Aloha and Mahalo!
Today was a very, very long day. On the upside, we’ve already traversed the southern part of the island!
We arrived on the Big Island just after noon on Tuesday, Dec. 23. We disembarked our plane (no sleeve – just stairs directly down to the tarmac) and we walked a few feet across to the terminal, which comprised of nothing more than a few huts with benches – I am not kidding! It is basically an open air terminal! The hustle and bustle and craziness of LAX was far, far away. Between that and the blanket of humidity that wrapped itself around us and gave us a big Hawaiian hug (no more dry air!!!!), we knew we were on vacation!
We picked up our rental car, which got upgraded to a convertible mustang, and headed south towards Kailua Kona, the biggest city on the island. We were starving, so our first stop was Big Island Grill – a find courtesy of my Lonely Planet guidebook. We ordered the signature dish, a loco moco – (rice, fried egg and, in this case, fried shrimp topped with thick gravy) and a catch-of-the-day sandwich (mahi mahi). The loco moco was divine. I am not a big fan of gravy normally but this was delicious, and you could tell the shrimp was fresh.
The sandwich was amazing also – the mahi mahi just melted in your mouth. We washed it all down with a couple of beers from the local brewery, and headed down to the East side of the island, where we are staying for the next 3 days. We chose to get to the East side by driving around the South side of the island and see some of the highlights of the South Kona coast and the Kau region along the way.
Our first stop was the Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park, which I wish we could drive to again today just so I can listen to our GPS lady trying to pronounce this. The tongue-twister name simply means “a place of refuge at Honaunau.” The park provided refuge for those who violated kapu – the taboo system that regulated every waking moment in ancient Hawaiian life. A pu’uhonua also gave refuge to defeated warriors and wartime noncombatants. A half-mile walking tour encompassed the park’s major sites. For me, the highlights were the remnants of the traditional game Konane, the Ki’i (wooden images) that one could find all over the park and, by far, all the volcanic rock we could see here. We’d already figured that it covered most of the island, as we’d seen it everywhere around us on the drive down the coast, but this was our first time getting up close to it.
Our next stop was Ka Lae – the southernmost point in the US (Key West is only the southernmost point in the continental US). Ka Lae was way out of the way – 12 miles on a one-way paved road off Highway 11), and it was starting to sprinkle, but we figured this was a site not to be missed. And we weren’t disappointed. We found more amazing black volcanic rock and the bluest of blue water smashing against it. We also saw a blowhole – essentially, a hole in the rock carved out by the ocean; when the weather is right, an incoming wave makes its way all the way the top and a geyser of water comes out of the cave. The waves weren’t strong enough that day but we could still see the water coming in and out at the bottom of the blowhole.
By this time, it was starting to rain pretty hard and we were running out of daylight, so we decided not to visit Green Sands Beach, which was nearby but required another 2 miles on that one-way road, a ride in a 4×4 from local “taxis” which wait in the parking lot to take tourists down to the beach, and a scramble down a cliff. As a matter of fact, a lot of the beaches on this island are hard to get to like the Green Sands beach. Alas, we continued on Highway 11 and, with just about 10 minutes of daylight to spare, we made it to Punaluu Beach – a black sand beach. The black sand is made out of basalt and created by lava flowing into the ocean. We ran out of the car to take some photos in the rain and headed right back. I would have liked to spend more time here but I was glad to just see it! 🙂
We finally made it to our AriBnB place in Keaau around 7. Our hostess, a Venezuelan woman, gave us the warm welcome that embodies the Aloha spirit of this island. She gave us some directions to the nearby town of Pahoa, where we grabbed dinner and learned that we could see the lava flow that’s been in the news for months now just down the street. As a a matter of fact, the lava is expected to cross Highway 130 in the next 10 days, so we are lucky to even be able to get to Pahoa right now. We’re hoping to visit the lava flow later this week. We’re also keeping a close eye on the forecast as it’s supposed to rain in the next day or two as well – but we’re hoping for clear skies by Thursday.
Our first day in Hawaii was busy but incredible. Being here is like being on another planet. Black volcanic rock is everywhere, and it makes you realize just how violent and volatile this island actually is. Fun tidbit – 8 of the 13 climate zones exist here. I can’t wait to explore more of them!