Our second stop on our Hawaii island hopping trip was the Big Island of Hawaii. The guidebook (yes I still do pick them up to get a point of reference) told me that Big Island’s area covers the area of all the other islands combined. So we were going to be in for a bit of driving. I did not know what to expect, as all I really knew about the island was a few things; it had cool volcanoes and one that was still active, it had Mauna Kea which is technically the tallest mountain in the world if measured from it’s base on the ocean floor (at over 40,000 feet it is taller than Mount Everest), there are the Koch observatories at top of Mauna Kea, and they do the Hawaiian Ironman triathlon there too.

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All cool things things to set the scene. I didn’t realise that it was from the Big Island that King Kamehameha I was born and set out to unite all the islands into the Kingdom of Hawaii. We did have a lot of fun trying to learn the pronunciation of his name.

Flying into the Big Island airport of Kona is one cool experience! They have carved the runways and airport complex out on a lava field on the Western side of the island. It is kinda spooky and otherworldly being on such a barren rocky landscape. My boy, The Pok, was a little awestruck at the sight – taking it all in. After picking up our bags, we went to get the rental car that we would be needing for the stay. At this point I tried to convinced my wife to revel in the fact that we were in the USA and upgrade our ride to a Chevy Suburban! My Father had no idea what I was referring to until he was shown the big black beast in the car park. I even tried the argument that we could drive over lava in it. What won the day was the luggage capacity – the Suburban was mine… well at least for 3 days.

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I wonder if this thing could drive over lava, definitely over small children.

As soon as we got out of the airport I realised why cyclists love the Big Island so much. The main roads had massively wide shoulders that were super-smooth like glass for miles and miles on end. The kind of stuff that us cyclists have dreams about (sad – I know). Driving along you get a sense of the scale of the island. Big Island as the name says is big. The western side of the island is also quite dry, as a result of the weather break caused by the two massive peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. We stayed at the resort village of Waikoloa, which is pleasant but could be anywhere – except for golf courses which have lava fields for the rough. Waikoloa proved to be a good base to explore many of the sites on the Western side of the island. We pretty much relaxed for the first day and night allowing me to indulge in a bit of photography and tasting what would become my favourite Hawaiian dish – kalua pork loco moco. I don’t do photos of food, but here is the my attempt at a bit of photography art at dusk. The first night we were there was also when my brother and all his mates arrived from Canada for his wedding, and we did savour a few cocktails at the Marriott Hotel at Waikoloa.

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The North of Big Island

The second day we had planned two stops for our travels. First stop was Pololu Valley up North which was used as one of the locations for shooting Jurassic Park. The second stop would be night diving with manta rays (my next Hawaii post). The drive up to Pololu Valley took us through the town of Kapa’au This is where they have one of the three statues of King Kamehameha I who was the one who united (probably through lots of bloodshed) all the islands into a single kingdom.

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Pololu Valley itself is stunning, and it is one that I would like to come back to with hiking boots on. You are greeted with rock cliffs dropping into the ocean from the Kohala Mountains. I don’t think that any photo that I could take would do these cliffs justice. The valley is surreal, and lush, and inviting, with cloud resting on the shoulders of the valley. I can see why Spielberg and his crew would have chosen this location.

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Driving back along the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway made me jealous as I wanted to be out on the road on two wheels. Did I say that the highway is a cyclist’s paradise, with a massively wide road shoulder and super smooth tarmac for miles, and miles, and miles. This was probably one of the worst sections of road. I am definitely going back to spin some wheels!

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To the Volcanoes We Go!

The third day we took off to check out Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. From Waikoloa there is no direct route down to the South-West of the island where the park is located. So we knew were going to be in for a bit of a road trip – translation a few hundred kilometres of driving. We had a convoy of 5 cars with my brother, his fiance, and their mates along with one of my other brothers and my whole family (old people included). Heading South along the Western coast of the island the route took us through the Kailua-Kona region of the island. This is the world famous coffee growing belt of Hawaii. But it was not coffee that stopped us on the way – it was one of our crew’s yearning for Donkey Balls. That’s right, chocolate Donkey Balls – which are made there right in the store. There is every kind of tasty chocolate that you could imagine, and the packaging is a bit cheeky too. They also sell coffee – but we ALL stocked up on chocolate to fuel us for the trip. If you are driving through Kailua Kona, then I highly recommend anyone to pullover and taste.

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We continued driving along the Kona Coast for at least 100km constantly crossing old lava fields that had descended down from Mauna Loa and the Southwest Rift Zone to ocean. This part of the island is very green and the views from the highway down to the coast line are uninterrupted. Passing the town of Ocean View, we drove another 50km or so until we reached Punalu’u Beach. Our GPS unit told us to stop here and see the black volcanic sand beach, and if we were lucky some Green Sea Turtles. We were in luck, and the beach was beautiful – if not strange for its black sand. The sand is actually ground down volcanic rock that over the millenia has been eroded down to fine crystals. There were quite a few turtles swimming off the shoreline and a few up on the beach. Fortunately there were conservationists there as well to protect the turtles, who didn’t move as slowly as everyone makes them out to do.

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The National Park was only another 50km east of the beach and we set off again. Entry to the Park is cheap at $10 a car, which lasts for seven days. The Park includes the currently active Kilauea Caldera, where you can get close enough but at a safe distance from the open crater. Apparently at night there is an orange glow into the sky emitting from the caldera. Seeing an active volcano for the first time made me feel… small. It puts you in your place seeing the immense size of the caldera and what must have been an even larger active crater which it sits in. And it looked like the surface of the moon.

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You can see in the photo above the people walking on the crater bed, dwarfed by the immense landscape.

Further along within the park there are many hiking trails where you can walk through an old lava tunnel – minus the lava, and green forest trails. The Pok was having fun being in “the jungle” again, and this time he got to share it with his grandpare (my father). Even the fern fronds were massive, the one below in the photo was the size of my head.

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We hopped back in the cars to travel a bit further and see if we could see the lava fields at Kalapana which are dropping into the ocean. To get there we had to drive up to just South of Hilo and then drive back down to the coast. As we got close to the fields, the road turned into a jumbled mess of asphalt and lava – which was as close as I was going to get to driving on lava. Again I was left in awe of the size of the flows down the mountain side from the Kilauea Caldera. What shocked me were all the houses where the flow had just avoided the properties, but found a way around or across the roads that lead up to them. It was bizarre, but I guess if you made your home there then why move – this was their reality. By the way, did I say that lava looks cool?

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We waited until night fell to see if we could get some lava glowing on the river of rock – but it was a bit disappointing. All the tourist videos showing you the rivers of molten magma are epic, but you have to pay a lot of money and be fortunate enough to be there when the volcanic activity is roaring.

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I did try my hand at a HDR photo using my Canon Powershot G15, it works well for an in-camera driven setting.

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I think that next time we go to the Big Island, and there will definitely be a next time, we will take one of the ocean boat cruises that takes you to the ocean side of where the lava drops into the ocean. The tourism videos are the very best of the volcanoes that you could possibly see, but you are unlikely to experience this stuff unless you are a volcanologist or pro-photographer.

The drive back to Waikoloa was at night and the quickest route back was via Hilo and via the Saddle Road. Contrary to what the guide book says, they have just finished paving the Eastern side up Mauna Kea to almost freeway quality tarmac. The road takes you up to over 8,000 feet of elevation and that night took us up over the cloud line. As we reached the summit of the road just South of the Mauna Kea peak, we pulled over to get a glimpse of the heavens. One word – STUNNING. I have never seen so many stars in the night sky so clearly. My wife absolutely loved it too, but for all of us who hopped out of the car we just about nearly froze. The temperature difference between the coast and the Mauna Kea mountain side is close to 25 degrees Celsius. It was a long day in the car, but definitely worth it.

There are so many other things that we now want to do having seen what was on offer. The Big Island is one cool place which we can’t wait to go back to explore further.

Since coming back from Hawaii I have started a new job and been pretty time poor with normal life. So now I am settled it to the new role, I can get back to posting again and get some more kilometres down on two wheels. Back to the real world.