Tag Archives: Big Island

5 Things I learned about Hawai‘i Beef

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Beef.

It’s (often) what’s for dinner.

But last Friday, when I spent the day on the Big Island courtesy of the Hawai‘i Beef Industry Council, I realized I didn’t know much about the state’s cattle industry.

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As part of a #PastureToPlate tour, a group of us — from ranchers to food safety experts to writers like me (above) — visited two cattle ranches and a slaughter facility. The goal was to familiarize us with cattle ranching in Hawai‘i.

Oh, and did it!

Here’s what I learned:

1. Ranching is an important part of our economy.

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The gift of cattle to Kamehameha I by Capt. George Vancouver in 1793 made a huge impact on Hawai‘i economy. An entire industry was created, with that rich cowboy (paniolo) and ranch culture still around today.

Ranchers are the stewards of more than 1 million acres of land in Hawai‘i, of 25 percent of the state’s total land mass. The Big Island produces the most of the state’s beef — and boast some of the largest cattle ranches in the U.S.

2. It’s not easy to raise, slaughter and sell Hawai‘i beef directly to the local market — but it happens.

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Most cattle is grown here until about six or seven months old, then sold into the commodity market on the Mainland — the price of cattle right now is at an all-time high. Very few ranches produce beef from cows raised, finished, slaughtered and sold directly to local markets.

Why? Well, it’s more cost-effective for ranchers to sell their calves instead of finishing them here. You need lots of great pasture land for that. And after decades of sending off their calves, the infrastructure here has changed. There are only a few slaughterhouses left.

Ponoholo Ranch in Kohala, for exmpale, sells most of its calves to the Mainland after they’re weaned (about seven months old and about 400 pounds). They are sent via “cowtainers” to California or Seattle or by 747 cargo jets to L.A. The cattle are then trucked to pastures or directly to a feed yard.

There are ranches, though, that are committed to producing beef — start-to-finish in the Islands — like Kuahiwi Ranch in Ka‘ū. One hundred percent of its cattle is finished here. And cull cows, older bulls and a couple hundred grass-finished steers and heifers from Ponoholo Ranch get harvested and processed on the Big Island for the local market.

There’s also a program with Hawai‘i Ranchers that brings Hawai‘i-born cattle sent to the Mainland to finish in feed lots back to the Islands. In the program, Hawai‘i-born calves are shipped to feed lots in Oregon, where they are kept separate from cattle from other states. They receive no hormones or antibiotics, and are fed a vegetarian diet that has no animal by-product feeds and, whenever possible, has no genetically modified grains. The cows are processed on the Mainland and the meat is shipped back here.

3. Ranches are beautiful places.

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I was blown away by the sheer beauty and serenity of these ranches, particularly Ponoholo Ranch (above), which sprawls over 11,000 acres from summit to sea. (This ranch was started by Ronald von Holt and Atherton Richards back in 1928. In 1980 the ranch split into two — Kahua Ranch and Ponoholo Ranch — and were jointly operated until 1989.)

The ranch covers three climate zones — from the rainforest at 4,800 feet elevation to the rugged coastline — and has the second largest herd of cattle on the island at around 6,000 heads.

The view was breathtaking, with a herd of cattle in the distance grazing and the Pacific Ocean below. I mean, people pay good money for views like that!

4. Slaughterhouses are nothing to be afraid of.

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I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous — though super curious — about visiting a slaughterhouse.

Lot of gruesome images come to mind. Bloody carcasses, guts everywhere.

Turns out, Hawai‘i Beef Producers in Pa‘auilo is not like that at all.

We weren’t there on a processing day — thankfully — but we did get to tour the facility, which was so clean I could’ve licked the floor. Seriously. (We couldn’t take photos, though, probably because people — like me — would have preconceived notions — read: fears — about the process.)

The De Luz family, which has been ranching for three generations on the 10,000-acre Kukaiau Ranch nearby, runs this slaughterhouse. The beef that’s processed here is top-notch, meeting the uber-high standards of such retailers at Whole Foods Markets. (Read about the company’s animal welfare standards here.)

The slaughterhouse processes about 450 heads a month, all local cattle. And whatever that translates to in terms of beef on tables or industry revenue, it really means keeping these ranchers and processors in business.

5. You can’t beat a beef burger.

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When we were touring the slaughterhouse, Jill Andrade-Mattos, the general manager, told us that Hawai‘i beef may not be the tenderest, but it’s the healthiest — and more importantly, it’s local.

She should have added, “tasty,” to that list.

Our tour ended at Āhualoa Ranch in Pa‘auilo, where chef Edwin Goto of Village Burger in Waimea prepared us lunch using Kuahiwi Ranch beef.

The patties were flavorful and juicy and grilled perfectly. Goto paired it with brioche baked at Holy’s Bakery in Kapa‘au — it’s Goto’s recipe — and locally grown tomatoes, lettuce, cheese and condiments. (I mean, you can’t eat a burger without mayonnaise!) Talk about a winner.

I mean, eating a perfect burger made from beef grown and harvested on this island, while gazing at the open pastureland of Āhualoa Ranch — how can it get any better?

Special thanks to Michelle Galimba of Kuahiwi Ranch for inviting me! For more information about Hawai‘i’s cattle industry, visit the Hawai‘i Beef Industry Council. And when you shop, look for local beef. #supportlocal

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#CatTravels: Makalawena not a secret anymore

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It’s hard to find a white-sand beach in Kona on Hawai‘i Island.

But there is one — and it’s been a carefully guarded secret until recently.

Makalawena Beach is a secluded stretch of sandy beach coves located about three miles north of the Kona International Airport on private land owned by Kamehameha Schools.

That last part, though, you won’t find in most guidebooks or on travel sites.

People have access to the beach via the shoreline — which is public — by parking at the nearby Kekaha Kai State Park and walking for about 30 minutes along a well-worn path of sharp a‘a. (You’ll need a 4WD vehicle.)

And there are even boats now that drop off visitors to the beach for a few hours.

So this once pristine coastline — and let’s be real, it’s not as crowded as Waikīkī Beach — is now packed with people just about every day of the year. Beach-goers lug their tents, hibachis (grills), beach chairs, even surfboards for about a mile along the shoreline to get here.

And I can see why it’s worth the effort.

The white sand here is super fine — not dissimilar to the sand found in Kailua on O‘ahu — and there are enough small coves to find a quiet spot to relax. Since it’s not easy to get to — it’s about four miles from the highway — it tends to be less crowded than spots like Hāpuna Beach

There are small pools of brackish water inland for washing off the salt and small coves perfect for snorkeling and bodysurfing. We dove around and saw Hawaiian sea turtles, ‘uhu (parrotfish), yellow tang, kala (unicorn fish), a variety of wrasse, a pod of spinner dolphins and lots of humuhumunukunukuapua‘a (wedge-tail triggerfish).

But man, it was crowded. People were tossing footballs in the shallow water and blasting their reggae music on the beach. It wasn’t quite what I had expected.

“It’s in the (guide)book,” says one of the volunteer caretakers this weekend, who counted more than 150 people on Sunday at this small beach. “So they come. And they going keep coming.”

The beach is “open” every day — it used to be closed on Wednesdays — from sun up to sun down. Once the sun starts setting, though, the caretaker will come around and tell folks to leave. The only way you can stay and camp is if you have a permit from Kamehameha Schools. And those aren’t easy to get, either.

We were lucky enough to know someone who works for KS. He invited us to stay over the weekend at Makalawena with him and his extended family. And it was perfect timing, too, since I’m still recovering from a concussion and can’t do much but lounge around. And if you know me, you know how hard that is!

Here’s what our weekend looked like — and let me tell you, when the sun goes down is when this place really turns on its magic:

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In the early morning, you could catch the beach all to yourself.

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It was breathtaking to see the majestic shield volcano Hualālai, which rises 8,271 feet above sea level, off in the distance. It’s the third most active volcano on the Big Island.

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The family we went with are serious about camping. Look at this — he brought a portable toilet for camping and set up a nice, private lua (bathroom) for everyone.

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Here was basecamp. As typical when local families get together, we had way too much food.

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We found a nice, secluded spot and set up our tent. I wish we could have brought the dogs!

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Some of the happy campers! We were prepared with everything from bocce ball to bodyboards.

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We took out a two-man kayak to explore the water. That’s Hualālai in the distance.

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We lucked out with great conditions for snorkeling and diving. The water was so clean and clear.

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For dinner one night, we had lūʻau stew with taro leaves and chunks of beef and pork. It was simply perfection, especially with fresh poi from Waipi‘o Valley. Just enough salt, too. I couldn’t stop eating it.

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These kids had so much fun here; it was a perfect playground for them. They kayaked, dove, fished, bodyboarded, adventured around — and afterward they got to eat kiawe-grilled steaks and chicken, hot dogs, fresh āholehole (flag tail) and s’mores. It doesn’t get much better than that!

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a better sunset in Hawai‘i outside of Kona — and especially if you’re watching it from Makalawena. I couldn’t have planned a more perfect weekend to rest, relax and heal. Thank you to the Kealoha family for inviting us and letting us eat everything in your coolers. We are humbled by the beauty of our island state. Truly.

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#CatTravels: Helping out at Hakalau

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There are a few places in Hawaiʻi where I am deeply moved by what’s happening there.

And just this weekend, I was able to add yet another one of these magical places on my list.

Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge on the windward slope of Mauna Kea, Hawai‘i, was that special place. This 32,733-acre forest was established in 1985 to protect and manage endangered Hawaiian forest birds and their rainforest habitat.

There are only a couple of places in the state that rival this forest in terms of diversity of native birds.

Of critical concern was the ‘alalā (Corvus hawaiiensis), whose wild population, known only from the west side of the Big Island, gradually declined to only a single pair in 2002. As of 2008, however, about 50 ‘alalā are in captivity at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers on Hawai‘i and Maui islands, respectively. This area is also home to other endangered species, including the Hawai‘i ‘ākepa, (Loxops coccineus), Hawai‘i creeper (Oreomystis mana), ‘akiapōlā‘au (Hemignathus munroi), ‘io (Hawaiian hawk), and ‘ōpe‘ape‘a (Hawaiian hoary bat).

Every weekend volunteers come here to help with restoration and conservation, doing whatever needs to be done, from re-planting koa tree seedlings to adding native plants to the forest. Since 1989, more than 500,000 koa, ‘ōhi‘a, and other native plants have been planted in this area as part of the refuge’s reforestation program.

I was lucky enough to get invited by the folks from the Hawai‘i Audubon Society to participate in a service project — and then go birding the next day.

It’s not often people get to visit this unique refuge. (You have to make reservations a year in advance to come.) So I nabbed the opportunity, packed a sleeping bag and work gloves, and hopped on a plane to Hilo.

Here’s what my weekend in Hakalau looked like: (All photos taken with my iPhone 5. Long story.)

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There were nine of us total, all staying in one of the volunteer cabins in the refuge. It took us about two hours to drive here from Hilo. There are several rooms in this cabin, all equipped with bunk beds — and no WiFi or cable. There isn’t even a phone here!

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Our sleeping arrangements. We brought sleeping bags because these beds aren’t the cleanest.

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This was the view from our cabin, looking out over the forest preserve that’s littered with red-blossomed ʻōhiʻa and majestic koa trees.

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We got up the next morning — here’s the outside area with picnic tables — to a gorgeous sunrise. It was time to start our service project: fixing a sub-irrigation system and re-planting seedlings.

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I’m not sure how cold it was — temperatures here will be vastly lower than in Hilo; we were at about 6,800 feet elevation — but there was frost on the ground.

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First, we met with Baron Horiuchi, the only horticulturalist in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who has been working in Hakalau for 18 years. He has propagated plant species never before propagated and actively experiments on new ways to germinate, propagate and out-plant endangered and common native plant species. He also oversees these volunteer-manned projects on the weekends. Busy guy!

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He took us on a tour of the facility, which included these rare native mint plant with flowers that smell like pikake (jasmine).

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Here’s a young ʻōhiʻa tree.

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And here are yellow ʻākala berries — like raspberries.

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He quickly put us to work. (We were working alongside some Native American students visiting from the University of Idaho.) We disassembled this sub-irrigation system used for seedlings and smaller plants. The system conserved water, which is a vital resource here in Hakalau.

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It was a total team effort, as birders and students worked side-by-side to get this job done.

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We took a break so the students, many of them who had never been to Hawai‘i before, could sample some of our island fruits, including lychee, mangosteen and robotan.

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After our break, some of us re-potted koa tree seedlings, transferring plants to larger dee pots.

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The rest of the group rebuilt the sub-irrigation system.

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After that work was done, we planted native trees in the forest under the larger koa trees. The lush understory of the forest is fertile and perfect for these plants.

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Each of us got to select a plant, whichever one we wanted, and plant it along the main road. (We also planted more native plants in another area of the refuge.

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Here’s what I planted: a young ʻōhiʻa tree that looked like it needed to get out of its pot and into the sunshine. (I know the feeling!)

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After a long day in the sun — it was actually pretty warm, considering the frost I saw in the morning — we headed back to the cabin and cooked dinner. We made vegetarian quesadillas, sat around and talked until 9 p.m., when we all went to bed. Birding the next day! Needed to get our rest!

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Hakalau Forest NWR is a special place in Hawai‘i, and one that I was privileged to experience. I don’t know when I’ll be back, but I’m just honored to have had the chance to visit, walk through, and add to this native habitat.

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#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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