Last views of Hawaii

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March 31st 2010
Published: April 17th 2010
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Well, sorry it has been so long since we have updated the blog. We have seen 2 other islands already (in real time), but I don’t feel that we have done the Big Island justice yet, so will post a final entry on this beautiful island before moving on.

The beauty and diversity of this island is hard to describe. At first, from the air when we were flying in, the land looked black and flat - without much interest. That is because the airport is built on an old lava flow. It takes hundreds of years for the lava to cool, and for wind and rain action to start to crumble the hard molten rock into earth so that the plants can gain a foothold again. When you look closely, you will see ferns and palms sprouting from cracks in the rocks - evidence that plant life will again make this rocky landscape green and beautiful. The contrast is what is so striking. Some of the lava rock is black, smooth and glassy. It was rock that melted at a higher temperature, and became fluid, flowing quickly. Some of the lava rock is reddish, light and full of holes. This rock has a high iron content, melted at a lower temperature and crawled along slowly, tumbling over itself creating the air holes. And some is ash, spewed out of the earth into the air before settling back down to earth creating a crumbly textured volcanic soil. This soil is rich in minerals, making it possible for these volcanic islands to become the rich gardens they are today. We found very much beauty in the contrasts between the black volcanic rocks and the green vegetation against the blue and turquoise of the sea.

We decided to take our one big splurge here - a helicopter tour of the island. I have already put a comment on Trip Advisor about Blue Hawaiian - the company we went with and our experience with them so I won’t rant here. We were seated in the back seats on the side opposite of the pilot, and suffice it to say that we didn’t get a very good trip, or very good pictures. It definitely was not worth the money. It would have been amazing if we had been in the front seats. Still, we got some pictures, and seeing the island from the air gave a whole different view and understanding of the island. We were able to see cinder cones, both old and still smoking. We saw a whale from the air. We saw old lava flows and new ones. We saw the waterfalls and the deep green valleys that are not accessible by road on the rainy side of the island. The pictures you will see on this post are all from this trip, since I have posted pictures about other parts of the island already. But I will talk about our experience of the island as we drove it, as that was such a great way to experience it, and the way we remember it best.

The side of the island where we stayed is the dry West side (Kona side), and they have been experiencing a drought in the past few years. Even so, the flowering trees everywhere and the green areas that were watered and tended to were so lovely. We found a great rocky beach for snorkeling - once we clambered over the rocks and got into the water, all we had to do was put our faces in the water, and colorful tropical fish were everywhere. We even saw, and heard, parrot fish - the ones that eat the coral! That was so amazing! And three different colored sea urchins. So cool! We also found a great beach with a long strip of fine white sand and gentle rolling waves over a sandy bottom. And we found another one with a combination of both - that one wasn’t so well known to visitors, so we usually shared the beach with no tourists but lots of locals. That was our favorite beach. And most beaches had showers, bathrooms, and some even had even life guards.

The more well-known beaches were marked on the various tourist maps that we had - Kahalu'u for snorkeling, and Hapuna beach for the nicest white sand. We had so many maps! There was one from the car-rental place with the main highlights, one we picked up in a dive shop with all the coastline spots for snorkeling, diving, and fishine, and several others that were mostly for advertising, but had surprisingly good maps of certain areas of the island. Sorting through all these maps was crazy sometimes, trying to find the best map depending on what we were looking for. And our favorite beaches were often not marked on our maps. Someone we talked to (forget who it was now) told us to park at the end of the parking lot to the marina, then follow a dirt path down to the ocean for a nice little spot where sea turtles sometimes rest. Another spot was "go up the highway till you get to the sign for the cemetary - turn opposite that sign down the unmarked road toward the ocean and follow it to the end". Sure enough, there was a parking lot filled with cars and what became our favorite beach. After that, we followed more of those unmarked roads, and found lots of little beaches - some rocky, some sandy, some with fun tide pools to explore. I wish I could go back and check them all out!

Everything is laid out along one long highway on the Kona side of the island, and so this highway becomes busy and clogged with traffic everyday - people going to and from work, people picking up their kids from school, and tree trimming and road construction all caused traffic to move very slow, and even stop completely at times. Yet, we learned to calculate this extra drive time for our trips, and it didn’t seem frustrating at all. Kailua-Kona is the main tourist town, and it is really packed. That is also where all the restaurants and gift shops are. But, we didn’t mind the crowds and they really weren’t too bad, and everyone seemed to be in vacation mode - friendly, chatty, and in no hurry. Except on days that cruise ships were visiting. Then it got really crazy with all those people trying to hurry up and swim and snorkel and shop in their one day there. We learned to avoid Kailua-Kona on cruise ship days.

The prices here - I have to say something about this. At first, we were appalled at the prices of everything - gas, groceries, and restaurant meals. We tried to do the same thing we did in Mexico - searching out small, family run places with casual or even dumpy surroundings, and nothing fancy, home-style cooking. Well, there are lots of these places, and you can’t get a lunch for under $9, or a supper for under $17. Even picking the cheapest things on the menu, by the time you get a soft drink and with taxes, our meals were never under $25, and often much more if we decided to have an actual real meal. Even fresh fish caught locally is priced higher than we could afford. Sadly, the food is nothing special either. The best deals are at fast food restaurants. McDonald’s still has its dollar menu, and Pizza Hut has a large one topping pizza for $6. These were the only places we could eat without feeling sick about breaking our budget. But, this is Hawaii, and we found it to be the same on all the islands. Once we resigned ourselves to this, and found ways to save money like buying peanut butter and jelly and packing sandwiches, we felt a little better. Still, if you come to Hawaii, plan on spending twice as much as you would anywhere else on food and gas.

On the rainy side, the highway is narrower and twisty, with pretty views and waterfalls. The rain comes and goes, and people don’t seem to notice it. There are tourists on this side as well, but not as many. Really, who wants to spend their vacation in the rain? Still, it was laid back, and very pretty. Driving around the south part of the island got us into some really remote land - old hippies came here and just stayed - and the little houses are hid well back from the road. The road is narrow and winding, and comes close to the shore with pounding waves and high winds in several places. It is wild and remote. Pretty soon, you get to the newest lava flow, where you can walk out across the black bare surface to where it met the ocean. Even though the day was cold, the lava radiated heat, and we were hot and tired in no time. We saw where the road became covered with lava, and the houses sitting out in the middle of nothing. It was all very strange. Travelling north again takes you through volcano national park, then a couple of small towns with old shacks, cheap property prices and poor air quality due to the vog (volcanic emissions like sulphur dioxide along with fog), and then back to Captain Cook - just south of Kona - where we stayed up the mountain a ways on a small coffee farm. Even when it was hot and sunny down in Kona, up the mountain a ways where we were was always cool and misty. The hot tub at our place was welcome in the cool air, after our long days of sightseeing. Even though the owner, wanting to save power kept the tub turned down, and if we wanted to use it we had to turn it up and wait - usually about 3 hours - for it to heat up enough to use it. That was sometimes frustrating. Ah well, if that is our only worry, it was small enough. We really enjoyed out time there. Too soon it was time to move on to Maui.

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