A Travellerspoint blog

Hawai'i part 3: Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

quite possibly the coolest place on earth that probably won't kill you

We started our day by traveling a mile south to the (former?) village of Kalapana. I say 'former' with a question mark because in a sense, Kalapana is gone, but in a sense it is still here.

In 1990, Kilauea woke up in a rage and lava flowed right through and over the entire town of Kalapana, incinerating every building. The residents of Kalapana watched as the lava advanced slowly and methodically right through their village and straight to the sea. Here's what it looked like at the time (these are not my pictures, of course. Wikipedia.):


Imagine living in an idyllic seaside town that your ancestors lived in. Your children play here, you make a life here, then you watch a fiery river of lava heading straight down the mountain toward you. It boggles the mind.

You don't really visit Kalapana as much as pay homage. To the people who lived here, to the people who are trying to start over here, to the volcano itself.

The lava flow itself is immense and stretches all the way to the sea. It is a veritable museum of artwork and tributes to the people, the earth and the sea. Tiny gardens have sprung up, lovingly tended to by locals who eke out an existence knowing that it may take a hundred years to return the land to a usable state.


Tiny ferns try to take root in the millions of cracks in the earth.



The Kalapana lava flow wiped out the most famous black sand beach on the Big Island. This is what it looked like before 1990:


Today, not only is the beach gone, but the lava flowed another 500 yards further out to sea, creating brand new land. It's truly astonishing to stand on land that is younger than you are. The new beach is slowly created by the pounding sea, as it rattles and shakes the new lava into fine sand. To honor the former community and to foster the growth of a new beach, the residents of Kalapana have dedicated themselves to replanting hundreds of coconuts to replace the trees that burned in the flow. It's quite a sight to see. Raw, black land, the immense blue sea and hundreds of tiny coconut trees, trying to take root in brand new earth. The people know it will take a long time to bring the beach back, but as I have said before, the people of Hawai'i are tenacious and patient. They work with the land and sea, and let the tides of nature dictate.


PK was really moved by the community's effort to replant the beach, and he made a point of ceremoniously planting a coconut. Can't wait to come back and see the new tree.


PK's a pretty easy going guy and he was nice enough to come along on my volcano adventure. But to my surprise he was incredibly moved by Kalapana and the new beach. He actually meditated for quite awhile, and I didn't have the heart to disturb him. Kalapana has that effect on you. Total zen contemplation of the ebb and flow of life.


The Chain of Craters Road past Kalapana is closed, well, for obvious reasons.


But we knew that there was a small but growing community who were trying to reclaim their land on the lava flow, so we took a chance on 'kapu' and decided to venture on. No soil, no water, no utilities, only black lava and 360 degree views of the volcano and the sea. All available for those who are willing to adopt an alternative lifestyle. These are truly hearty and dedicated souls.


This house is for sale. Positive attitude and good shoes required.


Like I said, Hawai'i has a lot of zen moments and sure enough, on the road back from Kalapana we had another. A truck went sailing past us and an apparently crazy person was yelling out the window at us. "HEY PAUL!"

It was our friend Mark and his friend Rocky.

We stopped, turned around and hung out and talked for awhile. This the Hawai'i version of hanging out and talking.


Luckily we told Mark and Rocky about our plan to visit Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park on our last day on the Big Island.

"Are you crazy?" they asked." If you are going to do the trails you are talking about, you had better get your island asses up there right now!"

Don't you love good advice?

So up to Volcano we went.

Volcano. That's the name of the town. For real. How awesome is that? 19 miles to Volcano. Heh heh.

Luckily the jungle was open that day.


Remember I told you about the Hawaiians' lack of driving skills? Yeah. Someday a thousand years from now these vehicles will be excavated and looked upon as ceremonial sacrifices to the goddess Pele.


I had dreamed of visiting Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park since I was a kid. And I was finally here.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, established in 1916, is a United States National Park located in the U.S. State of Hawaiʻi on the island of Hawaiʻi. It encompasses two active volcanoes: Kīlauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, and Mauna Loa, the world's most massive subaerial volcano. The park gives scientists insight into the birth of the Hawaiian Islands and ongoing studies into the processes of vulcanism. For visitors, the park offers dramatic volcanic landscapes as well as glimpses of rare flora and fauna.

I just wanted to use the word 'vulcanism'.

Home to Kilauea, the world's most active volcano, Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park is a wonderland for anyone who loves science, geology or really-awesomely-cool-stuff.

First stop, the National Park Visitors Center. Source of all-things-volcano. And long sleeve shirts. Up here in the stratosphere you need good hiking gear. The cool mountain air requires extra layers, right?

Nope. We ditched those shirts so fast it was ridiculous.

We decided to tackle the infamous Kilauea Iki Trail. Five miles long, the trail descends 800 feet into the Iki crater, crosses the crater floor and climbs back up.

Did I say crater floor? Let me give you a little history. In 1959, geologists knew Kilauea was going to erupt. They set up camp, monitored and waited. When the eruption finally came, it came with a BANG! The only problem was, it was not a Kilauea's caldera, it was down the road, at Kilauea Iki (little Kilauea). It exploded with a fury not seen in modern times, shooting a lava plume 1900 feet into the sky, the highest lava plume ever recorded on earth. It proceeded to fill the surrounding crater 800 feet deep in boiling lava. Here's the sign at the park which shows what it looked like:


Today, the caldera is a steaming, hissing mess of vents that is still molten lava a couple of hundred feet down.

And they were letting us walk there. I am about to be sick sure I am going to die so excited I can hardly stand it.


I know, cute hat and shirt, right?

The first part of the hike winds through tropical rainforest, with views down through the crater. See those tiny specks along the bottom? Those are people.


The signs said the trail is marked by stacked rocks. It is easy to follow. Really? Black lava black lava black lava. We slip and slide our way to the bottom. I am nursing a bad arm and have a lousy sense of balance. This must have looked like a drunken sailor skit.


So I figured, "at least that crater floor is flat; it should be an easy walk across that thing!"

Ha ha sucker.

The crater floor is a massive network of fissures, cracks and steaming vents. Although there is a 'trail', you are on your own. "don't put your hands near the steam vents!" "Don't touch the rocks, they are hot!" "Don't go off the trail and fall into a giant crack in the earth!" The good news is that if you made a reservation for a party of five at the Volcano House Lodge, you may only have to check in with a party of three. Cost savings right there.


After the Kilauea Iki hike, we ventured into dome other areas of the park, knowing there was no way we'd be able to see everything we wanted to see. Return visit: check.

My goal was to wait until dark to see the Kilauea crater light up. On fire since 1983, Kilauea's Hale'mau'mau crater puts on a light show every night. Might be due to the fact that it is a burning lava lake. Or maybe they have big strobe lights.

The land around Kilauea is a steaming, hissing mess of vents, cracks and fissures.


This crater erupted about 200 years ago. It's a thousand feet deep. Wander off the trail and...oops.


The Volcano House Lodge is the only lodging available that is actually in the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. We didn't stay there this time, but we would definitely stay in the Volcano area longer next time since there is so much to see. The Volcano House has a great view of the crater. And hopefully a low fire risk.


We had some pupus (small plates) at the bar at the Volcano House and headed out for the nightly fire show, courtesy of Pele. The best views of the crater are from the Jaggar Museum, a fantastic place with loads of information about volcanoes, Hawai'i and the Park.

Kilauea did not disappoint. This is another moment that brings tears to my eyes whenever I look at it. Unbelievable. And we humans walk around, drive around, live, visit and will never ever be able to harness the power that this crater holds. Truly astonishing.


Posted by traciekochanny 10:24 Archived in USA Tagged volcano lava hawaii crater kilauea big_island kalapana hawaii_volcanoes_national_park steam_vent volcano_house Comments (0)

Hawai'i part 5: Lahaina, whales and the north shore of Maui

Spectacular sunsets, beaches and WHALES!

Last time we visited Maui we stayed in the Kahana area, north of Ka'anapali Beach. We enjoyed walking through the seaside town of Lahaina, and decided for this trip it would be fun to stay close by for a few nights, so that we could take advantage of really smoking happy hours all of the charming restaurants and shops.

We flew to Maui on Mokuele Airlines, a super cool local airline where the pilots look like cute college students. Or maybe they were cute college students. The 35 minute flight hugs the north shore of the Big Island, heads across the sparkling azure Pacific, past the West Maui mountains and across the valley that separates West Maui from Haleakala. The flight is really wonderful.

This is me' thinking, "Do you think those pilots really are just cute college guys?"


Awesome shot PK got of Molokini crater, one of the best snorkeling and diving spots off of Maui. Don't even worry about the 13 foot tiger shark that was circling the back side yesterday. He's probably friendly.


The West Maui mountains and wind farm never cease to amaze me. That's the main road snaking through the bottom left part of the photo. Cool, huh?


Sugar cane fields in the valley. Maui is called "The Valley Isle" for a reason!


Lahaina is a really cute town that really is similar to Key West, but with a more family friendly vibe. The main drag, Front St., is lined with eclectic shops, seaside restaurants, and people. Lots and lots of people. Last time we were there at the end of August and this time it was spring break. Let's just say that all of those high rise condos and hotels up and down Ka'anapali Beach hold (wait for it) lots and lots of people on spring break. And they all want to hang out in Lahaina.

Lahaina wasn't exactly what we had hoped for, but we were determined to make the best of it.

Our favorite hangout (meaning we went there once) in Lahaina is Kimo's. Kimo's is a beautiful restaurant with a great menu and a gorgeous, tiki torch lit patio with a view over Lana'i and sunsets to die for. Last time we were there we had the distinct honor of seeing uncle Willie K, possibly the coolest guy we have ever heard sing. A classic Hawai'ian crooner, Willie K can knock it out of the park whether he's singing ballads or blues. You should listen to his music. Seriously.

Unfortunately when we arrived, there was no Willie K, just dozens of people waiting to be seated. We elbowed our way through crowds of stressed out parents, screaming toddlers and cranky glued-to-their-cell-phone-screen teenagers just in time to see that the entire bar was full. As we stood there tired, frustrated and debating whether to toss a couple of teenagers over the rail, figuring out what to do, two guys right in front of us got up from the bar and offered us their seats.

Oh joy and happiness, this wasn't going to result in homicide after all.


Kimo's was just what we needed.

We had decided to stay just south of Lahaina at a place called Puamana. A residential community, Puamana is just close enough to Lahaina so you can walk, bike, or take a 3 minute drive into town, but far enough away to escape the people, traffic and noise. We loved the unit we stayed in but since we checked in after dark, we had no idea how gorgeous this property really was.

This was our unit.


It came with chocolate covered macadamia nuts. One meal covered.


These are the grounds around the Puamana complex. The clubhouse is a restored plantation home that was built in 1901. Imagine the parties in that place around the turn of the century! Those sugar barons sure knew how to entertain.


Remember I told you everybody surfs in Hawai'i? Well lots of cool surfer dudes hang out right in front of Puamana. I think I got a sunburn just watching these guys. I ordered one for Christmas. 1-800-coolsurferdsudes. That's what FedEx is for.


Because we went to Kimos; we had missed the best part of Puamana. Every night before sunset, residents and guests bring food, drink and good cheer to the seaside to watch the sunset. The sunsets were amazing.


We ate in Lahaina twice. Once at Koa's Seaside Grill. We were not impressed. Killer view, dumbest bartender on the island. Maybe the planet. Overpriced food. But hey, it was pretty. And the company was pretty great too.


Lunch with pineapple. :-)


We also had lunch at the Lahaina Pizza Company. Pretty tasty Chicago style deep dish pizza and another great view over Lahaina Harbor.


We discovered our new favorite place in Lahaina by accident. Accident, in we were leaving Lahaina Pizza Company with a whole leftover pizza, having overshot our appetites. PK noticed two young guys working at one of the tourist booths outside and offered them the pizza. You would have thought he'd offered them a thousand dollars. Turns out they were telling people about Fleetwoods on Front Street, owned by super cool Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood.

The guys invited us back for happy hour, and since we had originally planned to hit all of a few happy hours in Lahaina, we decided to come back later that day. Half off drinks and pupus, oh yeah! (Pupus is not just a silly word, it means 'appetizers' in Hawaiian).

Fleetwoods was a hit. If you're in Lahaina, go there.


At night, every single one of these lanterns and torches are lit. The tables are sheathed in white linen and it is gorgeous. We stopped by after dark but quickly realized the swanky sexy 20-something crowd would just make us middle aged Midwesterners look bad. We crept down the stairs real quiet like. I should have grabbed a Kardashian.


Fleetwoods General Store is home to all kinds of cool, including signed Fleetwood Mac memorabilia, about a million bottles of Mick's high end wine, and many many things I cannot afford.

We did not see Stevie Nicks for sale.


Like I said, Lahaina is a very pretty place that is overrun with overdressed loud Americans that has many charms. There is an old Banyan tree that takes up an entire city block. Of course, as with any natural phenomenon, you have the usual guys walking around predicting the end of times, the hippies hanging out with a little 'paco lolo' (you figure it out) and the occasional homeless person sleeping under a branch.

The harbor front walkway is a great place to people watch and if you can go when it's quiet, Lahaina can be a very cordial host.


The Pacific ocean that surrounds the Hawaiian Islands is an azure aquatic wonderland. It boasts one of the world's highest concentrations of sea creatures and for a few months in the late winter, is host to a couple of thousand humpback whales. We decided to do a whale watching tour with The Pacific Whale Foundation, an excellent organization that is dedicated to preserving and protecting the whales. A marine biologist hosts each whale watching trip, providing education and insight into these amazing creatures.

The water in Hawaii is an almost unreal shade of blue. Pods of spinner dolphins travel between Lana'i and Maui.


The views out of Lahaina Harbor looking back toward the West Maui mountains are spectacular.


And then there are the whales. Wow. They were everywhere! We must have seen a dozen whales, jumping, splashing and generally being beautiful, graceful and amazing. My hands were shaking and tears were flowing just watching these wonderful sea mammals.


This whale jumped so close to us he actually rocked the boat and we all ended up soaking wet!


This is all I could get as I stood there with my mouth open and salt water dripping off of my head!


The west side of Maui is lined with beautiful beaches, which means lots and lots of big, busy condos and hotels. The busiest area is Ka'anapali Beach, but our favorite area is Napili Bay, which is quieter and only has one small hotel. They host a wonderful slack key guitar performance there every week.


The north shore of Maui is dramatic, unspoiled and rugged. The road is not for the faint of heart, especially if you go all the way around. The views are to die for though.

Honolua Bay - incredible snorkeling and whales jumping in the distance. Can't beat it!



OK this had us scratching our heads...we passed a large boulder by the side of the road which had a smelly disgusting dripping with blood large freshly harvested giant boar skin draped over it. WTF indeed! There were other, older skins on rocks nearby but this one had obviously been placed there just that day. Why on earth would someone put a boar skin on the rocks right next to the road? We had no idea. Maybe an offering of some sort? We googled it but never did figure out why it was there. Go figure. If you know, tell me!


Well with that happy image in mind, let's change the subject.

One more sunset at Puamana...


Oh, wait, is that turtles having sex? Why, look at that, yes it is! As we gazed over the beautiful sunset, there in front of us was an enthusiastic display of sea turtle procreation. This guy was one determined pursuer. He spent over an hour chasing and riding his female, splashing and banging (ha ha, funny pun!) on the rocks. Of course we watched the entire time. I mean how often do you see something that awesome? Talk about romance.


Lahaina had charmed us, but the next stop: the fabled, twisting, turning, stunning Road to Hana.

I couldn't wait.

Posted by traciekochanny 08:32 Archived in USA Tagged maui hawaii lahaina kaanapali sea_turtle west_maui front_street kimos koas mick_fleetwood fleetwoods_on_front puamana honolua_bay Comments (0)

Hawai'i part 2: The Big Island's Puna Coast

the most beautiful place you'll ever see that is slowly being eaten by a volcano

The Puna Coast of Hawaii Island is rugged, sparsely populated and devastatingly beautiful. It attracts far fewer tourists than the sunny Kona coast, and the locals like it that way. Unfortunately, the area has been slowly and methodically wiped out and reshaped by tsunamis and one pissed off volcano goddess.

The goddess Pele.


Described as "She-Who-Shapes-The-Sacred-Land" in ancient Hawaiian legend, the volcano goddess, Pele, was passionate, volatile, and capricious. In modern times, Pele has become the most visible of all the old gods and goddesses. Dwelling in the craters of the Big Island's Kilauea Volcano, she has been sending ribbons of fiery lava down the mountainside and adding new land around the southeastern shore almost continuously since 1983.

This goddess holds a grudge.

Nonetheless, we were excited to stay and explore this unique land. We were perfectly located between the funky-hippie-about-to-be-covered-in-lava town of Pahoa and the already-wiped-off-the-face-of-the-earth-by-lava town of Kalapana. We woke up our first morning, grabbed our coffee and started walking to find the area around the tsunami warning siren impending lava flow fabled Kehena black sand beach. Kehena is famed as a gathering place for lost souls, hippies, adventurers and apparently a group of naked people who like to coat themselves in black sand. Interesting visual.

Right away we ran into our first 'KAPU' sign. You don't want to mess with 'KAPU'. Hawaiians are fiercely protective of their land. They can be extremely hospitable or unbelievably inhospitable depending on the circumstances. The Hawaiian word for 'forbidden' is 'kapu' and there are a lot of 'kapu' signs. Get out. Stay out.


Trying hard not to 'kapu' anyone, we looked up and down for the walkway down to that beach. Up. And. Down. Did I tell you this coast is rugged?

Hint: the beach is DOWN THERE.


We never did find a way down to that beach.

That first morning, though, we wandered across to an amazing and beautiful park and sunrise. The only sounds we heard were the sea, the 'coqui' frogs and the birds. Aaaaahhhh....one of a million zen moments.


The skies opened up and it poured rain...a warm, gentle, wonderful rain. I felt like a kid, dancing around and trying not to fall off a cliff.


And of course, where there's rain...


The Hawaiian people are amazingly in tune with the dangers of the land and the sea. They astound me with their fearlessness. Although judging by the number of crashed vehicles we saw in gorges and ditches apparently driving is not yet one of their strengths.


HOW did they get that truck out there? And WHY are you fishing there?


The road along the Puna Coast is breathtaking. Lush, verdant and winding, it gives new meaning to the words 'scenic drive'. There are magical volcanic heated pools up and down the coast that rival the finest swimming pools. As long as you don't get up on the edge on the ocean side. Then you end up as fish food.


Right up the road we turned into an awesome place called Isaac Hale Park. Did I mention everyone in Hawaii surfs? I mean everyone. Old people, little kids, dogs...seriously. Waves that instill total panic and signs reading "danger red flag do not swim or you will die" on the mainland are what's called 'a great day to be in the water' in Hawaii. Riding a board on a wave as big as a skyscraper is not my idea of fun but boy, those 5 year olds were having a grand old time.


Next stop, Lava Trees State Park. Apparently, during one of Pele's hissy fits, she covered a forest that was so wet that the trees did not burn up immediately and the lava hardened around the trunks. Hundreds of years later, apparently it warranted State Park distinction by featuring A) MORE giant gaping cracks in the earth that will swallow you whole and B) tall phallic former trees that inspire more than a few funny photo ops. And of course, cue the prolific warning signs. Step there, you die.

See this sign? I had nightmares about it. Is the flaming mass of fire coming up to swallow me?


We stayed near the tiny town of Pahoa, which currently has the dubious honor of being Pele's #1 target. Lava from Kilauea's Pu'u O'o vent began flowing toward Pahoa on June 27, 2014. It got within 150 yards of town...and stopped. A few businesses closed, but the funky little place hangs on, and waits. Pahoa is the kind of place that attracts crazy delusional hippies free roaming former residents of the psych ward free spirited thinkers who make the most of their time on this earth. Let's just say it's an interesting cast of characters.


They have really big beer at the Mexican/Hawaiian/tattoo parlor place.


Don't leave your 'vehical' unattended or the farmer's market bouncers will tow you.


The lava flow is incredible and humbling to witness. Hard to believe that a few days before we arrived this was still advancing. I had seen pictures but was not prepared for the immense and overpowering presence of the lava. I saw videos of the advancing lava and pictured a flow a few feet deep. The flows here are up to thirty feet deep, effectively burying and incinerating everything in their path.

The flowers and trinkets are found on lava flows throughout Hawaii. They are left as offerings to Pele, in the hope that she will show mercy and not burn the town to the ground. So far it's working.

Landscape design...courtesy of Pele. Discount rates, anyone?


The power poles are all wrapped in heavy duty steel and lava rock, to try to avoid a regional blackout or additional fire. Sometimes it works.


Remember the 'scenery' photo I posted in the first Big Island blog? Here it is. This was in January at the 'transfer center' (we call it the garbage/recycling center) in Pahoa.


Here it is today.



As we traveled up the coast past the charming seaside town of Hilo, we were blown away by the beauty of the landscape. I literally felt like I was in the garden of eden.


This waterfall is coming straight from the earth, via a lava tube. No telling how far that water has travelled. Heated by the volcano, the waters form geothermal pools up and down the coast that put any commercial hot tub to shame. I don't care if you are in Vegas.


This is Akaka Falls state park. In order to qualify for this state park designation, it just had to have an amazing walk through the jungle, spectacular birds, a bamboo forest and a 400 foot waterfall. Awesome.


What you don't see here is that this kid climbed the fence and pretended he was 'peeing' the waterfall. You can thank me for not shooting that pic. I'm sure his mother is proud. I am fairly certain he didn't fall over the cliff but hey, who knows.


On this trip we were lucky to hook up with one of PK's former teaching buddies, Mark. Mark, who is a ridiculously cool world adventurer and all around good guy, retired last year and has been buying one way tickets to the finest places on earth, where apparently he has a waiting crew of friends who are delighted to take him in. Jealous much? I am.


Later that afternoon, we visited Mark and he took us on some hikes to more wondrous places. "20 minutes down the hill!" he said. Have you seen the hills in Hawaii?

It was awesome.

This little straight-from-a-Hawaiian-movie-set-location really is down the hill from where he lives.


Later that evening we grabbed a cooler and headed on over to another magical beach park. Commence massive zen experience.


You know the saying 'It doesn't get any better than this?' I said that every day in Hawaii. Over and over.

Tomorrow, another dream realized: Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Kilauea here I come.

I had better stock up on offerings for Pele.

Posted by traciekochanny 15:58 Archived in USA Tagged volcano surfing waterfall lava hawaii big_island hilo pahoa puna_district akaka_falls isaac_hale Comments (0)

Hawai'i, part 1: The Big Island

Hawai'i: you'll fall in love, if it doesn't kill you first

This one begins when I was a nerdy kid who loved rocks. I mean, I LOVED rocks. Weird, yeah. But my mom though that made me smart so she bought me rocks. And one day I got lava rocks from Hawai'i. I started reading about volcanoes and lava and fire and, wow! I was hooked. I pictured myself in my John Denver glasses and a safari hat, climbing volcanoes and writing fabulous scientific papers while I traveled the world meeting handsome guys in safari hats who also loved rocks.

When I was 16, I entered a high school essay contest. The prize was a trip to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. I spent hours writing on my computer yellow notepad and was sure I had a winner. I was going to fly in style and be noticed by hot surfer dudes famous geologists who would be impressed with my knowledge and insight. "That kid is awesome!" they'd say. "We need her on our team! Give her a scholarship for God's sake!"

Yeah, well that didn't work out.

When I was a junior in college (OK for the second time, right!) I saw the eruption of Kilauea, the world's mightiest active volcano, on TV. Man oh man, wasn't that something? Hot boiling lava shooting thousands of feet in the air! Streaming lava taking out entire towns on the Big Island of Hawai'i! Wowie wow wow, I knew I had to get there, and fast. Those volcanoes are pretty fickle creatures and you never know when they just might quit erupting for no apparent reason. The only problem was that I was making $2.20 an hour plus tips in college and as far as I knew no one was upping to sail me to Hawaii for free.

Fast forward 31 years and I'll be damned, Kilauea is still erupting. Unfortunately she is still taking out entire towns, so being the rocket surgeon that I am, I booked a trip to the exact town that is in lava zone 1, meaning you had better get the hell out of here right now or you'll experience a bonfire of epic proportions. Yes, we were headed to Pahoa.

Here's an actual preview of the scenery.


We flew into Kailua Kona, and although I had heard of this area, I wasn't sure what to expect. Beautiful Hawaii, right? As we approached, all I saw was dry, dusty black lava slope and dozens of resorts, chain restaurants and big hotels. NOT what I signed up for. I was tired, hungry and disappointed.

Luckily, my husband PK is an expert at calming me down when I am crabby driving randomly and finding great stuff. After a long day of travel, I was not feeling the Hawaii vibe and needed some serious food. Paul in his infinite wisdom pulled into a resort area thinking we could at least get some grub before we headed over to the other, quiet side of the island. All of a sudden people were running past us and bicyclers were speeding by like bats out of hell. Wait a minute, DID THE VOLCANO EXPLODE AGAIN? What is going on? We stopped until the melee passed by and were very relieved to find out it was just a triathlon, filled with crazy people who think driving their bodies to exhaustion is fun (hold that thought).

At the end of the road we saw a sign...'Lava Lava Beach Club.' Sounded good.

And it was.


After a nice meal at Lava Lava-have-no-idea-where-it-was, we headed south north to visit Kona, where PK wanted to visit Kona Brewing Company. We set off on a hot, dusty road and after 20 miles or so I said, "Damn, this island is big, Kona should be right here!" NOT. We were heading directly in the opposite direction, north to upcountry. Slowly the landscape started to change, from dry and hot to green and hilly. It looked more like eastern Montana than Hawaii.


One of the many remarkable things about Hawaii is that it will ALWAYS surprise you if you just keep looking. Millions of people visit this beautiful state and stay at lovely hotels and condos, hang out at the beach, have drinks at the pool, and attend the local hotel luau. That's awesome, but that's not Hawaii. To experience Hawaii, you have to get out. Explore. Drive around. Peek into corners (although the corner is likely to be hiding a giant crevasse that will kill you). So peek cautiously. For our Hawaii travels, we rely on the 'Hawaii Revealed' books. They are a wealth of information and although they are controversial because they contain access to sites that some locals do not want you to see, we find them invaluable. They know which parts of the islands will try to kill you (hint: there are many), they provide caution and guidance, and what's really awesome is that they let you decide if you want to risk it. Here's their website; check them out.

Hawaii Revealed

Sure enough, after we passed through the cowboy (paniolo in Hawaiian) town of Waimea, the book told us to look for a giant gaping hole in the hill by the side of the road. "A giant gaping hole by the side of the road? WTF kind of tourist attraction is that?" you might ask. The best kind, that's what. The kind that 90% of people drive by without ever knowing it's there.

The Big Island is criss crossed with a network of lava tubes and caves which were created when liquid lava flows started to harden, leaving a tube for the remaining liquid to flow through. Sure enough, we had found a lava tube, right by the side of the road. Right in the middle of a cow field. Right where no one would find us if we fell into the center of the earth. We donned headlamps and walked in.

Now this is what I call vacation!


"Hey, PK, where are you? Hello? Seriously, GET BACK HERE!"


I forgot to tell you, PK is missing the 'fear' gene. He has a habit of wandering into places and waters that are A) filled with steaming hot lava, B) too close to the edge of a giant cliff, C) infested with sharks...well, you get the picture. I, on the other hand, have a ridiculous fear of heights, dark caves and lave infested ledges. I love a challenge and facing my fears, but damn, this trip was going to test my last nerve. Xanax, anyone? This was only the beginning. This is what we do for fun, right?

The US and Hawaiian governments have our sincere and heartfelt safety at risk on these beautiful, potentially dangerous islands. When you enter an unmarked cave in the middle of nowhere, for instance, you'll encounter friendly signs warning of tiny slight moderately dangerous potentially fatal dangers like this one. Pay no attention to the miles of pitch black tunnels leading to nowhere. Never mind the fact that lava tubes can collapse at ay time. NO! Make sure you don't blow up any leftover bombs.


So, having survived our first challenge and still having all of our limbs intact, we headed onward. As we crossed the northern part of the island, the land became lush and mountainous, with impossibly green valleys, waterfalls and gulches. Next stop, Waipi'o Valley.

Waipi'o Valley is a picture perfect, serene valley almost 2,000 feet below the cliffs. The Big Island's highest waterfall, Hi'ilawe, a massive 1,300 feet high, flows from the back of the valley. Unfortunately, Waipi'o's location is also its downfall, since the low elevation and steep sides make it extremely vulnerable to tsunamis. This beautiful location has a tragic past. In 1946, a tsunami more than 30 feet high slammed into the valley seven times, killing almost all residents. Tragically, it also killed a school full of children in the neighboring town of Hilo. Today, a small number of taro farms line the valley, where people take their chances and live off the grid.


You can take multi-day hiking or mule tours into the valley, but since the locals don't want you there you're on your own. Here's me thinking 'maybe next time.'


When we travel we tend to avoid hotels and resorts and stay in hideaway places that most people don't find. For this trip, I wanted to stay near the still-flowing lava (I know, I know) so I found us a beautiful little home 'designed by a renowned San Francisco architect for a noted Chicago choreographer." OK! Well aren't we just a little avant garde out here 20 miles from the nearest town?

Turns out, we were.

'Hale Balleja' is actually an oxymoron since there is no 'j' in the Hawaiian alphabet but that's just grammar. The house was built from steel shipping containers and turned out to be a beautifully designed, if not weird, home for our stay on the Big Island. It did indeed have fabulous big city design, with wordly art, beautiful furniture, a super-duper-cool outdoor lava shower and an indoor bathroom with a toilet and open toilet paper holder next to an open shower right in between the kitchen and bedroom. We figured one way or another we were going to get wet. Sometimes I think high end design is overrated.


Luckily we avoided the toilet-next-to-the-shower pitfall by using the super cool outdoor lava rock shower. A little piece of heaven right there.


Turns out, there were a couple of other interesting things about the house that made us go '"huh?"

A tsunami warning post out front.


And this right up the road. The former road. Where there is no more road.


I wanted adventure, right?

Next, meet Pahoa. The funkiest little town that's about to be eaten by a volcano.

Posted by traciekochanny 15:49 Archived in USA Tagged volcano waterfall lava hawaii big_island hilo pahoa puna_district Comments (0)

Whale Sharks and Isla Holbox, part 2: the very very big fish

swimming next to a fish with a mouth as big as a Buick. On purpose.

At last my day was here. I was going to get eaten by a giant shark, drown as I sank, screaming in fear swim peacefully along with the world's largest fish.

Well, OK!

We checked in with the local whale shark tour company, signed a form saying it wasn't their fault if we die, and off we went.

This is Gabi, also known as 'angel who makes you feel like you can swim with whale sharks without having a massive heart attack.' Our captain was Tinto, Gabi's husband. Their adorable 5 and 6 year old daughters also went to swim with whale sharks that day, ensuring that I had to either suck it up and jump in or be one-upped by a kindergartener.


Apparently my name in Spanish is Treicie. I like it!


Looking confident, right? Are you kidding, I am about to die a miserable death and be memorialized in a language I don't speak.


After flying across impossibly blue waters on a picture perfect sunny day, we started to slow down and circle. Captain Tinto has been cruising for whale sharks for more than 20 years so I figured this guy must know what he is doing.

Suddenly, like magic, there they were. And by they I mean dozens of whale sharks!! I wasn't sure if I was going to explode with happiness or throw up.

Note the very tiny snorkelers and the very very very big fish. The two parts of the fish that you see sticking out of the water are the mouth and the middle dorsal fin. THIS IS HALF OF THE FISH. Whew.


See that snorkeler? Note that she is halfway between the mouth and dorsal fin of the shark. These suckers were huge.


I am a diver but I have a huge fear of 'the abyss', meaning I hate when I can't see the bottom. We were told that the water where the whale sharks feed is about a hundred feet deep. I figured I had two real tests. One, jumping in. Two, looking down and seeing...nothing.

Gabi and Tinto told us how we would cruise up next to the shark and then two of us at a time would take turns jumping in. We'd hang our legs off the side of the boat, and when it was time they'd tell us to jump. They let us know that no matter how fast we swam, the shark would beat us every time, even though it looked like it was just lazing along eating a zillion plankton.

Actually, when it was time to go it sounded more like this:


Scared me so badly I fell off the side of the boat.

When I recovered from the shock, my first sight was this:


It still brings tears to my eyes every time I see it.

I started squealing like an elephant in heat and waving my arms, causing Gabi to jump in and try to rescue me. Turns out, I was not only OK but literally crying tears of joy at seeing these magnificent creatures. I had watched videos, I had studied the whale sharks online, and nothing, I mean nothing could have prepared me for the enormous size and grace of these amazing creatures. I felt like a kid at the best Christmas ever. And not once did I even worry about looking down. The whale sharks were addictive, and had all of us begging to keep jumping in again and again.

There is nothing like looking straight ahead and seeing a giant fish with a mouth that could swallow you whole coming straight at you. So. Freaking. Awesome.

I was so ridiculously excited I handed the camera over to PK so he could shoot video since my hands were shaking so badly. He got a nice look at his swimming companion. Here's 2 minutes of PK with his whale shark buddy

As you can guess, pictures don't begin to capture the beauty of these immense creatures. Averaging 27 feet in length, they swim peacefully in warm waters, eating hundreds of pounds of plankton every day as they migrate. No teeth, no biting, no problem.


Amazingly, we were treated to three manta rays, who joined the whale sharks in their bountiful feast. I had no idea how big manta rays were, or how they literally flew through the water.

I also had no idea PK left the camera back on the boat.


After they dragged us out of the water, we headed off in search of sustenance. Captain Tinto found a local fishing boat and snagged lobsters and snapper. He motored us into a calm, shallow flat and proceeded to work with Gabi to make the best damn ceviche I have ever had. Seriously, we were wet, hot and tired and no food has ever tasted so good. We used our fingers to eat, with lime juice running down our chins. Yeah, this was a good day.


Bucket list checked.

Life is good. And middle age ain't so bad either.

Posted by traciekochanny 15:18 Comments (2)

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