Around the World: Hawaii Part 1

beachSun, sea, beaches and volcanoes. Aloha!

We are now in the air and flying from Los Angeles to Hawaii. We want to visit 2 islands in Hawaii: the Big Island (Hawaii) and Ohau, the island where the city of Honolulu is located. We land in Honolulu and will fly the same afternoon to the Big Island.


At last we are in Beautiful Hawaii. As the travel books say: it is a state of the United States of America, but it remains Polynesian in culture.

All flights within Hawaii are at another terminal and to get there we have to take a shuttle bus. The shuttle bus is not a luxury. It’s an older bus with benches on the inside walls. Once at the other terminal, we look to see where our flight leaves from. We booked the cheapest company and can’t seem to find them. We ask a few questions at the information counter and then see the signs leading to the far end of the airport. As we descend by escalator into a sort of concrete basement with a glass wall we realize, this is the gate. You can see through the glass to the aircraft when it’s time to start boarding. We check in and then have to spend some time at the airport waiting for our flight. They just have a garden at the airport, so we just enjoy sitting on a bench until it’s time to go.

The flight to the Big Island takes only 40 minutes. Once there we get our rental car – a Jeep – which we thought fit Hawaii well plus they were the cheaper cars to rent.

We also rented an apartment in Kona, near here so we could drive to it. It was already dark when we arrived, but the directions we received from the owner of the apartment were easy to follow. We park the Jeep and easily find the entrance to our apartment complex. The instructions were that under the mail slot we would find a key with a code and inside the lock box would be the key to get inside the apartment. But no matter how hard we look we can’t find the lock box; not at the door of the apartment, not at the main entrance, not anywhere. Fortunately, we did have the owner’s cell phone number, so I called it. It rings once and the owner tells me where we can find the key. Finally we are inside.  It was quite a long day, so it’s nice now to be able to plop down and get some rest.

The apartment is really nice. It was a last  minute booking and very cheap, so for us it’s  perfect. It is a one bedroom apartment with a fully equipped kitchen and a bathroom, one double bed and a sofa bed for Youri. We have a large ba6cony and – this is what makes it so special – it is located right on the beach. We could throw a stone into the water from our balcony. The complex has a pool and a central outdoor space and that’s the only thing between us and the ocean. The coast has a lot of black rocks. Right next to the resort is a beach where you can swim in the ocean. The water is so clear that from our balcony you can see the brightly colored fish swimming in the sea. The breaking waves of the surf were pretty high and very loud from the balcony. The weather is beautiful. At night we keep the balcony doors open to enjoy the sound of the surf.

The first day we enjoyed a bit of touring in our Jeep. The roof is designed to come off so we remove it and drive along the southern coast and enjoy a wonderful view overlooking the blue sea. The landscape is green and black. This is clearly a volcanic island. Everywhere you see hardened lava. In some areas it is completely black, molded into beautiful curved shapes. At others, there is no indication lava has ever flowed there or if it did is was so long ago that it it is now completely overgrown. Hawaii is very nice and green. We arrive at a beautiful bay where dolphins often swim. Unfortunately, not at the time we are there. It is regretable that a large part of the coast is difficult to reach for a swim. There is not much sand and the surf is often too strong for swimming or snorkeling; it’s only suitable for surfing. It’s not like that in every bay though. There are some areas that we feel would be nice to take a dip in., but not today.  Tomorrow we’ll look at a suitable beach.

We have read that north of Kona there is a beach we can use that actually belongs to a resort. We contact the beach guard and ask if we could use the beach. They are very friendly and give us a parking pass to it. We take a side road through the gate and arrive at a large parking lot where there is just one spot left. You are only allowed into the lot if there are parking spaces available, so we are lucky. We walk down a path through the lava rock, wondering where we will come out. As we turn, we suddenly come to the beach ….it’s breathtakingly beautiful. White sand, black rocks, palm trees for shade and a bay with clear blue water that is completely shielded by a section of the reef. Wow! This is a place where we can easily relax for a few hours! And because only a limited number of cars can access it it’s not too crowded. Youri and Michelle have fun in the water and playing in the sand. And we can even do some snorkeling on the edge of the reef. Time flies. As the sun begins to sink it’s now time to go. We are the last ones to leave the beach.

The next day we decide that we still want to see more of the island. This time we drive to the north. In a while we come to a macadamia nut factory. We want to visit here for a bit. We get a tour of the plant and a nice explanation of the journey a macadamia nut takes to go from the tree to a bag of macadamia nuts. They make macadamia nuts here with all kinds of flavors and we are encouraged to sample the various flavours as much as we want. During the tour they show us how to crack open the shell of a macadamia nut. Youri is of course very interested. He wears eye protection, puts the nut in the nut cracker, pulls the lever and CRACK. He eats the nut, mmmmm. At the end of the tour they sell ice cream and macadamia nuts. We  can also sample some Kona coffee. We enjoy the taste and, of course, we buy a few bags of nuts.

We continued our drive along the north coast. We’re interested in seeing the ‘real Hawaii’; small, simple homes dotted among tropical trees and palms. The landscape is becoming greener and greener so we know we’re approaching the rainy side of the island. I was surprised to read that it rains so much here in Hawaii. We are staying on the side of the island where it is mostly sunny during this time of year. However, there is the occational rain shower, but it doesn’t last long. On the other side of the island is where it rains a lot.

At Hilo, it rains about 285 days per year there and is one of the wettest cities in the U.S.A. The road eventually ends at the viewpoint overlooking the Pololu Valley. We look down from the high cliffs. A strong surf strikes onto the shore below us. The valley is green with many beautiful plants. Suddenly we get caught in a really hard rain shower. It came pouring down out of the blue. This is clearly the rainy side of the island. Luckily we had put the roof of the Jeep back up this morning.
Despite the rain, the view is beautiful and we enjoy it very much. We follow the road back the way we came. This time we take the road through the interior of the island. This is a wonderful route. Although it is cloudy it is still beautiful. When we get back to Kona, the weather is dry and sunny again. Kona is on the dry side of the island and benefits from being on that side of the boundary.

We’ve seen and done a lot these last few months. Now we have the opportunity to take 10 days to just relax. Youri enjoys the pool, and we all enjoy the time together. There is a wall built around the pool and the surrounding lawn, which is all that separates us from the ocean. Occasionally, the surf is so strong that it splashes up onto the wall.

After spending a relaxing day of doing nothing we decide to go to the city of Hilo, on the other side of the island. The island is quite big and takes us 2 hours to drive to the other side. We drove across the center of the island, along the mountain called Mauna Kea. We don’t see much because there’s a thick fog and rain. We’re happy that the weather at Hilo itself is slightly better. We visit the farmers market. Here, local farmers sell all kinds of fruits and vegetables. It smells wonderful with all sorts of herbs everywhere you look. There are several vegetables that I have not seen before, and the known species look different here than at home. I found a farmer selling a bunch of thin eggplants that were tied together. I bought a few and some other vegetables so we can cook them ourselves. Then we can eat something fresh for a change. At one stand, we saw delicious papaya that cost less than four for a dollar! We couldn’t pass that up, so we bought four. The lady was very friendly lady and she put them into a bag so Youri could carry them. I try it out to explain that the bag is too heavy for him and that I’ll carry them instead. The woman at the stand seems to understand what’s going on, so she picks up a papaya, puts it in a bag and gave it to Youri. “So,” she says, “now you can carry one too.”

We pick through all the stands and take away many large bags that are so heavy we have to drag them. Then we go another side of the market. Here they are selling mainly clothes and souvenirs. We find nothing in here to our liking. One man tried to sell us a bag of mini doughnuts after giving us a taste. We are hungry but not for this. It is time for lunch. We drive to Cafe 100, where they have the best “Loco Moco”. This is a local dish first invented on the request of a young couple who wanted something different and filling. Now the dish has the dubious honor of being the vendor’s speciality. Loco Moco is rice with hamburger, a fried egg and a big scoop of gravy on top. We usually try to order local dishes on our trip because it’s fun to try the foods the locals eat, and though Loco Moco doesn’t sound very tasty I must admit that it is very good.

We look around in Hilo and then drive along the coastal road. We follow a bit of a ‘scenic route’ and that’s no exaggeration. We drive through areas of tropical rainforest with so many beautiful plants and flowers; some that are normally seen in our living room. Occasionally we come to a stream or to a viewpoint overlooking the ocean. We stand on high cliffs, surrounded by tropical plants and watch the waves below pounding onto the rocks. We continue to follow the coastal road to Akaka Falls. A short walk through the forest brings us to an amazing waterfall that thunders down from a great height. We could use some rain coats with all the spray that comes off the falls. On the way back we drove past a viewpoint that overlooks the Waipi’o Valley, but this is unfortunately a bit of a disappointment. It starts to get dark, so we decide it’s time to head back to our apartment. By the time we get there it has been dark for quite a while.

The waves off the coast have been unusually high over the last few days, but their size has decreased somewhat today so we’re going to try out the beach. The waves are still high enough that you can surf on them. The North Sea is a smooth lake compared to what we see here. Once past the surf the water is calmer so I’m going to try and snorkel out there. While I’m jumping through the waves I suddenly see something floating next to me. Three times I have to look because I am not sure what it is I’m seeing. Then just next to me appears a great turtle! Now it’s really time to go snorkeling. But just as fast as it appeared, the turtle is quickly gone. I’m sad but there is still much to see underwater. Large and small fish of all colors. It’s nice to see fish from a distance off our balcony, but it’s exciting to see them up close now.

The surf is strong, so people have to be careful not to go too close to the rocks to swim. The temperature of the water is great – so warm. Marc and I will take turns snorkeling while Youri and Michelle play on the beach. I take some time for swimming with Michelle, which is nice. After this exciting adventure I place her in her buggy to sleep. Youri is not in the ocean because the surf is so big. We keep him on the beach building sand castles and digging holes. When Marc comes in from snorkeling he’s excited and shouting that he’s seen the turtle again and that it’s on its way back to the beach. He spents a long time alongside the turtle in the water.  I’m going out to a little snorkeling too.

When it was my turn again to go out snokeling past the surf I saw something swimming in the distance. Was I lucky enough to see the turtle Marc saw too? I swam out a bit and found it was indeed a turtle. It swam just in front of me, and then next to it appeared another turtle and then another behind it. Three turtles grazing with ease along the rocks on the bottom! They are headed for the shore. Occasionally, they swim to the surface to breathe. Then we are on the edge of the surf. Pushing through the waves each turtle emerges from the water. As the waves recede the turtles are sucked back a bit into the sea. They struggle to remain steady in the waves. The turtles are not afraid and don’t withdraw from me. I will not disturb them and so keep some distance between us. But the waves sometimes drift them close to me so I swim away a bit so I won’t touch them. I realize this is very special moment. I want to call out to everyone on the beach that there are turtles here, but at the same time I want to keep this moment all to myself. Just me alone with the turtles. I wish I had an underwater camera with me. Oh well, at least I’ll the memory for the rest of my life.

After our time at the beach is over we rinse the sand and salt off us and go back to the apartment. We decide to go to the pool for an hour, so Youri can also go swimming. At about 5 o’clock a few people come through the gate with food trays. That in itself is not surprising because anyone can use the barbecue on the patio. The people ask us if we would like to have dinner with them. We don’t know what to say so we don’t answer and just continue swimming. But soon other people arrive with more food trays and start to prepare the barbecue. I feel a little uncomfortable and in the way of all these people and their party. We’ve been in the sun for five hours already so it’s time we get out of the pool and dry off anyway. Marc was at a table doing some work with the computer (the Internet has the strongest signal out on the patio) and he also begins to gather up his belongings. By the time we are ready to go back up to the apartment quite a few people have arrived. Surprizingly, everyone asks if we can stay, but we tell them we have nothing to eat with us. To this everyone immediately objected and again asked us to stay.  We are still in our swimsuits, so we store politely decline the invitation. But on the way up to the apartment we both feel really bad. So we each take a quick shower and grab a bag of nacho chips and some spinach dip off the shelf and we go back down. We are warmly received. There is plenty to eat and it’s a mixed bunch of people. We discovered that during the afternoon the people had been out inviting all the residents to come to the barbecue tonight. But since we were not home we knew nothing about it. It’s good to see what nice people there are here. Some have come on holiday, but there are quite a few who own an apartment here and come down a few times a year or for one month even in winter. Everyone loves Youri and Michelle. Youri finds a true fan and has a dance with her.

The next day the weather at the beach is wonderful so we decide we’re going to go out there with Youri and Michelle for the day. Michelle also plays so well in the sand with the bucket, as you can see by the pictures.

Today we’re going to the south side of the island again, to Volcanoes National Park. This is two hours away, but this time round we have good weather, with no roof on the Jeep and with magnificent views along the coast. When we arrive at the park we first go to the visitor center, then begin our trek through the park to a viewpoint that overlooks a crater. A few meters away from us we look at a crack in the earth’s surface. There is a lot of steam. We have seen these before in some volcanic areas: Yellowstone, New Zealand, but … what makes this so special is the realization that you are standing on an active volcano. There is a lot of evidence that the last eruption was only a few years ago and that lava continues to flow today. Throughout the park, moving lava is flowing on a course that takes it outside the park and into the sea. At the viewpoint is a small museum and the seismograph is especially very interesting. It’s so sensitive that if you jump on the ground it registers on the graph, so you can find your own signature. So we do just that. We then make our way through the park and walk through a lava tunnel and take a walk on old lava rock. Getting back in the Jeep we continue to follow the road to the coast. The views are just spectacular but occasionally there are signs that say to keep your car windows closed because of too much sulfur in the air.

At dusk we drive to the place where the lava flows into the sea. This is another hour away from the Park. In the pitch dark we take a road that runs through an ancient lava flow and arrive at a parking lot. It’s 8 o’clock when we arrive and we’re the last car to arrive. They close at 10 o’clock. We get assigned a place where we can park the car and from there we walk. We take the flashlight and walk along a path carved through the lava. We don’t even need a flashlight because we can just follow the line of dancing lights of the other people we’re following. In the distance we see a red glow and a lot of steam. The view seems improved. We’re told that a few weeks ago the lava flowed over the road, but we see nothing more sinister here than plumes of steam. We find it very beautiful. We see the glow of flowing, boiling hot lava in the rising steam clouds. Within a few kilometers from where we are now the boiling lava is flowing into the sea. The very thought is impressive. We continue walking to the end of the path, watching the lava flowing into the sea for a while. Then we return to the car and drive back to the Park. At the first viewpoint you can now see the crack in the crater. You see a clear orange glow through the steam clouds. We realize we are looking into the interior of the earth. Now we really have to get back to Kona, it’s two hours away and it’s already 9 pm. Youri and Michelle enjoy a sleep in the car.

The next day is hot. It’s our last day here, so it doesn’t make much sense to sightsee any more. We plan on taking it easy today. But then Chris calls about something the U.S. Customs is concerned with concerning our truck; it’s difficult to understand what’s happening. There are many documents needed, so we have to fill in the forms and have each scanned somewhere and emailed off to them. When everything is settled, we go off shopping for some last minute souvenirs.