Great Barrier Reef Adventure

Wednesday 13th-Thursday 14th July 2016 IMG_6093

On Wednesday morning JD and I boarded a ferry to the Great Barrier Reef pontoon. The pontoon is a three storey building way out at sea with lots of outdoor areas, an underwater viewing area (an aquarium of windows looking out into the ocean that can fit about 30 visitors and has constant schools of fish swimming around it), and some indoor quarters for staff including change rooms for visitors. The pontoon is basically tied to the ocean floor by heavy weights and cables and is floating above sea level.

When we arrived we visited the aquarium and then took a small semi-submersible boat called the Sea Urchin out to view the reef from underwater windows.

We then waited until the crowd of 300 people had done their snorkelling and taken the ferry back to the mainland. There were only 5 of us staying the night plus half a dozen or more staff. We jumped into the ocean to do our snorkelling at 3:30pm and had the reef to ourselves. We got to see beautifully coloured clams, coral and fish and, guess what, we even found Nemo’s cousin, a brown and white striped clownfish amongst them. The water wasn’t as warm as I had expected and even though I was wearing a wetsuit, my teeth were chattering within half an hour so I got out soon after that while JD kept snorkelling.


We watched the sunset and heard & saw large trevally fish snapping up their dinner through a large viewing hole on the pontoon.

We ate delicious seafood chowder, fish, steak, chicken kebabs and vegetables for dinner and got to know the three people staying on the reef with us. Ten year old Jack was a walking, talking animal encyclopaedia who grew up on the farm out in “whoop whoop” NSW with his parents Phil and Jodie. We had some interesting discussions about farm life, work life, books, Aussie & American politics, and religion / God etc. Our main host on the reef, Jennifer from Belgium, was lovely as well. She set up a swag for JD and I underneath the pontoon decking, while the other three visitors opted to stay in indoor quarters.


We had been planning to sleep on the second level of the pontoon, under the stars in the swag (a small tent the size of a double bed with a thin double mattress and sleeping-bag inside), but unfortunately we booked a night that was forecasted to rain and had to put the swag under shelter.

Sleeping on the pontoon, we awoke to loud noises at least half a dozen times. The wind was howling, waves crashing, seabirds chirping half the night (they land on the pontoon, regurgitate fish and crap on deck once the sun has set–this is sometimes a big problem, though fortunately during our stay I think the wind kept them somewhat at bay), not to mention the deck chairs upstairs were rattling around and moored boats banged against the side of the pontoon. But the waves that caused the pontoon to sway were actually quite soothing and reminded us of being rocked to sleep! It rained in the night and I kept wondering if we were going to get washed away, but we stayed dry and warm enough in the swag.

JD and I spent a few spare hours here and there reading a great book called “Passionate Marriage,” (I’d highly recommend it to anyone in a committed relationship). In the morning we read upstairs on the decking in the 20-24mph strong winds. We also visited the aquarium quite a lot while the rest of the tourists weren’t around. Breakfast of hash browns, bacon and eggs were ready at 7:30. It was high tide and the sea looked too rough for snorkelling so we waited until another crowd of 300 people arrived at 11am and planned to pay an instructor to take us scuba diving for half an hour. Unfortunately, due to my honesty on the medical forms, I was not permitted to scuba dive because I once had an asthma attack as an adult and they required medical clearance for me to dive. I had been really nervous about scuba diving but also super keen to conquer my fears and do what I’d dreamed about as a child: scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef. So I was terribly disappointed when they said I couldn’t dive, and spent the next few minutes crying in the bathroom. I encouraged JD to go without me and spent slightly more on a helicopter ride to view the famous Heart Reef. It’s a crazy expensive, 10 minute helicopter ride ($145 AUD), but the view of the reef from above was truly amazing: aqua waters, swirly corals near the surface and dark blue channels where the water is apparently 50-60 meters deep. The heart shaped reef was beautiful and something you can only see from the air. I had been debating whether or not to take that helicopter ride for months while planning our trip. I think it was a good substitute in light of the diving debacle.Heart Reef

JD scuba dived and then snorkelled for close to 3 hours (he was wearing 3 wetsuits to keep warm in the 22C / 72F). I decided I couldn’t hack the wind and cold water temps again, knowing that we still have one more snorkelling day coming up.

Both days we had a buffet lunch on the ferry while it was docked by the pontoon and we boarded to return to the mainland home at 3pm after our 28hour stay on the pontoon. The waves were incredibly choppy for the 3 hour ride back and most passengers took sea sickness tablets before leaving, including JD and myself. It hadn’t rained during the day at the pontoon but started again on the ride home and is pouring down now. Glad we’re not doing the reef sleep tonight, although Tuesday night would have been better conditions than Wednesday, but then, we wouldn’t have had the same adventure!

Six Days in Oahu

My husband and I had our wedding on the Big Island of Hawaii, then hopped over to Oahu for the last six days of our honeymoon in November 2015. The weather at that time of year can be surprisingly hot and humid in Hawaii, and our case, particularly rainy, but we didn’t allow the rain to deter us.

Oahu is very different from the Big Island. There is a busy, touristy atmosphere in Honolulu, more city and a lot of traffic. Waikiki beach, while beautiful, is never empty and certainly doesn’t feel private. Coming from Australia, I personally felt as though I’d stepped into an American city until we ventured outside of Honolulu–of course, Honolulu is an American city, but I had expected it to seem more like a tropical island and less urban. However there is still plenty of jungle outside of Honolulu, many other beaches to visit, waterfalls, Diamond Head crater, lookouts, and the famous Pearl Harbour.IMG_2590 (2)

My husband booked well priced accommodation at Aqua Aloha Surf IMG_4032by bidding on Priceline. What we did not know is that most hotels in Oahu charge extra for parking. At Aqua Aloha it cost approximately $20 USD per night (in 2015) unless parking could be found elsewhere. There was one overnight carpark right near the hotel which was a little cheaper and we found free parking on the street one night. As we paid for parking on a day to day basis, we were able to save a little in parking costs, but due to the rain we opted for hotel parking most of the time.

The hotel was otherwise nice and cosy. Our balcony had a side view of Ala Wai CanalIMG_2783 which was enjoyable to walk around. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for whales painted on some of the buildings in the local area! We were only a 5 minute drive and less than a 15 minute walk to Waikiki beach and Honolulu IMG_4136 (2)shops. There were also some great places to eat near our hotel including the Cream Pot where we had a luxurious breakfast one morning, and the Cheeseburger Waikiki with its interesting shell decorations and pictures throughout the restaurant. There is also a Chinese restaurant adjoined to the hotel (owned separately) which we dined in one night.

After arriving and eating lunch on a Sunday afternoon, we drove to IMG_4036Manoa Falls IMG_2477and decided to hike it in the rain. It cost $5 for parking, was somewhat uphill but not a dangerous hike and took us about 45 minutes one way. The waterfall at the end was amazing. We stood the same height as the pond the water pooled into, streaming down from a height far above us. Though I had felt anxious about the rain and the setting sun, the view was worth it and we had no mishaps on our hike back to the car.

It was raining again on Monday, so we decided that rather than hiking, IMG_4071we would brave Pearl Harbour in the rain. I was surprised to see a large number of people there in their Ponchos, many carrying umbrellas like us. Our feet were saturated after walking around reading different memorials, but we had a reprieve when we went inside to watch a documentary about the attack on Pearl Harbour, before boarding a ferry to view the sunken USS Arizona.IMG_4074

The viewing dock that looks down onto the USS Arizona, has quite an eerie feeling, with the oil from the ship still rising to the surface of the water, and parts of the ship visibly rusting away. The fact that it was raining and the ceiling above us was not fully enclosed, requiring the use of our umbrella, only added to the atonal melody of grief and respect that hung in the air. We later boarded a submarine and investigated its innards. Serendipitously, the sun came out and we took photos of each other behind the machine gun rigs atop the submarine, and in front of the massive anchor monument on the land.

IMG_2493 (2)We then headed to an exquisitely authentic Mexican restaurant for lunch, simply called Mexico Restaurant. After lunch we drove to Pu’u Ualaka’a State Park, Diamond View Lookout, which is well worth the view of Honolulu. Diamond Head Crater, the city, the ocean and even Pearl Harbour can be seen from different vantage points.

On Tuesday morning we set out to conquer as much hiking as possible while the rain held off.IMG_2559 Our first port of call was Diamond Head. There are a lot of stairs leading up to the crater and it is about a thirty minute walk one way. If you are asthmatic, bring your puffer. We read reviews recommending that this walk be done in the early hours of the morning to avoid the humidity, so we set out at the crack of dawn and got some beautiful photos. There are lookouts along the way for some great views of the landscape. I also didn’t realise that Diamond Head crater itself has been overgrown by plants and is very green. I was looking for a rocky, dirty looking crater and it took me a moment to realise that I’d been looking at the crater the whole time I was climbing. I mentally adjusted and the site was well worth seeing. The view of the ocean is also gorgeous.

P1130299Lulumahu Falls is an interesting hike, especially after a lot of rain. My shoes were covered and filled with mud by the end of the walk and it was not the easiest trek. I would not recommend it for families with small children or people who feel unfit. Mind you, I can be a bit of a princess when it comes to hiking. I don’t really like feeling dirty, wading through streams of water, ducking under branches, feeling anxious about getting lost on a trail marked only by a few red ribbons and not clearly trodden. The waterfall at the end of this walk only looks a little different from Manoa Falls. There appears to be a bend in the falls at Lulumahu. To get a good picture in front of the falls may also require stepping into the pools of water, so it might be a good idea to bring swim suits. In fact, it could be a nice place to swim, but don’t forget the bug repellant–we were nearly eaten alive by mosquitos!IMG_2606

Having said all of that, I don’t regret taking this walk with my husband since some of the scenery on the way to the falls seemed to come right out of the movies–or maybe the ‘Lost’ television series–and engaged my imagination. What’s more, I had a real sense of achievement by the end of it. The mud, squishing and sliding between my toes wasn’t enough to deter me and I made it all the way there and back. It is about 2.5 miles roundtrip, but it felt like double that to me. If you have to choose between Lulumahu and Manoa, you are basically choosing between a more vigorous, adventure hike and a well-marked, fairly direct hike for similar views.

Our third trek that day was to the Lanikai Pillboxes. IMG_2638 This was an extremely steep, uphill and then–obviously–downhill hike. I advise using a branch as a walking stick. On your way up you will be grabbing for tree branches and rocks to pull yourself upward. On your way down, if it is muddy like it was for us, you may find yourself sliding down on your butt. Okay, I didn’t exactly IMG_2640slide down, but there were times I crouched low or sat on a rock to climb further down. Some parts of the walk are certainly easier than others, but when you get to the parts that are less step, you realise you are walking fairly close to a cliff face with no fence or other protection. I saw children doing this walk and wondered if I would have the guts to let my children do it in future. I thought back to my childhood and realised my parents probably wouldn’t have hesitated to send us walking uphill to burn off energy–after all, they had four kids! But you would definitely want your children to be careful on this kind of walk. The view on the way up, at the first pillbox and at the second are all amazing. The aqua ocean with scattered islands is picturesque. I felt a tad overwhelmed about getting to the second Pillbox and left that to my husband who said that the view from there is even more spectacular than the first!IMG_2621

We made two other stops that same day. One was to Nu’uanu Pali lookout which is a short walk from the carpark and overlooks the glorious mountains and cliff faces (Pali means cliffs), with uniquely jutting ridges. The other was to Kailua Beach where we ate our pre-made salad for lunch. If we’d had better weather that week, Kailua would have been exactly my kind of beach: perfect for sunbaking and reading a book, taking a nice long walk along the sand and a dip in the ocean, without attracting quite as many tourists as Waikiki.

Later in the week we visited Sandy Beach and Sunset Beach. The waves at Sandy beachP1130328 seemed much more tumultuous than in Kailua, but it is a gorgeous area and Sandy Beach is recommended for good sunrise pictures. This proved true for us on Wednesday morning. Sunset beach is on the other side of the island from Waikiki, has quite a large beach area and is another beach I wish I could have seen much more of. Sunset beach is obviously a highly recommended place to view the sunset in Oahu, but our sunset on Wednesday night was somewhat eclipsed by rainclouds.IMG_2695

Between our visits to Sandy beach and Sunset beach on Wednesday, we finally visited Waikiki beach and it was hot enough to sunbake. I was fascinated by the pink umbrellas outside the very pink, Royal Hawaiian Resort, and the view of Diamond head from Waikiki was sensational–if you don’t mind large quantities of tourists in your photographs. Waikiki was packed that day, and quite frankly, I prefer theIMG_2692 quieter beaches. But I like being able to say I’ve been there done that, and even swam briefly in the friendly waves where a lot of people were using paddle boards and canoes that can be hired on the beach.

We also visited Honolulu Zoo IMG_2707the day they happened to open the new penguin enclosure. We walked through the African Savanna, witnessed two rhinos mating, saw a small antelope called a Dik Dik, and the Fennec Fox that I found especially fascinating! There are a little over 30 enclosures, some beautiful murals and sculptures, reptile pools, bird aviaries, flamingos IMG_6478 (2)and komodo dragons; and it only takes a few hours to see the whole park.

The Cheesecake Factory came highly recommended, so we stopped there after the zoo and ordered two pieces of sensational cheesecake that we shared in the car on our drive to Sunset Beach. If you like cheesecake, then this really is a must with an extensive variety of flavours to tempt the palate. It is also a fully equipped restaurant with numerous other dishes on the menu.

My husband and I spent our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, in Oahu. We took a walk around the canal before the rain resumed, then went to the cinema to enjoy a movie–FYI cinemas in America are substantially cheaper than in Australia. IMG_6512My husband is American and we decided that a luau would be a great way to commemorate Thanksgiving that evening. Fortunately we only experienced mild showers at Paradise Cove. We hemmed and hawed about shopping in the Black Friday sales the next day and when we finally drove through Honolulu in the evening it was so packed that we couldn’t find parking and decided to head back to the hotel. Honolulu is definitely a happening place during the Thanksgiving sales with plenty of popular American shops selling clothes, jewellery, handbags etc. for the excited buyer.

On our last full day in Oahu, my husband and I decided to visit Sea Life ParkIMG_2950 IMG_4176where parts of 50 First Dates was filmed. Sea Life Park had a pricey entry fee and is even more expensive if you want to feed the seals, swim with the dolphins or closely interact with other water creatures. Having already swum with dolphins on the Big Island, we opted to just pay the entry fee. The park is also relatively small–much smaller than the zoo, and quick to get around. So whether or not it is worth the fee, depends on what you want to get out of the experience. The seal and dolphin shows we saw that day were absolutely fantastic and we were only rained on in the line while buying our tickets, so I would say we got most of our monies worth (if only the Australian dollar hadn’t been so weak at the time). There is also a bird aviary in the park–which seems perhaps a little strange for a park full of aquatic animals–but it was quite remarkable. It mostly contained peach-faced lovebirds and they were tame enough to eat out of people’s hands and perch on shoulders. My sister and brother-in-law, on the other hand, visited Waikiki Aquarium which was about three times cheaper. They enjoyed the varieties of fish they saw there, many of which are unique to Hawaii.

Before Sea Life Park, we walked the IMG_2857Makapu’u lighthouse trail. IMG_2873This is very close to Sandy Beach, Halona Blowhole (which I will write about next) and for us it was on the way to Sealife Park. It is a fairly easy, cement paved, uphill trail of 1.5 miles roundtrip with free parking. The lighthouse can be seen when you get partway to the top, but is no longer accessible to walk to. There seemed to be some construction work going on at the top while we were there, but the view of the coast from Makapu’u summit is gorgeous and the sunrise we saw while walking that day was breathtakingly beautiful. Apparently this is also a great viewing point during whale migration season which we were about one month too early to see.

If you go to Makapu’u, you’ll also want to stop in at P1130370Halona Blowhole. What I have discovered since visiting Oahu is that Halona Blowhole and the mysterious lava tube that there seems to be no map to, are one and the same thing. When we were there, the tide was out and we did not see the blowhole do its thing. I actually thought it was an inappropriate name, not realising that the hole only blows during high tide. But what we got to do is explore the lava tube while the tide was out. P1130382We climbed down to the small beach area encamped between the rocks, and found the entryway to the lava tube. This tube is smaller than Thurston lava tube on the Big Island, and feels more secretive and adventurous. If you walk until you have to crouch and then crawl through the far end of the lava tube you should come out on the other side of the road–we saw another couple do this. Personally we enjoyed our exploration of the tube closer to the seashore and took some great shots. I only regret that we didn’t come back at low tide to witness the blowhole.

There are so many things to do in Oahu; we barely scratched the surface. For more ideas about your trip to Hawaii check out my Hawaii board on Pinterest.

Planning a Wedding on the Big Island, Hawaii

I never really fantasised about a destination wedding until I met my husband. Since I’m Australian and he’s American, we had to decide whether we would have two weddings (one in each country); ask one of our families to travel long distance for one wedding, or ask everyone in our families to travel and meet halfway. The halfway option worked best for us because it meant that all of our immediate family was able to attend the one wedding, have a holiday and finally meet one another. It also meant that our wedding photos included all of our closest family members.

We started planning our wedding late in 2014 and aimed to be married in November 2015. The first thing we booked was accommodation. Having never been to Hawaii myself, I figured that most weddings occurred on Oahu or Maui so I asked my Dad to look into accommodation there because he is a member of an accommodation club known as Wyndham in Australia and Worldmark in America. There wasn’t enough accommodation available for the number we expected on either of those islands, but Worldmark was able to offer accommodation on the Big Island.

P1200209 (2)If you don’t know much about the Big Island, it might surprise you to learn that as you are flying into Kona, you will see a lot of hardened, black lava rock. It is a mysterious site, very different from golden sandy beaches and green leafy coconut trees. However, after you hire a car and drive out of Kona vegetation gradually starts rearing its head towards Waikoloa Village and other areas of the island. The accommodation my Dad booked at Paniolo Greens exceeded my expectations. The dark lava rock gave way to the luscious green lawns of Paniolo’s golf course. The rooms have fully equipped kitchens, bathrooms, washer and dryer. A lot of them have balconies or outdoor eating areas as well. Paniolo offers a gymnasium, tennis court, spa, pool, and adjacent to the pool is a large recreation room with an outdoor barbequing area. You do not have to be part of Worldmark to book accommodation there and the rooms are fairly well priced.

To travel around the Big Island, you will need to hire a car. There are plenty of bus tours, but not a lot of public transportation. Using a Costco Travel membership is a good way to hire a car more cost-effectively. Costco Travel requires a US mailing address and rental car companies will need to see your Costco Travel card. Additionally, some credit cards cover rental car insurance so that you don’t have to pay significantly more when hiring your car, though you would need to research which credit cards this applies to.

After booking our accommodation and hire cars, we needed to book our wedding reception venue so that we could send out wedding invitations to family and friends. My husband and I looked into: Fairmont Orchid, Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel, Mauna Lani Bay Hotel & Bungalows, Islands at Mauna Lani, Waikoloa Beach Marriott Resort & Spa, Hilton Waikoloa Village and Lava Lava Beach Club.

IMG_0792Some of the reasons we chose Lava Lava Beach Club are: tables would be on the beach with a view of the ocean, lighting was provided, food would be set up like a buffet and there was plenty to choose from, the price per person was affordable, we were able to cap the alcohol and since we did not reach our cap we were only charged for what was consumed.

We were initially concerned about the fact that it was a public restaurant so other people would be there eating, we would have live entertainment–for better or worse–there would be no dance floor and no microphones unless we hired them. But as it turned out, there was a large open space between our 5 tables and the restaurant tables which meant noise didn’t really carry. We held our speeches without microphones while the musicians were on a break and that worked out fine. We were also able to use that open space as a dance floor. So in the end I felt as though Lava Lava was pretty perfect! It cost us approximately $3250 USD for 31 people all inclusive.

0186Not long after booking the reception, we found a Hawaiian photographer, David O’Baldwin recommended by staff at Paniolo Greens and Lava Lava. We also highly recommend him. He was absolutely phenomenal on the day and the pictures turned out beautifully. We hired him for 2 hours, but because I was more than 30 minutes late to the wedding, he stayed overtime and gave us a discount on the additional time spent with us so that I would have every different photograph I wanted–and I had a list!0088

David has a great personality. When I arrived, I felt anxious about being late and he reminded me that it was my special day. He didn’t seem the least bit rattled by my tardiness; he was friendly and happy. This put me at ease and David kept up his beautiful manner for the next two hours. He was easy to contact prior to the wedding and was able to organise our beach permit so that we could have our ceremony at Anaeho’omalu Bay, a short walk from our reception at Lava Lava. This was an idyllic place to have our wedding with white sand, palm trees and an oceanic background. I made the beach entry way my aisle and our niece threw rose petals.

There were a few minor pitfalls with having a beach wedding:
1. The petals my niece threw, strictly had to be picked up after the wedding or we could be fined for littering
2. Beach-related chairs are permitted at Anaeho’omalu Bay, but commercial chairs are not. We used 4 chairs for our 3 parents and 1 grandparent and had the rest of our guests stand
3. Fixed structures are not permitted on public beaches so my husband was unfortunately not allowed to design an archway out of balloons
Basically this means we had no decorations, furniture, or other wedding related apparel at the ceremony. It was just 31 people on a beach with a few chairs. Mind you, again, the photos look gorgeous and I do not feel as though we missed out.

IMG_3999 (2)If you desire chairs and an archway then I recommend Lava Lava’s grass area which overlooks the ocean. It will mean additional costs to have your wedding on the grass, hire chairs and hire an archway, it will also mean you are not actually on the beach, but it might spare you the sand in your wedding shoes that I experienced because I was wearing closed in heals–a slight misjudgement on my part.

JD and I made our wedding invitations on the cheap. This is very untraditional and my sister was honest and said she was disappointed that she didn’t receive a printed invitation. We invited probably more than 100 people, half of whom were in the US and Canada, and the other half in Australia. We used two digital photographs from our elopement day and wrote the accommodation, ceremony and reception details on the photographs, then emailed them around the world. The main problem we experienced with emailing invitations was that not everyone gave us a response and we just assumed they weren’t coming, or followed up and asked them whether they were coming. I wondered if people did not take emailed invitations as seriously as posted invitations, but the fact that it was a destination wedding probably factored in as well–obviously this kind of wedding draws a smaller attendance.

I was somewhat nervous about organising to have my hair and makeup done, bouquets put together and a cake made without knowing exactly what any of these things would turn out like until the day of my wedding.

I contacted a few flower shops and had quotes from Kona Flower Shoppe and Hawaii Floral Express. IMG_0965The reason I chose Hawaii Floral Express is because my contact there, Lisa, asked a lot of questions in order to really understand what I wanted in my bouquets. She did an excellent job combining roses, gerberas, frangipanis, orchids and a few other flowers in multiple colours with the majority being pinks and reds, exactly as I requested. She also crafted starfish boutonnieres for the groom and groomsmen. The only thing she forgot to include was the basket for the rose petals that our niece threw, but we were able to find a suitable substitute. Flowers, rose petals, star fish and delivery cost approx. $485 USD and were delivered to our resort several hours before the wedding.

IMG_4055I received cake quotes from Short n Sweet and Kona Sweets. Short and Sweet was a little bit above what I wanted to pay so I opted for Kona Sweets and the cake Janel made was absolutely delicious. I requested a traditional (English style) fruit cake for our top layer, with marzipan icing, and my husband chose a coconut, carrot and pineapple cake with buttercream icing for the bottom layer. The cake was white with a few icing frangipanis on the side. I forgot to request that the flowers be coloured so that was my oversight. But we were very happy with the cake and it was more than enough for 31 people–our family finished it two days later. Our particular cake cost approx. $270 USD. It was delivered to Lava Lava on the day of the wedding and we paid nearly as much for a cake table as we did for a cake–c’est la vie (or as we Aussies might say: thems the breaks).

I searched for several different hair and makeup places and the one that seemed most reputable was Big Island Hair. IMG_0839
Rachel came to Paniolo Greens at 10:30am and we discussed my ideas for hair styles and natural looking makeup. It took nearly 6 hours for myself and two bridesmaids to have our hair curled and pinned and our makeup applied. It was estimated to take 4.5hours and I was between 30 and 45 minutes late for my wedding which was set to be at 4pm. Makeup and hair looked basically how I wanted them to, but if I’d had more time I would have made sure to take the lip gloss with me and reapply it and I would have asked for the top of my hair to be fixed as it ended up looking lumpy. I think that partly had to do with the humidity and also the fact that my hair is generally very straight and is not used to being buffy. I didn’t think to communicate this, and we ran out of time for making things extra-perfect. However, it was good enough. For 3 of us to have our hair and makeup done it cost approximately $775 USD.

0171 What do you wear at a beach wedding? My husband and both groomsmen and our page boy all wore khaki pants, a white button up shirt and white thongs (the Aussie word for flip flops). Depending where you buy from, you should be able to buy these items fairly cheap. We did, however, pay for alterations on the trouser legs. We bought our groomsmen’s outfits and bridesmaid dresses because we figured they were paying a lot to actually attend the wedding.

I wanted to wear a traditional, white wedding dress, and I bought my dress in July 2014 while I was in the USA. Australian wedding dresses are expensive, but bridal stores do have discount racks and occasionally you might find what you are looking for at a discounted price. I specifically wanted a halter neck dress which wasn’t very overly popular in 2014. One bridal store on The Horsley Drive in Fairfield, NSW, told me they could custom make my dress for approximately $2500, and that was back in 2013, if memory serves. My sister’s wedding dress cost closer to $5000 AUD back in 2008. Of course every bride should spend what she wants to spend on her wedding dress and that is no one else’s business, but if you have a tight budget, there are plenty of wedding dresses for sale on ebay, gumtree, and still white, and other websites.

I found that American bridal stores seem to have more variety in the lower price ranges than Australian stores. resize front of dressMy budget was around $1000 AUD (give or take a couple hundred) and I was determined to buy something while I was there, about to become engaged to my future husband. It took two days of shopping with my mother-in-law and sister-in-law to finally find a dress that was basically what I wanted, except that I needed a longer length and the neckline required altering to halter neck. It was approximately $580 USD which, at that time, was little over $600 AUD. I ordered it, had my husband bring it to Australia when he moved here the following year, and then had the dress altered by a friend for $200 AUD. Dry cleaning cost $180 AUD after having taken it on and off several times during the alterations. I also had it steamed in Hawaii so that it wouldn’t looked crinkled and straight out of a suitcase on our big day. That cost another $100 USD, so I ended up spending just over $1100 AUD and just under $1000 USD due to different exchange rates at different times. I was more than satisfied.

0182I searched for ruby red bridesmaid dresses on ebay and found two that were just above the knee line for $25 AUD each. When they arrived, the bridesmaids weren’t sure whether they liked them, but after having them altered to halter neck, the dresses sat better on the girls and they were happy. I was even happier. The bridesmaid dresses that I looked at in Australia were around $200 and upwards. I was willing to spend $100 on each dress but couldn’t find anything I liked for that price in my local formal dress stores. I was even more thrilled that we were all wearing halter neck dresses as that was both mine and my husband’s preference.0315

One of our nieces in America was our flower girl. I described a few dresses that I thought would go nicely and we exchanged picture ideas over facebook. My sister-in-law found the perfect dress, mostly white with some burgundy flowers that went well with the ruby red shade of the bridesmaid dresses.

I needed to buy wedding shoes while I was having the dress altered, so that we could make sure it was the right length, so I ordered them online for just over $100 AUD. If I’d known that the sand would ruin them, I would probably have searched for open-toed flip flop style wedding shoes instead of closed-toed heals. But I did like the style of shoes and I have a few photos that show off the shoes. They lasted the night and I threw them out before coming home.0374

My bridesmaids and I went shopping for accessories about a month before the wedding and found some comfortable open-toed shoes for them, some (fake) gold earrings and bangles and spent well under $100 AUD. There were also white thongs / flip flops sold at Kmart for $2 AUD that I was able to buy for our flower girl and could have bought for our groomsmen if we hadn’t already ordered some online.

A few days before flying out my bridesmaids and I had our nails done and our hair dyed. The wedding was set a full week after having my nails done and they grew out a little bit but it wasn’t noticeable in the photographs. Having our nails done in Hawaii would have taken time out of site seeing and being with family.

My sister helped me design my wedding order-of-service inexpensively on snapfish, and although we were fairly late in doing that, we had them express posted so they arrived before we flew out.

My mother-in-law created a wedding slide show with pictures of JD and I from childhood, through to our teen years and twenties, then photos of us while we were getting to know one another online, our meeting in person and getting to know each other’s families, and finally, photos of our elopement day when we legally married after JD moved to Australia. Our destination wedding took place exactly 9 months after our legal marriage. We were able to put music to the slides show, but knew we wouldn’t be able to show them at Lava Lava. So we took our HDMI cable and laptop to Paniolo Greens and were able to sit down with our families and watch the slide show the night before the wedding on the television in the recreation room.

IMG_4052My husband ordered 33 pairs of white sunglasses that said “Hawaii 2015” on the side and had them shipped to our resort in time for the wedding as our wedding favours / bonbonnieres. They were only $65 USD from etsyP1130194. They do not only come in white and can be custom made and individualised.

A week before flying out I remembered that I needed name placements for our reception tables. We bought 32 plywood hearts from The Reject Shop and blue and pink gel pens from a newsagency. I practised my cursive script and handwrote the names on the hearts that were later placed on the table, the day of the wedding. My grandmother handmade my garter – another thing I had forgotten about until a week before the wedding. Fortunately, Nana is a gifted seamstress.

IMG_4191I think the thing that helped me the most in organising our destination wedding was Pinterest! I pinned over 350 pins–over the span of about a year–just related to wedding planning alone. By searching for beach related wedding favours we came up with the idea of sunglasses. I chose my bridesmaid dress colour by looking at bridesmaid photos. I found Hawaiian and standard wedding cake designs and bouquets on Pinterest and was able to forward pictures to the people I paid to design my cake and flowers. Pinterest gave me the idea of a wedding “sand ceremony” and I was going to organise that in Hawaii, but ran out of time. I pinned hair designs, make-up shades, jewellery, dresses, shoes, different photography styles, researched beach weddings, destination weddings, colour schemes, archways–you name it, they have photos for everything on Pinterest.

We were also able to plan activities based on travel ideas for the Big Island, as well as Oahu where JD and I spent our honeymoon. I pinned another 250+ pins on Hawaii information and was able to send a rough itinerary to our wedding guests about visiting Rainbow Falls, Volcano National Park and going snorkelling with dolphins. To read more about our activities check out my travel blogs: “A week on the Big Island,” & “Six days in Oahu.”

A Week on the Big Island, Hawaii

The islands of Hawaii were formed out of hardened lava rock, so when you fly into Kona airport, black rock is all you can see for miles around. But don’t be disconcerted. The lava rock has become a playground for luscious, green jungles; rainbow clad waterfalls; and the Kilauea volcano itself!

P1200278 (2)The open airport takes some tourist by surprise. IMG_3725 (2)It has columns to hold up the ceiling, but not enclosed walls. Immediately outside of the airport there are shuttle buses waiting to take people to a range of hire cars places. Australians, beware that a lot of hire car companies will try to take you for a ride by charging outrageous insurance prices. Discuss car insurance with your travel agents and credit card companies before arrival. We found that as members of Costco international, the hire car price was discounted, and Barclay credit card company covered the most important details of our car insurance. As these are American companies, Aussies will need to look into what Australian companies can do for them.

Before arriving on Hawaii island, my husband and I wrote a basic itinerary of the most important attractions we wanted to see. Our top three were: Volcano National Park, Rainbow Falls and snorkelling at Captain Cook Monument. We arrived on a Sunday and had our wedding planned for the following Friday. We’d heard about black sand beach, green sand beach, the botanical gardens, Thurston lava tube, Kona coffee, luaus and the possibility of swimming with dolphins, turtles, sharks, mantra rays etc. So there were plenty of options. As we travelled with 29 other family members and friends, I will write about some of the adventures that our group had. IMG_3775 (2)

The day after we arrived we decided to go to Rainbow Falls. There are a few words of warning that need to be given about these particular Falls. One is to bring bug repellent: pack it in your luggage in case you can’t find any to buy in Hawaii. The other is to keep an eye on your car. Apparently Rainbow Falls is notorious for car break-ins because the locals expect a lot of tourist vehicles to be parked there. My sister and brother-in-law had two of their tyres slashed after someone failed to break into their hire car. Fortunately the car was easily replaced the same day by the rental car company. Unfortunately, however, this took a large chunk of time out of our site seeing plans for that day.

P1200217Rainbow Falls is beautiful. The view is a stone’s throw from the car park. There are stairs climbing up to a closer view, followed by some jungle areas leading to the rapids that cascade down the falls. My brother, the dare devil, climbed on the rocks between the rapids and got as close to the falls as he could get. More often than not, the spray of the falls creates a rainbow that arches over the falls, giving it its name (mind you, rainbows are commonly seen at Niagara falls and probably many other waterfalls as well).

The falls are about a twenty minute drive from Hawaii Tropical Botannical Gardens. P1200451Several from our group made it to the gardens while the majority unfortunately missed out during the kafuffle with the slashed tyres. I hear that the gardens are magnificent and well worth seeing if you are already in the area. The gardens contain huge trees, colourful leaves and flowers, some of which are unique to Hawaii and the entire garden slopes down to the ocean which you can trek down to. Missing the botanical gardens is by far my biggest regret from our trip to Hawaii.

IMG_2411 (2)Visiting Volcano National Park was absolutely top of my list of things to do on the Big Island. There are many ways to see it and our group decided to split up; some taking adventure bus tours, others driving themselves. Those who waited until night time to see Kilauea were able to see and orangey red glow, illuminate the sky, just above the mouth of the volcano. IMG_4119 (2) Night viewings come highly recommended, but it was quite a long drive from our accommodation and my husband and I were able to make more stops by seeing it during the day time. Even in the day time there is smoke rising from the huge crater that leads down to the lava flow. We listened in awe to a tour guide talk about how the landscape is constantly changing and eventually they will have to relocate the visitors centre because the volcano is widening. He explained why it is no longer safe to approach the mouth of the volcano, and we were happy viewing it from the relative safety of the visitor’s platform.

P1130022 (2)Prior to seeing the volcano itself, after entering the national park, we found Thurston lava tube and took a walk through the brush, in the sprinkling rain, down into the tube. Having some of our nieces and nephews with us made the adventure more exciting. A lava tube is a large tunnel formed by lava rock, that feels similar to a cave. It is worth the visit if you’ve never been inside a lava tube before and, visiting the entire national park only costs a few dollars per carload. My in-laws had an American national parks pass so we could enter for free.

IMG_2438IMG_2444 (2)On the return trip from Volcano National Park, my husband and I hopped in his brother’s car with three of our nieces and visited Black Sand Beach. I was truly in awe of this beach. I don’t know what I expected but I was genuinely surprised that black sand felt essentially the same as white sand. I mean, logically, why shouldn’t it? I think I just suspected it was shards of rock and might be tougher on the feet, but it was surprisingly soft. There were turtles camped on the sand when we visited and I could see there would be a great opportunity to swim with the turtles at this beach. It is also easily accessible from the carparks.

The day before our wedding, 14 from our group went snorkelling with Dolphin Discoveries. The crew we had on the day were exceptionally good. Captain Dale was able to find a pod of dolphins for us to snorkel with, which was truly an amazing experience. My brother captured some great videos on his GoPro. We spent ample time with the dolphins out in the ocean before moving on to Captain Cook’s monument where we swam amongst coral formations with beautiful fish. The monument looks difficult to get to by land, but much easier by boat. It is one of the best places to snorkel on the Big Island.WP_20151119_036 (2)

Snorkelling gear was provided including flotation devices for less competent swimmers, but we had calm waters and I did not feel unsafe without the noodles, using the flippers and mouth gear. For all those, like me, who are concerned about needing to pee while on a 2-3 hour snorkel trip, FYI you will be peeing in the deep blue ocean if you have to go!

We had a terrific time snorkelling. Afterward, we ate lunch at a nearby restaurant that serves avocado fries. They were delicious! Two of my sisters-in-law also went swimming with mantra rays the night before and loved it, so there are a lot of different snorkelling options for tourists to enquire about.

IMG_3999 (2)The following day, our celebration wedding ceremony was held in Anaeho’omalu Bay and I wish we could have spent some time at the beach there. It looked like another good place to go snorkelling–quite picturesque. Our reception was a short walk from Anaeho’omalu Bay, at Lava Lava Beach Club and exceeded my expectations with the added bonus of the forecasted rain holding off. If you’d like to learn more about my wedding on the Big Island, read my blog “Planning a Wedding on the Big Island.”P1130125

We returned to Anaeho’omalu Bay the day after the wedding for a trip on a glass bottom boat. Personally I found this a little on the boring side. Yes we could see coral and fish through the glass, but I’d already been snorkelling and having lived in Australia, the coral in Hawaii is much less colourful (no offence). However, it was fun for the nieces and nephews and was a short and relaxing trip.

IMG_3727 (2)I was super keen to have my haircut that day. After growing it for several years in the lead-up to getting married, all I wanted to do was have that hot, heavy mass, chopped off! So I spent the afternoon getting my haircut in the expensive Waikoloa Village. Waikoloa Village is a great place to shop, it is well manicured with beautiful frangipanis and orchids. There’s a large fish pond, plenty of food in the food court, some familiar American shops and other, more touristy shops.

For more ideas about what you can do on the Big Island, check out my Hawaii board on Pinterest.