The Big Island, Hawaii, Part 1



  • Visiting Makalawena Beach (secret beach)
  • Driving up to Mauna Kea Observatories
  • Spa at Fairmont Orchid


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Hawaii is truly one of the most beautiful places we have ever been.  Ever since we visited Maui this April, we have been dying to go back and visit a different Hawaiian island. (Our plan is to visit all the Hawaii Islands in the coming years).  Therefore, for Thanksgiving this year, we decided to go to the Big Island. 

Famous for its volcanoes and sometimes spectacular lava flows, the Big Island has actually many other treats in store, its lush green rainforests, black sand and green sand beaches, 14,000 + feet high volcanoes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and more. There is just so much to see, do and explore. Below you will find out all about our trips in terms of where to stay, what to do, hikes/beaches, where to eat and more. Please feel free to leave a comment or send me any questions you have. 

Where to stay:

We started and finished our trip (celebrated Thanksgiving) the wonderful hotel of Fairmont Orchid, which is located on the Western side of the Big Island, near Kona. This is another hotel we found through Kiwi Collections (which a collective of best hotels in the world!). The reason we chose Fairmont is simple, it is one of the best family-friendly hotel chains there is. We stayed Fairmont San Francisco as well as Fairmont Kea Lani before, and had such a wonderful time. If you are looking for a hotel that offers the best service, friendly staff, delicious and healthy food, and activities for all ages, then Fairmont Orchid will not disappoint you.  You can really feel how they take extra steps to make you feel welcome and comfortable during your stay.

Room:  We stayed at a family suite with ocean view, which has two rooms, including one king-sized bedroom for the parents and a living room with a super comfy pull-out couch bed for the kids.  Since my kids are relative young and don't mind sleeping in the same bed, they were totally fine with the arrangement. But I was told that they can put extra bed in the room if the guests prefer. The room was very clean, newly decorated and has the best amenities (mostly supplied with Le Labo beauty care products). 

Fairmont Orchid, Hawaii - by Madeline Lu

Food: We had our daily breakfast in the hotel because they are just so good! Great selection of fresh tropical fruits, juices, sweet and savory dishes. Freshly made pancakes, crepes, and waffles. Dim sum, hash browns, and more! We also attended their traitional Hawaii Luau Dinner one evening and it was fantastic. Not only you get to eat such a fantastic buffets packed with traditional Hawaiian dishes, but also watch a informative and entertaining cultural dances, music and shows. Whatsmore, we celebrated our Thanksgiving also in the hotel. They had a Thanksgiving buffet for the guests, which had a great selection of tradtional Thanksgiving dishes and more. We tried five different pumpkin-related pies/cakes/donuts for desserts alone. (Don't judge! If you have seen them, you would have done the same! ;-))

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Activities: We swam with the sea turtles at the lagoon of the hotel!!! How about that for an activity?! At Fairmont Orchid, they provide you with all the snorkelling gears, as well as stand-up boards, kayaks, and many other water-sport equipments. We swam around the lagoons with the kids and saw sea turtles every time. They actually live on the beach of the hotel (Fairmont Orchid does such a good job to keep them safe!). 

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Hawaii - Big Island - Swimming with Turtles

Spa: This is definitely one of my favorite moments during our stay in the Fairmont Orchid. I had a 110-minute Ali’i Experience treatment in a waterfall hale in their Spa Without Walls. The Ali'i (Royalty) Experience, which began with a 50-minute Hawaiian lomilomi massage and foot wrap, and then followed by a compress of specially blended Hawaiian herbs applied to the body. I could feel how my body relaxes more and more as the treatment went on. Listening to nothing but the sound of the waterfalls, I was sure I was in a different world. The highlight of the treatment was when the therapist poured warm coconut oil slowly over my hair and scalp. It was such an amazing sensation and experience. When you stay at the hotel, I would highly recommend you to take this treatment! 


- Don't count the sheep at night, but the stars! There are millions of stars at night at Fairmont Orchid. Absolutely worth it to wake up in the middle of the night, step out and go stargazing! Sometimes, you can even see milky way with your naked eyes. 

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Things to do: Hike to Makalawena Beach (Secret Beach)

There are quite a few stunningly beautiful beaches on the Kona Coast, but Makalawena beach was by far my faviate. Since it can't be reached by road, you have to take a hike out to Makalawena and this keeps the crowds away, especially on weekdays. To access the beach, take Hwy. 19 north of Kailua-Kona and Kona International Airport. The rough dirt road to Mahai'ula Bay is between the 90 and 91 mile markers. Drive through the dirt road, park the park along the street. Hike north to Mahai'ula Bay and find a well-defined trail through an ʻaʻā lava field with big views all around. The lava field transitions into a field of huge white sand dunes covered with pōhuehue, beach morning glories. Hike through the dunes toward the back of Makalawena beach. At the northern edge of the dunes, find a short spur trail to a small brackish pond set in a stand of palm trees. 

Driving up to Mauna Kea Observatories

The summit of Mauna Kea is not just one of the most sacred places in traditional Hawaiian spirituality — it's also the largest collection of astronomical telescopes in the world. On the summit, the oxygen level is 40% less than what's on the sea level. Therefore, you really have to have careful when you drive up. Make sure you take a good 30-40 mins break at the visitor center before continuing to the summit. We didn't take the kids (it is adviced not to take kids until 15-16 to drive up). 

Where to Eat on Kona Side

Under the Bodhi Tree - Our favorite vegan restaurant on the Big Island. Located just outside the Fairmont Orchid resort, the restaurant is run by the former chef from Fairmont Orchid. The dishes are made with locally produced organic ingredients, which are packed with flavors and colors. When we went out of the resort for day trips, we always went there to order take-aways. Our favorite dishe is: "Tropical Collusion" - raw coconut-dusted papaya salad with spinch, carrot, macademian nuts with papaya seeds dressing. 

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Vegan Chocolate Fondue

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*This post is created in collaboration with Del Monte Fresh

Looking for a healthy, yet indulging and fun dessert for the upcoming holiday season? What about something that is dairy-free, refined sugar-free (and even gluten-free, if you want it to be), at the same time with plenty of fruits? Yup, it is the chocolate fondue we are talking about. We are making it a vegan way.

If you have never made a fondue before, well, now is the time to try. It is not absolutely necessary to use a special fondue pot to make chocolate fondue, although it is so fun to own one. What a dedicated fondue pot really is just a small warming pot on a stand, with a candle underneath the pot to keep what’s in it warm. A regular preheated bowl can stay warm for about 15-20 minutes, too. The other special equipment you need is the long forks for dipping the fruits into the chocolate, but you can also use regular forks, bamboo skewers or even long toothpicks.

Now, we need the "goodies" to dip into the chocolate. You can pretty much use any of your favorite fruits. I used Del Monte Fresh bananas, pineapple, strawberries, blueberry, mango, cantaloupe melon, and honeydew melon. It is very easy to get these fruits prepared, just be sure to cut them up into bite-size pieces. I used a melon scooper to scoop out the flesh into small balls. In addition, you can also add other snack treats, such as small pretzels, pretzel sticks, and classic marshmallows (I used coconut vegan marshmallows). You can also use cut-up cakes, bread, croissant, and etc. If you want it to be gluten-free, then choose whatever snack you feel comfortable with.

You can get all the dunking bits prepared in advanced and put on a serving dish. Keep the cut fruit in the refrigerator, covered, until you are ready to serve the fondue. Enjoy!

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What you'll need:

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk or milk of choice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 3/4 cup dark chocolate (>70%) 
  • Suggested dunking bits: Del Monte Fresh strawberries, blueberries, grapes, pineapple, banana, honeydew melon, cantaloupe melon, coconut marshmellows, mini pretzels and mini pretzel sticks. 

How it's made:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and cook over low heat. 
  2. Stir regularly until chocolate starts to melt.
  3. Remove saucepan from heat, and continue to stir until the mixture is well combined.
  4. Pour it into a fondue pot or small bowl.
  5. Serve with your favorite fruits or any other bite-sized snacks. I used Del Monte Fresh strawberries, blueberries, grapes, pineapple, banana, coconut marshmellows, mini pretzels and mini pretzel sticks. 
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Matcha Sakura Bun

Matcha Sakura Bun by Madeline Lu @lumadeline

* This post is made in collaboration with Pure Leaf.

I love matcha and everything about it. I love its unique shade of vibrant green and its natural, sweet, slightly bitter taste. When it comes to matcha desserts or pastries, beauty and flavor go hand in hand. 

Before you head to the kitchen, it is important to note that matcha falls into one of two categories, ceremony-grade and food-grade. While ceremony-grade is considered higher quality and should be used for drinking, the food-grade powder is intended for baking and cooking. But I find it is much better to use the ceremony-grade in recipes because it has a less bitter flavor than the powder typically used in foods. That's why I chose to use the new Pure Leaf Home Brewed Matcha in this recipe. You can tell a good Matcha first by its emerald green color and its fine texture. And that's what you find in Pure Leaf Pure Matcha and Pure Leaf Matcha with Ginger.

This Matcha sakura bun is inspired by the traditional Japanese pastry - Anpan, which is a sweet roll most commonly filled with red bean paste. Anpan can also be prepared with other fillings, including white beans green beans, sesame, and chestnut. In this recipe, I used red bean paste for its smooth texture and intense flavor. 

This bun is not difficult to make, but it is important to make sure the dough ferments well in order to achieve the soft texture in the end. I had such good fun making these buns but it did take a few times to get the recipe right. But the efforts were well worth it. Hope you will try and like it as much as I did. 

What you'll need:

For the dough

  • 2 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2/3 cup  lukewarm water
  • 2 sachets Pure Leaf Pure Matcha
  • 1 tsp dried active yeast

For the red bean filling

  • 1 cup red beans
  • 1/2 cup sugar

How it's made:

  1. Soak red beans overnight.
  2. Bring to a boil. Add water a few times and simmer for about 40-50 mins or until tender. add water if needed.
  3. Brew the two sachets of Pure Leaf matcha tea with the lukewarm water, then add dried yeast. Set aside for 5 mins.
  4. Preheat the oven to 320F. Combine all the ingredients for the dough and knead well with hand until the dough is smooth and soft.
  5. Let it ferment until it doubles in size.
  6. Strain the red beans and save 1/2 cup of the strained water. Put red beans, sugar and saved water into a blender and mix until smooth, paste-like. Set aside.
  7. After the dough doubled in size, divide the dough into 10 equal pieces. Roll out the dough into a ball, then pat it into a flat circle. Make a slit evenly five times on the circle. Then pinch the two ends together to make it into sakura shape.
  8. Let it ferment for 30 mins again until the dough rises and soft.
  9. Bake in the oven for 10 mins. And let the bun cool down.
  10. Put the red bean paste into a piping bag with swirl tip and pipe the paste into the middle of the matcha sakura bun.
  11. Serve with a warm cup of Pure Leaf matcha tea
Matcha Sakura Bun by Madeline Lu @lumadeline