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by Caroline M. Jackson

"I lay down on the floor. But a rat came and bothered me, and shortly afterward a procession of cockroaches arrived and camped in my hair." Mark Twain's graphic description of life aboard a schooner off the Kona coast in 1866 did nothing to raise my expectations for an early morning cruise along the same coastline. Thus when my husband and I stepped aboard the spanking Fair Wind II catamaran, we were much relieved to find the vessel meticulously clean with nary a rat or cockroach in sight.

Our destination was the protected waters of Kealakekua Bay near a monument erected in memory of Captain Cook. Once the crew equipped me with snorkel gear and frog feet, a wave of trepidation came over me as I descended the catamaran's stairway. On the previous day, a rogue wave had tossed me onto a resort beach, swamped my swimsuit with sand and left my favorite frog flippers ripped in tatters. This aquatic experience was going to be less traumatic, and within minutes I had flippered my way to join the pod of fellow snorkelers. Beneath me a liquid world was spangled with curtains of iridescent fish that constantly changed direction under the instructions of an unseen conductor.

Near noon hour, the crew beckoned us on board to enjoy a delicious BBQ lunch before returning to port. Satiated after my repast, I sat in a shady spot and watched the waves furrow at the stern of the catamaran. Somewhere in this somnolent state, I noticed one of the fishing reels was beginning to slowly play out. I yelled and within seconds my husband and a couple of crew members were in charge of the situation. I extricated the camera from around my husband's neck and quickly removed myself from the adrenaline-charged melee. Like something out of a comic strip, I stepped backwards and finished up sitting inside a large bucket of seawater which I had not noticed in the excitement of the moment. I soon forgot about my dignity being quashed when 15 minutes later, an iridescent mahi mahi was hauled aboard, deftly filleted and placed in an ice box.

After all this excitement, our plan for the rest of the vacation was to go "holoholo" which in Hawaiian means 'to walk, drive or ramble around for pleasure without a destination in mind.'

With the midday tropical sun beating down upon the coast, we left Kailua-Kona and drove northeast to the ranching town of Waimea. Snuggled in the foothills of the Kohala Mountains, this lush pastoral area is fed by shrouds of cool misty rains carried by the Trade Winds. When a rainbow arced across the valley, I fleetingly thought I was back in my homeland of Scotland. En route, we visited the historic Anna Ranch. Built around 1910, it is set on a grassy seven-acre property and reflects the remarkable life of Anna who was called the "First Lady of Ranching".

Another favorite outing from Kailua-Kona is a short drive to the upcountry coffee-farming village of Holualoa 1,400 feet above Kona. The cooler climate supports lush tropical vegetation and the landscape is dotted with feathery Norfolk pines. Bamboo canes rustle in the breeze and the heady perfume of plumeria assails the senses. A real eye-catcher is the historic bubblegum-pink Kona Hotel which dates back to the early 1900's. Nearby we visited some funky art galleries and a popular coffee shop. The notice board was stuck like a pincushion with cards promoting an eclectic variety of healing therapies.

Wanting to experience some of the island's dry, rugged territory, we drove north along the Kohala Coast to the 45-acre Pau Mau Place Botanical Garden which is nestled in a deep gulch overlooking the Pacific. An uphill hike took us past canyon walls brimming with a walled tapestry of tropical flowers. While draining the last of our water bottles, we stood at the red lava rock canyon viewpoint and absorbed the scene before us - the date palm grove, the lavender trail and the many whimsical animal sculptures.

On our last evening we attended a luau at the historic King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel. The outdoor buffet was sumptuous with suckling pork, sweet potato, coconut cake and poi, a gooey purple concoction made from taro roots which I gingerly poked with my fork. The grand finale was an exuberant fire dance and I was grateful that a sheer curtain protected the diners from flaming arrows landing in their Mai Tais.

Photos - Hamish Jackson unless otherwise attributed

1. Anna Ranch
2. Beach Scene
3. Beaming Hamish Jackson with catch of Mahi Mahi (photo: Caroline Jackson)
4. Kona Hotel
5. Fire Dancer

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