volcano hopping, Hawaii style
Our last day on the Big Island. No Way! This is one of those times when you really do start planning your next visit back while you are still here. This island had been so good to us. It's hard to imagine that we were a little hesitant to head to Maui. I know, crazy, right?
We decided to complete the circle and cover the south side of the Big Island, crossing through Mauna Kea upcountry, back through Volcano then down and around and up to Kona.
We headed back through Volcano and were enjoying the beautiful pastoral scenery (think ranch country in Montana), when all of a sudden I looked to my right and almost had a heart attack.
In the distance, between palm trees, horses and gardens, was incredible, 14,000 foot, snow covered Mauna Kea!
The world's tallest mountain at almost 31,000 feet from the sea floor, Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano that towers over the Big Island with its sister mountain, Mauna Loa. One of my goals this trip was to visit the observatories at Mauna Kea (I figured if a famous geologist wasn't going to discover me, a famous astronomer surely would). I wanted to hang out with Neil DeGrasse Tyson see the stars from arguably the clearest skies on earth.
Unfortunately, the summit looked like this when we were there:
I know, beach vacation in Hawaii, right? I live in northern Michigan, where we were just coming off of 5 months of snow. I mean I love stars and Neil DeGrasse Tyson and all that but maybe next time. That's what National Geographic is for.
As we rambled through ranch country on the south side of the Big Island, I was again struck by the amazing diversity of this land. Soon we turn a corner (OK I lied, there are no corners, only winding roads) and sure enough, there to greet us was Mauna Loa, still sporting a snowy necklace.
The world's largest volcano, Mauna Loa has been erupting on and off for more than 400,000 years. Note the on and off part. The last major eruption was in 1984.
Traveling around the slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa really makes you appreciate--again--the immense size of the Big Island. People and towns are few and far between.
So yeah, that means we needed a bathroom.
PK turned down a road toward the coast, having no idea what to expect.
Little did we know that we were headed right toward one of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen. Puna lu'u. A perfect coconut tree-lined stretch of talcum powder soft black sand.
Oh sure, you could burn a hole right through the bottom of your feet if you went barefoot, but damn, it was like something out of a South Pacific fantasy. We wandered along the water and saw dozens of honu (sea turtles) floating peacefully.
As you circle around the south side of the Big Island, the coast is rugged and wild. Beach parks are plentiful and the views are expansive.
This is the 'Shaka Bar', the true southernmost bar in the USA. 'Shaka' is a very cool Hawai'ian hand gesture that is used throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Except at this bar, their motto is 'if you're not from here, you don't belong here.' As a white person who does not live in Hawai'i, you are considered 'haole'. Most of the time it's a light hearted label, but every now and then you realize these people are serious.
OK, shaka. Bye bye.
As we rounded the southernmost point in the USA, we knew we would never have time to visit so many of the places we wanted to see. I wanted to visit the 'last real fishing village in Hawai'i, Mil'oli'i. I had heard it was a truly 'old Hawaiian' place, and the center of the 1926 Mauna Loa lava flow.
This place was gorgeous. Pristine beaches, clear water, a no people, no electricity and no water. Seriously, it was like some freaky beach ghost town. We still never figured out what the deal was with this place, but we can't wait to go back.
Soon enough, we had driven through miles and miles of coffee plantations and right into the aforementioned tourist area of Kona-Kailua. People everywhere, traffic and, thankfully, the airport. The airport, meaning, sit outside, chat and wait for your flight. No security, no walls, no lines, no hassle, and the people really do dress like this.
I love this airline.
We were headed to Maui!
This is the actual gate.
Flying over Molokini crater, arguably one of the best dive and snorkel sites in Maui.
The West Maui mountains and the West Maui wind farm.
Miles of sugar cane fields in the valley between the West Maui mountains and Haleakala volcano.
Welcome to Maui!