The volcanic scenery was great, and included an active volcano, with lava flowing down it.
It is the island where Captain Cook was killed. The snorkelling near this site was superb.
Although the western side of the island around Kona was a bit touristy, Hilo, on the wet eastern side, was full of character, and had ‘visitors, not tourists’.
We had delightful accommodation at Hilo, and an interesting stay at the town of Captain Cook.
Wednesday 11th January To Big Island 9 + 92 miles
A long morning! The alarm went at 4.30, although we were already awake. By 5 o’clock we were on our way to Honolulu Airport. We were surprised at how much traffic there was already. We returned our rental car, and had a courtesy lift to the airport. Adrian mistakenly said that we were flying with Aloha airlines - perhaps he knew something (see later!).
We tried to check in at Aloha Airlines, but then realised that we were flying with Island Air. The terminal for that was a good 10 minute walk away. Luckily the assistant pointed out a free trolley for our luggage!
Our flight left at 6.50, and we boarded the small plane, which had enough spare seats so that we could move around to enjoy the views down over the other islands. We approached Big Island, and could see the peaks of the two tall volcano mountains above the clouds. Then the plane suddenly turned around. We were a bit perturbed, but then the hostess told us that we were returning to Maui, as there was a problem with the plane. We flew back over Maui, and it became obvious that we were not going to land there! On we flew, and finally it transpired that we were going right back to Honolulu!
All pretty disconcerting! We were then told that another plane would be flying us back to Hilo on Big Island very shortly. This didn’t happen either! There was a problem with that plane too! Finally we were told that we would be flying with Aloha at 9.50. So, we had to make the long walk back there and check in once again! We had been chatting to a couple from Chicago while we were waiting. She had fallen from a ladder some weeks ago, so was walking with the aid of a stick. The long walk didn’t please them!
Our second plane was larger, and we flew higher, so had different views down over the islands, particularly of Diamond Head, and of Haleakala Volcano on Maui.
Once in Hilo, we made our way to collect our rental car. It rained really heavily - this is the wet side of the island, but we did enjoy the luxuriant vegetation and the prolific flowers, particularly the poinsettia bushes.
We drove through Hilo, past huge banyan trees, and through the town centre, which was full of character, and a far cry from Honolulu!
We made our way to the Old Hawaiian B&B, where we were greeted by Lory, the owner. It looked really nice, and she seemed really pleasant.
We did some unloading, then set off to see what we could find. In the town, there was a market, so we stopped off and enjoyed the atmosphere of this multi cultural place. We bought a few things - sushi for lunch, papaya and pastries. We ate our lunch down near the front - it was really warm and humid.
We set off to explore Puna, the area south of Hilo. Our first stop was at the Lava Trees Park. The lava trees were formed when the lava solidified around the tree trunks, and the trees eventually died. It was a lovely walk through verdant forest, with a wonderful lacy canopy high above. Just a few mozzies to spoil it!
A Lava Tree
Next stop was Ahalamui Thermal Pools - an area of warm water in a pool right by the sea. We had taken polystyrene ‘noodles’ from the B&B, and hung around in the water for a while.
A bit further on we found another thermal pool - a tiny natural pool where two ‘nudists’ were enjoying the water. We joined them (in our cozzies), and had an enjoyable chat. He had spent a year at school near Oxford as a child. He loved BBC TV, and both were interested in England. We think that they lived at Pahoa, not far away, which has the reputation of being an ‘alternative’ place to live.
We continued on the road through various lava flows - 1790, 1955 and 1990 in particular. It was very scenic, and we were sorry to be rushing it a bit. Whole communities had been engulfed by the lava at various times, and a ‘new’ beach had resulted from the lava flow. On our way back to Hilo, we made one last stop to walk through the undergrowth to a ‘sauna’ type ‘bath’, formed from the thermals coming up through the earth.
We stopped off to shop at Longs (for wine), and Safeway (for supper) on the outskirts of Hilo.
We managed to find our way back to our B&B (it was now dark).
We enjoyed supper and a glass of wine, sitting out on the balcony, with the sound of frogs all around. The weather had been dry all afternoon, but rain returned as we came in after an exhausting day!
Tuesday 12th January Mauna Kea 66 miles
We enjoyed a lovely breakfast on the lanai (verandah/balcony/patio) with the other guests - Barb and her husband from Detroit and Johnny, a delightful chap of Chinese descent from San Francisco. It was 10.15 by the time we all stopped chatting!
We drove out to see the local sights - Rainbow Falls, where it rained really hard as we arrived, but by the time we had walked a bumpy trail to a gigantic banyan tree, the sun had come out, so we saw the rainbow.
A rainbow at Rainbow Falls
Just along the road was the ‘Boiling Pots’ - pools of cascading water - and the Pee Pee falls. We drove a bit further still to view the Waiale Falls, where a local lad had died recently - presumably by jumping from the bridge into the river, so we didn’t want to linger long there.
We came back to our lovely B&B for lunch, and chatted a bit to the really pleasant owners - Lory and Stewart. He had retired from the navy, and set this house up as a B&B, doing lots of building and improvements himself. Really nice people.
We now set off on the Saddle Road for Mauna Kea, the 13,000 ft volcano. On the way we stopped to explore Kaumana cave - a gap in a long lava tube. We climbed down into it, enjoying the interestingly different lava formations, and the low key atmosphere - just climb down and explore.
Neither of us noticed the long climb up to 6,000 ft as we drove along Saddle Road before we turned off up to Mauna Kea, having driven across miles of lava.
We knew that we had to stop at the so-called Visitors Centre at 9,000 ft, but drove past it at first without noticing. We returned there and looked at the telescope on display - at night they are set up for you to see the stars. We walked a little trail around the Silver Sword plants - found only in Hawaii, and then walked up a hill, from where it is nice to see sunset later in the day. We were lucky that the day was warm and sunny, as we had been led to believe that it could be really cold up here.
We would like to have continued to the top of the mountain, but knew that our vehicle wasn’t really up to it (it is recommended for 4x4 only), and also wondered if we were up to it, as many people suffer from altitude sickness because of the rapid ascent from sea level.
We had enjoyed the experience and the views, but now returned to Hilo, arriving back at 5.30. It was nice just to enjoy the pleasant surroundings before eating our meal sitting out on the lanai.
Friday 13th January North on the Hamakua Coast 102 miles
It was raining heavily, and felt cool as we enjoyed another lovely breakfast, sharing it this morning with Barb and her husband again, and also with Jim and Michelle, a delightful couple from Utah, who had arrived last night, and were going off backpacking.
We left breakfast earlier today, at 9 o’clock, and by 9.30 we were heading north out of Hilo. We followed the short but lovely ‘scenic drive’ and had a wonderful walk down to the coast on the ‘Donkey Trail’ through lush vegetation, near the Botanic Gardens, which we had decided not to visit.
We drove through the small town of Honomu, formerly a prosperous sugar town, with a population of 3,000, but now just a little ’memory’, with 300 people. We bought a guava pastry from the Ishigo bakers, just as it began to rain torrentially, so had to wait to return to the car.
We then drove up to Akaka falls, and ate our pastry while we waited for the rain to stop. These falls are on the ‘must do’ list, and a lovely little walk through verdant vegetation includes the difficult-to-see Kahuna Falls as well as the splendid Akaka Falls, which tumble down vertically for 442 ft.
A bit further on, we stopped at Kolekole Beach Park, where the Kolekole River reaches the sea, after flowing down from the Akaka falls. It looked a nice place for lunch, but as the rain had returned, we had to sit under a covered picnic shelter.
The next place of interest on this lovely coast was Laupahoehoe. Tragedy struck this little town on 1st April 1946, when a tsunami hit the town, drowning 25 children who were waiting for school to start. Even after 60 years, we could feel the intenseness of this disaster.
A bit further on, we turned inland for 3 miles to Kalopa State Park, where we walked a pleasant trail for nearly a mile through what was apparently Hawaiian rainforest of ohia trees. We felt that the ‘exotic’ trees added more interest to Hawaii, as this forest was rather ‘bland’.
We now drove through Honokaa, which looked like a midwest town, to a lookout over the Waipio Valley. There was a 1 in 4 road down to the valley floor, which was open only to 4x4. We decided to suffice with the view, and not walk down ourselves.
Looking down to the Waipio Valley
Now it was time to head for Waimea, an old ranching town, where we are staying tonight. We took a ‘scenic’ route through the hills, passing former ranch homes, and arrived at Waimea, where we located the Kamuela Inn.
Saturday 14th January The Kona Coast - whales and snorkelling 112 miles
Breakfast didn’t compare with Lory’s, but was enjoyable, as we chatted to a young German couple (she reminded us of Maya) from Dusseldorf. She was originally from Leipzig, and both had just finished their PhD, and had been staying with friends in Honolulu.
We left at 8.45, - a clear blue sky, and a hot day. We followed the pretty road north, with views to the west coast. Later we had a strange view of Maui to the north. It looked just like an island in the sea (which it is), but cloud was obscuring the lower part of it, and we were just seeing the top part.
We drove through the village of Kapa’au, where there is the original statue of King Kamehameha. The ship taking it from Florence to Hawaii in 1880 sank near the Falklands, and a second statue was cast, and stands in Honolulu. The original was recovered, and stands here, in Kamehameha’s childhood home.
Further on we passed the rock which Kamehameha had supposedly carried up from the beach, to demonstrate his strength.
We continued to the end of the road, with an overlook to the Pololu Valley, some miles further up the eastern coast from the Waipio lookout we had been at yesterday. Again we would like to have hiked down into the valley, but knew that time was against us.
We retraced our steps westwards, stopping at Hawi to enjoy a macadamia flavoured icecream.
Back on the dry west coast, we stopped at Lapakahi Historic Park, once a fishing village, but now a ghost town. Fishermen had lived here for 600 years until they found it easier to live higher up in the hills, away from this arid coast. It was certainly very hot as we walked around, and we were pleased to sit in the shade to enjoy coffee and a muffin afterwards.
We drove south now down the western side of the island, noticing how dry the scenery was, compared with the eastern side. We pulled in beside the road to watch several whales out to sea.
At Kawaihae we saw the end of a sea canoe race, which was cheered on by the locals. Then came 3 lovely beaches - first Spencer Beach, where we had a lovely snorkel, and saw something really strange, like a long spaghetti octopus. We had lunch afterwards, including a delicious papaya we had bought the other day. The beach had a really happy local feel about it.
There was no room to park at popular Hapuna Beach, but we were able to stop at Anaehoomalu Beach, where we had another wonderful snorkel, seeing more coral, lots of large fish, and 2 green sea turtles. Adrian had been reluctant to turn off here, as it was near a posey resort, but we are glad that we did, as it was lovely.
Rosie all set to snorkel
Our last stop was at Kukio Beach, where we both had a laze on the beach. A new resort had been built adjacent to here, and we had to drive through it to get to the public beach. How sad that so much natural beauty is being destroyed, but at least we could enjoy the loveliness of this natural beach.
By now time was running out, so we drove quickly past the tourist area of Kona, stopping to buy wine and beer for tonight, and bread for tomorrow.
Our stopping place tonight was the town of Captain Cook, near to the place where Captain Cook was killed. We had booked into the quirky and historic Manago Hotel, started by a Japanese called Manago in 1917, and now run by his grandson. It certainly looked an interesting place, which had been added to over the years, and had roofs of red corrugated iron, and amazing gardens set amongst the buildings. Our room, on the third floor, looked out over Kealakekua Bay, where Cook had been killed. How amazing just to be here!
We sat out on our balcony with a beer, before getting a ‘take away’ meal from the restaurant, so that we could still enjoy sitting outside.
Sunday 15th January Captain Cook and wonderful snorkelling 119 miles
I’d felt a ‘tremor’ just after we went to bed, and the room really shook - well, there are a lot of volcanoes around!
We had said last night that this place reminded us of Tahiti, especially with the dogs barking, and then we heard the cocks crowing!
We went down quite early for breakfast - excellent value at $5 each for tea/coffee; papaya; egg and bacon; and toast. This certainly is an interesting place, and very popular. When Adrian went to settle the bill for our room, the owner, who must be in his 80’s and son of the original Manago, worked it all out without a computer, quick as a flash.
It was quite cool at first, but the sky was blue. We left by 8.30, wanting an early start as we planned to walk down to Kealakekua Bay to see the monument to Captain Cook, at the place where he died.
We managed to find the start of the walk (very few things are signposted here), and having parked the car on a rough bit of ground, began our hour’s descent over very uneven ground, much of it across a lava field. We reached the monument, and did our ‘photo bit’, before entering the water for the most wonderful snorkel we could imagine! The fish were just glorious - masses of them in all sorts of brilliant colours. What a shame that Captain Cook couldn’t even swim!
By the monument to Captain Cook
It seemed a bit unreal to be at this historic place, and we lingered longer than we should have. Adrian got chatting to a couple who had kayaked here. She offered us some extra water for our return trek, which we wish we had accepted! The walk back up was a really long haul. It was pretty hot by now, and we appreciated every bit of shade. Even so, I sometimes wondered if we would make it, and we arrived back at the car at 11.45 looking like 2 pickled beetroot. It had only taken us 1¼ hours back, but nothing felt better than sitting in the car and turning on the air conditioning!
We now drove a long trail to Hikiau Heiau, the temple where Captain Cook had originally been honoured, and where he had held a service to bury one of his dead sailors. There was a nice sandy beach here, so we couldn’t resist another swim. I even saw a large plaice fish swimming on the bottom.
We realised what a long way down we had walked, as we could see the high cliffs from here.
Further along the bay was Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park. We drove in, looking for the picnic site, which was beside the sea in a most delightful situation. We ate our lunch sitting at a picnic table and talking to a very nice lady from Michigan, who was here visiting her daughter and her husband. We walked around the historic site, which had been a place of refuge for Hawaiians who had broken the kapu (taboo). Being just across the bay from where Captain Cook had been, the Hawaiian huts made it look just like the old pictures.
The son-in-law George, of the lady at lunchtime had told us of a good place to snorkel, just at the end of the park. He was right, and we were really lucky to find a parking place, as this was Sunday afternoon. We had another really lovely snorkel, where the fish were just out of this world, and the coral was good too. It was called ‘Two Step beach’, as you could go down in 2 (lava) steps to the water.
It was now 2.45, and we had a long way to go to Volcano, where we are staying tonight. We did stop nearby to view St. Benedicts painted church - a small catholic church where the walls inside had all been painted with murals. As we approached the church, another visitor said to me ‘do you know what that tree is?’ I looked up, and said ‘Oh yes, it’s a breadfruit tree’. It was in fact the first one we have seen in Hawaii.
We made another diversion, down to Hookena beach, which Robert Louis Stevenson had visited, and written about. It had been a bustling fishing village then, but now has just a few shacks left. It was busy on this Sunday afternoon, with lots of locals enjoying themselves. A group was playing the Eagles ‘Take it easy’ - I wonder what R.L. Stevenson would have thought of that!
We were now in the southernmost part of the island, called Kau. There was a huge macadamia farm here, but we were heading for the most southerly point, called South Point. It is the most southerly in Hawaii, and therefore in U.S. It necessitated a 12 mile trip off the road (and then back again), but we felt that we had to do it. Local fishermen fish from the high cliffs, but an added bonus for us was that we saw whales out to sea.
South Point - the most southerly in Hawaii and USA
We pulled ourselves away, as we still had 50 miles to go, and it was now 5 o’clock. We didn’t stop again, and so missed the tree planted by Mark Twain in Waiohinu.
We called into the National Park at Volcano, as we had heard that you could see the lava erupting at night. We hadn’t realised though that this meant a 45 minute drive followed by a 3 mile walk, then the drive back again. No guarantee of seeing the lava either! We debated, but were just too tired, after our busy day. We continued to ‘My Island’, where we were greeted by Gordon the host. Having seen our room, in this delightful old house, which is full of character, and run by two interesting and talented people, we made haste to Kiawa Kitchen, a very busy and popular restaurant, where we both enjoyed delicious freshly cooked pizza, while chatting to an entertaining local couple Bryson and his wife, arriving back at our room at 8 o’clock.
Monday 16th January A day at the volcano 87 miles
We had an excellent breakfast, with Gordon explaining to everyone as they came in what there was for breakfast. We chatted to several people - most notably an English couple from Worcestershire, who were on their way back from Australia and New Zealand.
We had a lovely walk in the beautiful gardens that surround the 1880s house before leaving for our day in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
We stopped first at the Visitors Centre, before setting off to drive the Crater Rim Drive, stopping at many of the viewpoints along the way.
We first stopped by a lot of steam vents, reminding us of being in New Zealand, and then we walked several trails as we drove around the park. The Thurston Lava Tube made up for the fact that we didn’t get to Undarra lava tubes in Australia. It was set amongst delightful rainforest. From here we set off on a wonderful walk, down through the rainforest to Kilauea Iki Crater. After walking right across the floor of the crater, we ascended through rainforest on the other side. The walk was 4 miles in length, and we walked it in 1 hr 40 minutes.
Kilauea Iki Crater
On the way we passed and spoke to a young couple we had seen yesterday at Kealakekua Bay, and we spoke to another couple who had been next to us at the restaurant last night.
We had really wanted to see the lava flow from Pu’u ‘O’o, which meant driving down Chain of Craters road for 20 miles to the sea, and then waiting for dark. This meant that we would arrive back late at Hilo, before our flight to Maui tomorrow.
We decided to go for it, so set off on the drive. Unfortunately the weather, which had been fine and warm, now deteriorated, so we had to run through the rain to view the many craters on the way. It got no better as we neared the sea, so we had to give up on a 1½ mile return walk to see some petroglyphs.
We reached the end of the road, where already there were dozens of cars parked beside the road. We walked through the rain to the rangers hut, and almost gave up on the idea of staying. We did stay though, and, as if by magic, as darkness fell, the rain held off, and we were able to view the red molten lava on the hillside. We enjoyed the sight for a while, and as we set off for the long drive back, rain returned. We were so pleased to have viewed the lava, but the 55 mile drive back to Hilo in the heavy rain wasn’t much fun!
At least we knew that we were returning to Lory and Stewart’s lovely B&B. Lory was there to greet us, as we brought in all our ‘muddle’ from the car, to be sorted before our early morning flight.
We had a different room this time, but to have our own lovely room to get sorted and showered while we drank the last of our wine, and rain lashed down outside, was wonderful.