The epicentre of volcanic activity and early exploration
Hawaii, the Big Island. Like all the other islands in the 50th State of the US, it has been formed by volcanic activity and is the youngest of all the islands. It sits over a hot spot in the Earth’s crust, resulting in two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauwea being in the confines of this island. Kilauwea the most active of the volcanoes in Hawaii continues to pour molten lava into the sea, where it hardens and continues to extend the seashore of this amazing island.
When to go to Hawaii?
Truthfully, there’s never a bad time to visit Hawaii. No matter what time of year, there’s likely to be warmer weather and a beautiful beach or two. However, the weather still does fluctuate – along with the crowd and pricing levels.
You’ll always be able to find warm, tropical weather in Hawaii. Due to Hawaii’s proximity to the equator, temperatures don’t vary drastically from season to season like they do in North America, Europe, etc.
Rainfall from season to season varies slightly more than the temperatures do. Summer months tend to be drier while winter months tend to get more rain.
- DAY ONE: Visit Hilo and the Tsunami Museum
- DAY TWO: Explore Volcano National Park
- DAY THREE: Kealakekua Bay, the Captain Cook memorial, and black beach
Day one: Hilo
Our flight brought us into the 2nd largest town on the Hawaii, Hilo, which is situated on the east coast. Its location on the windward side of Hawaii means it buffeted by the Trade Winds and rain is more than plentiful, resulting in an area with a lush covering of vegetation; grasses, ferns, palms and trees. Most people seem to prefer to live on the leeward side of the Island, so we are relatively isolated here – if you can put up with the rain it is blissful.
Rainbow Falls, Hilo
Rainbow Falls, located just outside of Hilo, is a rainforest waterfall featuring distinctive rainbows on sunny days (which it wasn’t when we visited, seen from a viewing platform waterfall located. It is 80 ft tall and almost 100 ft in diameter. The falls are part of the Hawai’i State Parks. There is no fee to see the falls.
The Pacific Tsunami Museum, Hilo
We decided to visit the Pacific Tsunami Museum. The position of Hawaii makes it prone to the effects of tsunamis. The islands sit in the centre of the “ring of fire”, an arc stretching from New Zealand, along the eastern edge of Asia, north across the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, and south along the coast of North and South America. The Ring of Fire is composed over 75% of the world’s active and dormant volcanoes and is a source of many damaging earthquakes, which can result in the generation of major tsunamis. In fact, Hilo, where we are standing, has suffered significantly from tsunamis; in particular the devastating impact of the tsunamis of 1947 and 1960 which killed around 250 people in the area. Obviously this raised some concerns, especially for Karen, as we were staying in a beach house feet from the sea. So off she went to speak to a member of staff to find out how much risk we were in if there should be an earthquake and a subsequent tsunami. As is turned out we were in about the highest risk area on the island – most disconcerting. So from here on in, we’re taking safety precautions!!!!
The tide pools at Wai Opae
We had decided to stay in a remote area called Kapaho about 30 miles south and east of Hilo. You can’t call Kapaho a town of the village because there is nothing there except a few houses; the nearest village of any sorts is 10 miles away. Our beach house was wonderful and we were just a few feet from the ocean – although our view was blocked by the house opposite, tantalizingly you could hear the waves crashing on the reef just beyond. The house itself was built on stilts with an open layout – it was decorated just like you would imagine a house in paradise should be.
Ironically, there was no beach close to our beach house but we were very close to the Wai ‘Opae Tidepools which are a wonderful place for snorkelling. These tidal pools vary in size and depth from shallow to many feet deep and range widely in size as well. A lava reef barrier protects the pools from the sea, so it’s a safe place for all of us to snorkel. The main danger here are the very sharp rocks, but the risk is more than made up for by the wonderful corals and abundant fish; just like being in a fish tank of tropical fish.
Day Two: Volcano National Park
For our second day, we took a trip to the Volcano National Park, a true geological hot spot containing two of the world’s most active volcanoes. Measured from the seafloor, broad Mauna Loa is the tallest mountain on Earth, and Kilauea continues to spew and spit, constantly reforming the landscape around it. Magma vents on the seafloor send lava shooting to the surface, erupting into molten streams that flow straight into the Pacific, forming new land as they cool.
Unfortunately, the weather like most of the windward sides of the Hawaiian Islands is somewhat unpredictable, and today is no different. Low clouds had wrapped themselves around the park and intermittently deposit gentle droplets of rain upon us. We hid inside the visitor centre and watched a film about the volcanoes and the natural environment within the park. In between the showers we braved a walk out onto the crater rim of Kilauea, not that there is much to see in the mists. This is still very much an active volcano as can be seen by the gases being emitted from vents in the Kilauea crater. There are also scenic trails around the rim, but the views were not brilliant during our visit. Even so, we walked out to the steam vents that line the crater rim and then out to the sulphur banks. We smelt the banks before we saw the bright yellow mineral deposits – this is one of the few places on Kilauea where the vents give off the foul, rotten-egg smell of hydrogen sulphide.
There is an active vent on Kilauea that erupted back in 1983 and has wiped out numerous houses and road on its way to the sea. Today, it still spews red hot lava down into the sea, resulting in super heated water and plumes of steam high into the sky. The area where the action is taking place is not on the National Park and is only about 15 miles from where we were staying. We learnt the best time to do the viewing is at night.
The National Park Service has set up car parking about ½ a mile from the lava flows, but to get from the car park you have to cross rough lava rock deposits in the dark. This does not deter people, in their thousands, making this trip. Of course, we have to make the most of this once in a lifetime opportunity. By the time we arrived the car parks are more or less full so we parked on the road, which made our walk about 2 miles each way, but only the last ½ mile was across a rough surface. At the end of the car park, we could look down the road at what used to be part of the coastal highway and had now being crossed by the lava flow. The road surface was now a burning mass. Further up into the hills rivers of red lava were clearly visible, flowing relentlessly seaward. Armed with torches (flashlights!!) we carefully made our way across the rocks, following the dozens of other people on the trail, to the sea cliffs. The dangerous walk across the rough cliffs is more than worth it, for when we get there the sight is stunning. Several rivers of lava trailed down to the cliff’s edge and were tumbling into the sea. The bright red of the lava lit up the sky and the clouds of steam thrown up by the lava hitting the sea. We marvelled at this and got very excited by the occasional sputtering of globules of lava in the air as the lava pooled on the edge of the cliff. This is truly a unique site – only Jack is disappointed as he hoped to get a close-up view of rivers of lava and didn’t really want to hear how dangerous this would have been.
Day Three: Kealakekua Bay, the Captain Cook memorial and the black beach
Captain James Cook was the first westerner to visit the Hawaiian islands when, in 1778, he landed there to replenish and repair his ships. He named this group of islands “The Sandwich Isles” after a friend and supporter, John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich. Searching for a safe harbour, Cook eventually moored in Kealakekua Bay on the Kona Coast of the Big Island. Initially, Cook was treated like a god, with natives lavishing him with gifts and holding ceremonies in his honour, but when he left and returned with his ship the Resolution a huge storm damaged the islands and the natives could not understand how a god could have allowed this to happen. Their respect for Cook waned, and relations between the Hawaiians and the foreigners grew tense. A misunderstanding led to a fierce battle, and Cook was killed by angry natives.
Following in the footsteps of this great British explorer we visited Kealakekua Bay, hoping to meet some friendly natives. The monument to Captain Cook is on a secluded peninsular which is only accessible by boat (or by swimming). We opted for a sea kayak. The kayak rental place was sited high up on the hills above the bay – so we carefully strapped two double kayaks and a single kayak to the roof of our hire car, which was no mean feat. We then had to negotiate our way down the steep, curving road to the dock area. This proved to be the easy bit – getting the kayaks off, into the water and then getting down the 3 feet from the dockside into the kayaks was the hard part! Somehow we managed to do this without disaster (or even falling in).
From the dockside, it was a 30-minute paddle across the bay to the monument. Fortunately, the sea was relatively smooth so it was a fairly easy ride across. We had a few exciting episodes on the way across as the kayaks rose and fell on the swell. To our delight, we were joined by a group of about 10 spinner dolphins. These small dolphins are renowned for their acrobatic skills and we were treated to a display of them leaping out of the water and spinning through the air before falling back down into the waves.
After a half an hour we finally reached the beach landing area just down from the Captain James Cook monument. We pulled the kayaks up on the rocky cove so we didn’t lose our mode of transport back. It was almost idyllic here and if it were not for all the other people it would have been perfect. The other great thing about this area is the snorkelling, so we unpacked our gear and took to the waters. Within a few feet of the shore, there were dozens of tropical fish, and as went out further there were the most amazing coral reefs and varieties of fish.
Before we leave we take the short trail through the woods to the monument to Captain James Cook. This white obelisk has most definitely seen better days, it is closed off to the public, probably because it is not safe now to go up on the plinth structure. Also, the paint is now flaking off, so the whole edifice is now in need of some loving care and attention. We sadly had to leave this lovely little part of paradise and return across the bay to the dock area. By now we were experts at getting in and out of the kayaks, well…. sort of … I did manage to capsize! The journey back was uneventful, at least until we got to the dock, but with some help from the locals, we managed to get ourselves and the kayaks back on dry land and on top of the car.
After dropping off the kayaks we made the 90-mile journey back to our holiday home. Fortunately, the scenery made the onerous journey bearable. We had a little stop at a bakery on the way back where I continued my nationwide survey of bread pudding. This actually proved to be the best yet. We made one more stop at a black sand beach on the east side of the island, which is a most unusual sight. None of us is quite sure that we liked the look or feel of black sand; it is very coarse and very black!!