North to South (west)
The second half of our vacation for 2012 was a visit to Hawaii (the big island). I have previously visited Maui, but this was the first time on the Big Island, and it is a very different place. We flew in late on a Tuesday night, after having spent the day recovering from our flight from Canada. After landing at Kona airport we grabbed our rental car and drove to the Waikoloa Beach Marriott further northeast along the Coast. The Airports on the big island are like nothing I have experienced before. They are pretty much completely open to the elements on the sides, being very much like a series of joined pavilions. The temperature was perfect and the hotel room was great, so we slept very well.
We spent our first couple of days in Hawaii getting ourselves acclimatized and organized. We drove to the east side of the island to see the Akaka falls State Park, and experienced some of the many different climatic conditions of the island as we drove the saddle road which tops out at around 7000 ft between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, the 2 largest (of 5) volcanoes on Hawaii. The west side of the island is still in the grips of a drought, and is essentially desert, but the East side is the wettest place in the United States and is mostly tropical rain forest. We experienced this as we drove the saddle and hit white out conditions and heavy rain.
A digression: Hawaii is the youngest and largest of the Hawaiian islands. The entire archipelago was (and is being) created by a “hot spot” in the earths crust, which is the result of a Magma Plume from the core burning through the crust. The islands are located on the Pacific plate, which is drifting to the northwest. Take a look at google maps or google earth in terrain mode and you can see a line of islands getting smaller and smaller as they go hundreds of miles further to the northwest. it is a very cool picture.
Anyhow, back to our visit. Akaka falls was beautiful but wet, and as we were driving back we saw the first of our daily views of rainbows here. Our second day we drove south into and past Kona and found a wholesale merchant who was Geppetto personified. I mean I almost expected to see Pinocchio rise up from behind one of his boxes of Macadamia nuts or Coffee. We had a wonderful conversation with him and picked up some Kona Coffee and Macadamia nuts and headed back to the hotel.
On our 3rd day we decided to get down to business and went to the concierge in the hotel to get their opinions on what we should do and see. After an meeting and a discussion we had a plan for the next few days. The next day we rose fairly early and caught our shuttle to take us to the Northern point of the island. There we boarded the German equivalent of a Hummer, a Pinzgauer, which was a 6 wheeled chariot of coolness. It was drizzly, but not too bad and drying out by the time we reached the hike. This hike took us through the rain forest on the edge of the Kapaloa Valley, where we saw a number of small waterfalls and swam in one of them. Afterward we had a great lunch on the edge of a cliff overlooking the northern coast and black sand beaches.
We got back from the Kapaloa just in time to get ready for our evening swim with the Manta Rays. This was probably the most exciting thing we did on Hawaii. In the evenings the tour boats go to a small bay off the coast from the Kona Airport. The Manta rays come here to get cleaned by a coterie of small fishes, and the boats all have a number of bright lights. They shine the lights into the water to attract the plankton, which in turn attracts the mantas. The huge rays then feed on the plankton by doing great backward loops in the water with their mouths open. They loop right up to within a couple of inches of the snorklers on the surface, and it is a crazy experience.
The next day we got up early to drive to the west side of the Island for breakfast. We then took a helicopter ride over the active volcano, Kilauea in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. There is a vent there that has been erupting continuously for years, and we flew over it and followed it to the sea where it is slowly pouring lava into the ocean and creating more land on the south end of Hawaii. We then flew over a few waterfalls on our way back to Hilo. On the way back to the hotel we took a drive over the extinct volcano at the north end of Hawaii, Kohala. The slopes western slopes of this volcano are pastoral and covered with ranches and we had fun taking pictures there. We then headed to a black sand beach on the north point of the island for sunset.
The next day I did a little snorkling on Waikoloa beach and spent some time with a sea turtle. That evening we headed up to see the observatories on Mauna Kea at sunset. It was very cold and windy up there, but we braved the cold long enough to look through some telescopes our guides set up further down the mountains. We saw the moon and Jupiter and a few other things before cowering back into the warmth of the shuttle bus.
Our last, and almost best adventure on the big island was a guided visit to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. our shuttle drove us across saddle road, and we stopped in a fascinating lava tube in Hilo. We the drove to the park and saw the main crater of Kilauea. We hiked through rain forest, saw steam vents and drove to the ocean for sunset and saw some sea arches there. After a great dinner we headed back to the crater to get some pictures of the red glow from the lava. A long sleepy ride back and our last real adventure on Hawaii was done.
On our last day we packed and I did a little more snorkling, then we visited downtown Kona which was very cute. We found a wonderful photography gallery, JLAMBUS photography, there were we talked to the photographer Joshua Lambus. (see here as well). It turns out he is a canyoneer as well, and I wish we had found him when we first got to the island so he could have pointed us toward some out of the way spots to adventure. Ah well. A pleasant dinner and sunset in Kona and we headed to the airport, our fun was over.
Cheers, and best of the holiday season to all.