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Aloha. I have discovered for myself yet another Hawaiian treasure: Kona. Not the coffee, though that is good too… but the island. Also known as Hawaii, The Big Island.

I am in awe at how different this island is from the others — Oahu, Kauai, Maui etc. True, they’re all different. But Kona is very different — it’s black, bare and big, with pockets of paradise scattered about. I’m glad I’ve had a chance to experience it.

The photo above is of our first Kona hotel: Hilton Waikoloa Village. Its location about 30 minutes north of the Kona airport is along the Queen’s highway, which ribbons through a blackened wasteland of ancient lava rock–remnants of Hawaii’s working volcano.

The black, desert-like atmosphere of the road is broken only by patches of white coral along the roadside — words written by travellers with the white coral stones lying by the roadside. Messages like “Jenny Loves Fred” or “Burt Was Here in 2012.” I’ll upload a pic when I get a chance.

This Hilton is huge. Indeed, it’s the state of Hawaii’s largest resort… so large, you can take a train or boat between the lobby, the pools, the restaurants and your room. Odd but fun, especially for kids. Here’s a photo:

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There are two pools at Waikoloa. Two gigantic pools with water slides and water falls, and rivers and streams. There’s a dolphin pool in which you can swim with the dolphins… more on that later. And there’s a spectacular trail that snakes for miles along the edge of the ocean with some of the prettiest views on the island.

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The resort also has a massive lagoon that’s full of tropical fish, eels and sea turtles. This lagoon is not stocked… it’s naturally fed by the sea. The sea life chooses to live there. You can rent paddle boards, kayaks, sea bikes and snorkel gear from the beachside lagoon shop. My son and I spent hours mostly snorkelling the lagoon, visiting the sea turtles. We counted nine… they are unafraid and friendly.

Our day was improved further still with a trip to nearby Hapuna Beach. It’s a massive state park with a broad, white-sand beach… rare here on Kona. The experience was unforgettable. We rented boogie boards from the resort and used them to body surf the waves. All afternoon. We were so wiped by the end of it, we went to bed at 7 pm!

I love Hawaii.

Lori Knowles is the Family Fare travel columnist for the Toronto Sun. You can read her stories at www.LoriKnowles.com and follow Lori on Twitter @LoriExploring.

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Photo by Lori Knowles

I believe I’ve found paradise, and amazingly…  it’s not far off the coast of North Carolina. 

Bald Head Island, located two nautical miles from the southeastern shore of NC, is about as close to paradise as I’ve come… and I’ve travelled a fair bit in this wonderous job of mine. 

Bald Head Is. Ferry

I came upon Bald Head courtesy of a 20-minute ferry that left from the quaint Southern town of Southport, not far from Wilmington, NC, and about an hour’s drive north from golf hotspot Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. 

Filled with day travellers, golfers, wedding guests and cyclists, the ferry pulled into the marina just in time for lunch. Something about the fresh sea air and Southern charm had made me very hungry. But I had to wait. First up was a tour of the island, and my golf cart was waiting. 

Bald Head, you see, is not only carefree, it’s car-free. There’s not a single gas vehicle on it (at least none that I spotted.) Instead of the sound of motor vehicles, you hear only the sea on Bald Head… plus the wind whistling through the island’s numerous Carolina pines and the odd church bell signalling a wedding’s afoot in the island’s clapboard chapel. 

Courtesy of my host, Trisha Howarth, Bald Head’s Hospitality Sales and Marketing Director, we whizzed through a labyrinth of cart paths (as in golf cart paths) that snake around the island. We travelled from one end to the other (2,000 acres of developed land plus 10,000 more of untouched Maritime forest), spotting beautiful beachside homes sided with cedar shakes… rocking chairs swinging in the wind on the houses’ porches. 

Houses here on Bald Head are mostly for rent all season. Prices range anywhere from $1,300 per week to $13,000, Howarth says. For that you get to live (if only temporarily), in practically new, well appointed seaside homes. You get to drive around the island in your own golf cart or bicycle. And you get to roam 14 miles of undeveloped beach–walks along the shore take a very long time here on Bald Head. 

The Shoals Club

Rentals–perfect for laid back family vacations–also come with free entrance into the Shoals Club, a beachside countryclub with massive decks, indoor and outdoor cafes, plus some pools to swim in. It’s at this club that I sit by the pool and take a load off, enjoying the sunshine, the sound of the waves, and watching the kids swim in the pool. Like I said, this place is paradise. 

Maureen inside the Conservancy

My day on Bald Head also included an enlightening hour with Maureen Dewire, the Island’s Senior Naturalist. From her office inside the Bald Head Island Conservancy, she describes the wildlife you’ll find–and preserved–on this island, including a healthy number of sea turtles who return here every year to lay their eggs. The Conservancy operates a Turtle Watch program every summer in which volunteer interns track turtles’ beach nests and protect them from man and predators. Visiting families can sign up for the wildlife tours that run daily throughout the summer at the Conservancy. 

Old Baldy Lighthouse

Other highlights on this delightful, windswept island: its own grocery store, ice cream shop, spa, golf course, gift shops, museum, weekly scavenger hunts for families (with prizes), and of course, Old Baldy… a lighthouse with its own special (pirate-infested) history. 

But you don’t have to rent a house to explore Bald Head Island. Lots of day trippers, beachwalkers and cyclists head over for the day on the ferry. Bikes and golf carts are for rent. Picnic food can be purchased at the island’s grocery store. And self-guided audio tours are available. 

For more information on visiting Bald Head Island, NC, visit www.baldheadisland.com 

Copyright: Lori Knowles

Lori Knowles is a Toronto-based family travel writer.

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