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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hawaii 2009, Part 3: The Big Island

Todd and I traveled to Hawaii in November, 2009. We first went to Oahu, then spent a week aboard the Kona Aggressor II. Since our plane didn't leave until 10:30pm on Saturday, November 28, so we rented a car and took a little drive around The Big Island. As usual, we encountered some exciting things to do.

See the first parts of the trip:
Days 1-3 (Oahu)
Days 3-9 (Kona Aggressor II)

Day 10: Kona, Waimea, Waterfalls, Hilo and Kilauea
We departed the Kona Aggressor II on Saturday morning, and took our rental car around Kona. First things first: I had some geocaches that I needed to visit, since I had some Travel Bugs that I'd been carrying around for a while and needed to drop off. With that done, we headed on our tour of the island.

Just north of Kona, lava fields from an 1800s eruption

We had to be to Hilo by 12:45, so we started pretty early around the island. We took the northern route, which was both shorter and more scenic. Although, not at first. At first, just north of Kona, it was lava fields. And, strangely, an area in the middle of a lava field filled with resorts like Hyatt and Marriott.

Me, at a "scenic" overlook north of Kona

Once we turned east, we headed into the Waimea area. Waimea is interesting, because it's inland, and not at all what you would expect out of Hawaii. It is a ranch area, filled with cows and pastures and cowboys and pickup trucks. Hawaiian cowboys are called paniolos, and the story of the Parker Ranch is pretty interesting. John Palmer Parker was this guy who was brought in by King Kahmehameha I to tame the cattle on the island. And he did. Even more interesting, to be honest, is the story of David Douglas, the guy whom the Douglas Fir is named after. If you click on no other links this year, click on his story. It's messed up!!

Pasture in Waimea, Mauna Kea Volcano in the background

Once through Waimea, we headed around to the northern coast. It was much more lush than the rest of the Big Island where we'd spent time. The road along the coast was lovely, with ocean views, and waterfalls. I mean waterfalls! Like, hey, we're going around this curve and over this bridge and there's a WATERFALL right there next to the road! Waterfalls. So, we stopped to see one. This was Akaka Falls, an absolutely beautiful 420 foot waterfall just off of Highway 19. We hiked (this being a loose term, as it was all paved paths) down to the falls, just as it started to rain. Hilo (the town on this side of the island) is one of the wettest cities in the world, and the wettest city in the US, getting an average of 128 inches of rain per year.

Us, on our walk to Akaka Falls

The beautiful Akaka Falls

After our trip to the falls, we were hungry. We headed to a scenic drive along the ocean. This was still along our way to Hilo, just more scenic. The book suggested delicious smoothies at a place called What's Shakin', and we looked for it. We stopped at a place that seemed to have smoothies, but it ended up being called The Low Store (Note: that link is not in English). They didn't have the name on the outside of the building (I suspect because they wanted people to think they were What's Shakin, or maybe because it seemed like more of a local place than a touristy place anyway). There was a lovely Hawaiian woman there running the store. We had Kalua Pig Plate Lunch, complete with Kimchi on the side. Delicious! Our smoothies were delicious too, Todd had Mango & Guava, and I had Pineapple, coconut & mango. Yum! We talked to the lady for a few minutes about Baltimore, and Hawaii, and rain. She said that the town we were in, Pepe'ekeo, meant "crybaby" because of all of the rain.

We headed on our way, and passed the real What's Shakin'. And then -- ROAD CLOSED: BRIDGE OUT. You just never know what to expect in Hawaii, so we headed back and went the rest of the way on the main road (Highway 19).

We arrived in Hilo a little early, so spent some time on Banyan Drive. There was a park built there since the area there kept getting wiped out by tsunamis. So, they figured it was probably not a good idea to build there anymore. It had some lovely japanese gardens, and lots of Banyan trees that had been planted by celebrities such as Amelia Earhart, Babe Ruth and FDR.

Along Banyan Drive

And so, it was time to go to Hilo Airport for our helicopter ride. We met with the helicopter company, to take the "Feel the Heat" helicopter tour. This took us up in a Hughes 500 helicopter with the DOORS OFF above the volcano. We toured the lava fields, the caldera, and got a close up view of the liquid hot magma going right into the Pacific. We were in the front seats, me next to the pilot and Todd on the outside, hanging out the door of the copter with his camera (there was another couple in the back, too).

Boarding the helicopter

It was tiny inside

The fields of the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Company. The taller trees are wind blocks, to keep the heavy winds from doing bad things to the Macadamias.

Me in the helicopter

Kilauea Caldera

The house of the Royal Gardens Community. It's owned by Jack Thompson, who has to hike two miles over lava fields to get a propane refill. He had just finished his house when the volcano started erupting and has refused to leave. It's now been over 20 years, and there is no way to get to his house except to hike over lava. Note on the link above: it states there are TWO residents of Royal Gardens, but it is out of date, Dean Schneider's house was destroyed on October 19, 2008.

The lava is currently flowing into the ocean.

Liquid hot magma hitting the ocean

Approaching Hilo airport for our return

After the helicopter ride. The yellow things around our waist are inflatable life vests, in case of a water "landing"

After our helicopter ride, it rained again, and then we headed up to Rainbow Falls to see what there was to see.

Palms in Hilo

Rainbow Falls, truly looking like paradise.

And so, it was time to head back to Kona for our flight home. We traveled back the way we came, passing waterfalls. We stopped at What's Shakin' for more smoothies (still awesome, but their lunch food was not true Hawaiian, just burgers and things, so I suggest the Low Store for Hawaiian food and What's Shakin for smoothies, although both had tremendous smoothies, so just get one from each place like we did).

Then, we were hit by a GIANT rainstorm that made it difficult to drive. But, we made it. We headed back through Waimea, and stopped at Huli Sue's for AMAZING Barbeque for dinner. Really, really delicious ribs.

Alas, it was time to head to the airport, so it was back to Kona to return the rental car and wait for our flight. We had an annoying itinerary home - from Kona at 10:30pm local time to San Francisco (landing at something like 5:15am local time). We had enough time in San Francisco to walk to the next flight and get directly on the plane - it was boarding when we got there. Then, on to Denver, where we got on another plane an hour later and headed to Baltimore, finally touching down in Baltimore at 4:30pm Eastern. It was a long day, so we slept for a long time.

It was a wonderful trip, full of so much. Not the most relaxing in the world, though. Beautiful, wonderful, and busy.

Ah, Hawaii...

Hawaii (Big Island) 2009

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