You’re As Cold As Ice

by Nancy Bestor

IMG_3710You might think that shave ice and snow cones are the same thing. You’d be wrong though. Very wrong. Yes, they are both sweet treats. Yes, they are both made of ice. And yes, they are both drizzled with flavored syrup. But any Hawaiian will tell you that a snow cone is definitely not the same thing as shave ice. And having sampled both several times, I absolutely agree.

Amazingly, we didn’t know about shave ice on our first trip to Hawaii, in 2001. Eight days on Maui wasted. But on subsequent visits to the islands, friends and customers encouraged us to try this Hawaiian delicacy. And boy, are we glad we did. Shave ice is just what it sounds like—ice, shaved by a special machine into a fluffy, fine, and powdery consistency that is then enhanced by a wide assortment of sweet flavored syrups that are drizzled on top. If you’re really living large, you can get it served over a scoop of ice cream, and/or have sweetened condensed milk poured over the top (a snow cap). There are lots of shave ice stands throughout the Hawaiian Islands and the most popular spots often have significant lines at shave ice rush hour.

Shave ice actually traces its history to Japan, where in the very early days (1185 A.D.) ice was a delicacy. It was hauled down from the mountains in the winter and stored in caves. Since ice was rare, shave ice was quite the luxury and thus was reserved for royalty. When Japanese plantation workers immigrated to Hawaii, they brought this traditional dessert with them.


I’m not a huge fan of the snow cone. Inevitably, it gets crunchy, and the flavored syrup is always gone long before the “snow,” leaving you with a pile of tasteless ice. Not so with shave ice. The super-fine shavings allow it to maintain its fresh, powdery-snow consistency, and also allow the delicious syrup flavorings to deeply penetrate and seemingly become a part of the ice.

We’ve tried shave ice at many different spots in Hawaii, and our favorite (and the favorite of Yelp and Trip Advisor reviewers as well) is Ululani’s. With several locations on Maui, Ululani’s shave ice is delicious, the service is great, and the flavor choices are plenty. Jo Jo’s on Kauai is also a top spot and highly rated by The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook.

And just so we’re clear, it is “shave ice.” It is not “shaved ice.” I don’t know why, but if you don’t want to sound like a tourist, please leave off the D.


It’s Only Change in Pockets

by Nancy Bestor

h2This statement is going to surprise no one, but things don’t always work out the way I want them to. Life isn’t free of hiccups and mishaps, and neither is travel. Our most recent family spring break in Hawaii was relaxing and full of beautiful vistas and fabulous whale sightings, something Maui is renowned for. It also, however, included a lost rental car key, which might sound like a minor ordeal, and in the grand scheme of things, is a minor ordeal. It did, however take many, many hours to resolve, and many, many dollars as well. Here’s how it went down.

It was our first full day in Hawaii, and we got a fairly early start to Kapalua Beach on Kapalua Bay, a tranquil site with gentle waves for swimming, stunning fish close to shore for snorkeling, and perfect temperatures for sitting on the beach sunning and reading. We enjoyed all of those things for several hours, and when it was time to head out for lunch, we gathered our many belongings and began walking back to our rental car. It quickly became apparent, however, that one “key” belonging was missing, the rental car key. We retraced our steps, emptied all our bags, and looked everywhere we thought we had been, but the old saying “looking for a needle in a haystack” could not have been more fitting for this situation. We were looking for a single car key, on a sandy beach, where hundreds of people were coming and going. You might say it would be next to impossible to find anything you had dropped, let alone a single car key. So we called Avis to ask for their help in getting us a new key.


The Avis rental car agency is about 50 minutes away from where we were “stranded,” and the Avis office had not been particularly quick when we picked up our car the day before. (It was taking 1-2 hours for customers to get their cars.) But things move really slowly in Hawaii. So what we thought might take 2-3 hours ended up taking about five.  Sadly, Avis couldn’t just bring us a new key for our rental car. They had to call for a local tow truck company to drive a tow truck to the airport rental agency, put a new car on a flatbed truck, bring it to us, and take our car back to the agency on the same flatbed truck.

There are so, so many worse places that we could have been stranded. We were fortunate enough to be on a beautiful beach, with all the gear one might want along when hanging out at the beach. After a walk to the grocery store, we even had enough food to sustain us.  And we had a phone with us, so we were able to stay on the beach until the driver called to tell us he was close by.


By far the hardest part of this mishap was arriving back in Ashland, Oregon to a letter from Avis notifying us that our lost key had cost us an additional (gulp) $400, which was almost double the price of the rental car for one week. Our car rental insurance clearly stated that it did not cover any costs in situations such as these, so we had no help there.

It’s hard to believe that’s really what it cost Avis, but we had no other options, save for renting a metal detector. So yes, this didn’t really work out the way I wanted it to, but I didn’t lose any sleep over it. There are far bigger mishaps that can happen in travel and in life as well. This was just a bump (albeit an expensive one) in the road.

Listen to the Grass Skirts Sway

by Nancy Bestor

BlowholeIf you’re looking for a great spot to relax on a beautiful beach with fantastic weather, it’s really hard to beat Maui. (Shocking, I know!) We’re just back from a week-long family spring vacation there, where we had a sunny and peaceful break from school and work. Most days we got up and after an early breakfast would slowly motivate ourselves to pack up for the beach, where we’d relax in the sun and shade and read books, with an occasional foray into the clear ocean waters for some snorkeling.

We did, however, manage a little exploring of the west side of the island while visiting. And I can’t speak highly enough of our two favorite spots (“discovered” thanks to the guidebook Maui Revealed, the best guidebook series for Hawaii hands down). The first spot, the Nakalele Blowhole, is along Highway 30 and about 10 miles north of our rented condo in Napili. When the tide is high, the Nakalele Blowhole shoots water as high as 70 feet into the air through a very large hole in the lava. Luckily we timed our visit just right, and were delighted to watch the blowhole spout every 30 seconds or so. The ocean is a powerful force, (apparently someone died here in 2011, after getting too close and falling in) and the blowhole is a great example. The hike down from the road only takes a few minutes. And while it is short, it is also steep and a bit of a scramble in some spots. But you can watch the whole show from higher up if you don’t want to make the trek all the way down. If you’re capable and willing however, seeing the Nakalele Blowhole at eye level is really worth it. This spot is not to be missed.
Blowhole Sign
Just five miles or so further along Highway 30 is another breathtaking locale that we also learned about from Maui Revealed, the Olivine Pools. This beautiful location boasts several ocean-side lava bed tide pools that are excellent for swimming, wading and exploring. The pools are on a small lava point that juts into the water. And while the ocean roars and heaves all around, the lava formed perfectly to keep the surf from crashing in too dangerously—at least when we were there.
The main pool is furthest out on the point and is filled with fish. Measuring about 20’ x 10’ and a dozen feet deep, this pool is big enough launch a cannon ball into. Others are excellent for wading or just sitting and relaxing in. The crystal clear water affords great views of sea life, with lots of fish and other ocean creatures swimming and living happily (I’m pretty sure I saw some smiling). This is the second time we have visited the Olivine Pools, and both times there were less than 10 other people at this fabulous spot. Again, this is another beautiful natural wonder that you shouldn’t miss if you are in west Maui. A visit to the Olivine Pools requires another short steep hike down from the road, but trust me, you will not be sorry.


We managed one other hike while on the island, once again recommended by Maui Revealed. The Kapalua Coastal Trail hike, while only two miles, features extravagant condos and homes on one side, and the beautiful and rugged ocean on the other. This is a great easy hike, with lots of spots to stop for further exploring. Dragon’s Teeth formations (jagged points of lava) dot the landscape, and beautiful and clear tide-pools abound. Some pools are deep enough for a dip if you get hot. The hike ends at Namalu Bay, where young teens and twenty-somethings are often cliff jumping. Another tourist expressed my feelings perfectly, while watching the kids jump. “In my 20’s, I would have been right there cliff jumping. In my 40’s, I’m happy to watch from right here.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Leap into the Pools

Living Large on the Big Island

by Nancy Bestor

Bob and I snuck away from work and from our two teenage daughters last month for a quick trip to the Big Island of Hawaii. My goals for our trip were, in no particular order, relaxation, fruity drinks, hiking, and snorkeling. We had no set plans, just a copy of Hawaii The Big Island Revealed, by far the best travel guidebook series for Hawaii. Once we arrived and got the fruity drink supplies purchased, we made plans for accomplishing my goals.

We did a bit of snorkeling on our own near Kona, but decided to book a last minute zodiac boat snorkeling trip with Sea Quest. For about $80 each, the boat captain and his assistant took our group of 10 to a couple of fabulous snorkeling spots, including Captain Cook’s Monument. It was a little like Disneyland’s old Submarine Voyage, only real of course, and 100 times better. We swam along coral reefs with turtles, needle nose fish, polka-dotted puffer fish, eels, rainbow-colored fish, bright yellow butterfly fish, and much more. Amazingly, it got even better after snorkeling as our captain took the boat right into the middle of a pod of spinner dolphins. For 15 minutes we sat still and watched more than 100 dolphins jump and swim all about our boat. They were close enough to touch. It was incredible.

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