July 22, 2009

Hawaii - The Big Island (Hilo & Volcano)


On Wednesday, we took an island-hopper flight over to Hawaii Island, flying into Hilo, on the east coast. The plan was to spend a couple of days checking out Hilo and Volcano National Park, and then drive across Hawaii to the west coast (Kona side) to finish off the trip beaching it on a resort. We really enjoyed the Big Island. It is incredible that the whole island is made of five volcanos at varying stages of their "lives." The volcanoes and Volcano National Park were even better than we expected, and the Hilton Waikoloa Resort was an over-the-top and terrific way to finish.

First of all, Hilo is a great place. Set on a bay with terrificly lush forrests in view, but also at the feet of the volcanos. Very green. Very sleepy. Hilo, in fact, is the rainiest city in the U.S., but the kind of soft sweet misty rain that you really don’t mind. And with its continuous pattern of rain-sun-rain-sun (we didn't think it was possible for weather patterns to change this quickly and often!), its great for rainbows.

We started our afternoon in Hilo at the famous Farmer's Market and wandering around town and checking out the wares. We scored some delicious honey samples, and ended up buying some some lemonade, three varieties of salsa and a bag of chips, which served as our picnic lunch in Liliokalani Park.

The park had a Japanese garden (not our main area of focus; we had seen plenty of those!), great views of Hilo Bay, and some amazingly old Banyan Trees, with massive canopies and meandering roots and vines. (The kids main focus was on a group of teenage kids who were taking leaping dives and flips off of a nearby bridge and into the water.) Just a great spot to eat chips and salsa.

On our way from Hilo to the town of Volcano, we made two nice little stops. First we hit the Big Island Candy Company, serving up free samples (which Jacob fittingly refers to as "tasters") and packaged omiyage delights, which seemed specifically designed for our Japanese tourist friends. Afterward, we stopped at the Mauna Loa Plantation, where they harvest and make those tasty macadamia nuts. (Free samples - er, tasters - too.) We bought some delicious macadamia nut-filled Hersey Kisses, which are apparently only available in Hawaii.

As we made the 40 minute or so drive to Volcano, we entered into a rain forest. Soon afterward, we entered into the Volcanoes National Park and drove to the visitor center and a bit further in to check it out. The weather was flip-flopping between sunshine and rain. We saw some of the endless black lava fields (incredible), active steam vents, and a large crater with smoke billowing out. It was truly an amazing sight to see in real life, and pictures just do it no justice.

On our way out we saw a full end-to-end rainbow arching over the crater. What an incredible incredible place, unlike any we’ve ever been before. (We must have had low expectations, because we were both just blown away by how cool it is!)

Afterward, we checked into our temporary residence for the next couple of days, the Volcano Guest House. What a terrific find! (We actually high-fived after check-in! We might have to become professional vacationers…). We have our own two-floor cottage in the rain forest far off the beaten path, but within minutes drive of the National Park. It includes our own kitchen, a small living room, a hot tub, electric bed warmers, a TV and DVD player with kids books and movies. Next door is a breakfast/snack house. Wow. And the rain is so good for sleeping . . . .


Thursday was our main day to explore Volcanoes National Park. To do this, we had planned a guided mountain biking tour (with the kids on trailer bikes) of the National Park. It started with an awesome lecture at the Visitor Center where were learned all about the five volcanoes (all at different phases of life and two of which are overdue for eruption!) that make up Hawaii and one more that is on the way. We also learned that Mona Loa is the biggest mountain and volcano in the world – at 56,000 feet to its bottom. We learned about the two types of lava rock, the smoother pahoehoe and jaggy ahah. (Geology tends to be a lot more interesting when you are surrounded by volcanoes.)

The 14 mile guided bike ride through the park was an awesome way to see the park. It took us from steam vents to pit craters to lava tubes to tuft cones to endless lava flow fields. It was raining on and off – in that Hilo misty-ness, but that was no problem. The tour ended at a beach at the end of a huge lava field, where we ate our lunch. We are thrilled that we saw the National Park this way.

Here we are near the entrance to a lava tube:

Exploring lava that had wrapped around trees:

Lava and lava fields:

That evening, we drove outside the park and down to the coast, where lava has been flowing into the sea since 1984. We got there at sunset and hiked over black lava badlands to get to the viewing point. Amazingly, there are houses on these lava fields - people actually live there! Again we saw an end-to-end rainbow arching its way across the sky. And the huge steam plumes of the lava flow were visible from quite a distance away. As the sun set, you could make out the black lava shooting up in the steam and as darkness came, it was red explosions of lava. Quite a majestic and amazing sight! Later, we (and hundreds of others) hiked back over the lava fields in the dark by flashlight.


krishna kashyap av said...

Looks spectacular..
The place is simply great..
As close to nature..
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dyana said...

Good family blog.....

thanks for sharin with us......


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Alexis Jacobs said...

Looks like an amazing vacation. How beautiful the Big Island is!

reshma M said...
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