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Published: January 4th 2007
When we first booked our flights with Aloha Airlines
, Hyning and I just wanted to 'get away' to the Big Island. With no research or any concrete plans, we booked the cheapest flights available, not realising that we had to wake up at 4am to catch a 6.10am flight to Kona and returned on thanksgiving night to Oahu. We had very little sleep the night before because: (1) Hyning and I could not stop talking at night; (2) I was jet-lagged and would not let her sleep; and (3) when we could finally sleep, Hyning had her alarm clock blaring at 2am local time - it was 4am Cali-time.
We arrived at Kona Airport before sunrise. Once we collected our car and drove out of the airport, we realised we were indeed at a volcanic heartland. Hardened lava and new rock formation could be easily seen along the Alii Drive leading north from Kona to Waimea. The lava was dark and shiny. The air in Kona carried a hint of sulphur and the aroma of coffee (?). Maybe because we were both so sleepy and were dreaming of Kona coffee. The shops were still shut and our coffee hunt landed us
Big Island is of an odd amoebic shape. Initially we were debating whether to drive around the island clockwise or anti-clockwise. In the end, we decided to see the north part of Big Island first and then the south where the Volcanoes National Park
is. Off we went and we headed towards the first point of interest, Waipio Valley.
Waipio Valley - A steep downhill slide
The cliff overlooking Waipio Valley gave a grand panoramic view of the lush green valley with the deep blue sky and ocean at the background. White waterfalls could be seen snaking down the valley amidst dark volcanic rocks. It stopped drizzling when we arrived and the air was crisp and fresh. The beach seemed really inviting and looked like a perfect place for our little picnic and perhaps a quick dip. We packed our lunch, bikinis and started walking down to the beach in our flip-flops. 20m down the path, we realised it was a bad bad idea. The paved 4WD road took us from the look-out point at about 1,200ft above sea level to the beach. It was probably the steepest paved road around. The road was at least of 25%!(NOVERB)
On Cloud 9
With the clouds at our feet, we were not sure where we were - Midway up Mauna Kea
average grade. We had to lean backwards when walking to avoid cart-wheeling down. It took us almost an hour to walk down to the beach. After we scrambled our way down, we noticed there were charred 4WDs hanging on top of trees and burnt quad bikes half-buried in leaves. The drivers, like us, probably undermined the steep paved road. We were simply lucky to not have tumbled down.
The guidebook suggested that the Waipio shore is popular with surfers and locals, but the beach was deserted save for a lone surfer. We soon realised this was probably because the water was very cold. I could not feel my toes after wading across the stream leading to the ocean. We had a nice time chilling at the beach and doing things all natural including finding our favourite tree to wee.
We set off for Hilo at around 2-ish in the afternoon. The roads to Hilo took us through various scenic points - look out points to the Pacific Ocean, nicely manicured taro plantations, palm-tree lined roads and quaint little towns along the way. The guidebook indicated that Hilo has the largest human community on the Big
Hardened Lava at Sunset
Island with a population of more than 40,000. That did not seem like a huge number. When we arrived, Hilo seemed like a sleepy little town with laid-back folks. We checked in at the Hilo Bay Hostel
, which was conveniently located in the middle of the old town. The hostel occupied an old colonial building and it still retained much of the good-ol'-days charm. The library had some pretty extensive collection of travel guides and novels. We had the place pretty much to ourselves as we seemed like the only ones staying in there.
Hilo had its share of problems. In 1946, a massive tsunami, triggered by a massive earthquake off the Aleutian Islands, swept into Hilo claiming hundreds of lives. In 1960, another massive tsunami, triggered by another massive earthquake off Chile, flattened parts of the low-lying areas. It was hard to tell when we looked out at the sea that the ocean could turn so violent. What was left of the affected area was turned into a park and a memorial.
We had our first 'spam' at the Hilo morning market. Spam
ork and hAM
, is a snack big in Hawaii. I thought of it as
Star Gazing at Onizuka Centre
Giant telescopes outside Onizuka Centre
more of a sushi than a Hawaiian snack. A piece of Spam is usually wrapped with rice and seaweed. I did not think it was all that special but it was definitely a very filling snack.
Twinkle twinkle little star...
Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa stand side by side to each other. The former is a dormant volcano while the latter is an active one. Mauna Loa's last eruption was in 1980s'. Mauna Kea (the white mountain in Hawaiian) is the tallest mountain in the world if measured from its base (at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean) to its peak. It stands at around 4200m above sea-level. The Hawaiians call it the white mountain as its peak is usually covered in snow. A 90-minute drive from Hilo along the densely fogged saddle roads, brought us to the mid-section of Mauna Kea.
We had all the grand plans of trekking up the summit of Mauna Kea to the observatory deck overnight but decided against it. It was too cold and we did not have any trekking gear other than our boots. Neither of us felt like dying half-way up Mauna Kea, besides, if we were to
Steam Vents along the Crater Rim
be discovered a few million years later like the Java Man, it would project the wrong anthropological picture, leading the future world to think that Hawaii was once inhabited by Asians who ate weetabix.
The mid-section at around 3000m above sea-level was good enough for us. We trekked around the area for a bit, looking for the best spot for sunset. With the winds and clouds beneath us, it felt beautifully odd to be looking down and seeing clouds at our feet. We were out of breath for just trekking 150m up a look out point, thinking about it, we probably would require more altitude training before we attempt EBC. The University of Hawaii offers a Star-Gazing Programme at the Onizuka Centre for International Astronomy
. It started with a video-presentation but the highlight was out there in the open where the university sets up human-sized telescopes for visitors. It was a cold cold night but the sky was clear, dotted with many bright tiny little stars. We never expected to be see so many stars without any visual aid but we did! The student volunteers at the university helpfully shared their tips and discovery and we chatted for a bit about astrology. There
Holei Sea Arch
Strong waves pounding the arch - don't think the arch will still be there in a few years time.
was a lot of linking the dots and stretching our imagination to make up the signs of the zodiac.
Volcano National Park This
was the reason we came to the Big Island and we intended to spend as much time as possible to explore and trek around the area. But we had not sorted out our accommodation and most places were fully booked over the thanksgiving holidays. After a few desperate phone calls, we found the 'My Island B&B Inn'
, which turned out to be a fantastic B&B located less than a mile from the gate of the national park. Our host, Gordon, was a ranger at the national park and provided really useful tips on the treks and trails. He also gave us free maps of the trails in the park.
Following Gordon's advice, we started exploring the park by doing the 11-mile crater rim drive which circled around the summit of Kilauea volcano. The caldera was huge and deep, seemed more like a place out of Starwars. Steam could still be seen coming out of the steam vents along the way and that acrid sulphuric smell! Urgh. As we drove around, we spotted the old access road to
Where the fire meets the sea
Hot lava flowing into the ocean creating massive steam clouds
the crater rim, partly covered in hardened lava. The hardened lava looked like a huge piece of black silky cloth from afar, while some looked like layers and layers of nicely arranged black jute-ropes. We were pretty excited to be stepping on the lava. It would be funny if Kilauea blew up again when we were there, we would be racing away from Kilauea only to find that the roads were all covered in hot lava. We were really tempted to take home some hardened lava-bits, but I was told that those who removed anything from the volcano site would be plagued with bad luck. The volcano was thought to be the home of Pele
, the ill-tempered goddess of fire and volcano. The glass-like lava bits were her hair and the loose droplets were her tears. The rangers said that some visitors who went home with their little 'souvenir', actually returned them later to the national park with letters asking for Pele's forgiveness. We were not sure whether leaving with the the lava-bits would attract a real curse but we were certainly not ready to try.
We headed towards 'the end of world' where Kilauea lava flows into the
Where do we go from here?
The old access road now covered in hardened lava
ocean creating big steam clouds. The Chain of Craters Road was the only way there from the park entrance. The car had to negotiate many sharp hairpin-turns and many more scenic points before reaching the rangers' station where we could follow the trail to the look out point. We hopped along the lava covered area until to the far end way off the permitted trail, had our packed dinner and enjoyed sunset. When it turned dark, the Kilauea hot lava looked like a river of fire heading to the sea, it was a beautiful sight except we wished we could have gone nearer. We later read that 44 acres of the lava bench collapsed
(yes, the ones we were walking on) and the lava break point is now clearly visible from the rangers' station. After an hour or so, our minds were probably no longer on watching red-glowing lava breaking into the sea and I could tell that Hyning was all ready to race back to the Volcano Village where Gordon recommended 'Thai-Thai'. We were pleasantly surprise to find quality Thai-food in Hawaii and had ordered a couple of spicy dishes to be washed down with more Kona Red Ale
(Kona Red Ale became
Thurston Lava Tube
At the Volcano National Park
my daily drink since I got here and I was addicted to it) while Hyning had some 'Red Lava' which turned out to be rather potent. She had to be escorted (more specifically, she had to be taken) out of the restaurant later.
Good Bye Kona
We planned to snorkel at Kealakekua Bay but when we arrived it looked as though a hurricane was about to strike. Our Key Largo snorkelling experience was still fresh in our mind and we decided that we should just chill at Kona and write some postcards. I merely suggested that we could perhaps stop by Lava Java
and miraculously, Hyning drove us straight there without any map or direction from anyone. It was a nice end to our little break at the Big Island.
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