Our Honeymoon trip schedule was fairly simple: we'd fly into O'ahu, then immediately make a hop to Hawai'i Island, where we would spend a few days before heading back to O'ahu and finishing our honeymoon up there. The arrangement was practical: we'd rather be on the island our flight home leaves from on the day it leaves. However, it worked out splendidly, because it allowed me to see the Hawai'ian islands in a way that you cannot see in O'ahu: not covered in tourists.
In fact, the first half of our vacation (I won't keep writing honeymoon; it's harder to type) was my favorite part by far. On Hawai'i Island you're obviously still a tourist, but the place is not quite so touristy. We rented a car and stayed at a place called, I believe, Uncle Billy's, named for the giant bizare tree planted by one Uncle Billy in the thirties. We often ate at a place called Ken's Pancake House, which was not a pancake house and had such events as Taco Tuesday. Here we first encoutnered the Loco Moco, a local dish we ate several times. Sadly, I did not prepare pictures of these places (I have them, I just didn't prepare them for this post), so no visual aids for you, dear reader.
What did I bring pictures of then? Well, of the volcano, obviously! Two thirds of our visit was dedicated to the active volcano on Hawai'i Island. It was a bit of a gamble, since there was no way of knowing how interesting it would be, but well worth it in the end. Let me explain, in brief. Beedoo! can surely expand...
The Hawai'ian Island Chain is created by a volcanic hotspot. Each of the islands were at one point created around this hotspot, until continental drift pushed them away from it. Hawai'i Island is the Island currently under construction. It is by far the largest island, but much of it is actually not much use: too close to the active volcanoes, or covered in solidified lava. This solidified lava actually comes in two flavors: 'a'a(*) and pahoehoe(*). 'a'a ("ah-ah") is slow moving lava, moving at a speed that can be measured in feet per hour. It solidifies in sharp, pointy rock layers. In contrast, pahoehoe ("pahoyhoy") is what we're used to from movies: it moves fast and can easily overtake you if you're so unfortunate. When this lava solidifies it turns into a smooth, rippled landscape that is lovely to look at.
Obviously the pahoehoe is dangerous, but do not underestimate the 'a'a, which can do a lot of damage in itself. Remember that lava is molten rock. That means it's not only incredibly hot, it's also very, very heavy. A bucket of lava is equal to a bucket of solid rock. Imagine a wide stretch of it heading for your house, slowly bulldozing its way through the landscape. What do you think the odds are that your walls keep standing? How well do you think a huge slab of solidified rock can be cleaned up? There are roads on the island that simply stop because at one point a lava flow crawled over it, and it was easier to just build a new road than to clear the old one, so I am told. The lava is a constant threat to the inhabitants, not so much a 'quick killer', but a slow destroyer. In the 1980s a flow mercifully stopped just outside of Hilo, the capital of Hawai'i Island. There is a road that runs south out of Hilo, and then west along the coast, before going up into Volcano National Park; a large part of this road has been swallowed by a huge slab of lava, making it a one way road on both sides. On one side lies Pahoa, a village that during our very visit was under threat from another lava flow that began a few months earlier and threatened to cut it off from the other side as well. Since then the lava decided to head straight for the town instead, but right now it seems to have stopped just outside the outskirts. It's no wonder that people there still sometimes leaves offerings for Pele, the goddess of the volcano (apparently she likes strong drink).
So, this is where we went. At least, the parts of the national park that weren't closed off because of toxic fumes. It was absolutely fascinating. To start with, there were several walking trails around the crater, some of which went down into it, while others just circled around it. And, rather fantastically, they took us into rain forest. Now, here is the thing: I have seen places like these depicted in movies, in computer games and in theme parks. And such visions are designed. Designed to look good, to look beautiful. Honestly, what we saw looked exactly like that. As if someone went ahead and designed the place for maximum effect. Here, take a look!
Take note of the giant fern next to Beedoo! (in human disguise). That is, I am told, a Walking Giant. It grows huge, then collapses under its own weight, and then starts over again. As a result no one can really say how old they are, but apparently 'centuries' is an option. I think it was also implied that by falling over and starting over, they actually 'move', though I can't see how that would work.
Anyway, the rain forest in October was wonderful (no bugs!), and we randomly followed trails, to see where we ended up. And then, quite abrubtly, the rain forest turned into this: the caldera!
We had walked right into the caldera, which is fancy-speak for "big crater", of the live volcano. Don't worry though, safety measures were in place. See that little warning sign in the second picture?
You might wonder, why aren't Arno and Beedoo! on fire? Well, for one thing, because it wasn't Tuesday, but also because most of the crater is covered with rock - more solidified lava. But do you see that low cloud in the distance? That's no cloud, that's steam, or smoke, or whatever is coming out of the enormous hole way in the background. And what's in the hole, you ask? Well, this:
How awesome is that?
Anyway, we then made our way out of the crater and took the car down the aforementioned swallowed road, south out of Volcano National Park. We were essentially going down the slope of the volcano. Initially we just saw more of the same, but then we saw new things. Firstly, a vast plane of pa�hoehoe, so barren that the wind from the ocean had free reign and nearly blew me and some Japanese tourists off our feet. Nothing bridges cultural gaps like both being nearly blown over, I tell you. It's hard not to laugh!
Next on the 'interesting' list: a walk down a special trail, through the lava fields, to old petroglyphs left there from long ago. What's a petroglyph? It's a drawing carved in a rock, basically. In this case they were meant to convey the desires for the life of a new born, what profession they may have, that sort of thing. They then put the umbilical cord in a little carved hole and left a rock on it. Apparently it is done to this very day. Just walking over there in itself was fantastic, really, with nothing but the cairns (= big pile of rocks for landmark) to guide us there.
Finally we got to the end of the road, and the ocean.
Sadly, we did not make it to the real end of the road; we made it to the roadblock, but did not have time to walk beyond. So I had to content myself with the picture of the pictures of the swallowed road. (B!: This is called the Road to Nowhere)
The next day we took a bike tour through the park. We saw much of the same thing, this time with a guide, but also some new stuff. We rode on a slanted, broken, partly overgrown road, as if the apocalypse itself had happened. What happened was a volcano; in the past they built the roads into the park a bit too close, and now this was all that was left. We heard the tale of the great lava fountain in 1950 that spewed nearly 2000 feet high. We went down a lava tube with an entrance so gorgeous it could have been created by Stephen Spielberg.
Sadly, we only got to do the hard, rough part. We were supposed to have a long downhill part down the volcano, along the swallowed road, same place we had been the day before. Unfortunately, the strong wind made it inadvisable, so we all took the van. I was disappointed, but could understand...
And if you think that was interesting, wait till you hear all the stuff I left for Beedoo! to talk about!
(*) - 'a'a and pahoehoe are not spelled like so. Most importantly the last a in 'a'a and first a in pahoehoe have a line over it. Sadly this website breaks such special formatting and turns it into garbage, making me look even less sophisticated than I am. I know better! Honest! Please!
What's left? Well... My parents and I visited the Big Island when I was 12. We flew into Hilo, rented a car, and drove to various points around the island, including a trip to the Jagger Museum in Volcano Nat'l Park... so most of what we saw then, I got to see again (like the above pic of the keyhole at the sea). However, we didn't stay the night back then, plus most of the day back then was spent driving around the entire island: my mom missed a turn and insisted that because it was an island, we could just drive the whole way around and make it back to Hilo in time for our flight. This, however, took the whole damn day and was boring as hell for a 12-year old, and we had to be put on standby to make the last flight out... we did, luckily, get the last 3 seats, which also happened to be first-class! It was an hour-long island-hopper flight, but still... Macadamia nuts!
This time, I arranged for us to stay 3 nights in Hilo and found some activities for us to do while there. Honestly, it wasn't enough time... there were more things I wanted to see than we had time for. Even though we effectively went to Volcanoes Park twice, we did get a different experience each day. As Arno mentioned, no bugs in the rainforested area; generally there's not a lot of bugs around during daylight hours: the trade-winds tend to keep them down. (They do come out at night, though... I got the nastiest mosquito bites the night we were in Kona for dinner! Averse reaction to unfamiliar bug saliva... made for some huge welts!)
Now, I come from a volcanic area on the mainland, so I knew a lot of the information presented for us already, and I think Arno learned some from our trips to Sunset Crater, just outside of Flagstaff, but I couldn't quite effectively explain how the hotspot under Hawaii worked... I think he understood more when he got a look at some of the visual displays. Also, that picture above of a TV screen with a shot of lava being thrown up in the air? That's actually a live shot of what was going on in the caldera at that very moment. It splashes around and sounds much like ocean waves. One thing I had not encountered before was Pele's Hair, strands of volcanic glass that are occasionally spewed from the volcano. It really does resemble hair, but according to our guide, does a nasty job on your car's paint and windshield! Also, fun fact: lava cools at 12 inches PER YEAR! You could be standing on something solid that has active lava still beneath it!
The Thurston lava-tube did not much impress me... this isn't Northern AZ's mile-long, pitch dark lava tunnel. In fact, we were out of it before my eyes adjusted to the dark! Lame!
But enough volcanos. Hawaii, and Hilo especially, seem to operate on mainland time-schemes. The breakfast at our hotel was offered from 6 to 8am... I thought this might have been a problem, but when you cross 2 or 3 time-zones getting there, and you're a jetlagged tourist, you find yourself getting up really early as it is. So 6:00 was fine. Arriving late in the evening, though, made it hard to find a place to eat that was still open, as everything closes at 8 or 9! We made it to Ken's, and it was still kind of jumping... Hilo's one late night hangout.
Arno mentioned the banyan tree at Uncle Billy's, but didn't mention the other banyans in the area, planted by famous people like Humphrey Bogart and Amelia Earhart. There's a whole row of them on the main hotel street, Banyan Dr. And residing in these trees are thousands of little coki frogs... apparently a hitchhiker from another island that have kind of taken over. They make a loud "coki!" sound as their mating call (we have a video of this, I'll have Arno add it), and with a billion little froggies all chirping at once, it turns into quite a din! The hotel even provided earplugs for those folks who needed a rest from the frog-song. (I found it soothing... Arno, not so much.) For the most part, they quieted down around 2:00 or 3:00. It's quiet for about an hour, and then the birds start in, twittering like crazy before dawn.
I had hoped to take a short walking tour of the area, but we ended up not having time during daylight hours. (There's not much sunset transition; one moment it's light, then next, dark). We did get to drive by a little tea-garden and the tsunami clock on our way to the bike tour. The clock, stopped at 1:05(am), was waterlogged in a deadly tsunami in 1960, marking the time when the water hit it.
I'll stop here... more to add next post!
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