Way back in the summer of 2018, in the “before time”, we could travel, and hang out in large groups. Remember those days? Ah, innocence. Little did we know…
Well, it was about summer 2018 when my blogging, YouTubing, and general sharing started waning significantly. Things were getting tense in the online community, I had less and less time to engage with it – and though none of that has particularly changed, I’ve decided to play catch-up, a bit.
So among my regular musings, I have some larger journeys to share – sailing in the Florida Keys, exploring Iceland (and accidentally, parts of New England) and this, a journey to Hawai’i during the summer of 2018. As is always the case, I’m writing largely for my own benefit, but I hope you’ll enjoy the telling as well!
I think it’s important to recognize, up front, that traveling with a large group is always challenging. Who among us hasn’t spent time in a group agonizing over where and when we’re going to meet for dinner, much less deciding who’s going to force Uncle Al to come to that stage production everybody else wants to see, even though we know he’ll complain through the whole thing?
Our trip started with a little bit of that challenge. The occasion surrounded a celebration of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, and a trip that they’d always wanted to take, to Hawai’i. That included my family of four, my brother and his family (four more), my brother’s live-in mother-in-law, and a friend of hers, and the guests of honor, my parents. Twelve people, three generations, traveling from three different locations, on different school and vacation schedules. Not easy – but certainly worth the effort.
My clan arrived a few days after everybody else, so by the time we made it out to Kailua-Kona, on the Big Island, and managed a rendezvous at the Hilton Waikoloa, the rest of the family had already had enough of the pool and the natural lagoon full of green sea turtles, and was ready to get out and away from the resort. We got one afternoon and night to get oriented, adjust to a new time zone and fight jet lag. Then the next morning, our real Day 1, we were out to explore the southern half of the Big Island of Hawai’i.
You may have noticed, but most of our family enjoys outdoorsy things, so first stop was literally on the side of the road in Kona. Here the vast plains of hardened lava were marked by tunnels, lava tubes where liquid magma had flowed through while the rock around it solidified, leaving behind subway tunnels made by rock, of rock. The resulting tunnels aren’t always stable, and the ones we explored certainly weren’t “official”. In addition, Mount Kilauea had started erupting with a vengeance just over a month before our arrival, and so earthquakes had become common. All of these factors add up to a statement that it’s not always smart to delve into underground tunnels on the sides of large, active shield volcanoes. But delve we did!
The main tunnel was about twenty feet wide and twelve feet high, with an irregular ceiling from which chunks of rock had fallen. Occasionally, whole sections of the roof had fallen in large slabs, creating “skylights”, or simply places where you weren’t so much in a tunnel as in a hole. During our exploration, the boys scrambled, we hooted and hollered, and we managed to avoid accidentally stumbling into a Jules Verne novel.
(Minor foreshadowing – in Journey to the Center of the Earth, the characters enter a prehistoric underworld through the Snæfellsnes volcano in Iceland).
Chocolate and Coffee
Next stop involved chocolate, Hawaiian Chocolate, to be exact. Kona, HI is known for its coffee, which grows well in a certain elevation band along the slopes of Mauna Loa. This establishment has added a chocolate plantation to the repertoire, and we’d never seen how cocoa pods grow. I was impressed at how large they get, and how the grow out of every part of the tree, seeming to spontaneously sprout from the bark. The folks here harvest batches of coffee beans in ripening waves, and cocoa almost continuously. I can attest that both end products are extremely tasty!
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau
This place name remains, to this day, one of my favorite things to say in Hawaiian. It means “Place of Refuge”, and it served as a safe zone, a place where lawbreakers and others that broken rules or defied a chief could shelter and atone for their misdeeds – if they could make it here before being caught. The area is now a National Historical Park along a beautiful sheltered lagoon, where you can view Hawaiian archaeology and learn about Polynesian culture. It’s a beautiful spot, despite the deadly serious life and death overtones associated with its role as a refuge.
A little more driving brought us to the southernmost point in the United States, South Point on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Winds at the point were ferocious, and it drove ocean waves crashing up against the lava cliffs that stand here about forty feet above the water. We enjoyed watching the sea spray off the cliffs, and we also watched with interest as two swimmers seemingly abandoned their small outrigger boat and swam to a rickety ladder that was bolted into the cliff face. They climbed up, moved inland to a large hole in the ground, and jumped in.
The hole was a shaft that descended down through the rock all the way to the ocean surface below, where the waves had carved a cave into the cliff face. Standing at least fifty feet from the edge, the presence of this opening (and the movement of deep water waves at the bottom) gave the impression that we were all standing on a huge chunk of rock that was cantilevered out over the ocean, and not on solid land at all. Thankfully, South Point didn’t collapse into the ocean that day. The tide was low enough that after jumping in, swimmers could make their way through a tunnel and back out to the ocean, and the ladder. Soon others joined in. I presume that eventually they made it back to their boat, and that the boat neither drifted away, nor crashed into the rocks – but we weren’t there long enough to find out.
I won’t lie. Going to see an active volcano was, and is, one of the primary reasons I am drawn to Hawai’i. Many years ago, Lynn and I were able to make a three-mile-each-way trek across a lava field, at night, to the point where magma was flowing into the Pacific after making its way down the slopes of Kilauea from the Pu’u O’o vent. Seeing lava up close like that was a highlight of our trip.
This time, however, Kilauea was substantially angrier. Shortly before our arrival, Pu’u O’o had collapsed. The lava lake in Halema’uma’u had dropped, and new fissures had opened near the Leilani Estates subdivision on the southeast slope of the mountain. New ground deformations gave way to new lava fountains and flows, and the area had suffered a lot of damage. Ironically, all this activity meant that Kilauea was an active emergency zone, rather than a tourist attraction. We’ll have to go back when things have gotten a little more predictable and less destructive.
Instead of spending time in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, we spent time at a bakery in Na’alehu, then drove up and over Kilauea on earthquake-cracked roads and past steaming fissures – evidence, at least, that we were on a volcano.
Our only scheduled stop of the day was a reservation-only date at the Mauna Kea Observatory Visitor’s Center. The Center sits at about 9,400 ft, well below the summit where some of the world’s most sophisticated astronomical instruments are collected, but high enough to enjoy some above-the-clouds views of Hawai’i, and to enjoy a short hike in thin air up one of the neighboring cinder cones.
Our objective was to be on Mauna Kea at sunset, and then enjoy a high altitude star party with a collection of smaller telescopes, good clear skies and good seeing. The telescopes did come out, but the clouds did not clear. Unfortunately, we were stymied by a high altostratus layer that blocked any views we might have had. We also learned that even at tropical latitudes, it gets cold after dark at almost 10,000 feet elevation. Several of the group were ill-prepared for dropping temperatures and went to shelter in cars. For their sakes, its probably best that we didn’t get to spend hours ogling the Trifid Nebula…
With astronomical hopes dashed, we drove back down, and west, toward Waikoloa and through several detours around wildfires that had plagued the area in recent days, and now lit up the night in curtains of orange. These were high-speed, low energy fires of grass and scrub – not full-on forest fires – but they were still challenging local fire crews who attempted to contain them in high winds.
And so ends Day 1! Next time, snorkeling, the search for black sand, the boys try hula, and we set sail in the Pacific.
Get Out There!