November 9, 2012
Yesterday, when my lunch hour was over and I hadn’t even gotten through sorting out the first four days of photos I took in Hawaii, I realized it would be best if I broke my trip report up into a few parts. Today, I’ll cover the days on either side of the nights we spent in Hilo, on the western (rainy) side of the Big Island.
Day 1—Getting There
We got an early start; the plane left Detroit before we would have been at work that morning. On our layover in Salt Lake City, we had enough time for a quick lunch (from Cat Cora’s Gourmet Market, which wasn’t there the last time we were through SLC—it was tasty grab and go with lots of veg options) and look at the snow on the nearby mountains. Then it was on to our plane to Honolulu, a widebody with a 2-3-2 configuration on which we were fortunate to be in seats on one of the 2 sides. There were also seatback videos screens, and many of the offerings were free due to the length of the flight. It was surprisingly pleasant for such a long flight. In Honolulu, we connected to an interisland airline, which involved walking through open air corridors and to a holding area instead of at the regular gate (that was in a secure area that was not contiguous with the secure area we were in). There were no airline personnel in the holding area when we got there, but the airport security folks were very friendly and reassured us we were in the right place and that we had time go get something to eat since it would be a while before the plane got there (we did go, and had a second lunch at what would have been dinner time in Michigan). Our flight over to Hilo was quick; that airport was even more open air than the one in Honolulu. A short drive had us at our hotel on Hilo Bay, where we had an ocean view. Thanks to being tired from travelling all day (plus the six-hour time difference), we didn’t do anything that first night but sit on the balcony and take a short walk to get a salad for dinner at the convenience store at the next hotel over. We were in bed around 8:30.
Day 2—Hilo, Volcanoes National Park, and a Tsunami
Our first activity of our first full day in Hawaii was strolling on Coconut Island, which we could see from our room. We took in part of nearby Liliuokalani Gardens on our way back, then drove to downtown Hilo for the farmers’ market, the Pacific Tsunami Museum, lunch, and a stop at a dive shop to get snorkel gear. Two nearby waterfalls were next on the agenda, but since it had been dry, neither was especially impressive. Then it was time to head out to the main reason we’d come to the Hilo side of the island: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It had been warm down in Hilo, but up at the park it was cool, breezy, and spitting rain on and off. No matter—we put on jackets and fleece hats and went out hiking anyway. First we did a short loop around Volcano House and got a glimpse of the vapors rising from the current eruption. Then it was on to Steam Vents and Sulphur Banks. The steam rising out of cracks and holes in the earth was strange to see and feel—that’s not how the ground works where Iâ€™m from. The heat was quite welcome given the weather, for sure. We were losing the light by this point, but that was fine, since it meant when we got up to the Jaggar Museum, we were able to see the orange red glow of the lava from the vent nearby. We spent a fair bit of time pondering this strange effect from various vantage points, along with many other people up there doing the same thing. Finally we drove back to town, intending to eat at the 24 hour restaurant we’d noticed near our hotel. When we go there, the hostess said they weren’t seating anyone because there was a tsunami warning and they were in the evacuation zone. A tsunami warning? I was more puzzled than anything, as we’d had no trouble driving right into the evacuation zone, but sure enough when we got back to the hotel, we met some people in the elevator who confirmed it, as did the tv in our room. We went to the front desk to inquire about next steps, and they had maps to the designated shelter and said there were buses available if we didn’t want to drive ourselves. When we were back upstairs packing an overnight bag, an announcement came over the phones with instructions and a deadline to leave the building. Okay then. We drove inland, hearing the blare of the warning siren fade as we did. We stopped at Jack in the Box (outside the evacuation zone) on our way to the shelter, because we still hadn’t eaten and there was no point in being hungry as well as displaced. By the time we got to the shelter, a mall where all the stores were already closed, the blankets and pillows had been distributed, but we did find a couple of empty chairs and settled in. After a while, water and snacks appeared, free for the taking. We took turns walking around the mall but when it became clear we’d be there a while, we went out into the car and tried to sleep, turning on the radio and checking our phones for updates periodically. When the first wave hit and was smaller than expected, I was relieved, but also knew that the later waves could be bigger so didn’t completely relax. The warning was downgraded and the evacuation order lifted after four hours or so, and we got back to the hotel around 1:30 in the morning.
Day 3— Volcanoes National Park
We slept in after our late night of evacuation, so we missed our snorkeling date with the fishes that morning. (We also missed our do not disturb sign, which someone stole from our door while we slept.) We had a late breakfast/early lunch at the restaurant we’d tried to go to the night before then headed back up to Volcanoes National Park. Our first stop was the Jaggar Museum, so we could see the crater in daylight and get some context for what we’d only seen in the dark the evening before. Then we made our way to the Thurston Lava Tube for the quick walk through it before the main event for the day, the Kilauea Iki Trail, which is a hike partly in lush forest and partly across a dormant volcanic crater. I slowed our progress considerably by stopping to take many, many photos of the weirdly fascinating lava bed, which meant we didn’t really have time to do more than a tiny bit of Chain of Craters Road. Guess we’ll just have to make another trip some year. We finished our day in the county lava viewing area, from which there was not much lava to be seen but we did enjoy talking with the employee stationed at the end of the road.
Day 4— Akaka Falls and Mauna Kea
We checked out of our Hilo hotel, but not before we caught our first glimpse of Mauna Kea from the balcony thanks to the cloud layer cooperating; fitting, since we’d be heading up there later. But first, we stopped to see the Kamehameha statue on our way out of town, then made our way to Akaka Falls by way of a coastal drive. We happened upon a roadside waterfall that was more impressive than either of the ones we’d made a special trip to see the day before, but Akaka Falls was truly stunning at over 400 feet high—just the sort of thing I’d come to Hawaii to see. Mauna Kea, our next stop, was also the sort of thing I’d come to see, though it was the complete opposite of the lush surroundings at the falls. We acclimated at the visitor center before driving up the road to the observatories atop the dormant volcano, bundling up on our fleece to make the walk to the summit through rocks, dust, and more rocks. We took a peek inside the Keck Observatory visitor center before driving back down and across the Saddle Road, which had so many dips and turns that I started to feel a little ill by the time we got done. Our last attraction for the day was the Waipio Valley Lookout just before dark; it was so gorgeous, and next time we visit we want to set aside time to go into the valley itself. After leaving the lookout, we drove to the Kona side of the island and checked in for our next hotel stay, which will be the subject of my next entry.
Of course there are way more photos; I’m filling this set on Flickr as I go.