Disneyland on Lava Rocks

Yesterday I was up for an adventure-- something new. I flipped through my handy-dandy Lonely Planet Big Island Guide book for inspiration and found an enticing-sounding entry about A-bay at the Waikoloa resort. Showers, white sands, mellow surf, the opportunity to trespass at the fancy hotels? Sounds good. So I packed baby in the car (she chanted, "Beach! Beach!" the whole way) and made for the coast.
We get to Waikoloa and I'm driving along-- past the King's shops and the Queen's shops, past golf courses and over-watered manicured golf lawns. I try squinting at the microscopic map in the Lonely Planet book but it's no help pointing me which windy road to follow to get to A-bay. Finally I'm nearly at the Hilton (think indoor canals, trains, massive marble statuary) and I see a tiny sign "Public Shoreline Access Parking."
The law in Hawaii guarantees that all beaches are public access. So private landowners have to provide some kind of access corridor to whatever splendid beaches they butt against. Some of these access corridors are pleasant and welcoming. Some are not.
I parked at the construction site, loaded the child into her stroller, donned my hat and sun screen and set off. "Public Shoreline Access: Remain on the Path!" I followed the signs. Across the road. Over a swampy lava field (maybe a drainage problem? Greasy rainbow streaks in the water), through a parking lot. And then the paving ended. But another sign appeared: "Public shoreline access" and sent me down a long narrow gravel path between acres of parking lot and an overgrown hedge. It stretched to the edge of vision. I was not daunted. I pushed the stroller through the gravel all the way to the end, where the path switched back. Another hopelessly long narrow corridor-- bushes and a tall wall (I peeked through and could see the green golf course on the other side.) I'm starting to sweat-- I get to the end of the wall, and there's one more sharp turn-- this time I'm ducking through brush and trees. It was like waiting in line at Disneyland-- they hide the full length of the line so you don't lose your mind with impatience. Here it seemed deliberately obfuscatory. If it's possible to obfuscate a shoreline.
When--finally! --we got to the ocean, it became obvious that this was not A-bay. It was a steep rocky stretch of shore-- huge black boulders and strewn white coral. We abandoned the stroller (wouldn't stroll through the sand and rock anyway) and hiked for a bit till I found a sandy spot. Baby knows what to do-- she jumped in the water, pulling my hand. We were the only people there-- seemed like the only people who had ever been there.
Two dead sea urchins washed against the rocks by us. Baby saw them and shouted "Bug, Bug!" They were shedding their needles into the surf-- I scooped some up and inspected them. They are hollow and striped and a translucent deep blue color. A huge crab-- the biggest I've ever seen-- was digging a trench in the sand by us. We went to look and he ran-- sideways sashe-ing-- and jumped into the ocean. We peeked in his pit and saw another huge crab, dead on its back.
After we had played and splashed in the water, dug in the sand, chased the crabs, watched the tiny fish in the tidepools and we were getting ready to go-- I noticed a huge heavy boulder with a flat surface facing the ocean. Deeply etched into it was a beautiful petroglyph-- a broad-shouldered man hefting an oar over his head. I was lucky to have seen it-- blessed. What inspired the artist to carve that triumphant image in the rock? It was beautiful-- such a surprise. (This is an image I poached from Google image search. The one we saw was wave-wash and on the porous black lava.)
I was ready to leave, and grateful. I carried my sleepy girl back to where I had abandoned the stroller on the path. I noticed a stairway-- it seemed like it went to a patio. I could see lounge chairs up against a railing and electricians leading heavy coils of wire. Hm, what the heck. I'll go check it out.
We climbed the stairs-- there was a little restaurant at the top. And next to it a little garden. Rows of lounge chairs, Japanese tourist families sitting and white women in bikinis with oversized hats walking together. And then the view opened up: two 40 foot man made waterfalls crashing over a cave into a pool. A rope and plank suspension bridge. An immensely long pool with a section bottomed with sand. Giant Chinese-inspired statues presided, planted poolside and on the lawn-- giant sandstone turtles planted themselves in the baby pool. Roiling hot tubs. 2 story waterslides. And then around the corner, a massive man-made lagoon, full of Dolphins coyly nosing the air. Dolphins!
What can I say? It was bizarre. The real ocean pounding away 10 feet away, out of sight and completely deserted, and here were hundreds of people, swimming in a pool with fake sand on the bottom!
But I know a good thing when I see it. Who am I to pass up such an opportunity? We availed ourselves of the baby pool and the hot tubs and I even --guiltily--dared to use one of the nicely folded hotel towels that were stacked around the pools. I just picked it up, toweled off the baby with it, and flung it down again on the chair, like it wasn't impossibly soft and thick, and left it like all the other discarded towels around the pool.
Surely I looked like an imposter-- with a backpack, a floppy canvas hat, an excessively modest bathing suit and a nappy-head toddler? Plus, the tell-tale sand on my feet? I'm sure I didn't "pass" as an actual $300 a night hotel guest. But nobody bodily evicted us.
On the way back out-- cross the bridge, wave bye to the dolphins, back down the stairs-- I noticed a little sign in English and Japanese warning anybody leaving the hotel pool area and entering the shoreline: Dangerous Currents! Sharp Rocks! Beware of Wildlife! Swimming not Recommended! No Lifeguard on duty!
Something about that made me chuckle. Good. Leave the crabs and the sea urchins and the petroglyphs for me and my toddler to tackle.


  1. You, apparently, can do anything.

  2. I know, isn't it bizarre at the Hilton? Good thing the petroglyphs are safe...

    psst...you are supposed to turn left right after queen's shops to go to A-bay. just in case you were still looking.

  3. hah! I did finally find A-bay. With a sort of a --Doh, it was here all along-- jolt. :)

  4. you are a marvelous writer!! if anything, you inspire me to go to Hawaii again. and again....and not the hotel stuffs.


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