Tuesday, February 27, 2007

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San Francisco
The Big Island
The Redwoods and Oregon

Hawaii -- The Big Island

We flew to Kona on February 5 on a last minute flight and immediately enjoyed great snorkeling right in the middle of town. You may know that the Iron Man Triathlon is held in Kona each October but what you probably don’t know is that about 20 feet off shore from where they start the swimming race is fantastic snorkeling! We were amazed that is was so accessible. There are tons of healthy coral, tropical fish and a few sea turtles readily available for the viewing right there. Some of the highlights we saw were a Hawaiian lobster, a huge moray eel, three or four sea turtles, and an octopus. Michelle enjoyed picking all out all of the fish from Finding Nemo. We went snorkeling several times in that spot and had a blast each time.

The thing we were both most anxious to see was hot flowing lava. The Big Island is home to the world’s most active volcano, Kilauea. It’s about 100 miles from Kona to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park so we made the drive in the morning and that afternoon hiked out to see the lava. To see the lava you drive down to where the lava has covered up the road, park your car, the ranger asks you if you have flashlight and water, then tells you to “Have fun!”, then you hike out about 4 miles over a giant lava field. There aren’t any signs or guides out there to let you know where to go. So, we just walked toward the giant plume of steam where the lava was pouring into the ocean.

About two miles into our hike we saw some smoke about 1/2 mile away so we walked over to check it out and caught our first glimpse of red-hot lava. It was a very slow pahoehoe flow that crept along at about the speed of cold honey. Every now and then the silvery outer skin of one of the blobs would break and red-hot lava would gush out. It was here that we realized it is hard to tell the difference between the hot lava and the cold lava during daylight hours because the silvery skin that forms around the hot lava looks an awful lot like the solid(?) rock we were hiking on. We were amazed at the potential hazards all around us and were a little more cautious for the rest of the hike. When we got out to the two spots where the lava was really pumping into the ocean it was just getting dark. Visually, the lava really comes alive at night because you can see the glow so well. We stopped about 150 feet from the flow to watch and at that point the rocks we were standing on were HOT. The rock all around us had cracks that were issuing steam and even more heat. One guy near us melted his backpack when he set it down to take a picture! We stood and watched the lava and the ocean washing back and forth. It was one of the most impressive natural sights we both have ever witnessed and definitely the hottest!

The four-mile night hike back to the car over the lava rocks was cumbersome but really enjoyable because the stars were so bright and there was lava everywhere! We were really surprised because we had seen only the one surface flow during the day. Once it was dark we could see it all the way up the mountainside to our right and along the sea cliffs to our left. It looked like a lot like a forest fire and was all around us in the distance. Needless to say this is a must see; we loved it! The rest of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park consists of steam vents, some big craters that were giant lakes of lava within the last century, including one that was liquid for one hundred years up until 1959 (That would have been incredible to see!), and a lot of lava fields.

We drove over to Hilo on the east side of the island and picked up some groceries. Hilo didn’t seem to have a lot to offer to tourists so we didn’t spend much time there. South of Hilo we stopped at Lava Trees State Park which (true to its name) has lots of lava trees. It is nestled in a lush beautiful rainforest dominated my monkey pod trees which provide a serene canopy. Lava trees are formed when hot lava hits a very wet tree and cools before the tree is completely consumed. They look like termite mounds and range from four to ten feet in height. Near there we went swimming in a volcanically heated freshwater spring. It’s a manmade pool that was cold when it was built, but a few years later something shifted underground and it started pumping out warm water. It was neat because it is partially fed by the sea so there are lots of tropical fish. Matthew snorkeled around while Michelle basked in the warmth. The pool is between 90 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit so you really never get to warm or too cold in it.

Unfortunately this is where Michelle had her first bee sting, we suspect from one of the giant black Hawaiian bumble bees. She was sitting on a rock with the water almost up to the tops of her shoulders when she felt a little tickle on her neck. When she tried to scratch it she felt something fuzzy and flicked it away but not before it left its 2mm stinger in her neck. She never saw the bee. Luckily the sting was on the side that is still numb from surgery so it wasn’t extremely painful. We were worried that she might be allergic because it was her first bee sting but it just swelled up a little and itched and burned a bit. All in all it was an interesting way to get your first bee sting.

After our adventures with the volcano and the bee we returned to Kona for some more snorkeling and to soak up the sun during our last few days in Hawaii. We briefly visited a cloud forest just north of Kona which was very beautiful and lined with many sizeable estates. Just south of Kona, we went to see Pu’uhonua o Honaunau Place of Refuge National Historical Park. It is essentially a site that has several foundations of old Hawaiian temples and other buildings that have now been restored. There is a stone wall there that was built in the 1500s which separates the area where the Hawaiian royalty lived from the place of refuge. It had a really nice picnic area where we stretched out and took a nap on some nice white sand beneath coconut trees shimmering in the breeze. It was screen saver worthy.

We flew back to San Francisco on February 14 where we enjoyed a nice hot shower and a peaceful night’s sleep.


We arrived in Kahului, Maui on January 22, rented a PT Cruiser (with which Matthew had a varying love/hate relationship throughout the trip) and headed to Costco. One of the things everyone should know about Hawaii is that Costco and Wal-mart are the only places in the state where you can get mainland prices on most items. This is a great blessing for the frugal traveler, especially on Maui, where the prices are noticeably higher than on both O’ahu and the Big Island, which in themselves are already much higher than back home.

The first stop was the Iao Needle which is basically a big rock that sticks up in the middle of the Iao Valley and everything around it has eroded away and has been replaced with lush vegetation. It was a nice place to do some short hikes. One of the bloodiest battles in Hawaiian history was fought at this place between King Kamehameha and one of the Maui chiefs. (It eventually became apparent after learning some Hawaiian history that killing each other in horrifying ways seemed to be one of the ancient Hawaiian’s favorite past times.)

Kihei, south of Kahului, had some great beaches that we enjoyed several times while on Maui. It was there we tasted our first Maui Gold Pineapple—amazingly sweet and delicious, and Matthew showed off his skills as a body surfer using the techniques of Duke Kuhanamoku (a legendary surfer). We should have taken a picture of this but we were both in the water. There were lots of people in the water trying to body surf and they were all staring at Matthew in amazement because he can catch pretty much any wave he would like. You will have to ask him to divulge his secrets as the internet is not really a sacred enough place to pass on those details.

Aside from excellent body surfing, Kihei, and really the whole south side of Maui, offered great whale watching. We saw whale activity about any time we glanced at the ocean. This was really a highlight. Some of the whales would breach (jump up out of the water) over and over again, others preferred slapping their massive side flippers or tail fins in the water, and of course there were plenty just surfacing to get a breath of fresh air. It really was amazing to see so many in such a small place and at such close range. Those buggas are huge!

Lahaina was the next town we spent time in. It is an old whaling town and has a lot of interesting history and quirky shops. The thing that Lahaina is famous for is a very large banyan tree that covers a whole city park. It is the largest banyan tree in the U.S. and it is very impressive. For those who may not know (Michelle didn’t) a banyan tree is a tree that grows vine-like roots that drop down from the branches. Once these vines touch the ground they grow into the ground and form another trunk so it allows the tree to have branches stretching out a long way from the central trunk, appearing to be a network of connected trees; only it’s really all one big plant. They are really cool because they have lots of leaves growing thickly. At night tons of myna birds roost in the tree making a huge amount of noise and a lot of bird poo, which you have to look out for. So, we enjoyed some time relaxing beneath the banyan tree. We thought we saw Tarzan living under the tree only later to realize that it was Lahaina’s own beloved Bible-thumping, Hawaiian bum who just hadn’t shaven for about 10 years. Our mistake!

Pa’ia was a nice place to visit, just east of Kahului. This town has a lot of alternative shops like the Hemp House and is supposed to have a lot of interesting people walking around, though we didn’t see anything too freaky. Near Pa’ia is Ho’okipa Beach. This is where serious windsurfers do their thing in Hawaii…although they might just be seriously insane. We enjoyed an afternoon watching these guys brave some of the biggest surf we saw the whole time we were in Hawaii. The surf is shown in this picture (left) but it really doesn't do justice to its intensity. There were about eight professional windsurfers out there braving the waves and of those only one lasted the afternoon without getting pounded and separated from his equipment. A couple guys even had to come in to grab a spare sail or board because theirs had been ravaged by the surf. There were also a couple of kite boarders out there, one of which was demolished within the first 20 seconds of his ride. It was really amazing to see the power of Mother Nature and the insanity of some people. We guess they know what they are doing…right?

Haleakala National Park covers the highest part of the island, the Haleakala volcano standing at just over 10,000 feet. You can drive right to the top of this mountain on paved road the whole way, which is great (should have rented that Lotus). We were really excited to do some hiking in and around the crater at the top of the volcano…that is, until we got out of the car. At the upper visitor’s center, which is just a couple hundred feet below the summit, the wind was roaring at 50-60 mph and the temperature was around 40 degrees. So you get out of your car wearing every piece of clothing your brought to Hawaii (not much), a few clouds zip by covering you in dampness and then you just let the wind literally blow your body into the visitor’s center, being careful not to let it blow you right over the guard rail at the edge of the crater. It quickly became apparent that we didn’t have the right gear to do much of any hiking in those conditions. But, even if we didn’t get to do any hiking at that elevation, we did enjoy a beautiful sunrise from 10,000 feet (see slide show for lots of pictures). It was worth the drive and we were lucky enough to secure a front row spot in front of the visitor’s center window (inside where it’s warm).

The Hana Highway drive is either something you love or something you hate. If you like constant turning, one lane bridges and endless lush green this is your thing. If you like straight roads you should probably let someone else drive. Lucky for us Matthew loves a good driving adventure. The Hana Highway is the road between Kahului and Hana (the biggest town on the east side, and that’s not saying much) and is about 54 miles long though it takes 2 1/2 to 3 hours to drive it. It is famous for waterfalls and beautiful landscapes of the jungle next to the sea. We took a whole day to do the drive, starting at 8 a.m. from Kahului, and I think this is recommendable. We were able to stop along the way and see almost everything we were interested in, which included nearly a dozen waterfalls, waves pounding on lava rock, hikes through bamboo forest and some natural caves. There is a lot of natural beauty along that highway. Once in Hana, we enjoyed the Hana Bay Beach Park and the General Store (which has an assortment of about anything you can think of.)

South of Hana, we camped in Haleakala National Park in its little slice that extends from the top of the volcano down to the ocean. We pulled up in the dark, set up our tent in a nice grassy spot, climbed in to read for a bit and sleep for the night. Shortly thereafter the rain started and got harder and harder until it was a torrential downpour. Michelle has never been in rain like that in her life and Matthew’s comparable experience was when he was living in Sydney, Australia. It sounded like five garden hoses were aimed at the tent spraying full blast and lasted from about 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. The thing that made this experience interesting rather than horrifying was that the tent withstood it all. We were perfectly dry the whole night! The next morning when we got out to survey the damage there wasn’t even a single puddle on the ground. We later found out that that area gets about 400 inches of rainfall per year and that volcanic rock is really good at absorbing water because it is so porous. So the secret to camping in this area is a super rain fly—luckily we had one! While in the park we did a beautiful hike through rain forest to see a 400 foot waterfall.
Also south of Hana, we saw Charles Lindbergh’s grave, visited a red sand beach, lounged next to Venus Pool, which is a spring fed/sea fed pool at the edge of the ocean with beautiful clear water, and did some beach combing in hopes of finding a Japanese glass float. We found plenty of foam and plastic but no glass. The Big Island Some of you may know that we didn’t originally plan to go to the Big Island at all. We made this decision after two weeks on Maui, when we decided we had seen everything there and wanted to see more. It was a good thing too because the Big Island ended up being our favorite of the three, though they are all fantastic.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Rest of Oahu

Picking up where we left off . . . Thursday we spent a full day at the Polynesian Cultural Center at BYU Hawaii in La’ie where we saw cool presentations and dancing at the little "villages" they have set up representing each of the major south pacific island nations. It's like you just traveled from one country to the next as you walk from one village to the next. It was really fun seeing everything from guys climbing coconut trees like monkeys with nothing but a lava-lava and a little rope for their feet to fetch coconuts, to fire dancing (both of which were Samoan), but all the other village presentations were unique and interesting as well.

These were some of the other highlights on O’ahu: a hike out to Ka’ena Point, the western most point of the island, where we saw a couple of endangered Hawaiian monk seals and several albatross nesting; the filming location of Lost, the TV show (we don’t watch the show so this was more exciting for my sister Megan than it was for us); and driving the H-3 highway between Kane’ohe and Honolulu (it is “arguably one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the U.S,” being very green and lush with towering mountains.

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