Tag Archives: Big Island

#CatTravels: Planting koa trees in Honokaa

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The coolest part about my job is getting to travel to interesting places to do interesting things.

That was basically my assignment for this trip to the Big Island.

I was going to visit the operation of Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods, a company that’s looking at the timber business and sustainable reforestation in a new and innovative way. Here’s what happens: you can buy a legacy tree for $60 and plant it on the 1,200 acres fenced off for this project. For every four trees that are planted, three are legacy trees that will never be harvested. (The other trees are available for purchase as sustainable timber investments — meaning, they will be cut down. Trees must be ordered in lots of 100. The current pre-planting price is $9,950 per 100 trees for koa.)

In addition, the company offers eco-tours, too, that help fund its mission. These tours — which cost $110 for a 1.5-hour tour or $180 for three hours (adult pricing) — offer a complete experience, from driving around the forest reserve to planting koa trees to feasting on a meal prepared by the co-founder’s wife, Diana Fox.

That’s what we were going to do. Tour around, plant a tree, eat.

Here’s what our Saturday looked like:

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We left Volcano at around 6:30 a.m., the roads empty and quiet. We had to drive back through Hilo and up the Hamakua Coast to the Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods headquarters on the 10,200-acre Kukaiau Ranch adjacent to the Mauna Kea Forest Reserve.

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Driving through Kukaiau Ranch to the remote village of Umikoa, where HLH is located — and the start of our eco-tour. We were going to plant koa trees on the 1,200 acres here that have been fenced off specifically for this project. Already, more than 220,000 of these native trees have been planted here in the last four years, many of which are legacy trees that will never be harvested.

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Here’s the company’s headquarters, a cozy house in Umikoa village.

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Our tour started off the right way: with homemade cinnamon scones, fresh out of the oven.

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Before you head into the forest to plant a tree, you get to pick one out first. You can browse the more than 350 trees in the nursery just outside to find the tree that “speaks” to you.

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We drove via ATV through the forest reserve, stopping at various spots to look at koa trees in different life stages and learn more about the importance of reforestation.

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One of our stops was this grove of old koa trees called the Tanglewood. These six or seven trees are literally tangled up, creating a very beautiful weave of branches and leaves that got me to take about two dozens photos of it.

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The area on the slopes of Mauna Kea is stunning and spiritual. It’s hard to believe the Islands were once blanketed in koa forests with the largest trees being sought out for dugout canoes.

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We got to one of the forests — where the company is planning to put in a man-made pond surrounded by picnic tables and benches, maybe in the next two years — to plant our trees. Our knowledgable guide, Rich Lindberg, dug out the hole where we were going to place our little trees and will them to grow.

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This family from Japan came all the way to Honokaa after seeing a program about HLH on TV two years ago. The woman was pregnant at the time and named her son Koa in honor of the tree. (That’s him about to plant his tree.)

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Last stop: Lunch by Diana Fox. She made chicken salad wraps with peppers, cheese and a homemade bacon jam that was so good, I could have died in the kitchen and been totally OK with it.

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These pickled cucumbers and onions were stellar, too. (And yes, I got the recipe!)

While the entire tour took about three hours — including lunch — it was well spent in the forest, learning about the importance of sustainable reforestation, looking at beautiful koa trees, and listening to the native birds like apapane and elepaio singing in a habitat that is slowly, but effectively, being restored.

Easily one of the best experiences I’ve had on the Big Island. And since our trees have GPS chips in them, it’s one I can experience again — either on Google Earth or in two years when the pond is completed.

I plan to return with a bottle of Riesling, for sure.

If you want to learn more about Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods or interested in planting a koa tree — either for yourself or a loved one — call 877-707-TREE or click here.

Follow me on my #CatTravel adventures on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth.

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#CatTravels: A weekend in Volcano

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Even though I travel to the Big Island fairly often — oh, about three times a year — I rarely make it to Volcano, the sleepy little village that borders Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

When I was attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I took a ton of geology classes. (In fact, I worked in the department office for several years.) I was completely obsessed with rocks growing up, so geology tapped into that passion. I took as many classes as possible — without having to take four semesters of physics and a mineralogy class that most majors dreaded — and seriously considered ditching my dreams of being a writer for a career in rock science.

(Plus, I dig science guys.)

That didn’t happen, clearly, but I did satisfy my desire to play with rocks during college.

And part of that was tagging along with the Geology 101 class field trip to the Big Island to witness the world’s most active volcano.

After college, though, I probably only visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park maybe once since. That had to change.

So when I got an assignment to do a story on the Hawaiian Legacy Hardwoods forest project in Honokaa, I decided to find a place in Volcano for the weekend.

And I couldn’t have a more perfect place to relax and unwind than at the uber tranquil Volcano Village Lodge. This luxe bed-and-breakfast opened in 2006 with just two guest rooms. Today, there are five beautifully designed lodges that sprawl over one acre of land, surrounded by koa and ohia lehua trees and 200-year-old hapuu ferns. You feel like you’re camping — in luxury, of course — in the middle of a Hawaiian rainforest.

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This was our lodge, Hale Manaluna, nestled amid ohia lehua trees and hapuu ferns. This is the newest addition to the B&B’s suite of lodges and includes a private jacuzzi bath, in-room breakfast, a fireplace and a great covered deck where you can listen to the native birds singing in the trees around you. (Rates are about $320 a night here.)

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This is what our front porch looked like. We ate dinner here on the first night, with views of the rainforest just outside.

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Here’s what inside one of the lodges looks like. I love that the dining area is set up right at the large picture window. There’s nothing better — save for an ocean view — than eating dinner with a bottle of wine with views of the forest.

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Here’s what it looked like just outside our lodge. Talk about secluded! And we woke up to the singing of apapane, a Hawaiian honeycreeper endemic to the Islands.

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The in-room breakfast is stealthily placed in the room during the afternoon, ready to be warmed up in the morning. On the first day, we had a spinach frittata with a plate of fresh fruits. On the second day, we had French toast (above) with chicken-apple sausage and fruits.

The lodges come equipped with all the amenities you need: private bath and shower, robes and slippers, a kitchenette with a microwave and toaster oven, covered lanais with views of the forest, large picture windows that invite the outside in, umbrellas, flashlights, a basket of snacks like bananas and cereal, a bottle of wine (with opener), and one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept in.

Oh, and did I mention free WiFi?

It was the perfect place to recharge before spending an entire Saturday morning in Honokaa, about a two-hour drive away.

And I couldn’t think of a better place to crash after planting koa trees in the forest.

But that’s tomorrow’s blog!

Thanks to the Volcano Village Lodge for putting me up for two nights! If you’re interesting in booking a lodge at the Volcano Village Lodge, call (808) 985-9500 or click here. Rates start at $280 per night based on a two-night minimum stay. Includes breakfast.

Follow me on my #CatTravel adventures on Twitter @thedailydish and Instagram @catherinetoth>.

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#CatTravels: Big Island bound

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I told myself last year that I wasn’t going to travel as much in 2014.

It was taking me away from my work, I was missing too many dinners and weddings, and my dogs were starting to hate me.

But so far, it’s only February and I’m already on my second weekend jaunt.

So much for that.

But both trips — to Maui a couple of weeks ago and to the Big Island this weekend — are work-related, so I’m justified in leaving.

Though, to be honest, I plan to do a lot more than just work on this three-day jaunt.

The Big Island is one of my favorite destinations for several reasons: first off, it’s huge, sprawling over 4,028 square miles. It’s larger than all of the other islands in the archipelago combined. (That’s why it’s called the “Big” Island.) In addition, the island, thanks to its vastness, offers a variety of environments and natural wonders, including the world’s most active volcano (Kilauea) and the tallest mountain in the world (Maunakea). There are lush rainforests and volcanic deserts. You’d be hard-pressed to find another location in the world where you can be playing in snow at the top of a mountain, then later — and the time all depends on how fast you drive, of course — be surfing in the warm Pacific Ocean.

There are national parks, black sand beaches, coffee farms, hiking trails, farmer’s markets, local restaurants and my favorite grocery store in the world, KTA.

So far, the agenda looks like this: arrive in Hilo, grab food at KTA, head to Volcano, where we’ll be staying at a new B&B. We’ll plant koa trees tomorrow and look for native birds in the afternoon, maybe eat dinner at one of the best Thai restaurants on the island. That’s about it. Not a bad way to spend a “work trip,” huh?

Got any favorite stops or haunts in Hilo?

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#CatTravels: Eating through Kona’s history

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The real reason I flew to Kona last week was to bake bread.

Every Thursday the Kona Historical Society demonstrates how Portuguese immigrants baked bread in a large wood-fired stone forno built several years ago on its pasture. Visitors can help roll out the dough and prepare it for baking in the traditional stone oven. The loaves — white, whole wheat and, of course, sweet bread — are sold later that day for $7 each.

Not only do you learn a little bit about the Portuguese heritage in Kona, you get to take home some of the best sweet bread you’re ever going to eat. (See recipe below.)

It got me thinking: There’s a lot to learn about our hometowns, whether you live in Kankakee, Ill. or Kona, Hawaii.

So we drove around and visited a lot of little shops and places that are a part of Kona’s history.

Here’s what my second (and last) day in Kona looked like:

Bread baking today

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Every Thursday bakers from the Kona Historical Society (Mamalahoa Highway, 808-323-3222) demonstrate how Portuguese immigrants would bake bread — right in a stone oven.

Portuguese Sweet Bread
From the Kona Historical Society

Mix together in a big bowl:
2 cups warm water
4 pkg. dry yeast

Then stir in:
2 cups sugar
2 sticks melted butter
4 eggs

Stir in, one cup at a time:
8 cups bread flour

Stir in up to 2 more cups of flour as needed to make a soft dough. When the dough is too difficult to stir, turn dough out on a floured table and knead in the rest of the flour for about 3-5 minutes. Add more flour if needed to keep the dough from sticking to the table. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover it until it has doubled in size (about 1 hour). Punch the dough down and form into 4 equal sized loaves. Pinch off 7 equal pieces of dough from each loaf, roll and place in greased 9-inch round aluminum pans. Let the dough rise again until doubled in size (about 1 hour) and brush with egg wash (1 egg mixed with 2 Tbsp. water). Bake in a 400-degree oven for about 20-30 minutes.

Recipes makes four loaves.

Special thanks to the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay and the Kona Historical Society for a great staycation in Kona!

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#CatTravels: Quick jaunt to Kona

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Growing up, I wasn’t a huge fan of Kona.

I used to dread the drive from Hilo — yes, I never flew into Kona until I was in college — and when we got there, I didn’t know what to do. It was hot. It was desolate. It was so… touristy.

But when you venture beyond the resorts and Alii Drive, there are vibrant and interesting pockets of communities all over the island’s western coastline. And after years of visiting the coastal town, I’ve grown to really love it.

Maybe not enough to move there, but enough to visit several times a year.

This time, though, I wanted to see things and place I had never been to. That included Kaaloa’s Super Js, Standard Bakery, Punaluu Bake Shop and the new restaurant at the updated Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa.

So here’s what the first day of my quick jaunt to Kona looked like:

Farewell, Oahu

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I left Oahu on a mid-morning flight on Hawaiian Airlines and was lucky enough to sit by a window with views like this. #luckywelivehawaii

Sorry this post is so late. I’m already back in Honolulu! The Internet service wasn’t fast enough for me to upload entire photo galleries, so it had to wait until I got back home — and to better WiFi. Thanks for understanding!

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