On Hawaii Time

Road-tripping on the Big Island offers an entirely new view of L.A.’s favorite archipelago

Coffee cherries in Kona. Photographs by Marco Garcia and Yves Rubin.

Into Coffee Country

Back on the highway, we twist into Kona coffee country and arrive in Holualoa—a great gallery destination. After looking for prints at Studio 7 Fine Arts, a onetime pool hall run by owner Hiroki Morinoue’s father, we escape the rain at Holuakoa Gardens and Café. It’s too early for the celebrated Hawaiian-style brisket, but the fresh-caught ono is just about perfect, both in a salad and a sandwich.

We’re staying at the Holualoa Inn, which spreads out at the end of a long driveway below the main road. It’s an exotic, tropical sanctuary of polished eucalyptus floors and Balinese artwork collected by owner Cassandra Hazen. We climb to the second-floor Ginger Room, where a large Japanese fan and prints adorn walls stained a rich red. A walkway leads to a rooftop gazebo that looks out to the Kona Coast 1,400 feet below. Enormous magenta-colored ginger flowers unfurl in the gardens, and walking among the inn’s thousands of coffee plants, I pick a crimson cherry, peeling away the fruit to reveal the pale green bean inside.

In the morning I venture out to kayak and snorkel on Kealakekua Bay, where Captain Cook came ashore in 1779 and later died during a battle along the beach. According to the most cinematic account, the ships’ billowing sails fulfilled a prophecy that Lono, the Hawaiian god of peace and harvest, would arrive in a floating temple with white banners. The villagers welcomed Cook in hundreds of canoes that were heavy with fruit, hogs (Hawaiians love their pork), and other offerings. But when Cook later returned to the bay, thefts by the Hawaiians and their growing weariness with these obviously ungodlike intruders escalated tensions, leading to Cook’s death.

The outfitter Aloha Kayak Co. has paired me with Sean, who grew up on Kealakekua and is visiting from the mainland with his sons—carbon copies of him minus the ink and the pack of Kools. Paddling toward the snorkeling area in front of an obelisk installed 139 years ago by some fellow Brits to honor Cook, we are greeted by our own impressive welcoming party, as spinner dolphins live up to their names with corkscrewing leaps from the water.

We go though a channel between two large boulders, landing near a modest bronze plaque in the shallows that reads “Near this spot Capt. James Cook met his death February 14, 1779.” The snorkeling is absurdly beautiful, a garden of corals in blues, greens, and violets, with a Pixar-ready cast of parrot fish and butterfly fish, wide-eyed puffer fish and long-nosed trumpet fish. I swim to the reef’s edge, where the shelf plunges into a blue-water abyss, then kick to shore and surface along the obelisk, its whiteness jarring after the fishes’ vivid hues.

As we paddle back, the spinner dolphins return, swimming beneath the kayaks, then gazing up at us as they break the surface and exhale with sprays of breath that linger in the morning air.

LA Woman