Lookout Mountain, Chattanooga

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Visiting the Big Island (a.k.a. HAWAII)

Some of you may have noticed that I haven't written for about a month. Trying to gather my thoughts since vacation has been an uphill battle. Preparing beforehand, the vacation itself, and recuperating afterwards took a huge amount of time. Keeping a journal while traveling resulted in a full-blown travelogue although I'm sparing you many of the details. (If you don't think I kept a list of expenses, addresses, phone numbers, every single dish that Steve and I ate, the books we read, and what movies we watched, you're sadly mistaken!) But here are a few facts:

April 16: Whereas I usually pack light, my bag weighed nearly 50 lbs., having to pack both cool- and warm-weather clothing (many of which were new--one can't experience a second honeymoon in old attire). We booked the airfare, rental car, housing, insurance, snorkeling trip, and luau through www.deltavacations.com. I had the foresight to download two movies.

April 17: We took a cab to the Huntsville airport, arriving at 5:45 a.m. The flight from ATL to LAX, although long, was relatively comfortable. Once there, we raced from plane to plane. The final leg of our trip—LAX to Kona—was miserable. The plane was the same size—a 757—yet, I'm convinced, it held more seats. The travel time was 13 hours altogether. (If you're planning a trip this size, you should include an additional 7 hours to get to Australia!)

Arriving on time, we admired the huts that comprised the Kona airport--and, no, we didn't get lei'ed. We picked up our rental car and went to the lovely condo we'd found through hotwire.com. We then drove to a nearby restaurant that sat on a hilltop overlooking the ocean.

April 18: We ate at a wonderful place called Bongo Ben’s and got on the road again. (Gas was $4.90/gallon compared to our own $3.75.) We drove to Point South, the most-southern tip of the U.S., surrounded on three sides by ocean. 

Our next stop was the Hawaii Volcano National Park; we saw a movie at the visitor’s center and visited the Jaggar Museum where we witnessed steam rising from the caldera as part of the Kilauea Volcano. Since it had turned into a chilly day—63 degrees with a brisk wind—we put off hiking until the next morning. We had reserved three nights at the Lazy Lehua Cottage, a place I found through www.vrbo.com.  Nestled in the rainforest, the place was lovely and private, requiring the warmth of the fireplaces but no drapes. (And all this for $120 a night!) Steve figured out how to get the key from the lockbox and laid it on the table. After touring the upstairs back porch, we went out to the downstairs back porch where he promptly shut the locked door. Oops! He was able to skim over the porch railing, walk around the front, and enter through the (fortunately) unlocked front door.  

We ate at the Thai Thai Garden Restaurant but not until we ruled out the lodge. After waiting for a couple of minutes with no greeting, Steve asked the woman behind the counter if we were in the right place to be seated. He said, “I don’t mean to be rude, but . . . .” and she said, “Are you sure? Because I’m helping another customer.” We walked out.

April 19:  We seemed to get a jump on the other hikers, arriving in the parking lot at 8:25 a.m. The four-mile hike took us down through a crater via switchbacks. With its moon-like surface, we had to follow piles of stones, called cairns, to make our way across and back up the other side via steeper switchbacks, sometimes including stairs. The morning was absolutely lovely, and I eventually zipped off the legs of my hiking pants. When we returned to the lot, we jumped in the car and drove the minute beyond to the lava tube hike, Lasting only about 15 minutes, the walk took us through a small cave made by the flow of lava. Named appropriately, the Lava Rock Cafe was our next stop. We took it easy that afternoon. 

Around 6:30 p.m., we headed to the park again in the chilly rain. We stopped to see the steam vents and then headed to the Jaggar Museum which revealed the perfect vantage point from which to witness the glow of the caldera.

April 20: Packing our backpacks with bananas, water, and raingear, we headed to the park for another hike. Setting out from the Maunahulu Trailhead, we hoped to walk 5 miles there and back. Mostly across desolate moonscape, it didn’t take much rain to convince us to turn around at the one-hour point. We donned raincoats, but the driving rain soaked our jeans below the knees. We stopped at the Pú u lookout but, otherwise, headed back. The sun came out again, and we headed by car down the Chain of Craters Road to see more and more craters. The wind at two of the lookout points quickly dried our pants, so we felt comfortable enough to dine at the Ohí a Café where we ate outside.  

We drove north to Hilo at 2:30 where we saw Rainbow Falls—yellow and muddy—and the boiling pots (but didn’t see what the attraction was). Afterwards we ate downtown at the Café Pesto. After dinner, we crossed the street to a park but quickly crossed back when we realized we were in the midst of some pretty unsavory characters. (It was sunset, and the homeless and druggies were settling in.) We also ran into two Hare Krishnas, a sight we hadn’t seen for quite awhile.  

April 21:  It rained heavily through the night but had leveled off by the time we hit the road yet again. Our first destination was the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden which we found off a 4-mile scenic drive. There we saw heavenly flowers, a gorgeous waterfall, plants with gigantic leaves that looked polished, and trees showing webs of above-ground roots. Although mostly quite sunny and beautiful, a tropical rain hit. We donned our raincoats and, for double protection, stood under a tree with very large leaves.  

Once we got on the road again, we headed north and then west. On the east, we had seen field after field of lava; on the west, we saw that again after going through desert-like conditions and passing several sandy beaches.

We arrived in Kona about 4. While the accommodations weren’t as lush as the previous two, it had its advantages—most notably a balcony looking toward the ocean just a few feet away! It was also within walking distance to everything we needed--and some things we didn't. (While in Kona, I discovered the delights of a Mai Tai.) 

April 22:  We ate breakfast and lunch at home and explored the sandy/rocky beach next to our condo. We found the Farmers Market. That evening found us at the King Kamehameha Luau where we enjoyed Polynesia dancing, fire-eating, music, and a wonderful dinner.  

April 23:  We walked a mile again to get to the pier for our expedition on the Body Glove. We boarded at 8:45 and ate a hearty breakfast on our way to Pawaí i Bay. Steve signed up for a 30-minute underwater trip (called snuba diving). He loved it, and when he was finished snuba-ing, he snorkeled with me. I had trouble getting out because my right foot cramped with the first two attempts. Third time was the charm, and one of the instructors dragged me toward the shore holding onto a small raft because I couldn’t seem to make it on my own steam. The angelfish and sea urchin were abundant. There was a grill onboard, and lunch was provided. I got only slightly seasick.

April 24:  Our big outing today was to visit a sandy beach touted as the most beautiful beach in the U.S., Hapuna Beach. The sea was beautifully colored and the water was warm, but it has nothing over Gulf Shores! The stinging sand, sent by the fierce breeze, drove us off the beach—but not until after Steve’s head took a blow from a flying boogie board!

On the way home, we passed a sign that read “Donkey crossing for the next two miles during dawn and sunset.” Since this included some serious acreage of lava field, we couldn’t manage where they’d be coming from or going to.

April 25, our last day on the Big Island: We hiked to Captain Cook’s monument at Kealakekua Bay. Being downhill all the way meant it made for a really hot, hard climb to 1300 feet above sea level on the way back. The bay was beautiful; the monument was large. On the uphill trip back, we walked by an unsaddled, rider-less horse, a mongoose, and four horseback riders. 

Since our plane wasn't leaving until nearly 9 p.m., we walked around a lot, taking advantage of free WiFi to download movies for the return plane trip. The trip home was even more painful than the one there, including a self-imposed 5-hour layover in LA. (We each received $400 vouchers for volunteering to be bumped.)

Fall-out from the trip: I experienced crackling in my right ear and Steve had some sinus issues for the next three days. Fortunately, both conditions cleared up fairly quickly.

And if you want any more details, just ask!  :-)

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