Hawai'i -- Big Island Day Trip
My Vacation within a vacation
The Big Island
Planning large family vacations, even those without children or teenagers, typically means juggling the logistics of transportation, activities, and meals. And even with a crowd, there will usually be groups who want to break off to visit a particular point of interest, do some shopping, or just take a break and relax. A recent family trip to Hawaii gave me the perfect opportunity to work in a motorcycle ride and see the sights at my own pace, in my favorite way. Arranging a motorcycle rental on the Big Island of Hawaii turned out to be both more difficult than it should have been, and easier than I had imagined. The morning I planned to ride, I discovered that the company I had originally arranged to rent from actually folded just before we arrived in Hawaii. Thankfully, I hadn't put down a deposit, but it was still a bit of a shock. Fortunately, we happened to pass the local Harley-Davidson dealership on the way to the now-closed offices of my original motorcycle rental company, and it was simple enough to double back and check in with them. I had never ridden a Harley before, but I figured I had no reason not to give it a shot. The folks as Big Island Harley-Davidson couldn't have been nicer. Here I was, some random tourist asking about renting a motorcycle without having reserved one in advance. But they had me registered, set up, and on the road in about 20 minutes.
The Ride My plan was to ride a 170-mile loop From Kailua-Kona to Hilo and back. I would take Highway 19 (Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway) north along the coast out of Kailua-Kona, then follow it (as A Mamalahoa Highway) east to stop or lunch at Waimea at a top-rated restaurant, before swinging around the northeastern coast and following that down to Hilo. The ride back to Kailua-Kona would be straight west out of Hilo along the Saddle Road, the Daniel K. Inouye Memorial Highway, and finally Highway 190.
It didn't take me more than a mile or two to get used to the bike. The little Harley-Davidson Iron 883 I rode was very different from my Triumph Speed Triple, but they call this style of motorcycle a Cruiser for a reason. By the time I had made it out of town, I had settled into it quite nicely. The quality of the roads on the Big Island is outstanding. Granted, the shoulders (where they have them) are a scary mix of volcanic rubble, plant life, and sand, but smooth, sweeping turns skirting state parks and forest reserves, first along volcanic grasslands and later through tree-choked interior valleys, were the order of the day. Stopping for lunch in Waimea was a stroke of genius. Seasoned travelers know that the best food to be found is always at the out-of-the-way places where the locals hang out. Hawaiian Style Cafe was a perfect example of that. Known for authentic, downhome cooking, the food here was the best I had during my entire vacation, and all at an extremely reasonable price (for Hawaii, that is; even staples are pretty spendy here).
I had pulled into a gas station in Hāmākua, south of the Laupahoehoe Beach Park, and just short of my halfway point, when I made a quick check of the weather. Sure enough, Hilo was living up to its reputation as the rainiest city in America. The leeward side of Mauna Kea is essentially a giant water faucet, and it isn't unusual for warm, perfectly sunny days to suddenly turn on you. Continuing my ride south would have meant riding through a downpour in a half-helmet without any rain gear, so Plan B it was: backtrack and head back the way I had come.
The ride back was just as gorgeous and enjoyable as the ride out. The lone exception was the brief shower that managed to catch me just outside the Pu'u Wa'awa'a Cinder Cone State Park. Did I mention that I was wearing a half-helmet? I didn't bother to bring my regular helmet, figuring I would be provided with one when I rented a bike.
Big mistake. As I discovered, being pelted in the face with rain when you are going 60 mph is a horrible experience. Even with sunglasses on to protect my eyes, I had to pull off onto one of those scary Hawaiian highway shoulders for a few minutes to let the shower pass.
Overall, this was an excellent idea and something I would recommend to every rider. Treat yourself, and plan a day on your next vacation and explore your destination in a way that very few visitors manage to experience it.