We are home, but will wrap our trip up with posts about LA, SF, NO and more. Stay tuned.
Tamás and I are both fascinated by volcanoes – not just since the Iceland volcano canceled our weekend trip to Istanbul in 2010. Therefore, we decided to attend a tour that examines this fascinating geological phenomenon. After all, Big Island is one of few islands in the world where volcanoes are still active. Kilauea is one of the five volcanoes at the southern tip of the island which has been erupting since 1983 – the longest running eruption so far and the reason why Big Island is still growing.
Our tour guide Jimmy picked us up in the morning. The van was already packed with a girl from the military and four couples who spend their retirement in Florida. They booked a tour of three islands Maui, Honolulu and Big Island was their last. They were in a good mood and cracked funny jokes. We were sure: This would be a fun trip.
Yet, the tour turned out a bit different from what we expected. We thought we would drive directly to the volcano and do smaller hikes around the caldera. Jimmy actually took us not only to the volcanoes, but took a little detour to the Eastern city of Hilo via the mountaintop road Saddle Road between the volcanoes Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. We stopped at Rainbow Falls near Hilo and continued our trip south in the Puna district. At a macadamia nut farm we had a deli-style lunch. Macadamia nuts are indigenous to Hawai’i, but Hershey’s bought the last working macadamia nut farm and shut it down. The farm we had lunch on was privately owned and allowed us to crack our own nuts. Around 2 pm, we went onto lava for the first time, a bit late if you consider that we had been in the car since 9 am.
Our first volcano walk in Kalapana area lead us to a lava field which was created from a 1991 lava stream. It is one of the few ones that are younger than Tamás and I are. Imagine that the lava field formed when the Soviet Union collapsed, Germany struggled with its post-reunification crisis, and Euro Dance dominated the charts. The stream poured onto the Kalapana shore and filled this cute little bay with thick black pahoehoe lava, the smooth flowing lava. Besides filling up the bay, it also overflowed the Kalapana village which is now buried under a thick layer of black molten rock. We walked on this lava field all the way to the new coast line which was rough, choppy, and cracky. We were stunned by the sheer size of the stream even though we just walked the very tip of this mile-long stream.
After exploring one of the most recent streams, we drove up the Kilauea caldera where we were finally able to see the Halema’uma’u crater. Halema’uma’u is a smaller crater within the larger Kilauea volcano crater which has re-entered an active phase last year. Because of this, parts of the streets and hiking trails were closed for the public. From the Jagger Volcano Museum viewing platform Halema’uma’u looks like a huge steaming soup bowl. Only the slow ascending white clouds hint at the volcano’s activity inside the big round hole in the earth. Only at sunset, the true dimension of the caldera becomes visible: The crater starts to glow in countless shades of orange and red like the abyss of hell, but the entire scenery is very peaceful and quiet. No tremor, no rumble, not shakes.
This was also the only possibility to see the glowing volcano. We did not see lava flowing down the hill or entering into the sea. This indeed is a very rare and dangerous occasion. We could see former lava flows, so-called lava tubes, that formed underground channels. We hiked down the Thurston Lava Tube which was created more than 400 years ago and looked like a cave.
We enjoyed the volcano tour and liked especially the Kalapana lava hike and the lookout over Halema’uma’u. However, despite fact that the tour was advertised as one of the Hawai’i highlights, we both had a bit a different opinion about the tour. We thought we would see more of the area in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park itself, going down the Chain of Craters Road, hiking down the Kilauea Iki Crater or driving on the Crater Rim Drive. We mostly spent the day in the van learning much about Big Island and Volcanoes, but we felt that the best parts had been kept from us. Instead we stopped at Hilo and Rainbow Falls which was nice, but a bit unnecessary for our taste. We felt that we could have done this volcano tour also with a car and the maps given at the National Park entrance. If we come back to Big Island, we might as well do that.
For more pictures on our volcano tour, please visit Tamás’ Flickr page.
We decided to get an overview over Big Island and rented a car for the day to explore its northern part. After checking the distances we found that the island’s name should involve the adjective huge and refrained from our initial idea to drive around the island because we do not want to spend our vacation in the car.
When we rented the car, we met Jordan. His is just one of the many stories of Hawaii we encountered. Originally from San Francisco, he moved to Kona because he and his girlfriend could not afford to live in the Northern California city anymore. His student loan played a role in that. He has been living on the island with his girlfriend at their parents’ home for seven years now. We also met another employee at the car rental agency who was born on the island. We were surprised when she told us that her first language is English just like the language of many other Hawaiians. She explained that the native language had been prohibited in the first part of the 20th century in order to speed up the Americanization of the Hawaiian territories.
Driving the Kaloko Drive up the Hualalai Volcano, one of the five volcanoes on Big Island, we were stunned by the rich variety of vegetation and climate zones. We drove through rain forest, saw Alaskan fire grass, African monkey pod trees, passed the temperate climate zone or as my geography teacher would remind me, „die gemäßigte Klimazone“, and of course tropical climate. Sometimes those changes occurred even within 5 minutes of driving. Incredible.
From Hualalai, we went along the top of the mountains to Waimea, where we had lunch at the Hawaiian Style Café. Tamás had a Hawaiian Plate, which, as we later realized, checked off 4 of 5 items from Lonely Planet’s list of essential Hawaiian dishes at once. Waimea reminded us of the Irish hills and dales with its ranches and grassy treeless landscapes. It is also known as the home of the Hawaiian cowboys, and feels very different from life at the shore.
We took the scenic but very windy Kohala Mountain Road from Waimea down to Kapa’au near the northern tip of Big Island. A drive that yet again lead us through lava wasteland one minute, and sceneries that reminded us of home five minutes later. We stopped frequently, but literally had trouble opening our car doors due to strong winds. Having arrived in Kapa’au, we headed a bit further east, to the end of that road, to see the stunning cliffs of the Pololu Valley, a set of cliffs which drop vertically more than 100 meters down into the ocean. The bottom of the Valley has a great black sand beach, but we did not hike all the way down. It reminded us of one of those valleys from Jurassic Park. As it turns out, that movie was shot on the island of Kauaʻi, another of the Hawaiian Isles, so the comparison is pretty accurate.
Returning along the northwestern shoreline, we had a coffee break in Hawi at the cute Kohala Coffee Mill, which, of course, serves the locally grown Kona coffee. They had 100% Kona brew, compared to the cheaper 10% blend (meaning 90% are ‘regular’ coffee beans). Despite being local, pure Kona coffee is far from cheap. At the supermarket, 10% blend costs about the same as any other coffee, while pure Kona starts at around $20 per pound.
We then stopped one more time, to see the sunset at A Beach in Waikoloa (a common nickname, because no one can pronounce the original name ‘Anaeho ‘omalu Beach) and drove back over lava fields from several outbreaks in the 19th century.
For more pictures, please visit Tamás’ Flickr page.