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Hawaii 2008
Big Island
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Tuesday, 19 Feb.: Flight to Big Island (Hilo)
Total miles: 8,6
Weather: sunny, 29 °C

Our flight took off as planned at 12:10 p.m. On the left we had a fantastic view of Honolulu, the Diamond Head crater, the smaller island Molokai and Maui with its Haleakala crater. On the right the snow-capped Mauna Kea came into view. On the descent we got a good view of the tiny Coconut Island and the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel which we had booked for the next five nights.

We picked up our next rental car, a Pontiac Torrent SUV, and checked into the hotel at 1 p.m. We had booked an Ocean View room and indeed we had a great view of Mauna Kea from our balcony. The daily rate was $160 plus tax but the 5th night was free. In the afternoon we took a walk in Liliuokalani Gardens, a small Japanese garden next to the hotel and walked across the footbridge to Coconut Island. Nothing remained to be seen of the heavy floods in Hilo just 10 days before our arrival.  

Wednesday, 20 Feb.: Up the east coast to the Waipio Valley Lookout and via the Saddle Road up to Mauna Kea,
waterfalls around Hilo
Total miles: 173
Weather: sunny, late p.m. cloudy, 24 °C

We were on the road early and drove up the east coast to the north. We drove through the rainforest on Pepeekeo Scenic Drive and took the short walk to Akaka Falls. We followed the road to the Waipio Valley Lookout and stopped for sandwiches in Waimea. We also had a look at the historic Parker Ranch, one of the largest ranch properties in the USA.

The infamous Saddle Road that passes between the two volcanoes Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa leads to the Mauna Kea Access Road. Measured from below sea level, both volcanoes are higher than Mount Everest. At the Visitor Center you have to stop for 30 minutes to adjust to the high elevation. From sea level to the summit Mauna Kea still has an elevation of 4205m. 4WD is recommended. We put on our jeans and jackets. There was snow at the top with no more than 3 °C. Luckily there was hardly any wind, so it didn't feel too cold. We had a look into one of the observatories. Here are details on the road conditions and the weather forecast.

Just before returning to Hilo we had a look at the Kaumana Caves, then we visited several waterfalls: Waiale Falls, Peepee Falls and Rainbow Falls. We had dinner at Hilo Bay Café which was good (Barbecue Ribs and Baked Potatoe with Fresh Catch). The last highlight of the day was a partial lunar eclipse.

Thursday, 21 Feb.: Volcanoes National Park
(Kilauea Iki Trail and various Overlooks)
Total miles: 155
Weather: sunny, late p.m. cloudy, 21 °C

The view from our room this morning was spectacular. A big full moon setting over the Mauna Kea. At sunrise the mountain turned pink. Then a cruise ship passed by.

Our destination for today was Volcanoes National Park. The entrance fee is $10 per car, but our National Parks Pass from last year's visit to the US mainland was still valid. Alternatively a Tri Annual Pass for Hawaii's three national parks can be purchased for $25. Due to the current high SO˛ emissions of Kilauea crater parts of the Crater Rim Drive were closed. Click here for the latest updates.

From the parking area at Kilauea Iki Overlook we started on the Kilauea Iki Trail, a 4 miles loop. Including a visit of Thurston Lava Tube it took us 2 hours. At Kilauea Iki's eruption in 1959 the lava fountains shot up 580m!

After that we stopped at Pu'u Pua'i Overlook and did the short Devastation Trail. On Chain of Craters Road we took the turn-off to Hilina Pali Road and followed it 9 miles to the overlook.

We left the park for lunch at the Lava Rock Café in Volcano Village: the fresh fish of the day was Ahi (yellowfin tuna).

Back in the park we visited the Steam Vents, Kilauea Overlook and the Sulphur Banks. Afterwards we drove up Mauna Loa Access Road outside of the park. We had a look at the Tree Molds (remains of lava enclosed trees) and hiked the short Kipuka Puaulu (Bird Park) Trail where we encountered a few Kalij Pheasants. We drove 10 miles up to the Mauna Loa Overlook at 2031m. The temperature up here was 15 °C. Then it was back to Hilo.

Friday, 22 Feb.: Volcanoes National Park (Napau Trail,
Chain of Craters Road)
Total miles: 104
Weather: sunny, some clouds in early p.m., 22 °C

This was another day in Volcanoes NP. With a permit from the Visitor Center we drove to the Chain of Craters Road and started off on the Napau Trail. First we climbed up Pu'u Huluhulu. Unfortunately it was a very hazy day, so we couldn't spot the active Pu'u O'o volcano. But the lava formations were fascinating. After 2.5 hours we reached Makaopuhi Crater, then we turned back.  For the total 8 miles we needed 4.5 hours.

We continued down the Chain of Craters Road and had a look at the Holei Sea Arch. We even saw some whales blowing and breaching around here. A short hike took us to the end of the road that was covered by lava. Less than a year ago you could see the lava flow into the sea from here. The latest lava flow to the sea could be seen a few days before our departure on the Kalapana side. See here for latest details.

Saturday, 23 Feb.: Rainbow Falls, Puna District (Lava Trees State Park, Snorkelling at the Kapoho Tide Pools, Kaimu Beach)
Total miles: 106
Weather: sunny, few clouds, more clouds late p.m., 27 °C

We went to see the Rainbow Falls again before we started on a round trip through the Puna District south of Hilo. First we stopped at Lava Tree State Park (all State Parks on Hawaii can be visited free of charge). Our next stop was the Kapoho Tide Pools or Wai'opae Ponds. This was an excellent snorkelling spot, much like in an aquarium. We saw lots of colourful fish (moorish idols, butterfly fish, yellow tangs,...) right in front of our noses and the water was crystal clear. Too bad we didn't have an underwater camera. Ahalanui Park may be an alternative.

We left at lunchtime and drove through tropical vegetation along the coast. We had a burger lunch at Kalapana Village Café and did the short walk to Kaimu Beach, a black lava beach that must have been amazing, fringed with palm trees before everything was covered with lava. Lava can now be seen flowing into the sea from Kalapana. Unfortunately we missed this by a couple of weeks.

Our last stop was at the beautifully painted (from inside) Star of the Sea Church.

As our car came up with a "Change Engine Oil Soon" warning light we drove to the rental car agency at Hilo airport to get it replaced. There was no more midsize SUV available, so we were upgraded to a Chevy Trailblazer fullsize SUV.

Back at the hotel we spotted a green turtle in the water.


Sunday, 24 Feb.: Highway 11 from Hilo to Kona (Punaluu Black Sand Beach, South Point), Snorkelling at Kahalu'u Beach
Total miles: 161
Weather: sunny, few clouds, 28 °C

Today we moved to the other side of the island. Passing by Volcanoes NP we arrived at Punaluu Black Sand Beach. Four green sea turtles were basking in the sun on the beach! Soon afterwards we turned off towards South Point. This is the southernmost point in the United States! Impressive waves were rolling in.

Back on Highway 11 we reached Kona shortly before 1 p.m. We had a late lunch at the Hard Rock Café (Coconut Grove Market Place), then we moved into our room at the Kona Seaside Hotel ($88 plus tax). The room was large and located in the Garden Wing. Afterwards we drove to Kahalu'u Beach Park where we had another fantastic snorkelling experience among beautiful fish and sea turtles! Then we strolled around Kona a bit and watched the sunset at 6:30 p.m.

Monday, 25 Feb.: The North: Kohala Mountains, Hiking in Pololu Valley, Kapa'au, Snorkelling at Spencer Beach
Total miles: 133
Weather: a.m. partly cloudy, p.m. sunny, 27 °C

Via Waimea we drove north through the Kohala Mountains. This morning it was pretty cloudy, but when we reached Polulu Valley Lookout the sun came out. We hiked down into the valley on a steep clay path. Then across the pebbled beach and up again on the other side until we reached a viewpoint down into the neighbouring valley: Honokanenui Valley. This took a bit more than 1 hour. When we turned back the clouds came back as well. But at least the hike back up to the car wasn't as strenuous under a cloudy sky.

It was shortly before 1 p.m. when we drove back to Kapa'au. Here we had a look at the original statue of King Kamehameha. After an hour's drive we reached Spencer Beach Park where we spent some time snorkelling and sunbathing. The beach was lovely but the snorkelling was so-so.

On our way back to Kona we stopped at Mauna Kea Beach, a big white sand beach that is mostly used by hotel guests. Highway 19 passes through lava fields. This is the location of the annual Ironman marathon. We had dinner at the Kona Inn Café + Grill with a view of the sea. Our dinner of fresh Spearfish and beer-battered Mahi along with a Pina Colada and a Mai Tai cocktail was accompanied by another beautiful sunset.


Tuesday, 26 Feb.: St. Benedict's Painted Church,
Puuhonua o Honaunau (Place of Refuge and Snorkelling), Kealakekua Bay with Captain Cook Monument,
Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park

Total miles: 78
Weather: mostly sunny but hazy, 27 °C

We drove south on Highway 11 to Puuhonua o Honaunau. Before we reached the Place of Refuge we stopped at St. Benedict's Painted Church, another church painted beautifully from the inside. With our National Parks Pass we entered the Hawaiian ceremonial site Puuhonua o Honaunau. Afterwards we went to snorkel in the adjoining bay. I saw some beautiful fish and Volker even a turtle but there was a high surf warning, so we didn't stay long. Volker injured his foot on the lava rocks but luckily it wasn't a deep cut.

We drove to Napoopoo Beach on Kealakekua Bay with a view of the Captain Cook Monument. Captain Cook came to shore here and found his death in 1779. The bay is supposed to be one of the best snorkelling sites on Hawaii but it can only be reached by boat, kayak, or a strenuous hike. Spinner dolphins can often be seen in the bay as well.

After lunch at the Kona Canoe Club Restaurant at Kona's waterfront we drove to Honokohau Harbor a few miles north of Kona and entered Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park. There are some hiking trails along the shore and around some old fish ponds and Hawaiian cultural sites. We also spotted a turtle in the bay. This is another location to see turtles on the beach, however, most likely the surf was too high today for them to come to shore.

At 7 p.m. we drove to Kona's south end to see the manta rays at the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort. The hotel has a viewing area with big spotlights illuminating the sea at night. Unfortunately, due to the high surf it was closed today. The Sheraton is a real impressive hotel though.

Next day we flew from Kona to Maui.


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