beef braised in a Korean sauce, garnished with green onion and sesame seeds. The beef was a bit on the dry side but the sauce helped.

Big Boy Plate ($25)

The Big Boy plate is your choice of two poke sides and two salad sides with your choice of white or brown rice. I chose the Ho’io salad and the Lomi Lomi salmon side, to go with the ‘Da Ava’ poke and the ‘Sweetie’ poke selections. Good flavors – though there is quite a lot of sauce used for the poke which does tend to overshadow the flavor of the fish itself.

Umekes Fish Market Bar & Grill

74-5599 Pawai Place

Kailua-Kona

Hawaii 96740

Ph. 808 238 0571

Hours: Mon-Sun, 11am-9pm

https://www.umekesrestaurants.com

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What happened to the sugar? The history of the sugar industry on the Big Island of Hawaii

Hamakua Coast Sugar
Photo credit: hawaiilife.com

Wild sugar cane still grows on the Big Island but the sugar industry was once a big part of the state’s economy, supplying sugar to the mainland and employing large numbers of people.

History

The first sugar mill in the state was built on Lanai in 1802 and the first sugar plantation was established a year later. By the American Civil War the demand for sugar was high. The industry was controlled by five main companies – C. Brewer & Co., Theo H. Davies & Co., Amfac, Castle & Cooke and Alexander & Baldwin. People were brought in to work on the new sugar plantations from a number of different countries including China, Japan, Korea, Portugal and the Philippines.

Hawaii sugar plantation
Sugar cane. Photo credit: hawaiiplantationmuseum.org

But it was the Reciprocity Treaty of 1875 between the US and the Kingdom of Hawaii that allowed Hawaii unconditional access to the US market and further fueled the booming sugar economy in the islands. Import tariffs were removed and what had previously been small scale sugar production now exploded. By the end of the 19th century hand milling was replaced by mechanical milling. The raw sugar was then shipped to the California & Hawaiian Sugar Refining Corporation on the mainland.

Sugar on the Kona Coast

The first sugar plantation in Kona was built by Judge C.F. Hart in 1869. By the beginning of the 20th century sugar was seen as a lucrative opportunity in the islands and Kona was no exception. At one point a railway line extending over 10 miles was built to bring sugar cane to a mill near Kona. The Kona Sugar Company was established in 1899, and the first sugar mill built above Kailua-Kona village a few years later.

Kona Sugar Plantation
The Kona Sugar Company mill. Photo credit: konahistorical.org

Sugar cane grew well at the 500 ft. elevation but the requirement for large volumes of fresh water meant it needed to be located near the Wai’aha Stream. The stream would eventually prove unable to provide the amount of water needed by the mill throughout the year and the company went broke in 1903. Over the next two decades other investors tried their luck with the mill but by 1926 producing sugar on the Kona Coast was no longer viable and the mill closed.

Interested in seeing the remnants of the sugar industry? The remains of the old sugar mill can be seen from the top of Nani Kailua and Aloha Kona neighborhoods. Along Hualalai Road, near the intersection with Hienaloli Road, large stone embankments are still visible, all built by hand for the railroad bed. The abandoned stone trestle of the railroad can also be seen in this area. The railbed itself can even be hiked!

Kona Sugar Mill ruins
Remnants of the old Sugar Mill in Kona. Photo credit: Donnie MacGowan
Kona Sugar Mill ruins
Abandoned stone trestle of the railroad. Photo credit: Donnie MacGowan

Sugar on the Hamakua Coast

The Hamakua Coast was perfect for the production of sugar cane. The area’s climate meant sugar cane could flourish without intensive irrigation. Large tracts of land were cleared in order to plant the sugar cane and it was often the native forest that was used as fuel for the sugar mills. Honoka’a and Laupahoehoe sprung up around the newly created sugar mills and plantations.

Along with the sugar cane plantations came great infrastructure investment. The Hilo Railroad Company laid railroad tracks at huge expense. There were over 3,000 feet of tunnels and it was this cost that eventually bankrupted the company.

3 Sugar-Cane Hawaii
Sugar cane. Photo credit: pandaonline.com

There was declining demand for sugar during the Depression in the 1930s but a spike in demand did occur briefly in the 1940s. The very end of the sugar industry in the area came after the tsunami in 1946. The wave effectively destroyed the railroad and marked the end of the industry.

Once used for sugarcane production, the land is now utilized by other agricultural products, such as macadamia nuts and tropical flowers.

Recent past

Sugar production continued on the other islands and as recently as 1980 there were 14 plantations and over 500 independent sugar growers throughout the state, producing a total of about 1 million tonnes of raw sugar each year. At this time the state of Hawaii was supplying roughly 10% of the sugar consumed by the United States.

The last sugar mill – Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company's Pu'unene mill on Maui. Photo credit: Joanna Orpia

By the 90s much of the sugar production had ceased as sugar became cheaper to produce elsewhere. Ka’u Sugar, the last on the Big Island, closed its doors in 1996. The last sugar operation in the state finally closed in 2016 on Maui.

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Shave Ice on the Big Island of Hawaii

Hawaiian Airlines Shave Ice
Photo credit: Hawaiian Airlines

The 100% Hawaiian frozen treat has become an iconic part of life in the islands. It’s a simple recipe – super finely shaved ice, drizzled with a selection of rainbow-colored syrups. And don’t forget, it’s shave ice (no ‘d’ required)!

History

Shave ice can be traced back to the original Japanese immigrants who arrived in the Islands to work on the sugar and pineapple plantations in the mid-1800s. They would shave flakes off large blocks of ice and then coat the ice with sugar or fruit juice (shaved ice became shave ice in pidgin).

Eventually shave ice was sold in general stores, including one of the first shave ice stores, Matsumoto’s Shave Ice, which opened in 1951.

Photo credit: Anuenue Shave Ice Big Island Hawaii @moonlitmermaid

The recipe

What makes Hawaiian shave ice so distinctive? Unlike it’s mainland equivalent – snow cones – shave ice is made with finely shaved ice, not crushed ice. This makes for a light, almost snow-like powder, perfect for dousing with syrups! From there the ice is shaped into either a cup or a cone, and drizzled with syrup. 

The extras

Shave ice can also be upgraded with plenty of toppings or extras. These can include, Azuki beans (a red bean and sugar mixture) placed in the bottom of the cup, a scoop of ice cream in the center of the shave ice, mochi balls, fresh fruit or even a topping of sweetened condensed milk.

Where to go on the Big Island

Original Big Island Shave Ice

1. Original Big Island Shave Ice

69-250 Waikoloa Beach Drive, Waikoloa, HI 
(808) 895-6069
Tuesday – Sunday 11:30am – 6:30pm

Original Big Island Shave Ice Co. takes pride in serving some of the best shave ice on the island since 1957. They use homemade natural syrup recipes and also have a selection of delicious, local-favorite toppings. 

2. Anuenue Ice Cream & Shave Ice

61-3665 Akoni Pule Hwy, Kawaihae Shopping Ctr, Kamuela, HI 
(808) 882-1109
11:00 am – 6:00 pm

Located in the northern part of the island, Anuenue Ice Cream & Shave Ice has been voted best shave ice on the Big Island for five years in a row. This little store has a great selection of flavors.

3. Scandinavian Shave Ice

75-5699 Alii Dr, Kailua Kona, Hawaii, on the corner of Alii Dr. and Likana Lane.
(808) 326-2522
Open Monday – Saturday 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Sundays 11:00 am – 8:00 pm

Known as Scandi to the locals, this iconic store has been serving shave ice since the early 90s. Choose from 65 flavors, ice cream or frozen yoghurt in the middle (ice cream is our favorite!) and enjoy your shave ice as you stroll along the picturesque waterfront.

4. Kula Shave Ice

57 Mamo St, Hilo, HI 96720
(808) 464-4821
10:00 am – 4:00 pm

Kula Shave Ice serves the best shave ice in Hilo, with syrups made in-house from scratch, using the highest quality ingredients and plenty of love and aloha. They also serve organic cold brew coffee, tea, açaí bowls, ice cream, and Waipio Valley Poi!

5. One Aloha Shave Ice

75-5711 Kuakini Hwy Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740
(808) 327-1717
11:00 am- 6:30 pm

Open since 2015, One Aloha Shave Ice make homemade shave ice syrups lightly sweetened with certified organic cane sugar and organic and local no spray fruits. Voted Best of West Hawaii for 2016 and 2017!

Photo credit: saltandwind.com

Treat yourself! Try one of Hawaii’s signature treats when you’re on the Big Island. Guaranteed to keep you cool on a hot Hawaiian day. 

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