First Impressions


At Kona’s Keahole International Airport, you deplane outside and walk to the terminal which is not enclosed.  From the first moment you step out of the air-conditioned airplane  into Hawaii’s potent environment you know that you are in the tropics.  The air was heavy with heat, moisture and fragrance.  My cold weather clothing which felt comfortable in the jetliner instantly seemed excessive.  As we walked through the open-air terminal we were bombarded with the sweet scent of plumeria flowers from the many leis that people were either greeted with or purchased.  The sound of birds unfamiliar to my Northern ears filled the air.  Except for the lines at the baggage claim, this was unlike any airport experience on the mainland.  While waiting for our luggage, we met a couple who had flown all the way from New Jersey that day which made our long day seem easy by comparison.

On the bus to the rental car agency, the friendly Hawaiian driver recommended Hapuna Beach as his personal favorite and everyone on the bus leaned forward trying to hear, making mental notes to check it out.  The line at the rental car agency was long and slow.  Indoors was air-conditioned but in such close quarters the perfume from the leis seemed over-powering.  After a tiring long wait, we finally got our car, a white Oldsmobile Alero.  The car smelled foul and the trunk felt flimsy.  When we started it up, a red engine light went on.  John reported it and they said it just hadn’t been reset and it needed to go through the car wash.  Unfortunately, they also sprayed the inside with some cloying air-freshener only adding to the sickening smell.  As we pulled out of the lot, the front end made un-nerving crunching sounds.  The thought of spending two weeks in that car was not encouraging but we didn’t want to wait in any more lines.  We were hot and had been on the go, herded and queued up for the last twelve hours and we just wanted to get to our air-conditioned room and relax.

We drove out of the airport with the air-conditioning on high but the windows open because of the interior smells.  We were instantly in bumper to bumper stop and go traffic.  We looked around to see why we had traveled this long distance and only saw flat fields of broken black lava rocks.  Just some scrubby grass and bushes grew here and there and people had taken small white rocks to write messages or graffiti on the uniform blackness.  As we tediously crept closer to Kailua, which is really just ten miles away from the airport, multi-colored bouganvilla bushes lined the roadway.  Once in town, we slowly made our way to Ali’i Drive which runs along the oceanfront and passes through the crowded main drag where the tourists congregate.

It was exciting to see the ocean and the throngs of people as we crawled down the colorful street.  There are numerous pedestrian crossings so there was lots of stop and go here too.  Then we saw the distinctive shape of our hotel, the Royal Kona, ahead.  Following the directions of the lady at the rental car agency, John pulled down a one lane road filled with pedestrians and to our amazement two way traffic.  We carefully squeezed our way along no longer certain that this would lead us to the Royal Kona.  Just as John leaned out the window to ask someone, "Is this how you get to the Royal Cahones," a slip of the tongue that cracked me up, someone in the car behind blew their horn impatiently.  For a moment, we wondered what we were doing here when we could be in our cool, quiet forested home.  However, we saw the entrance to the hotel just ahead.

Like the airport, the hotel lobby and front desk were opened to the outdoors.  Unfortunately, there was another long and slow-moving line for checking in.  The sound of tropical birds was accompanied by the sound of surf.  Beautiful floral arrangements and a large fish pond decorated the lobby and a magnificent tree shaded the cars temporarily parked in the circular drive.  The rock wall at the entrance and the three rock pillars by the circular drive were a fine introduction to the exquisite rock work we would see throughout the island.  After what seemed a very long time, we finally got our room keys and strenuously hauled our bags up to our room on the fifth floor of the main building.  At this point we were very tired and the heat and humidity, which we were not yet accustomed to, felt oppressive.  We had booked an ocean view room, not ocean front.  When we opened the door to our room, we knew that we’d lucked out.

By the luck of the draw, we got a corner room with two big sliding doors and a covered lanai (porch) that curved all the way around.  As soon as we opened the doors the mighty sound of the surf filled the room.  It was much louder up on the fifth floor than it was in the lobby.  We were thrilled.  The view was spectacular.  We looked out over the pool, past picturesque palm trees to a perfect blue ocean with frothy azure waves crashing on rocks.  The sun was beginning its westward descent.  We parked the car and then explored a little of the Royal Kona.  Past the elevators was a bird cage with a red and two green macaws, a waterfall and the pool area.  Beyond the pool was the surf.  The Windjammer Lounge has tables lining the low wall overlooking the water.  We sat at one and enjoyed a beer and a magnificent sunset.  The soft warm ocean air was beginning to feel good.

The Royal Kona also has a restaurant, The Tropics Café, with oceanside tables but even though we were tired, we wanted to get out into Kailua a bit.  When we got back to our room we consulted "Big Island Revealed" and decided to try to find Ocean Seafood, a Chinese restaurant in the King Kamehameha Mall.  Kailua is not very big, so even though the street signs are not always helpful, it doesn’t take too long to get familiar with it but the first time through can be confusing.  At 7:30pm the traffic was no longer a problem.  We learned about avoiding rush hour in Kailua.  By the time we got there, Ocean Seafood was nearly empty except for a corner table with a group of employees and family eating together.  The place was kind of drab inside but the food was good and much appreciated.

After dinner we drove around town a little enjoying the lack of traffic.  We drove upslope or mauka (toward the mountain) on Palani Road and felt the evening air cool down noticeably.  We were not at all accustomed to such warm evenings – the temperature must have still been in the mid to upper 70s.  After a long day and many miles traveled, we settled into our air-conditioned room with the two sliding doors left opened enough to let in the booming sound of the surf.  Louvered doors shut out any light.  We both slept deeply, amazed at how lulling the constant noise of the surf was for us.  We met others later who found it disturbing.


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