A first-ever trip to Hawaii. My expectations are high, but the islands exceeded my wildest dreams. The islands are stunning, spectacular, magical, incredible. Maureen and I will return soon.
In the week leading up to the trip, I have to pinch myself to confirm that I am not dreaming. That in fact, I would soon be in the exotic, famous Hawaiian Islands.
The trip starts out frantically, which turns out to be a harbinger of things to come. On the morning of our flight to Hawaii from Florida, we are already running late—we needed to be on the road by 4 a.m. to get to the airport in Jacksonville for a 7 a.m. flight. I have spent the night at Maureen’s house. Fumbling to unlock the door of my house to load up my luggage into my truck, the key to my deadbolt BREAKS IN HALF. No problem, I think to myself. I’ll just get my spare key, but when I look, I discovered that I have loaned the key and have not gotten it back. Fortunately, Maureen had a spare and I quickly retrieve it from her.
Our flight is first to Dallas-Ft Worth. From there, it is a 7-hour flight over the southwest and the Pacific Ocean to reach the islands. It is uneventful, which is exaggerated by the fact that the two books I have brought to read during the long flight both turned out to be deadly dull. I am stuck reading airline safety manuals and watching the in-flight movie without sound.
Our American Airlines flight touches down in Honolulu. We are immediately struck by one of the pleasant aspects of the islands: They feature nearly perfect weather year-round. Light sea breeze, warm air, moderate humidity. Stepping off the plane lets us know, up front, that we are in paradise.
The ocean waters in the Hawaiian Islands are crystal clear, since very little nutrients wash into the waters from the volcanic soils, which means no seaweed or other, similar forms of aquatic vegetation. In fact, we find the waters to be so very clear that they glisten like sparkling diamonds. A very vivid appearance, and therefore nearly perfect conditions for snorkeling and scuba diving amongst the rainbows of coral reef and tropical fish.
For each island, we find that summer days are usually partly overcast with either high or low clouds (depending on which side of the island you are on), and usually show a morning or afternoon pattern that you can count on each day depending on which island you are in. Throughout our stay on the islands, it seems that throughout morning and evening, sunshine would be nearly continuously and intermittently interspersed with very light drizzle or mist events (requiring a great amount of use of your “intermittent” function with your car’s windshield wipers).
An unfortunate feature we notice on each of the four islands we visit: There is very meager bird or mammal population. The birds are small in number due to the exploding mongoose population, which we see several of, dashing across the street in the way that we see squirrels back home. The mongoose were originally imported to the islands to control rats, and happily feast on Hawaiian bird eggs.
As you will notice in my travel log descriptions, many of the names of locations on the islands are nearly impossible to pronounce—even for natives. Maureen and I decide, early on, that instead of engaging in humiliating, self-flagellating, brain-damaging efforts to try to pronounce the names, we will simply abbreviate the names. Therefore, for example, Liliuokalani Gardens became “L” Gardens. Maniniowali Beach became “M” Beach. Laupahoehoe Peninsula became “L” Peninsula. Honaunau Bay became “H” Bay.
Below are links describing our adventures on the four islands we visit…
Our Bed & Breakfast in Oahu is J&B’s Haven near the southeast Oahu coast. We find it to be a very pleasant B&B with gracious, helpful, polite hosts. We discover that the location delivers very quiet nights. No sirens, motor vehicle engines, airplanes, helicopters, alarms, leaf blowers, or loud music. Just the tranquilizing sounds of rustling banana and palm tree leaves…
Like the other islands we visit, we discover that one side of the island is desert arid—much like the American southwest. The other side is a lush, tropical rainforest garden. We find this arid character on both the south and west sides of Oahu. And like the other islands we visit, we notice that the seas surrounding the Hawaiian islands are many shades of brilliant, glistening, crystal-clear, deep blue. This aspect of the waters is due to low nutrient content on the islands, which results in no growth of seaweed or similar forms of vegetative growth in the waters. In addition, this crystal-clear attribute is especially pronounced on the drier sides of the islands, due to lack of river sediment runoff into the ocean.
We first visit the horseshoe-shaped Hanauma Bay, which is outstanding from the lookout. We visit the Halona Blowhole nearby, which is worth a stop. Next, we see Nu’uana Pali Lookout, which Mark Twain found extremely impressive when he visited long ago. King Kamehameha I drove defending forces over 1,000-foot high cliffs in this area, which gave him control of Oahu centuries ago. Today, sadly, the view in my opinion is somewhat marred by sprouting subdivisions and highways.
Suprisingly, downtown Wakiki on a Wednesday night has sidewalks bustling with vibrant, festive pedestrian activity-street performers, tiki torches, musical entertainment, and thousands of pedestrians.
On our first night on the Hawaiian Islands, I take Maureen out to dinner for her birthday. Our restaurant—Hoku’s—provides us with a superb meal, and the ambience is greatly enhanced by the expansive windows next to our table, which provides us sunset views of the beach and Pacific Ocean just outside.
Overall, we drive our rental car about 50 miles on our first day.
On our second day, we arrive at the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor at about 7 a.m. (doors open at 8:30). By about 7:15, there was a line hundreds of feet long snaking back into the parking lot. Fortunately, we are in the first group ushered in for a tour. First, we are taken into a theatre and shown a documentary movie of the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese Zero Fighter Squadron. It is a very moving, powerful film, and brings tears to nearly all eyes in the audience. I strongly recommend seeing the film.
After the film, we are shuttled, by boat, to the Memorial out in the bay. The arched white concrete viewing structure sits, solemnly, over the sunken hull of the USS Arizona (see photo above), which sank with 1,102 men aboard. Like in other parts of the island, the crystal clear water provides a clear view of the deck of the ship. Fifty years after the ship was sunk, we notice oil slicks on the surface, indicating that the ship still leaks oil.
We next visit the Banzai Pipeline—a beach world famous for its strong, prominent surf (photo at right and below left). It is a pleasant surprise to find that the beach not only boasts great waves. It is also a gorgeous beach. We spend time on the beach watching the surfers do their thing. After a while, we wade into the water. I discover that body surfing the beach requires caution, because the powerful waves, more than once, strongly drive my head into the sand when it crashes at the beach. Afterward, despite lengthy, meticulous rinsing, washing, and combing, I have what seems like a bucket-full of Pipeline sand stuck in my scalp and ears.
Following the Pipeline, we hike to the summit of Diamondhead (Le’ahi). The 45-minute hike, on a trail built in 1908, to the 760-foot summit is arid and hot. One portion requires ascending a LONG staircase (the nearly 1-mile hike includes a 560-foot elevation gain). At the top, you arrive at a hardened military bunker that still contains gun mounts. Your reward at the summit is spectacular. Birds-eye views of the 350-acre lava crater next to Diamondhead-formed in an eruption 300,000 years ago. A panoramic view of the stunning Pacific Ocean, and a stupendous view of the Honolulu skyline. Be sure to bring lots of water for the hike.
Overall, we drive about 120 miles on our second day.
More so than other Hawaiian islands, Oahu is filled with bougainvillea flowers growing along streets.
Overall, Oahu is more impressive than I was told to expect with regard to natural areas such as beaches and vistas (we found some of the most gorgeous beaches in all the islands are on Oahu). However, the island is being seriously compromised by what appears to be a history in which the island sought to “build its way out of congestion.” The result of this ruinous strategy is that much of the island is now afflicted with the downward spiral of six-, eight-, and ten-lane arterial roads, sprawling suburban areas, high-speed and hostile traffic, and serious congestion. Efforts to alleviate the “misbehaving cars” problem are obvious, as we noticed a large number of commercial areas and residential/resort streets are full of speed bumps (which, by the way, are much more annoying than speed humps, because speed bumps punish the driver even when the driver has slowed down to the properly modest speed). We also notice obvious efforts to install bicycle routes/lanes and provide a better-than-average bus system.
Total Days on Oahu: 2
Total Miles Driven on Oahu: 170 miles
The Big Island (also called “Hawaii”) seems covered with igneous, volcanic rock, and compared to Oahu, modestly sized streets and highways-which, of course, results in better-behaved traffic on Big Island.
We first visit the Kona Coast State Park, the entrance road of which requires driving along a VERY rough, up and down unpaved “road” zig-zagging its way through an immense lava field. The park itself is quite nice, and offers diverse landscapes. At the parking lot, there are picnic and restroom facilities. Walking north along the beach, we find pleasant, attractive, uncrowded beaches and coves. To the south, by walking over beach and hardened lava, we arrive at our first black sand beach, which presents a striking appearance when the white foam of waves comes crashing down upon it.
Next is Hapuna Beach, half a mile long and 200 feet wide. The beach has recently been ranked as the top beach in the U.S. We are a bit puzzled, since the beach is average at best with regard to attractiveness compared to other Hawaiian beaches. Apparently, it excels in beach amenities, such as a wide beach with fine-grained sand, easy swimming conditions with lots of shallow, clear water near the sandy shoreline, good picnic and restroom facilities, and clear water.
Using Doughty’s “Big Island Revealed” guidebook-which proves to be an invaluable resource on Maui and Kauai as well-we are aware of a hidden gem unknown to most other beachgoers there. At the southern end, a rocky point juts out. Extending outward from that point and then southerly into a small cove, the waters are graced with substantial and impressive coral reefs, clear waters, and colorful tropical fish. This makes for some excellent, easy, uncrowded snorkeling for Maureen and I.
We then travel south to the town of Captain Cook to find our Big Island bed and breakfast. We are in for a very pleasant, astounding surprise. Our B&B, known as the “Edge of the World,” is very, very impressive. It is nestled on the steep western slopes of Big Island, overlooking-and I mean overlooking-Kealakekua Bay. “Edge”, as we called it, offers us a spectacular bedroom and full use of the living room, lanai, kitchen, dining room, and utility room. Our bathroom is attached to our bedroom and was enormous in size. Our king sized bed sits next to sliding glass doors that open out to the lanai (a second-floor deck along the entire back side of this large house). The lanai provides us with breathtaking, panoramic views of the western coastline and bay (see photo top right). In the backyard off the lanai is a coffee field (Maureen enjoys several cups of world-famous “Kona” coffee grown on the B&B property while we are there), a macadamia nut orchard, and papaya trees. Each night is extremely relaxing, as we doze in an extremely quiet setting with a very gentle, comfortable tropical breeze wafting in from the open sliding glass door.
The access road to the Edge helps explain why it was such a secluded getaway. A very sharp hairpin turn requiring a 3-point k-turn by a motorist (even in a small subcompact car) leads you down an exceptionally steep, winding, narrow paved road that is so steep that it was initially very frightening for us to drive down (we shifted into very low gear and braked the entire way-feverishly gripping the steering wheel for a white-knuckled ride down to the Edge of the World.
Given this and the setting of the Edge, it truly seems like the edge of the world to us
It is soon after our arrival at the Edge that I make the horrifying discovery that I am unable to find my new and very expensive digital camera-a camera that I have just a week ago beefed up the memory for to hold hundreds of Hawaii photos. After a frantic retracing of my steps in my head, I convince myself that the only possible place it could be is at our Oahu B&B. I place a call to them and leave a message on their machine. And anxiously awaite their call back. A day later, it comes, and they confirm finding the camera. Great relief, but unhappy that I would not have use of the camera for the entire Hawaii trip.
On our first night, we drive to the mile-long Ali’ie Drive on the west coast near Kona. Like downtown Wakiki, we find this street to be bustling with festive pedestrians, and reminded me a great deal of the Mardi Gras atmosphere and architecture found on Duval Street in downtown Key West.
Overall, we drive about 180 miles on our first day on Big Island.
To begin day 2, we visit Rainbow Falls-a dramatic, powerful twin falls worth a stop for a look (photo on left). Just down the road is “Boiling Pots,” which we find is not worth our time. It may have been that we observed it during low-flow conditions, but we did not see any sort of seething, boiling water. Looked like an exciting place to run a kayak through, though…
After this, we visit Kulala Falls, which is fair, then the 420-foot Akaka Falls, which was stupendous.
We then drive into the windward town of Hilo, which receives almost continuous rains, making for a very lush, flowery, luxurious community. The town features an impressive, seemingly continuous downtown farmers market, where we purchase some very odd Hawaiian fruit, such as the “chocolate icing” fruit, and a reddish-purple fruit that we end up calling the “hairy balls” fruit.
After Hilo, we stopped at Laupahoehoe Point, which had been crushed by a tsunami on April Fool’s Day in 1946, forcing the village to move up to a higher elevation. Today, it is a very attractive park with a very rocky, rough shoreline with a strong, violent surf. We are surprised to see scuba divers near the rocks, since it seemed as if the strong surge would quickly crush them against the rocks.
Tropical Paradise gives us a helicopter ride over much of the Big Island when we stop again in Hilo for lunch. During the ride, we fly over the enormous lava fields in Volcanoes National Park that has an immensity that can only be appreciated from the air. When we are there, active lava is pouring into the Pacific. Great clouds of white steam were rising up at this southeastern island location. It is astounding to observe brand new land being formed, and we are, from the chopper, able to observe the red-hot lava as it rolls into the sea (photo on right).
After this aerial treat, the guidebook leads us to a small, 8 x 14 spring- and ocean-fed volcanic pool of water that was like a bathtub, with clear water at 90 degrees. The Highway 137 that leads to this pool is canopied with colossally tall trees.
Overall, we drive about 350 miles on our second day on Big Island.
Our third day starts off with a dive with the Big Island Divers. The first dive is at Golden Arches, which was a wonderous dive location with several swim-through arches. We spot a large number of moray eel, hawksbill turtle, crab, and numerous jet-black sea urchins. Our visibility is an impressive 90 feet. Overall, we find the coral reefs here are very healthy.
Our second dive is at Pine Trees, which has a number of named features such as The Aquarium, Suck-‘Em Up Cave, and Skull Cave. Suck-‘Em Up turns out to be a delightful treat. You enter a small tunnel. (During our entry, we spotted a 7-foot white-tipped reef shark resting a few feet from us in a hollowed out rock formation above sand.) Once you enter a turn in the tunnel, the strong sea surge through the tunnel sucks you up and propels you out into open water.
This second dive includes our sighting a number of extremely large moray eels (as thick as baseball bats). Our visibility is an acceptable 75 feet. We also notice an unusually large number of black and grey sea cucumbers on the ocean floor. Some of the tropical fish we see on these dives are parrot fish, white mouth moray eel (BIG), achilles tang, moorish idols, and yellow tang. I am told that the bright yellow color of the yellow tang, and its recently large population at Big Island meant that when you flew over the coastline, you would see a yellow cloud of the tang. Today, because of the harvesting for aquariums, this yellow cloud is no longer seen. However, in our dives and snorkel trips, we nevertheless observe a large number of yellow tang.
Like nearly all Big Island dives, the drop off just beyond our dive sites plunges to 18,000 feet. It helps not to think about that kind of depth awaiting us…a black void where you cannot see where you’ve been or where you’re going…
On both dives, I find that the submerged lava rock formations, tubes, and chimneys offer extraordinary dive experiences and views.
After our dives, we head down to Ali’ie Drive and enjoy a Kona Golden Ale microbrewery draft beer, which tastes especially good after our dive and day of Hawaiian adventure.
Overall, we drive about 45 miles on our third day on Big Island.
Wide awake at 5 a.m. the next morning (easy to do when you are 6 hours ahead of Hawaii time), we get an early start for our anticipated trip to Volcanoes National Park on the southeast side of the Big Island. This park contains the Kilauea Volcano, the most active volcano in the world. Each day, 300,000 to 1,000,000 cubic yards of lava erupts from this volcano, for a total of 2,150,000,000 cubic yards since its inception. The average temperature of the lava is 2,000 degrees. Kilauea covers 38 square miles, and has destroyed 181 homes. In 1990, the town of Kalapana was erased by the lava.
We find the Sulfur Banks to be boring when we are there. The Steam Vents are impressive-not so much because of the steam but because of the fantastic views provided of the Kilauea caldera. We discover that the Halermor’uma Crater is fantastic. And as advertised by both back-home friends and our guidebook, the Kilauea Iki hike is stunningly diverse and spectacular (photo above left). The 3-mile, 4,000-foot elevation trail is one of the best hikes on the Hawaiian Islands. We first walk through a very lush and fragrant rainforest and ancient fern forest along the caldera rim, occasionally getting lookout views of the moonlike caldera floor way below us. At the distance we are above the floor, hikers crossing the floor look like tiny ants. After about 40 minutes through the forest, the trail descends to the caldera floor, which is an abrupt, stark contrast to the forest. The floor features what appears to be an endless, gigantic black asphalt parking lot that was buckled and crevassed due to major earthquakes. At several locations on the floor, we find hot steam issuing from fissures, indicating that the caldera has still not completely cooled. It was last active approximately 42 years ago.
After the Iki hike, we visit the Thurston Lava Tube. While impressive, we find this first few hundred feet to be too safe and touristy, due to its being lined with electric lighting. But at the end of that tube, we arrive at a second tube, which extends for 330 meters. Here, we were quickly immersed in absolute, jet-black darkness (flashlight required for hike). Because we are alone in the tube at the time, we also experience “deafening” silence. Next, we are treated to a sight that is unknown to most Park visitors. Devil’s Throat is located in our guidebook, but not signed by the Park, apparently due to the liability concerns at the Throat. This feature-only a short hike from the Park road-is unsettling when you arrive, gingerly, at the precipice. Getting to the abyss of the Throat took my breath away, and I suggest that Maureen take my hand before she arrives and takes a look down it. The Throat turns out to be a few hundred feet wide, and has sheer cliff walls dropping hundreds of feet down into the darkness (photo at left). Part of the uncomfortable feeling comes from the edges of the volcanic throat, which had large cracks and crevasses at the edge of the cliff, indicating the edges are sloughing off into the Throat. At times, that event perhaps takes sight-seers to an abrupt, painful, terrifying death, as they are hurled into the frightening, rocky hole.
Our next stop at the park was the Holei Sea Arch, which we find to be extremely impressive. The big Pacific Ocean waves in this location are exceptionally powerful, and sound like explosions when they crash against the igneous rock walls along the Park coastline.
We then come-literally-to the end of the road. In the recent past, the road continued around the southeast coast of the island. Today, it ends abruptly and 8 miles of it are now covered by thick black lava rock. At the end of the road sits a visitor center. In a mobile home. Ready for the next needed retreat…
Overall, we drive about 220 miles on our fourth day on Big Island.
Day Five, Big Island. We head out for an eagerly awaited horseback ride. First, we are treated to an astounding view of Waipio Valley from a lookout above it on its southeast side (photo below left). The Valley ends at a 1-mile long black sand beach at the coastline. A few hours later, a group of us are shuttled down into the valley in a four-wheel drive van. The ride turns out to be part of the exciting adventure, since the one mile drive down to the valley floor follows a one-lane road with the steepest grade on the Big Island—35 percent. So steep is it that vehicles without four-wheel drive are fined hundreds of dollars for trying to drive down it, and then must pay an additional $700 to be towed back up the road.
Our horseback ride is 2 hours in the Valley. The Valley is magical. Sheer walls hundreds of feet high rise up from 3 sides. The fourth side is the sea. Countless waterfalls stream down these walls. The Valley floor is very lush due to the 100 inches of rain the Valley receives each year. The floor now grows mostly taro, and has supported, over the years, 50 generations of Hawaiians.
The village in the Valley was destroyed by the huge tsunami in 1946. For 2 decades, the Valley contained no human residents. Starting in the 1960s, resettlement began again. Population today is about 50.
After the horseback, we visit nearby Polou Valley, which offers remarkable views. After observing the valley from the cliffs above, we make the strenuous hike down to the black sand beach at one end of the valley. We finish the day by going back to Hapuna Beach for relaxing, “doing nothing,” and watching the sun set over the Pacific. However, since we have done a “grueling” horseback ride earlier in the day, Maureen and I decide that we need to soothe our aching, sore muscles, so we climb into the waiting hot tub just outside of our B&B bedroom on the lanai. Viewing the Pacific while relaxing in a hot tub with a glass of wine is very therapeutic after a long and tiring day of adventuring in paradise.
Overall, we drive about 220 miles on our fifth day on Big Island.
On day six of Big Island, it is off to Honaunau Bay (at the Place of Refuge) for more superb snorkeling in crystal clear water. The entry point consists of smooth lava rock rather than beach sand, and it is a very popular place for people to snorkel. For good reason. The coral, abundant and colorful (albeit small) tropical fish, dramatic lava canyons, and high-visibility water are outstanding. About 30 percent of the tropical fish found in Hawaiian reefs are found no where else on earth-the highest percentage of endemic species in the world.
The next destination is Ke’ei Beach, which is a beach paradise (photo below right). The beach itself is gorgeous and secluded-secluded apparently because it is not easy to find at the end of a long dirt road and a residential cul-de-sac. The setting is pure Hawaii beach with powdery golden sand, abundant coconut trees, and glistening surf. While there, I seek a way to harvest a fresh coconut. Since it seems impossible to climb the trees, I begin hurling large lava rocks at them. Finally, after about 40 throws, I knock one down and Maureen and I enjoy its sweet coconut milk.
That afternoon, we set out again with Big Island Divers for an afternoon dive at Garden Eel Cove just before sunset. Once at the bottom, we are told to sit motionlessly and watch out over the ocean floor. What emerged with our 70 feet of visibility were hundreds and hundreds of small, twig-like, black Garden Eel, something I had not seen before. We spot Trumpetfish, Moray Eel, Yellow Tang, Stripe Belly Puffers, Achilles Tang, Ornate Butterfish, Orangeband Surgeonfish, Orangespine Unicornfish, Saddle Wrasse, Moorish Idol, Yellowfin Surgeonfish, Bullethead Parrotfish, and Teardrop Butterfly fish. Then, after the dive, we wait on the boat for THE MAIN ATTRACTION. The world-famous Manta Ray Night Dive off of Big Island. We are told in advance that this is a “must” dive. We are not prepared for the wonders of the show that awaited us. We are speechless afterward.
The dive begins by having each of the 6-8 of us on our dive boat descend to the bottom of Garden Eel Cove (about 35 feet) after sunset. There, we kneel down in a circle, and raise our powerful halogen lights upward so that the light points straight up to the surface. Soon, the enchantment begins. First, very dense white clouds of plankton are attracted to the beams of light we cast above us. Suddenly, quite large, graceful manta rays-six in all-start their magnificent feeding ballet on the plankton we have concentrated above us. Holding the light just above our foreheads means that the thickest concentration of plankton is just above our heads, and this, therefore, became the feeding target of the rays. They would glide above us, open their enormous mouths, then slowly swoop down toward our heads to scoop up a big helping of the plankton meal. Often, the rays would swim figure-eight summersaults above us to engage in a continuous feeding strategy within the plankton clouds. On their downward swoop toward me and the others, they would head directly at our faces from about 15 feet away. Then, at the last possible instant, with their open mouth just inches from our faces, they would swoop back upward over our heads (when their open mouths are within inches of our faces, we are clearly able to look down inside their wide throats, gullets, and gills). On 10 to 15 occasions, the upward swoop is so close that the ray actually brushes against the top of my head. Once, the ray does not time her or his upward swoop properly, and crashes square into the front of my dive mask on my face. Bam!
The approach of the rays is so close, and their bodies so large (some have, during our dive, a wingspan of up to 14 feet), that I would feel a strong turbulence that nearly knocks me over as they pass.
We watch this fantastic underwater dance for 70 minutes. A number of times, as I kneel next to Maureen, I turn to her and am so overwhelmed by the experience that I want to scream to her: “This is UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!!” Frustrated by the inability to communicate under water, all I am able to do is to put a big thumbs up in front of her face to express my joy and exhilaration. Fortunately, she does not mistake this well-known dive signal for my desire to ascend to the surface.
Quite simply, it is a completely unforgettable experience. By far, my best dive experience ever. It is so astounding that if I had done just that dive during my 16 days in Hawaii, it would have been my best adventure vacation ever.
Here is a YouTube video of that once-in-a-lifetime dive we did:
Overall, we drive about 70 miles on our fifth day on Big Island.
Our sixth day at the Edge of the World B&B starts luxuriously, as always. I relaxed in the hot tub outside our bedroom. After another incredible breakfast served by our amazing hosts, we set out for Kealakekua Bay for some kayaking and snorkeling along the coast near our B&B. Our destination is the Captain Cook monument, erected in 1874 by British soldiers, one mile away at the far end of the bay, where, it is said, the water is more crystal clear than anywhere else on Big Island. My experience the day we were there would lead me to agree with that assessment. After an easy paddle, we come ashore at the rocky coast near the monument and find the snorkeling nearby to be excellent. It is said to be the best snorkeling in all the islands. A huge rainbow of tropical fish, astounding lava rock formations-including an underwater lava arch that I free dove through-and lots of attractive coral reef. About 100 feet from the shore, the rock formations show a very steep drop-off to the dark depths of the sea in this Bay area. The water is so clear there that it reminds me of the crystal clear spring water we enjoy at the many springs where we live in Gainesville, Florida.
We snorkel for 90 minutes.
Overall, we drive about 20 miles on our sixth day on Big Island.
Part of my harvesting experience on our B&B “farm” was to gather a basket of macadamia nuts and crack them with the special nutcracker device they had at the B&B. Fresh mac nuts are delicious. J
Breakfasts at the Edge, like every other aspect of the B&B, are outstanding. Our hosts are extremely charitable, helpful, and very accommodating of my unusual non-dairy vegetarian diet. Included are freshly made banana pancakes topped with mouth-watering fresh papaya sauce. Our breakfast table also includes fresh pineapple, fresh Kona coffee (grown on the grounds of the B&B), herbal teas, granola, mango, yogurt, and tropcial fruit juice. The breakfasts are, of course, substantially improved by our breathtaking views of the bay as we eat on the lanai.
We find that the Big Island has a rather sparse network of roads on an island of enormous size and significant topography, which means LOTS of driving. We therefore conclude that on our return to the Big Island for future adventure, it would make much more sense to set up multiple base camps in B&Bs at various strategic points around the coastline, instead of a single basecamp, which would inevitably have a number of long drives, no matter where on the island it is located.
Next up is the island of Maui.
Total Days on Big Island: 6.5
Total Miles Driven on Big Island: Over 1,085 miles
Our first destination on Maui, very early in the morning, is the Haleakala Crater, which sits atop a large mountain on Maui. On our ascent up the road leading to the summit (and our horseback ride trail head), we notice hundreds and hundreds of group-led families riding down on earth cruiser bicycles.
This ride is famous. It starts at the summit at the crack of dawn, and bicyclists are able to descend several miles—all downhill—without need for pedaling. We are told that the ride is better than the famous “Road to Hana,” but after seeing it, I must disagree. The ride group requires one to dress in geeky, dayglow uniforms, wear bulky motorcycle helmets, and ride a low-performance bicycle passively down the road. While the views and ability to ride a long way without pedaling must be pleasant, we find the Road to Hana adventure to be extremely enjoyable—undoubtedly more so than these swarms of ride groups.
But I digress. Our adventure today is the well-known, highly-touted Haleakala Crater all-day horseback ride with PonyExpress Tours. The ride takes us 2.5 hours to cross most of the crater floor, and another 2 hours to return. The crater is formed, surprisingly, by wind erosion, not volcanic action. The colors—reds, blacks, greens, greys, browns—and formations appeared very surrealistic within the crater (see photo above). The sands within the crater are very loose, giving one of the trails the name “Sliding Sands.” Inside, the crater is cold, utterly arid, and dusty. It is immense in size.
The experience makes us feel like we are “on top of the world,” since, at 10,000 feet of elevation at the summit trail head, we are above much of the cloud cover in this part of Maui. In fact, on our ride back, we gallup through clouds passing through, and it seemed like we are passing through a blizzard or forest fire.
The last eruption for this volcano was over 10,000 years ago, yet, due to lack of rain, we see very little vegetative growth. One exception is the silversword plant, which we have the great pleasure to see. This plant occurs no where else in the world. It lives 5 to 50 years, and blooms once in its life, then dies. To our fantastic good fortune, many are blooming for our ride.
After the ride, we visit the northwest Maui coast, where we find very rough waves and rocky beaches. We observe Nakalele Blowhole, which is the most impressive blowhole we see on the islands, given the vertical height it is pumping up to. We visit a few stunning Maui beaches. The most attractive is Kaanapali Beach, a beach so pretty and romantic that a couple is getting married there when we arrive.
We eat dinner in Lahina, a wonderful, funky, walkable, traditional town on the west Maui coast. The town contains Front Street, which represents Maui’s version of the bustling, festive Duval Street/Key West scene in Florida. We dine at Maui Brews, which serves Kona draft beer. I order the “volcanic-spiced” ahi fish dish, which is simply DELICIOUS.
Overall, we drive about 190 miles on our first day on Maui.
Our second day at Maui starts at 6 a.m. to meet our Mike Severns dive boat for a dive out at the most popular and dramatic dive in Maui—Molokini Crater, a marine and bird sanctuary. The “tuff” crater rim emerges offshore from Maui, and the volcanic mountain is mostly under water (photo at right). There are several dive sites both inside and outside the crater. Our dive is The Back Wall outside of the crater, which is said to be the preferred place to dive the crater. The very clear water—which normally ranges from 100 to 180 feet— was deceiving, since even at our maximum depth of 75 feet, looking up to the surface during the dive creates the impression that we are not very far from the surface. On the day we dive, the vis is a staggering 160 feet.
The dive is enjoyable and impressive. Our dive master finds a red and black speckled octopus sitting atop a ledge, and draws the creature out by dangling a fishing lure above its head. The octopus leaps up and grabs the lure with its tentacles, allowing the master to playfully drag the octopus for a few feet.
Our second dive is near the coastline at St. Anthony’s Wreck. While the wreck is somewhat interesting, with huge green sea turtles resting on its deck, it was a comparatively mediocre Hawaii dive for us. Next to the wreck lies enormous racks full of old car tires, sunk here to provide reef and fish habitat, and we swim amongst the tires during our dive.
Overall, we find the Mike Severns Dive operation to be exceptional. They provide very thorough, lengthy safety briefings, and lots of details about what sort of marine life (and marine life behavior) to expect during the dive.
Next, we check out Oneuli Beach, which is an extremely picturesque black sand beach that gets little use—a secluded, hidden gem (photo at left). From there, we discover the hidden, little-known Secret Cove, which has a very intimate, cute, lovely beach tucked into a tiny cove. Indeed, it is so nice that we understand that couples often marry there.
Again, we return to Lahina for dinner. This time, it is Lucarelli’s Hop Tomato & Brewery. Because it is a brewery, I am “forced” by lust to order one of their homemade liquid delicacies. I sample their Dark Porter Ale, and am extremely impressed. A very good beer. Their food is not bad, either.
Overall, we drive about 70 miles on our second day on Maui.
Our third day features one of the main events on Maui: The extremely popular “Road to Hana” (or “The Hana Highway”). We start out at 6:30 a.m. to beat the infamous tourist train of bumper-to-bumper rental cars, tour buses, and vans (on average, 1,500 to 2,000 vehicles drive the road each day).
First stop is an almost never-visited the 200-foot Lower Puokokamoa Falls, which most tourists just wiz by on the highway above it. Our Doughty guide recommends we stop to see this often-missed falls, take a short trail hike, and enjoy this impressive gateway falls for the Hana Highway.
At Waikani Falls (also known as “3 Bears”), we are instructed to take a path that leads down from the side of a bridge to the valley below the falls. The first step or two is ugly: very steep, large, and treacherous, but we manage without incident. Upon arriving at the pool for these falls, we are treated to a delightful triple falls, and I swim out to the falls in the chilly water (photo at right).
Makapipi Falls is a peculiar falls in the sense that you look at it by peering over the highway bridge railing. The falls is directly beneath you under the bridge.
The next outstanding find we make, courtesy of our guidebook, is the 2.5-mile Nahiku Road. This road is the most lush, fragrant, flower-filled road we see in all of Hawaii. (Which reminds me: we noticed a very sweet, tropical, flowery fragrance on many of our Hawaii hikes, due to the tropical flowers and fruits.) It comes as no surprise to us that the ex-Beatle, George Harrison, owns (or did own) a house on Nahiku road. The road terminates at picturesque Waiohue Bay. There, we watch a family of porpoises cruising for food, which causes, at one point, a spinner dolphin to leap into the air as they glide by. At this bay, Maureen frolicks in a small artesian waterfall-fed pool sitting next to the bay. It was a very idyllic setting.
Blue Pool is extremely impressive. The falls that feed the pool, and the pool itself, are only a few short feet from the surf of the ocean. Again, Maureen and I swim out to the falls across the falls pool.
Just down the road is Wai’anapanapa State Park (“W” State Park for those of us without a doctorate in linguistics). This park is one of the most gorgeous, picturesque parks I’ve ever seen. I shoot a roll of film very quickly here, since the views are so spectacular every time I turned around. The jet-black lava rock at the shores very dramatically bring out the vibrant, deep blue, glistening waters in the coves of the park (photo at left). The water is therefore glistens exceptionally. Off to the side of the main path into the park is a very nice, 100-foot wide black sand beach, which sits next to a neat little lava tube which opens at the back of the beach and at the other end at the surf.
Venus (Waioka) Pool is the scene of some daring cliff diving by Maureen and I. The pool is very attractive in its setting next to the sea. While there, we observe what appears to be local teens leaping off cliffs next to the pool. Since the reports from these daring leapers is that the pool is plenty deep, I spend about 20 minutes working up the courage to mount the “smaller” 30-foot jump point. It looks very scary from this comparatively modest height when I look down to the water. Summoning my courage, because I was still not convinced that the small, volcanic pool was deep enough, I throw caution to the wind and LEAP INTO OBLIVION (photo at right). Quite an adrenaline rush on the way down, and at that height, it takes a LONG 10 seconds before you reach the water. I goad Maureen into following suit, and she very impressively does so.
Getting back to safe, tourist activity, we return to Hana Highway and come to one of the best hikes on Maui—Pipiwai Trail. A fabulous, 2-mile trail with a 650-foot elevation gain. A dramatic falls is found along the way—Makahiku. Next up was the hike to Infinity Pool, which is the pool of water at the top of, behind and right at the precipice of these 200-foot falls. At the back of Infinity Pool, when you look toward the falls, the Pool seems to stretch out to “infinity,” since there is no lip at the falls and the horizon is the Pacific Ocean. Tentatively, I enter the pool (photo below left), having read in the guidebook that this is something that can be done carefully, without being swept over the falls. And after all, I have all the courage I need, now that I was “Dom, the Venus Pool Cliff Jumper.” It is extremely harrowing, having gazed at these very, very tall falls a few moments earlier. Would I be able to resist a strong current of water rushing over the falls? If not, it would be an abrupt, horrifying, ugly death…
Behind the Infinity Pool and falls is a very attractive canyon, whose stream is relatively narrow. We swim upstream into the canyon, seeking a glimpse of an upstream falls. Upstream, the walls are sheer and about 70 feet tall. Very dramatic and intimate.
We hike upslope on the trail, seeing several impressive waterfalls along the way. At one point, the trail leads through a very dense, spooky, quiet, dark tunnel of bamboo trees. Many of the bamboo have enormous trunks.
The reward at the end of the hike is the incredible, 400-foot Waimoku Falls (in the photo below right, you can barely make out Maureen standing at the base of the falls).
We finish the day by dining at a very good, funky seafood restaurant in a funky, colorful, walkable, alternative culture gateway to Hana town known as Paia.
The Road to Hana is a demanding road to drive. Every mile, the Hana Highway has a number of bridges crossing a creek or valley. Most of the bridges are one lane, which requires one side to yield to the other side (first to arrive at the bridge has the right-of-way). In a way, these can be called “give way” bridges. The Road to Hana is 50 miles of nearly continuous hairpin turns (many with narrow lanes and rock cliffs jutting out into). One estimate is that there are 600 turns. Many of these turns are so sharp and narrow that there are signs advising motorists to blow their horn before taking the turn. For the 50 miles, the road is such that 15 to 20 mph is your top maximum speed.
Often, this exacting road is too challenging for many drivers, who demonstrate their lack of skills, courage, or both by driving 5 to 10 miles per hour. I often jokingly refer to myself as “Mario Andretti” since I am Italian and have little patience for driving incompetence and timidity. On Hana Highway, these ultra slow drivers seemed to be around every turn. This elicits in me a number of muttered, flustered comments such as “Oh, great! We’re behind [a slowpoke] again!” Then, when I would finally manage to pass the incompetent loafer, I would bid the driver farewell by shouting to Maureen: “Good Riddance!”
We find that on Maui, difference between the hot, arid, dusty Haleakala Crater area and the Hana Highway could not be more stark. Hana is always wet, and lush. It turns out that our early-morning strategy was a good one. We see few sightseers early on, and by mid-day, we are off frolicking on trails and waterfalls, and do not return to the highway until the sun is setting and the tourists have vanished.
Overall, we drive about 150 miles on our third day on Maui.
We hop an inter-island Aloha Airlines flight from Maui to our final Hawaiian Island destination: Kauai, the Garden Island.
Total Days on Maui: 3
Total Miles Driven on Maui: 410 miles
Our bed and breakfast here-South Shore Vista-is a very, very impressive surprise. It is obscenely spacious, and gives us sole use of a full kitchen (complete with pots, pans, dishes, glasses, silverware), bathroom, dining room, living room, bathroom, and backyard deck. The view from the deck and the dining room (which had huge glass windows facing this view) is smashing, since it overlooks banana and papaya trees, a lush valley, Kauai mountains and the Pacific Ocean. In addition to Edge of the World on the Big Island, I strongly recommend this bed and breakfast.
First up is the startling, unexpected Waimea Canyon, which Mark Twain, when he first saw it, dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” We find his description was extremely accurate (photo at left). I never expected to see such a dramatic, colorful, expansive canyon in Hawaii. The canyon is 10 miles long, one mile wide, and 3,600 feet deep. Stopped at Waimea Canyon Lookout, which provides breathtaking views of the canyon. It is then on to the end of the road-Pu’uokila Lookout at the end of Route 550, which Doughty calls one of the greatest views in the Pacific. After seeing the view, which includes Kalalau Valley and the Pacific coastline, I have to agree. We hike into the canyon on the Canyon Trail in the Koke’e Trails area. This trails area is full of an overwhelming network of trails. The Canyon Trail is exceptional, giving us stupendous views of the canyon. I cannot stop taking photos with my camera along this trail. On the downside, the hike is very hot, dusty, and dry. We strongly recommend bringing along plenty of water.
Kauai is very aptly named the Garden Island, since it is very lush and attractive. We notice that the island seems to be covered with feral chickens, which are seen almost constantly on roadsides and fields. In the morning, the crowing of roosters is very noticeable.
For dinner on our first night at Kauai, we sample bottles of Kauai Gold microbeer. I find it to be fair to partly cloudy with regard to quality. The natural wonders of the islands are outstanding. The island beer is not…
Overall, we drive about 75 miles on our first day on Kauai.
Day two on Kauai starts with a visit to the Spouting Horn blowhole. We then head to the Fathom 5 Diveshop for our Kauai dive. Our first dive is the most popular and impressive dive on Kauai-Sheraton Caverns. Have about 70 feet of vis. During this dive, we see graceful (and big) green sea turtles, and we glide through a fabulous series of swim-thru lava arches. The second dive is at the 3 Fingers site. Poor visibility. More sea turtles. Spotted a green crown starfish.
After the dive, we check out Poipu Beach. Very attractive, but roped off surf because a native and rare Monk Seal just had a calf at the beach. We also visit Gillin’s Beach, which is very attractive. Next, we drive through the well-known “Tunnel of Trees,” which consist of formally aligned, very tall swamp mahogany (eucalyptus) trees which were donated to the county and planted on the road several years ago after Walter Duncan McBryde, a local landowner, discovered he had 500 of them left over after landscaping his home almost 100 years ago. While the trees have recently suffered from a hurricane, it remains an impressive drive. We visit the 80-foot Wailua Falls, which is the falls used for the opening credits in the Fantasy Island TV show, a twin falls that is worth seeing. As an aside, we visit Nawillwili Town and Lihue town and decided they are mediocre and not worth visiting.
Overall, we drive about 100 miles on our second day on Kauai.
We start the third day on Kauai with a 30-minute hike to Ho’opouli Falls. The trail is lush and adventurous. We first come upon a smaller falls. The trail passes along and across a small stream, and braids through a very soft, low-growing fern ground cover. Arriving at Ho’opouli Falls, we discovered the falls are impressive, but the floor of the falls appeared to be inaccessible due to the sheer walls surrounding it.
We stroll on Moloa’a Beach, which is an exceptionally attractive beach within a small cove (photo at left). Behind the beach is a very pretty freshwater stream that flows to the sea and appears very good for kayaking. We lounge and frolick on the beach for a while.
We go see the Kilauea lighthouse, which is extremely postcard picturesque.
It is then onward to the anticipated “Secret (Kauapea) Beach,” which I look forward to because the name given to it is partly the result of having some “nude beach” history. A pretty beach that is not much in use while we are there. The waves are rather large and powerful here, similar to the Banzai Pipeline.
A famous view we look at is the Hanalei Valley Overlook, which provides postcard beauty to even amateur photographers like me (photo below right).
We visit Queen’s Bath for a quick dip, which is a warm pool next to the sea embedded in an igneous rock depression. After leaving the Bath, and walking back to the access point, we pass a small cove and there watch a family of green sea turtles battling the surging waves inside the cove. Easy to watch them because again, the water was crystal clear.
We head to Ke’e Beach State Park, where we check out some large caverns embedded into the cliff walls next to the park. We then find the trailhead to what is considered the most stunning, famous trail hike in all of Hawaii-Kalahua Trail. Unable to resist, despite our exhaustion, we hike the first 1/2 mile of the 11-mile trail. The trail follows the incredible Na Pali coastline, scene of incredible cliffs, waterfalls, beaches rugged wilderness, and stupendous kayak trips. At the 1/2 mile marker, we have special views of the Na Pali cliffs, and Ke’e and Tunnel beaches (photo lower left) in the opposite direction.
After returning to the valley floor, I snorkel the Tunnel Beach lava formations. True to its name, the beach offers outstanding snorkeling in a dense maze of volcanic, underwater tunnels, crevasses, walls, caves, and drop-offs encrusted with attractive coral reef and home to a nice population of tropical fish. It is said that the lava tunnels are so prominent that they can be seen from space. Like other snorkel adventures we do in Hawaii, this great snorkeling is very close to shore and easy to get to from the beach.
For dinner, we were fortunate to find the excellent Coco Café in Wailua. Superb dinners, funky atmosphere, folksinger, gravel floor in our outdoor, tented seating area. They had excellent ahi fish dinners.
Overall, we drive 132 miles on our third day on Kauai.
On our final day on Kauai, we take a 60-minute copter ride over Kauai with Air Kauai. The helicopter is very luxurious and a newer model. The pilot is a very knowledgeable narrator and skilled pilot. Oh, and the views we have during the ride take our breath away—especially the Na Pali coastline (photo below) and the canyon areas where major films such as the Jurassic Park series was filmed. The spectacular, extremely tall and numerous canyon walls and canyon falls made it easy to see why the area had been chosen as a backdrop for major films. Our impression after our ride: this company offers the Cadillac of Hawaii helicopter rides.
More so than other Hawaiian islands, Kauai seems filled with churches, Subway submarine sandwich shops, rainbows, and shave ice stands, not to mention a huge number of places renting an endless supply of kayaks, indicating the kayaking is very good in Kauai.
We plan to return to Kauai (and probably Big Island) since, of the 4 islands we visit in Hawaii, we are most impressed by Kauai. And there is much we have not yet sampled here.
Total Days on Kauai: 3
Total Miles Driven on Kauai: 307 miles
Grand Total Days in Hawaiian Islands: 14.5
Grand Total Miles Driven on Hawaiian Islands: 1,972
Our adventures, unfortunately, do not end on Kauai, the last of the 4 islands we visit. After waiting two weeks to get back to Oahu to retrieve my expensive digital camera from our Oahu B&B, we fly back to the Honolulu airport from Kauai to prepare for our flight back to Florida. Fourteen days before, I had forgotten that camera at the B&B. It seems silly and a little risky to arrange to have the camera mailed to me in Florida, since I am so near it already in Oahu.
The task seems straightforward and simple. Or so it seemed. We arrive at the airport at about noon. Our flight would depart for Florida at 6:30 p.m. The B&B with my camera is 18 miles from the airport. Just arrange for travel to the B&B and return in plenty of time for the flight to the mainland. Right? If only it had been so easy…
My first mistake is to decide it makes a lot of sense to just take a city bus. We’d save a lot of cash for expensive Hawaii taxi service, or a car rental.
The blunder is that I forget about the difference between a “local” bus route and an “express” route. The fateful mistake: we board a “local” bus at about 1:30 p.m. The bus driver tells us we’d need to transfer buses. No problem. Plenty of time.
90 minutes later, our bus arrives at the transfer point (having stopped at all the hundreds of stops behind us, it has taken quite a bit of time to travel about 10 miles). It is then an anxious 30-minute wait for our transfer bus to arrive. Plenty of time left.
Our transfer bus seems to stop every half block as it approaches our B&B. It is also taking side routes off the main highway, as local buses need to do.
We finally arrived at what we think, foolishly, is the closest bus stop to the B&B 1.5 miles from the B&B (turns out that there is one a stone’s throw away from it). By now, I am getting extremely nervous and panicked. Would I have time to retrieve the camera a mile and a half away and get us back to the airport in time? In my haste to jump off the bus and make a mad dash for the B&B, I NEGLECTED TO PICK UP MY CARRY-ON BAG SITTING NEXT TO ME ON THE BUS! Which has our $300 dive regulators in it. And my expensive, conventional camera. And ALL our 15 rolls of film I have shot during the trip. Oh, and it also contains our plane tickets back to Florida…
Maureen notices I did not have my bag and screams to me our only hope: “You need to sprint after that bus and catch it!!! You forgot your bag on it!!!!” Of course, in suburbia, it is hopeless. Unlike the urbanization behind us, where the bus stops at every stop, in the suburbs the bus never stops because no one uses it. After 5 minutes of running, frantically and hopelessly, after the bus with my heavy hiking shoes on, I realize I have lost sight of the bus and have no hope of catching it.
I am convinced we are doomed. After all, how could I possibly retrieve the bag (assuming it is not stolen by a passenger) at the bus terminal station in time for us to catch our flight only an hour or so away? But giving up was not a possible option.
I dash into a nearby gas station. I call the bus station and am told that the bus loops back to the street we are on in about 30 minutes. The gas station staff confirms that the bus does, in fact, loop back, and they tell me where to wait. I begin to very frantically and anxiously pace back and forth on the sidewalk, looking for the bus, and glancing back to Maureen, who decides to wait back at the bus stop we had gotten off at a few blocks away.
It was now 10 minutes after the bus was supposed to have looped back. I ask a guy waiting on the sidewalk with a young boy in a wheelchair if he knows about the bus, since it appeared he was waiting for it. He tells me he was not waiting, and that the bus had gone by about 15 minutes ago.
I am crushed. I missed the bus!!! He tells me I can wait for the next one, or he can give me a ride in his car to catch up to the one I missed. I tell him that the next one was useless, and I am not sure if the one that had passed was the bus I was on. I am stunned by his generosity, however, since he soon drives back with his car—his wheelchaired companion loaded in the car for the trip.
I thank him for his generosity, and bid him a warm goodbye.
I am now completely convinced that the situation is totally hopeless. Even if I could somehow find the bus, we’d have missed our flight, and the bag would almost certainly be stolen in all the time it sat alone.
Ten minutes later—miraculously—a bus pulls up. I board it. My bag is there. What an enormous relief! I snatch it up. I assess the situation: No time and no way to let poor Maureen know what has happened as she waits for the bus 5 blocks away. I would have to just hope that she knew that I had gotten the bag back.
But it is now 5:00 p.m. The only thing I can think of is to make a desperate, wild-eyed sprint to the B&B 1.5 miles away. Uphill. In hot, dry weather. With heavy boots on. I stash the bag at the gas station and started my dash, cursing myself for not being in Olympic runner shape.
Finally, I arrive at the B&B front door. I rang the bell. The host opens the door to a guy who had sweat pouring off his body and was out of breath. “Thank you for finding my camera. Can you let me know of a cab I can use to rush to the airport immediately? Oh, and can I also use your bathroom at once?”
I cannot imagine what she is thinking as she observes this spectacle. Am I being rude or asking too much of her? Fortunately, she very graciously helps out. She calls a good taxi service she knows of. He arrives just after Maureen gets to the B&B. It is now 5:50 p.m. And we have Honolulu rush hour, 18 miles, and a plane soon to leave in front of us.
The taxi driver, thankfully, is skilled enough to get us to the airport with no time to spare. We pay him a fare and a nice tip. They start boarding the plane just as we get to the gate.
As it turns out, we would have saved time, money, and seriously stressful aggravation if we had simply paid the one day rate for a rental car.
But it is so much more politically correct to take the bus. Next time, the first question I’ll have when boarding: “Is this an express or local bus?” And the first question before I get off the bus is, “Do I have my bag?”…
This YouTube video consists of photos I shot while visiting the Hawaiian Islands: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEnUO8dNUSY