1. This trip report, via captions to photos, is mostly meant for trip planners ... thus I will go into details that may assist others overwhelmed by the myriad choices of what to see and do on the Big Island. I use TripAdvisor heavily, but I also rely on guidebooks. The Lonely Planet guide turned out to be most useful ... it was organized better than the Revealed book and listed a lot more interesting offbeat activities that "Revealed" never even mentioned. The "blue book," however, still has the better maps (with mile markers) and that's mostly how I used it. The Revealed book (as of the spring of 2012) now also has an iPhone app that was handy for finding places quickly. You can tap in your location and a GPS function will list all nearby things, in increasing distances away from where you are in that moment. Overall, though, this app was disappointing. It was short on activities and very long on restaurants and shops, leading me to wonder whether shops paid a fee to be listed - just a hunch.
2. My wife, son (now 18) and I all adore snorkeling and more than anything else, that was the reason we went to Hawaii for the third time in six years - first to Maui, then to Kauai ... and then this trip, 15 days on the Big Island. I am a high school biology teacher, my wife is a high school psychologist - and thus we have our summers off ... so we have the luxury of being able to travel for extended times when we can afford it. ... The Snorkel Hawaii book by the Malinowskis is very helpful for figuring out the best entry and exits and for where to swim for observing the best coral reefs. I use the CR ecology book more as a reference for looking up something I am curious about, once home from a Hawaii trip. The book to the right is just fun to use right after coming back from snorkeling to answer fish identification questions. I got to snorkel ten different times ... my wife and son, a few less.
3. I bought several Hawaii history books for this trip via Amazon, but found the one on the left (by Herb Kawainui Kane) to be most useful for me, maybe because it's a very easy read at only 109 pages and has many colorful drawings. I highly recommend it before a trip to the BI - it will give you a great background for any historical sites you may visit. ... The DVD pictured in the center is only about 90 minutes and was also very helpful. ... The book on the right by Gavan Daws is a very detailed look at Hawaii history (almost 400 pages, no drawings or photos) from when Captain Cook arrived in the late 1700s to the time of copyright, 1968. I did not read all of this book, not because it wasn't good ... I just ran out of time - too many papers to grade, always! ... And yes, I am a hopeless bibliophile who buys more books than I could ever fully read - though sadly, this recognition never seems to dent my book-buying habits ... I'm not sure I'll ever change! :)
4. With fifteen full days to explore the Big Island, we chose to spend four days in Volcano, and ten in the South Kohala area. ... We flew into Hilo and arrived in the evening. We flew back out of Hilo as well. It's worth considering flying into either Hilo or Kona and back home from the other airport, to save time driving back to the first airport. I looked into that, but it would add cost to our car rental ... as well as at least $150 per person for the flight. A few hours of driving from the Kohala coast back to Hilo our last day was not a problem. ... For the last few years, we have been, whenever possible, staying in condos or houses. They give us so much more space, allow our son his own bedroom (and keep his messes blessedly out of our sight!), and give us a full kitchen. We stayed at this house, called "Volcano Hale Mauka" as listed on vrbo.com (vacation rentals by owner). It was surrounded by ferns and it felt at all times like we were immersed in a rain forest. Just a positively lovely setting!
5. The owners have done a beautiful job of decorating, with solid woodwork and high end appliances. My wife really enjoyed the decor, as did I. My son enjoyed the congas you see to the right. They also had all sorts of things you might want - bikes, kayaks, coolers, snorkels, boogie boards, beach chairs, and so on. After several years of renting homes and condos - and using motels only when necessary for one night stays - we are completely sold on the concept. Of course, you have to factor in a cleaning fee and amortize that into the overall cost. The owners in our case waived the cleaning fee since we were there five nights. The cost then, before taxes, was $135 per night, less than many motels with far less room to spread out. ... Sold!
6. The house had a very nice long front porch, with this comfy swinging chair. ... Since we are "outside" here in this photo, I'll talk about the weather we encountered the four days we were in Volcano. I must have taken these photos one of the few times it wasn't cool and drizzly. I knew it would be this way before we arrived and had warned my wife and son, but still, it was indeed quite rainy! I have been to several rain forests in Central and South America, besides Maui and Kauai, so I fully accept that to have lush rain forest, yes, it does have to rain often. We woke up to rain every single one of our five mornings there, which we actually enjoyed quite a lot ... with the windows open, all you hear is rain splashing against the ferns, a memorable experience. The middle of the day was more erratic .... moments of drizzle or pouring rain, punctuated by brief spots of sun. Some shop owners told us it was unusually rainy for the middle of summer. Winter is supposed to be rainier than summer.
7. The house had a back room for a dining area, which my dear wife, sort of let me set up for a makeshift "office," where I could spread out my journal, guidebooks, photography stuff and so on. I have quite pleasant memories of that spot, with the windows open, listening to bird calls.
8. Here's the view right outside that dining area ... we thought the first day that we might "live out there" in those two chairs, but with the incessant rain, the front porch did the trick instead. If you are on the BI for a week, I would recommend just one or two nights in Volcano at the most, perhaps three nights if you have ten days or more and you really enjoy hiking and/or just enjoy volcanos. Many people do make a day trip over from the west coast of the island, but that is a LOT of driving for just a few hours of visiting time. If you are really looking to explore Hawaii Volcanos National Park, I would certainly recommend staying in Volcano (there are some really nice hotels, as well, as house rentals) over Hilo. Hilo is only 45 minutes away, but why not be right there, at the national park's doorstep? It's also much easier to adjust your plans based on the rain, if you are only staying five minutes away from the park's entrance.
9. This is one of the main sights within the national park, the Halema'uma'u Crater. There's a lava lake deep within the crater that releases a constant flow of gases. This view is best seen from the nearby Jaggar Museum. The Crater Rim Drive currently ends right there, at the museum. Other times, the whole circumference of the loop road is apparently open for visitors. The NP adjusts roads being open or not based on safety considerations.
10. This is the glow that people show up for in the early evening. Visitors show up an hour or so before sunset and the crowd can get pretty thick as darkness draws near. I should have prepped my wife and son better than I did ... they were unimpressed with this glow, mostly I think because they expected - or at least hoped - to see active lava flowing and cooling, as seen in glossy guidebook photos and travel brochures. When tourists are there at the opportune time, those views can be seen up close, but I had done enough reading to know it wasn't going to happen like that on this trip. It's very hit or miss ... and it may be several years or so between moments like that - and then, from what I understand, those opportunities might only last a few weeks or months at the most. So I suggest going to the NP website several times as your trip approaches and check in with current volcanic activity ... and then prepare your whole family accordingly. ... All that being said, HVNP still offers many wonders!
11. There are some very interesting displays about seismic activity and vulcanism at the Jaggar Museum visitor center ... and rangers there to answer any and all questions. This photo shows a display a ranger was showing visitors ... it's "Pele's hair," a geologic term for glass threads that form from small bits of lava that are thrown into the wind. Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, as you will quickly enough learn once in the park. She is discussed often by rangers and she shows up prominently in local artwork.
12. The main visitors center, right at the entrance to the park, has this very helpful three dimensional display of the island. The two large snow covered peaks (snow covered only in the winter months, as I was a bit disappointed to learn when we arrived in July!) are Mauna (Hawaiin for mountain) Loa to the left and Mauna Kea to the right. The town of Hilo is along the eastern edge you see to the right. The current active flow area is the darker brown splotch to the lower right. You can see that roads approach the area from the west (Chain of Craters Road) and the east (Highway 137). Both abruptly stop ... so if you want to get closer, you have to hike in - either with a guide or solo. We did not do this ... the hike is about 6 miles one way over very sharp lava rock - there's no real trail. Sounded sort of brutal to me ... and then there's still no guarantee you would see flowing lava up close. You can of course have a much better chance of seeing some active lava with a helicopter ride.
13. I took this from a gallery room inside the Volcano Art Center, which is right next to the visitor center. The building itself is housed in a historic lodge from the late 1800s. It's a non-profit gallery and has rotating exhibits from local artists. I thought the artwork was very high quality and enjoyed perusing the treasures there. It's one of several options to have "in your backpocket" in case it's raining! I'll discuss a few more in a bit.
14. OK, well finally, let's start hiking! I'll order the ones we (or I ... often I wake up early and do a hike or short hike before my wife and son even awake) did in order of priority ... in other words, the ones I think you should consider first are mentioned first. The top hike with a big payoff for time spent is Kilauea Iki, combined with a short spur to the Thurston Lava Tube. If you're going to do one hike only ... and can handle a relatively easy (or moderate perhaps) hike of four miles round trip (about 2 1/2 - 3 hours, depending on how leisurely you make it), this is it. If you cannot hike - or are lacking the time - these sorts of overlooks can still give you glimpses of what HVNP is all about. ... That diagonal faint whitish line you see in the center of the photo is part of the trail. You walk across a huge relatively flat lava flow from 1959. ... And that puff of gases in the distance is what I showed in photo #9.
15. Here's my son Tyler adding size perspective (thanks, bud!) at the entrance to the Thurston Lava Tube. It's only a few moments' walk from the road and you can access this even if you're not doing the Kilauea Iki trail ... that trailhead is right across the road from this lava tube. It's pretty short - you can walk the whole thing and back in just 4-5 minutes and it's flat.
16. The tube is well lit and can get crowded for sure when the tourist buses are dumping off their loads of visitors. You used to be able to explore further on your own with a flashlight, but they had that access fenced off when we were there. Awww, we were ready with our headlamps! ... Lava tubes form when the outside of a huge lava flow cools on the outside because it's exposed to the cooler air. The hotter lava inside continues to flow inside the tube, but eventually the flow ends, leaving a very "cool" tube to walk through years later.
17. The next six photos were all taken from the Kilauea Iki trail, the most popular hike within HVNP. It's a loop trail, and I don't think it makes much difference whether you go clockwise or counter. We went to the left (clockwise) ...so the beginning of our hike went across the mile-wide crater that you see a portion of here (photo #14 gave a better look from a lookout above). The small tree you see here is an Ohi'a tree, very commonly seen on this trail and around the whole park. It can colonize a lava field, and can thus be an early part of a biology concept called succession, where plants move in to new land in waves, based on their adaptations ... and they gradually alter the land as time marches on. Sorry ... I can't quite turn off my "teacher mode!" We saw these Ohi'a (pronounced something like "oh HE huh").
18. If you are going to be spending several days in HVNP and enjoy plants, it might be worth adding this app to your smart phone - "Explore Kilauea Plants" by Fire Work Media ... it's quite good! It has good photos, a paragraph description for each plant, and best of all, as soon as you tap on the plant, it pronounces the plant for you! So cool! The same company also has a companion app, called "Explore Kilauea Volcano" which I just discovered today, as I write these captions! It must be brand new. There is a virtual hike with panoramas embedded within ... a wonderful use of technology! ... Here are closeups of the Ohi'a flowers, called lehua, which are commonly used in lei ... the flowers are sacred to Pele.
19. I took this photo from the far end of the loop. This is one of the best aspects of this trail. You walk past all these huge broken lava chunks and the devastation from 1959 doesn't feel all that long ago. The trail is safe and easy to follow with small cairns (little rock piles) along the way to mark the path.
20. This is Japanese Anemone, which we found much of on the far end of the trail. It's an escaped ornamental plant from China originally. I found the seed pods - which you can see several of in the bottom of the photo - interesting.
21. Kahili Ginger .... the bright yellow flowers are especially fragrant ... there was a vase of these flowers awaiting us when we walked into our house rental and the sweet perfume filled the kitchen. Unfortunately, it is non-native and is choking out native plants from wetter areas ... and is thus seen as a serious pest. Park personnel are trying to rip out as many of these plants as possible ... but it looks like they are fighting a losing battle, as we saw quite a few of these plants.
22. My wife Ginger spotted some of these unique fern fiddleheads before I did and she practically jumped out of her hiking boots, so excited was she to point them out to me ... we both became enamored with these uluhe ferns. The whole stem can reach two or three feet tall before the coiled fiddlehead unfurls. They just look so wonderfully odd when you first see them. We saw this plant frequently on other trails, so they are quite common, but that first moment of personal "discovery" is memorable! I'll show you later what the plant looks like after it grows its leaves. ... And yes, indeed, I love plants! I am a pretty serious gardener. If you would like to take a look, I have a web album of our backyard plants, arranged roughly by seasons. Go to the "my photos" tab in the far upper left corner of the page and that will take you to my other web albums. You'll find an album of our gardens there.
23. The next six shots are all taken from "Chain of Craters" road, a must do, even if you have very limited time in the park. There are many stops along the road to see craters along the way. We did not do too many stops because it was raining pretty hard as we began this drive ... but rain often means rainbows, as you see here.
24. Near the end of the road is the Pu'u Loa petroglyphs trail. It is less than a mile to walk to the boardwalk you see here and what you end up at is the largest concentration of petroglyphs (rock etchings) in the state. Native Hawaiians lacked written language, so these etchings served as some sort of a way to connect to ancestors or communicate with their gods ... take a look yourself and decide what they mean - that's part of the fun of seeing them. You can see several in the lower edge of the photo.
25. Here are a few more designs. Native Hawaiians arrived from southern Pacific islands roughly around two thousand years ago. It is not difficult to imagine as you walk this short trail how very hard it must have been for them to eek out an existence on this land.
26. The small dimpled depressions you see here - called cupules - were places where native Hawaiians placed the umbilical cord stumps of their recently born children. It was then covered with stones and was meant to seek the longterm health of their child.
27. Near the end of Chain of Craters Road is an overlook, where you can see the Holei Sea Arch. It makes for a few nice moments of contemplating the power of the sea to shape the landscape.
28. Right as we were about to get into our car after looking at the sea arch, my son noticed four nenes close to the parking lot. We didn't see these native birds any other time in our two weeks' stay, so I am grateful for Tyler's eagle eyes. Nenes are endemic to Hawaii and evolved from Canada geese that must have blown seriously off course! They are a protected species and officials are making a strong effort to assist the nenes in raising their population size ... thus the band on the leg of the bird to the left.
29. These next two photos are from Sulphur Banks trail, a short one that starts off from the main visitors center. The sulphur smell is pretty strong, more so than any other place in the park that we were at, but it's not overwhelming. If you've been to Yellowstone, the odor is comparable ... part of it's charm, in my view! I did this short trail (on a boardwalk) with my wife and son, but earlier, I was out on my own before they awoke and captured the gases backlit by the early morning sun. This is justifiably a popular trail (despite the odor!) and it was nice to be there completely alone that morning. After a busy school year, I cherish such moments of solitude in the face of beauty - they help recharge me for another year of teaching.
30. The bright yellow deposits you see here are made from crystals formed from the hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide gases released from the vents.
31. The next six images are all from the short 'Iliahi trail. You can catch it at the end of the Sulphur Banks trail and then use it to head back to the visitors center. I usually try to do loops like this whenever possible compared to just repeating the same trail back the other direction - even if it adds some distance - to increase the variety of views and habitats to wander through. This 'Iliahi trail was short on overlooks over craters, but long on lush rainforest filled with ferns. I loved it! And one more time, it didn't hurt that no one else was there that early, giving me many quiet contemplative moments. ... This is bamboo orchid, a relatively recent introduced species.
32. Much of the trail looks like this ... plenty of mosses and cooler damp corners.
33. I will remember this 'Iliahi trail as "the trail of ferns." I don't like to use the flash on my camera much at all - I much prefer natural light whenever possible. But in a dark spot like you see here, I would have had to use the widest aperture possible (which gives a shallow depth of field, guaranteeing that in a photo like this that a large portion would be completely out of focus) ... and a bumped up high ISO rating to capture more light, which means a grainier image. ... I shoot these days with a digital SLR, a Nikon D7000 (a higher end amateur camera, below the beginning professional ones) and use primarily two zoom lenses, an 18-135mm and super wide angle 10-20. The information to the far right of each photo will show you the settings I used for each shot, if you are into photography. If that info isn't there, click on the tiny blue arrows in the far upper right of the screen, until the arrows point to the right. If you don't want to bother with the details, click until they point to the left.
34. I had a lot of fun that morning on this hike just noticing the details of the many beautiful ferns. I believe this is Palapalai ... please correct me if you know otherwise. ... I am by no means a professional photographer, but I have enjoyed photography as an amateur for most of my adult life. When I did a similar web album for our Kauai trip three years ago, I got some followup questions about photography. I answered some of them with a TA post with 20 tips. If you are looking to improve your travel pictures, these tips might be helpful, as well as the many followup suggestions from other posters. Here it is: http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g29218-i304-k3304162-Travel_photography_tips_if_looking_for_better_pictures-Kauai_Hawaii.html
35. I think this is 'Ama'u, but I am not sure. I was attracted to this plant by the mix of darker leaves and lighter ones, side by side. The darker younger leaves have a chemical that helps block harmful rays from the sun.
36. Remember that purple Uluhe fiddlehead from image # 22? Here's what it unfurls to become. This endemic fern appears to be quite aggressive and can fill in a disturbed area quickly, producing thick mats of vegetation. I saw evidence of this several times while out on various trails. I found its branching pattern to be intriguing.
37. The next eight photos were all taken during another one of my early morning solo hikes, this one to Kipukapualulu or aka, "bird park." This short easy trail is only a one mile loop trail. It meanders through a kipuka, a patch of land spared somehow by the many lava flows around it .... thus the trees and other plants have been relatively undisturbed. Indeed, the trees seen from this trail did seem to reach higher than other places in the park. I am not sure what type of tree this is (help, please!), but I admired its form. I found this trail to be serene, filled with delights. If you are looking for an early morning stroll, this would be my recommendation. It's just a bit down Mauna Loa Road. ... For these sorts of shots, you have to overexpose by at least one or two F-stops; otherwise, the tree will just be a silhouette.
38. I saw many of these Kalij pheasants, with their bright red eye patch. They are not too shy, letting you approach fairly closely, before they scurry quickly off into the underbrush. They were introduced as game birds from the Himalayas in the early 1960s. They are only found within Hawaii on the BI. If you are longing to see them, this hike is the place - I saw maybe 10-15 of them at least, although my wife saw one on the Kilauea Iki trail.
39. True to the name "bird park," I saw many small birds, of which I assume many were the native honeycreepers, that diversified wonderfully in an adaptive radiation, once their ancestors arrived long ago and had no competition from other small land birds. I couldn't get close enough to any of them for a good telephoto shot ... they would typically fly off in a small group with undulating flight, chirping the whole way. This shot is heavily cropped. I believe this is a native 'apapane, going after ohia lehua flowers.
40. This is a native Koali 'awa flower, a type of morning glory. There was quite a lot of this plant on the Kipukapualulu trail. There were large patches of it draped over other plants. ... And yes, it was raining some that morning - that never discourages me from hiking. I just throw a jacket on ... or if it's raining heavily, I use an umbrella.
41. I am not sure, but I believe these are leaves dropped from the abundant koa trees. The forest floor was littered with them. I just liked the pattern here. .... Sorry, if you're not into botany as much as I am ... I'll get to the beaches and snorkeling eventually!
42. I believe these giant ferns are called mule's foot ferns. They certainly made this part of the island unique ... I won't soon forget them. They reached up to twenty feet tall!
43. While out for solo morning hikes, it doesn't really matter if the wildlife isn't there in abundance or if they are not politely cooperating for mugshots ... I just keep scanning up, down, left and right, looking for anything interesting that catches my eye. In this way, I am fond of saying that my camera literally drags me out the door ... but really, I think that focusing so much on photography forces me to slow down and I notice patterns and intricacies I might otherwise miss if I was just walking to walk (although I do enjoy the exercise, too). I have no idea what this magenta colored young plant is, but its brightness in the early morning sunlight, surrounded by various ferns, certainly grabbed my attention. I'll take complementary colors whenever I find them.
44. Call me a nerd or at least a certified biology teacher, but I have always been a sucker for lichens.
45. The same road that leads you to bird park continues on up to the trailhead for the Mauna Loa hike ... the road is two lanes for a while and then narrows to just one lane as you see here. It's quite curvy as well, so that means many blind curves. I had to drive very slowly around those curves, like down to 10-15 miles per hour and just hope that anybody coming at me the opposite way was also being equally cautious. I was reasonably certain that I was the only soul on the road that early morning (around 6:30-7am), and that turned out to be true, but you never know. Others might find such frequent blind curves on a single land road unnerving ... I actually found it exhilarating. There were many interesting (to me, anyway!) tree tunnels, as you see here. I know this drive is more off the beaten path and I wouldn't necessarily recommend doing it unless you have some time on your hands and the sorts of things I described here appeal to you, like they did to me. The road is 13 miles one way.
46. Here's the California Quail, introduced in the mid 1800s ... this is the male with its characteristic black teardrop plume. I saw some of these a year ago while on a hike in Point Lobos, near Monterey, California. It was so nice to see them again. Within the state of Hawaii, it is rare, but fairly abundant within certain areas of the BI. I saw several that morning on the Mauna Loa Road drive and even saw a few of their adorable babies, but my photos of the young ones were too blurry to include here.
47. I am a softie for grasses backlit by the sun. ... This patch was near the trailhead, at the end of the road. There's a small shelter there with a lookout over much of HVNP, but the view is relatively unremarkable. I wouldn't drive the road just for that view, but more for its ever changing tree tunnels and relative solitude.
48. The next five images are all from the "Secret Lava Tube Tour." It is offered only once a week by the national park staff and you can only hike down the lava tube as a part of a group limited to twelve. You have to call one week before you want to go - on Wednesdays - at 7:45am Hawaii time to the visitors center and hope you get through. After twenty minutes of redialing non stop, I finally got through, but by then, there was only one spot left. I reserved it, anyway, hoping for cancellations so my wife and son could join in with me. No cancellations ensued, but my wife graciously urged me to go. She and Tyler did their own hikes that afternoon - above ground - and each had a very nice experience, so afterward, I didn't feel too guilty. It's free and the NP gives you hardhats, headlamps, and gloves.
49. The entrance to the tube was discovered accidentally not too long ago by workers putting in a fence to try to keep feral pigs out of the park (they destroy much of the native vegetation and are a real curse to the park). A worker was taking a break and one of his legs slipped down into a hole, through some thick vegetation. In pulling him out, his coworkers discovered one of the entrances to this several mile long lava tube. The NP has asked us hikers to keep the location "secret," so I won't reveal how to get there. It's about a 45 minute slow hike (with some botany lessons from the park ranger) in to the entrance, an hour long walk within the tube, and then that same 45 minutes to get back to the trailhead.
50. I am glad I did the walk - I certainly learned a lot - but if you go hoping for the sort of cool cave features you might have seen in caves made of limestone, with all sorts of awesome stalactites and so on, you will be unimpressed. You have to be very careful walking, since unlike for the Thurston Lava Tube open to everyone, the rocks that fall down from the ceiling of the tube are littered still on the floor. I brought my own flashlight, which I found to be far more useful than the headlamps they provided. If you score some of the coveted weekly twelve spots, I urge you to bring your own flashlight with fresh batteries - you will be able to see much more that way. ... These are tree roots from the ground above going straight down quite a distance in search of water on the lava tube floor.
51. While the tube is short of remarkable formations, it does have a few odd ones. The park ranger explained that cave experts are not really certain how this type of formation formed. ... The tour was enjoyable, just to be able to contemplate all that molten hot lava once pouring through where you are standing - that to me was what this tour was more about, than anything else.
52. The tube walls have much of what you see here - a white bacterial colony. The only other life we were able to see were a few really tiny spiders only about 1-2mm big. The ranger had us look for small strands of its webbing in the glow of our lights and we found a few that way.
53. A vineyard growing in the shadow of a volcano? Well, yes indeed! Volcano Winery, just a few miles away from the park visitor center, was an unexpected delight. I am by no means a wine expert or aficionado, but I enjoyed a brief tour of the vineyard given by one of the clerks (at my request). It looks like quite a few grape crops have failed in the local climate ... so it's been a labor of love for the owners, trying to see what will grow there. I always enjoy seeing how local landowners and farmers make use of their soil and climate, so I was full of questions. ... That's Mauna Loa in the distance.
54. For a $5 tasting fee, you can sample seven wines and then if you buy a bottle or more, that $5 is taken off the cost. Some of their wines are sweeter than many would like, but I enjoyed them. The one that is their trademark and also the one I enjoyed most is called "Volcano Red." It has 15% fermented juice from local jaboticaba berries, mixed in with 85% burgundy. They pay local people 50 cents a pound to bring in the berries ... that's how abundant the berries are, apparently. This Volcano Red is the bottle you see to the right. My wife asked me to pick up a few bottles for gifts to lug home with us and I complied, with no regrets, until we checked in for the flights back home and our luggage was overweight. ... Necklaces, next time, perhaps?!
55. Remember when I mentioned before that it's a good idea to have a few "rainy day activities" in your back pocket for an extended stay in the Volcano area? The Lonely Planet guidebook is especially helpful in this regard and that's why I would recommend it over using the Revealed "blue book," if you want to buy only one guidebook (my wife, on the other hand was astonished that I bought only two guidebooks for this trip!). ... On the road between Volcano and Hilo is this gem, Akatsuka Orchid Gardens, all inside. If you are an orchid lover, this will really trip all your triggers, but even if you're not, it's much fun to just gawk at the beauty of these amazing flowers ... quite a few have heavenly fragrances, as well - one even smells ridiculously like chocolate! The man who started it all is from Japan originally and has had this operation going for over 40 years, if I recall correctly. He produces over 50 new hybrids a year, on average - wow!
56. There's a back area, with signs posted that explains the orchid growing and breeding process. My son and I peppered one of the sales clerks with questions about breeding and she graciously answered all of our questions patiently. When she asked me if I grow orchids and I answered no, she whimsically asked, "why not?!" I just smiled - I love such enthusiasm.
57. Even if you are not into flowers that much, this is a very interesting way to spend 20-30 minutes or more, especially if you're looking for a change of pace for your family from the lava fields ... or if it's drizzly. The huge building is right on Highway 11 ... you can't miss it. I love places like this.
58. Another interesting place to visit pretty close to Volcano - a bit off of Highway 11 - is 2400 degree Fahrenheit, a shop where a married couple, Michael and Misato Mortara both create truly amazing blown glass art ... you have to see these pieces to believe them - they just make you scratch your head and think, "how on earth did they create these, all out of glass?!" If you arrive at the right time, you can watch them work in their studio (mid morning and mid afternoon are the best times, Thur-Mon). We got there later in the afternoon and talked a bit with Michael - fascinating guy. They have a small shop next to the studio. ... And by the way, I chose this artwork of theirs because we saw it just hours after we first saw the uluhe ferns (image #22).
59. The next ten images were all taken at the island's main black sand beach, Punalu'u. One of the advantages of staying in the volcano area for four days was the luxury of being close to this awesome beach ... it's just about 45 minutes away from the town of Volcano. We spent most of an afternoon there, with a late lunch break at the nearby town of Na'alehu. Guidebooks describe this beach as providing a near certainty of seeing green sea turtles (honu)... and this place did not disappoint. In the spot you see here, there were six sea turtles in the vicinity - there were two more in the surf nearby. The turtles are attracted to the abundant seaweed in this area and they come ashore for several hours at at time to rest. It is so cool to see them like this.
60. OK, please allow me to be preachy for a few seconds ... notice that I nor any of my family members are included in any of these photos of the sea turtles? I just simply cannot understand the great appeal for so many to have a photo taken where you are smiling just inches away from a wild animal. These animals are not Micky and Minnie Mouse at Disneyworld. Please ... if you go, respect their home and obey the signs that say to keep at least 15 feet away. When we first got there, there were several families hovering over the turtles, all waiting to take their turn to crouch right next to them, literally a few inches away. I didn't see anybody try to touch one of them - or sit on them, but it wouldn't have surprised me if they had. A lady (a local resident?) was trying in vain to shoo them away. Sharing her frustration, I put on my teacher hat and tried to act like an official, explaining the need for some distance. Eventually, they backed away, but not before snapping a few more photos.
61. OK, rant officially over! ... Back to the joy of being there. The previous photo, just for the record, was taken with a telephoto lens. It just looks like I am really close to the turtle. ... One of the nice things about being at this beach was being able to watch their movements over time: take a little snooze, "lazily" catch the surf and go back to feed for a while, and so on. Punalu'u gets plenty of visitors hopping off of buses to snap photos for a brief moment before moving on to the next hasty photo opportunity. If you can afford to stay for at least an hour or more, you won't likely regret it.
62. If you wander a bit to the right of the area where the sea turtles are, there are some interesting tide pools, pounding surf (at least while we were there in the afternoon), and plenty of broken coral fragments, as you see here. People all over the island use such bright coral fragments to arrange their names and other messages to friends back home amid the much darker lava rock. Locals for sure see this as obnoxious graffiti and try to remove it, but in some areas of the island, especially all along Highway 19 within the Kohala Coast area, their efforts to remove the eyesores appear to be a losing battle.
63. As I said, the waves were rolling in strong that afternoon, the water was a beautiful turquoise, the sky was deep blue ... and I just lingered for quite a long time along the rocky coastline, savoring the experience. I think this spot right where I took this photo might have been my favorite view of the coastline the whole trip. It was hard to pull me away.
64. These little strange critters along the tide pools there baffled me until I got home and emailed this photo to one of my former students, now a marine biologist. He got his degree at the University of Hawaii, so he knew its identity immediately ... it's called a helmet urchin. It sure doesn't look anything like any urchin I have ever seen before. Is it possible for a sea urchin to be "cute?!" ... There were dozens of them clinging to the rocks at low tide, while we were there.
65. In the middle of our black sand beach visit, we drove about 15 minutes to grab a quick lunch at Punalu'u Bake Shop in Na'alehu. They had some decent vegetarian sandwiches (all three of us are veggies), homemade malasadas (a local type of pastry), and some nice gardens, with gazebos to eat your lunch under. ... While there, we spotted these gold dust day geckos for the first time (we saw them quite a few times, subsequently). They were imported from Madagascar to help control insects and that, they do. Local people, I was told several times, tolerate their presence within their homes because they help keep insects down to a minimum (a problem, of course, in all tropical settings) ... although their droppings can apparently be a nuisance. ... They sure are colorful little guys!
66. After lunch, we watched the sea turtles again for a bit, then pulled out our beach chairs and just sat for a while. My wife and son read for almost two hours with the waves lapping at their feet. I wish I could say that I was able to relax that long, but I can usually only last about a half hour, at most, perched in one place on beaches. I just keep wondering, hmmm, I wonder what's around that corner? These local children were having a blast in the sand and I asked their mother if I could photograph them burying the little one. She granted permission and I attached several photos in an email to her, once I processed the photos.
67. This is my way of showing that yes, the sand really is black! Thanks for being my "prop," little one! Much obliged. ... We never did make it to Green Sands Beach (Papakolea) near the southern most point of the island. It looked like the effort to get there was not quite worth the payoff, in our view. You either have to have a four wheel drive to get there (and then cross over private lands) ... or you have to hike about an hour in. We rented a compact car, rather than a 4WD, after scouring the TA forum for advice about a car choice. I never regretted our decision.
68. To the left of the beach from the road is a fresh water pond, with a small foot bridge and some ducks, a pleasant diversion from the ocean.
69. The next four photos were all taken at the Tibetan Buddhist Wood Valley Temple. It's about 40 minutes away from the town of Volcano and just about fifteen minutes, at most, away from Punalu'u. When I first asked my son if he was interested, his eyes lit up. He loves philosophy and can't wait to take his first world religions course in college. So when I told him that we could join a monk chanting at 6pm, he said quickly, "Let's do it!" My wife was game, as well. ... It takes some meandering up a series of roads, away from Highway 11, but finally you reach a very pretty setting. The temple has been there for several decades - I think it's about forty years or so.
70. They have peacocks roaming the property ... we saw several while there.
71. The temple itself is fairly small - it's the colorful building to the right here, but there are nearby buildings. People can study there or arrange retreats.
72. The inside of the temple was very colorful and quite interesting. We made sure we were there well before 6:00pm, so that we would not disrupt the chant. That gave us some time to look around. The monk you see to the right came in shortly after 6 o'clock, greeted us briefly and asked us to sit on "prayer mats" (for lack of a better term), large square "pillows." He told us he would be chanting for 90 minutes, but that we should feel free to leave at any time. He used a singing bowl to begin the relaxation and meditation, lit some incense, and then began chanting in his native language. Of course, we had absolutely no idea what he was actually chanting, but it was quite the experience anyway and all three of us were really glad we went. We stayed there and watched and listened for about 40 minutes. It was just the four of us. ... Naturally, this experience wouldn't be for everyone, but being on the island for fifteen days allowed us to do such off the beaten path experiences. I loved it.
73. The next twelve photos, up through #85, were all taken during a drive into the Puna district during our four day stay in Volcano. That was one of my original reasons for staying in Volcano for that many days, to give us some flexibility for making that drive when it suited us. We made the whole drive to Kalapana and then back to Volcano again, with many stops, in about six hours, I think. Along Highway 132, you wind your way into Lava Tree State Monument with its interesting tree tunnels. These papaya trees called out to my camera.
74. In planning this trip, I kept running into rave reviews for the Kapaho tide pools. I had already decided not to snorkel there based on worries about possible contamination, but I still wanted to see the area. First of all, it was difficult to find our way into the area. After several dead end roads yielding not a hint of parking, we finally reached a spot where you could park for a "donation" of $3. We walked around some and saw a few snorkelers out a ways, but honestly, I didn't think too much of the area for scenic beauty. Black Sand Beach (Punalu'u) was far more interesting, so if you're trying to make a choice for how to use limited time, the choice is clear enough to me. There really is no public area to speak of ... it's more or less, private homes and the tide pools sort of look like their "private" swimming pools. It was difficult to access ... I am quite sure that the locals are quite keen on keeping it that way. I can't say I blame them at all.
75. The ubiquitous puslane, another lava rock colonizer. In some areas, this grows in thick mats along the rocky coastline.
76. This is Ahalanui Beach Park's "hot ponds." My wife, in particular, was looking forward to this moment ... she loves naturally heated hot springs. This one is supposed to be warmed up to 90 degrees, but was disappointing. We did go for a brief swim, but the water felt really no warmer than the nearby ocean water, which it is connected to. You can see the cement barrier in this photo, to the far left. Apparently, at high tide (which it must have been), the much colder ocean water spills over that barrier and cools the water back down. I can see that, but it didn't feel heated at all, not even in the least. A woman who was in the water with us, a local, told us that it really is hot sometimes. My wife just raised her eyebrow a bit. So .... moving on, after two relative disappointments in a row.
77. If you decide to venture down into the Puna district, do if for the drive more than any one destination, because it really was truly beautiful. Many awesome tree tunnels, and the drive along the coast - Highway 137 - was spectacular ... curvy road, with beautiful ocean vistas, nestled in between the trees. My mood was picking up.
78. We eventually reached the "end of the road," where the current lava flow begins and you can't drive any further. If you want to go further, again, just like on the other side from HVNP, you have to hike in, preferably with a guide (the secret lava tube tour ranger told us a story of her shoes literally melting on the hot lava rock). I believe you can also do a boat tour, but I had read several times that they operate illegally without licenses so I didn't pursue that any further. The man you see here, a California transplant from 30 years ago, is a local fisherman who supplements his income by taking photos of lava flows from his vantage point out while fishing. He sells them for a buck apiece. Perusing these sorts of photos is about as close as most visitors are ever going to get to such colorful views (there is currently no lava entering the ocean)... again, better to have lowered expectations and be pleasantly suprised if it works out that there is active flow to see during your visit.
79. At the end of the road at Kalapana, there is ample parking, a restaurant, a few shops, bathrooms (thank you!) and then you can walk about 15 minutes or so, over this lava bed of swirling pahoehoe - one of the main two types of cooled lava - eventually you reach the ocean. It was certainly an interesting walk. This whole area was swept up by a lava flow from 1990 ... most of the buildings were destroyed then.
80. During that walk to the ocean, it's fun to look for patterns and colors in the lava formations, imagining what it must have all been like before it cooled. ... This spot caught my eye right away.
81. This Midwestern boy (I grew up in Iowa) never tires of watching waves crash into rock. I wonder sometimes if I had grown up in a state that had easy access to rugged coastline like you see here, that I wouldn't enjoy such moments so much.
82. This coconut was planted deliberately along the shore, but it still is interesting to see how the tree begins. This small black sand beach is known as New Kaimu Beach ... "new," apparently because the "old" Kaimu Beach is now gone, buried under the lava flow you walk out over (photo #79) to get to the beach. The old black sand beach is now 50-75 feet below, was much larger than the one currently there, and had lots of coconut trees. So the coconut seedling you see here is one of many along the edge of the beach, in an attempt to return the beach to something of its former beauty. Even if as a current visitor, you can't see bright orange lava spilling into the ocean, it is still amazing to contemplate what happened in this spot 22 years ago .... and imagine how the local people who loved their town and black sand beach must have felt to see their land and homes buried.
83. When you get to the end of that 15 minute Kalapana walk, you can look back toward the volcano and see this sight, a line of small steam plumes. We were told that if you go in the evening, after it gets dark, that it looks like many small campfires in the distance, with tiny pink glows. We were there in the mid afternoon, instead. This shot was taken with a telephoto lens and then still cropped some, once home, so these spots are not quite as close as this photo makes it look.
84. If you take Highway 130 north toward Pahoa, it's just a short distance before you will see Star of the Sea Church on the right. It's a small Catholic church built in 1929 that had to be moved by local people in 1990, when they realized that the lava flow that year would destroy it. The murals inside are quite nice and create an interesting illusion of three dimensionality behind the alter. It's definitely worth a stop if you're already down in the area. ... Final thoughts on the Puna area, after spending half a day there ... If you are on the island for a week or less, I would probably skip this area. You can see similar lava flow and formations at the end of Chain of Craters Road within HVNP. Kapaho tide pools are quite skippable in my opinion. I was glad we did this drive and I have no regrets at all - the drive was beautiful and the local tree tunnels on some of the roads were the best I saw anywhere on the island, but then again, we had two full weeks to play with.
85. On our fifth day, after leaving Volcano and heading toward Hilo, we stopped for a half hour at the Fuku-Bonsai Cultural Center ... it's just a few miles south of Hilo and a bit hard to find. Bonsai, if you are unfamiliar with it, is the art of carefully crafting trees to be miniatures by painstakingly controlling what branches are allowed to form. The man who does all the work is Japanese originally and has developed quite a specialty with dwarf schefflera. When you first drive up, it just looks like you are in somebody's yard and you wonder what you have gotten yourself into (my wife was certainly questioning my judgement at that point!), but if you get out and walk around, the gardens and display trees are extensive ... and somebody will see you and come out to greet you, answering any questions you might have. I have always been curious about how bonsai works, so this was definitely worth a half hour of our time. His creations are really quite stunning ... even my wife and son found them interesting.
86.The next five images are all taken in the town of Hilo. I originally, in scheduling four days in the town of Volcano, thought that we might use one of those afternoons to explore the Hilo area. It didn't work out that way ... I knew that on our last day on the island - with a 9pm flight back to the mainland - that we would have much of that day to explore Hilo's sights. That last day turned out to be pretty rainy, as you see here. This image is taken from tiny Coconut Island (Mokuola), which is connected to Lili'uokalani Park by a footbridge. It's looking back across Hilo Bay toward part of the town itself. Hilo gets a LOT of rain, so if you are staying there for a day or two, bring an umbrella and have a plan for a few indoor activities. Other than possibly using Hilo as a base for exploring the volcano area (the town of Volcano is much better for that purpose) or just staying one night because of a late flight, I am not sure why any tourist would really want to base a part of their vacation time there.
87. While my wife and son watched a movie in a Hilo theater, I used the last hour or so before we had to return our rental car to walk around Lili'uokalani Park, located on the shore of Hilo, just east of the downtown area. It's pretty small, but is nicely laid out, with the sorts of Japanese garden structures you see here. Peaceful, serene ... it made for a nice walk, especially with camera in hand. It would be a good place to have a picnic lunch for a family, I think. ... Good beaches and snorkeling are pretty much nonexistent on the Hilo side of the island. This part of Hawaii, in the direct path of the trade winds, gets so much consistent rain, that the rivers flowing into the ocean bring regular dissolved sediments, so if you are hoping to snorkel, the ocean would likely be too murky to see much .... most of the spectacular snorkeling is located in two spots, from what I could see - around the town of Captain Cook and the Kohala Coast, further north on the western edge of the island.
88. Our plan that last day was to spend several hours at the 'Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii, which looked very interesting to all three of us ... I was especially interested in their display on ancient Hawaiin navigation. But when I was ready to navigate there I caught for the first time that they are closed on Mondays ... yikes! So ... "recalculating!" I ended up spending close to an hour at the Pacific Tsunami Museum, a fairly small museum. There's a lot of information, photos, testimonials, and so on from several large tsunamis that hit Hilo - the two biggest were in 1946 and 1960. There are also displays from other tsunamis elsewhere in the Pacific, like the most recent on in Indonesia, so it's not all about just Hilo. The science of tsunamis is explained well ... this was more interesting than I thought it would be. It makes you realize how vulnerable coastal communities on Hawaii really are ... and how everybody has to be in a perpetual state of readiness for potential disaster.
89. This is Rainbow Falls, which is just a couple miles or so away from Hilo Bay, within the town of Hilo itself. If you only have time or interest for one waterfall, I would skip this one and head for Akaka Falls instead, further north. But this is one of those attractions that if you're already in the vicinity, why not go? It's still beautiful - just not near as tall or dramatic as others are. There is no hike required. You park, walk a few steps ... and there is the lookout. It was raining while I was there. Ginger and Tyler were doing some shopping in Hilo while I did my waterfall viewing.
90. Just two miles further up the road from Rainbow Falls is this spot ... Pe'e Pe'e Falls in the distance to the left and the "Boiling Pots," which you can see to the right ... Pretty cascades, made all the more beautiful because of the surrounding lush vegetation.
91. The Hamakua Coast is the very rainy stretch of coastline directly facing the trade winds with all their laden moisture. The premier waterfall (at least that is easily accessible) on the island is Akaka Falls, not too far off of Highway 19. The walk in isn't too long (about ten minutes) and it's paved or you're on a boardwalk, so it's easy. There are large trees all around with a few smaller waterfalls to see besides the main star attraction. Here is an interesting banyon tree along one of the paths. There is also a small bamboo patch, as well. It's definitely a pretty area to just walk around, so if the waterfall alone can't entice you, and especially if you're not going to the nearby botanic gardens, the surrounding lush trees and flowers are absolutely worth a look.
92. Akaka Falls has a 420 foot drop and is one of those sights that would be sort of silly to miss if you're driving this part of the island ... very big view for minimal time and effort. It's supposed to be even prettier in the morning light ... alas, we were there in the middle of the afternoon. There is a small entry fee - $5 per carload.
93. The next eight images, up through #100, are all taken within Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. It's going to be difficult for me to give objective advice here since I am a serious gardener and I really enjoy botany of all sorts, but truly, if you have even a remote interest in the beauty of the plant world, this is a must do! I would rank this in the top few things on the island to do or see. The gardens started off in 1978 with a retired couple, the Lutkenhouses, from the San Francisco area buying a property after years of vacationing on the island. It was sort of a wasteland - a former sugarcane area that had been neglected for a long time ... that is, until this amazing couple's "retirement" took on a new course ... they started planting a crazy assortment of tropical plants from all over the world, to display their beauty ... and you can have the privilege of walking through their results, a series of small loops and spurs. It costs $15 and takes about an hour to slowly walk through and gawk.
94. I am powerfully drawn to stories of people whose lives take unexpected turns when they follow their passions. Maybe because I can be a bit OCD myself - with gardening, photography, to name just a few things - I can identify so much with this couple. Their efforts to beautify this little corner of the world, right down to the Onomea Bay, is just simply spectacular. The man died a few years ago ... his wife is still alive and lives right next to the gardens she helped create.
95. I had a tripod with me on this trip and used it several times, but did not carry it with into the gardens. So to slow down the moving water, I hand held my camera and braced it against a rail ... and shot at 1/3 of a second, enough to achieve the desired silky appearance. If I had used a tripod instead, the photo would be crisper. ... I really enjoyed this small cascade ... there is another waterfall within the gardens.
96. There is also a large enclosure filled with several macaws. We don't own any macaws, but we do have two parrots at home. We love birds, so it was enjoyable to just sit for a bit and admire their beauty. Apparently, they do say a few words, although they were relatively quiet while we were there.
97. There is a nice orchid garden, as well. I was pleasantly surprised to hear my son admire orchids as much as he did on this trip. He has watched me garden his whole life, but has never really expressed a personal interest in owning or caring for plants, until these orchids really caught his fancy. ... Perhaps a gift for his dorm room?!
98. Such interesting colors and patterns!
99. We saw small bamboo gardens in several spots on this trip ... this one was in the prettiest setting, by far.
100. I don't have a photo of Onomea Bay, which the path leads you to ... it's a very nice series of lookouts over the ocean, with waves crashing into rocks. This patch of trees is right next to the ocean ... what a lovely setting. I think the tree in the center is a monkeypod tree ... we saw these several times in our two weeks on the island and I became a huge fan of their branching pattern. Hmmm, did I mention already that I loved this botanic garden? Lutkenhouses, I salute your vision, your passion, and your diligent followthrough. Together, you achieved something spectacular!
101. Everything I have shown you so far from our trip has been on the eastern or southern parts of the island. We spent the remaining nine days of our two weeks staying in a condo in the Kulalani complex (what you see here) of the Mauna Lani resort, along the South Kohala coast, about a half hour or so north of Kona. It took me a while to figure out where to stay. The island is so large that when I first started looking at the map and its towns, it just felt overwhelming. I first booked a condo directly overlooking the ocean in Kona, reasoning that since we had similar setups in rental condos in both Maui and Kauai, that we shouldn't mess with a formula that worked so well for us. That was before I started really reading through the BI forum and paying greater attention to where certain activities are located. A couple of the BI destination experts (Shea and KK) set me straight and helped me realize that the Kona location would not be the best fit for us.
102. We really wanted to snorkel often and Kona just doesn't have great snorkeling ... I have to take that on faith, since we never did even attempt to snorkel anywhere near Kona, except for our night manta snorkel (which I'll get to later on). But I did hear that same analysis of snorkeling sites from several local people I talked with during our trip ... so it seems to be a consensus. Likewise for the best beaches. The reality is that if you stay in Kailua-Kona, you will be around many restaurants, shops, and some water activities, like sport fishing, but if you want to be going to the best beaches and doing superior snorkeling, you would be driving at least 45-60 minutes each day. There are so many tradeoffs to consider here. The Kohala coast rentals and resorts are definitely more expensive. Maybe it is the depressed tourist economy, but I was surprised at the value we got with the condo you see here (listing 241200). It was just $165 per night.
102. That $165 is before taxes and cleaning fees. When all that was added in, it came out to about $200 per night, which is exactly what my wife and I had set for an upper limit for what we were willing to pay. I think that these Mauna Lani condos are usually pricier. Owners have had to lower their rental fees to compete for a smaller supply of tourists than before the 2008 economic mess began. As you can see in these few photos, this was a high end condo, much larger and nicer than what we had had in Maui and Kaui (albeit both of those were overlooking the shoreline). It was not close to the ocean, however ... it was about a five minute drive or a 30-40 minute walk. It also had very few people around in our complex, which was a plus for me, personally, but both my wife and 18-year-old son eventually craved having more people around to meet. So you have to factor that in, as well. If you stay at one of the hotel resorts, you would of course, have access to more people to meet daily.
104. The Kulalani complex in particular has two pools, the one you see here, a smaller lap pool, a nearly brand new large workout room (which my son used to lift weights nearly every day we were there), and two hot tubs, which we all used often. ... We hardly ever saw another soul, though, during use of any of these. It really felt deserted, which, again, I did not mind at all. When you're in a hot tub, it's nice to share it with just the person you love, looking out at Mauna Kea in the distance, a very nice memory for us! Some of the other Mauna Lani condos are much closer to the ocean, but they are also older and pricier. We felt like this was a nice compromise for us, given our limited budget. Although it is indeed sweet to wake up and have breakfast out on your lanai looking out on sea turtles feeding on the seaweed below (what we had in Kauai, at Kuhio Shores), we just accepted for this trip that it would be a different set of pleasures to indulge in ... and that, it was indeed.
105. A quick quirky aside, if you don't mind ... The first morning I went out to see our "home" pool, I saw this slug meandering its way slowly across the pavement. So I laid down on the cement next to it to say a proper hello and snap this photo. ... You may not be one of the BI's star attractions perhaps, but as a bio teacher, I do appreciate you.
106. This was our "backyard" beach, Makaiwa Bay, that we went to over and over again, mostly for convenience (that five minute drive I mentioned), but also because it was beautiful and serene. Not all condos within Mauna Lani have a beach pass that allows you to park in the lots right next to the beach ... ours did - I had done enough TA research by the time I booked our Kulalani condo to know to check for that access in the fine print of the listings. By the way, we booked directly with the owner and found it originally via vrbo.com. ... This Makaiwa Bay beach has excellent snorkeling! The best snorkeling seemed to be beyond the point you see to the left. ... As renters with a beach pass, we had access to comfy cabanas, free of charge, on a first come, first served basis. We used them often ... and it never felt the least bit crowded. The general public can use the beach, but they would have had to park elsewhere and walk at least a half hour, which is exactly how I assume the Mauna Lani wants it to be.
107. All three of us adore snorkeling. We brought our own snorkel gear for a number of reasons: saves time having to stop off at dive shops (and returning rentals later on), you get a mask that fits your face perfectly, tried and true from other trips, and we were going to be snorkeling for an extended time of well over a week. If you were going to snorkel just a few times at most, well, then it might very well make more sense to do a quick rental. Naturally, all this snorkel gear is weighty and so we had to pay the airline charge both ways for the extra luggage to hold them - there are always tradeoffs! But I did enjoy getting to hop in to the ocean right away our first morning there without worrying about having to rent or fretting that my mask might not fit so well as it did earlier in the dive shop. ... My son likes to dive down more than I do ... I do so only occasionally anymore. We were usually in the water for at least an hour, sometimes, up to an hour and a half.
108. I always wear a tee shirt while snorkeling ... it's one less place I have to worry about getting sunburned - been there and done that on other trips and boy, that will put a damper on activities in a hurry! If it looks like I am an excessively busy bee on trips like this one (like rising each day early on to get in another hike or two), well, I will certainly cop to that, but snorkeling to me is when I relax the most. Both my wife and I find snorkeling to be akin to a spiritual experience, almost a form of meditation. We have snorkeled often and are comfortable enough in the water that there are no longer any worries about foggy masks or snorkels that can't be cleared of water (ours don't let water in, in the first place) ... we just float and/or swim, clear our minds ... and take in what is in front of us. I sort of like, also, that your sensory input is reduced to mainly just sight. ... Here is a nice school of yellow tangs. This and the next eight images were all taken at Makaiwa Bay.
109. I think I snorkeled in this bay six times, usually side by side with either my wife or son, but a couple times by myself, while they slept in. There were two days when Tyler and I were off on some adventure together ... those days, we dropped my wife off at the beach club. She would snorkel for an hour and a half, then spend the rest of the afternoon either walking for awhile along the shoreline trail or just reading a novel on her iPad ... and if I know my wife, perhaps grabbing a guilt-free nap to the gentle sound of the nearby waves. I am pretty sure that she would list those two "glorious" afternoons as among her best trip memories. ... Here's a nice look at a red pencil urchin.
110. The corals out there beyond the points of the bay were abundant and varied, significantly better than Maui's and way better than Kauai's corals. I absolutely adore Kauai for a long list of reasons, but the snorkeling on the BI is a big step up from Kauai's ... and also better than Maui's, from what I can remember from our trip there six years ago. ... Here's a beautiful coral called Blue Rice Coral, which is endemic to Hawaii. We only saw it here at Makaiwa Beach.
111. Some bullethead and palenose parrotfishes ... this is what I mean about Makaiwa Bay having very good snorkeling ... it wasn't infrequent to see several or many parrotfishes like this, all together. These are the guys that created much of the fine sand of nicer beaches. They nip at the algae covering coral and in doing so, take in some of the coral skeleton, as well, passing it though their digestive systems, and extruding the remains as brand new sand. It then later washes up with waves and currents as contributions to the beaches we all love.
112. A couple of goldring surgeonfishes.
113. ... And a pair of achilles tangs.
114. The yellowtail coris - so showy! For underwater shots, I use a Canon D10, which I bought for the first time prior to this trip, on recommendations from Kauai snorkelers, after my previous attempt at using a digital underwater camera just turned out to be frustrating. I was pretty happy with the D10. It was very easy to use ... I was happy with the zoom controls - quite easy to navigate quickly .. they are intuitive. As always though, when you are not using a full sized dSLR (which you'd need an expensive plastic, large housing for), there is a significant delay between when you first compose the shot and when the shutter opens. This results in a large number of images with fish turned a different direction - like only the tail facing you, over and over! So, you just have to take a large number of shots and hope that a reasonable number of them will turn out to actually show most of the fish's markings and colors - and not be hopelessly out of focus ...and be ready to delete 90% of the photos once home.
115. Here's a crown of thorns sea star, which feed on coral polyps. I only saw one of these during all of our snorkels. ... And that's a saddle wrasse to the right. ... I'll save photos of trumpetfishes until later on, but we saw many in Makaiwa Bay, a few eels ... and my wife saw a sea turtle up very close on one of her lone snorkels. She rounded a rocky area ... and there it was, just a few feet away- it really took her by surprise.
116. As you walk to the right from "our" beach, there's a shoreline path, all within the Mauna Lani resort. That's the Mauna Lani Bay hotel in the distance to the left. In the foreground of this photo are some of the fishponds that they carefully maintain. These are the originals that the native Hawaiians set up - to the right, small fish can swim through a sluice gate, vertical bars with small gaps between them ... they stay because they are fed in there, but then they get too large to swim back to the open ocean. The native Hawaiians in this way had a ready supply of fish for easy capture for the kings' dinner at a moment's notice. You can walk along this path and see many larger fish in these fishponds. The first evening we all walked along here, in the oddly shaped chamber you see to the lower left, a man was throwing in small pieces of bread to amuse his daughers. Many fish responded immediately, swarming around the bits of food ...
117. ... As did several eels! I was right next to them, snapping away. The eels were all wrapped up around each other. It was fascinating to watch.
118. The very first full day we had within Mauna Lani, we took a long leisurely walk along the shoreline path that evening. To our very pleasant surprise, that night the Mauna Lani was sponsoring an event called "Talk Story," where local musicians gather to tell stories and sing songs. It attracted quite a large crowd of people set up in their own lawn chairs or sitting on the grass. We were going to actively pursue a few evenings of local music, but were less inclined to do so after fortuitously stumbling upon these wonderful musicians. We lingered for over an hour and just soaked up the tunes and the ambiance.
119. Ah, yes ... so many beautiful sunset strolls along that Mauna Lani shoreline pathway! When we had nothing specific to do around 6:30 or so, we just drove over to the beach club, hopped out, and started walking. In the middle of the summer (we were there the first two weeks of July), the sun sets at about 7:10 (roughly an hour earlier in the winter months). I like to have an interesting foreground for sunset photos ...otherwise, no matter how gorgeous the oranges and yellows are, they all start to sort of look similar. ... Here's Tyler playing a ukelele ... we bought him one early in the trip - but ended up taking it back because he fell in love with a different instrument that I'll describe later on.
120. ... And a young couple having a private meal (with their own waiter ... hmmm, how nice, but it makes me wonder how expensive that would be) along the shore, right in front of the ML Bay hotel. I asked permission to use them in my photo - I don't think they spoke English, but I pointed to my camera and to them and the sunset, and they smiled and shook their heads yes, so I fired away. ... A few words about the South Kohala weather - it was uniformly excellent! It was exactly the same all nine days we were there: sunny, just a few clouds at most, warm, but not too hot (in the 80s), and windy ... and zero vog. Actually, I saw no evidence of any vog at all the whole trip (vog, if you are unaware, is the gases that come out of the volcano, that can drift over to parts of the island and just linger, to the point where it blocks much of the sunlight and can cause respiratory problems).
121. Wow, this was the prettiest sunset we saw on this trip. I have at least ten images saved on my hard drive of this changing scene over about a half hour. Each looks quite different from all the other nine! I truly enjoy just watching the light change and the colors of the clouds light up as the minutes tick by ... and a huge thank you to my wife Ginger for being patient enough to just sit there for all that time and soak it all in with me.
122. Here's a zoomed in look at the same scene, about twenty minutes later, still trying to have a foreground that complements the gorgeous sunset.
123. Nearby Waimea - to the east of the Mauna Lani by about 25 minutes - has two different small farmer's markets on Saturday mornings, which just happened by our good luck to be on the first full day of our South Kohala stay. Unfortunately, there was not nearly the spread of fruits and vegetables that we had hoped for ... one farmer told us that there had been so much rain on much of the island, that many of the farmers were really having trouble with their produce.
124. Even though there wasn't too much produce, there were plenty of vendors selling jams, coffee, tea, and so on. It was definitely fun to sample different varieties and try completely new tastes. We all three loved several of these jams - and our consensus favorite was ...
125. ... this strange combination of coconut and coffee! Would you ever in a million years think to pair those two flavors for a jam? I was dubious at first, but they really worked well together, I thought. My son agreed, apparently ... by the time, I got my camera in front of the jar, you can see that it was half gone already. Maybe he had a late night snack? ... Or hmmm, maybe that was me.
126. We also bought a few spreads for chips and toast at the farmer's market - tabouli and hummus, two of our family favorites. As I mentioned briefly earlier, we are all vegetarians. One of the big reasons we favor house and condo rentals over motels or resorts is that we can have access to a full kitchen, with a large full size refrigerator. We are not foodies ... partly because we are veggies and it's difficult to find lots of options when meat is so heavily favored on most menus ... but also because both my wife and I would just much rather spend our limited dollars on unique activities like night snorkels, rather than spend that same money on expensive meals. The few times we did eat out, we found the food to be pretty expensive. It was easy to drop $20-25 per person on a meal - and that was with us clearly avoiding more expensive places. ... I know for some people, that may be on the cheap side. For these two educators, that is expensive, indeed.
127. So what we did do instead is right after we hit the farmer's markets in Waimea, my wife and I cruised down to the Costco in the northern part of Kona, not too far away from the airport. I wouldn't necessarily recommend hitting up Costco if you are only going to be around for a few days - or even a week (unless your group is pretty large). But with us hardly ever eating out, and there in the area for nine days, Costco turned out to be worth the half hour drive to get there. ... The Mauna Lani complex has a Foodland Farms small grocery that was certainly much more expensive than Costco or our home grocery, but really, it wasn't as overpriced as I assumed it would be and some of their prices were actually pretty reasonable. So ... we made a few quick trips there to stock up. ... Hmmm, these papayas (from Costco) were really good! Somehow, over the course of my whole life, I had never before cut into a fresh papaya myself (I had just previously eaten it when it was in front of me, alredy cut up). So yummy!
128. OK, let's start moving around a bit, huh? The next seventeen photos (up throught #144) are all taken from various places up and down the Kohala coast. Later on, I'll show you what we did beyond Waimea to the north and east ... and then finally, what we did around Wailua-Kona and the Captain Cook area. ... Still within the Mauna Lani resort area, nearby their other hotel, the Fairmont Orchid, is a trail that goes to almost as many petroglyphs as what's within HVNP. It's a pretty easy trail and takes maybe 45 minutes, round trip. It passes underneath all these trees, most of which look dead, unlike any other area I saw on the island. It was sort of eerie.
129. Many years ago the native Hawaiians of this part of the island ventured to this spot - less than a half acre - for whatever reasons and left their etchings. You can see a few in the lower portion of this photo. It's worth an hour or so of your time if you enjoy contemplating Hawaiian history and speculating on the meanings of these symbols, particularly if you can't make it to the larger grouping of petroglyphs at Pu'u Loa within HVNP.
130. Just a bit north of Mauna Kea and Hapuna Beaches, right off of Highway 19 is Pu'ukohola Heiau National Historical Site. "Heiau" means temple ... Back in the late 1700s, King Kamehameha built the heiau you see at the top of the ridge, to fulfill a prophet's proclamation that if he built this temple to their war god, he would eventually rule all of the Hawaiian Islands. Historians believe that commoners formed a human chain twenty miles long to person by person pass the lava stones used to build it. ... It apparently worked - he did eventually go on to rule and unite all the islands. ... This historic site is run by the national park service. You can listen to a 30 minute recording on your smart phone that's numbered to stops along the path you see here. I listened to the whole thing and found it to be a good use of technology, making it much easier for me to visualize the way the area would have looked and been used by the king and his warriors over two hundred years ago.
131. This is Mauna Kea beach, with the resort of the same name in the background. It is long and wide, with soft light sand ... quite nice! We didn't spend any time there as a family, but I wanted to check it out anyway, so I drove there the last morning of our trip and walked around for a half hour ... you can see with the shadows that the sun was low in the sky. ... They have limited public parking, so if you want to guarantee some time there, best to get there fairly early on.
132. I don't golf at all, but if I did, the Mauna Kea resort golf course, abutting the ocean, looked darned appealing. Our own Mauna Lani complex's golf courses looked very nice, as well. ... And that's a pair of turkeys in the lower right.
133. Hapuna Beach, is just south of the Mauna Kea resort beach, and is very similar: fine grained sand, wide, and long ... just beautiful! This shot is looking south. We spent about three hours here one late afternoon ... and stayed until sunset. It was quite windy, though, that day, and it was a little annoying to have sand blasting us from behind, as we faced the waves. I have no idea if that was the norm for this beach or an aberration ... any thoughts from residents or frequenters of Hapuna Beach?
134. This is still Hapuna Beach, now looking north, with the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel in the background. You can get a better sense of how gradually sloping and free of rocks this beach is, making it very good for swimming. The green slopes you see in the far background are the Kohala Mountains, just north of Waimea. That's how they looked just about every day, no matter what time it was - covered with a thick layer of clouds. In fact, from this image it's easy to see how the rain shadow effect works. Those clouds are always moving in the same direction: NE to SW, or toward the Kohala coast. They drop their moisture as heavy rains on the eastern slopes of those mountains, making them green and lush. The rising clouds, in other words, cool, and the cooler air can't hold as much water, so it drops as rain. Those same clouds then move over the mountains, drop all the rest and by the time the winds have reached the opposite side, there's little or no moisture left ... thus the "rain shadow" and quite arid land.
135. My son Tyler and I have a long standing vacation tradition that started when he was about seven. We take a frisbee along with on every single trip we do and always find some interesting places to throw. Beaches, of course, are the most fun. We also take a glow in the dark frisbee and it was very enjoyable to linger at the beach a few times, well past sunset, and then throw the glow in the dark version in near total darkness. You have to aim your own throw to where you remember the last light was when it was headed your way. ... I will be very interested to see if he ever has children some day if he'll continue this vacation tradition. I won't say a word about it, of course. ... By the way, the reason there are no images of my dear wife in this album is most certainly by her choice, not mine. She is notoriously camera shy and I have promised her that the few images of her she allows me to take on trips will definitely not make their way into these web albums. So ... promise kept.
136. This is Waialea Beach, or what is affectionately called Beach 69 by locals, after the turnoff marker that marks the road to the beach. This came recommended by TA pros as a fantastic place to snorkel and it was certainly on my list of places to snorkel, but alas, we never made it there. So many beaches, so little time! ... But I did take a quick twenty minute look the same morning I checked out the Mauna Kea beach. It really is way off the beaten path, but looked like a great place to explore, with lots of bleached driftwood.
137. Still at Waialea ... a crab who was a little less shy than all the other crabs I spotted on this trip. Does anybody know what kind this one is?
138. We never did take a look around the beach (A Bay - 'Anaeho'omalu Bay) that's in front of the Marriott, just a little south of us, but we did dip quickly into the accompanying shopping center, Kings' Shop, once for a dinner and once to hear this slack-key guitarist, John Keawe. It was an enjoyable hour of music - he's a native Big Islander and it shows in his music's lyrics.
139. There are so many interesting bays and beaches along the Kohala Coast ... I could have explored several more days and still wanted more time. I chose Kiholo Bay, just ten minutes south of where we were at the Mauna Lani ... this and the next five following images are all taken from about a one mile (one way) walk I did one early morning. I couldn't have known it at the time, but it turned out to be a very good morning for spotting wildlife. I only saw one person the whole two hours I was out there - a man throwing a net into the ocean along the shore, trying to net fish. Almost immediately upon reaching these small black sand beaches (in a series), just to the left of the parking area, I saw a couple of sea turtles grazing on seaweed in the shallow water you see here. The photos I took of them are unremarkable - just the very top of their shells. It was nice spotting a few more in the surf, however, as I walked north.
140. Oh my goodness, there were SO many feral goats in the underbrush that morning! I must have seen at least six different groups and each group had at least ten or fifteen individuals. They were very watchful of me, as well, as you can see here. I wasn't trying to approach them at all, just get a few photos ... but any of my movements usually sent them scurrying for cover. I must have shot this image immediately before they ran off. I don't know this to be true, but I gathered that by their skittishness that maybe they are regularly hunted ... does anybody know? I only saw a feral pig one time (near the trailhead to Polulu Valley ... and I so wanted a photo of a feral pig - but he only let me glimpse him for about three seconds at most before it disappeared into thick vegetation ... so, sorry, no feral pig images!
141. Eventually, walking north, you see this sprawling estate with a home large enough to look like a whole town. My guidebook says it belongs to the man who invented the pacemaker. It just went on ... and on ... and on. What a location, though!
142. Just a bit further on is this intriguing home called locally "the Bali House." The story goes (according to the Revealed guidebook) that the owner had workers in Bali construct this home for two years. He then had it disassembled there, shipped to Hawaii, and reassembled. But what he didn't count on was that by using wood from Borneo trees that are used to much more humid conditions, that the logs would shrink in a much less humid location... there was apparently a lot of expensive repairs to be done.
143. Here's a glimpse of the bay that gives the area its name, with three herons on the lookout for a meal. I used a photography technique called HDR (high dynamic range) here for this shot. At the site, you take three photos (bracketing), one a regular exposure, one underexposed and one overexposed. Once home, on the computer, you can use a program that merges two of them together. If not for this technique, either the sky and its interesting clouds would be washed out .. or the lava in the foreground would be in complete silhouette. I have been experimenting some with HDR for about a year.
144. ... And a heron decides to change its position. I had my camera set to 1/2000th of a second (a very fast shutter speed) in shutter speed mode ("S" on dSLR cameras) just in case one of those three herons decided to take off. It did .. and I was ready. If you let the camera just choose the settings in program mode, chances are good that the movements of a bird will be blurred instead.
145. The next seven shots (up through #151) were all taken from the very scenic road between Waimea and the small town of Hawi, near the northern most part of the island. It's called Kohala Mountain Road ... or Highway 250. You know by now that I am fond of rising early and being on the road by 6am or not too much later. Light from a low sun in the early morning is excellent for photography ... likewise, of course, for light around dusk. There are fewer cars on the road, so it's easier for stops, and typically, I can be out and about for 1-2 hours and back to the condo before my wife stirs and way before my son would even think about starting his day. I have come to truly cherish those early morning walks or drives as times to contemplate and explore. And best of all?! Nobody, and I mean nobody, is saying something like, "What? You just stopped five minutes ago for photos!" Ah, yes, the sounds of silence - literally and figuratively. The first time I drove north on 250, it was rainy and I caught this rainbow.
146. Right before I walked a bit to grab that rainbow shot, maybe about twenty feet from the highway, but completely out of the view of people in cars racing by, was this skeleton, left pretty much undisturbed. It looks like it was a horse by the hairs left behind and the large overall size. Once again, the biology teacher in me finds ALL parts of the life cycle interesting. I was particularly surprised to see that level of decay with all the bones still so close together.
147. Looking back south now, still from a Highway 250 lookout, you can see Mauna Kea to the far left. I think (but am not 100% sure) that the mountain in the left center is Mauna Loa - it only looks shorter because of the perspective of the greater distance. ... And then the peak to the far right is Hualalai, which is just a bit east of Kona. I enjoy such sweeping views. I used a super wide angle lens (10-20mm), my favorite lens for landscapes ... and then just cropped out most of the bottom of the photo later on.
148. Back in photo #134's caption, I discussed the rain shadow effect and here you can see it well. This is looking SW toward the Kohala Coast from the dry side of the Kohala Mountains. Notice the abundant cacti (yes, indeed, in Hawaii!) and the complete lack of trees. All those rain-filled clouds behind my shoulders as I took this were in the process of doing their thing and petering out before they got to where I was standing.
149. ... And here's a closeup view of the previous image, again, looking straight SW toward some of the Kohala Coast resorts. If you happen to know this region of the Big Island well, I'll leave the fun of trying to identify each hotel to you.
150. The whole area to the north and east of Waimea is filled with cattle. This is cowboy country. Before the Parker Ranch was sold off in smaller parcels, much of the surrounding land and all its cattle were a part of a single ranch, for awhile making it the largest privately owned ranch in the country. By the way, since the road points straight NW (with lots of curves along the way), that mountain in the distance is not one on the BI, but part of Maui. Only about thirty miles separate the two islands.
151. The last image from Kohala Mountain Road ... I just liked the juxtaposition of Maui in the distance and the small cone, covered in green, to the right. This is what much of the road looks like. It's really quite scenic and I highly recommend it if you enjoy scenic roads at a slower pace to enjoy the views. If you head up toward Hawi and the Polulu Valley, perhaps you could drive north into the region via Highway 270, along the coast and then back toward Waimea south along this scenic road ... or you could reverse that loop, naturally. I'm always in favor of loops even if it slows down the overall journey some. This road is so very different from all the others on the island ... it's definitely worth a gander if you have the time.
152. The next nine photos, up through # 160, are from an afternoon where all three of us drove north to Hawi (pronounced Ha Vee), through the nearby town Kapa'au, and then finally to the end of Highway 270, to do the Polulu Valley hike. My wife fell in love with the quaint feel of Hawi and its shops - we were there for over three hours. She found some really good bargains and didn't want to miss a single shop down the row that covered about three blocks max. I was truly just happy she was so pleased ... she certainly is game to go along with me on some of my more offbeat excursions. One of the first shops we stopped at was this music store. Tyler is very musical - he writes music for both the piano and guitar and plays both at home constantly - he started playing a banjo that is sort of an antique. It was made in 1927. The shopowner called it a banjolele - after some research, my son now calls it a tenor banjo. Long story short ... my wife and I ended up buying it for him as a late HS grad gift. He adores it!
153. I was surprised by how few shave ice shops we saw on the BI. After trips to Maui and Kauai and seeing how prominent shave ice is on those two islands, we assumed it would be the same for this trip. But they were strangely absent ... maybe we just didn't hit the right spots? This awesome shave ice (with of course, a scoop of ice cream near the bottom!) was at a small shop called Upstairs at the Mill, directly above the diner Kohala Coffee Mill. It's about 98 degrees right now in Chicago (brutal heat wave/drought across the Midwest this summer), as I write, five days after our arrival back home ... and you know what? I could REALLY use one of these shave ices RIGHT now!
154. Just a bit east of Hawi is the tiny town of Kapa'au. On the front lawn of the civic center is this statue of King Kamehameha the Great. There's a great story behind this one. This statue was constructed in Italy in the late 1800s, but ended up at the bottom of the ocean in a shipwreck off the Falkland Islands (well before the Panama Canal was constructed). It was recovered eventually and found its way here ... and its twin duplicate is in Honolulu. The Kapa'au statue is actually the original one.
155. Kapa'au also has a few nice shops ... the shop owner was gracious about letting me snap a photo to show off some of the quality items for purchase. Before I forget to mention it, this region of the island apparently has the best ziplining. We did not partake on this trip since we did so just a few years back in Costa Rica - which was truly amazing! It's not cheap at about $150 per person, I think ... it was far cheaper in Costa Rica. If you have never tried it, it's quite the rush ... you really have to try it once in your life!
156. These next five pictures are all from the trail down to Polulu Valley. It's a bit slippery, but not too bad, really. People of all ages were making their way down. It's only about maybe 15-20 minutes down (3/4ths of a mile one way), but of course, a little longer on the way up ... it is steep, that's for sure. I would allow at least an hour for the whole hike down and up, more if you really want to linger for quite a while at the bottom.
157. This view of the beach below is from about half way down the trail ... it's far better than the view from the lookout at the end of the road at the trailhead.
158. With all the rain recently, there was a river moving pretty fast down at the beach. A few people worked their way across. We played it safe and stayed on the side where I took this photo from.
159. Various types of rock pounded and rounded by the wave action.
160. If you head down into the valley just for a 100 yards or so, you get a real nice view of the more serene aspect of the landscape.
161. Heading back from Polulu Valley, toward the Kohala Coast, if you continue down south on Highway 270, you can take a brief detour to the northern most point of the island, 'Upolu Point. There's a small airport nearby, commanding views of Maui if its clear and this wind farm, which I thought was picturesque in an offbeat way.
162. My wife is not a huge fan of macadamia nuts, but I love them, when I allow myself the luxury of eating all those calories. So ... of course, I had to indulge in one of the several macadamia nut locations on the island. The one I chose was not too far from where our condo was, just a little north of the town of Kawaihae ... the Hamakua Macadamia Nut Company. The trees they harvest are actually on the other side of the island near Hilo, but they process the nuts and can them at this small factory. You can get a short tour of how their machines work - they were not operating when I was there, but signs explained what each machine does. Much more importantly, they have very generous samples .... and I had to really check myself to not over indulge ... so many flavors, SO many calories! It was fun, though. Their shelves of nothing but macadamia nuts went on and on ... Yes, this is sort of a tourist trap designed to get you to buy nuts for everybody you know back home, but if you like them, you'll enjoy it.
163. The same morning that I drove partway up the Kohala Mountain Road for awhile, while it was raining pretty hard, I started off by driving the Old Mamalahoa Highway, a twisty winding road that starts off veering from Highway 19 a little east of Waimea and ends to the east at the town of Honoka'a. It's similar to the Kohala Mountain Road, in that it goes through cattle country, full of gently rolling bright green hills. It reminded me a little of Ireland. It was rainy and very windy, so taking pictures was difficult. If your lens gets wet, focusing becomes difficult, so I uncharacteristically took very few photos. I still enjoyed the adventure of it, though.
164. It's interesting to watch the vegetation change dramatically on the this drive - as you move east, there is obviously more rain available and it goes from pastureland with few trees to thick tangles of trees in just a few miles. Along the road near Honoka'a, I saw several turkeys along the side of the road. Here are two of them.
165. With fifteen days to play with, we had some time available to do a few activities that are way off the usual tourist beat. The Lonely Planet guidebook is quite good at suggesting tours of farms to see how local people use the land (the Revealed guidebook has no such suggestions) ... these next two activities - both done on the same day's drive from South Kohala - made both my son and wife initially raise their eyebrows ... it became known as our "bee and tea day." Our first stop was at the Volcano Island Honey Company, a farm a little west of Honoka'a, right off of the Old Mamalahoa Highway I mentioned two images ago. Richard Spiegel, whom you see here, used to be an attorney in Washington DC long ago. After sort of dropping out of society and reminding me of the character in the movie "Into the Wild," he ended up living on the BI. Soon after, he started a bee colony. Thirty some years later, he has a thriving honey processing business.
166. Richard is one very interesting character indeed. His two hour tour begins with a healthy dose of his own personal philosophy of life, as you can see from my previous photo, if you can read the fine print on his slide to the left of the image. I didn't find it to be as preachy as you might initially think because he has gone out of his way to live his own values and his message resonated with all three of us. My son in particular absolutely loved this guy ... after the standard tour was over, he and Richard went off on their own and talked more philosophy and Eastern religions for well over a half hour - they ended up sharing book suggestions and exchanging email addresses After the slide show is over, he takes you over to an area where, with beekeeper garb on (you're behind a glass at this point, so no need to worry about getting stung), he carefully takes apart much of a hive and explains how it all works - how the bees produce the honey, how they collect it and process it and so on.
167. None of the three of us had ever seen a bee hive up close and personal, just a a couple of feet away. If that interests you, you will likely love this tour. Richard explained much about how the bees work together, communicate and so on. I thought he was quite good at adjusting his spiel based on what our group (it was just the three of us) wanted to know ... I had a lot of questions for him about bee communication. He is naturally extremely knowledgable about all things bees and honey ... and his enthusiasm was contagious. My wife also found the two hours to be quite interesting. It costs $35 for adults.
168. All of his signature honey comes from nectar collected by bees in one area of the island on the west side, a large area of kiawe trees near Puako. The product is not the least bit cheap - the eight ounces you see here was $17 and sells for $20-30 elsewhere on the island (we saw it in several stores) ... but, oh man, you have really got to taste this stuff before you pass it off as too expensive. It is most certainly unlike any other honey you have ever tasted. We bought several jars - one with ginger extract mixed in and another one with lilikoi (fruit of the passion flower) added in ... they are crazy good! It's the only honey I have ever tasted where I have been sneaking small spoonfuls (it's a solid, not a liquid) the last few days and just savoring a little bit of it on my tongue. OK, I have clearly drooled enough now ... moving on.
169. In the afternoon tour of our "bee and tea day," we went down the road only about a mile or so to Mauna Kea Tea ... their tour is anywhere from $20-30 depending on the size of the group and is meant to last an hour ... we lingered a bit and were there for one and a half hours instead. The farm is owned by a couple of University of California at Berkeley grads (both majored in environmental science) .. they bought the land about seven years ago. It takes 5-6 years from initial plantings to be able to harvest, so their retail production is just getting going. The tour starts off with the guests sampling several different kinds of their green teas (no black tea). They explain how they pick and process the leaves and then show how to best get the most flavor out of the tea leaves.
170. After the sampling for a half hour or more, one of the couple walks you to their "backyard," which you see here - this is about a third of their crop. I can't recommend this particular tour as enthusiastically as I did for the honey farm ... you would have to be very interested in green tea and come in with lots of questions, since they don't seem to have much of a patter down yet (both the man and woman sort of let you guide what they say, based on your questions to the point of there being some uncomfortable moments of silence if you are not specifically asking questions. This would not be a tour for children, but if you are adults who love green tea and want to learn more about it, I think you would likely enjoy it. ... By the way, coffee production on the island is far greater than for tea, by at least a 100 to 1 ratio.
171. After our tea, we stopped off for a very late lunch at Tex Drive-In in nearby Honoka'a - and watched them make malasadas, which they seem to specialize in. They're pretty yummy, but I didn't find them to be too different than donuts you might find elsewhere.
172. The seven images that follow this one are from the Waipi'o Valley area - the next two from the lookout that you can do just by driving up and looking ... and then the next five from a horseback ride that my son and I did (my wife stayed back at the beach and had a perfectly lovely afternoon to herself snorkeling and lounging in her cabana). To help you get oriented, here's a closeup from the 3D model that was back at the HVNP visitor center. The lookout for Waipi'o Valley is at the end of the road you can see to the far left. You can hike in - but it's a very steep ascent to get back up (25% grades) or go down by 4WD - which I would not have wanted to do, especially once I saw the road myself. Incidentally, the Pololu Valley hike I described earlier in images #156-160 begins with the road you can see here to the far right.
173. Here's the lookout view of Waipi'o Valley. This area of the island gets a whole lot of rain and it's lush indeed.
174. ... And a zoomed in view of the previous scene to emphasize the series of valleys and the waterfall.
175. My son had not been on a horse since he was about seven. So I thought he might like to experience being on a horse as an adult. I think he sort of enjoyed it (maybe!), but his first response was something like, "I could have walked down there a lot faster." I chose Na'alapa Stables and they did a nice job. It was $87 per person before any tip you chose to leave for about two and a half hours total. They first drive the group down in a van to where the stables are on the floor of the valley. You can see from this photo that it really is a steep grade and if you are driving this road with your rental 4WD, what exactly do you do when you encounter a vehicle going the other direction? They left the back doors to the van propped open - I guess for air circulation and we were asked to NOT put on seat belts, with the explanation that if the van goes over the edge that we'd be more likely to survive not strapped in. Well, that is certainly comforting! Anybody know ... do all companies do the same?
176. The ride was very pleasant, going across and up several streams, as you see here. I hadn't been on a horse for a long time and have almost no experience riding, so I sort of enjoyed just learning how to control the horse with a Western grip - we were expected to be able to get our horse to stop, get moving again, go left and right and so on. They did a nice job of explaining all those techniques and there were three workers present for about twelve of us total for a nice ratio of four to one, allowing us to have somebody always fairly close by to answer any questions. There were times when we allowed our horse to have a drink in a river or snack on vegetation off to the side. If you and your family think that all sounds like fun, then you will most certainly enjoy this ride quite a bit.
177. About fifty or so people live within the valley itself, all off the grid and most are taro farmers. You can see some of their crop in the foreground here.
178. It was difficult to take photos on a moving horse, especially as I tried (awkwardly) to maintain my Western grip at the same time, but there was no way I wasn't taking photos, ha, ha! Without the ability to carefully compose my shots, most turned out poorly, but I got lucky with this one, with four wild horses in the foreground and a waterfall in the background. Yay!
179. OK, yes, I really was in Hawaii! ... Do you like my bright pink saddle bag? When we were grabbing one (for my camera as I mounted and so on) to start off, I guess I didn't see the other ones meant for men. I took a bit of teasing for this ... yeah, "just part of my ensemble!" ... All in all, I really enjoyed our ride - it was in a very beautiful place indeed, even if my attempt to turn Tyler into a cowboy ended with a whimper.
180. The images up through #193 are all about the Mauna Kea summit/visitors center. In my own trip planning for the Big Island, I saw many people ask whether they should go up to the visitors center or not. With us, there was never any question because we had the time and all three of us are at least somewhat interested in astronomy. This is Saddle Road - we only drove the portion from the west side of the island ... not the portion between the visitors center and Hilo. The road is completely paved and you do not need a 4WD vehicle to get to the VC ... but you do need one to go up to the summit on your own. Saddle Road is very curvy, with a whole lot of up and down, at least in the early portion of it - it eventually gets wider and straightens out in the middle portion. The early section is a bit like a roller coaster ride. We saw quite a few ranch animals along the way - plenty of sheep, goats, and even some turkeys. That's not Mauna Kea you see in this photo, but Mauna Loa to the south.
181. Eventually, you get to a spur road that takes you up a pretty steep grade for six miles up to the Onizuka Visitor Information Station, the building you see to the left. It's at 9200 feet, so the air is noticeably thinner up there. You can climb up a similar cone as you see to the right, that's on the other side of the road, for nice 360 degree views all around - a few dozen people usually gather there shortly before sunset. I'll get to photos taken from there shortly.
182. There are several paid staff and a bunch of volunteers, all astronomy buffs, that set up the telescopes you see here for a stargazing evening. All three of us were up there one evening ... then my son and I came back the next day for round # two so that he could hike up to the summit. So I was there for most of their stargazing for two nights, as weird as that may sound to some. You can see images in their scopes like the rings of Saturn and some of its moons, star clusters, and so on. People line up to use each scope, one after another. There were about 60-70 visitors there both nights. Once it gets completely dark, around 8:15, one of the staff does a "star tour," pointing a laser at planets and constellations, and explaining all sorts of cool things. It's free and the star tour guides are quite knowledgeable and able to answer any question thrown their way. ... It does get pretty cold up there, though - come prepared with jacket and maybe even gloves. They sell hot chocolate for $1.
183. When you're up at 9200 feet, there's 20% less air, so you can see more details in the nighttime sky, but you would really have to know a lot to notice the difference compared to being at sea level, as long as there are no bright lights on around you. I took this image near the pool in our condo complex around 9:00 with my tripod. You need a long exposure, so a tripod is essential. I set my camera - to manual mode, opened up to a wide aperture, set a high ISO (6400) and then used a remote release to open the shutter for 30 seconds. If you go much more than half a minute, you're going to get the beginning of star trails because of the earth's movement. ... That whitish cluster in the center of the photo is part of the Milky Way. ... The summit of Mauna Kea is one of the top places in the world for observatories (perhaps the best). The air is thin, light pollution is very low, and since Hawaii is so close to the equator, astronomers can see most of the southern sky, as well as all of the northern sky.
184. Apollo astronauts test drove lunar rovers near the summit ... and when Tyler and I went back up there the second day, I saw this contraption being tested by some scientists, right down near the visitors center. I'm not sure what it is ... I didn't want to bother them with my usual questions.
185. Hawaii veterans will likely know exactly what this image is without further context. ... we had seen some on Maui. It's a closeup of a section of a silversword, a unique plant to Hawaii that grows only at high elevations, in the 9000-10,000 feet range.
186. Now you can see where I got the previous image from - I just zoomed in on a portion to the far right. and then cropped even more, once home. When silverswords are in bloom, they have these very tall flowers that rise out of the center of the plant. ... There's a short walk right behind the visitors center that takes you to several of these amazing plants. This looked like the biggest one to me.
187. I mentioned earlier that you can climb a cone that's close to the the visitors center to get a nice look all around. ... On the day that my son hiked up to the summit, I walked this path as soon as we got there in the early afternoon and then once again for sunset views. This image is looking north toward the Mauna Kea summit. You can see part of the zigzagging road that 4WDs take up to the top (you can also do a tour that costs about $200, where they provide coats, gloves and so on ... and lasts something like about 7-8 hours). Tyler has hiked several 14ers (mountains over 14,000 feet) in Colorado, so as soon as he heard that you can hike up to the top, he was keen to do it. I really didn't want him to hike up there alone, but after talking to a man at the VC, I relaxed some about it. Tyler is very fit, is quite familiar with high altitudes and went prepared. It's 12 miles round trip, supposed to take 8-10 hours ... he did it in five. Ahhh, youth is wasted on the young - to be 18 again and so fit!
188. Tyler enjoyed his hike very much .... he ended up partnering up for much of the hike with a young man from Switzerland, also solo, who had just recently hiked all of the Appalachian Trail. He did say, though, that the first couple miles up was like climbing a seemingly endless sand dune - very steep. He loved the views from the top and walked all the way down himself, instead of hitching a ride with people driving down. ... At the top of that lookout cone, somebody had left these offerings. Thanks to a PM, after the trip, I learned that the statue represents "Lord Ganesh," a Hindu deity who wards off danger and keeps people safe.
189. On the way back down from that walk, I once again, couldn't resist grasses backlit by the sun.
190.The next four images are all from my sunset at the cinder cone. I knew in advance that the sunset itself would most likely not be all that spectacular since it would be dropping below the nearby slopes long before it would hit the horizon. These people and many others were facing the sun (above the clouds at close to 10,000 feet!), but I was much more interested in the opposite side, to see how light coming from such a low angle would play off of the nearby topography.
191. ... The last few vestiges of light before darkness returns.
192. That's Mauna Loa in the distance to the right. ... I stood in this spot and relished watching the shadows play out on the nearby cones and the distant clouds gradually turning pinkish. This may not have packed the same punch as a traditional coastal sunset, but I enjoyed it perhaps even more, since there was so much nearby for the sun to light up, especially the reddish rock you see here. These are the types of scenes that people who enjoy photography dream of ... :)
193. This young couple was in Hawaii for their first time - for two weeks total, one week first on the BI and then the final week in Kauai ... wow, that is exactly what I would recommend to people if they had two weeks and had never been to the state before. They were happy enough to serve as my "foreground interest" for my sunset photo ... and then we compared travel notes all the way back down the trail to the VC. ... The drive back to the Mauna Lani both nights was uneventful ... no fog or clouds to go through. So although, of course, it was extremely dark, the road wasn't as scary as I imagined it might be. It took a little over an hour to drive back to our condo.
194. OK, it's time to head to another area of the island ... the Kailua-Kona area, a place many tourists base themselves out of the entire visit. ... Heading down Highway 19 (Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway), between the 78 and 79 markers, there's a pullout where you can see the Mauna Loa flow of 1859 ... it looked like it came down as a single wide flow on the other side of the highway and then split into two, what you see on the left and right edges of this photo. One of the things that makes the BI so very interesting to drive around on is that there is easy to see evidence of fairly recent lava flows about everywhere you go. The actions of Pele are never far from your mind.
195. While my wife and son watched the most recent Spiderman movie at a local theater, I spent a couple hours walking around the central part of Kona. This is a small section of the main shoreline drive, Alii Drive ... this is the Kona Banyan Court ... many shops, restaurants, outfitters, and so on. I had difficulty finding a free parking spot, so after awhile of driving around in circles, I finally gave up and paid $10 to park. This area was way too crowded for my taste, but I know many people crave such activity and the opportunity to meet other travelers ... the older I get, the more I understand that my travel style may be anathema for others, just as their preferences would not be my choices.
196. Very close to where I parked was an open air market with some colorful stands and lots and lots of cheap trinkets, many of which had absolutely no relevance to Hawaii whatsoever ... Really? Are there giraffes on the Big Island?! Because if there are some on the slopes of the volcanoes, I missed them entirely and they're really not that small at all.
197. This is Hulihe'e Palace ... It's where some of the Hawaiian kings and queens lived in the 1800s. You can walk around for awhile on your own, but there are also guides who can give you a personal tour for about an hour. I chose the latter and heard many interesting stories about the lives of Hawaiian royalty. The woodwork in the two story building is beautiful and there are some nice artifacts inside, including some of King Kamehameha's war spears. I think younger children might get antsy in there, but if you're interested in Hawaiian history, it's certainly worth a stop.
198. Directly across the street is Moku'aikuaua Church built in 1836 ... it was the first Christian church in Hawaii. When Christian missionaries got there, King Liholiho had just abandoned the kapu (taboos) of the ancient religion, so their timing was impeccable.
199. At the far end of Alii Drive, is this small resort beach (it looked manmade to me with all it's bleached white sand... is it?) You can rent all sorts of water transportation here, like this outrigger canoe ... or take guided tours. Somewhere near this spot the famous Ironman Triathlon begins ... if you don't already know the distances, contemplate what this would mean: first swim 2.4 miles in the open ocean, rush out of the water to get on your bike and ride 112 miles over lava fields, ... and nope, you are not done yet! Now it's time to run your full marathon of 26.2 miles. Whew ... makes me want to down a shave ice and then take a nap, just thinking about it! ... We did see quite a few bikers along the highways and many of them looked very serious ... wow, if they were on the BI training in early July for an October event, that is indeed dedication (or lunacy, depending on your perspective) personified. ... Shave ice, please!
200. These two stand-up paddlers are graciously adding interest to my photo of King Kamehameha's (hey, slap on the back to me for finally typing his name without having to double check one of my guidebooks for the correct spelling ... all these vowels are certainly a challenge ... I think this calls for a shave ice!) personal temple (heiau), Ahu'ena Heiau. The small bird on one of the ki'i statue is a golden plover, the bird that some historians think might have guided the Polynesians over thousands of miles of open ocean to Hawaii.
201. And yes, now finally it's time to rave about the most amazing experience of our trip - the nighttime snorkel with mantas! It was without question the favorite experience for all three of us ... no close seconds. There are many companies that can take you to where all boats seem to go to these days, the "airport location," or Garden Eel Cove. We had booked with Jack's Diving Locker for just their nighttime snorkel ($87 per person), but they called us the day before and asked if we wanted a free upgrade to their longer trip to the same location that included an afternoon snorkel, in addition to the nighttime one. They had apparently overbooked for their nighttime snorkel on a different boat. We agreed. It was with SCUBA divers, as well. While it was interesting to see the divers go through their routines (never been on a dive boat before), the snorkelers were put in the last group to always enter the water, the last of four groups, so there was quite a lot of waiting for us snorkelers.
202. I thought the personnel on the boat were uniformly excellent - friendly, articulate, and funny, especially the head guy, Keller. It took about maybe a twenty minute ride to get to the airport location. Nobody on the boat seemed to have any sea sickness issues, but then again, this was mostly a boat full of experienced divers. The afternoon snorkel (beginning around 5:30) was just OK, not too many fish really (nothing like what we were used to seeing at Makaiwa Bay at the Mauna Lani) ... that is until we started spotting the Pacific manta rays we had all come to see. The area's nutrients and currents are favorable for large plankton blooms and that's the food the mantas are after. ... Wow, was it ever cool to see them up close, like you see here! Words are going to fail me here, but I guess I'll try anyway ... they get up to 20 feet wide, left to right. I think the largest ones we saw that day were probably about twelve feet wide. I think their gaping mouths were close to three feet wide.
203. OK, you can go ahead right now and poke fun at me for actually taking a photo of plankton - I know that's a bit weird - but it's a big part of the story here. I liked this photo in particular since it looks like the ghost-like plankton in the lower right is more interesting than the rest. The mantas filter feed the plankton ... they basically just swim (ever so gracefully!) through their food, mouth agape. And we got to be there to witness it all ... Keller counted 24 different mantas there that night - he counts by knowing their individual markings. There were indeed many ... it wouldn't have felt any different if there were 40. This was my birthday ... it wasn't an accident at all that I scheduled this snorkel for that day ... Happy birthday to me!
204. The crew had some pretty good sandwiches and snacks and there were many interesting characters aboard that evening. We had some lovely chats with some true world travelers ... I have learned in the past that divers tend to be exceptionally well-traveled. ... There were fifteen boats there that night, all anchored in a pretty tight circle around the spot where the divers and snorkelers would all enter. Shortly after a nice sunset, all the divers from different boats loaded themselves up with enough weights to sit at the bottom of the ocean (I think it was about 40 feet down there) - from the bottom, they pointed their lights straight up. We snorkelers (there were many more of us) floated up top and directed our lights downward. The combined effect of all that light attracted a thick soup of plankton ... and the mantas, certainly no fools, know a buffet when they see it. This nightly show - with some periods where they don't show up (there is no guarantee here) has been going on for over thirty years.
205. One big caveat here ... I think this would not be an issue for the divers below us because there were fewer of them and they could carefully space themselves out. But for the snorkelers, it was absolutely ridiculously crowded. Each group is hanging on to a large styrofoam ring - what you see here to the left. I think that would have been OK if that's all the more crowded it got, but what happened is that because the mantas are all in one relatively small space, all the snorkeling groups are desiring to be near the center of action ... or at least not too far off the center. So it becomes a whole lot of fins in your face and constant bumping in to each other. I tried to just go into a zen state, stare straight down and focus exclusively on the magnificent show below, but when somebody's fins or arms are regularly bopping you in the head, it's hard to focus. I mention all this so you are forewarned. ... I should have had enough sense to break free from the ring and observe the action from off to the side.
206. Oh, but what an incredible show it was. Now that I spoke my mind on the crowded conditions, let me go back to glowing ... To have these massive creatures swim so slowly and gracefully just inches in front of us - they several times grazed our belly or legs (we were, of course, instructed to not touch them) - well, it is truly indescribable. You could watch all the YouTube clips (of which there are many) you want or see photos ... and none of any of that would really prepare you for what it's like in person. ... You can see inside their mouth and gills so well, being up that close and it is clear they are watching us, as we are staring gleefully at them. ... It's a wonder that the very loud shrieks of delight all around don't scare them off ... I guess it's a mighty good buffet! If you are comfortable snorkeling, this is an absolute must do on the Big Island ... all three of us were raving about it for days - I still am, well over a week later! ... Whew ... so, SO very cool!
207. The next five images, up through #211, are all from a morning tour of Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory, up on the hillsides of Keauhou, south of Kona by a few minutes. This is the only place on the island that grows cacao trees for their beans to be able to make pure Hawaiian chocolate (no powder mixed in from beans from other countries). If you're a chocolate lover - who isn't?! - this one hour tour is quite interesting. They do two tours per week, on Wednesday and Friday mornings at 9:30 and it costs $12 per person. ... These are the seed pods from the cacao trees. The tour starts off showing off some of the trees on their land - the flowers, small pods, and then some about ready to harvest.
208. The owners are a "retired" couple from North Carolina, Pam and Bob Cooper. They used to work there in country club management and then moved to Hawaii to relax, after vacationing there for many years. The land they purchased 15 years ago just happened to have cacao trees on it ... that's not why they purchased the land - they just loved the beauty of the estate and its location. Quite a few years later, they are full time farmers and chocolate processors ... it's a very interesting story to hear from this man how his life changed with his growing love of all things chocolate. There's no doubt he is passionate and quite proud of their product. ... Here you see him holding up a cacao pod right after he split one open.
209. The while creamy covering that covers the cacao nibs is actually called the "placenta" and the local geckos seem to love it. The kids on the tour (there were about twenty of us present the morning we were there) seemed to enjoy their very close looks at the geckos as much as the details of chocolate production. Looks like they made an impression on me, too!
210. Here's a closer look at one of the gold dust day geckos. I know to locals, they must hardly notice them anymore since they are so common, but a visitor can't help but admire their bright colors. These geckos are not so cute, however, if you happen to be a smaller species of gecko that also live on the island. The one you see here ate one of the much smaller brown geckos right in front of us - swallowed it whole.
211. They had a large number of cocoa nibs out on trays fermenting in the sun. After the outside portion of the tour, he took us inside for a brief look at how they stir in sugar and milk for their milk chocolate. There were three small samples given out during the beginning of the tour and they talked about what made each one different ... and of course, there were chocolates you could buy at the end in their gift shop.
212. The next twenty photos, up through #231 are all from a combined kayak/snorkel tour we did into Kealakekua Bay, which you can see in this photo taken from an stop along Highway 11. The bay is off to the right. This whole area of the island really captivated me. Before our trip began, I assumed from my trip preparation that the whole western side of the island would be as stark looking as I knew the Kohala Coast would be from its descriptions ... but I was wrong, the Captain Cook area looked more like land on the eastern side than the neighboring land to the north, on the same side ... it was lush and varied. In restrospect, if I were to plan this trip over, having the advantage of already being there to see so much of it, I would be tempted to stay for at least 2-3 days in the area around the town of Captain Cook. But on the other hand, the drive down to this area from the Mauna Lani - at about an hour and ten minutes, was a pretty one and interesting.
213. The snorkeling in the Kealakekua Bay has the reputation of being among the best in the whole state of Hawaii, if not the absolute top choice. So it's a popular destination for tourists, even if it is not easy to access. You have several choices. There are tours you can do where a boat will bring you in to just snorkel. You can go with a kayak/snorkel service as we did (we used Hawaii Pack and Paddle). Or you can choose to kayak into the bay on your own, but you have to obtain a permit to land your kayak in advance, as they are trying to control access, given that it's a protected area. There was nobody enforcing this need for a permit (apparently, there never is), so there were plenty of people who seemed to take advantage of this lack of oversight. A fourth option is to hike down yourself from the cliffs far above with your snorkel gear, beverages, snacks, and so on. We only saw a few people who had hiked in. Hawaii Pack and Paddle does have the required permit, so if you go with them, you're "legal."
214. The company we went with, Hawaii Pack and Paddle, is owned by the man you see here, Bari Mims. His daughter Latisha was also with us for our tour. Sometimes, his son is with instead ... so this is definitely a family-owned and operated business. I thought both Bari and his daughter were very friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful. We were in a group of ten that day - I think what they limit their groups to - and both of them were very caring of the younger children in the group. It was also very interesting to hear their life stories. He grew up on the BI, moved to California, and came back to start this business. She is an elementary teacher on the island. One of the very nice perks of doing longer tours like this (it lasted from 8:30 until about 2:30) is that there is some real time to get to know the guides some and ask them questions about what it's like to live there. We all really enjoyed hearing some of those details. The tour was $125 per person, but you can do shorter ones for less.
215. One of the draws for tourists into Kealakekua Bay is that there are frequently spinner dolphins present, as you see here. Bari is insistent that people not approach the dolphins (he is quite sincere in trying to help preserve the area) - we kept our safe distance ... and he barked at some kayakers who were trying to jump out of their kayaks just a few feet from the dolphins to try to swim with them. There are some companies on the island, apparently, that do "swim with dolphins tours," that go out on a boat seeking these spinner dolphin pods and then try to get tourists as close as possible to them, before they let them jump off of the boat to try to swim with them. I knew from reading links (via TA posts) about serious dolphin population declines in the area that those type of excursions are to be avoided and seem to be all about exploitation. Manta populations in the area are healthy; dolphin population sizes are in steep decline.
216. Bari spends quite a bit of time explaining local history from the beginning of the tour until near the end. We landed our kayaks very close to the Captain Cook monument you see here. Captain Cook was killed near this spot in 1779 in a bloody confrontation with native peoples. The story of what the the native Hawaiians thought of Captain Cook and his crew the first time he landed there and the second (fatal) time, based on what time of year each landing matched up with, according to the Hawaiian calendar is a fascinating one.
217. Bari was able to point out much of the local flora and fauna. He showed us brittle stars, sea cucumbers, and so on from tide pools, as well as showing us how Hawaiians used to (and still do) use various indigenous plants. I was thrilled when he spotted these gecko eggs in a tree crevice.
218. Ah, mongooses - what a story for the island they have turned out to be. They were originally brought here from India to try to control the local rat population ... oops, huge miscalculation! Rats are nocturnal and mongooses are active only in the daytime, so no pest control at all. Instead they have decimated local bird populations because the mongooses love their eggs. I knew we'd likely see them, but the first time still took me by surprise - it was only about ten feet away from our feet, while we were relaxing at our outdoor patio at our condo. It scurried across the yard in a hurry! I saw these mongooses actually quite a few times in our two week trip, but succeeded in capturing an image of them only a few times and most of the photos were poor, since they weren't exactly posing for the camera. This image was taken just a few feet from the Captain Cook monument and with my underwater camera, so it's really too grainy for my taste, but here it is, beady red eyes and all.
219. The snorkeling in Kealakekua Bay, right around the Captain Cook monument turned out to be outstanding. While the snorkeling we were used to at Makaiwa Bay was really very good, this was significantly better. That was the strong opinion from all three of us. The difference was apparent immediately ... larger schools of fish and excellent variety. What struck me most was that the fish just seemed to be less wary ... it was almost as if they somehow knew that since they were in a preserve and couldn't be fished for food or for the aquarium trade, that they could relax some. I don't know if that was my imagination working overdrive, but my wife and son noticed the difference, as well. Bari tried to keep our small group together, so that he could point out fish and identify them, as you see him doing here. I more or less stayed on the far outskirts of our group and went off on my own to see what I could see.
220. The next nine photos of fish in the bay will give you some idea of the wonderful diversity of species, without a doubt the best we saw in the four locations we snorkeled in. ... Here's an orangespine surgeonfish.
221. I think this is a whitemouth moray eel.
222. ... And a male bullethead parrotfish.
223. A sailfin tang, definitely one of my favorites.
224.This is a cornetfish, very cool to see! We also saw many trumpetfishes that morning.
225. A whitespotted surgeonfish to the right (this was the only place I saw this species) and a black triggerfish to the left, which we saw plenty of all over.
226. A beautiful black tang ... love the maze-like markings on this guy!
227. The male spotted trunkfish ... I never got tired of seeing these little guys, even though they are quite wary and would usually duck for shelter if you got anywhere close.
228. A rockmover wrasse, another fish we only saw that morning.
229. We were in the water at Kealakekua Bay for a little over an hour and a half, a nice long time. It was such a satisfying experience! Right as we were ready to exit for a lunch, we got a very nice surprise. I started hearing excited chatter about seeing a sea turtle around and when I turned to look, it was immediately below me by only about three feet! Well, hello there!
230. And another look, as it slowly swam away.
231. After getting out of the water (by that time, early afternoon), we had a lunch and then kayaked back. The kayak ride each way was about a half hour and was pleasant enough. Bari and Latisha were very good about helping everyone in and out of the kayaks and providing any assistance necessary. I can definitely highly recommend them ... we all felt well taken care of. At the end of the experience, we met at a local shop for coffee and ice cream.
232. After we first exited the water, there were several local children cooling off in the water. When I asked if I could grab some photos, they seemed to take that as a challenge. I set my camera to shutter speed mode (S) to be able to freeze their movements at 1/2000th of a second and set the shutter release to high continuous (with my camera, that's six frames per second), so that I would have several images to view later. I especially liked this one. ... Thanks, guys!
233. Just four miles south, down the narrow coastal road from where we were for the kayak/snorkel tour, was a very interesting place, Pu'uhonua O Honaunau, also commonly called the Place of Refuge. It's administered by the national park service, so a ranger was able to explain the significance of what we were seeing there. There are some heiau (temples) there, some model outrigger canoes, as you see here, and much interesting rocky coastline, where you can try to spot sea turtles in the surf.
234. Pu'uhonua O Honaunau has a very unique history. If anyone broke one of the religious kapu (taboos), no matter how serious the infraction, they could escape death if they could somehow elude capture and swim to this refuge. What an interesting concept! ... Here are some picturesque ki'i statues.
235. Immediately next to Pu'uhonau O Ohonaunau (which you can see in the distance in this photo) is another superb snorkeling spot. Called Honaunau, you can see that there's no easy beach access here. Instead, one way to enter and exit is from the two flat rocky ledges (known as Pae'a) you see in the lower portion (hence an older nickname, "Two Step"). Snorkelers or divers first sit on the upper ledge, then carefully lower themselves to the lower one, then finally slide in ... and plentiful, colorful fish are right there all around you. Exiting at the same spot is a bit trickier, especially if people are still gathered in that spot.
236. I asked my wife and son if they wanted to drive back down to this area to snorkel with me, requiring another hour-long morning from the Mauna Lani, but they both declined, desiring instead to sleep in. So I took off early, arrived by about 7:45, and was the first person in to snorkel or dive that morning. An hour later, there were quite a few people there, plus some snorkelers who were jumping in from a boat tour. I stayed in for at least an hour and a half, exiting only when I felt a bit chilled. You can see from this photo just how diverse and abundant the fish are at Honaunau. I pretty much stayed over to the left, right in front of the Pu'uhonua O Honaunau area, where there were a lot of shallow areas and the snorkeling was fantastic there - it was truly heavenly!
237. If you are looking to avoid Kealakekua Bay to give the spinner dolphins some respite, Two Step would be an excellent alternative. It's certainly a lot easier to access ... no kayak required. And the snorkeling is comparable. I thought that these two sites, Kealakekua Bay and Honaunau were together significantly better than the snorkeling we did so many times at our "backyard" Makaiwa Bay, although we were also quite happy with the variety of fish and corals there, too.
238. A juvenile yellowtail coris to the left, a saddle wrasse in the back, and a female spotted trunkfish to the right. ... Quite a variety at Honaunau!
239. Two lagoon triggerfish. What an attractive arrangement of colors!
240. And a stripebelly puffer. ... Honaunau, with it's lack of a sandy beach would most definitely not be a place for beginning snorkelers to gain confidence, but if you are already comfortable with rocky entries and exits, wow, this place packs a real punch! Outstanding snorkeling.
241. As you head back to Highway 11 after visiting the Pu'uhonua O Honaunau or Honaunau, right up a short road in a pretty area is St. Benedict's Painted Church. It's an active Catholic church, which I realized when I first got there at 7:30 on a Sunday morning and there was a mass happening ... I went back a few hours later, after snorkeling at Two Step and had the place to myself. The church is truly in a very attractive setting.
242. Here's what the small church is famous for, the paintings you see all over, floor to ceiling. A priest in the late 1800s wanted to convert the illiterate native Hawaiians to Catholicism, so he went to work with his paintbrush and illustrated biblical scenes. ... If you only have room in your schedule for stopping at one church on the island, I would recommend this one, both for its charming interior and its perfectly lovely setting.
243. On the road leading up to the church, appropriately called Painted Church Road, I couldn't resist stopping to marvel at this curved tree. This is the type of scene where a super wide angle lens (10-20mm) comes in very handy ... I can't recommend this type of lens enough for travel photography - I use it often.
244. We all did a coffee tour while on Kauai a few years ago, so doing a full coffee tour wasn't a high priority for us, but I still stopped briefly at Greenwell Farms, not too far off of Highway 11, near the town of Kealakekua. I did a little coffee sampling of their yummy Kona coffee at the building you see to the right, and stopped one more time to admire yet another monkeypod tree - I think it's safe to say I became a big fan of these trees. I love their massive arching branches.
245. Here's a closeup of coffee berries. I didn't do their tour that day, but they are happy to give you one - it lasts about a half hour. If you are a coffee lover and have never done a coffee tour, I highly recommend working one into your trip. Kona Coffee production is huge on the BI and there are quite a few places to sample various coffee flavors and do tours. You will have your pick of many places and I am not sure about this, but I think almost all of the coffee tours are free.
246. We did a helicopter ride while on Kauai, and to save money, we chose not to do one while on this trip to the BI, but I am just throwing in a photo of the Blue Hawaiian port, which was very close to where our condo was on the west side of the island, to at least mention the possibility. You can do shorter rides for somewhere around $200 per person for about an hour in the air ... or go on longer two hour ones that circle the whole island and cost between $400-500. The helicopter ride that circled the much smaller island of Kauai was one of the greatest travel experiences of my life ... and while the scenery of the BI I don't think would be quite as varied and majestic as what Kauai has to offer from the air, I am sure it would be an amazing experience if you can afford it, particularly with the chance to possibly see flowing lava down below.
247. Well, this very long trip report is drawing to a close. ... I hope if you are planning a first time trip to the Big Island that these photos of our two week stay have helped you visualize what may lay ahead. If you are already a BI lover, maybe with some of our quirkier endeavors, you perhaps became intrigued about something that you never got a chance to do during earlier trips ... Remember when I said earlier that my wife and I bought our son a banjo on this trip? Here Tyler is playing it as the sun drops, near the historic fishponds at the Mauna Lani. ... If you visit soon, may you make your own music ...
248. ... encounter plenty of plumeria ...
249. ... catch more than a few rainbows ...
250. ... and find your own solace near the waves, under the coconut trees, with a beautiful sky to color your world. This trip report has been a pleasure to do - it's much like a visual diary for me and my family to better remember in the future some special moments. If you have questions or comments, please post them in the link that got you here and I will do my best to answer them within a day or two. ... Aloha, Mike