Choice of Island
Having made up our minds to stick to one island only, we decided on the Big Island with its active lava flows and room to move as we felt that it was best suited to our interests. It was not known for its physical beauty (as Kauai is) or for its beaches. We are made aware of this distinction on landing at Kona airport on the west coast of the Big Island. The runway is built on lava which presents a grim picture as the plane taxis to a halt. It does not look like an island paradise at that point. But if it is lava you came to see, whether long cooled or red hot and alive, then you've come to the right place. Large swathes of land on the island are covered with lava flow as is evident from the maps which indicate the years of the lava flows (from the 1800s to the 2000s) alongside. One keeps crossing all this lava while driving on the highways. The largest (bigger than all the other Hawaiian islands put together) and youngest of the islands, the Big Island is still growing with the current active lava flow forming new land as it falls into the sea and cools, a thought provoking fact.
Lava flow as seen from the Chain of Craters road
This was also a "landmark" moment for Venkatesh marking the 50th state
(coincidentally also the 50th
State in the Union) that he has visited (not counting airport transfers and freeway drivethroughs). These visits commenced in California on Sept. 22, 1996 and accumulated quietly over 10 years, culminating with Hawaii on May 27, 2006. Most of the states were "collected" on a cross country driving trip in 2001-2.
Our plan was to split our 6 days between the sunny Kona coast and the rainy east coast half and half. It turned out that we got sunnier skies on the east coast, but overall we had good weather. Highlights included snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay and at the Keauhou resort beach, getting to the top of Mauna Kea and watching the sunset and Haleakala volcano in nearby Maui, driving through most of the main highways - all the way north to the Kohala coast to the Polalu lookout, down to the south point, all the way to the Waipi'o valley and hiking down to the beach there, the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park with free camping for 2 nights, hiking the Kilauea Iki trail and walking across a volcanic crater, driving down the Chain of Craters road, a tour of the falls near Hilo, the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden and Akaka Falls. We also got to spend a quiet evening walking on Alii drive
(Kailua-Kona) with its busy shops and restaurants.
Angled Satellite picture brings out the contours of Mauna
Kea and Mauna Loa (the black rivers are lava flows)
A different kind of ascent
Our recent mountain experiences have mostly been on foot having climbed Mount Whitney (July
2004), Mount Dana (August 2005) and Mount Kilimanjaro (September 2005) on foot (as one has to). It felt odd to sit in a vehicle that took us all the way to the top of Mauna Kea. From sea level all the way to the top (> 13000 feet) in the space of one afternoon. Oddly enough, the views of the summit of Mauna Kea from the coast did not suggest such a huge difference in elevation.
The locals claim that the Big Island has the best snorkeling of all the islands and Kealakekua Bay is the best spot in the entire state. The couple of hours we spent snorkeling at Kealakekua Bay and at the beach outside our resort were spectacular. A particular favorite was the fish with a bowtie on its tail.
We'd be lying if we claimed that we ID'd all the above during our
snorkeling sessions in Hawaii. But we saw plenty.
We didn't know that
There are no snakes in the Hawaiian islands. Visitors are not permitted to bring any in. Bird and animal forms on the island have not evolved against predators. Introduction of predators like snakes will decimate the bird population in Hawaii.
May 27 - Fly to Kona. Check-in at the Outrigger Keauhou Bay resort for 3 nights.
Drive down to Kealakekua Bay to the viewpoint. Drive to Honaunau National Historical park. Painted
May 28 - Drive north on Mamalahoa highway to Kohala. And all the way to the end of the road at Pololu Beach lookout. Stop for lunch at Hawi. Stop at Hapuna beach on return to Kailua-Kona. Take the afternoon tour
up to the top of Mauna Kea. Nighttime viewing of the stars.
May 29 - Snorkeling trip to Kealakekua Bay and at the beach at Outrigger Keauhou bay.
May 30 - Check-out and drive south to Ka'u all the way to South
Point. Drive to Hawaii Volcanoes National
Park. Crater Rim Drive. Devastation trail to Kilauea Iki crater viewpoint. Thurston Lava Tube. Drive down Chain of Craters road. View active lava flow at twilight and after dark. Return to campsite in the park.
May 31 - Kilauea Iki trail. Drive to Hilo. Drive along the Wailuku river to view
Rainbow Falls, Waiale Falls, Pe'epe'e
Falls. Hawai'i Tropical Botanical
Garden. Akaka Falls
June 1 - Early morning hike in the park to view tree molds, birds. Drive up Honoka'a coast. Stop at
(scene of April 1, 1946 tsunami disaster). Drive to Waipi'o
Valley. Hike down to the beach. Drive across the island to Kona airport for the red eye flight back to San Francisco.
The book Hawaii The Big Island Revealed; The Ultimate Guidebook (Paperback) by Andrew Doughty, Harriett Friedman was a source of invaluable information about every aspect of visiting the Big Island. The authors don't hold back their opinions and call it as they see it.
(from Hawaii The Big Island Revealed, click on the map below
to explode into individual maps)
To view details of the trip in Google Earth,
download the Google Earth KMZ file and open in Google
Earth. The snapshot below includes our entire trip outline (the blue line).
Click here to view the Photo Albums.
Videos (available later)
Photos & Text: Malini V. Kaushik & R. Venkatesh