Big Island - First few days

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March 18th 2010
Published: March 23rd 2010
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The Island of Hawaii or “the Big Island” is the biggest island in this chain of volcano-formed islands, and is also the most diverse. One resident we met on a black sand beach told us that of the 13 different climate zones, the big island has 11 of them (Steve wonders what the other 2 are?). We are staying on a coffee plantation on the Kona coast - the west side of the island which is typically the driest and sunniest. Well, like everywhere else we have been so far, they are having non-typical weather, so every day has been a mix of sun and cloud and rain. And, just the mile or so up the mountain where the coffee is grown and where we are staying, it cools off noticeably from the coast. Every day it is foggy and misty up there - some of it being really wet fog and some of it “vog - volcanic fog” from Kiluea, which has been emitting higher than normal levels of sulphur dioxide lately. But down by the ocean, it is often clearer and always a lot warmer.

The island is beautiful. The evidence of old lava flows is everywhere, and the contrast of black lava rock and tropical vegetation along with blue water is just breathtaking. Tide pools hold all kinds of little fish, urchins, crabs, and even fish that skip along the surface of the water. Like Mexico, there are road-side fruit and vegetable markets and farmers markets everywhere, but unlike Mexico, it isn’t cheap. “Shave ice” is a staple, which is like a coarser version of a snow cone, served in a big heaping cup, and topped with your choice of artificially flavored and colored syrup. Sounds strange, but we have to go with the island flow, and it really is refreshing on a hot day at the beach. A fellow saw us comparing tongues, and laughing, offered to take our picture. We all had a good laugh!

St. Benedict’s Painted Church has been standing here since the late 1890’s. The walls were painted with a series of scenes to help teach the native Hawaiians the stories from the bible. Columns inside the church are topped with painted palm fronds, and look like regal palm trees holding up the roof. It was on a narrow, winding and pretty road, and was worth the drive…..mostly because Steve is doing the driving!

We took a trip to Volcano National Park, and along the way heading south, the land gradually becomes less forested and lush and you start to see dry grassy farm land dotted with cattle. It also gets drier and windier. Unfortunately, because of the amount of vog, the visitor centre in the park was closed, as was part of the crater rim drive. We did manage to go through the Thurston Lava Tube, which was formed as lava flowed and cooled into a crust around the flow. Then, the lava gradually flowed out, forming a tube - a cave in the ground that we walked through. Surrounding this old lava flow is dense and wet rain forest - an easy and pretty hike. We also went down Chain of Craters road, which, true to the name, wove through and across old lava flows and several craters caused as lava welled up, broke through the earth forming a mini-volcano, then subsided leaving a crater. All around is black volcanic rock, and Steve couldn’t resist climbing over and around the rocks. Devastation Trail is also along this road, and shows what is left of a forest after the lava flowed over and around the trees, some white bleached trunks lying around still, but not much else. At the end of the road, there is an arch of lava that the sea crashes around, continuing to erode and rock and pound it into black sand. The high cliffs and the crashing sea is something hard to describe - you can feel the force of nature here.

For fun, I have included a picture of pineapples growing on the property we are staying at - we didn’t know they grew on stalks like that - they will be ready in about 4 months…! No wonder they are so expensive. And these little birds called “yellow tangerines” are everywhere here. We have also seen bright red cardinals, wild turkeys, Hawaiian pheasants, and yes, chickens on the road up to the coffee farm. Can’t seem to get away from the darn chickens. But at least they aren’t crowing under my window at 3 in the morning here. We are told there are wild pigs here too - which is why everyone has fences around their properties, because the pigs root up the plants and cause a lot of damage to cash crops.

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