China and South East Asia 2001-2002 travel blog

Big Island Arch

Go With the Flow

Hawaii Observatories

Hawaiian Howlers

Hilo Park

Mauna Kea

Onward and Upward

Waipio Point

Copyright 2002

Dave Rich 734 words

Hawaii will Awe Ye

The big island of Hawaii will awe you to bits, guaranteed.

You might naturally think it's the volcanoes that will awe you because five brutish volcanoes created the really big island, 250 miles in circumference. It'd take all day to drive around it which is too fast because you'd miss most of the volcanoes. You have to start with Volcano National Park where an active one spews red hot fountains of lava. You see the Park movie explaining how the islands were formed and are still being formed right this second. You can take a boat or plane 20 miles south to see the newest island growing in plumes, 3,000 feet below the surface of the dark blue ocean. But first you drive the 20 miles around the Kilauea Crater where you see a half dozen miniature craters, most only a mile or less around. You check out the stick figure petroglyphs scratched into lava hundreds of years ago and drive to the end of the road covered by lava a dozen years ago, a flow from the continuously active one. To access the active volcano it's a four mile hike across uncharted coils of lava, no trail, crevasses bigger than you, cliffs of glassine pumice, requiring at least 5 hours of scrambling to and fro which you should time perfectly for arrival at sunset when the glow of the volcano fills the sky. Of course this means you must crab back across the lava fields in the dark, which is why the ranger at the end of the road ticks off the required list: 3 flashlights and 3 quarts of water each, spare socks, gloves, ground tarp for sitting unless your butt is impervious to glassine volcanic splinters, rain gear and a compass if you wish to find your way back in the pitch black. You may also wish to sleep in the next day, perhaps just to dry out because Hawaii is rain, buckets of rain, the most on the planet, at least on the windward side with 200+ inches a year. The leeward side gets 10 inches, less than Arizona. This means that because the volcano is on the windward side you'll be soaked by an average of three squalls during your volcano hike. So do, sleep in the next day to recover the possibility of awe.

The rain will amaze you if not awe you. During squalls you'll put the car's wipers on high super-fast and it's still not enough because it rains in torrents like Niagara, filling road dips with lakes when suddenly plowed into will severely retard your forward progress. Make sure the windows are up before attempting a crossing.

All the rain means it's a jungle out there, choked with green stuff, verdant vines swirled around 100 foot trees, your typical rain forest interspersed with lava trees, trees swept by molten lava cooled into ten foot stacks, the inside hollow and shaped like the former tree, bark and all. Amazing, but not quite awesome.

For non-hikers there are hundreds of miles of scenery, precipitous black cliffs pounded by crashing seas, a deep turquoise blue with average visibility, a funky arch carved by a millennium of surf, powder black beaches kids like to roll around on to get really grody. Plus there's the two big extinct or inactive volcanoes you can drive to the top of, both well over 13,000 feet, but don't tell the rental car company you did it. The top of Mauna Kea sprouts a dozen half-domed observatories and another dozen hiking trails to rusty red cones from which on a clear day you can see the other islands strung out like lumpy pearls on a brilliant blue ocean that will come close to awing you.

There are a dozen waterfalls and a Heritage Park featuring a native Hawaiian in a sumo sash carving a longboat bowsprit, picturesque "totems", ancient shell-games and temples, a place of sanctuary on the edge of a perfect lagoon. The bumper-sticker in front of you says, "Slow down, this isn't the mainland" and you do, but not so much that it'll awe you. Even the volcanoes and lushness and beaches and waterfalls aren't enough to awe sophisticated you. But then you stop for lunch. Two sandwiches, no drinks, $20, and you're finally awed. At every meal Hawaii will awe you to bits.

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