The forecast was Thursday looked to be one of the hottest days of the trip. We decided to start the morning at the famous black sand beach, Punaluu. The black sand is caused by the lava from the volcano and is really black and really rocky. The big attraction here (besides the black sand) are the sea turtles. The sea turtles nest on the beach and come up to rest and sun. They have a large circle of the beach marked off to protect the turtles (in addition, there is a state law that you cannot get closer than 15 feet to the turtles). There is a big area with signs and marked off with rocks for the turtles to hang out. When I arrived there were a few curious turtle watchers and all were standing outstanding the circle. Shortly after I arrived a tour bus came and dropped of its riders for short stop at the beach. And, of course, the first couple off the bus went tramping right through the middle of the circle. Lucky there were no turtles at the time. It was interesting that all of the turtle watchers present started yelling at said rude tourist couple about getting out of the turtle circle. Buses came and went while I hung out on the beach. Since they are turtles (and not under the control of any sea park, etc.) you kind of have to hang out and wait for them to do their thing. Tour buses came and went during the time I spent. In the end, there were about 7 turtles trying to find space on the rocks and I was watching with two other couples who were also from various spots in Ohio.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the legends I heard before heading over. I was talking about my upcoming trip with my knitting group and one of my friends had been to Hawaii, and particularly to the Big Island. She implored me, a number of times that night, to not bring back any of the lava rocks back home with me because it was bad luck. She was quite serious about this. I was telling my Dad this story the next day and he said I had told him and I said no, I heard it last night and then he remembered his co-workers had told him the exact same thing. I did read in Fodor’s that no one has been able to trace the legend but some believe it was started by park rangers to stop the loss of black sand since it can only be created by lava flow. Either way, wasn’t willing to chance it! Pictures only for me!
We then stopped at the Punalu’u Bake Shop. It is the southernmost bake shop in the US! They have free samples of sweet bread and also have full lunches available. They have a beautiful gazebo where you can sit and eat the delicious malasadas and have a cool drink after a hot morning on the beach.
After lunch it was back to the volcano. We made a stop at the steam vents and I hiked over to the sulphur rocks.
After all the morning activity it was time for a drive. We started down the Chain of Craters road. With the park map and signs there are a number of stops as you head down the mountain and eventually end up at the ocean. There was also about a 15 degree temperature change from top to bottom. The funny thing about the drive is you get in a groove so the people you meet at the first stop will follow and lead you down the whole drive. We were heading down with a German couple who spoke little English so we would just nod and wave from stop to stop. We did not stop at every stop and did not keep track of how long the 19 mile (one way) drive took. The payoff at the end is a rough parking lot with limited facilities. There are some very primitive toilet facilities, a ranger’s station and a small shack that sells cold drinks (and could really charge much more for them) and some souvenirs from the end of the road. There is also a small, but rocky, hike to the Holi Sea Arch which on a sunny afternoon is stunning.
You can also take a longer hike (from what people told me about 20 minutes one way) to see the end of the road. The road has been closed by lava flow that hardened across the road. Given the heat I passed on that – the people coming back looked really, really hot and I’ve heard mixed reviews on how interesting it actually is to see.
We headed back up the road and stopped for dinner at the Lava Rock Cafe – cute name and good food, and one of the few places in Volcano to eat. Then it was time to get packed up as it was our last night in Hawaii.
I was singing this song all day today but before that a little bit of catch up. On Tuesday we spent most of the day with my Dad’s cousin. He took us on a tour of resort area his house is in and then we went to Waimea to eat lunch at Village Burger (it was delicious!!). We finally made it back and I went to the Mauna Kea Beach for the remainder of the afternoon. It was a little overcast and there was a high surf. They have great beach chairs and towel service. It also has a beach side bar (no alcoholic drinks on the beach but they do make a killer smoothie you can take back to your chair).
Wednesday came it was time to head to the other side of the island. We took the scenic route (19) through Waimea where we caught our first look of Mauna Kea – the snow capped mountain on the island. We had breakfast at the Waimea Coffee Company in the Parker Shops. It was delicious! Our first stop was at a little Catholic Church (Our Lady of Lourdes). It was Ash Wednesday so we thought maybe they would be having a service. There was a man walking across the parking lot and we asked if he worked there, which he did and he told us the service was at 7:00. We decided to peek in the church and it was so interesting. All the walls were painted white with royal blue trim, honoring Mary. I really liked it. It turned out the man we talked to was the parish priest and he offered us ashes when he learned we were traveling. After that we stopped at all the scenic outlooks and our first official stop was at the Waipio Scenic Overlook, just past the church. You can’t see the famous Waipio Falls from the overlook. You can see the valley and steep cliffs that form the valley and the river running into the ocean. There is plenty to be seen from the parking lot but the real view is located down a number of stairs (also the bathrooms are down the stairs) and they are a little steep for anyone with walking problems.
We hopped back in the car and headed to Akaka Falls. The falls are located in a state park and there is a small fee to enter. There is a beautiful view of the falls (and facilities) from the parking lot. There is also a 1/4 mile loop walk that takes you past a second (Kahuna) falls and gets you much closer to Akaka Falls. It is has a lot of up and down all on paved steps with railings. I was surprised to read that Akaka Falls is twice the height of Niagara Falls, a place I have been a number of times. Interesting fact!
We left Akaka and turned off the main road for the “scenic route”. Around one of the bends was a little place I think was called Shake it Up. It served lunch and fresh made smoothies using fruit grown on their own farm. It was a perfect lunch stop! Just down the road was the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden where we stopped briefly but continued on due to time constraints. It should be noted that you might think the “scenic route” was to see the ocean but it was really to drive through this beautiful forest. Back on the main road and we were almost in Hilo.
In Hilo our first stop was Rainbow Falls. This is a great stop because the falls are totally accessible from the parking lot so everyone can see them. Just down the road are the Boiling Pot falls. I would not go out of my way to catch them (unless there was a heavy rain and they could live up to their name) Otherwise, they were kind of blah compared to the other waterfalls we had stopped at.
Finally it was time to head to our final destination – Volcano! First we found our lodging – the Aloha Crater Lodge. This is an old house that has been divided into a number of rooms. It is on a tiny side road and the driveway is a little scary but it is well marked. Our key was waiting in the door for us. The room is a good size and has a small kitchen area with basic supplies such as a coffeemaker, microwave and mini fridge. The owners have stocked the room with fresh fruit and pastries. There are also a number of other staples. It’s a bit rustic but a charming room.
After dropping our bags we went straight to the National Park. A quick stop at the visitor’s center sent us in the right direction. It was about 5:00 and the visitor center was about to close but they sent us down to the Jaggar Museum where you can view the active volcano. We joined the ranger talk and got up to speed on the area volcanic activity. My favorite part was when she was talking about seeing fresh lava flow, she called it the “lava lottery” Currently there is no fresh lava flow so we did not win the lava lottery. The ranger herself was very interesting and let us know that being a park ranger had been on her bucket list. Wonder what else was on her list??? What is going is gases being released in one of the craters and when the sun goes down the gases reflect the hot rocks in the bottom of the crater and the gases turn red as it get dark so it looks like a giant bubbling pot. I loved watching it as the sun set because you could watch the red start near the bottom of the gas cloud and work its way up as it gets dark. We learned later that this was the first night this week it was clear enough to see the gas plume so we got lucky with that.
It was freezing so after the sun set we headed to dinner. We stopped at Volcano House which is the only hotel (and restaurant) actually in the park. The restaurant is a little pricy but the view is totally worth it. The windows overlook the crater so we were able to watch the red gas cloud as we ate. The food was good and the views were better!