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Travel from Home to Hawaii, October 23, 2012 - Our first day was spent mostly in airports and on airplanes. These photos show our travel from San Jose to Kona on a two-leg itinerary on American Airlines.
On the first leg of our trip from SJC->LAX we managed to get seats in row 5, and on the second leg LAX->KOA, we got seats in row 9. Both of these were at the front of the coach section where there was a bit more room.
The trip seemed to take a long time. After flying to LAX we had a 3.5 hour layover, then on the leg to Hawaii, the plane flew up the coast of California as far as Monterey before veering southwest toward Kona, apparently to avoid the worst of the headwinds had we taken a more direct path.
When we exited the plane at KOA (Kona at Keahole Airport) we were greeted by warm humid air as we descended the outdoor stairs to the tarmac. It had been a while since I had been through an airport without a jet bridge. Even the airport itself was an open-air affair with shelters over waiting areas that bore a vague architectural resemblance to grass huts.
|Cumulative climbing:||0 feet|
South Island, October 2012 - On our first full day of touring on Hawai'i we traveled south on HI11 (Hawaii Belt Road) to South Point Road. As we drove down South Point Road we passed clumps of trees whose branches grew with the prevailing trade winds that blow east to west around the Point. At South Point itself we visited the actual southernmost point in any United States, then watched the rough surf crash against the rough rocks, took a look at some old boat launches near the point and watched as the surf rise and sink within a surf blow-hole.
What struck me about the shore of the island was how rocky and sheer it was in most places. If one managed to fall into the water, finding a way back onto land would be difficult.
|Cumulative climbing:||210 feet|
After visiting South Point we drove a short distance to the trailhead parking area for Green Sand Beach. As we left the parking area we were approached by a couple of locals who offered to drive us to the beach. Before we even got to discussing price we declined saying that we wanted to get the exercise and hike there and back. "It's a long hike," they warned.
Another group of locals relaxing closer to the water again offered to drive us over to the beach, but again we told them we planned to hike.
We hiked most of the way on one of many dirt roads that cut through the area. All roads seemed to go in the same direction, and I suspected they had been cut as older roads became too muddy or eroded. A steady wind blew into our faces outbound, and helped push us along inbound.
On one occasion an SUV came roaring around the corner behind us and ran us off the road, doing the same to the couple hiking slightly ahead of us on the trail. Probably one of the guys whose ride we turned down, I thought.
Green Sand Beach is an eroded caldera, the sand made from pulverized olivine that occurs in the volcanic rock. The sand was certainly green, like the color of jade or, I thought, the color of green tea ice cream I had eaten occasionally. Unfortunately, getting down to the beach required a climb down from the rim of the crater that would have been difficult for David to climb back up, so we contented ourselves with watching the activity from the rim.
As we were resting on the only two rocks that looked comfortable enough to sit upon--most of the a'a lava rocks were very rough and pointy--some of the locals we had seen at the trailhead (not the ones who ran us off the road earlier) drove up and asked if we had seen the beach yet, encouraging us to continue a little further. We told them we had seen the beach but that climbing down and up would be too difficult. They then offered us some ice cold water. I politely turned them down, showing them my water bladder that still had much water, but David, who hadn't bothered to bring any drinking water with him, gladly accepted.
It was an unexpected courtesy from a stranger who did not expect compensation, and we thanked them for their generosity.
Not far from the Naupaka was a small area of green sand that had been washed down from the larger beach. So, in the end we did get to touch and feel green sand.
The rest of the hike back to the car proceeded uneventfully.
Two days later on our way over to Volcanoes National Park we again took HI11 south past South Point, stopping at a roadside turnout past Na'alehu with a magnificent view of the Pacific Ocean where we noticed a number of Hawaiian long-horn beetles landing on us and the car, the only time on our trip we were beset by insects.
Later that day we stopped at the black sand beach of Punalu'u where we saw the only turtle of our trip resting in the surf, and where a group of schoolchildren were on a field trip to learn about tide pools.
Kohala, October 25, 2012 - On our second full day we drove north on Old Mamalahoa Highway (HI180) through old Kona, then onto the Hawai'i Belt Road (HI190) across the northwest rib of Hualalai where the climate changed abruptly from humid to dry. We crossed the old 1800 lava flows from Mauna Loa, passed Pu'u Wa'awa'a (The Jello Mold), drove through Waimea, then climbed Kohala Mountain Road, stopping near its high point to enjoy the view.
After our break we continued north as we plunged down the slope of Kohala Mountain toward Haleakala on Maui in the distance, 30 miles across the open sea.
We descended into Hawi, turned right (east) on Akoni Pule Highway and drove as far as we could to the end of the road.
There, at the cramped parking lot of Pololu Lookout--not even a turnaround circle--we found a parking spot and prepared for a short hike. Our plan was to hike into Pololu Valley and perhaps beyond.
|Cumulative climbing:||1270 feet|
We hiked down the steep rocky trail to the beach below, then continued on the trail up the eastern wall of the valley. The trail entered a deep overgrown trench and climbed switchback-style. No views could be seen from the trail that was covered by jungle, but on the trail itself we found crushed guava and other fruit that had fallen from nearby trees.
Finally we broke out onto a ridge with a partial view of the parking lot on the other side of the valley. The trail dipped into a small glade before climbing again to a higher ridge to the east. At the top of this we discovered a nice bench with an excellent view of Honokano Nui Valley and the north Kohala Coast. A fierce wind was blowing up the ridge, turning our hats inside out, yet it was comfortable to sit there in the sun and wind as the air was soft and warm.
Since we had other sights to see that day we did not walk down into Honokano Nui Valley, not least because the trail became a bit more technical, requiring use of a rope to traverse a recent slide.
After resting for 15 minutes we turned around and retraced our steps back to the car. We made good time up the last climb, about 20 minutes.
After we got back on the road we returned through Hawi and continued west on Akoni Pule Highway across the northern tip of the island and south along the western Kohala Coast.
Shortly after we turned right onto Queen Ke'ahumanu Highway (HI19) we turned off at Mauna Kea State Beach. Shortly after turning off we encountered a guard shack and informed the attendant we wished to visit the beach. He gave us a parking pass we were to give to another attendent at the parking area who would direct us to a parking space, should one be available.
This all seemed so formal, but I suppose the purpose was to prevent day-use beach traffic from consuming parking at the hotel.
|Cumulative climbing:||80 feet|
Once we got to the beach we still had a bit of a walk to get to the sand. Thinking that the beach wasn't far, David did not bring his sticks.
We walked down a paved road that led to an access point near the southern end of Mauna Kea beach. The beach was pleasant and warm. We decided to try walking along the Ala Kahakai Trail to Hapuna Beach a short distance to the south.
I had expected a paved or manicured trail leading past beach estate houses. What we got was a rough trail over lava flows separating vacation mansions from the crashing surf.
David, already a bit tired from the hike earlier in the day, was struggling to find good footing. He was beginning to find the hiking sticks indispensible, and it was too bad he hadn't brought them this time.
We got about halfway to Hapuna Beach when I heard an "Oof!" behind me. I turned around to see David sprawled over a rock on the trail. Helping him up I could see his hand was bleeding. He had cut his finger. I gave him my handkerchief to help staunch the flow of blood.
He was scraped up in a few other places, but none of them serious. I asked him if he needed to eat or drink, but he said he felt nauseous. Worried that he might be going into shock, I found a place where we could sit for a few minutes before deciding how to proceed.
After a few minutes David wanted to continue the hike, but I decided that he had had enough of the rough trail. I was worried the cut on his finger might need stitches, and I also realized he was lucky he didn't fall on his face. So, not wanting a repeat performance, and in the interest of minimizing the likelihood of another fall, we returned to Mauna Kea Beach, walking carefully. I tried not to be annoyed that he neglected to bring his sticks.
When we got back to the car we dusted ourselves off and took an inventory of injuries. Some scrapes on the forearms and knee, a pain on the side of his chest that had symptoms of a pulled muscle rather than a cracked rib, and a cut on the finger. The scapes would manage themselves after being cleaned, but the finger might need stitches.
At first David said he would shower and go right to bed, but as we drove south toward Kona along the coast his appetite returned little by little. At first he talked about having only a salad, then it was a big salad. By the time we got back to the condo he felt like eating a full dinner. Like the proverbial cat with nine lives, David always seemed to bounce back quickly after a fall or injury while hiking. I hope his luck doesn't run out some day.
I turned right on Ali'i Drive and took the scenic way along the waterfront of Kailua-Kona. We had come this way on our first evening after our arrival, but then we could see nothing as it was nighttime.
Keauhou Condo, October 2012 - These photos show us at our spacious condo in Keauhou. Especially nice about this condo was the lanai where we both fell asleep for a couple of hours each night before returning to our beds inside.
We happened to visit during a wet period in the Kona area. I think we had more rain here than in Hilo on the second half of our trip.
Insects were not a problem on this visit.
Volcanoes, October 2012 - Our first day visiting Volcanoes National Park was a big day. We were moving out of our condo in Keauhou and moving to a much less spacious 1-bedroom apartment in Hilo for the second half of our Hawaiian vacation. Moreover, sister, Laura, was flying out from San Jose this morning and would be joining us in Volcanoes National Park or somewhere along the way on the southern belt road.
After finishing our check-out chores we set off toward the south end of the island as we did on our first day, driving at a moderate pace but not stopping (except for gas in Ocean View where the price was cheaper than anywhere else we had seen on the island) until we got past the turn off for South Point Road.
This was now new territory. The highway dipped to the sea at Whittington Park and Punalu'u Black Sand Beach then began a long, gradual rise into Volcanoes. Laura contacted us a few times during the drive, updating us on her progress. She was catching up to us but we probably would not meet until we got to Volcanoes.
We arrived at Volcanoes at lunchtime. We parked the car and ate our bag lunches near the large relief map of Hawai'i on the patio in front of the Visitor's Center while one of the park rangers was giving a short orientation speech. A half-hour later, Laura arrived.
|Cumulative climbing:||380 feet|
After some discussion we agreed to take her car and drive down Chain of Craters Road to the Napau Trailhead and take the short hike out to Pu'u Huluhulu and Mauna Ulu, the still-smoldering crater that last erupted in 1974, covering much of the old Chain of Craters Road with lava.
Most of the lava flows in this area were the hotter, more liquid pahoehoe that is flatter and easier to walk upon and slightly less hazardous to fall upon, should one trip. It was easy to forget that the rock we were walking on was only tens of years old, not thousands or millions of years old as it is in the "young" Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.
We hiked the short distance out to Pu'u Huluhulu (shaggy hill). From there we could see the devastation to the east. The low areas were covered by lava flows, leaving only a few vegetated hills. In the distance we could see Pu'u O'o, the site of the current eruption, belching smoke and fumes.
Nearer at hand to the south Mauna Ulu (growing mountain) rose ominously. At its rim we could see two small figures walking about through wisps of steam. We decided to try hiking to up to the rim.
We descended from Pu'u Huluhulu and continued further on the Napau Trail for a tenth of a mile or so before setting off cross-lava toward the summit of Mauna Ulu. The pahoehoe was fairly easy to walk on, and while there were ridges and other interruptions to be surmounted or avoided, we had no trouble finding a walkable path up to the rim of the crater.
The rim of Mauna Ulu was a curious place. Steam rose from cracks in the ground. Putting my hand next to the ground I could feel that it was warm, and the steam gave off a slight sulphur odor. When we tapped our walking sticks on the ground, we could hear a hollow Thunk!, suggesting that we stood over voids of unknown depth. What lay below these voids we did not wish to discover.
We started to walk around the rim, but we decided that the ground was too unstable to risk a full circumnavigation. The rim edge closest to Pu'u Huluhulu probably saw many visitors. Whatever was going to break through probably already had, but the opposite side of the rim likely saw less traffic.
The crater itself is 400 feet deep, but we did not get close enough to its edge to peer down to the bottom, the edge being too crumbly to comfortably approach.
After taking several photos and a video at the rim we made a beeline back toward Pu'u Huluhulu, crossing what looked to have been a lake of lava at one time, before retracing our steps on the Napau Trail back to the trailhead.
This was a short hike, but it gave lots of bang for the buck.
|Cumulative climbing:||900 feet|
Two days later we visited Volcanoes again and this time we took the classic hike near the Visitor's Center.
We started by heading past Volcano House (under refurbishment), then down the Halema'uma'u Trail into Kilauea Crater itself. The trail starts at a view spot of the Crater at the west end of Waldron Ledge before plunging down through a dense rain forest of mostly ohi'a and Hapu'u (large fern trees). Then abruptly we were deposited on the floor of Kilauea.
Because the lava lake at the bottom of Halema'uma'u is rising and emitting much sulphur dioxide, most of the Kilauea Crater floor is closed to the public. Only the section we were hiking at the far northeastern end was open as it was well upwind of the fumes.
The crater floor appeared to be mostly pahoehoe lava, relatively flat and easy to walk upon. We crossed a short section of the floor before climbing up to the top of Byron Ledge. We continued south on Byron Ledge Trail, then turned left onto a trail that took us to Kilauea Iki Trail that we descended into Kilauea Iki Crater.
The trail descended steeply into the Kilauea Iki then crossed an area of rough a'a lava before reaching the relatively flat pahoehoe lava at the bottom.
At one point Laura wanted to explore what looked like a cave. The most remarkable thing about this detour were the rocks strewn about that when observed at close range gave off an iridescence. I could see why falling on this stuff might hurt. The material between gas bubbles in the rock left thin films of rock that when broken were as sharp as glass.
We stopped to eat lunch next to a steaming crack in the pahoehoe. The steam gave off a faint odor of sulphur, but it was not unpleasant unless one breathed in the steam from close range.
The bottom of Kilauea Iki crater looked like a cooled pumpkin pie: raised and cracked around the perimeter, lower but flat in the center. The effect was most visible when viewing the crater from its rim.
Unfortunately, we did not have Kilauea Iki Trail to ourselves. Throngs of tourists were also visiting the crater, some wearing inappropriate shoes.
As we climbed the eastern wall of the crater the tourists became thicker. When we got to Thurston Lava Tube a slow-moving queue had formed. We got to share the wonders of the lava tube with several hundred other tourists. This was Laura's favorite part of the hike.
After visiting Thurston Lava Tube we took Crater Rim Trail back to the Visitor's Center. Almost immediately the crowds thinned out, and before long we had the trail to ourselves again.
At the top of Waldron Ledge we traveled upon an old roadbed, part of which had fallen into the crater. We stopped at the picnic area and overlook of Kilauea Crater for another lunch break where we enjoyed a view of the vast crater and the steaming Halema'uma'u in the distance. Here the sun was warm, the wind soft, and we had the place to ourselves, less than a mile from the Visitor's Center. After this extended break we hiked the short distance back to the car.
Once back at the car we drove down Chain of Craters Road to its end, stopping in several places to enjoy the view of the setting sun while the tradewinds were blowing briskly across the lava fields below Mauna Ulu.
At the end of the road we stopped to view Holei Sea Arch and the harsh southern coastline of Hawai'i. We were warned not to venture too close to the cliff edges at the ocean as these "benches" have a tendency to break off without warning. If one were to fall in, there would be no easy way to climb out of the water. Cliffs stood many miles in either direction as far as we could see.
Unfortunately, active lava flows were about as far from any road as they could have been on this trip, about 8-9 miles round-trip outside of the park. So, we did not see active lava. Something to do on the next trip.
We drove back up Chain of Craters Road, stopping in several spots to see a small lava tube just off the road, a pahoehoe flow covering part of the old Chain of Craters Road, and one last time to look for Devil's Throat that we never found because at one point I was carelessly not watching where I put my feet and slipped and fell on the a'a, cutting my finger (warning: Some people find this gross.). That stuff is sharp! Next time I bring sturdy gloves.
After the sun set we drove out to Jaggar Museum where nightly viewing of the glowing lava lake in Halema'uma'u took place. After viewing the glow of the lava we drove into the town of Volcano and enjoyed the most expensive meal I've ever eaten at a Thai restaurant before returning to Hilo for the night.
|Cumulative climbing:||4810 feet|
Mauna Kea, October 27, 2012 - This was the Big Day of our trip.
At David's suggestion we all got up at 0600. Laura ran down to the Hilo Farmer's Market to get some produce while David and I ate breakfast. We left some for Laura.
Even though we were a party of three sharing one bathroom we managed to get out the door by 0815. We drove up Waianuenue Avenue to Saddle Road, and continued up to the saddle between Hawai'i's two big volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.
As we climbed out of Hilo we climbed into the clouds, but then suddenly we were above the clouds. The air outside was cool and crisp, like an autumn day in California. We stopped by the road to stretch our legs and to enjoy the morning air before continuing.
At the Mauna Kea Access Road we turned right and began climbing steeply up to the Visitor's Center.
Literature we had read recommended spending some time at the Visitor's Center to help acclimate before pressing upward to the summit. We spent some time going through the exhibits in the small building, and we took our time getting ready for our hike.
Since a steep hike at high altitude would have taken David all day, not to mention having to hike down or to deal with the uncertainty of hitch-hiking (which we later learned is commonly done), David decided he'd drive the car to the top and meet us. This would allow David to get to the summit on his own terms, and if our timing was good, we could join the weekly observatory tour.
So that we could keep in touch, I gave David one of our two-way radios, and Laura gave him her cellphone as backup. David would remain at the Visitor's Center for another two and a half to three hours before heading up to meet us. The drive would take him about 40 minutes.
Aside from the possibility of trashing the rental car, this suited me fine as it would save us from a knee-busting descent, and it would give him the opportunity to take the short hike from the road to the true summit.
Laura and I started up the Humu'ula Trail at a brisk pace. Laura led most of the way, and I somehow managed to keep up. The trail was steep and loose, especially near the bottom. As we climbed further the grade lessened but the altitude affected us more. We settled into a steady rhythm of about 2 mph for the first few miles.
Also on the trail was "Andy" from Melbourne, Australia. He had started 20 minutes ahead of us, and we could see him from time to time on the trail ahead. About halfway up the trail we caught up with him and passed him after exchanging greetings.
Then about 2/3 of the way up Laura and I stopped to eat lunch. We were both hungry and ready for a break. Big clouds had started forming above the Visitor's Center below. They looked big enough to be threatening, but they never coalesced into any weather. The worst they did was to cast a threatening but welcome shadow over us as we climbed.
Every 30-45 minutes or so I'd call David to update him on our progress. The radios worked well for the first few calls, but David began to worry when the reports stopped. As it turns out we had gone over the brow of the mountain and behind one of the many cinder cones on its slopes. No reflected signal got around--I suspect a'a lava flows are poor RF refectors, and since David wasn't a HAM we couldn't use one of the local repeaters to stay in touch. That's where the cell phone came in.
We got a call on my cell phone. It was David, and he wanted to know if we were alright. We were. The connection was not good, and it was difficult to understand him, and I suppose it was difficult for him to understand us. I told him that we were about 3/4 mile from reaching the road. We were not far below the junction with the trail to Lake Waiau.
Not knowing that the trail goes on the road for the last mile or more--I probably neglected to tell him this, David thought we were 3/4 mile from reaching the top. He worried that we'd get to the top and have no shelter from the cold and wind. So, he got in the car and roared up the road to the summit, telling us later that the most exciting moment of his week was driving up the mountain and seeing the road above zig-zag its way impossibly up the steep slope.
When he reached the top he radioed us again, and we had a good signal, so I informed him we still had another 45 minutes to an hour before we got to the summit. The weather was warm in the sun, so he sat in the car and waited in comfort.
After we passed the trail to Lake Waiau at about 13000 feet I started to feel the effect of high altitude. It was not a feeling I was accustomed to, even though I had hiked in the high Sierras many times without feeling more than the usual shortness of breath. This trip was different as we were sleeping at sea level instead of at 8000 feet.
We both were short of breath, but the new sensation was one of feeling tipsy and clumsy. The feeling persisted for the rest of the day we were on the summit. We walked more slowly. Everything seemed to require a bit more time to accomplish. One foot in front of the other. Lifting my hand to take a photo, holding my breath while tripping the shutter, and then gasping afterward. All activity required more than the usual effort.
After the trail reached the road, walking became easier. There was no fear of tripping on a loose rock, and the grade was more consistent. Still, walking up a paved road hardly seemed a romantic conclusion to our climb up Hawai'i's highest peak, even if the view was like that from an airplane.
After traversing two long switchbacks on the road we reached the first observatory dome. I called David on the radio asking where he was. I didn't want to go downhill to meet him before hiking the short spur to the actual summit of the mountain.
He was parked just behind the first observatory dome. After exchanging our greetings, he changed into his hiking shoes. He didn't want to take his hiking sticks for this short hike, but with the memory of his recent fall on the Ala Kahakai Trail fresh in my mind and given my own feeling of slight clumsiness, I insisted that he use them.
Then we all three hiked up to the high point on the mountain, Pu'u Wekiu at 13,796ft. A small stone shrine stood near a USGS benchmark that had been mounted to a short pipe driven into the ground.
After taking our photos and panoramas, we descended back to the car and then drove over to the Keck Observatory. Laura still had energy and desire to walk the few tenths of a mile. We were just in time to join the observatory tour.
Every Saturday a caravan of four-wheel drive vehicles climbs up from the Visitor's Center, and a tour is given of the Keck Observatory and of the mountain itself. We would not have been welcome in the caravan since we had a two-wheel drive car, but since we were already here, we were allowed to join the tour.
We were shown the inside of one of the observatories. An operator was preparing it for the evening's viewing, and we got to see the massive structure rotate on its turntable. Even if there had been anything (other than the sun) to observe, we were not permitted to do any observation. Time on one of its telescopes costs $5000/hour, and only serious astronomers are invited to gaze through its optics.
Other than the slightly-panicked drive up from the Visitor's Center the Observatory tour was the highlight of David's day. But, Laura and I were starting to cool down from our hike. I was getting hungry, and my head was starting to pound. Laura was also tired, but she was starting to feel a bit nauseous. Still we stuck with the tour until it concluded. In exchange for a ride down from the summit on upholstered seats we were happy to endure some high altitude discomfort.
Before we started down the tour leader noticed we had come up in a two-wheel drive car and advised us to stop a couple of times on the descent to let the brakes cool.
After overheating my van's brakes descending Old Priest Grade in 2nd gear in September I wasn't going to take any chances and would descend Mauna Kea with an abundance of caution.
We learned that the main risk of driving a two-wheel drive vehicle up the mountain was not so much on the ascent but on the descent where the absence of a truly low gear--all rental cars have automatic transmission--meant that the brakes would get hot.
Our rental car, a Dodge Avenger--awful name--had an "L" gear, but it would not stay locked into low gear but would progressively upshift when the engine RPM got higher than about 5000. Redline was quite a bit higher. That meant I'd have to rely on the brakes. Fortunately, the disk brakes on the Avenger looked a bit heavier than the disks on my van. The two vehicles probably weighed about the same, although the Avenger had better aerodynamics, meaning that I could not count on wind resistance slowing me down as much. The high altitude only made this worse. Air cooling of the brakes and rotors would also be less effective.
I observed the posted 25mph speed limit on the upper paved portion of the road, stopping twice to let the brakes cool and to sniff for overheating. I experienced no noticeable brake fade and only the slightest "hot brake" odor after we stopped at the Visitor's Center.
Part way down the paved road we encountered Andy hiking down the road. He had his thumb out, so we stopped to offer him a ride down. He accepted.
Andy had made it to the summit, but a headache was forcing a hasty retreat, and he was happy not to have to hike all the way down on the road.
We passed one runaway truck ramp shortly after the pavement stopped and the road turned to washboard dirt. I continued slowly, about 15-20mph. On the observatory tour we learned that the remaining dirt portion of the road may be paved after a new 30m telescope at the Keck Observatory is built. The dust kicked up by traffic on the road does affect viewing quality and is one reason the uppermost four miles had been paved some years earlier.
Climbing the road were many tour buses and tourists. They were headed to the summit to see the sun set and perhaps to do some stargazing of their own. Mauna Kea is one of the best places in the world for astronomy on account of the stillness of the air and the darkness of the night sky. If I hadn't hiked up I might have wanted to stay for the sunset, but right now I was happy to be going down to lower altitude and to dinner.
We stopped at the Visitor's Center again to check in with the staff. Hikers are encouraged to register so that staff knows who is on the trail.
We continued down from the Visitor's Center on the steep access road until we got back to Saddle Road. We turned left and descended the freeway-like road down into the clouds above Hilo and enjoyed seeing the cast shadows of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.
Hilo, October 2012 - After our first day at Volcanoes National Park we drove down the hill into Hilo for our first night at the Dolphin Bay Hotel. The weather was warm and rainy, which, we were told, was not unusual for Hilo.
We checked into our apartment, then since no one felt like cooking dinner in the small kitchen, we inquired at the front desk about restaurants within walking distance. We settled on Cafe Pesto, about 3/4 of a mile from the hotel in the downtown area. The front desk clerk told us she'd call ahead and make a reservation for us.
We were given a couple of large umbrellas in case it rained on our way there or back. I felt slightly foolish carrying this enormous umbrella down the street. No one else carried an umbrella, and certainly no locals could be seen with one. It would not have been difficult to mark us as tourists.
Cafe Pesto, located in a small shopping center on Kamehameha Ave. near the Hilo Farmer's Market and was busy and noisy. The waiting area was crowded. We strode up to the lectern and declared that we had a reservation for three. The maitre d' looked puzzled, but she nonetheless took us quickly to a table for three that had just been set. After returning to the hotel in a driving rain shower--we were happy to have the umbrellas now--the concierge apologized profusely that she had neglected to call in our reservation. Since we had unknowingly bluffed our way to the head of the line at Cafe Pesto, we were not upset.
That night we slept with the windows open and fans running--no air conditioning--and listened to the persistent chirping of the coqui frogs outside our window.
The next evening after our long day on Mauna Kea we decided to cook dinner in. David, who had been sitting around in the car most of the day while Laura and I hiked up the mountain, was full of energy and volunteered to cook a meal of baked potatoes, sauteed onions, and a fresh salad, made from produce Laura had acquired at the farmer's market that morning.
While cooking the potatoes David discovered that while he could turn the oven on, he could not turn it off. Moreover the seal over the oven door leaked, cooking the controls on the front panel so that one needed an oven mitt to operate them. Beads of sweat were running down David's face. In the end the potatoes were burned on the outside, but the insides were still edible if a bit dry.
Meanwhile, the hotel manager tried to turn off the oven but could not find the gas shut-off valve, so she called the on-call maintenance crew. We managed to turn down the oven, although it was still producing heat, and that was on top of the warm air in Hilo.
While we were eating our dinner in our hot little kitchen the maintenance crew came by and shut off the gas. Our morning oatmeal would have to be cooked in the microwave.
It was clear to me that no one had cooked anything in that oven in a long time. The kitchen was cramped but adequately stocked with enough utensils to prepare a meal. The old 1960s Hobart range would be replaced after we departed. So, if you stay at the Dolphin Bay Hotel and plan to cook in the kitchen, make sure you get a room with a new range, not an old range.
After dinner David took a shower in the enormous shower stall with its huge shower head that probably used ten gallons per minute--no low-flow shower heads in Hilo--that was the best feature of our apartment.
As he stepped out of the shower we could hear the wail of a distant long siren, then another siren began wailing nearby. Would they be testing air raid or tsunami sirens at 2100 in the evening? It seemed an odd hour for a test. We turned on the television to find the local news channels in full disaster mode. An impending tsunami wave was headed for the Islands, projected to strike at 2223. Oh great!
As if our long hike up Mauna Kea and an out-of-control oven weren't enough, we now had a tsunami to contend with. Looks like we were in for the "Full Hawaii Experience" on this trip.
After lengthy discussion amongst ourselves and with the hotel staff who felt that the hotel was on high enough ground (about 75 feet above sea level) and was in any case outside of the mandatory evacuation zone, Laura and I would walk up the street to the highest point in the neighborhood, but David, who had just showered and changed into his night clothes, firmly resolved to relax in our apartment and watch everything on the television, "if there was anything to see". I gave David one of our two-way radios, and I took the other.
Laura and I walked up to Wainaku Ave. and then to Kauila St. I wanted to stay near the high point, but Laura was apparently out for a night walk to get some exercise and proceeded downhill back to Puueo St. and back toward the hotel. With memories of the videos of the 2004 tsunami on Sumatra and last year's tsunami in Japan on my mind I decided to stay near the high point and ended up meeting some folks who lived on Kauila St. who told me about how they met during Hurricane Iniki on Kaua'i.
After the first tsunami wave hit with little to show for it, I called David on the radio. He suggested I return to the hotel and go to bed. A soft rain began to fall, so I walked back to the hotel to watch on television the arrival of the next few waves, indistinguishable from the usual surf, come ashore under the glare of klieg lights on Waikiki Beach. The highest wave to hit the Islands was apparently 30 inches in Kahului Harbor on Maui. Hilo's wave was about 15 inches.
At around 2330 I went to bed and slept soundly, blissfully unaware when the "all clear" siren wailed a couple of hours later.
The next evening we arrived home late from Volcanoes, having eaten dinner in Volcano (the town). We were now all adjusted to the humidity, the coqui frogs, and the tsunami sirens, so we all slept soundly that night.
The next morning Laura got up early and left to catch her afternoon flight home. She had to drive back to the airport north of Kona.
David and I took our time packing and leaving. I even took a rare morning shower as we had a long day (and night--red-eye flight home) ahead of us and I wanted to take advantage of the excellent shower in our room.
When we checked out the hotel gave us about an 8.5% discount on our room on account of the burnt baked potatoes cooked in the malfunctioning range.
Old Mamalahoa Highway, October 29, 2012 - After checking out of our hotel in Hilo we drove north on Old Mamalahoa Highway as much as we could, passing by (but not stopping at) the Hawai'i Tropical Botanical Garden, through Honomu Town, stopping to hike the short loop at Akaka Falls, and visiting Laupahoehoe Point and Memorial (1946 Tsunami) where the surf churned and crashed a few feet from the parking area.
Old Mamalahoa Highway is the old road to Hilo from the west side of the island. The road reminds me of Hana Highway on Maui, dipping into and out of each canyon, crossing old one-lane bridges, and passing under hanging jungle. But, it's not nearly as crowded as Hana Highway due to the presence of the newer highway built mostly on the old railroad right-of-way that siphoned off most of the traffic. Everything was green, and we had clear skies in the morning and no hint of rain all day until we got showered on later in Waimea.
At Honoka'a we detoured on HI240 to see the deep cleft of Waipi'o Valley. If we had had more time we would have hiked down into the valley and up the other side as we had done at Pololu Valley. The road down the eastern wall is paved but so steep that only four-wheel-drive vehicles are allowed by law (unlike Mauna Kea Access Road where four-wheel-drive vehicles are "recommended").
We continued on Old Mamalahoa Highway between Honoka'a and Waimea, where the highway climbed to about 2800 feet on the flank of Mauna Kea into a land that reminded me very much of Northern Marin County in the springtime: rolling grassy hills with occasional groves of eucalyptus along the road.
When we got to Waimea we were both hungry, so we stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at a Subway sandwich shop at the Waimea Center. Afterward we went next door to the WM Keck Observatory Visitor's Center, but we arrived just after they had closed the doors for the day.
We drove back toward Kailua-Kona on HI190 through the Kohala Desert, past Saddle Road (HI200), past the construction for the new connection to Saddle Road, past Pu'u Wa'awa'a (The Jello Mold), and around the northwestern rib of Hualalai where the weather changed from arid to humid.
We turned right on Hina Lani Road. While descending to Queen Ka'ahumanu Highway we stopped to watch the sun set over the western Pacific Ocean. Once down at the highway we detoured south a couple of miles to find a gas station to top off the tank in the rental car, then we returned to the airport. By the time we arrived at the rental car drop-off, the sky was fully dark. Twilight is short in the tropics.
Travel from Hawaii to Home, October 2012 - We arrived at the airport early for our flight home. This suited David fine, as he hates having to rush and deal with crowds, especially crowds at the security line, at the last minute.
An advantage of arriving early is that we had time to switch our assigned seats to snag a couple of exit row seats that had a few inches more legroom. After checking our bags we breezed through the security line, although David being not quite 75 years old was still too young to be spared the indignity of having to remove his shoes.
The airport at Keohole is a mostly outdoor affair with wooden benches in the waiting area under a shelter or breezeway. The temperature rarely drops below 70F, and when we arrived it was a muggy 85F. The lights in the waiting area are dim, making book reading difficult. But, David found the dim light restful on his eyes.
A couple of planes came and went while we were there. A Hawaiian Airlines flight to Honolulu, then a Delta red-eye flight departing to LAX left about 45 minutes before ours. The plane for our flight, AA246, was about a half-hour late arriving from LAX (as usual), and about forty-five minutes late departing. This was OK as long as we and our checked luggage could still make our connecting flight.
After boarding, settling into our seats, and taking off, I fell asleep quickly and slept off and on for the next three hours. This was the first time I have been able to sleep in a coach seat that I can recall. But, I think this says more about my degree of fatigue than about the comfort of the seat.
When we got to LAX the airport was just waking up. It was still dark outside, but inside people were bustling about. We walked over to the gate for our connecting flight and tried to doze, but I found the periodic announcements on the loudspeaker and activity on the concourse too distracting.
Soon we boarded our flight to SFO and were off. Our flight path took us out over the Channel Islands, then north over Lompoc, Santa Maria, and the Ventana Wilderness. Most of the land was fogged over, so only the mountaintops were visible. Even when we got over the Santa Cruz Mountains near Windy Hill we could only see the high points. Fog was thick to about 1000 feet elevation.
It wasn't long before the plane descended into the fog on the usual approach to SFO, and we were shortly on the ground. Our trip had come to an end.
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