Big Island (2001)
The Big Island (also called "Hawaii") seems covered with igneous, volcanic rock, and compared to Oahu, modestly sized streets and highways-which, of course, results in better-behaved traffic on Big Island.
We first visit the Kona Coast State Park, the entrance road of which requires driving along a VERY rough, up and down unpaved "road" zig-zagging its way through an immense lava field. The park itself is quite nice, and offers diverse landscapes. At the parking lot, there are picnic and restroom facilities. Walking north along the beach, we find pleasant, attractive, uncrowded beaches and coves. To the south, by walking over beach and hardened lava, we arrive at our first black sand beach, which presents a striking appearance when the white foam of waves comes crashing down upon it.
Next is Hapuna Beach, half a mile long and 200 feet wide. The beach has recently been ranked as the top beach in the U.S. We are a bit puzzled, since the beach is average at best with regard to attractiveness compared to other Hawaiian beaches. Apparently, it excels in beach amenities, such as a wide beach with fine-grained sand, easy swimming conditions with lots of shallow, clear water near the sandy shoreline, good picnic and restroom facilities, and clear water.
Using Doughty's "Big Island Revealed" guidebook-which proves to be an invaluable resource on Maui and Kauai as well-we are aware of a hidden gem unknown to most other beachgoers there. At the southern end, a rocky point juts out. Extending outward from that point and then southerly into a small cove, the waters are graced with substantial and impressive coral reefs, clear waters, and colorful tropical fish. This makes for some excellent, easy, uncrowded snorkeling for Maureen and I.
We then travel south to the town of Captain Cook to find our Big Island bed and breakfast. We are in for a very pleasant, astounding surprise. Our B&B, known as the "Edge of the World," is very, very impressive. It is nestled on the steep western slopes of Big Island, overlooking-and I mean overlooking-Kealakekua Bay. "Edge", as we called it, offers us a spectacular bedroom and full use of the living room, lanai, kitchen, dining room, and utility room. Our bathroom is attached to our bedroom and was enormous in size. Our king sized bed sits next to sliding glass doors that open out to the lanai (a second-floor deck along the entire back side of this large house). The lanai provides us with breathtaking, panoramic views of the western coastline and bay (see photo top right). In the backyard off the lanai is a coffee field (Maureen enjoys several cups of world-famous "Kona" coffee grown on the B&B property while we are there), a macadamia nut orchard, and papaya trees. Each night is extremely relaxing, as we doze in an extremely quiet setting with a very gentle, comfortable tropical breeze wafting in from the open sliding glass door.
The access road to the Edge helps explain why it was such a secluded getaway. A very sharp hairpin turn requiring a 3-point k-turn by a motorist (even in a small subcompact car) leads you down an exceptionally steep, winding, narrow paved road that is so steep that it was initially very frightening for us to drive down (we shifted into very low gear and braked the entire way-feverishly gripping the steering wheel for a white-knuckled ride down to the Edge of the World.
Given this and the setting of the Edge, it truly seems like the edge of the world to us
It is soon after our arrival at the Edge that I make the horrifying discovery that I am unable to find my new and very expensive digital camera-a camera that I have just a week ago beefed up the memory for to hold hundreds of Hawaii photos. After a frantic retracing of my steps in my head, I convince myself that the only possible place it could be is at our Oahu B&B. I place a call to them and leave a message on their machine. And anxiously awaite their call back. A day later, it comes, and they confirm finding the camera. Great relief, but unhappy that I would not have use of the camera for the entire Hawaii trip.
On our first night, we drive to the mile-long Ali'ie Drive on the west coast near Kona. Like downtown Wakiki, we find this street to be bustling with festive pedestrians, and reminded me a great deal of the Mardi Gras atmosphere and architecture found on Duval Street in downtown Key West.
Overall, we drive about 180 miles on our first day on Big Island.
To begin day 2, we visit Rainbow Falls-a dramatic, powerful twin falls worth a stop for a look (photo on left). Just down the road is "Boiling Pots," which we find is not worth our time. It may have been that we observed it during low-flow conditions, but we did not see any sort of seething, boiling water. Looked like an exciting place to run a kayak through, though...
After this, we visit Kulala Falls, which is fair, then the 420-foot Akaka Falls, which was stupendous.
We then drive into the windward town of Hilo, which receives almost continuous rains, making for a very lush, flowery, luxurious community. The town features an impressive, seemingly continuous downtown farmers market, where we purchase some very odd Hawaiian fruit, such as the "chocolate icing" fruit, and a reddish-purple fruit that we end up calling the "hairy balls" fruit.
After Hilo, we stopped at Laupahoehoe Point, which had been crushed by a tsunami on April Fool's Day in 1946, forcing the village to move up to a higher elevation. Today, it is a very attractive park with a very rocky, rough shoreline with a strong, violent surf. We are surprised to see scuba divers near the rocks, since it seemed as if the strong surge would quickly crush them against the rocks.
Tropical Paradise gives us a helicopter ride over much of the Big Island when we stop again in Hilo for lunch. During the ride, we fly over the enormous lava fields in Volcanoes National Park that has an immensity that can only be appreciated from the air. When we are there, active lava is pouring into the Pacific. Great clouds of white steam were rising up at this southeastern island location. It is astounding to observe brand new land being formed, and we are, from the chopper, able to observe the red-hot lava as it rolls into the sea (photo on right).
After this aerial treat, the guidebook leads us to a small, 8 x 14 spring- and ocean-fed volcanic pool of water that was like a bathtub, with clear water at 90 degrees. The Highway 137 that leads to this pool is canopied with colossally tall trees.
Overall, we drive about 350 miles on our second day on Big Island.
Our third day starts off with a dive with the Big Island Divers. The first dive is at Golden Arches, which was a wonderous dive location with several swim-through arches. We spot a large number of moray eel, hawksbill turtle, crab, and numerous jet-black sea urchins. Our visibility is an impressive 90 feet. Overall, we find the coral reefs here are very healthy.
Our second dive is at Pine Trees, which has a number of named features such as The Aquarium, Suck-'Em Up Cave, and Skull Cave. Suck-'Em Up turns out to be a delightful treat. You enter a small tunnel. (During our entry, we spotted a 7-foot white-tipped reef shark resting a few feet from us in a hollowed out rock formation above sand.) Once you enter a turn in the tunnel, the strong sea surge through the tunnel sucks you up and propels you out into open water.
This second dive includes our sighting a number of extremely large moray eels (as thick as baseball bats). Our visibility is an acceptable 75 feet. We also notice an unusually large number of black and grey sea cucumbers on the ocean floor. Some of the tropical fish we see on these dives are parrot fish, white mouth moray eel (BIG), achilles tang, moorish idols, and yellow tang. I am told that the bright yellow color of the yellow tang, and its recently large population at Big Island meant that when you flew over the coastline, you would see a yellow cloud of the tang. Today, because of the harvesting for aquariums, this yellow cloud is no longer seen. However, in our dives and snorkel trips, we nevertheless observe a large number of yellow tang.
Like nearly all Big Island dives, the drop off just beyond our dive sites plunges to 18,000 feet. It helps not to think about that kind of depth awaiting us...a black void where you cannot see where you've been or where you're going...
On both dives, I find that the submerged lava rock formations, tubes, and chimneys offer extraordinary dive experiences and views.
After our dives, we head down to Ali'ie Drive and enjoy a Kona Golden Ale microbrewery draft beer, which tastes especially good after our dive and day of Hawaiian adventure.
Overall, we drive about 45 miles on our third day on Big Island.
Wide awake at 5 a.m. the next morning (easy to do when you are 6 hours ahead of Hawaii time), we get an early start for our anticipated trip to Volcanoes National Park on the southeast side of the Big Island. This park contains the Kilauea Volcano, the most active volcano in the world. Each day, 300,000 to 1,000,000 cubic yards of lava erupts from this volcano, for a total of 2,150,000,000 cubic yards since its inception. The average temperature of the lava is 2,000 degrees. Kilauea covers 38 square miles, and has destroyed 181 homes. In 1990, the town of Kalapana was erased by the lava.
We find the Sulfur Banks to be boring when we are there. The Steam Vents are impressive-not so much because of the steam but because of the fantastic views provided of the Kilauea caldera. We discover that the Halermor'uma Crater is fantastic. And as advertised by both back-home friends and our guidebook, the Kilauea Iki hike is stunningly diverse and spectacular (photo above left). The 3-mile, 4,000-foot elevation trail is one of the best hikes on the Hawaiian Islands. We first walk through a very lush and fragrant rainforest and ancient fern forest along the caldera rim, occasionally getting lookout views of the moonlike caldera floor way below us. At the distance we are above the floor, hikers crossing the floor look like tiny ants. After about 40 minutes through the forest, the trail descends to the caldera floor, which is an abrupt, stark contrast to the forest. The floor features what appears to be an endless, gigantic black asphalt parking lot that was buckled and crevassed due to major earthquakes. At several locations on the floor, we find hot steam issuing from fissures, indicating that the caldera has still not completely cooled. It was last active approximately 42 years ago.
After the Iki hike, we visit the Thurston Lava Tube. While impressive, we find this first few hundred feet to be too safe and touristy, due to its being lined with electric lighting. But at the end of that tube, we arrive at a second tube, which extends for 330 meters. Here, we were quickly immersed in absolute, jet-black darkness (flashlight required for hike). Because we are alone in the tube at the time, we also experience "deafening" silence. Next, we are treated to a sight that is unknown to most Park visitors. Devil's Throat is located in our guidebook, but not signed by the Park, apparently due to the liability concerns at the Throat. This feature-only a short hike from the Park road-is unsettling when you arrive, gingerly, at the precipice. Getting to the abyss of the Throat took my breath away, and I suggest that Maureen take my hand before she arrives and takes a look down it. The Throat turns out to be a few hundred feet wide, and has sheer cliff walls dropping hundreds of feet down into the darkness (photo at left). Part of the uncomfortable feeling comes from the edges of the volcanic throat, which had large cracks and crevasses at the edge of the cliff, indicating the edges are sloughing off into the Throat. At times, that event perhaps takes sight-seers to an abrupt, painful, terrifying death, as they are hurled into the frightening, rocky hole.
Our next stop at the park was the Holei Sea Arch, which we find to be extremely impressive. The big Pacific Ocean waves in this location are exceptionally powerful, and sound like explosions when they crash against the igneous rock walls along the Park coastline.
We then come-literally-to the end of the road. In the recent past, the road continued around the southeast coast of the island. Today, it ends abruptly and 8 miles of it are now covered by thick black lava rock. At the end of the road sits a visitor center. In a mobile home. Ready for the next needed retreat...
Overall, we drive about 220 miles on our fourth day on Big Island.
Day Five, Big Island. We head out for an eagerly awaited horseback ride. First, we are treated to an astounding view of Waipio Valley from a lookout above it on its southeast side (photo below left). The Valley ends at a 1-mile long black sand beach at the coastline. A few hours later, a group of us are shuttled down into the valley in a four-wheel drive van. The ride turns out to be part of the exciting adventure, since the one mile drive down to the valley floor follows a one-lane road with the steepest grade on the Big Islandó35 percent. So steep is it that vehicles without four-wheel drive are fined hundreds of dollars for trying to drive down it, and then must pay an additional $700 to be towed back up the road.
Our horseback ride is 2 hours in the Valley. The Valley is magical. Sheer walls hundreds of feet high rise up from 3 sides. The fourth side is the sea. Countless waterfalls stream down these walls. The Valley floor is very lush due to the 100 inches of rain the Valley receives each year. The floor now grows mostly taro, and has supported, over the years, 50 generations of Hawaiians.
The village in the Valley was destroyed by the huge tsunami in 1946. For 2 decades, the Valley contained no human residents. Starting in the 1960s, resettlement began again. Population today is about 50.
After the horseback, we visit nearby Polou Valley, which offers remarkable views. After observing the valley from the cliffs above, we make the strenuous hike down to the black sand beach at one end of the valley. We finish the day by going back to Hapuna Beach for relaxing, "doing nothing," and watching the sun set over the Pacific. However, since we have done a "grueling" horseback ride earlier in the day, Maureen and I decide that we need to soothe our aching, sore muscles, so we climb into the waiting hot tub just outside of our B&B bedroom on the lanai. Viewing the Pacific while relaxing in a hot tub with a glass of wine is very therapeutic after a long and tiring day of adventuring in paradise.
Overall, we drive about 220 miles on our fifth day on Big Island.
On day six of Big Island, it is off to Honaunau Bay (at the Place of Refuge) for more superb snorkeling in crystal clear water. The entry point consists of smooth lava rock rather than beach sand, and it is a very popular place for people to snorkel. For good reason. The coral, abundant and colorful (albeit small) tropical fish, dramatic lava canyons, and high-visibility water are outstanding. About 30 percent of the tropical fish found in Hawaiian reefs are found no where else on earth-the highest percentage of endemic species in the world.
The next destination is Ke'ei Beach, which is a beach paradise (photo below right). The beach itself is gorgeous and secluded-secluded apparently because it is not easy to find at the end of a long dirt road and a residential cul-de-sac. The setting is pure Hawaii beach with powdery golden sand, abundant coconut trees, and glistening surf. While there, I seek a way to harvest a fresh coconut. Since it seems impossible to climb the trees, I begin hurling large lava rocks at them. Finally, after about 40 throws, I knock one down and Maureen and I enjoy its sweet coconut milk.
That afternoon, we set out again with Big Island Divers for an afternoon dive at Garden Eel Cove just before sunset. Once at the bottom, we are told to sit motionlessly and watch out over the ocean floor. What emerged with our 70 feet of visibility were hundreds and hundreds of small, twig-like, black Garden Eel, something I had not seen before. We spot Trumpetfish, Moray Eel, Yellow Tang, Stripe Belly Puffers, Achilles Tang, Ornate Butterfish, Orangeband Surgeonfish, Orangespine Unicornfish, Saddle Wrasse, Moorish Idol, Yellowfin Surgeonfish, Bullethead Parrotfish, and Teardrop Butterfly fish. Then, after the dive, we wait on the boat for THE MAIN ATTRACTION. The world-famous Manta Ray Night Dive off of Big Island. We are told in advance that this is a "must" dive. We are not prepared for the wonders of the show that awaited us. We are speechless afterward.
The dive begins by having each of the 6-8 of us on our dive boat descend to the bottom of Garden Eel Cove (about 35 feet) after sunset. There, we kneel down in a circle, and raise our powerful halogen lights upward so that the light points straight up to the surface. Soon, the enchantment begins. First, very dense white clouds of plankton are attracted to the beams of light we cast above us. Suddenly, quite large, graceful manta rays-six in all-start their magnificent feeding ballet on the plankton we have concentrated above us. Holding the light just above our foreheads means that the thickest concentration of plankton is just above our heads, and this, therefore, became the feeding target of the rays. They would glide above us, open their enormous mouths, then slowly swoop down toward our heads to scoop up a big helping of the plankton meal. Often, the rays would swim figure-eight summersaults above us to engage in a continuous feeding strategy within the plankton clouds. On their downward swoop toward me and the others, they would head directly at our faces from about 15 feet away. Then, at the last possible instant, with their open mouth just inches from our faces, they would swoop back upward over our heads (when their open mouths are within inches of our faces, we are clearly able to look down inside their wide throats, gullets, and gills). On 10 to 15 occasions, the upward swoop is so close that the ray actually brushes against the top of my head. Once, the ray does not time her or his upward swoop properly, and crashes square into the front of my dive mask on my face. Bam!
The approach of the rays is so close, and their bodies so large (some have, during our dive, a wingspan of up to 14 feet), that I would feel a strong turbulence that nearly knocks me over as they pass.
We watch this fantastic underwater dance for 70 minutes. A number of times, as I kneel next to Maureen, I turn to her and am so overwhelmed by the experience that I want to scream to her: "This is UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!!" Frustrated by the inability to communicate under water, all I am able to do is to put a big thumbs up in front of her face to express my joy and exhilaration. Fortunately, she does not mistake this well-known dive signal for my desire to ascend to the surface.
Quite simply, it is a completely unforgettable experience. By far, my best dive experience ever. It is so astounding that if I had done just that dive during my 16 days in Hawaii, it would have been my best adventure vacation ever.
Here is a YouTube video of that once-in-a-lifetime dive we did:
Overall, we drive about 70 miles on our fifth day on Big Island.
Our sixth day at the Edge of the World B&B starts luxuriously, as always. I relaxed in the hot tub outside our bedroom. After another incredible breakfast served by our amazing hosts, we set out for Kealakekua Bay for some kayaking and snorkeling along the coast near our B&B. Our destination is the Captain Cook monument, erected in 1874 by British soldiers, one mile away at the far end of the bay, where, it is said, the water is more crystal clear than anywhere else on Big Island. My experience the day we were there would lead me to agree with that assessment. After an easy paddle, we come ashore at the rocky coast near the monument and find the snorkeling nearby to be excellent. It is said to be the best snorkeling in all the islands. A huge rainbow of tropical fish, astounding lava rock formations-including an underwater lava arch that I free dove through-and lots of attractive coral reef. About 100 feet from the shore, the rock formations show a very steep drop-off to the dark depths of the sea in this Bay area. The water is so clear there that it reminds me of the crystal clear spring water we enjoy at the many springs where we live in Gainesville, Florida.
We snorkel for 90 minutes.
Overall, we drive about 20 miles on our sixth day on Big Island.
Part of my harvesting experience on our B&B "farm" was to gather a basket of macadamia nuts and crack them with the special nutcracker device they had at the B&B. Fresh mac nuts are delicious. J
Breakfasts at the Edge, like every other aspect of the B&B, are outstanding. Our hosts are extremely charitable, helpful, and very accommodating of my unusual non-dairy vegetarian diet. Included are freshly made banana pancakes topped with mouth-watering fresh papaya sauce. Our breakfast table also includes fresh pineapple, fresh Kona coffee (grown on the grounds of the B&B), herbal teas, granola, mango, yogurt, and tropcial fruit juice. The breakfasts are, of course, substantially improved by our breathtaking views of the bay as we eat on the lanai.
We find that the Big Island has a rather sparse network of roads on an island of enormous size and significant topography, which means LOTS of driving. We therefore conclude that on our return to the Big Island for future adventure, it would make much more sense to set up multiple base camps in B&Bs at various strategic points around the coastline, instead of a single basecamp, which would inevitably have a number of long drives, no matter where on the island it is located.
Next up is the island of Maui.
Total Days on Big Island: 6.5
Total Miles Driven on Big Island: Over 1,085 miles
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