The Big Island - May 16-20
May 20, 2010
|May 16, 2010
After getting our stuff ready and finishing our last beer (at 9am!), we headed to the airport and dropped our hire car back. We had a small disagreement with them as they claimed we had dropped the car back later than agreed and so we were going to be charged an extra day of rental and insurance. Thankfully the manager had some common sense and corrected the error but it took them time to adjust the computer to rectify the balance. Once checked in we had a quick breakfast at the airport before a short flight to the Big Island. We then had about a 1 hour wait for our car hire collection as it seemed we’d picked the most popular (most likely, cheapest!) car hire company!
We were staying in Kailua-Kona and along the way there we passed one of the four national parks which are on this island. Kaloko-Honokohau is a site which includes fishponds and ancient burial sites and is covered by plenty of volcanic rock. The drive down to the harbour and the ocean was pretty and the views over the harbour were nice. However, the reason for the area being a national park was a bit lost on me!
We reached the hotel and checked in, finding that we had to pay for parking. Next door was a free parking lot but we couldn’t find a space so we ended up paying for the first day at the hotel. We hoped later in the week we would find spots at the free place!
Our first afternoon was spent at the Kona Brewery which was just opposite our hotel! We weren’t in time for the tour so we just tried the beers, which was of course a shame! We worked our way through samples of the Wailua Wheat, Hula Hefeweizen, Oceanic Organic Belgian, Big Wave Golden Ale, Castaway IPA, Black Sand Porter, Pipeline Porter and a special limited release Stout. Having enjoyed almost all of those, we decided to stay a bit longer, have an extra wheat beer and some tasty food, too. This was just really an early dinner as we spent the remainder of the evening lazing around and watching TV.
May 17, 2010
This was our first full day here and we decided to pick our main touristy thing to do on that day. We were heading to the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, right on the southern tip of the island. It was quite a drive to get out there, only 90 miles or so, but a good 2+ hours along the windy roads. Along the way we stopped at the Punalu’u bakery which claims to be the southernmost bakery in the entire USA. There we picked up some sandwiches for lunch with were made with Hawaiian sweetbread as well as a peach and pineapple turnover for the sugar rush I’d need to keep me awake on the drive back.
We reached the Hawai’i Volcanoes NP just in time for one of the short ranger walks this was really interesting. It only lasted about half an hour but it was great to hear some of the stories and the history about the island and the volcanoes in the region. We saw the Kilauea Caldera from one of the overlooks and we were able to see the Halema’uma’u Crater billowing smoke and steam into the air. This was part of the active volcano here and has been erupting continuously for the last two years whilst the entire volcano itself has been constantly erupting since 1984!
Along the walk we also saw a tree called the Hapu’u. This tree had a coating of fur on the trunk and around the branches. This fur apparently evolved to protect the buds and keep in the moisture and it was just like stroking an animal!
After the walk we drove around and saw some more of the steam vents. These are where the water table sits directly over the lava and the steam escapes through the cracks in the volcano. The heat around them is really intense and kept steaming up my camera when I tried to take a picture! Further along the road, still within the park, we visited the Jaggar Museum which has views over the caldera and provided a different vantage point of the smouldering erupting crater. We had been told that after dark you could see the red glow and we decided we would try and come back later in the week to see it – we’d got to the park quite early today and didn’t want to wait around until 8pm to see it today. Back at the visitor centre we set off on a short walk around the sulphur banks. This was an area where the volcanic gases were escaping and filled the air with the horrible eggy smell of the sulphur. There was a distinct path here with warnings about not leaving the trail but of course it wasn’t long before we saw one group wandering off into the bushes. Being the good citizen I am, plus wanting to protect the natural environment, I warned them not to stray from the tracks. They claimed they were on one so I guess my eyesight doesn’t extend to seeing paths in the overgrown, yellow-tinged, sulphur-covered grass. People like that really make me believe in natural selection and survival of the fittest…!
After that we took a drive along the Chain of Craters Road which is about a 20 mile drive from the caldera down to the ocean. After the 20 or so miles, the road is closed so we got out and walked further and further. We weren’t sure what we would see as all we could see was an endless road surrounded on either side by old lava flows. Eventually, we saw why the road was closed and encountered a huge amount of lava covering the road and blocking the way. This was apparently a fairly recent lava flow but was safe to walk over. It had completely cooled and it was really amazing to be able to walk on the hardened lava.
Our final stop in the park was the lava tube. The tubes are created where lava heats up the rock and forces its way to the surface. Once the lava has spilled out, the tube it created is left empty and this particular one was massive and estimated to be over 500 years old, which again isn’t very old in geological terms!
Our next stop was the Volcano Winery, on the edge of the national park. We’d already been to the southernmost bakery in the US and now we were visiting the southernmost winery! We tried seven different wines including a couple of regular white wines (a dry and a sweet), a guava fruit wine, a red and a blush wine and then a macadamia nut honey and a black tea infused wine. All the wines were quite tasty and we decided to buy a bottle of the regular sweet wine. It didn’t seem too sweet in tasting so we picked that over the drier one.
After the long drive back to Kona, we stopped at the grocery store and grabbed some bread and cheese for dinner which we enjoyed with the wine we had bought. Unfortunately, like many sweet wines we’ve bought in the past, this one also lost the appeal after a glass or two, with both of us struggling to finish the bottle!
I was wrecked after a long day driving so we put the TV on, found Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on and promptly fell asleep before Charlie even had his golden ticket!
May 18, 2010
Included with our hotel we had breakfast (no internet or parking) so I tucked into a big fat cooked breakfast today, ready for another day exploring the island.
As I mentioned, there are four national parks on the Big Island and having been to two, we visited the third. We are visiting all of these as Elizabeth has a little national parks passport book and for every one you visit you get a stamp to show you’ve been! So anyway, we headed south along the highway about 30 miles and found Pu’uhonua o Honaunau which was the site of the royal residence on the island with some sections of wall dating back to 1550 but the majority from the end of the 18th century. The reconstructed buildings showed where the temples and houses were but quite honestly the area was a bit crap. There wasn’t much explanation of the significance of any of the areas which were marked and even the handout didn’t explain anything of any interest! However, down at the edge of the water we did see some turtles, a couple swimming around and one sleeping on rock. The green sea turtles are a protected species so you aren’t allowed to get too close but the sleeping one was almost right by me before I had even noticed it almost camoflauged against the rocks. It was really cool seeing them up close although we are of course spoiled with the amount we’ve seen above and below the water now!
Our main stops for the morning after that were mostly for me. This area is known for coffee beans and we decided to visit a couple of the farms to taste some coffee. Given Elizabeth doesn’t like coffee it was certainly one thing more for me than her! We first went to Royal Kona Coffee and in the small museum here we saw the photos of all the Kona Coffee Queens, one for each year since about 1971. The museum itself was very poor (but free) and we got to try lots of different types of coffee without anyone hassling us, including 100% Kona coffees which are made with only beans from this area. Quite a few coffees bought in cafés locally use only 10% Kona in their blends so it was good to try the pure stuff! The coffee was really tasty and even Elizabeth liked some of them although she didn prefer the teas! We bought a mug and some Lion brand coffee for everyone else to try when we get home next week!
The next stop was the Greenwell Coffee farm which is one of the oldest and largest in the region. We were taken on a short tour around the farm where we saw not only the coffee bean plants but also a plethora of different fruit trees, too. We also tried the coffee here as well as some macadamia nuts and chocolate covered coffee beans, which I expected to be bitter but they were surprisingly tasty.
Back in Kona we headed to Starbucks to use the internet. We had to get a few things sorted for heading to Texas this weekend and London next weekend and getting free internet at Starbucks was better than $11 a day at the hotel!
We were going diving in the afternoon and evening so before we headed out we had some more of the bread and cheese we had leftover from last night for our lunch. We got to the dive shop to check in at 3pm only to be told we hadn’t needed to be there until 3.30pm (my emails definitely said 3pm!) and then we were told we could meet the boat at the harbour at 4pm. After wasting the next hour or so, we headed to the harbour, boarded the boat with about 10 other divers and headed out. The main reason for doing evening dives rather than two early morning ones like we usually do was the prospect of seeing manta rays, which come out in the evening to feed.
The two dives we did were really great. The first was in late afternoon and the water was a nice temperature and we dropped straight into a garden of sea eels which were really cool to see. These are another thing which we have seen lots of in aquariums but never in the open water and it was really cool seeing them disappear into the sand and then pop again after you’d swum by. Along with loads of those we also saw a flounder hiding in the sand, a variety of long-nosed butterflyfish which we had never seen before including black ones which are rare and only seen in Hawai’i, lots of different eels swimming around, hundreds of yellow tangs, a very long trumpetfish and some very pretty coral, too. There was also a crown of thorns, which is a highly poisonous plant which our guide wisely told us to avoid. After the first dive, we waited on the boat for over an hour watching the sun go down before it got dark. The manta rays are supposedly attracted to plankton which is attracted to bright lights so we were all given a bright torch and told to sit around a “campfire” ring of torches below the water, sat on the bottom. We all dived down and made a circle around the campfire but after 20 minutes of sitting still under the water we had not seen any rays so the guides decided we should swim around a bit. We didn’t get to see rays at all but while we were sat down an eel swam right around my feet and once we were swimming we saw a few more eels including a large green moray and a white-mouthed eel and another long trumpetfish as well as goatfish feeding and a wandering anemone crab and its cool shell. The most amazing thing we saw though were two creatures which resembled jellyfish but these showed different colours when we shone our torches on them. The fluorescent lights within the fish were amazing and flashed various different colours including really bright blues, greens and reds. We were told that these fish are often seen really late at night when it is really dark and the dive companies actually do a separate trip on certain dates just to see this – we might not have seen the mantas but that was really cool! It was really disappointing to not see the manta rays but we did have two excellent dives and saw some really cool stuff. There was a couple on the boat who had tried this dive a few days ago and not seen rays then either so they were really pissed off but it’s not something you can control. It is just one of those things and you can’t do anything about it if these wild creatures decide not to turn up or go elsewhere for dinner!
May 19, 2010
Today we did an entire circle of the island, following the Belt Road pretty much all the way around, This wasn’t just for the sake of it, there were actually things along the way we wanted to see and the belt road best linked them. We started off by heading north and to the final one of the national parks, called Pu’ukohola Heiau. This is a sacred site dating back to 1790 and was built by one of the kings of Hawai’i. He had been told that if he built a temple here it would serve to unite the islands as one country. The information centre here was pretty new and well laid out but like the other smaller national parks, it wasn’t really of much interest to us given we didn’t know the background. It seems such a shame now that we missed out going to the Bishop Museum on Maui (we planned to do it on our last day but it was closed) as this would’ve given us some history about the islands. There was a pleasant little walk from the site of the main ruins down to the water but that was about it.
From there we drove right around the island to Hilo. We had planned to stay here but after some appalling reviews about our hotel plus it being further away from the things we wanted to do, we decided to stay on the other side. Once at Hilo, the state of Hawai’i’s second largest city after Honolulu, we were both relieved that we were staying elsewhere! The farmer’s market was pretty decent but we weren’t looking for lots of fruit and veg and finding somewhere for lunch along the waterfront proved to be quite difficult until we stumbled across Café Pesto where we were able to get some decent pizza and pasta and use the internet to check out our other options for the day.
We were glad we did, too, as we’d intended to visit the astronomy centre but on further reading it didn’t appear to be as good as we’d hoped and was quite expensive to get in. We decided to skip it and drive around a bit more. Whilst at the café we discovered a local brewery and given we now had time to waste we decided to try and find it. The Mehana Brewing Co was hidden away in an industrial estate but once we found it we enjoyed trying their beers. We tried six which included Humpback Blue Beer, Mauna Kea Pale Ale, Sunset Amber Ale, Hapa Brown Ale, Mehana Red Ale and the Winter seasonal ale. They were all really good and it was a shame we only had one day left after today with a late night planned for today and tomorrow as we couldn’t really buy any!
Our next stop was still within Hilo and was a street called Banyan Drive. Here a number of celebrities planted Banyan trees in the 1930s and each has a name plaque in front of it. There were trees planted by Amelia Earhart, King George V, Babe Ruth, Franklin Roosevelt and “Senator” Richard Nixon and many other people I’d never heard of!
From Hilo we continued around the island and headed to the Lava Tree State Monument where we had a short walk around the “lava trees”, which are trees which were engulfed by ash and lava from an eruption in 1790. The trees looked like large volcanic rocks but they were actually the remains of the destroyed trees.
We carried on along this road, off the main highway, and headed down to the oceanfront again. Here we again met a dead end road and we walked to meet the lava flow crossing the road further down. This was the same lava flow we found the other day in the national park and this stretch of lava is covers around 10 miles of the road! From here we were also able to see one of the active lava flows. It was quite a way in the distance but you could really see the heat and smoke rising from the hillside.
It was late afternoon now and as we hadn’t seen it the other day, we decided to drive to the Volcanoes NP to see the sun set and watch the crater glow. We were there a little early so we headed back to the lava tube, this time going in the unlit one and using our torches to see the way around. Elizabeth didn’t like being in the dark as she was scared someone might be hiding in there so we didn’t hang around in there for long. Back at the Jaggar Museum there were quite a few people waiting to watch the crater glow and even in the twilight you could see a faint glow already. Within half an hour it had started to get dark and really glow. We decided to have a sit in the car and eat some of our dinner (some focaccia and dips we had bought at the Farmer’s Market) and wait a little longer until it was dark. Around 8pm the sun had completely gone and dusk had turned into night and the crater really shone with bright reds and oranges lighting up the area. It was really cool to see and the handy wall at the museum made a good stand for my camera to get some pictures in the dark!
The drive from there is about two hours back along the windy roads and in the dark, combined with some heavy rain made it fairly interesting at times. I was worried I’d be tired after driving all day but the conditions kept me alert! By the time we got back, just after 10pm, I’d completely driven around the entire island today, well over 250 miles, I think.
May 20, 2010
Today was Elizabeth’s birthday so we had a quiet morning before grabbing breakfast at the hotel and heading to a couple of nearby shops – we had some vouchers and things for freebies so we didn’t want to miss out on those. One of the convenience stores offers free gifts if you spend over a certain amount so we ended up getting a Hawaiian mug and our hotel gave us a voucher for a free bag at one of the other shops. This shop does a range of items which change colour in the sun and they were really cool but having already bought a few t-shirts in Hawai’i we didn’t need any more! Just the free bag!
After that we headed back to the Kona Brewery where we actually took the tour this time. It was free and took us around the brewery although our guide spoke way too fast and way too quietly. Anyway, we weren’t too concerned as we were most interested in the free tastings! We got a Longboard Island Lager, Wailua Wheat, Castaway IPA and Pipeline Porter to try and although we’d tried them all the other day it was good to get some free samples. When we came the other day they had run out of two of their standard beers so we decided to grab a pew at the bar and try the last two which were the Duke’s Blond Ale and Lavaman Red Ale. The Duke’s was really bland and tasted like most rubbish American beers (Bud, Coors, etc.) but the Lavaman was much better.
We decided not to get food there as we still had some bread and dips left from yesterday. We’ve certainly helped our food budget the last couple of days by buying food at the grocery store and having food included with our activities.
Our big splurge on the Big Island, diving apart, was a trip to the top of Mauna Kea. This is considered as the largest mountain in the world by geologists, stretching around 34,000 feet from the base, deep beneath the Pacific Ocean. Our tour picked up just after 3pm and we were with a fun group of people who seemed intent on having a laugh, which was fine by us! There were two buses and it seems the other bus was a little quieter! We had a couple of scenic stops along the way as we climbed the mountain before our first longer stop, some 9,000 feet above sea-level at the visitor centre. We stopped here to help us acclimatize to the altitude as well as eat our dinner, which was a fairly decent teriyaki chicken. The visitor centre was really busy but less people went to the top as it was 4WD only above that height. We eventually worked our way up to the top, some 13,796 feet and at the top the weather was freezing, literally. The temperature was just under zero degrees and with winds of 35-40mph it seemed even colder. Thankfully the tour company provided us with parka jackets and gloves but even that wasn’t enough!
After watching a glorious sunset with some amazing bright reds and oranges highlighting the horizon, we started to drive back down the mountain to find a good spot to stargaze. The tour guides decided not to stop too high up due to the winds and after a couple of short stops we ended up in a secluded little spot just off the road. The two telescopes were setup and the guides pointed them skywards showing us a few different things. They started off showing us an open cluster of stars which was really cool and you could see so many of the stars really clearly. The next was a globular cluster and this just looked like a ball of dust given the stars were so tightly packed. The next three items were by far the most impressive though. The first was a close up view of one of the stars which makes up the Big Dipper. The second star along the “handle” is actually a double star and each one of those stars actually has a twin, too. Through the telescope, you could really see all four stars as well as some others around them which aren’t visible to the naked eye. The next view was of Saturn and it was really amazing how you could see quite clearly the rings going around the planet. Our guide told us that the rings are actually not very thick so being able to see these so clearly, along with two of the moons (Titan and Deone) was really stunning. It’s amazing to think that you look up and just see a white dot when in fact the detail is so much more than that. It is also amazing that you are looking at where the planet was 16,000 light years ago (or some such timescale) and that right at that point it is actually in a completely different point in space. The final view was of the moon, which was apparently 54% lit at the time we viewed it, just about halfway in between the new moon and full. The amazing magnification on the telescope really showed all the craters of the moon. Despite being lower down the mountain and there being some cloud cover blowing around, the stars and planets and moons we saw were really cool and it definitely is something I wish I knew more about. Barring a couple of constellations, I don’t know a thing about what we are seeing in the night sky and that is a shame given how insignificant Earth is in the grand scale of our solar system and galaxy, let alone further afield.
The drive back took just over an hour and we got back to the hotel about 11.30pm, pretty tired after a long day and ready for a decent sleep!