Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Big Island

Dan and I visited the Big Island last week for summer vacation! We figured we'd better take advantage of living in southern CA where it's *relatively* close and inexpensive to travel to Hawaii! Plus, I wanted to see molten lava before I die, and I can now check that one off the bucket list! We had a great time and saw sights we'll never forget. But there were a few things that took us by surprise, so I'll let you in on some secrets now in case you ever decide to visit the Big Island.

Surprise #1: The entire airport is outdoors. The gates, the baggage claims, everything. Although nothing screams "vacation destination" like a place with an outdoor airport, it would be less than lovely to fly in or out of Kona on a rainy day!

(Somewhat obvious) Surprise #2) When they say "Big Island," they mean "BIG." We stayed on the west side of the island all week, which made for long days when we visited sights on the east side. We love all-day road trips, but if it's not your thing, you should book a couple of nights on the opposite side of the island when you go.

Surprise #3) The most popular side of the island is also the ugly side. Since the Big Island is relatively young and the west side gets hardly any rainfall, there are lots of lava fields that aren't covered by vegetation. It's great weather-wise, but the terrain looks like the aftermath of a nuclear bomb. Dan says the dementors from Harry Potter's world would feel right at home there. The other side of the island is gorgeous and lush, but of course it rains there every day. So there is no perfect place to stay, unless you plan to never leave your posh resort. We're not judging you, but you are boring.

This is what a LOT of the Big Island looks like. You're not gonna see that on a postcard!

But on the bright side, here's the weather forecast. The challenge of being a Hawaiian weatherman: How many creative ways can you say "mid-80s and partly sunny"?

Surprise #4) The cops on the Big Island drive their own personal vehicles, so they're hard to spot! It's only a problem if you tend to speed *cough*Dan* We saw the police driving all kinds of autos, so there wasn't a specific make or model to be wary of. We called them "KMart Cops" because they had the "blue light special" on top.
KMart cop alert, 2nd in line

Okay, enough advice - on to the pretty pictures!

Day 1: Looking for Signs of Life

Once we drove north, everything looked alive again. We could see Haleakala Crater on Maui from 30 miles across the ocean!

Another beautiful view at Pololu Point at the northern tip of the island

Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historic Site - an ancient Hawaiian temple where laborers also doubled as human sacrifices. What a deal!

Day 2: Molten Lava or Bust
On our way to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we took a detour to the southernmost point in the United States! We had already visited the southernmost point in the Continental Key West, FL. Too bad they didn't have a sign or anything here - you'll just have to take our word for it!

We also stopped at Punalu'u black sand beach, where a ton of sea turtles live!

We didn't have an underwater camera, but you can see the turtle that was munching on seaweed just a few feet from where I was standing!

At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - Kilauea Crater is behind us, where a pool of lava below the surface creates a steam cloud

Kilauea Crater

Thurston Lava Tube in the park is awesome - you can walk through a lighted section, then keep exploring the dark recesses with a flashlight.

All over the park, you could see where the lava flowed into the ocean at one time or another.

A sea arch made of lava

In March 2010, lava flowed through the National Park, partially burying the road!

Yeah, no kidding!

After dark, we went back to Kilauea Crater to see the steam reflect the orange glow of the lava below. So cool!!

There actually was a new lava flow that we got to see from about a mile away! We heard that if the lava flows through National Park land, the rangers will allow visitors to walk right up to it. But this lava was flowing through either privately-owned or state-owned land, so no such luck. Still, we're fortunate to have gotten to see such an amazing sight!

Day 3: Debby Almost Ruins Dan's Vacation

I would like to publically apologize to Dan for making him hike the trail to Kealakekua Bay. Do you see that trail that forms an "L" shape from the top of the hill to the bay? It took us about an hour to hike 2 miles with a 1,500 foot drop in elevation down a dirt/gravel trail to the bay, which I read was the best snorkeling on the island and a dolphin hang-out place. The coral and fish were gorgeous, but there were no dolphins - bummer! Then we hiked back up the muddy trail in the pouring rain. It was the anti-vacation day.

But after hot showers, we felt alive enough to go to dinner at Quinn's Almost By the Sea.

They had KILLER fish & chips there, made with Ono. It tasted way better than Cod.

And then we enjoyed a beautiful sunset at Anaeho'omalu Bay, which made everything better.

Day 4: Dan's Payback

Dan wanted to drive to the top of Mauna Loa, one of the dormant volcanoes in the middle of the island. We did a lot of mountain driving in CO, but we have never traveled up a road this steep! We went from sea level to almost 14,000 feet! Here's a view of how fast the road disappeared behind us.
And then it turned ugly when the pavement ended and we had to drive 5 miles of steep, unpaved, gravelly road!
Dan's rock solid concentration is the only thing keeping us from plummeting to our deaths. Why am I taking pictures of him?
I was a little nevous, too, but I think I masked my emotions well.
At the summit of Mauna Kea, we got to see the world's largest astronomical observatory. The air is so clear, eleven countries have mounted telescopes there.

We enjoyed the view for a while, but we were feeling a little sick and light-headed from the sudden altitude change, so we headed back to sea level!

We drove to the east side of the island, which looks exactly the way you expect Hawaii to look. We're standing in front of Rainbow Falls near Hilo.

We took a break from driving and walked through a beautiful park in the town of Hilo

We drove along the Old Highway, which had phenomenal views
Before racing back to the west side to catch the sunset!
Day 5: Would Someone Please Teach Us How to Relax?

We drove to beautiful Waipi'o Valley at the northern tip of the island.

This area used to be heavily populated until a tsunami filled the valley in the 1940s, wiping everything out. Eventually a few people decided to move back there to get away from it all. They said you can hike down there, but the residents don't like soft city folk.

We hiked down about halfway before turning around. We thought the mountain road yesterday was steep - parts of this road had a 25% incline. Our car would've never made it! We spent the rest of our day walking along a coastal trail behind some of the fancy resorts in Kohala. We were beat by the evening!

But it was all worth it for the ultimate treat - Hawaiian Shave Ice! None of that crunchy "snow cone" mess, they actually shave the ice so it's like eating powdery snow. And just when you think it couldn't get any more delicious, you find the scoop of ice cream hidden in the bottom of your bowl and the last few bites taste like a Creamsicle. *bliss*

Days 6 & 7: Nothing Exciting (Finally)

Our last couple of days were truly relaxing. We ate out at restaurants and took leisurely walks. Our last morning, we rented a stand-up paddleboard and played in the bay beside our hotel. But that was relaxing, too.

Boarding our flight home!


JH said...

Looks like you all had a blast! So glad you got to get away for some much needed R and R! Love the pics too! The lava tube looks amazing and I've always wanted to try the paddle boarding!

Emily and Kolby said...

Sounds like a great trip!!! I'm so glad y'all are taking advantage of living in CA and taking fun vacations like this! As usual, I'm jealous!

The McGregor Clan said...

What an awesome trip!!! I too, am jealous, but happy that ya'll ended your summer with a bang. Love the pics. I can't imagine an outdoor airport. Very cool.

Anonymous said...

What fun! Glad you guys had such a great time exploring the BIG island.