Four Annual Festivals worth planning your Big Island vacation around (and one to avoid)

1 – Aloha Festival – September
This month long celebration of the Aloha Spirit is held annually in September. Events include community parades in several locations, and the establishing and blessing of a ‘Royal Court’ made up of native Hawaiians who appear at most of the official events either in traditional garb or in clothing similar to that worn in the court of King Kalakaua. Culinary events include The ‘Taste of the Hawaiian Range and Agricultural Festival, highlighting pasture-raised beef expertly prepared by Hawai’i chefs and including every conceivable cut from the familiar sirloin and ribs to the exotic such as beef cheeks, tongue, and ‘Mountain Oysters.’ Attendees can connect with local food producers and island chefs and check out booths and exhibits about Hawaiian agriculture. For more details, visit http://www.TasteOfTheHawaiianRange.com. There is also the annual Hawaii Island Poke contest where home cooks and professional chefs compete against their peers to create a championship version of this traditional seafood dish. After the judging, attendees also get to taste. There are musical offerings as well – hula contests, the Kindy Sproat Falsetto and Story Telling contest, the Big Island Slack Key Guitar Festival are all part of the September calendar. For more information on the festival visit http://www.hawaiiislandfestival.org

2 – The Coffee Cultural Festival
2016 marks the 46th year of this annual celebration of the world famous Kona coffee. It is the oldest food festival in Hawai’i and combines contemporary coffee-mania with Kona’s long history as a coffee-producing region. Coffee farm tours, Native Hawaiian arts and cultural events, and a wide variety of activities celebrating the diverse cultures contributing to Kona’s coffee industry contribute to this annual 10 day event held annually in early November. For more information about the festival and this year’s calendar of events visit http://konacoffeefest.com/schedule-of-events/

3 – Big Island Chocolate Festival
This one is a relative, but tasty, newcomer, as commercial cacao production is just getting a foothold in Hawaii. First held in 2012, the festival is adding new events each year and is held over two days in mid-May. This year featured a cacao plantation tour, workshops on cacao farming and production techniques, and numerous culinary demonstrations and tastings. To keep up with this festival, visit http://www.bigislandchocolatefestival.com

4 – Merrie Monarch Festival
Held annually in late April or early May, the Merrie Monarch festival began in 1963 as a part of the Hawaiian Cultural Renaissance and has gone on to become the preeminent hula competition. This week long event includes a parade, cultural activities and events, a juried craft fair, and the hula competition which features group and individual competitions in the ancient or Kahiko style of dance and the modern or ‘Auana style. For more information and the dates of the 2017 Festival see http://www.merriemonarch.com

And the one to avoid –

I know this won’t meet with everyone’s approval, but I recommend avoiding the Ironman Triathlon unless you are a participant or the supporter of one and here’s why. For at least a week before race day, everything on the Kona side of the island will be crowded, prices will be higher on flights, lodging and rental cars, supply will be scarce and traffic will be awful. During the week leading up to the Triathlon day, the athletes will be training in the ocean, on the highways on their bikes and on the streets of Kona running. There will be street closures for pre-Triathlon events in Kona (like the Parade of the Triathletes and the much more amusing ‘Underpants Run’) and on race day the entire route from Kona to Hawi will have intermittent or long-term road closures. If you are part of it all, it can be great fun, but if you aren’t, it is mostly an annoyance. The Ironman is held annually in October on a Saturday – usually the second Saturday of the month, this year it is on the 8th of October.