Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Pt. 2

Although I was in Hilo for a purpose, we had a fair amount of time between the installation and demonstration days, followed by checking on progress later in the week. So, that gave us plenty of time to explore the Big Island, and I'd say we did a pretty good job.

After the sunrise at Coconut Island, we had breakfast at the Hilo Seaside Hotel before we set out on our adventure. I mention this breakfast because it was simple, yet the most amazing free hotel breakfast ever, and I'm not just saying this as a result of "we're on vacation" elation. Half of a papaya, cleaned, with cinnamon and brown sugar, a cup of strawberry yogurt topped in tropical fruit medley, toast with tropical fruit jams, and a cup of Kona coffee. If you ever need to fix the plumbing, half of a papaya and a cup of coffee will do the trick!

The Big Island has four out of the five major climate zones on Earth, and ten out of 13 sub-zones. This means that a 2 hour drive from one side of the island to the other side can have you go through humid, tropical forests on the East, temperate zones just up the hill west of Hilo, polar tundra near the summits of Mauna Loa & Mauna Kea, and then arid steppe and desert on the west side, near Kona. Our suitcases were confused...

Along the Onomea Scenic Drive

Our first destination was to be Akaka Falls, north of Hilo off Highway 19. On our way there along the Hāmākua Coast we found the Onomea Scenic Drive, stopping frequently to take in the tropical forests and coastal beauty. We had the energy of young explorers that day. Regardless of the previous day's travel and 4:30 a.m. wake up, we stopped to take pictures of everything.

Katie at Akaka Falls
The next stop was the Waipio Valley Lookout. We had seen Waipio Valley from the jet the evening before, on our way into Hilo.  For first timers in Hawaii, all of this scenery was indescribably beautiful.

Waipio Valley Lookout

We debated on taking our Jeep down the narrow road into Waipio Valley. A sign warned that the road, which was more like a trail, was 4x4 only - one of the reasons I wanted to rent a jeep. In hind sight a standard issue rental Kia would have been able to go everywhere we ended up going on the trip and would have saved a lot on gas - albeit with significantly less awesomeness. As it was only the first day and we had a lot to still see, we decided not to risk it. One of the hard things about trying to cram a lot into a short time is that when coming across side missions on the main journey it's difficult to decide what to spend more time on when just starting. Only four hours into our first day, it wasn't a wise use of time to explore a valley that could have been hiked for days.

Back on Highway 19, we headed west through Waimea, towards the Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area. The sudden change in scenery north of the Hāmākua region in the Kohala district resembled nothing we had seen before, with little rolling hills sprouting out of green pasture land. On the other side of Waimea (elevation 2,670') we began a 10 mile descent towards the west coast, giving a boost to our 18 mpg average at that point. At the time of writing this, I read about Waimea for specifics on elevation, et cetera, and came across a brief history Lorenzo Lyons. Lorenzo Lyons was a priest who translated hymns to Hawaiian, and Hawaiian songs to English. There's also a memorial dedicated to him at a historic church built in 1857. It seems exploration is in our genetics!

Waimea Hills
Waimea to Hapuna Beach - Google Maps
A long way down!

Crossing over the divide on to the western side of the island reveals, yet again, a different terrain and landscape. The arid steppe and desert. It seemed that there were more sandy beaches on this side of the island, and on the east side there were more pahoehoe lava beaches. The first sandy beach we saw was Hapuna Beach, so we pulled in to check it out and get our feet in the sand!

After a long day of driving we made it to our hotel in Kailua-Kona, King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel. We were feelin' pretty royal ourselves and had our beach view room switched to a city view so we wouldn't have to hear the 1998 Daytona Spring Break crew relivin' their glory days above us all night long. One thing I need when I travel is a good night sleep. Exploring on a low battery makes me act similarly to Katie on an empty stomach - "hangry". Besides, getting up early has its perks. Getting up early in Gainesville means accomplishing errands before all of the dancing queens from the night before dare venture out into the sunlight. Getting up early in Kona means getting to Pu'uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park before the admissions attendant arrives, and having the maintenance guys let you in for free :)

Reconstruction of Hale O Keawe heiau - a Hawaiian Temple
Ki'i Statues 

Pu'uhonua o Honaunau was pretty awesome, but of equal awesomeness was the Kona Brewing Company five minutes from our hotel.

Kona Brewing Company - We fell in love with their Wailua Wheat!

I think this was either the Black Sand Porter or the Nut Brown Ale

I'm pretty sure Katie was drinking the Pipeline Porter

Since we were only going to be on the west side of the island for the weekend, we wanted to get in a sunset photo shoot. One of the best places to do that is just north of Kailua-Kona at the Old Kona Airport. The old airport seems to be a favorite hangout spot for the locals who want to get away from tourists who don't know where they're going, driving 20 mph under the speed limit, etc. Yep, we know what that's like in Florida as well.

Sunset looking out from the Old Kona Airport 
Amazing colors!
On Monday I had to do some work in Hilo, so we got up early and took a scenic drive over Saddle Road, passing the entrance road to the Mauna Kea Observatories. I would have loved to stop, but we had work to attend to. Having never made it back up to Mauna Kea taught us to stop at places of interest we're going to pass, especially in a place like this. Not doing so can and will lead to regrets in the future!

Kona to Hilo via Saddle Road - Google Maps

Some of our time in Hilo was spent with a very special host and hostess. Not only did they treat us to an amazing home cooked meal, but also serenaded us with a little ukulele music, singing, and hula dance. We all joined in on a song made famous by the late Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, Somewhere Over The Rainbow. Pictures and words alone cannot describe the hospitable feeling of warmth and love shared with these wonderful folks. This memory is probably one of the best from the entire trip. It really went a long way in showing me that I could be surrounded by an amazingly beautiful environment, but the love from people was what made the most profound memory.

Once we were able to leave Hilo, we planned time for some quiet reflection in a yurt on the south side of Mauna Loa, near the Ka'u district. The yurt was in an old lava field above the tree line at about 4000', so we referred to it as the moon base. The moon base was a flat place to pitch a tent and private - my two requirements for sufficient camping! The owners did a nice job turning this barren landscape into a small solar powered, rain watered, self sufficient get-away. Unfortunately, I had a bit of an allergy attack up there, so instead of staying for three nights we only stayed for two. Yet again, my sensitivities to dust got the better of me. For the record, the owners were wonderful in handling our situation.

View from the Moon Base towards South Point (Under the rainbow)        
While we were in Ka'u we went to two of the most unique beaches on the island. Punalu'u Beach is just off the Mamalahoa Highway heading north towards Kilauea from Na'alehu. Punalu'u, also called Black Sand Beach, is home to tourists who can't read signs. I wonder why the Hawaiians & locals get annoyed...

Another thing to note is the distinction between native Hawaiians, locals and haole. The native Hawaiians are the indigenous Polynesian people of the Hawaiian islands and their descendants. Non-Hawaiians born on the islands are referred to as locals. Mainlanders are referred to as haole.

Getting back to Punalu'u, just do a Google image search for punaluu turtles and scrolling through will eventually yield photos of visitors who are not respecting the signs posted to let the turtles rest peacefully. A zoom lens will do all the work.

Resting Sea Turtles on Punalu'u Beach

Katie's favorite tired turtle!

Another beach of notable mention is Papakolea, the green sand beach. We walked from the parking area for 45 minutes to get to this beach, although we read that there were ways to get in faster. I'm not one for breaking rules just to get somewhere faster. Life's about the journey, not the destination anyway! Besides, it was clearly evident that the rules were established to prevent further erosion of the soft ground by too many vehicles passing over to get to the green sand beach, or other places near Papakolea. The waves pounding at this beach were amazing to ride. They came in slow, swelled high, and broke hard at the shore making it easy to float on my back and roll over the crests without going too far out, or getting pushed back in. We were in awe of the natural beauty and the forces at work to make such an incredible place, but not everyone agreed.

Papakolea - Green Sand Beach
On our walk back from the beach we passed a family of four or five walking toward the beach. They were about one quarter, to one third of the way there, so they had a ways to go. A girl in her early teens, I'm assuming was the oldest daughter, apparently was not inspired in the same way as Katie and I and it really annoyed us. Just as we walked past her she pronounced, "This...(dramatic pause to build suspense) stupid." Well dear, walking has been the primary mode of transportation throughout most of human existence, and though we cannot fly or move faster than a horse without mechanical assistance, which are ingenious advances in human utilization of environmental resources and tools, it does not make the act of walking stupid. Unless walking to an eminent and certain demise, which by simple observation of individuals in close proximity should have been dismissed early on by noting their satisfied and peaceful facial expressions, then I can only assume you have not been properly briefed on what natural phenomena you are about to experience. I can only agree with your assessment of stupidity if you are considering the lack of signage to indicate distance to previously mentioned natural phenomena, and have chosen to take the path in dollar store flip flops, with one liter of Ben and Katie did...and that was stupid. I hope she eventually changed her mind. I'd do it again the same way in a heartbeat!    


Since the moon base was on alert level 3 we had to find somewhere else to spend the night. The Jeep wouldn't have been as accommodating as the Forester, so we tried to see if the Hilo Hawaiian or the Seaside Hotel had any vacancies. Neither one did. We didn't want to go all the way back to Kailua-Kona since we had to be in Hilo again the next day, and already had the following night booked at the Hilo Hawaiian before we flew out on Saturday night.  So, we decided to combine our next hotel stay with the last destination on our list, Volcano National Park's Volcano House.

Outside of the Volcano House, overlooking the crater.

Volcano National Park is home to Kilauea, continuously erupting since 1983, and the explorable Thurston Lava Tubes.  We also wanted to see the lava flow causing billows of steaming sea water as it reached the shoreline, but the easily accessible areas were closed at the time of our visit. The Lava Tubes had poorly behaved child comedy of their own... If the volume was a bit louder in the video I'd let it do the talking, but allow me to provide a brief synopsis.

Shortly after entering, we heard running and a splash followed by a woman's shriek of surprise, "Look what you did!" to which I can be heard quipping, "You're a dumbass, that's what you did." Little Johnny Rockets (Joan Rockets in this case) ran and jumped in a puddle on the tube floor covering mommy in muddy water. Joan rocketed off down the lava tube with her father apprehensively in pursuit. The Tunnel of Hatred! We also learned that rain keeps the crazy people away because they are made of salt and sugar and thus easily dissolve.  Get to the rain!

Beside the observation that children ruin vacations, a fact that we have both known since committing our own violations during those wonderful years, Volcano National Park was spectacular, following suit with the rest of the island. Dinner in the Volcano House dining room sits on the edge of the caldera overlooking the glowing Halemaʻumaʻu crater of Kilauea. We went outside afterwards to see if we could get a good shot of the glowing crater.

Halemaʻumaʻu crater of Kilauea

On the Friday and Saturday before we left, we spent some time in and around Hilo. A few interesting places nearby are Rainbow Falls and KoleKole Beach Park where a mountain river meets the Pacific ocean. Katie wanted to stop at Two Ladies Kitchen to try some strawberry mochi. I have a sweet tooth, so I was easily convinced. We also ate at Ocean Sushi - twice - and had a nice dinner at Cafe Pesto. Katie, with the guidance of Yelp!, never fails to find a great place to refill the tanks!

Our flight on Saturday night wasn't until 9pm, so we had a great opportunity to watch the sunset over Mauna Loa & Mauna Kea. Usually the two mountains are shrouded in clouds in the evening if viewed from Hilo, but this day was going to cooperate. The sky cleared up enough to see the observatory towers on top of Mauna Kea, just in time to see the sun go down. Sitting on the seawall around Hilo Bay, a sight that even the locals had stopped to watch. A very special end to a very special trip. The flight home was a different story ;)

Sun sets behind Mauna Kea and Hilo, Hawaii - as seen from across Hilo Bay


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