Posts tagged with "Big Island"

Kona Coffee Fest

360 Magazine’s Culture Editor, Tom Wilmer shares highlights of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival on the Big Island of Hawaii November 1st through November 10th.

Celebrating its 49th year, the ten-day affair is Hawaii’s oldest food festival. Of course the legendary Kona coffee is the anchor, but music, art, crafts, dance and farm tours are integral aspects of the event.

The festival is an affair that locals savor and look forward to all year, with months of behind-the-scenes advance planning. A popular event with the locals, chefs, and consumers alike is the KTA Super Store’s Kona Coffee Recipe Contest.

There are festivals around the world that are crafted primarily for the tourist, but this is one of those special events that’s propelled by passionate islanders–and visitors are instantly welcomed in to the fold and quickly feel the Aloha of being a member of the island family.

The festival kicks-off November 1st with a sunset Lantern Parade strolling down Alii Drive in the heart of historic Kailua Village.

A sampler of other cool events include a coffee and arts stroll though Holualoa Town, cultural activities and demonstrations with local artists at the Donkey Mill Art Center, and the Miss Kona Coffee Scholarship Competition at the Aloha Theater—and those are just samplers from one day in the festival line up.


Did you know there are more than 600 Kona Coffee estate-producers within the Kona District—and if it ain’t grown in Kona District-it ain’t Kona Coffee.

Coffee has been a part of Hawaii’s agricultural fabric for more than 200 years. It was the immigrants, many who were looking for an alternative to working in the sugarcane fields, who propelled the coffee industry on the Big Island and throughout the State of Hawaii.

Symbolic of Hawaii’s multi-cultural roots, the pioneering coffee workers and planters’ roots read like a page from the United Nations—China, Portugal, Korea, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Japan, Hawaiians and Europeans—and today fifth and sixth generation coffee farmers continue the tradition.


The Festival honors the historic cultural roots with living-history farm tours, coffee picking and other hands-on farm experiences, a Kona Coffee 101 Seminar, and the Kona Historical Society’s Annual Farm Fest.

Greenwell Farms is hosting a “seed to cup” tour that includes a close-up look at the harvesting, process, and of course tasting Greenwell’s 100% award-winning Kona Coffee.


For the coffee purest, be sure to mark your calendar to experience the Kona Coffee Cupping Competition. A panel of judges from around the world will conduct side-by-side blind tastings of more than 50 entries.

Grand Finale—a Taste of Kona at the Sheraton

An evening of culinary delights featuring local Island Chefs and a fabulous silent auction. Music and dancing under the stars with award-winning Kahulanui- a nine piece Hawaiian Swing Band from the Big Island of Hawaii.

Certified cupping judges who have spent three days scoring Kona’s top farms in the prestigious Kona Coffee Cupping Competition will be on-hand to discuss results. Tickets are $50 general and $80 VIP (includes table seating) and can be purchased online at and search The Grand Finale… A Taste of Kona! Come meet the winners from the Kona Coffee cupping contest and the Kona Coffee recipe contest at the Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay.

Click here to listen to KCBX/NPR ONE Podcast interview with Festival Board President Valerie Corcoran.

Big Island’s Bright Side

360 Magazine Culture Editor Tom Wilmer reports from the Big Island of Hawaii

The reason the 4,000-square-mile island of Hawaii is fondly dubbed the “Big Island” is because it’s the size of Connecticut—it’s so big, all of the other Hawaiian Islands would fit within the boundary of the island.

The island’s recent volcanic activity has impacted the economy due to substantial cancellations by vacationers. But there are major resort destinations far from the adverse effects of the lava flows and attendant air pollution.

For example, the Kohala Coast—with a large enclave of homes, condos, and resorts—is situated approximately 100 miles from the East Rift Zone.

Join the conversation with three islanders as they share their thoughts about the positive aspects of island life today. Simon Amos is the hotel manager at the Hilton Waikoloa Village; Vicky Kometani works at the historic Mauna Kea Resort in the heart of the Kohala Coast; and Laura Aquino is with Island Events based in Kona.

Mauna Kea’s beach is one of Hawaii’s most exotic


Many local businesses island-wide are experiencing a downturn in business, and some workers have had their hours cut back or been laid off due to the decrease in tourism.

International news reports have been surgically focused on the Kīlauea volcano’s East Rift Zone volcanic eruptions and seismic activity—leaving many people with the false impression that the entire island is a disaster zone.

Big Island Hawaii’s Kohala Coast sunset

Paradoxically, Volcanoes National Park has been the island’s number one tourist draw for decades.

150 years ago, 31 year-old Mark Twain put the island’s volcanism on the world map when he came to the island specifically to experience and write about the island’s volcanic activity as a correspondent for the Sacramento Union newspaper in 1866.

Helicopter flightseeing companies, such as Paradise Helicopters, cater to tourists and locals alike signing up for over-flights of the volcano. Adventurous tourists and locals are hopeful that a viewing platform will open in the near future for up-close observation of the flows.

Volcanism and its attendant vog (volcanic fog) have been an intermittent part of island life for more than 30 years. Vog is definitely an issue in the Kona Kailua area, but most days up the coast along the Kohala Coast the sky is often bright blue and clear.

The Journey of Hilton Waikoloa’s Simon Amos

360 Magazine’s Culture Editor Tom Wilmer reports from the Hilton Waikoloa Village

More often than not, the coolest stories about upscale hotels and resorts are often untold. While resorts are quick to tout their alluring amenities such as a new spa, or rebranded restaurant, they too often take for granted the unsung, behind the scenes transformative environmental initiatives implemented by management teams.

A classic example is the litany of game changing environmental initiatives spurred by 42 year-old Simon Amos, Hotel Manager at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Amos and his associates at the Hilton were the first mega resort in the entire Hawaiian Islands’ tourism industry to ban plastic straws.

Amos noted that more than 800,000 plastic straws were eliminated from the waste stream by switching to a compostable alternative.

Simon Amos’s white board hit list of sustainability initiatives for 2018 at the Hilton Waikoloa Village

Another industry game changer was when Amos and his associates decided to install water bottle refilling stations around the Hilton property–mitigating the wasteful use of individual, disposable water bottles—eliminating as many as 250,000 plastic bottles from the waste stream annually.

Complimentary refillable water containers save hundreds of thousands of plastic bottles from the waste stream

Equally engaging but again not the stuff that a marketing firm would likely select for a glossy advert in a travel magazine is the incredible life journey of a hotel manager such as Simon Amos.


The hospitality industry started coursing through Amos’s veins as a 13 year-old in England when he was washing dishes and bussing tables.

Earning a National Diploma in Hotel and Catering from Hasting College of Arts and Technology, Amos’s early career path included the honor of serving Queen Elizabeth, a stint as assistant food and beverage manager at the iconic Hilton Park Lane, and working at the Cumberland, and Cadogan hotels in London.

He also worked a as headwaiter aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2, training in food and beverage at the Ritz in London, and working at the fabled Lancaster in Paris. His term at Hilton’s flagship property the Park Lane in London led Amos to accept a position with Hilton Hotels & Resorts in China where he served for five years. He started in food & beverage before accepting the role as  Hilton Beijing’s Operations Manager.

During Simon Amos’s tenure at the Hilton Beijing was creating a special off-site catered dinner for 1,000 guests at the Great Wall of China

A Hilton Beijing Pole Competition instituted by Simon Amos was so successful that it went for five seasons

Simon Amos instituted a super popular Black Tie Charity Brawl during his tenure at the Hilton Beijing featuring eight U.S. fighters matched against eight Chinese

Amos departed China five years ago to work at the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island of Hawaii, commencing with a position in food & beverage before assuming the duties as Hotel Manager.

Cherished time off for Simon Amos at the Hilton Waikoloa Village includes deep sea fishing expeditions along the Kona Coast

Amos retains a lifelong passion to source and showcase local culinary offerings, along with a never-ending quest to implement environmental solutions and initiatives at the Hilton Waikoloa Village, even though it’s not the stuff that typically makes the cover of The Sunday Times Travel Magazine or Condé Nast Traveler.


Big Island Romantic Dining

Culture Editor Tom Wilmer reports from the Big Island of Hawaii where he discovers a romantic dining destination at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Kohala Coast.


Manta is the Mauna Kea Resort's fine dining restaurant overlooking Kauna’oa Bay

Manta is the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s fine dining restaurant overlooking Kauna’oa Bay

Everyone I’ve ever met who’s stayed at the legendary Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island of Hawaii —invariably speaks in reverential tones about the place, and they’re quick to voice a desire for a reprise visit. And those who’ve never had the pleasure of making a date with the Mauna Kea, often mention the resort as tops on their must-do list—typically inspired by the raves of their friends who who’ve been there, done that.


Kauna’oa Bay at Mauna Kea Resort. Photo Credit: Tom Wilmer

Kauna’oa Bay at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel                                     Photo Credit: Tom Wilmer

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel is a special destination-resort that touts an astounding multi-generational fan base. There are many who’s grandparents stayed there in the 1960s, and their parents first took them there as kids, and now they are making pilgrimage-holidays with their kids at the Mauna Kea.


Tranquility envelops the spirit upon entering the Mauna Kea's guest check-in reception area

Tranquility envelops the spirit upon entering the Mauna Kea’s guest check-in reception area                                                          Photo Credit: Tom Wilmer

The centerpiece of the resort’s setting is the seductive beauty of crescent-shaped Kauna’oa Bay–and the fine-dining establishment, Manta, overlooking the bay with ultra-romantic al fresco dining.


An LGBT couple enjoys brunch at Manta Restaurant at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island, Hawaii.

Brunch at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s Manta restaurant out on the Pavilion.

Whether or not you’re staying at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, Manta is a killer place for a bayside buffet breakfast, Sunday brunch, and of course a romantic dinner date—ideally out on the pavilian overlooking the bay, framed by palms and plumeria.

That’s the big story—the nuances that make Manta a must-do are predicated on the chefs’ culinary philosophies that honor and meld the multi-ethnic roots of the islanders, along with paying homage to the Hawaiian’s Polynesian roots through utilization of “canoe crops”.


Manta and Pavilion Wine Bar sunset dining

Manta is Mauna Kea Bech Hotel’s fine dining with sunset a most romantic time

Sourcing local/fresh from the farmer and sea are anchors of the culinary arts at Manta.

Manta sources everything imaginable from Big Island farmers, and the restaurant even put on special dinners—shades of a wine maker dinner–where a farmer or two will join the festivities and talk-story about their passion for producing fresh, local, healthy food with Manta’s dinner guests.

Seafood doesn’t get any fresher, as the local fishermen’s catch is delivered daily to the kitchen’s back door.


Mauna Kea Resort's Rio Miceli, Executive Sous Chef. Photo Credit: Tom Wilmer

Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s Rio Miceli, Executive Sous Chef. Photo Credit: Tom Wilmer

Executive Sous Chef, Rio Miceli was raised on the island but honed his craft in Healdsburg, California, and subsequently fine tuned his skills at the New England Culinary School before returning to settle in on the Big Island.

Miceli’s duties include menu development, and innovations at Manta as well as the resort’s other dining venues.

A taste of Manta’s culinary offerings include a killer Kona Kampachi Sashimi and the Keohole Lobster Papperdelle with garlic cream, summer squash and pork belly lardon for starters.

Tempting entrees include Hawaiian Sweet Potato Encrusted Ahi, and the Mac Nut Encrusted Mahi Mahi.



Wendle Lesher Director of Food & Beverage at the Mauna Kea Resort and neighboring Hapuna Resort

Wendle Lesher Director of Food & Beverage at the Mauna Kea Resort and neighboring Hapuna Resort


Wendle Lesher, Director of Food & Beverage at the Mauna Kea and the neighboring sister property Hapuna Beach Resort, works with Miceli developing innovative new dishes.

Lesher also drives creativity in partnership with the mixologists, and plans special culinary events. Lesher’s latest passion is working with local beekeepers.

In addition to doing his part to provide onsite beehive habitats, the distinctive and incredibly flavorful Mauna Kea honey is utilized by the chefs and is available for purchase by the guests.

Click here to listen to Rio Miceli and Wendle Lesher talk about their culinary passions on the KCBX/NPR podcast.



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Manta and Pavilion Wine Bar at Mauna Kea Resort

Manta and Pavilion Wine Bar at Mauna Kea Resort

Lim Family Luau dancers at the Mauna Kea Resort Hotel

The Big Island’s Luau at the Mauna Kea Resort—a reverence for Hawaiian song and dance

Culture Editor Tom Wilmer reports from the Big Island of Hawaii–


The Lim family Luau has been performing at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel since Laurance Rockefeller opened the resort in the mid-1960s. Today the luau is the oldest, continuously operating show on the Big Island of Hawaii.


Lorna Lim talks story about her family’s passion (3rd generation) for performing authentic song, hula dance, and tales of old Hawaii. You don’t have to stay at the Mauna Kea to attend the luau, but the resort hotel is a highly recommended place to stay if you’re planning a visit to the Big Island.


Located on the Kohala Coast approximately 24 miles from Kailua/Kona Airport, the Mauna Kea has the insular feel of a private island oasis.


Highlights of the resort include its eye-catching mid-century architecture that has deftly not only stood the test of time, it remains a classic, and its lines are timeless. A big draw is the location, as the resort fronts on one of the Big Island’s most beautiful beaches. The beachfront is wide and sprawling but intimate at the same time.

Sundown at the Mauna Kea Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo Credit: Tom Wilmer

Sundown at the Mauna Kea Resort on the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo Credit: Tom Wilmer


Culinary offerings are outstanding as well. Manta is the fine dining establishment, but like everything in the islands, casual is the rule. Back in the day, ties for men were requisite for dinner…but fortunately that’s a page from the past.


Speaking of dining, the luau includes a killer buffet dinner. The sprawling array of fresh, local faire is worth the price of admission all on its own.


The offerings are equal if not better than what you’d find at a fine sit-down restaurant almost anywhere on the island.


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