I do the math in my head a couple of times, and it seems that I have more time left in Hawaii than I’ve spent here. It feels weird. Usually, this many days into a vacation, I went home yesterday. The last time I went somewhere fun on vacation for a whole week was four years ago.

I have somehow become the official sandwich-maker of the trip (and by “somehow” I mean “voluntarily,” and “without asking if anyone else wants to do it”). I love it. I eat salad every day for lunch and then whatever I want on the weekends, and “whatever I want” come Saturday usually involves meat and cheese on bread, and also french fries, a bloody mary, and an aspiring actor who brings these things to me on a sunny patio. I almost never make sandwiches for myself, because I cook only healthy food, and a healthy sandwich sounds terrible to me.

Regardless, calling upon my high school lunch-packing, I think I make a good beach-ready vacation sandwich that is only sort of healthy: two slices of Hawaiian bread slathered with honey mustard all the way to the crust, an almost inch-thick layer of deli turkey and ham, and an oversized slice of cheese, all sliced down the middle or on the diagonal, depending on what you like, wrapped up in paper towels and plastic grocery bags. My mom has picked up a ton of fresh lychees for beach snacking, and we’re sneaking beers in the cooler, too.

Today, we are going to a beach that is literally off the beaten path.
My mom’s guidebook gives vague directions to a beach only accessible by an unmarked “lava road” between two mile markers. Yesterday, on our way home from the hike, we tried to find the road. I pulled onto an unmarked but smooth, paved road where this lava road should have been, that seemed to lead to a beach–and here, I’m no expert on anything, ever, so I could be wrong–but I expected a “lava road” to be a little less manageable than what might as well be a Bel Air driveway.

What the “lava road” was cut through.

My dad drives slowly between the two mile markers looking for tire tracks, and soon, we’ve overshot, turned around, and are driving back in the other direction, ignoring the paved road. If not for a pick-up truck in front of us turning onto what appears to be not even a road, I don’t think we’d ever find it. There’s really not that much difference between an unmarked “lava road” and an “uneven path cleared by a bulldozer once, maybe ten years ago, through a treacherous lava flow.”

We bounce on our rental SUV’s shock absorbers (the contract for which actually mentions something about lava roads voiding said contract) for about a half mile, with my dad behind the wheel, the palm trees lining the beach in the distance growing from tiny to less tiny with every stuttered “Whoaaa-aaa!” and “Daaa-aaad!”

No one in sight.

We’re rewarded for our efforts: a nearly-empty parking lot, a wooden sign warning about falling coconuts, and a sunning area with the perfect combination of a picnic table, a couple of young palm trees, and an ancient log on its way to becoming petrified (probably scared of overly eager tourists). The lava flows into the ocean are uninhibited here, and my sister and I both break skin on toes soon after arriving. Every ten or fifteen minutes, a huge plane flies low overhead casting a huge shadow over us, and the low, crackling engine drowns out our earphones and daydreams as it descends into Kona Keahole Airport.

A plane full of happy people.

I’m still not getting in the water for more than a few minutes. It’s not even cold, and again, it’s really clear. But, you know, there are probably sea slugs the size of yachts out there.

Tonight, we’re going to Roy’s for dinner to celebrate my mom’s recent birthday. Everyone has eaten at a Roy’s except me, and it sounds like it’s a Very Big Deal.

Before dinner, mostly at my request, we make time to walk around the Hilton Waikaloa Village, nearby. It’s a tourist attraction in itself, with an impressive collection of Hawaiian and Polynesian art, meticulously tended gardens, a tram for traversing the property, a waterway with gondola rides, multiple restaurants and bars, and a dolphin habitat. (For two hundred dollars, you can purchase an “encounter” with the dolphins, and a full afternoon will cost more than three times that.) We spent part of an evening there on the last Hawaiian vacation, and it probably goes without saying that I remember it as bigger and more modern. But it’s not disappointing, either.

Impressive collection of Asian and Polynesian art at the Hilton.

Eventually, my sister and I want a libation, so we all stop to ask a staff member for directions to a scenic bar. After an impressive show of standing around deliberating about who is doing what with who until when, my parents decide to split off to keep exploring, and my sister and I go off toward the sunset, and fruity cocktails. Along the way, we come across a lovely footbridge and stop to take pictures on it. We haven’t strayed five feet from the path when suddenly, the staff member comes up from behind us and apologizes profusely for giving us insufficient directions–he thinks we don’t know where we’re going, and my parents are obviously even more lost–and offers to lead my sister and me to the scenic bar and get us a round. He’s the beverage director for the entire property, and he thinks we’re guests. We do the polite thing by not correcting him, gawking at the size of the margarita and mai tai being prepared for us, and tipping the bartender well before finally sitting at a perfect little table next to the dolphin habitat. We get ourselves another round, we watch the sun set, we laugh–and then we realize we’re going to be late to meet our parents in the lobby to go to dinner. This time, of course, we actually do get lost.


Great meals are as much about the experience as they are the food, and we’re having fun at Roy’s. The restaurant is in a development with art galleries and upscale retail stores, with a manmade canal, and from my seat, I can see the water glistening just outside huge windows. The restaurant is energetic even on a Tuesday, with what seems like dozens of servers, bussers, and runners on their various flight paths between the open kitchen, bar, and dining room.

We start with creative sushi rolls and cocktails and move on to our entrees and a beautiful bottle of Oregon Chardonnay. My duck breast and confit leg are moist and sweet, and I love the tastes I’m given of my mom’s fish trio, my dad’s short rib, and my sister’s Ahi. At some point, we get a chance to discreetly let our server know that it’s my mom’s birthday, and her molten lava cake dessert comes with candles and a chocolate “happy birthday!” around the rim of the plate. She blows out the candles, then gives us tastes of her a’a volcano cake and its gooey pahoehoe center. It’s been a lava kind of day.