About mid-January 2012, we decided we would try another Space-A trip to a warmer climate since Florida is not that warm in the winter. Our friends, Chuck and Mary Marquis, were game to go with us so we settled on Hawaii and beyond.
After a last-hour Space-A cancellation at NAS Jacksonville (JAX), Fla., and then some bad information we received from the wrong website listed agent (always verify where and who you are calling), we ended up driving all the way to Robbins AFB, Ga., only to discover there were no flights going to the West Coast. Base lodging by phone claimed they were full but once we met face-to-face in the office, they found us a two-bedroom suite (always go in, don’t rely on telephone, if possible). After 540 miles and two days on the road we were still flightless. So we had a nice dinner at the Robbins Officers’ Club while we reorganized and checked our next options.
Since no Space-A flights were going to the West Coast, we checked commercial and found and booked an Alaska Air flight from Orlando to Honolulu for $359 on Monday. We would have spent near that much even if we had taken Space-A flights and it would have taken longer. Chuck then went to work on finding and reserving rooms for us in Hawaii.
Saturday, January 21
We left Robins this morning down the back roads, stopping at the Jefferson Davis Memorial Historic Site just outside of Fitzgerald, Ga., on the exact spot he was arrested. We saw a good video and a re-enactment group camped out there and then went on to Moody AFB, Ga., for the night. We had lunch on the way at a café in the small town of Ocilla.
Sunday, January 22
Today was another short day to a La Qunita Inn motel in Orlando near the airport. We bought parking for 19 days, thinking we would get back by then. Our flight was one-way as we plan to take Space-A back after spending a week at Barking Sands Beach Cottages, on the Barking Sands Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii. We watched some of the NFL championship games before going to bed early for the early flight the next morning.
Monday, January 23
We left at 0530, parked the car, shuttled to the airport and had breakfast before boarding Alaska Air. After a stop in Seattle, we landed in Honolulu about 0800 local time. We picked up our Hertz rental car and drove to Hickam AFB to check into our two bed-room home for the next two days. We had a fairly good sleep to get over the five-hour time difference.
We were in a two-story DV quarters that Chuck rented for us. It had two equal-sized bedrooms with queen beds and TVs and one bathroom on the second floor and living, dining, kitchen and laundry rooms on the first floor, as well as a nice porch. It was a large build-ing with about 10 other similar units.
We drove to Sand Island, near Waikiki Beach, where U.S. Coast Guard Sector Honolulu is based. Chuck had made the reservations for our Kauai flights thru Debbie at the USCG MWR, and he wanted to meet her. She was a very nice lady and her aide, USCG sailor Steven Levy, was from Cape Coral, Fla. It’s a small world.
We then drove to Waikiki to the U.S. Army’s Hale Koa Hotel to meet some retiree friends of Chuck and Mary. Many military retirees rent condos in Honolulu and then hang out in the Hale Koa grounds during the day, enjoying their facilities without paying the hotel’s room rates. Their friends, Marvin and Judy, had spent several months every year there for several years. Marvin is a retired E8 and served in four services. He is our age, though not quite as agile as we are lucky to be. We had lunch before going back to Hickam where we stopped at the BX for some dinner to take back to our room.
Wednesday, January 25
At 0830, we drove to the airport to turn in the rental car and catch the shuttle to Hawaiian Airlines.
It was only a 30-minute flight to Kauai on a Boeing 717, where we rented a car from Alamo. We had about an hour drive to our destination even though the island is only about 35 miles wide. We stopped for lunch in Hanapepe at a quaint café with expensive food. In fact, everything is expensive here. Gas, for example, is $4.85 a gallon. Even at the NEX and Commissary the prices were high – lettuce at more than $4.00 a head, celery more than $4 a stalk, bananas at 75 cents each, milk $8 gallon, etc.
We checked in at Barking Sands at about 1500. Each of our units are large rooms with a bathroom, microwave, TV, refrigerator, plenty of closet space, drawers and a queen bed. There are four units that share a common room with sofas and a large dining table.
The galley is across the lawn, where we can eat three times a day if we want. The NEX is nearby as is a club, fitness center, pool and other sports facilities. The beach is about a quarter of a mile away. They also show movies outdoors some nights. It is a very nice relaxing area. There are also beachfront cabins but they were not available. We heard from the staff that they are usually 96 percent prebooked.
We bought some TV dinners for tonight and ate in the room. Chuck and Mary went to the galley and were not impressed with the menu of grilled cheese sandwiches and a few other things.
Thursday, January 26
Today was off and on rain. We all went to the galley for a big breakfast and then Dee and I decided to walk the half mile to the cottages on the beach. The mist then became rain and a man stopped and gave us a ride. We decided to go to the fitness center for our usual exercise. They have many machines so we did our usual 75-90 minutes before heading back. It is nice where we are staying with all the buildings within 200-300 feet. We later checked out the pool, but I decided it was Yankee water (cold!). Chuck however did his lap swimming.
After lunch in the room, we watched Florida beat Mississippi in basketball and, after our usual happy hour with Chuck and Mary, we went to the local base club, Shenanigans, for dinner. It is right on the beach where we watched the surf and sunset. In the distance we could see the rocky island, Niihau. We were told it is a private island where they import animals for hunters’ sport. By law only people with Hawaiian blood can live on Niihau. About 100 still do but it is now owned by a single family. Nice day even though it rained most of it.
Friday, January 27
We left the base and stopped at Waimea; the monument that marks where Captain Cook first landed in 1778; and the ruins of the Russian Fort Elizabeth built in the early 1800’s. The four of us and a pilot then boarded a Hughes 500 helicopter for a one-hour tour of the island. There were no doors so we wore sleeves and long pants for the 55 degree wind chill. It was an exciting trip. We saw rugged mountain ranges, coffee plantations, beaches and the missile base at Barking Sands. The west third of the island is rugged with no roads and has many waterfalls, including one that was used in the movie “Jurassic Park” (1993). Our pilot also pointed out the large estates owned by actors Julia Roberts and Pierce Bronson.
The helicopter trip was to celebrate Mary’s birthday today and our 59th wedding anniversary tomorrow.
After we landed, we drove up a winding road through the rugged terrain we had just observed from above, to an overlook at the top of a ridge in Waimea Canyon. We stopped in Waimea for a BBQ lunch before going back to the base. On base there is a large complex of buildings and antennas and a runway. We were told they launch and track test missiles from here; Vandenberg AFB, Calif.; and from submarines.
Saturday, January 28
Before breakfast we walked to the beach to watch large waves crash down; some must have been 15-feet high. On the way to the beach we saw many of the wild chickens that are everywhere here. We walked mostly on the beach where the sand is very course and brown and there are no shells. The island has one main road on about two thirds of the perimeter. Our base is at the west end so we decided to drive to the northeast end, some 70 miles. The road is crooked and congested and has speed limits of 25 to 50 mph, so it took more than 2.5 hours to do 70 miles with one stop. We saw the Haneli National Wildlife Reserve where they treat and preserve birds and animals. The vegetation along the roads is very lush with large areas of purple bougainvillea, orange honey suckle, kudzu vines and different kinds of palm trees.
Just past Princeville, there was a nice state beach park at Hanalei Bay. We stopped and waded in the surf. The waves were quite high, so water just lapping at my shins tended to push me over. Across the road was a large, circular, domed cave that goes back about 200 feet from the road in the towering rocky mountain terrain. We stopped to see a 100 year-old lighthouse. About 50-feet high, it sits more than 200 feet above the water on a jutting cliff. The lighthouse was deactivated in 1976.
Since the galley and NEX were both closed for the weekend, we stopped at the only Walmart on the island for groceries. Our anniversary dinner at our quarters was a typical Hawaiian dish of Spam. My bride of 59 years put on quite a dinner with only a microwave. We had the Spam, pork and beans, green beans, celery, dinner rolls, donut holes and bananas. Some would not think that was much of an anniversary dinner, but I enjoyed that more than a fancy restaurant.
Sunday, January 29
Today was a rest day of reading, sitting in the sun, walking, fitness center and doing laundry. We also watched the Pro Bowl, which was more like a sandlot game. Later we walked to Shenanigans for a nice dinner treat by Chuck and Mary in honor of our anniversary. We dined on an open porch where we could listen to the waves and watch the sunset. So ended a nice, relaxing day.
Monday, January 30
We left about 0900 for the one-hour drive to the Fern Grotto Tour on the other side of the island. The tour starts with a three-mile river boat trip up river. The river is similar to our Everglades but without the mangroves due to the fresh water. The boat trip started in a large basin where the Coco Palms Hotel was located before it was destroyed in a hurricane in 1992. It was never rebuilt because of insurance costs. Dee and I had stayed in the hotel in 1980. This area is where the greatest rainfall in the U.S.A. occurs, an annual rate of more than 700 inches.
When we went to the Grotto 32 years ago we walked on a gravel path and into a cave-like area with vines hanging all around from the overhanging cliffs. Now there is a concrete walkway that ends about 100 feet from the cave with a wooden platform where they often perform weddings. The platform was built several years ago after they had 42 days of continuous rain and boulders the size of cars fell down in front of the cave. The slide closed the cave for about a year so they built the platform. The guide said only haoles (white foreigners) get married there as Hawaiians go to Las Vegas. We were entertained with hula dancers and music on the boat on the way back to the dock.
After lunch we went to the Kilohana Plantation which was the largest sugar cane ranch on Kauai before it changed to growing coffee. The large manor house is now open for tourists with rum tasting, souvenir shops and a train ride. We next stopped at the Kauai Coffee Plantation to taste many types of coffee and walk amidst the groves and equipment. We had dinner in our room with food from the NEX.
Tuesday, January 31
After breakfast we went to the beach and watched the surfers. The parking lot was full of pick-up trucks but no cars. Then Chuck “Mario” Marquis drove us up the 19-mile winding Waimea Canyon Road to the top, an elevation of 5,100 feet. The view of the North Shore at the top was spectacular. At the end of the road is the Kokee State Park where we had lunch at the lodge. Near the top, I saw a radar tower which was one of the towers that I worked on in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1950’s before I joined the Air Force. We have seen others like it in Korea, Iceland, Puerto Rico, Alaska, etc, all over the world now. I worked on the prototype.
Before dinner in our room, we met another couple that checked into one of the empty rooms in our complex, Luke, an Army Infantry Officer, and his wife, Erin, an H&R Block tax advisor. He was on a two-week R & R from Afghanistan before going back today. She came here from Alaska to be with him for the two weeks in the cabins and the last night in the room near us. We had an interesting three hours talking with them about politics, the military and Alaska.
Wednesday, February 1
We packed up, ate the leftovers and left about 0900 for the airport and our noon flight on Hawaiian Airlines. It was a 30-minute flight to Honolulu then a taxi ride to the Hickam terminal to check on flights. We spent the rest of the day in the DV lounge standing for two flights. We were not selected so by midnight we went by taxi to our reserved quarters and had a short night’s sleep. We did find friends of a friend, Dick and Bobbie, who drove us to the food court for dinner saving us a two-mile walk.
Thursday, February 2
We arrived at the terminal before 0800 and found the first flight we wanted was canceled. The second one at noon was full before they got to us, so now we are 0 and 5 in getting selected. Bummer. Lodging had no rooms anywhere because of a computer failure.
I called Bellows AFS and found a two-bedroom cottage on the beach for one night. Chuck rented a car and we drove the 25 miles over there for one night. It is a beautiful military resort with many cottages right on a blue-water beach. We walked the beach and then had dinner at the restaurant.
We have no place to stay tomorrow night, but maybe lodging will find us a room when we go back there tomorrow. Our Plan B is our long-time Space-A friends from New York, Roy and Betsy Darling, who just came in today and have a two-bedroom place where we can bunk if need be. There are several flights this weekend to the East Coast or at least part way that we hope to get on.
Friday, February 3
Before breakfast I sat out along the shore and watched the sunrise over the blue-green water with the gentle surf lapping against the rock walls and the sandy beach here at Bellows. This is a very peaceful place. Too bad we only had one night here.
We left about 1000 and drove to K-Bay (USMC Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay) and got two rooms at the BOQ. They were very nice suites in a three-story building. I opted for the second floor even though it was $6 more, in deference to our knees with our bags. They have raised the prices drastically recently, $82 per night now, but still comparable with civilian quarters. The hotel at the main gate quoted $132 for a two-bed room with kitchen.
Our room was on a hill overlooking the runway, the bay and the mountains beyond – very picturesque.
After checking in, we stopped by the MCX then off to toward the North Shore to the Macadamia Nut Factory for free samples of nuts and coffee and to look at their sale items. We then went to Kualoa Park and the China Hat Rock just off shore. Chuck tries to come here every trip, because the ashes of his mother, Patricia, were scattered here by his brother just offshore. It was another very peaceful setting.
We drove further north to Chuck’s favorite classic restaurant, The Crouching Lion, for lunch. We sat overlooking the high surf along the edge of the North Shore. Then back to K-Bay, stopping at the base Mini Mart for some food to take tomorrow in case we get on the flight to NAS JAX. The Navy doesn’t furnish food or offer any to purchase.
Saturday, February 4
We arrived at the terminal for the 0600 show time to find 19 people for the advertised 25 seats. That was not encouraging since our sign-up date was just yesterday. Then two families came in with two and five kids so we knew we were out of luck. When they got to our category there were only two seats available, so we couldn’t go. But we still waited awhile and they opened up some more seats so we did get on. They put on 38 passengers plus crew and cargo, filling up 55 of the available 63 seats on our C-40. It is nice to fly with the Navy.
We left Hawaii at 0820 today on a seven-hour flight before a fuel stop at Tinker AFB, Okla.; a 2.5 hour flight and passenger and cargo download at NAS Norfolk, Va.; and a final hop to NAS JAX, Fla., landing at 0200 local – about 13 hours of flying from Hawaii and landing during which we never got off the plane. We used the on-board microwave to heat food. There was a couple with two- and four-year-old children in front of us on the plane that we helped entertain. The family was from Naples, Fla., before he got in the service.
Sunday, February 5
Despite the early hour of our arrival at NAS JAX, our pilot was kind enough to take us to the Q in his SUV on his way home. We got a few hours sleep then took a taxi to a Budget rental office in Orange Park to rent a Crown Vic for the one-way trip to Orlando. We picked up our van and turned in the rental and then drove home just after the start of the Super Bowl.
All in all it was a wonderful trip.
Stan Ink, Maj., USAF, Ret.
and wife, Dee
Ft Myers FL
Reprint from May-Jun 2012 • Volume 42, No. 3