If you are seeking a mecca for happiness, and are going to take your first trip with your baby, you might want to consider a relaxing and beautiful place like Hawaii. (photos by Masada Siegel)
According to a 2014 Gallup poll, the hypothetical happiest American was described as a tall, Asian-American man over 65 years old, who lives in Hawaii, is married with children, owns a business, earns a household income of more than $120,000 a year – and is an observant Jew.
While I don’t fit most of the criteria, I thought why not investigate on my own. Hawaii was a mere plane ride away. And if you are seeking a mecca for happiness, and are going to take your first trip with your baby, Hawaii might just be a more relaxing place to start than, say, New York City.
Upon arrival in Kona on the Big Island, we were whisked away and taken to the Four Seasons oceanfront luxury resort in Hualalai. Our check-in was completed on comfy couches, where we were presented with thirst-quenching drinks, tasty treats and sweet-scented leis.
At our oceanfront cabana, the view was endless, only broken by palm trees caressing the skyline. There were black and white rocks dotting a shoreline filled with fine white sand. This along with the soft sound of the wind dancing over the water made me realize I had come to a paradise. One of the most relaxing aspects of our quarters was the outdoor lava rock shower decorated with pink and white orchids.
We strolled towards the beach, and I held my baby close. I put him down to stand on the sand and, as his eyes looked up, he gasped. My husband and I recited the Shehecheyanu. It was our son’s first time seeing the ocean. The enormity of the vast blue blanket of water, with its gentle crashing waves topped in blues, greens and greys also made me stare with wonder and awe. It was as if I were also viewing the world through my nine-month-old baby’s eyes.
The next morning, we found our way to King’s Pond, a perfect place for snorkeling, as there are more than 4,000 tropical fish to see and to swim among, and it is mere steps away from the beach. After a quick dip, I held my son’s hand as he grinned and walked on the sand towards the water. We played and giggled in the ocean under swaying palm trees until our stomachs growled.
The majestic breakfast buffet was our next stop and it was overflowing with fresh papaya, star fruit, mangos, blueberries, melons, croissants, buttery rolls, Hawaiian pastries, meats, cheeses, smoked salmon and an entire breakfast selection just for children. After rushing through breakfasts for the last many months, the outlandish spread was a sight for sore and hungry eyes.
My plate was crowded with delicacies; I gazed at the ocean and sipped on my coffee. It was among the best coffees I had ever tasted from around the globe. It was called Buddha’s Cup and was 100% Kona coffee.
The Big Island is dotted with coffee plantations, both large and small. Visiting one and learning how coffee was made was on the adventure to-do list once we completed the relaxing part of the trip.
A few days later, we met up with the rest of our family at the gorgeous Fairmont Orchid, which is a family-friendly resort on the coast. The sandy lagoon with its azure waters is filled with snorkelers, an endless number of colourful fish and they even host yoga classes on paddleboards. If you are in the mood for a scenic stroll, walk past the golf course to experience a spectacular coastal trail filled with brilliant views. Every afternoon, anywhere from five to eight Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles appeared, to catch some rays as the setting sun hit the shoreline.
We elected to stay on the Gold level, which was a great move, as not only is the food delicious, it is plentiful and there are meals and snacks provided daily, so no need to waste time looking for restaurants.
Now, the touring began in earnest. The Big Island is filled with stunning sites, interesting activities and untold beauty.
One morning, we set out towards Hilo with a few scenic stops in mind, one being the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens. Their creator, Dan J. Lutkenhouse, discovered the Onomea Valley in 1977 while vacationing with his wife, Pauline. He purchased the area, an overgrown jungle choking with wild invasive trees, weed and thorn thickets and strangling vines. After eight years of backbreaking work on the part of Lutkenhouse, his assistant Terry Takiue and two helpers, the garden was opened to the public in 1984.
The 40-acre valley is filled with trails, a tropical rainforest and streams, and it boasts more than 2,000 species of plants. Visitors are treated to several waterfalls and the waves of the ocean along the rugged Pacific coast.
Another coastal must-see area is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a World Heritage Site comprising two active volcanoes: Kilauea and Mauna Loa. Founded in 1916, the park encompasses 333,000 acres from the summit of Mauna Loa to the sea. There are 150 miles of hiking trails through volcanic craters, scalded deserts and rainforests. Visitors can also tour a museum, see petroglyphs and experience a walk-in lava tube.
Because of the rich volcanic soil, Hawaii is filled with an enormous variety of flora and fauna. It also is the perfect place for coffee trees to thrive. Recalling the taste of that Buddha’s Cup, while we were en-route to somewhere else, I asked my sister Audrey and brother-in-law Gabriel to add it to our tour itinerary for the day. They agreed and, without a thought to call and see if they were even open, I Googled the address. We drove up a tiny, windy road until we were completely surrounded by coffee trees in all directions on what seemed to be the top of the mountain.
We saw construction and, moments later, a woman appeared and asked us what we were looking for and where we were from. Her name was Christine Coleman, and she was the owner. She explained that the visitors centre was being renovated, but invited us for a personal tour, where she shared that they not only grow coffee beans but also macadamia nuts.
The area was full of large trees with flowers dangling down, and greenery as far as the eye could see. It was clear even under construction that the facility was going to be gorgeous.
Since our visit, the coffee plantation has reopened, and it provides guests free tea and coffee tastings. Additionally, visitors can pay a small fee and go on a four-wheel-drive educational tour of the plantation.
Meanwhile, I have returned to reality from my Hawaii paradise relaxation vacation. At home, alas, there are no long lingering breakfasts by the beach filled with exotic fruits and someone serving me. However, once in awhile, I brew Buddha’s Cup and, for a brief moment, it all comes rushing back, and it makes me smile. Finding happiness is easy in Hawaii, but you don’t have to live there to take home its bubbling spirit.
Masada Siegel is an award-winning journalist and photographer. Follow her @masadasiegel and visit her website, masadasiegel.com.