Koa: The Big Island’s Treasured Wood

Koa Pig Board Horizon Guest House Hawai
Pig board showing example of 'compression or fire' very rare even for curly koa

To the casual visitor, Hawaii is sunshine and beaches. But it’s more than that. If you visit often, or for long enough, or are lucky enough to live here, you’ll discover a unique product that is grown only in Hawaii (endemic) – and no, it’s not taro, lilikoi, or even lychee: it’s Acacia koa, simply known here as koa.

Koa stand Horizon BnB Kona Coast Hawaii
Plant stand by Russ Johnson

In ancient times, it was so prized that it was made kapu, prohibited for anyone to possess except for the royal class (ali’i). Upon the death of King Kamehameha in the late 1700’s, the kapu was removed, allowing all Hawaiians to possess this unique wood.

Koa bowl 2 Horizon Guest House Hawaii Big Island
Classic Hawaii bowl or umeke

Similar to black walnut and known for its hardness and extraordinary beauty, the Hawaiians found a wide range of uses for koa, from canoes to household dishes and utensils. When malihini settlers arrived, they discovered that it is also a ‘tonewood’ and could be used to make stringed instruments, such as the ukulele.

Koa Pen Horizon Guest House Hawaii Big Island
Curly koa ball point pen

Koa trees can attain a height of 50-75 feet and a trunk circumference of 20 feet. They are one of the fastest-growing Hawaiian trees, capable of reaching 20-30 feet in five years.

Koa wood Horizon B&B Hawaii
Detail of fine-grained koa

Ideally adapted to volcanic conditions, the larger Hawaiian islands supported huge forests of magnificent koa trees. However, the introduction of cattle, and the resulting clearance of huge swaths for pastures, severely reduced it’s habitat.

Koa trees are not endangered and recent restrictions on cutting, and protecting the seedlings from grazing cattle, sheep, and goats, have increased its population.

BUT! The only koa that can be harvested are dead or decaying koa trees on public lands.

Koa wood Horizon Guest House Hawaii
Headboard, part of 4-poster bed patterned on King Kamehameha’s bed

It can take more than 25 years before a seedling grows into a tree large enough to be useful. In the meantime, it’s a premium wood selling for as much as $150/board. A fine piece of koa furniture, such as a dining table will set you back as much as a small car. There are several galleries on the Big Island that showcase koa pieces, Hawaii Treasure Mill and Harbor Gallery among others.

Quilt koa Horizon Guest House Hawaii Big Island
Quilted bedspread in koa leaf pattern by Sig Zane
Koa bowl Horizon Guest House Kona Coast Hawaii
Curly Koa
Author: Angus Meek

Restaurant review: The Korner Pocket Sports Bar & Grill

The Korner Pocket Sports Bar & Grill is a South Kona institution. Popular with locals and tourists alike, Korner Pocket is in Kealakekua close to Highway 11. Open every day, they also do a Sunday brunch. A great place to stop on your way south!

We arrived for lunch mid-week and there were plenty of tables. There is also easy parking in the parking lot in front of the restaurant. You can choose to eat inside or outside where there is a covered lanai. The service was great and the menu has some great options. 

Of course it is a sports bar and this is well-catered for with nine TVs and two pool tables. It can be a little noisy inside but there is a great outdoor lanai with seating which we found to be perfect. 

The menu

Korner Pocket uses fresh, grass-fed beef for their hamburgers, served on locally-made fresh buns. They also offer – slow-cooked prime rib, spicy poke nachos, fish and chips, tacos and salads, as part of an extensive menu.

What we ordered

(Above) Blackened Ono Sandwich $16.95 – Lettuce, tomato, pickled red onion & aioli on a French brioche bun with a side salad.

(Above) KP Patty Melt $14.95 – Toasted rye, sautéed onions and Swiss cheese.

We took advantage of the outdoor seating which is to the left as you walk into Korner Pocket from the main parking lot entrance (the outdoor seating is located behind the screen in the photo below).

The fish sandwich was delicious and perfectly cooked as was the KP patty melt. 

The Korner Pocket Sports Bar & Grill is a great place to grab a quick lunch, or to watch the game, or to simply spend the afternoon or evening having a leisurely meal. 

Korner Pocket Sports Bar & Grill

81-970 Haleki’i Street 
Kealakekua

Hawaii 96750

Ph. 808 322 2994

Hours: Mon – Thurs 11am – 8pm, Fri – Sat 11am – 9pm, Sun 9am – 8pm

https://kornerpocketkona.com

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The Mighty Hawaiian Avocado

Everyone loves avocados. Hawaiian avocados have a delicious, rich, creamy flavor and are packed with healthy oils. The Hawaiian climate makes growing avocados easy and they’ve become one of Hawaii’s favorite exports.

200 avocado varieties

There are over 200 different avocado varieties grown throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Cross-pollination is responsible for the proliferation of the avocado varieties. But it’s the Hawaiian climate that’s the reason for why many believe Hawaiian avocados are some of the best in the world. The microclimates and the fertile soil often produce very large avocados with significantly higher amounts of healthy oils. The avocado season usually runs from September to May of the following year.

The main variety of avocado grown in Hawaii is the Sharwil variety (above). Originally from Australia, the Sharwil has a velvety smooth, creamy texture. This variety is often exported to the mainland. They have a classic pear shape and we grow this variety here at the guest house. It grows very well along the Kona Coast.

Did you know that you can freeze avocados?

All it takes is a little preparation and you’ll be eating avocados all year round. First, cut the avocado in half and remove the seed. Smear some lemon juice on the open flesh of each cut half. Wrap each half with plastic cling wrap, careful to make sure it’s entirely sealed. Place the cut halves of the avocado in a freezer bag and seal tight. Freeze and enjoy avocado anytime!

Butter avocados

Perhaps our favorite avocado is the Kahalu’u variety (below), also known as the butter avocado. This variety has a buttery, creamy texture and can grow to twice the size of the average Sharwil variety. The season for the Kahalu’u is from late October to December. We have a Kahalu’u avocado tree here at Horizon. This season we have seen some huge avocados from our tree, many over 1.5 pounds each!

Other popular varieties grown in the islands include the Malama, Yamagata, Greengold, Beshore and of course the popular Hass. The Hass is a smaller avocado with a pleasant flavor but overall contains less oil content than the other Hawaiian varieties. Many of the Hawaiian varieties were named after the families of farmers who discovered the seedlings.

Most avocado trees are not grown from seed but are grafted, a process in which part of an existing mature tree is cut and placed in a rootstock. This process means that there remains consistency in the quality of the fruit with the new trees. The first time yield for an avocado tree is 8 to 12 years, but there is nothing like the creamy, rich texture of the mighty Hawaiian avocados – they are well worth the wait.

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Snorkeling Kahalu’u Beach Park

Kahaluu-bay Kona 2
Photo credit: lovebigisland.com

Kahalu’u Beach Park is one the most popular snorkeling spots on the Big Island of Hawaii. While we recommend Two Step and Kealakekua Bay as two of the best, Kahaluʻu Bay has its own charm.

The beach park is located in calm water only minutes drive south of Kailua-Kona. Its easy location makes it the perfect place to snorkel if you are staying near Ali’i Drive, or in one of the hotels around the waterfront.

Kahaluu-Bay-Aerial_Please-Credit-The-Keeper-of-Bay-Production-resized
Photo credit: Kahalu‘u Bay Education Center

The bay itself is well-protected by a fringing reef, providing safe, calm waters for your snorkeling adventure. The water is relatively shallow, at about 4-5 feet deep. Green sea turtles are often seen in the bay as they like to sun themselves on the rocks.

Some of the sea life you might see when snorkeling include: sea urchins, octopus, eels, turtles, and of course plenty of tropical fish such as yellow tang, parrotfish, rainbow fish, and more.

hawaii-snorkeling-at-kahaluu-beach-park-big-island
Photo credit: wanderwisdom.com

Take care to snorkel in the south part of the bay. Traditionally, the north part of the bay is where surfers congregate. But there’s plenty of room for snorkelers and surfers alike! 

Free parking is available at the beach park. There are also picnic tables, showers and bathrooms, and snorkel rentals. Lifeguards are on duty from 9:30am–4:45pm every day.

Keep in mind that this is a very popular snorkeling destination because of its accessibility to downtown Kona. During the busy season (Nov-Mar) it can get crowded. Your best strategy is to arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds. The ocean will be at its most calm first thing in the morning before the wind changes to onshore. 

The best snorkeling is found in the cove directly out from where you first enter the water. The water is a little clearer further out, due to the fresh groundwater that comes up through the sand near the shoreline causing a blurry effect in the water.

Photo credit: paradiseinhawaii.com

When the tide goes out there are plenty of shallow tide pools to explore in amongst the rocks. The park also has large pavilions for added shade and the beach park is the perfect place to bring a picnic lunch. Don’t have a car? The beach park is close enough to Kailua-Kona you can walk to it (if you’re staying nearby), cycle to it, or make use of the Kona Trolley! 

If your stay on the Big Island is limited then a short trip to Kahaluʻu Beach Park for snorkeling is well worth it. Make sure you get there early to avoid the crowds, and before the parking lot begins to fill up! 

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Rambutan on the Big Island

The Rambutan has an unusual, almost alien-like appearance, with its bright red skin and numerous red pliable spines. But this fruit hides a delicious flesh inside and is definitely one to try during your Big Island stay. 

Where did the rambutan come from?

The rambutan is not endemic to Hawaii. The fruit is native to Southeast Asia and is a relative of the lychee, longan and mamoncillo. The name rambutan comes from the Malay-Indonesian word for hair ‘rambut’, due to the fruit being covered in hair-like spines.

The rambutan

The rambutan tree is an evergreen tree that can grow to almost 80 ft. The fruit range in size from 1-2.5 inches in length. The flesh of the fruit is translucent and contains a single seed. The rambutan is eaten raw by simply cutting open and then extracting the flesh inside (you can also pull apart the skin from the middle if you don’t have a knife). The entire fruit can also be cooked and even the seed is edible.

The flesh itself is sweet and fragrant with a floral flavor. The flesh is jelly-like in consistency and is super healthy, containing vitamin C, iron and potassium. It’s often used in desserts, like sorbets and puddings as well as in curries and other savory dishes. Their shelf-life is short and they are often made into jams and jellies.

You will often find rambutan at farmers markets rather than at your local grocery store as the fruit themselves don’t travel well. Like lychee, they are even better when chilled before eating.

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Essential Big Island: Two Step snorkeling

The Big Island has some of the best snorkeling in the state of Hawaii. Two Step is one of those places (along with nearby Kealakekua Bay). We recommend you don’t miss out on this amazing snorkeling spot.

South Kona is perhaps most famous for coffee and snorkeling. Both Two Step and Kealakekua Bay have some of the best snorkeling on the island and in the entire state. Two Step is especially popular because it’s easy to get to and even easier to jump straight into the ocean and start snorkeling.

Two Step Hawaii
Photo credit: bigislanddivers.com

Two Step is the name of the beach and also the name of the two naturally occurring steps inset into the rock at the ocean’s edge. These steps are where you enter the water. It can get crowded at peak times, so we recommend getting to Two Step as early as possible. This way you will beat the crowds and also take advantage of the calm ocean surface which is best for snorkeling. Alternatively, the end of the day can be a less crowded time to go snorkeling too.

You will find parking right at the beach itself but keep in mind this fills up quickly. On the opposite side of the road is paid parking. There is more free parking on the side of the road which approaches the National Park next to Two Step. If you park here it’s just a two minute walk down to the beach. You can also park in the National Park itself.

Entering the water is easy because of the two naturally-formed lava steps (hence the name two step). It’s mostly lava here, and there isn’t much sand. But the snorkeling is easy and there are no currents, making it a perfect place for beginners to try snorkeling. We recommend using a flotation device (either a belt, or even a boogie board) if you feel apprehensive about being in deep water (10-15 feet). Using a boogie board is a great way to simply relax and concentrate on observing the marine life.

Photo credit: Bigislandguide.com

Two Step is popular with local residents and tourists alike. Despite the lack of sand there is still shade and it makes a nice location to set up a beach chair and relax by the ocean. There is also a shallow bay to the left of the boat ramp that serves as a safe place for children to swim, or adults who aren’t confident in deeper water.

Two Step is one of the jewels of South Kona. You’ll see plenty of fish including yellow tang, butterflyfish, eel, parrotfish, and puffer fish, to name a few. You might even see dolphins and the occasional turtle. Keep in mind it’s now illegal to swim with spinner dolphins. A distance of at least 50 yards must be maintained at all times.

There are limited facilities at Two Step. There are porta potty restrooms, but no showers. There are also a few picnic tables.

Two Step is definitely an essential stop on your Big Island journey. Whether you’re a seasoned snorkeler or just a beginner, there is something for everyone at South Kona’s celebrated snorkeling spot.

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Essential Big Island: Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau Place of Refuge

Essential Big Island is a series of blogs focused on sites or attractions that are a must-see for any visitor to the island.

Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, or Place of Refuge, is a National Historical Park of great significance to the island and to the state of Hawaii. From history to architecture, this is absolutely an essential stop on your Hawaii experience!

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park is located in South Kona. Take Mamalahoa Highway (Hwy. 11) to Ke Ala o Keawe Road (Hwy. 160) – between mile markers 103 and 104 (the Honaunau Post Office is on the corner). Follow Hwy. 160 all the way down to the entrance at the bottom of the hill. The park is open daily 8:30am-4:30pm. Make sure you pick up a free brochure just outside the gift shop before you enter the park. The brochure includes a detailed, easy-to-follow map of the park. 

There is plenty of parking inside the park and a well-stocked gift shop.

What happened at Place of Refuge?

Kapu, or the laws that Hawaiians adhered too, could be violated in a number of different ways. These included when a woman eats with a man, a fish is caught out of season, or even when a commoner’s shadow falls on an ali’i.

Penalties for these types of crimes were harsh. You could face the death penalty, in which case your only recourse was to escape your captors on foot, find your way to the coast, and then swim to the Place of Refuge (the area of land bordered by the Great Wall and the edge of the coastline). Once there you could seek to be absolved by the priest for your crime.

Stop by the amphitheater to watch a film about the park

Royal grounds

The Royal Grounds were the primary gathering place for local chiefs. Here was where they would meet, hold ceremonies and negotiate during wartime. They also took part in games such as kōnane (a board game). Here is also where priests were consulted by the chiefs when guidance was required.  

The Royal Grounds with the Hālau wa’a (canoe house) in the background.

Hālau wa’a (canoe house).

Looking toward Two Step, a popular snorkeling spot.

Kōnane is a strategy game played with black and white pebbles on a stone playing surface called a papamū.

The Great Wall

The Great Wall is up to 12 feet in height, 18 feet wide and over 950 feet in length. Constructed over 400 years ago, the wall was built using dry-set masonry – a technique in which stones are placed without mortar.

Hale o Keawe

In ancient Hawaii the Royal Grounds were believed to be the center of power. The grounds contain the main temple (heiau), above, where the bones of many chiefs (ali’i) were buried. The temple retained a special kind of spiritual power, known as mana

Pahoehoe lava – a type of lava that is characterized by a smooth, billowy surface.
 

The Royal Fish Ponds

These ponds held fish that were to be eaten only by the ali’i.

The 1871 to Ki’ilae Village. The ancient trail was remade in 1871. Take a 2.25 mile hike (roundtrip) that includes ancient sites and volcanic features.

Park Highlights

There’s lots to see at Place of Refuge so we’ve picked some highlights:

  1. The Great Wall – the wall measures 12 feet tall, 18 feet wide and over 950 feet long. 
  2. Hale o Keawe – the main temple housing the bones of the chiefs. The temple is only able to be viewed from the outside, but it’s an impressive structure.
  3. Pu’uhonua – get up close to the Great Wall and then walk into the Pu’uhonua, or Place of Refuge, itself. 
  4. Keone’ele – this is a sheltered cove that was only for the use of the ali’i to land their canoes. Look out – you might see some turtles here.

Place of Refuge was also a sanctuary during other times. During war it was designated a place for children, elders, and those not involved in warfare to seek sanctuary. Kapu was officially ended in 1819 along with the custom of seeking refuge at Pu’uhonua Hōnaunau.

Make sure you visit Pu’uhonua O Hōnaunau on your Big Island adventure. Learn and discover what life was like in ancient Hawaii at one of the best-preserved historic sites in the state.

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Hawaii’s Amazing Kukui Nut

The little-known state tree of Hawaii is the kukui nut tree. The tree is common throughout the Hawaiian Island chain and features prominently in Hawaiian culture and mythology. Used for medicinal purposes, Hawaii’s amazing kukui nut is also polished and turned into spectacular black leis.

Where did the kukui nut tree come from?

The kukui tree originally arrived in Hawaii along with the first Polynesians. They traveled to Hawaii with the seeds of the tree in their canoes. The kukui nut tree is also known as the candlenut tree because the early settlers used the kukui nut for candles. Canoes were constructed from the wood of the kukui tree. The root of the tree was used in the process of making black paint. The paint was then used to decorate tapa cloth. By 1959 it was designated the official tree of Hawaii.

The Kukui nut

The kukui nut is used for a number of different purposes. The oil extracted from the nut was used to coat fishing nets and to water-proof canoes. The oil was also used for sore muscles, a balm for burns, and a medicine for other skin ailments. The oil was also used as an ingredients in soaps and lotions. The outer shell of the nut was used in the creation of natural dyes for tattoos.

In order to use the nut as a candle the nuts were gathered and placed along the middle part of a coconut palm frond. They were then lit and then burnt one at a time. In this way, ancient Hawaiians were able to use the burning nuts to tell the time since each nut took about 15 minutes to burn.

The nuts can also be turned into a spice. They are first roasted and the inside of the nut is turned into a spice called inamona. It also had another medicinal use – excess consumption of the inside of the nut has a laxative effect!

(The photos below show the kukui nut in stages, from when it’s first picked fresh, then as it ages, as the shell breaks away, and finally the nut itself).

Kukui nut leis

In order to create the famous kukui nut leis, the nuts are collected then sanded, buffed and eventually polished until they produce a dark brown or black color. The leis themselves are often used by hula dancers, or exchanged by couples at marriage ceremonies. Kukui nuts have also been used as prayer tokens. They were thought to capture a person’s spiritual energy. The kukui nut leis were often worn by Kahunas (priests) and the aili’i (royalty).

Hawaii’s amazing kukui nut has a wide variety of uses but there’s nothing like a beautifully polished kukui nut lei! 

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Restaurant review: Menehune Restaurant

Menehune Restaurant is located on Mamalahoa Highway in South Kona, just south of Captain Cook. They serve a great variety of breakfast and lunch dishes. Open from 6am to 3pm. A handy pitstop on your journey south!

We arrived for lunch early in the week and there were plenty of tables. There is also easy parking in front of the restaurant. The service was super friendly and the menu is extensive.

The menu

For breakfast choose from – a range of omelettes or waffles, or go for their classic breakfast options – like biscuits and gravy, a breakfast burrito, a wrap, or a turkey & Swiss croissant. For lunch choose from sandwiches, wraps, burgers, salads or fish and chips.

What we ordered

(Above) Fish and Chips – beer batter crispy fresh caught fish, French fries, citrus slaw, and tartar sauce ($26.95)

(Above) Ono sandwich with avocado and slaw ($29.95)

The fish and chips were tasty and the portion was large. The Ono sandwich however, was overpriced for what it was and wasn’t as flavorful as expected. This was disappointing. We do like to support local businesses but the prices at Menehune Restaurant are on the steep side. If you’re looking for a lunch spot on your way out of Kona there are other restaurants to choose from such as the Coffee Shack that might be a better option in this area. 

(*Please note, we haven’t tried their breakfast menu).

Menehune Restaurant

84-5227 Mamalahoa Hwy 
Captain Cook

Hawaii 96704

Ph. 808 238 0627

Hours: Mon – Sun, 6am – 3pm

https://www.menehunecoffee.com/restaurant/

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Parasailing Kona

Parasailing is a fun way to get out on the water, to get above the water, and to get some amazing views of Kailua-Kona and the surrounding coastline. We give you all the details on how it works and where to book to parasail your way above Kona.

(Check out the video below of our recent parasailing adventure!)

Once out on the boat you are strapped into the harness containing a nylon seat and a bar in front. The parasail is inflated and the speed of the boat is increased. As this occurs the parasail picks you up and you float up and back into the air. The process is smooth and easy.

As you float away from the boat the sound of the engine fades and you are left with simply the sound of the wind, and the gentle creak of the ropes attached to the sail.

The entire experience lasts about ten minutes. During this time the boat slows in order to bring you down closer to the water before sending you back up into the air again. At the end of the parasail they carefully winch you back in, at which point you float back onto the boat, landing on your feet.

Our captain and assistant were friendly and engaging, and the views of Kona and the coastline were amazing!

(*Special thanks to our friend Rob for taking the video of his tandem parasail with Clem!)

UFO Parasail

UFO Parasail offers parasailing at competitive prices and at two different heights (either parasail to 800 or 1200 ft). Book online or give them a call.

Parasailing Kona Hawaii

Check-in: Kailua Pier, next to the Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha Hotel lobby. Look for the blue umbrella attached to our boat trailer on the left hand side of the pier.

Parking: Parking is available at the Courtyard Marriott King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel. UFO offers discounted parking validation for the self parking section, 3 hours for $2. Regular parking fees are $10 per hour and $25 per day without UFO validation.

Parasailing Big Island Hawaii

Pricing:

800 Ft Express Soaring
Per Person
$116

1200 Ft Out of This World
Per Person
$136

Observer
Per Person
$79

Private Charter
$1199

Parasailing Kona is a great experience, don’t miss out on seeing Kailua-Kona from a unique perspective!

**Please note this is not a paid promotion for UFO Parasail, we just had a great experience with them!**

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