With a 12 hour layover trying to get to the Big Island, we took advantage of exploring the Island of O’ahu. Alisa’s Aunt is stationed at the Air Force base in Honolulu. We spent quality time with her family as we snorkeled in Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and watched the huge waves in Waimea. Driving to the north shore and back to the airport took a long period of time. It was Saturday, December 28th and the experience was well worth every moment it took to get to the unique destinations.
When we landed in Hilo it was evening and dark. We rented a car and drove towards Hawai’i Volcanoes. When we got to the park we got ready to take our picture and video in front of the sign. We were so excited because this was our 50th national park together as a family. As we drove on our way to our lodging, we saw a faint orange and pink glow. We stopped the car, turned off the lights and saw the night sky with very little light pollution. The stars were bright and we had yet to understand what that glow was. We arrived at our bed and breakfast and went to sleep.
On Sunday we went to the Kilauea visitor center to gain some advice on how best to spend our time and where to hike. We officially canceled the park, packed our backpacks, and we began our long journey as we hiked Sulpher Banks. The steam vents reminded us of Yellowstone and the toxic smell was not pleasant. However, the stained color on the rocks and the view of sulfur dioxide gas coming up from the Earth was magical.
We were on a loop trail connecting the Sulpher Banks Trail, ‘Iliahi Trail, Halema’uma’u Trail, Pu’u Pua’i Trial, Kilauea Iki Trail, Thurston Lava Tube, and the Crater Rim Trail. After a wonderful day of hiking we treated ourselves while relaxing at the Volcano House. We did not stay at this luxuriously priced and historic lodge, nor did we dine at the fancy restaurant. We shared one appetizer, ate the remainder of our snacks from within our backpack, drank water, coffee and hot cocoa, and watched an active volcano while sitting on rocking chairs. We discovered that after a long day of hiking one of the best things to do in a national park is to go to the historic lodge in the park and enjoy its grandeur.
As the sun set we learned one reason why this park is so spectacular, the glow. The glow of the lava from the Halema’uma’u Crater is dramatic and striking. This was a new experience for us and as the sky darkened the active volcano became brighter. The brilliant glow we witnessed the night before was now only 1 ½ miles from our eyes at Jaggar Museum.
Monday morning we ate macadamia nut pancakes at our bed and breakfast. We drove on the Crater Rim Drive and Chain of Craters Road to the Puna Coast Trailhead. The hike to ‘Apua Point was 6 ½ miles over lava beds. The landscape was uneven and caused some knee issues for Alisa. After about four miles we reached the rugged coastline. The waves were powerful and we saw a few sea arches that had been created in the rock many years before we ever got there.
The boys were fascinated, but Alisa was just focused on getting to the destination and finishing the hike. At ‘Apua Point we had the privilege of swimming in a tidal pool. The aquatic wildlife was animated as we explored, relaxed and stretched our muscles. Winston discovered a sea turtle that was scared from us humans in their natural habitat. We took our time during the 6 ½ mile hike back as we patiently waited for Alisa.
It was late afternoon and we drove to the end of the road. A short stretch of the road is now closed due to eruption activity that caused lava flow to completely cover the road. The Holei Sea Arch is located here and we walked on the one mile paved road to where the road ends and Lava begins. We put one foot on the lava and turned around to walk back to the car. Winston never even made it to the lava. He was not thrilled to have to walk another two miles and he was hungry and tired. However, it was like physical therapy for Alisa to be walking on flat land. The sun set as we drove back to the Volcano House for another round of majestic scenery (the glow), appetizers (pizza) and drinks (water, tea, coffee and hot cocoa). At this point we were coming to realization that this national park may be one of our favorites.
For the last day of the year we decided to explore some of the island. We went to a coffee mill to sample coffees and peanut brittle, ate a second breakfast at a local bakery for the best donuts in America, and spent an hour at Punalu’u (black sand beach). Next we drove to Ka Lae (South Point), the southern most tip in the United States. Bill and the boys jumped off a 40 foot cliff into the ocean here. It was a bit terrifying, but Bill went first and it became a right of passage. However, Alisa passed on this unique and dangerous opportunity.
After the cliff jumping we drove north on highway 11 to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park. The boys quickly canceled the park in their passports as we learned about this place of refuge. It was a sanctuary that gave people a second chance and provided forgiveness and a safe shelter. Since we could not snorkel here because of the sacred royal grounds we walked to the neighboring bay at Palemano Point. The water was deep, the coral was vibrant and the aquatic wildlife was plentiful. Next, we continued driving north into Kona. This was a crowded city and we found a wonderful Chinese buffet for our New Year’s Eve dinner. Finally, we drove south towards our lodging while we called a few friends and family on the mainland to wish them a Happy New Year.
We woke up and decided to travel and hike to the Mauna Loa (elevation 13,677 ft.). This is an active shield volcano and considered the largest on Earth. When we got to the trailhead it was already 10:00 am. The hike was very challenging and physically exhausting. We started at about 11,000 feet above sea level. After hiking for a few hours Bill was last. Alisa, Luke and Winston got confused; a little lost and could not make a decision on the correct direction we should be going. The trail split and Bill got very upset and frustrated. He yelled several times as loud as he could. There were no other people anywhere. Actually, there was very little life on this lava covered mountain environment.
Bill quickly realized that after about an hour of misdirection and indecisiveness, we were losing precious daylight and he ordered his wife and boys to hike back to the car. Bill sat alone for a while as his loving family disappeared down the mountain. He failed to reach the summit, but more importantly he failed to be an understanding father and husband. He hiked the couple of hours by himself until he reached the car. We all hugged, apologized and forgave one another. It was another lesson learned in the rugged wilderness. This Wednesday, the first day of 2014, will always be remembered as a day in which we failed to successfully reach the summit. As a family we win and lose together.
On our last day in Hawai’i, we woke up before the sunrise and watched the glow of the Halema’uma’u Crater. The last adventure for us was to swim in the tidal pool at Ka’aha. The trail began at the Hilina Pali overlook. The total hike was about eight miles, but with several switchbacks over loose lava this expedition was not easy. The mix of fresh water and ocean felt refreshing as we snorkeled in the Ka’aha tidal pool. The sun was strong on our hike towards Hilina Pali. It was our last chance to get tan before we flew to the mainland.
The hike up to the trailhead was fun. Alisa went first as the men played games as they walked slowly up 1,500 feet. Pretending, laughing and talking is a wonderful way to spend time together as you hike for many hours. Before we left Hawai’i Volcano National Park we drove to a number of crater overlooks and Alisa became a junior ranger. It was Thursday evening when our flight left Hilo to Honolulu. We had a brief layover before our flight to Los Angeles left. We were able to get some sleep on the red eye flight before we landed. We want to come back and explore the big island more. Not only do we want to make it to the summit of Mauna Loa, we want to try and do everything together as a family.
Alisa and I (Bill) went back to summit Mauna Loa, hike and explore some more in late December 2015.