Born of Fire, born of the sea (Big Island, Hawaii, USA)

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April 23rd 2010
Published: April 28th 2010
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(Day 749 on the road)For various reasons, the Big Island, my third and final Hawaiian island, was also my favourite one. After a full week at a busy hostel in Maui I was ready for some solitude again, and renting a car on the Big Island (there is virtually no public transport here except for a daily around-the-island bus at seven in the morning) was the best way to achieve that and have the flexibility to see it all.

You would think that by travelling solo I would be rather lonely at times. In fact, it is quite tough to find space and time to be on my own, as I constantly meet people, in hostels of course, but also pretty much everywhere else on the road. So finding some quiet time and personal space is not always easy without being anti-social or going out of my way not to socialise.

After an unpleasant time at the Avis car rental counter, where the attendant was pushing me extremely hard to upgrade to a bigger car (turns out, she then gave it to me anyway as she didn't have any in the category I booked in, so go figure), I was soon on my way. The car was to be my home for the next four days and nights - the things I do to keep costs down. A word of advice though: When planning to rent a car and sleep in it, avoid a Ford Focus at all costs, as the seats simply don't recline very much, making it very uncomfortable at night.

Cruising around the island in a counter-clockwise fashion, I took in all the major sights over the next four days, starting with the informative Pu'uhonua O Honaunau Historical Park and the southernmost point of the United States (no, it is not in Florida as many people assume), aptly named South Point. About an hour's hike east of South Point is an unusual green sand beach, and although the sand isn't bright green, the olive-coloured beach is an unusual sight to say the least. In case you wondered, the colour actually comes from small green crystals.

Driving around Hawaii, I couldn't help but notice the abundant "No Trespassing", "Keep Out" and "Private Property" signs everywhere. In certain areas, it seemed that every driveway or mailbox had such a sign next to it. Either Hawaii has a major problem with trespassers, people are not able to recognize a private land when they see it, or the people putting up these signs are just plain paranoid. Hell, there are even "No Trespassing" signs at the parking lot of the supermarket. How on earth am I supposed to park my car there and do my grocery shopping if I am not allowed to enter (=trespass)?

Along the same line, I feel that there are a lot of "Don't do this" or "Don't do that" signs everywhere, ranging from "Stay on the trail - violators will be prosecuted" in the National Park to more obvious ones like "Buckle up, it's the law" or "No littering" at regular intervals along the highway. The self-proclaimed "land of the free" feels distinctively like a nanny-state, where the individual is constantly being told what he can't do and what he should do. After relaxed New Zealand and super-relaxed Asia it will take me a while to get used to this very heavy-handed approach here in the US. And things like the recent introduction of Arizona's discriminatory immigration law which empowers police to stop and arrest people if they have "reasonable suspicion" they are in the US illegally, does nothing at all to put me at ease.

A few days later I would learn that Los Angeles is no different in that respect, with big signs for instance on the metro warning you of a $250 fine and 48 hours of community service for things like riding without a ticket, littering, playing loud music or chewing gum on the trains. Whilst these things are certainly not desirably, the fines issued for such petty "crimes" seem extremely harsh to me. Plus, I don't have the feeling that they work either, as the metro didn't seem cleaner than any other metro in other countries which have much lower penalties for these minor infringements. I should really check if California applies the ridiculous and harsh "three strikes and you are out law" and if it applies to chewing gum on the metro, else I might end up in prison for a very long time here.

Next up on my list of things to see was Volcano National Park (slogan: "Born of Fire, born of the sea"), amongst many dormant craters spread over a vast area home to the active Halema'uma'u volcano, sitting inside a huge smoking crater that has been active since 1983. The hot lava that comes out of the volcano can actually be observed at night, when you can see red glowing lava rivers flowing down the mountain towards the ocean, which was an amazing experience. In another spot you can see where the lava flowed right across the street - the pavement can still be seen in places - rendering the whole road unusable by a metre thick of lava. A lonely "Road closed' sign marks the spot where the road once used to be.

On my second night I had arranged to meet up with Anne and Bob, a lovely and super-friendly Hawaiian couple I had met in New Zealand a few months ago, where they had given me a lift from the end of the Abel Tasman Great Walk back to the main road. They had offered me to stay with them in Hawaii, and although I am normally somehow not comfortable in accepting such offers, I did on this occasion, and it turned out to be the absolutely right decision.

The directions to their rather remote but all the more beautiful house sounded complicated and included "turn off the paved road", but I found it alright, and it was great to see Anne and Bob again. Bob is self-employed and hand-makes beautiful guitars and ukuleles, all the way from sourcing the wood in the Hawaiian mountains to the final touches, and with great success I should add. He doesn't take orders for specific items, but whenever he finishes a new piece it is typically sold within a few hours to collectors and fans, many of them in Japan for some reason.

The next morning, after a great breakfast of homemade walnut bread and jam, Anne and Bob took me to a place called Champagne Pools for some snorkeling, a number of geothermic heated freshwater pools with an overflow into the ocean that often attract turtles. We didn't see any of these, but it was nevertheless a great morning swimming in the warm and crystal-clear waters; just the four-wheel drive out there along the rugged coast and across the sharp black lava was an adventure in itself. Thank you so much guys for your hospitality and for showing me around!

Mauna Kea, the 4200 metre high mountain near the geographic centre of the Big Island, was my next major stop. The volcano is famous for its exceptionally good conditions for observing the night sky, and numerous observatories from various nations do their share of star-gazing here. I had expected some altitude problems driving from sea level all the way to 4200 metres, but apart from a slight shortness of breath it was all good. Sunset at the top was nice, but even better were the free and very informative talks and star-guidings the rangers offered out of their station until late into the night. They had set up some enormous telescopes outside, and I was especially taken aback by seeing Saturn's rings up close, a first for me. What a great service! I should add that generally the level of service and standard of things at the national parks and major tourists attractions here in Hawaii are just amazing.

I finished it all off by cruising around the north-western corner of the island, being suitably impressed by the Waipio and Popolu valleys, and finally swimming with yet another turtle right off the beach in downtown Kailua, the main city on the west coast of the Big Island. They really are everywhere here, and I just love these slow-moving creatures that don't mind the presence of people at all. After that, two weeks of Hawaii came to an end, and, as with most places I go, I only wished I could have spent more time in this diverse piece of tropical paradise.

Next stop: Los Angeles (California, USA).

To view my photos, have a look at And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon (and most other online book shops).


28th April 2010

nice post
Thanks for this post, it's useful for me but about travelling to south america, it's also great ;) __________________ Latino Guy Latino Portal
28th April 2010

Hawaii seems spectacular, I imagine it ranks very highly amongst your destinations.
28th April 2010

i love this place
I would love to come here everyday if i have the chance. this place is awesome! I cant wait to go back there..
28th April 2010

Very interesting observations
I've been following your blog for some time and really enjoying it, especially your sometimes critical comments on the countries you visit. I agree completely with your observations on the nanny state culture in the US. Personally I was very disappointed to learn from several visits to the US, that in many respects the country is far behind many European countries on individual freedom. For example gambling and prostitution is illegal in all states except one, the legal drinking age is 21(!) and the US continues pursuing a pointless (and fortunately losing) "war on drugs". Having said that, of course, in some areas, the Americans have much more freedom than Europeans. Lower taxes give people more control over their lives, some states let you drive a motorcycle without a helmet (as you have pointed out) (in my opinion a stupid thing to do, but you should be allowed to make stupid decisions - you only risk hurting yourself so it should be nobody else's business) and the first amendment gives real protection for freedom of speech. Try denying the Holocaust in Germany and you will be thrown in jail - completely unthinkable in the US! (Of course it is idiotic to deny the Holocaust, but one should not go to jail merely for holding an opinion). So, the US is really a contradictory country, but obviously fascinating nonetheless. Good luck on your journey!
29th April 2010

Warning Signs!
So glad you noticed, not that you could fail to, of course. I was in San Francisco with an American guy and I kept saying "Don't you see them, they're everywhere, look!" If you care to analyse further it seems there are different shapes and colours indicating danger, risk, government branch and punishment etc. Keep observing with alien eyes!
29th April 2010

European contiries
I was very disappointed to learn from several visits to the US, that in many respects the country is far behind many European countries on individual freedom. Baby Bedding
30th April 2010

Dream place
Aloha!!! I just got back from vacationing in Hawaii! The trip is a dream come true to me!! I really fell in love in Hawaii :)
1st May 2010

the long way round
Hola Ben! Have been thoroughly enjoying your trip RTW. You take some fantastic pictures and your blog is well written. Have a great trip to LA - Cabochick
10th May 2010

Update from the big island
Ben, thought you might appreciate a quick update (I just started a vacation here this week): 1) I was actually very surprised myself by all the No Trespassing type signs all over this island - I've visited Hawaii before, but never noticed them to be as bad as they are currently. Not sure if there's a specific reason for this, but you've probably noticed that you're not seeing nearly as much on the mainland as you did in Hawaii? 2) The road you took to the lava viewing area when you were here - the last 100ft or so (including the parking lot you probably parked at) is now completely covered by a new flow - they now make you park 1.2 miles back and walk to the new flow...

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