It's been far too long, but we wanted to give a little more in-depth summary of our early-May trip to Hawaii. It was Michal's first time in Hawaii and Sarah's first time visiting the Big Island. You can see the entire itinerary in full detail, or you can get the general overview below.
For the record, you should also look at Michal's photos and Sarah's photos from the trip.
Here's how it went down:
Day 1: Sunday
Hawaiian Airlines sucks, even though they do give you free food onboard. Let's get that out of the way to begin with. They charged us to check a carry-on bag, falsly claiming we had to. This in turn caused us to miss our separate-ticket connection in Honolulu to Hilo, causing a two hour delay. After the 3 mile walk to the hotel (with a ride from strangers driving by for the last 0.5 mile), we headed out to dinner in downtown Hilo at Pesto's. Mostly this was a travel day, so not much happened aside from that.
Day 2: Monday
Monday started with us picking up a 4x4 rental car for about three times the daily rate of regular economy car. We then drove to Ahalanui Hot Pond on the eastern coast of the Big Island. Before we got there, we stopped by Lava Tree State Park, which was probably a lot neater if we hadn't seen a lot of similar lava-preserved trees and lava-molded tree trunks in the Pacific Northwest previously. Then we swung by the eastern-most point, just for kicks. All told it was about an hour drive and a few minutes' of stops before we got to the hot pond, which is a geothermally heated pond with a small channel connecting it to the ocean. We floated in this pond for three hours or so, inadvertantly causing a massive sunburn for both of us. But it was incredibly pleasant, with the water about 90 degrees and the air temperature in the low 80's. Lunch was a couple of hot dogs from the vendor in the parking lot on our way out.
Driving back to Hilo we headed south first, and got a look at the distant steam cloud formed by lava hitting the ocean. Little did we know, but we were less than a mile from the official lava viewing area (but it wouldn't open until 5pm), and we would be returning the next day. We then drove back to Hilo, filled up the gas tank, and headed out to Mauna Kea.
We had been told there was no gas along the way, and a 4x4 was "recommended". Well it turns out that it's really a well-maintained gravel road for the 8 or so miles to the summit -- perfectly doable in a regular car. We got there far too early, around 4:30 or 5 in the afternoon, and there really isn't too much to do. However, in May there is snow! So we played around in it a tiny bit, and we also hiked the the actual summit of over 13,000ft. But in the end we still had about an hour to kill in the car. We had sadly just missed the public tours of one of the telescopes which ended around 4pm -- they apparently need time to calibrate before sunset. If we had known we probably would have tried to show up a little earlier.
The tourist tours starting showing up less than 30 minutes before sunset, which was at 7:00pm. They're very timely (though expensive -- our brief investigation revealed that most tours cost more for a single person than our rental car cost for the entire day). Sunset is quick in the tropics, and most everyone left promptly. You're not supposed to stay longer than 30 minutes after sunset, but we waited until we were the last ones, and left about 45 minutes after sunset -- driving with our headlights off for the first mile or so to avoid disturbing the telescopes.
On our way down the mountain we stopped back at the visitor center which sets up telescopes for a star gazing program each evening which goes until 10pm. Unfortunately it's pretty crowded with all the commercial tours, but it was fairly fun anyway. We spent about an hour and Sarah had a hot chocolate to stay warm (the evening temperatures fell to around 50 F).
Day 3: Tuesday
We switched our 4x4 rental car for the cheap economy one early in the morning and drove out to Volcanoes National Park, about a 30 minute drive. We stopped in the visitor center to get information on the lava flow and the ranger was most un-helpful, stating that to see the lava we'd have to hike six miles over lava from the end of the Chain of Craters road. A sheet we picked up indicated that lava was flowing in a remote roadless area and wasn't flowing into the ocean (something we knew was not true from the previous day). A last minute unrelated inquiry to another ranger yielded a new info sheet which was more up to date and was actually the only thing which told us that the lava viewing involved only a 1/2 mile hike from the same spot we had seen the lava steam cloud the previous day -- outside the national park, but still official, and open 5 to 10 pm daily.
We spent the rest of the day driving around various sites inside Volcanoes NP. We did the 4 mile Kiluaea Iki trail and saw Thurston lava tube (rendered entirely unimpressive by Ape Cave near Mt. St. Helens in Washington, one of the longest lava tubes in the world).
We drove to the end of the Chain of Craters road and did a 3/4 mile (one-way) hike along the lava to no particular destination -- very neat because the lava covered the road in 2003 so you could still see signposts and pavement here and there. Typically I think of lava as something very ancient and the paved road underneath it underscored just how incredibly recently the lava flowed in this area.
We also did a 1.4 mile roundtrip hike to see some petroglyphs carved into the lava. Again, these were somewhat unimpressive.
We couldn't drive quite the entire crater rim road because the caldera has been erupting since March 2008 and is spewing lots of sulfur dioxide into the air. As a result the entire park was quite hazy ("vog" the locals call it) and in fact much of the Hawaiian Island chain is hazier than normal since March 2003.
Of course in the evening we drove around to see the lava. Unfortunately due to a cliff all you could really see was the reflection of the lava glow, though occasionally you could see a splash of magma. What was really amazing was the boat lights you could see because they were getting really close to the lava -- like 50 feet! In the parking lot there were a number of vendors selling volcano and lava memorabilia, including one photographer who had a picture of his boat touching the lava (and catching fire).
Day 4: Wednesday
I had decided that I wanted to be on one of those boats seeing the lava. I called and discovered there was a 5am trip, but it was full. I understood there to be a 7am trip so I left the hotel at 6am to make the 1 hour drive to the boat launch, only to discover that there "might have been" a 7am trip, only not. The launch location was Isaac Hale park, near the hot pond, so I took some photos before driving back to the hotel. We packed up and checked out, and headed to Kona.
Along the way we stopped at Volcanoes National Park again, this time driving a 9-mile single-lane road out to a scenic overlook. That was pretty much the only thing we hadn't done the previous day. Afterwards we continued south until we got to the turn off for the southern-most point in the US. Grasslands, mostly, along with a decaying wind power farm. There's also a green sand beach, but it involved a real 4x4 road (unlike the Mauna Kea road) so we hiked for about 15 minutes before deciding we didn't want to risk being late to Kona (as we had booked evening plans already).
Kona is a very resort-feeling town; much more tourist-oriented than Hilo, but in a bad way. We spent an hour or so in traffic getting there -- it didn't help that we were following someone speeding until we hit a 35mph zone and a cop driving our direction. We checked in to the hotel at last, Castle Bali Kai Condominiums, then headed into town (2.5 miles or so) to have dinner at a Thai restaurant (we had been told in Hilo that Thai food was particularly good in Hawaii, though it wasn't perticularly so in our experience). After dinner we drove to Keauhou harbor to make our Seaparadise 6pm departure for the night snorkel with manta rays, though the departure really came closer to 6:40pm, and once the divers got in the water (before all us snorkelers) it was probably 7:30 or 8:00pm, even though the snorkel site was about a 10 minute slow boat trip out to the end of the harbor, where the Sheraton hotel is. Apparently light attracts plankton, and manta rays eat plankton, so over the past 20 years the rays have been conditioned to associate light with food. Fun experience, but really expensive, so the bang-for-the-buck isn't quite there.
Day 5: Thursday
The morning was spent snorkeling the Captain Cook monument and Ka'awaloa Cove with Seaquest. We saw spinner dolphins on our way out to the sites, and also stopped in numerous sea caves, lava tubes, and blow holes, taking our 12-person cigarette boat into many of them. The Captain Cook monument is where Captain Cook was killed after some disagreements with the locals and is apparently deeded to England. The snorkeling was pretty fun, though the water was a little chilly.
After snorkeling, we had lunch at a pizza place just outside of Greenwell Farms then went on to tour the coffee farm. It started as a general store but realized they should grow their own coffee instead of buying other farmers' coffee, and today there are lots of fruit trees whose fruit is free for the visitors (we got two oranges and six avocados) if you find it on the ground (or pick it!).
After the coffee tour we headed north to Hapuna beach, which is supposedly routinely rated one of the top beaches in the US.
It's very nice, but not particularly outstanding. And it's pretty remote from anything. We walked up and down the beach then headed back to Kona to finish off the evening at Mamalahoa hot tubs. They asked us if we liked it hot or not; I said not so they turned off the heater. Half an hour later the water was still at 105F -- way too hot. Very nice place however.
Day 6: Friday
We started the morning with a tour of the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory. It wasn't free, and the guy liked to talk a lot -- but we didn't walk around that much. We saw three places, about 30 feet apart, and listened to a 20 minute speech at each. But it was interesting to sample cacao pods and watch the lizards lick them.
After chocolate it was time to head to the airport, though we detoured through downtown Kona to hit an internet cafe to check in online for our flight (take that stupid Hawaiian Airlines!) and really delicious shave ice with ice cream underneath. And of course before we got to the airport we detoured through Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park, which is really just a couple of fish ponds (and perhaps an "ancient place of refuge" where if you committed a crime and would be killed, if you could outrun your killers to this spot, you'd be safe).
After arriving in Honolulu, we checked in at our hotel, the third Castle hotel we've stayed in. Then we headed out to do a bit of souvenir shopping in Waikiki, and strolled down the beach towards the Moana Surfrider hotel where we had a gigantic and delicious steak dinner at the Beachhouse restaurant.
Day 7: Saturday
Woke up early to get to Pearl Harbor at 8:00am, and we still had to wait an hour to get on the ferry out to the Arizona memorial. It's very interesting, but you can't see that much from the memorial, aside from the oil that's still leaking out of the sunken ship (why haven't they cleaned it up?) Then we also went to the USS Bowfin (submarine) and the USS Missouri (battleship where WWII Japanese surrender was signed). Very neat, though it took a lot longer than we had planned -- until about 1pm. We had hot dogs for lunch at a stand outside the USS Bowfin.
After Pearl Harbor we drove to Sandy Beach, then north to Kailua before returning on Hwy 61 (Pali Hwy) through a very scenic and Jurassic Park-like mountain range.
The afternoon was spent surfing in Waikiki where I did quite well but after my second wave I was still standing on my board but not moving anywhere, so I jumped in and in the process lost my glasses. I saw them for a few moments but the wave action, combined with the 4-8' water depth (depending on the waves) caused me to lose track of them. I went to an ABC store to buy a mask and fin and snorkel and spent the next hour searching for the glasses, but was unable to find them. I'm terribly sad to this day, as I loved the style of those glasses. Lenscrafters at the Ala Moana mall were unable to help without a prescription (boo! It's not like anyone would go get prescription glasses to get high!) so I spent the rest of the evening wearing my prescription sunglasses. Dinner was at a burger joint at the International Marketplace in Waikiki.
Day 8: Sunday
Our flight out was around 2pm, so of course that means we had plenty of time to get up at 5am and see the sunrise over Diamond Head. Only the sun rises at 5:55am, and Diamond Head doesn't open until 6, so we saw sunrise outside the gates.
Promptly at 6am they threw the gates open and we (along with everyone else who had gathered for sunrise -- maybe 15-20 cars) drove up to the parking lot to begin the hike up to the summit. The views were stellar, lighting was excellent, and for the first time in Hawaii I didn't have to worry about a sunburn.
Afterwards we hiked down, napped in the hotel, and packed up. We still had fruit from Greenwell Farms, so I scarfed down the two oranges and gave all the avocados to a passing elderly man on the street carrying groceries. Then we headed off to the airport for our return to Seattle.