Monday, February 20, 2012

Touring the Big Island

Waipio Valley
We thought we might gain a view of a waterfalls when we traveled to Waipio Valley on the northern edge of the Hamakua Coast. The Waipio Valley is often referred to as the "Valley of the Kings" because it was once the home to many of the rulers of Hawaii. The valley has both historical and cultural importance to the Hawaiian people.We knew the steep road down into the valley was limited to 4WD vehicles, donkeys and hikers - which meant we were likely to only see the valley from the ridge unless the donkeys were available for hire. The valley now used exclusively for growing taro, since a tsunami destroyed the village and convinced it’s surviving residents to relocate to higher ground back in 1946. After arriving at the look-out, we learned the waterfalls is located 6 miles inland from the sea. Since there were no donkeys in sight for hire, I hiked down the road just far enough to face the reality of my 60-year old legs. Where is a good ass when you need one?

 Waipio Valley

Sign on road into Waipio Valley

Rosanne Barr
The Big Island is home to several macadamia nut farms. I knew Rosanne Barr moved to Hawaii a few years ago after buying a macadamia nut farm. It seemed like we must be in the area, which I verified on Google while Julie was shopping in nearby Honokaa. The local shop keepers were pretty tight lipped about Rosanne’s home but I was able to find out it was only a few miles north of town. For lack of anything better to do, we drove off in search of her home. The journey took us down a side road that proved to be very interesting but did not produce any views of Rosanne sitting on her porch. It turned out to be a similar to our Hana trip when the journey is more valuable than the destination.

Side road in search of Rossane

Saddle Road
Highway 200 cuts across the middle of the Big Island. It is known locally as Saddle Road, a term that likely refers to the climb and descent in elevation as you cross the island near the base of the inactive Muana Kea volcano (elevation 13,796 feet). The drive provides some great views of the island; it also takes you from sunny 80 degree weather into fog, rain and 56 degree temperatures within the hour long drive. We saw wild turkeys and erckels francolin (partridge) along the roadside in the grassy foothills. 
From what we observed, free range chickens are quite normal on the Hawaiian islands. A drive around the northern coast took us into the small town of Hawi. I pulled over to the side of the road to check our bearings when the sound of crowing roosters caught my attention. The chickens were running underneath some cars on the opposite side of the road. We ate lunch at a sidewalk cafe on the main street through Hawi. While we were eating I looked out from our window table to see two roosters strutting across Highway 270.
Volcanoes National Park
It is hard to imagine that volcanoes formed the Hawaiian islands - until you visit the national park. We booked a 1-hour helicopter tour from Hilo that took us out over an active crater named Pu’uO’o. The pilot expressed surprise that the crater had filled with lava overnight and appeared poised to overflow down the hillside. The town of Kulupana used to lie on the coastline below Pu’uO’o before an 30’ wall of lava buried 217 homes and a park visitor center in 1990. A few residents thought it would be a good idea to rebuild, and lost their homes a 2nd time to a lava flow last year. Two small areas on the hillside had escaped the lava, each contained a building that remained untouched. One was a vacant art studio; having lost his home the artist had relocated. The 2nd building belonged to a good friend of the pilot who remained in the home he used as a B&B for risk seeking volcano enthusiasts. His home sat directly below the Pu’uO’o crater that we had just observed brim full of hot lava. As we circled over the area, glimpses of red hot lava were visible within 500 yards his home. 

View of the B&B (orange roof visible on left side) 

Closer view of the B&B

Pu’uO’o is just one crater within the Kilauea volcanic system inside the park. We saw a dozen craters along the ridge where it sat, although smaller in size all of them had steam spewing forth. The Kilauea volcano has been erupting non-stop since 3 January 1983, although it does not draw much attention since it typically fills to over-flowing by contrast to a dramatic eruption like the Mount St. Helens volcano.

Ridge of craters leading up to the Pu'uO'o crater

Halema'uma'u crater (another portion of the Kilauea volcano)

A portion of the Kilauea caldera

Our helicopter ride took us over a rainforest north of Hilo. It was amazing to look down and see dozens of waterfalls in our flight path. With an annual rainfall of 300 inches/year there is no shortage of water flowing downhill within the forest. Although it sits a mere 6 miles away on the coastline, by contrast Hilo’s annual rainfall measures a mere 120 inches/year.

Rain forest above Hilo

No tour of a Hawaiian island would be complete without a snorkel trip. We rented gear and got some advice on where to go from Snorkel Bob’s. We headed out to Pu’uhonua O Honaunau park; the reef was in 10-15 feet of water on the shoreline but visibility was reduced by the high surf. At the completion of our snorkel diving, Julie waded into the water near a boat launch. Within a short time a 3’ green sea turtle swam up to where she stood in the water. We now felt completed having seen sea turtles on all three of the islands we had visited.
Donkey Balls
Kona coffee beans are grown on the Big Island which produced a multitude of coffee shops around the island. We dropped into a coffee shop in Kealakekua that also sold chocolate. The store had incorporated a donkey theme into their products that was derived from the use of donkeys to carry bags of macadamia nuts from the farms. Local Hawaiians used to refer to unshelled macadamia nuts as “donkey balls”, a name that was now used on balls of chocolate covered nuts. One flavor of their coffee was sold under the label: “Wild Ass Coffee”. 

A "must stop & see" for every tourist

Good coffee and great chocolate!

We saw memorials to dead relatives multiple times along the roads, and on an occasional beach. No where was this more pronounced than on the Big Island. The roadsides were littered with white stones placed on the black lava in commemoration. We did spot a few personal messages as well: a wedding proposal, a political message in favor of Ron Paul, etc). Hawaiians believe the deceased are able to watch over them and occasionally reappear in the form of an animal. This was explained to me by the lady who sold us coffee & chocolate when I inquired about her tattoos. She was using her left arm to display artwork in memory of her grandmother, the right arm for her grandfather and her back for Hawaiian culture. She believed your ancestors watch over you and physically reappear in the form of an animal. An unnatural encounter with an animal is a visit from one of your deceased relatives. Such encounters with a lizard and a turtle were motive for incorporating these animals into her tattoos in remembrance of her grandparents. 

Memorial on Makapuu beach on Oahu

Roadside memorials on Big Island

Jackie's tattoos in memory of her grandparents

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