This weekend we took a trip to Hawaii, the “Big Island,” and discovered that it’s very appropriately nicknamed. We barely drove half of it in the three days we were there. To be fair, we spent most of the first two days exploring and hiking around Volcanoes National Park, but we definitely didn’t have the extra 2 1/2 hours (one way) to drive to Kona the evening we thought about going over there. You can loop all of Oahu in 2 1/2 hours. That’s how much bigger that island is.
We flew on an early (5am) flight Friday to take advantage of the whole day (and flew back around 9pm on Sunday for the same reason). We rented a car in the airport and drove through Hilo, which was charming and had lots of little shops (not open at 7am, of course) before heading to Volcano and the park. Once there, it turned out to be such a beautiful day we pulled out our hiking boots and immediately started hitting some short trails. We took a short guided hike with one of the park rangers, and I’m glad we did because he pointed out which of the plants (and birds) are indigenous to Hawaii, and which areas of the park looked like Hawaii did before people brought in all of the “rainforest” plants that are everywhere now. The best hike we did on Friday was to Pu’u Huluhulu, which led to the top of an old cinder cone, the top of which provides a great view of the surrounding area, including the volcano that formed in the 1970s. We stayed at a camp (with cabins) inside the park and it got very chilly at night, so we used the fireplace (fun!).
Saturday we got up fairly early and did some longer trails (a couple of 1 1/2 mile trails and then a 5 mile loop). One was to a site where there are 500 to 700 year old petroglyphs that were amazing. We also walked through a very old and completely inactive lava tube, and then down a winding path to the floor of a caldera that about 50 years ago erupted as a lake of lava, but which is now about 400 feet thick of rock with a few steam vents. We walked partway out into the caldera and then doubled back rather than taking the long way back to the car because we wanted to drive around to the side of the island where you can see lava flowing into the ocean.
We got to the lava viewing area around sunset and discovered that the only way to see lava is to pay (a lot) for a tour to have a “guide” walk you out to it. That seemed a bit much, so we stayed in the main area where you could see the steam clouds rising above the spot where the lava is apparently gushing into the sea. We did see (at a loooong distance) a bright speck that was a lava burst waaaay up on the hillside, but that was about it. The stars out there were amazing, though.
Sunday we left the volcano area and drove back to Hilo, where we toured Mauna Loa Macadamias processing plant and visitor center, went to the Pana`ewa Rainforest Zoo and then went to about four or five waterfalls. It was beautiful. On the way back from the northern-most waterfall, we saw a detour that said “scenic drive,” so we took it and found the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, which was gorgeous, and full of tropical plant species from all over the world. It went down into a valley and eventually to a steep part of the coast with big waves crashing.Then we finished the drive and wound up back in Hilo for dinner, returning the rental car, and our flight home. The Big Island is, I think, the most beautiful island I’ve seen here. ^_^
(edit: apparently this post didn’t completely publish, and I don’t remember what I was saying, but at least I finished that last paragraph. Weird.)