Big Island Hawaii

Number 50! Woo hoo! From March 8-16, 2008, Tracy and I went to the Big Island of Hawaii, and I finally checked the last state off my list! This completed a 13 year competition between Tracy and me, and I finally beat her…by one state! Now that I’ve won I guess I can break down and take her to Vermont. We flew out of Salt Lake really early on Saturday morning, and after connections in Oakland and Honolulu, we made it to Hilo. The airports in Hawaii were really cool, though. Much like everything in Hawaii, the airports were all open. There were walkways with no walls, and the baggage claim, ticket counters, car rental counters, and pretty much everything was completely open to the outside…that was a great first impression of the Pacific islands.

We took this trip with Chris and Stacia. We ran into them in Honolulu, but we were on different flights to Hilo, so we met up in Hilo after each of us got our rental cars. After that the plan was to explore around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park because we really wanted to see real, live lava. We had been watching the news, though, and there had actually been an eruption over the past several days, and the best place to see it was outside the park. So we got directions from the Hertz lady and headed out to see the lava. We made it there and realized the rest of the hemisphere had the same plan. Undeterred, however, we hiked 3.5 miles in the dark out to see the flowing lava. And it was awesome!  We were less than 5 feet away from the lava. After taking a bunch of blurry pictures, we hiked back to the cars. Since it was so late we tried to get a room in Hilo, but Hilo isn’t exactly a tourist mecca, so there were no available rooms. We then drove to Volcanoes, but we had been awake for right at 24 hours, it was the middle of the night, we had just hiked 7 miles after flying for 13 hours, and we just didn’t have it in us to set up camp, so we slept in the cars. Good times.

I woke up before everyone else the next morning, and just walked around the campground. It was dark when I woke up, and the stars were incredibly bright…they really seemed brighter than even down in the desert of southern Utah. The rain forest was also completely silent while it was dark, but then the sun rose, and the chorus of strange birds was incredible. The birds were just deafening, and it was great. Then the others woke up and we headed into the Park to check it out. We drove around the park, checking out the Kilauea crater…that was really incredible, also. The crater was just massively huge, which was really humbling to realize it was a volcano. We also hiked down into one of the smaller craters, Kilauea Iki, which was really cool, and then hiked into the Thurston lava tube…which made the lava tubes in Idaho look like pansies. Most of the Crater Rim Road was closed because of high sulfur levels from the recent eruption, so we drove to the end of Chain of Craters Road, took a short nap by the ocean, then headed out of the park. We ended up driving along the ocean outside of Hilo, finding even more hippies, and then going to Rainbow Falls. Rainbow Falls looked a lot like Ozone Falls back home, but we did get to watch some Buddhist monk using a megaphone, so that was fun. Then we got a hotel room in Hilo and bedded down for the night after walking around a small park in town.

Monday we circumnavigated the island. We checked out Akaka Falls, which was a really nice waterfall, and it wasn’t very crowded. Then we drove to Waimanu Valley. We didn’t hike down into the valley, and we couldn’t drive our rental cars down into it, but the valley was incredibly pretty. You could see Maui in the distance, and it was just really nice. Then we kept driving and made our way through Waimea and the green, green grass hills of northern Hawaii. This area was much different than we expected on the Island. The area around Hilo was rain forests, and this area was just green grasslands that looked like pictures of the Scottish Highlands…really cool. Then we went to the Pololu Valley on the very northern tip of the island, and hiked down to the beach…also very pretty. Tracy took a good tumble on some volcanic rocks. Then we just kept driving around the island and eventually made it to Kona where we checked in to our condo. The condo was really nice, and right on the ocean…we chose wisely.

Tuesday the four of us rented mountain bikes and went biking back up in the “Scottish Highlands” area outside of Waimea. We rode the Mana Road, and it was great. It was a dirt road, and we had it all to ourselves. It was steadily uphill for the several miles we went in, until we were just exhausted, and then we turned around and just flew back downhill…good times! In the evening the four of us went on a sunset cruise. That was really nice and relaxing. There were more people than I thought I would like, but it was still great. We also saw a few humpback whales while we were out.

Wednesday we went out to Anaeho`omalu beach north of Kona, and saw several sea turtles. We just spent some time reading and relaxing on the beach, and then we just spent the day driving around and checking out some other beaches.

Thursday we got up early and the four of us rented kayaks and snorkeling gear and went down to Kealakekua Bay north of Kona. It was pretty crowded down there, and Tracy took a good fall trying to get the kayaks off the car, but we had a really good time. We paddled across the bay to the Captain Cook monument, and on the way back we had the best luck: a school of spinner dolphins swam right by our kayaks, and even started jumping. That was awesome! I tried to get some pictures of them jumping, but I didn’t have my digital camera, and the cheap camera I had just wasn’t fast enough. But the experience was still cool. We didn’t do any snorkeling because the surf was rough and we’re wimps. Chris and Stacia did some snorkeling, though, and they said it was really cool. I think I want to take scuba lessons.

Friday Tracy and I got up bright and early and took a whale watching cruise. We had a good time doing that, and we got to see some great humpback whales. Afterwards, we hiked out over lava flows to Blue Lagoon. This was hands down the best beach we found in Hawaii. When we got there, we had the whole lagoon to ourselves, and it was just incredibly pretty. I could have spent days here. We also saw a lot of whales and dolphins breaching in the distance from here…really cool to see the huge splashes from the whales. Just check out the pictures to see how incredible this place was. In the evening the four of us went to a Lu’au…you know, because you have to when you’re in Hawaii. I thought it was pretty cheesy, but Tracy was glad we went.

And then on Saturday we checked out of the condo and started driving back towards Hilo. We checked out the southernmost point of the U.S. and hiked out to the not-so-green sands of Papakolea Beach. It was a nice hike, and the area was really pretty, with big waves on the ocean, but the sand wasn’t as green as we expected. Then we drove to the black sands of Punalu’u Beach, and then we headed back to Hilo. We walked around Hilo a little at night, not really wanting to leave, but Sunday came too fast, and we headed back home…after spending the night in Oakland because Delta cancelled our flight to Salt Lake.

But this was a great trip. And I got my fiftieth state! Hawaii was cool. I don’t know that we’ll go back while we’re still young and healthy, because it was so expensive, and there’s not quite as many active things to do as I like, but I’m sure we’ll be back someday. Another thing I learned on this trip was how useful geocaches can be. I loaded a bunch of geocaches, and this helped us find some of the best places in Hawaii. The best beach, the southernmost point, the green sand beach…the list goes on…the geocaches made all those places possible. So I’ll have to be sure to do that more often on trips like this.

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