I took the small plane out of Maui, and wowsers, what a view! Don't you love the inverted rainbow?
Our last 6 days was on Big Island and whilst I enjoyed myself here it wasn’t my favourite. Kona lacks the charm of Lahaina, there are no lush green mountain backdrops, and no spectacular beaches to speak of, the coast being mainly rocky and black lava. It reminded me a lot of Iceland with the lava fields stretching away bleakly into the distance.
Green beach (Papakolea Beach)
You can do a trip to the green beach, which will take you just over an hour to drive from Kona. Once you navigate your way through the wind-blown farmlands, you reach a car park where a number of sweet-talking Hawaiian women will convince you that the best thing to do is climb in the back of their clapped out truck for $10 and be driven to the beach. Given that the tradewinds here are INSANE we opted to drive in and walk out. Clinging onto the sides of the pickup with about 10 other people, we bumped and jostled along a ‘road’ for about 15 mins, reaching near tipping point in a couple of places, to reach the beach. It is green, no doubt of that – not emerald but more of a dark olive - but it’s not something you can really sit on given that the winds whip the sand into every bodily crevice, plasters to your sunscreen and infiltrates any electrical device you produce to take photos. People were sitting around in bikinis, but more on the rocks where they had shelter. Given that it is illegal and risks a $100 fine to take sand off the beach I daren’t think how much contraband I carted out. I’m still finding it in my backpack now. Walking back is the way to go – it took us 45 mins to do the 3 miles, across landscapes that wouldn’t look out of place as a Microsoft screen saver: dramatic skies, windblown skeletal trees, random rock formations and big green fields.
A cool thing you can do in Kona is manta snorkelling or diving. As the sun sets and night descends, boats shine lights underneath which draws the plankton which in turn draws the mantas. I opted to do the Manta Adventures tour, which seemed to be one of the best-recommended, and which also includes a hot shower as you get out of the water. Hanging onto a raft and supported by a foam noodle which sits just above your knees, you can watch the mantas swim up and under the boats, sometimes doing a belly roll as they filter the plankton through their mouths. We saw about 5/6 mantas, but there are a lot of boats and they tend to cycle from one to another meaning that if only a few are around you might have to wait about 10 minutes for them to come around again. It can get pretty crowded on the water so boats leave early to make sure they can get one of the 4 moorings. It takes roughly 4 hours in total although you only have about 1hr in the water before heading back in. I think this activity would be better in the summertime when the days are longer and the water might be as well, but as a lover of all things marine this was a must-do despite the debate about it not being in the animal’s best interest, and when the marine parks will shut it down for good (imminent depending on who you speak to). There are caveats – you can’t let go of the raft and free swim with the rays or touch them in any way, which is normal for any marine wildlife interaction.
Hilo and hiking the volcano
We stayed 2 nights in Hilo, which in retrospect was unnecessary as you can do all the tours from Kona – it’s just a longer day to factor in the driving between towns. Kona has better weather, the rainfall in Hilo being 10x more over a year. Driving over past mauna kea – the largest mountain in the world if measured from the sea bed – was interesting right up to the point we hit torrential rain and I had to make sure we didn’t wildly aquaplane across the freeway whilst peering through the windscreen to make sure we didn’t hit anything whilst the wipers struggled to cope. This apocalyptic weather was to stay with us for the next 2 days and the remainder of our trip. We had planned to go and see the lava which you can view from Kalapana, but given the conditions we would have been able to see stuff all, and lava viewing isn’t near the road and you have to walk or cycle to it, we wrote that off and went to a movie instead.
We wanted to do the lava-viewing from the ocean, however at the time there wasn’t any lava flowing into the ocean so we opted to do the Kapohokine Adventures Kilauea Hike 'n Glow tour, mainly because it included 2 meals as well as a wine-tasting at the end. The hike isn’t arduous – we had a small group of about 12 people of all ages – but it is about 5 miles. It also takes in the Thurston Lava Tube which would also have been much more impressive if it hadn’t been somewhat flooded.
The rain was relentless: our little group sporting umbrellas and plastic ponchos as we made our way through the forest and down into the crater. Kilauea went off in the 50’s and 60’s, spouting huge jets of lava into the air whilst people watched from the car park – not something that would be allowed these days but the photos and videos are impressive. On a wet windy day, the crater looked like an alien landscape, the kind that might appear in an episode of Dr Who, with steam rising out of vents, the odd hardy spindly tree, massive black boulders dotting the landscape and the surface all broken up like enormous broken black concrete, and we probably all looked like aliens in our brightly coloured rain ponchos. We picked our way through the crater (our guide told us the difference between a crater and a caldera is size – a caldera is a mile and a crater is under. Kilauea crater is getting bigger so may be a caldera soon! Google tells me a crater is a vent for lava/magma and a caldera is formed when a large eruption of magma, or lava, leaves a gigantic empty chamber underground. The volcanic material above the chamber, usually made of volcanic rock and tuff, collapses into the empty magma chamber. Take your pick.), whilst he pointed out things of interest to a group that was feeling decidedly unenthusiastic and very soggy and more in need of wine. Maybe that was just me.
We also stopped at the visitor centre and the very beautiful Volcano House hotel, where a number of our group a) got wine, b) purchased rain jackets c) purchased dry socks d) dried off in front of the fire. Volcano House, as it is called, also has a large picture window and on a nice day you’d have been able to potentially see some volcanic activity. Sadly the only embers and ash I saw that day were in the fireplace. Some info on the hotel:
Next stop: the winery! Yaaay! After sampling some incredibly delicious varieties, all grown on the volcanic slopes, you pick the vintage you want with dinner and then get a nicely prepared buffet. Unfortunately this is still alfresco, albeit under tarp, and after sculling the wine and wolfing down dinner we were keen to jump back into the bus and see the lava glow, which was the next and final stop after sundown. This is probably not as impressive as what you see in the lava viewing area in Kalpana but given the conditions I’m glad I saw something. I can recommend this tour agency and the guides are informative and fun.
The next morning we took a scenic route back to the airport, stopping in Waimea for lunch. I can recommend this as despite the fog and rain the landscape is incredibly pretty, similar to New Zealand, with a few waterfalls and coastal views along the way.
That was it for Hawaii. Next blog update will be later this month, after Xmas!