(Travel back to California; posted January 5th, 2009 from San Jose)

Today is mainly a travel day.  I get up before L’ which gives me time to do some last minute packing and check in with the family back east.  While I’m checking the news on the computer, L’ gradually moves around on the king bed until she is stretched diagonally across it.  She’s shorter than I am, yet somehow “needs” the whole bed (not to mention the whole blanket).  

We check out of the hotel, fill up the car, and get to the airport.  We have time to get a horribly over priced lunch at the airport ($15 for a tiny pizza, garden burger, and soda!?) so we’re not grumpy for the flight.  After our final agriculture screening, we board the flight to SFO (why would I have fruit with me?  Clearly, they don’t know me, unless rasinets are now officially considered fruit). 

Our fantastic Hawaii trip now becomes a cherished memory and our whirlwind, over booked lives resume all too soon.

Mahalo for reading about our adventure.

Jump to the Day 9 photos.

(Mauna Kea, posted on January 4th from San Jose)

Earlier in the week, a major storm went over the island causing rain, flooding, clouds, and snow atop the higher peaks of the island.  One of the things I wanted to do on the Big Island was to go to the summit of Mauna Kea.  Atop are the world famous observatories and some of the clearest skies on earth.  The drive to the top requires a four wheel drive car (and our clown car is not one of them) and only one rental car company allows you to go up to the top.  Guided tours are a fortune and with the recent weather, it’s not looking promising for going to the top anyway.

We awoke today surprised to see the sun so we make a go of at least the visitor center of Mauna Kea (located at 9000 feet elevation; the summit is just under 14,000).  Since we just drove from sea level to 9000 feet elevation in under two hours, we hang out at the visitor center and look at the exhibits for a bit while we acclimate.  We’ve also changed clothes since it’s gone from the 70s at the coast to about 50 degrees.  After we each have a hot chocolate, we inform the visitor center that we’re going to start a hike that goes up the mountain.  There is snow a couple thousand feet up.  We plan on hiking up to try and get there, but realize it may not be possible because of fatigue or changing weather.

In less than an hour, we’ve made it up past 10,000 feet and over a 1000 feet of elevation gain in 1.2 miles on the trail (moderately steep).  We see one of the old craters on the mountain along with a (clearly volcanic in origin) portable toilet.

The fog starts rolling in, dramatically cutting visibility.  I’m getting a little tired and we’re at a path that leads (rather levelly) back to the road.  We make it to the road in a few minutes.  Minutes later, we wave at  a family in a pickup truck that is heading up the road and ask if we can get a lift.  They say “sure” and we hop in the back.  The drive takes us to over 11,000 feet of elevation after several miles (note, the hike is much steeper than the road).  The road all the way to the summit is still closed, but we’re at the parking area at the road closure where there are lots of cars parked and people playing in the snow.  Now in full winter gear (hat, gloves, rain jacket), we walk in the snow and take traditional Hawaiian photos of us in the snow.   It’s fun to see Hawaiians shoveling snow into the backs of their trucks to take home. 

After a little while at the top, someone offers to drive us back to the visitor center.  It’s now raining a bit and we get rather wet.  As soon as we get back to the visitor center, I make a quick restroom stop and then go to the car to change clothes.  L’ gets a couple hot chocolates and makes it to the car right as I’m done changing.  L’ tells the folks in the visitor center that we made it back and she says that people remembered us as those crazy folks who set out a couple hours earlier.  After we’re both in warm, dry clothes, we head back to the hotel.  Not that many people come to Hawaii and have more hot chocolates to stay warm than umbrella drinks to stay cool.

After much needed showers, it’s early enough to watch the sunset on our lanai in t-shirts.  Nothing like going from t-shirts to winter wear and back all within a few hours and a hundred miles.

After our recent dining adventures, I look up some places on yelp.  We call the top rated place to confirm it’s open and then head to Kona to eat there.  We find parking right away and have a great meal that doesn’t break the bank like a typical tourist town restaurant does.  We browse around Kona again and then return to our room.   It’s the first time in a long time I didn’t make it till midnight, but it was a fun day anyway.  Happy New Year to all and 2009 should be quite a ride.

Jump to the Day 8 photos.

(Kaloko-Honokohau posted on January 4th. 2009 from San Jose)

We slept in today.  L’ is a bit under the weather so while she went back to sleep, I wandered the hotel grounds looking at the Hawaiian ruins.  They’re not that spectacular, but I entertain myslef and also write up Day 5’s trip log.  L’ calls me when she’s up and then I return to the room to gather our stuff and head out.

It was warm, but overcast. Opting for a slightly less packed day, we head up the coast to just south of the airport and visit Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park. This one is hardly visited and our car is only the second one in the parking lot (we assume the first is for the National Park Ranger on staff). We pick up a pamphlet and map, L’ chats up the ranger as she normally does, and we head out.

We wander to the beach and learn about how the native Hawaiians made “fish traps”. The island lacks fresh water and arable land. To live off seafood, the natives used shallow pools near the ocean to grow and eat fish. The pools would fill up during high tide and then the fish would be stuck there in low tide. They also used pools of water to raise fish- an old time fish farm. 

We started walking along the beach and rested for a few minutes. I laid down on the sand and took a nice short nap while L’ finished part of my sandwich from earlier in the day. We continued on along the beach until we found the trail that heads back away from the ocean and towards the visitor center. Here’s where our relaxing day had a bit more exercise than planned.

There are two parallel paths back to the visitor center:  the first one that we took over the lava rocks and a second one further down that goes along a paved trail. Since we had already traversed the lava on our hike to the active flow on Day 2, I figured this would be a piece of cake (since it’s not raining and it’s daylight). We went for a bit along the “trail” and at some point we must have wandered off the trail and now were just going over the lava rocks. It’s a bit hard to describe, but this greatly slows down the pace as you need to make sure you step carefully, don’t twist your ankle, and don’t fall on the jagged rocks. 

After we go a bit and it’s clear we’re not on the trail, L’ suggests we turn back. I reply that it looks like we’re about halfway (since we can see the visitor center) so we press on. Of course, then the rocks get even trickier to traverse and instead of taking a ten minute walk along a paved trail, we end up taking about an hour until we finally reach the short path to the visitor center. This is one time when I suggest the crazier choice (in retrospect). My loyal readers will know that L’ normally suggests what mere mortals consider the crazier option. Just to set the scale, even she thought our trail was crazy.

Back at the visitor center, we return to our clown car and head back to the hotel for showers. Our dinner quest was another challenge of the day. 

Finding places to eat around Kona is difficult. We read about an Italian place down in Captain Cook (about twenty minutes south) that was recommended in Lonely Planet. We find it with no problem only to learn that they are closed for the week. I’m amazed that given what the economy is like, a business in a tourist town would close during one of the busiest weeks of the year. We head back and stop a little up the road at another recommended place. It’s open, but has over an hour wait. We’re already hungry and L’ recommends we stop at the neighborhood pizza type place in the strip mall a mile from the hotel. The food is mediocre but at least we’re no longer hungry. Then it’s back to the hotel for a well deserved umbrella drink and then some sleep.

Jump to the Day 7 photos.

(Kohala, Polulu Valley, and Waipi’o Lookout; published January 3rd, 2009 from San Jose)

Today we did a lot of driving, but saw some spectacular vistas. 

We started out by heading north to the region of the island known as Kohala (or as I kept calling it "koala").  The drive takes a while, but it was well worth it.  We head north and then veer east before we get to the ocean.  The road ends at Polulu Valley.  I park the clown car in the small parking lot, taking the last spot.  Lonely Planet describes the hike as the best short hike you can do on the island.   We start at the top which has a great view of the Valley below.  Unlike what normally happens, the views get better as we hike down.  While it’s not raining, the air is not especially clear; nonetheless, the vista is fantastic.  We do the hike down to the black sand beach below and I take lots of photos including attempts at  a few panoramas that I’ll try stitching at home.  We wander around the beach a little, then do the steep hike up quickly for some good cardio workout.

It’s around lunch time, so we return down the same road stopping in a small town.  We order our lunch which takes forever since they forgot our order.  Finally done, we head down what Lonely Planet describes as the best scenic drive on the island, Kohala Mountain Road (Hwy. 250).   It lives up to its name.  The green of the landscape is an amazing emerald green with picturesque cows grazing.  There are only a few turnouts for photo-ops, but we take advantage of them.

When the road meets up with the main highway again, we head towards the Waipi’o Valley Lookout.  The Waipi’o Valley is the next one past Polulu, but it takes a bit to get there.  We make it there by midafternoon.  It’s completely overcast and windy on the coast, but the view is still spectacular.  Some of the most amazing hiking is too be found around here, but it’s too late in the day to attempt it.  Too bad since there are supposedly spectacular waterfalls around here.  We walk part of the way down the 25% grade, 4×4 vehicle only road (it decends over 1000 feet in less than a mile).  After conferring on what we can do, we turn back since by then we’re running out of daylight.

We return to the car and head back to the hotel.  On our way back, we stop in Kona which is a touristy town with a bunch of restaurants.  We find one and it has good food and decent prices.  As a bonus, I get a great chocolate milkshake for dessert.  We then head back to the car and drive home for the usual showers and sleep.

Jump to the Day 6 photos.

(South Kona Coast and Historical Parks; posted January 2nd from San Jose)

Today we explored the Kona Coast.  Heading south, we took the winding road to the sea to Kealakekua Bay.  From the Bay, we can see the Captain Cook Monument on the other side (about a mile across the water).  This is where the natives killed Cook in 1779 and then the English built a monument to him in 1878.  We opt not to kayak over to it.  The remains of a Hawaiian Temple next to the beach are unspectacular.  We wander down the road away from the tourist scene and find a small park and path along the beach.  It’s pretty and after we’re done exploring, we head back to the car.

We take a one lane road along the coast to another historical Park, Pu’uhonua o Honaunau (more pronouncably known as the "Place of Refuge").  In the ancient Hawaiian customs, if you broke the code of conduct, you were sentenced to death; however, if you made it to the Place of Refuge and spent a night there, you were pardoned.  This is sacred Hawaiian ground.  There are reproductions of wood statues here.  After visiting the main sites, we find the 1871 Trail which leads along the coast passing lava tubes, old structures, and lots of plants. 

On the way back, we stop at the ocean after a tip that a pair of humpbacks are out.   We spot some distant water spots and a few minutes later see a tail come out of the water.  Very cool.  Then they were gone.  Where’s Spock when you need him?  We watch for a little while, but after not seeing them again, we hike back to the car to.  It’s time for showers, dinner, and sleep.

Jump to the Day 5 photos.

(Volcano to Green Sands Beach to Kona; published January 1st, 2009 from Redwood City, California)


After yesterday’s washout, we are glad that so far it is only misting out.  Following our final breakfast in Volcano, we pack up and head into the park.  We go to the Jagger Museum (no relation to Mick as far as I know) mainly for its view of the caldera.  In the daylight, the caldera is huge.  Inside the caldera is a smaller crater that is currently active.  We can only see steam rising from it.  While we got rained on yesterday, the two big mountains here (Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea) got snow.  We can see the snow on the gently sloping peak of Mauna Loa (13,000+ feet at the top). 


After looking through the museum, we head down Chain of Craters road again to do a short hike on the Devastation Trail.  The trail is named because the eruption in 1959 destroyed much of the vegetation near here.  At the end of the hike is a great view of the Kilauea crater that we hiked on Day 2.


Returning to the car, we begin the drive westward en route to Kona.  Our first stop is a black sand beach.  It’s a small beach, but being on the beach and (finally) in the bright sun is great.  We browse around and look for the turtles that supposedly feed at the coast.  We spot one and it’s much bigger than I was expecting-more than a foot across.  We watch the turtles for a bit then make some sandwiches for lunch.


Back in the car, I’m glad to continue driving in the sun.  Our next stop is South Point Road which takes us (you guessed it) south towards the southern most point in the 50 states.  We get down there and the beach is pretty, but it’s mainly good to be out in the sun.


Slightly up the road is the parking area for the green sand beach.  Lonely Planet cautions there may be some sketchy locals trying to charge you to park (even though it is free).  We decide to check it out and if we’re uncomfortable we’ll head back (we are also concerned since our clown car (a.k.a. Chrysler P.T. Cruiser) does not have a trunk and all of our stuff is in the back).  Fortunately, there are plenty of cars already parked and no sketchy characters waiting around.


We load up our backpacks and begin the 2.5 mile hike to the green sand beach.  The coastline along the way is very pretty and we’re walking along the mud “road” which is drivable in a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle which our clown car is very much not.  I’ll also note that others have commented that the "road" eats 4×4’s for breakfast.  This is not a problem for us since we like hiking. 


After little more than an hour, we get to the beach.  It’s an olive green color as promised.  We relax on the beach where there are a handful of other people.  We start back hiking up and at the top there are some people who just drove up in a 4×4 and they ask “did you guys hike here?”, which seemed remarkable to them.   They had driven from the other direction and wanted to know where the road went.  We explained the situation and continued on our way back to the car.  At a brisk pace, we made it to the car in less than an hour.


I had a few well deserved pieces of chocolate and then we drove the rest of the way to Kona.  It took longer than I had anticipated, but we made it to the hotel safe and sound. We checked in, took much needed showers, and promptly collapsed after dinner.


Jump to the Day 4 photos.

(Hilo, Rainbow & Akaka  Falls; posted from Kona on December 30)


After another night of pouring rain, it continues to rain in the morning.  Opting for an indoor activity, we head to Hilo and stop at the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center.  This couple year old center is on the site of the University of HawaiiHilo campus.  The museum is interesting with exhibits on the Universe, Mauna Kea, and how people made it to the Hawaiian Islands from Polynesia 1500 years ago.  We take in the planetarium show during which I take a wonderful ten minute nap.


Unimpressed with the museum cafeteria, we venture to Aloha Luigi’s which is recommended by Lonely Planet.  The NY style pizza is quite good (and my Bay Area readers know that I am quite the critic of pizza).  It even stops raining on our return to the car after lunch.  Optimistically, we head to Rainbow Falls which is only five minutes down the road.  In the morning when the sun is out, there can be rainbows in front of the falls.   With the sun nowhere to be found, the falls are neat to see, but no rainbow.


Next up we head to the Akaka Falls that we skipped on Day 1.  We’re hoping that it is not pouring rain when we get there.  A few miles from the Falls, the gas light on the car starts beeping.  We had an eighth of tank before we left, but now the paranoid part of me is worried (and we haven’t passed a gas station since we left Hilo ten miles ago).  We get to the falls and it’s only a slight mist out.  We walk down to the falls, which are great.  They are tall, wide and surrounded by green vegetation and a couple small side waterfalls.  I take a bunch of photos then we go to the other side of the park (a short walk) to see the Kahuna Falls.  These are not nearly as impressive as Akaka Falls, but still a pretty sight to see.


Back in the car, I’m glad that return drive is mostly down hill.  We make it to the gas station back in Hilo and fill up.  We stop at the store for some snacks and return to the room for a much needed nap.  We go into the town of Volcano again for dinner and the food is very good. 


Hoping to catch another night viewing of the lava flow, we head into the Volcano National Park.  The volcano is currently erupting in two places- into the ocean which we saw last night and inside the caldera.  We drive on the deserted road to the Jagger Museum (which is closed, but it has a viewing area).  With no cars in the parking lot, it’s not looking promising.  We walk to the viewing area, look out and see absolutely nothing but complete darkness.  After a couple minutes of letting our eyes adjust and still seeing nothing, we had back to the car.  We stop at Volcano House to try for another view, but still nothing.  We then return to our room and go to sleep.


Jump to the Day 3 photos.


Volcano National Park (posted Sunday December 28th from Kona).


The main reason to stay on the Eastern side of the island in the aptly named town of Volcano is to visit Volcano National Park.  We’re staying just minutes away from the park entrance.  After a hearty breakfast, we head to the visitor center of the park.  Here we get a local update on the volcanic activity, road closures, and recommendations.


Our first stop is the Thurston Lava tube.  We go here first since it gets very crowded later in the day.  It’s a giant lava tube that we can walk through- with plenty of room to spare.  Because the lava rock is porous, it’s still dripping wet inside.  The first part of the tube is lit by light bulbs, but you can continue on in the unlit portion.  We explore a bit with our headlamps on.  It’s neat to see, and with the lights off, completely dark.


Returning to the tube entrance, we join up with the Kilauea Iki trail.  “Iki” in Hawaiian means small so this small Kilauea, the small crater of the volcano.  We descend through the tropical rain forest, emerging after about a mile on the floor of the crater.  We’re now standing in an area that 50 years ago was full of molten lava when the volcano erupted.  We can see steam rising in various places.   This is from water seeping down a few hundred fit and coming in contact with hot rocks. 


We continue through the crater taking in the sites on the informative parks hiking guide.  We take note of the main source of the eruption from which lava shot over a thousand feet into the air during the eruption.  I’ll note also that it is now raining substantially, but we’re okay in our full rain gear.  We make it to the other side of the crater and start ascending back through the tropical forest.  Because of the winds during the last eruption, this forest survived.  Continuing on the trail we loop back to the car after a total of 4 miles.


Stopping for lunch at Volcano House, we can now see the Kilauea caldera.  It’s huge.  Visibility is not great because of the weather, but the caldera is enormous compared with the crater.   The road around the caldera continues from here looping back to the entrance; however, about half of it is closed because of toxic gases coming from the volcano.  Since the visitor center informed us of this, we knew we needed to head back the way we came.


After lunch we head down Chain of Craters road towards the ocean.  It’s raining a bunch so we only make a quick stop to view a lava pit from a previous eruption.  We take the road until it ends.  It ends because lava went over the road and it’s impassable.  From here we can see steam at the ocean a few miles away where the volcano is currently spewing lava into the ocean.  Finally, we are in sunny weather which is a nice change for the day.  It’s also considerably warmer. 


After viewing the lava on the old road, we return to the car and drive back up the road to stop at the petroglyphs.  The Hawaiians have carved over 25,000 petroglyphs into the volcanic rock.  We hike in the 0.7miles to the raised boardwalk trail that does a short circle around some of the petroglyphs. 


It’s now getting late in the day, but we decide to press on to try and catch the lava viewing.  Underestimating the drive, we get to the lava viewing site an hour or so later, right around sunset (which is actually perfect timing).  The current eruption is not in the park, but there is a road and marked hike to get you there.  There are reflectors on the lava rocks we’re hiking on to indicate where to go.  It’s all pretty tame and there are plenty of people here.   Even from the start of the walk, you can see a faint red glow in the steam that is coming up from the ocean.  As it gets darker and you get closer, it only gets brighter.


We reach the closest point they will let us get to.  Since our eyes have now adjusted to the darkness, we can see the eruption.  Mostly we see the red reflected in the steam, but every once in a while a little spurt of red shoots up and falls down which we can only assume is actual lava.  While we’re still a safe distance away, it’s an impressive site.  We watch the volcano for awhile, and then I attempt to setup the camera and tripod to get a few pics.  I know I’m not going to win an award with National Geographic, but a few of the several second long exposures did at least come out.


As we’re contemplating returning back to the car, the weather goes from comfortable to a torrential down pour.  We don our rain gear as best we can, head back to the car, and return back to the room exhausted from our 12 hour day of tourism.


Jump to the Day 2 photos.


SFO to Kona & Volcano, Big Island, Hawaii (Posted Sunday December 28th from Kona).
The day begins early to catch our 9am flight. With all of the weather delays in the Pacific Northwest and Midwest the past couple days, the United terminal at SFO is crowded at the early hour. We drop our bags off and right when we got to the front of the security line, the TSA people start yelling out “Breach”, the line stops moving, and everyone is told to be quiet. Someone ran through security or something and I comment to L’, “This can’t be good”. Fortunately after a few minutes everything is back to normal and we’re at our gate in time to get on the plane. We arrive in Kona around noon, pick up the car, and head to the Eastern part of the island via the northern route.
After a brief stop for L’ to caffeinate, we’re on our way.   The weather on the island is highly localized and it can go from sun to rain and back in short distances or time. We hit a little rain, but made it to a vista point at Laupahoehoe. It was just a photo opportunity out of the car and a chance to stretch our legs.
Continuing on our way, it’s raining a bit and we decide to save the Akaka Falls stop for another day in hopes of viewing it in the sun. The weather clears up a bit a few miles later and we do the 4 mile Onomea Bay Scenic Route. The road is well named and we stop for a short hike. We can view the coast, a rainbow, and the lush scenery. 
Back on Highway 11 heading South East, we pass through Hilo. Hilo gets a whopping 120 inches of rain per year. We continue past it on our way to the town of Volcano. Since it’s getting close to dinner time, we stop for dinner in Volcano Village at a lovely Thai restaurant. Being Christmas Eve, a bunch of the other places are already closed. The food is good and we make it to our B&B, the Country Goose, to check in, unpack and go to sleep.

Jump to the Day 1 photos.