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Kona & the Big Island - Dec 2022

Updated: Jul 6

"Man proposes, but God disposes" - Proverbs 19:21

I had grand hopes for my two weeks in paradise. The plan was to spend week one exploring Kona and week two circumnavigating the Big Island via bicycle. Unfortunately on day two, I came down with the flu (so bad, my tongue turned white!), with Mrs. AAR following suit a few days later.

Therefore I'm going to focus more on the logistics (with a little bit of color) as there just might be a few other blogs, books, and videos that can do a far better job covering Kona and the Big Island.

Kona has a certain amount of cheesiness: it needs to be both embraced and shunned.

The Cheese

Cheeky Tiki is a newly opened 2nd-floor tiki restaurant with a panoramic view of Kailua Bay that enables tourists to get all their Kona cheese in one sitting:

  1. A giant cruise ship, the Princess of America, anchored out.

  2. The giant cruise ship's launch, shuttling all the cruisers that had queued on the quay back to the mothership. While their numbers did not overwhelm the place, there were certainly more than I would like.

  3. The Kona Trolly, for those tourists who are in a hurry, bruddah!

  4. A glass-bottom boat.

  5. An ABC Store: There is nothing that says you are in Hawaii more than the ABC Store, as there may be a law that requires one on every other street corner. You may think you know what the name means, but you do not it is really just a convenience store that contains everything from Aloha shirts to . . .

  6. Numerous restaurants (including Cheeky Tiki), most of which have the:

    1. Same look: beach/tiki bar

    2. Same drink: "Award Winning Ali'i Main Tai", "Classic Tiki Style Mai Tai", "Da’ Best Mai Tai", "Trader Vic's Mai Tai"¹, etc.)

    3. Same menu: Hawaiian BBQ (think pineapple/guava/mango sauce), fish tacos, poke, etc. All of which tastes fine but after a while, it feels like everything is coming out of the same kitchen.

      • Pick one, you can't go right/wrong.

Kailua Bay from the Captain's table at Cheesy Tiki

The Uncheese

Kona has two Coffee Shacks, the Holuakoa Coffee Shack and THE Coffee Shack (who knew it could be so complicated?). The Holuakoa Coffee Shack is less busy and less famous but still offers some nice views. If they run out of avocado toast, do not get the bagel and cream cheese.

With the exception of attending a real luau, the most authentic Hawaiian meal you can eat is the plate lunch. It all started back in the late 1800s when Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, and Philippines were brought to Hawaii to work in the fields and they in turn brought their lunch. It all then fused into the plate lunch which consists of meat, rice, and for some strange reason . . . macaroni salad.

These days there are restaurants that specialize in bringing this quintessential Hawaiian meal to your plate hole. I went with a restaurant called Broke Da Mouth Grindz² to create a plate of spicey garlic Furikake chicken, brown rice, and macaroni salad, just for me.

Just north of Kona, Manta Rays gather off the coast of the airport. [Insert name of interchangeable tour company here] did a fine job of transporting too many snorkelers and one too few divers to a location called Manta Heaven. Snorkelers float while hanging on the side of a surfboard. The surfboard has lights that shine into the water which of course attracts the zooplankton on which the manta rays feed. Pretty cool, as numerous enormous rays passed within inches of my mask. Our guide Rachel (who looked like a young Amy Schumer, but without the potty mouth) informed us that "they can touch you, but you can't touch them." So it's like going to a strip club . . . or so I'm told.

Manta Heaven

Dinner at Seiji's Sushi reminded me of the sushi I had in Tokyo in that:

  1. The place is quite small, "Reservation Only," with definitely "No Take Out". A couple tried to walk in while I was dining via a reservation and were summarily dismissed.

  2. The owner and his wife speak English with a very pronounced Japanese accent.

  3. It was excellent.

We went with the Omakase ($65pp), which was as tasty as it was plentiful. Omakase, which is Japanese for "I'll leave it up to you", means you eat whatever Seiji-san wants to feed you. In this case miso soup, tempura, sashimi, nigiri, and norimaki. It was the first time I ever left a sushi joint without wanting to get a slice.

The Longs Drugs on Palani Street may be a good place to pick up some 100% Kona coffee to take back home or 20 Amoxicillin 875-125mg tablets to treat the bacterial infection that you thought was the flu (take 1 tablet by mouth every 12 hours for 10 days).

Oh, yeah, and the sunsets are amazing . . .

Sunset from Aloha Lani Condo #A208 at Casa De Emdeko Relaxing & ZERO Fees³


I used The After Action Report The Lodging Protocol, Dicta 3, and booked the fully cancelable Aloha Lani Condo #A208 at Casa De Emdeko Relaxing & ZERO Fees at $243/night (tax inc) for the first seven days. The name was a real mouthful but I appreciated that the owner wanted to bottom-line it.

I then scoured the internet to find better/cheaper accommodations. I actually booked another fully cancellable condo, but in the end, went with Aloha Lani Condo A208 at Casa De Emdeko Relaxing & ZERO Fees. What really sold me on the place was the responsiveness of the owner and the huge saltwater pool.

After coming down with the flu, I then used Dicta 10 and reached out directly to the owner to extend my stay two extra nights via a cash transaction (via Venmo) @ $149/night (tax inc), skillfully negotiated by Mrs. AAR.

The original plan was to bike around the island, booking lodgings along the way. So instead, from my sick/death bed, I used Airbnb to book the balance of my stay at the Royal Sea Cliff Resort @ $374/night (tax inc). I used Dicta 8 and negotiated directly with the owner saving $25/night (it's Hawaii so every little bit helps)

Rental Car

I was a little concerned that the covid rental car effect may have affected the Hawaiin market. So as soon as our plans started to firm up I booked a fully cancelable rental car for 14 days at $1,205. Then I would check every week to see if I could get a better deal, eventually ending up with a car for $841.

While I was excited about saving some $375, I realized that our United flight touched down in Kona (KOA) at 10:40 pm, and the rental car facility shut down at 11:00 pm - what happened if the flight was delayed? I contacted Payless and requested the local facility to stay open an hour late if required. When I called back a few days prior to take off to confirm, it appeared my request was lost.

As a back up I had booked a separate rental car for the next morning that was actually $150 cheaper - just in case. The flight actually landed a little early, so everything worked out just fine. But this backup plan made me a little more relaxed about the whole thing.

The Airport

When landing, travelers generally have few expectations of an airport. The first is to deplane in a timely manner. The second is to depart the rental car lot soon after without being excessively harangued to purchase the chronically overpriced and perpetually under-needed CDW insurance. The Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keāhole (KOA) did a fine job exceeding these expectations, with the added benefit of exiting the plane directly onto the tarmac, which is a nice way to say hello to Hawaii and has a retro-groovy ring a ding ding vibe - like the Beatles arriving at JFK in 1964.

Departing KOA on the other hand leaves something to be desired, as the lounge area is a little bare bones, lacking in vibe, charging ports, and a decent bar. It’s a dull, battery-draining, and temperant way to exit paradise.

I used this opportunity to inform Mrs. AAR that if I were ever to die in a heroic manner (saving her from drowning in a raging river, while she was trying to save a drowning kitten, etc.) and an airport was to be named after me, it would have to meet certain standards. As I’m a delegator by nature, I let her know that she was to manage this process, with just one unalterable requirement: my airport needed to have a first-class bar with draught beer, solid cocktails (I have a drink idea), and the one entree by which I judge any airport’s food: the Club sandwich⁴. She has promised to keep my subscribers updated.


I used to live in the Aloha State, and here are some thoughts:

  1. Unless you are in extemis, nobody in Hawaii honks. It's just not cool.

  2. People do say "Aloha" to each other as a greeting and "Maholo" to say thank you.

  3. The gecko is endemic to Hawaii and you may very well see one in your lodgings. Don't freak out, as they are shapeshifting lizard spirits in Hawaiian mythology. And it is very bad luck to kill them. Also, they are harmless and feed on insect pests like mosquitos.

Endnotes: I wanted to provide some very specific details that while vaguely interesting did not contribute to the overall narrative. Perhaps just wait until the end to read.

¹ While the Mai Tai is generally regarded as the Hawaiian drink, it was not invented in Hawaii. Maybe it was invented in Oakland in 1944, maybe not - like all famous cocktails the details are a little fuzzy.

²"Broke da mouth" means "unbelievably delicious" in Hawaiin pidgin, which is actually a creole. Pidgins are learned as a second language in order to facilitate communication between two groups that do not have a language in common, while creoles are spoken as first languages. Note: can also be pronounced, "Broke da mout."

³ All photos courtesy of Mrs. AAR.

⁴ This Michael J. Flack International Airport (MJF) Club sandwich needs to be made with turkey, not the chicken ridiculousness I had at SFO. A Club sandwich with chicken is almost as bad as a Rueben made with turkey which I once experienced in Golden, CO. There needs to be some standards left in this world.

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I’ve enjoyed your Humble Dollar writing and am just starting to read through your travel reviews, but the Kona one is great even though written from your sick/deathbed! And another vote for the turkey club sandwich! Substituting turkey on a Reuben calls for a renaming to Rachel, this needs to happen with turkey-into-chicken clubs.

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