The island shuttle, Mokulele Airline, was a good experience all around, and as one never knows what to expect with travel institutions these days, we knew we had made the right decision at the counter; “oh, the weight of your suitcase is close enough. a couple pounds over… no big deal.” Too much wind/rain prevented the plane from landing at Hilo which delayed our flight since they had to return and would be using the same plane for the flight to our destination, Kona. They said we’d probably be the only 2 on it, but then at boarding, the plane was full, all nine seats. It was a windy and at times bumpy flight and as we were seated in the rear of the aircraft I could see couples reaching across the isle to hold hands during the turbulent bumps. But it was a good flight, and no sooner had we left the lush, moist, green of Maui that we found ourselves flying over the dry, desert like, lava covered landscape as we approached the Kona airport.
We were met at the airport by our friends Fran & Bob who welcomed us with leis. First stop was Costco in Kona. Whew! not unlike other Costco stores on the mainland. The next day we made a “mandatory” stop at the Hamakua Nut Co in Kamuela on our way to North Kohala. We walked around, saw the sculpture of King Kamehameha in Kapaau, and later had a very nice lunch in Hawi. We stayed a few days on the western side of the island, went snorkeling at a nearby beach, under the watchful eye of the lifeguards TJ and Jessica; joined Fran and Bob for outrigger canoe paddling at the Waikoloa Canoe Club the following day on Anaeho’omalu Bay; as it was windy, we stayed in the protected bay. During a break we looked back over the water to see the snow capped summit of Mauna Kea. The two-hour paddle was a good workout and exhilarating. After dinner that evening, we could step outside the restaurant door to see an outdoor performance of local young hula dancers.
The next day we headed south, toward the volcano, stopping first at the natural foods store in Kona, and then at various must see spots along the way. In addition to the pure beauty of the landscape there are many sacred places to visit, marvel at, respect and honor.
The view of Kealakekua Bay that looks back over to the Capt. Cook area was especially beautiful; then to the Pu’uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park- a beautiful and historically significant place of refuge. Next we drove out to Ka Lae, aka South Point, the southern most geographic point in the U.S. Up until now we had been enjoying the warm and dry weather, but from this point on the rains began, first as light sprinkles, growing to squalls, and then more.
We had been told the Punalu’u Bakery, billed as the southern most bakery in the U.S. is a destination worth stopping at. By the time we arrived that afternoon, the variety of malasadas had been pretty well picked over, but from what was available, we found a couple of tasty treats. Then it was on to the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach where several turtles were carving their trails into the sand at the edge of the water. Punalu’u is renowned not only for its black sand, but because of the sea turtles, both the Green Turtle (Honu) and the extremely endangered Hawksbill. Again, it was too windy and stormy for us to go in the water. Maybe next time.
The closer we got to the Volcano, the more rain we encountered, and by the time we arrived at the hotel, it was a full-on downpour, and the covered arrival area was at least an inch deep in water…but at least it was warm rain.
We checked in, got our rain jackets on, while still in shorts, t-shirts and sandals, and went over to the visitors center to get info and figure out what we were going to do for the next couple days. Since it was raining so much our expectations weren’t too high at that moment. We had booked a room with a view of the crater but all we could see was a solid gray fog bank.
As the sun went down there was a faint hint of a glow from the crater, so we decided to go up to the Jaggar Museum and overlook, which even in the downpour, was dramatic, and very wet!
The next morning after breakfast we did some more exploring even as the rain was picking up; around noon we decided to watch the film about the volcano at the visitor’s center. It was fairly crowded in the auditorium because the rain was so heavy, and rather amusing when many phones started “alerting” people to the flash flood warning. The rangers had said, and we found this to be true the next day, water was more than ankle deep in one of the popular lava tubes. That afternoon we decided to go down to the coast, about 20 miles away, stopping to see craters and view the lava fields along the way. As we descended and got closer to the coast, we left the rains, but not the winds. We hiked out to see petroglyphs carved into the ancient lava fields; it is always a profound experience to stand on sacred ground and imagine how these came to be. They were beautiful, thought provoking, inspiring and astounding.
As we returned, the sky was beginning to clear from dense rainclouds to patches of blue every now and then. At Volcano House the sun broke through and back lit the plumes from the volcano and cross lit some mists of rain. That night as it was clearing and not raining, we returned to the museum overlook and had some great views of the crater.
Seeing into the caldera was an unforgettable experience! Before leaving the park the next day, we had a few short hikes as it was clear and sunny, the temperature was pleasant, and by noon it was warmer than anticipated. Discovering steam vents along the way- like being in a steam bath, only outside, in nature, was an unexpected, unique experience both physically and emotionally- physically, in the moment when being embraced by warmth, with glasses fogging up, and emotionally in time, as one felt a link with others who experienced these vents in the distant past. The warmth of the steam vents combined with the visual experiences of the landscape, flora and fauna, and life energy emanating from the volcano’s caldera left me with an unexpected and profound sense of awe.
As we left the park our first stop was at the Ohelo cafe in Volcano Village where we enjoyed a nice lunch before heading toward Hilo. In my next and final installment of this adventure exploring the Big Island, we meet up with another dear friend, visit Honoka’a, Waimea, and complete the circle, back to the western coast.
Click to open the gallery and see these and additional pictures on a larger scale.