Published: June 1st 2010April 27th 2010
We’re back in Hilo today, on the Big Island of Hawaii. The main thing to do in this port is to go to the Volcanoes National Park, which we did last week. I was eager to do some other big exploration and Jenny was too. We decided to tackle Mauna Kea, the highest peak on the island. It’s possible to drive to the summit of Mauna Kea, but a 4-wheel drive vehicle is required and most rental agencies won’t allow their vehicles to be taken to the summit. It took a bit of extra research on my part to find a company we could use, but I got it all sorted.
So first thing this morning, Jenny and I were off the ship and to our rental agency. Then we loaded into our SUV and headed off. Mauna Kea is quite close to where the ship docks - we could clearly see it as soon as we were in port. The drive to the mountain was relatively quick. But then we began the climb up which took a lot more time.
The scenery on the drive was really interesting, though I can’t honestly it’s pretty. Pretty doesn’t seem like
the right word. The area is quite barren. Rolling hills and mountains, green grass, red dirt and rock make up the landscape. Again, really interesting, just not really pretty. The road snaked back and forth up the mountain as we steadily climbed to 9,000 feet. This part of the drive was actually quite easy. After driving the winding Road to Hana and to the summit of Halekala in the dark before sunrise last week in Maui, this seemed like nothing.
Just past 9,000 feet, is the park’s visitor and information centre. We’d read that it’s necessary to stop there for about 40 minutes to get used to the thinning air. So we parked, checked out the gift shop, read the brochures and watched the video inside the centre. Back down at sea level, it was a hot day. We’d read ahead of time that it would be cold at the summit, but it was still a shock to feel the temperature difference after only the first 9,000 feet! We were definitely chilled and happy to have some hot chocolate while we adjusted to the air.
Then it was time to tackle the extreme part of the ascent. We
were going to go up another 4,700+ feet in only 8 miles on a rough unpaved road. It definitely was tough driving! The road was so rough, I felt like I had to grip the steering wheel in order for the truck to not bounce off course. The incline was so steep, we couldn’t get much of any speed, so at least in that sense I had plenty of control. There were lots of sharp turns, again because we were slow that made them easier, but the uneven ground and little to no visibility around some curves made for some excitement. But we made it! We were safe, in one piece and excited to be up there.
The top of Mauna Kea has multiple observatories. A lot of astronomy and space research and observation is done up there. Seeing all of the observatory buildings amongst the otherwise barren landscape was cool. It felt like we were on another planet up there. It was hard to believe that somewhere beneath the clouds below was the lush Hawaiian jungle.
We parked the car and then decided to walk the final 50-100 feet to the actual summit. As soon as
we started walking, the thin air hit us. It was crazy how different it felt compared to only at 9,000! Our walk the short way up the rest of the summit was very slow going. I stopped frequently to slow down my heart rate. I’d never felt anything like it! There just never seemed to be quite enough air. It just didn’t feel right. So slowly, step by step, we carefully made it to Mauna Kea’s summit.
It really seemed other-worldly up there. There’s no other way I can think of to describe it. It was a really cool sight to see.
But it was so cold!! We didn’t stay long before we started slowly making our way back to the car. We were up at the summit for about ten minutes. We’d bundled up in layers and had our hoodies wrapped around our heads, but we just couldn’t take the cold wind.
We made a brief stop in one of the observatories that allows the public to step inside. They had an area where through the glass you could see their telescopes - some of the largest in the world.
Then we began the drive
back down. This was much more challenging than the ride up because the incline meant we picked up speed easily and quickly. I quickly figured out how to shift into low gear! Again, we bumped and jerked our way along the road. But we made it back down.
When we got back to Hilo, it was still early - only noon! So we had plenty of time for some extra explorations around the city. First we stopped for lunch (at I-HOP). Then Jenny indulged me and we went to the Big Island Candy Company’s store and factory. They had a big gift shop with windows looking into the area where people worked at making their candies and cookies. There were free samples too! I’d read and heard about their chocolate dipped shortbread cookies, so I had to try those. After trying them, I maybe also had to purchase a package to bring back to the ship!
Then we were on a mission to see waterfalls. About 11 miles outside of Hilo is Akaka Falls. We headed there first. Along the drive, we stopped for a few scenic shots. It was so pretty! Then we reached Akaka Falls State
Park. They have a loop path that winds through the jungle. It was a gorgeous walk. The trees and plants were incredible. There were a few other smaller falls that we saw along our walk. But the sight to see was Akaka. The Falls are 400 feet tall, crashing down a cliff to a pool below. Beautiful.
Our last destination of the day was another waterfall, this one right in Hilo. Rainbow Falls are really accessible, in a park just off one of the city’s streets. They were also beautiful. We took photos of the falls from across the pool. Then we walked the short path to an area above the falls that had views of both up and down stream of the falls.
We covered so much today! Another incredible day in Hawaii. We can’t believe we only have a couple more days left . . .
There are more photos below