Thursday, June 19, 2008

Exploring the Big Island of Hawaii: HILO and the VOLCANO


On August 8, we headed off on a big island adventure, all the way around the island in one day. Setting out from Kona we headed north and crossed thru Waimea and past the Parker Ranch to the Waipio Valley. This valley is still inhabited by descendents of ancient Hawaiians who tend to the taro crop. There is a long black sand beach and we saw lots of kayakers out in the surf. We could only take pictures from up above, the trail is so steep down to the valley only 4-wheel drive vehicles could make it down there. I was happy to stand above it and admire the scenery.

The natural scenery on the way to Hilo was spectacular. We stopped along the way to take pictures of the coastline and of a waterfall that could be seen from the road.

The famous waterfall on this side of the island is Akaka Falls. There is a nice trail that leads to the falls and scenic overlooks where we took pictures. We were lucky enough to capture a rainbow at the bottom of this picture. Bamboo and ginger were plentiful along the trail and the whole area made me feel like I was in a remote tropical jungle instead of a few miles off the road.

We continued on towards Hilo, admiring all the scenery along the way. We decided to check out Rainbow Falls on the outskirts of town and climbed the trail there to the overlook at the top of the falls. There we saw two streams that came together and dropped over the edge to a calm area of water below. These falls were not as secluded as Akaka but were just as interesting in their own way. The terrain at the top was rugged and the cascade ended near some caves and pretty foliage.

We had lunch in Hilo at a very good Mexican restaurant with the strangest name - Reuben's. With a name like that it sounded like they'd serve good reuben sandwiches, but it was all Mexican and it was delicious. We wandered around the waterfront for a little while then headed to Nani Mau Gardens before going to the volcano.

Nani Mau means "forever beautiful" and these gardens were! They stretch over 20 acres that were once part of a rain forest. Hilo gets about 130 inches of rain a year so these plants are happy plants. There is a museum, an orchard, a ginger garden, annual gardens, an orchid walkway and many other sections just as gorgeous. We took the tram thru the gardens since we didn't have a lot of time to wander but the driver stopped at a few places for us to take pictures. One area was the Makalapua Lookout where we got good pictures of the entire annual garden. We strolled along the orchid walkway and took pictures there before getting back on the road and heading to the Volcanoes National Park.


One thing I was really looking forward to during this trip was snorkeling. I had heard the fish and corals were gorgeous in the Pacific Ocean so I couldn't wait to jump in and see them. We found a place called Honaunau Bay which was about a 30 minute drive from our hotel on the Kona Coast. The beach, if you could call it that, was mostly black lava which we stepped out onto to enter the water, using the steps formed by the lava.

I wish I could describe how beautiful it was under the water. A disposable camera just doesn't do it justice. We were so impressed with this bay that we snorkled there twice. Besides the tropical fish and the corals there was also a sea turtle who cruised by us as we swam. I tried to keep up with it to get pictures but only managed to get shots as it swam away.

At one spot underwater someone had spelled the word "Aloha" with white rocks. One thing I especially remember was snorkeling along with the floor about 20 feet below me then, suddenly, I swam out over a huge drop-off and the view below me was spectacular. It went on forever it seemed and was so colorful. Here are a few shots that will show just a sampling of what we saw, although on film it's not nearly as colorful as it was in person.

Snorkeling in that particular area was free, just a small parking fee if you couldn't find a spot along the road. Our other snorkeling adventure cost a little more but was also worth it. We booked a rafting and snorkeling trip with a company called Sea Quest out of Keauhou Bay on the afternoon of 8/9. We were fitted with masks and fins then off we went to the raft to meet the guide and the two other passengers who went with us. The ride was a little bumpy but lots of fun and we arrived at Kealakekua Bay in about 40 minutes. This is the bay where the Captain Cook Monument stands on the shore.

We had about an hour to snorkel among the colorful fish in this bay. The corals were not as interesting as the other spot but there were so many fish to see we hardly noticed. We have a yellow tang in our aquarium at home so those caught my eye, and there were a million of them to see. Below are pictures of the tangs and of a parrot fish which were also abundant in these waters.

At the end of the hour we were called back to the raft and our guide had fruit and taro chips for us to eat, plus juice to drink. Then we headed back up the coast, a little slower in spots so she could point out the interesting areas and tell us some of the history of the cliffs along the way. Seems that ancient Hawaiians were afraid of evil spirits and of the color red. These cliffs had a reddish color in them due to iron deposits and, at one point, a face appears in the side of one cliff (pic on left). The eyes were actually old lava tubes (close-up of the tube is on the right) but the ancients thought this was an evil spirit with a red face so they stayed away from that area.

The guide also showed us caves cut into the cliffs from the wave action and areas where the locals go cliff diving. Not sure I'd want to try it but there were a few hardy souls diving at one point. She got us back to the dock safe and sound in about an hour and we all agreed it was a great trip.

Snorkeling is only one thing that is easy to do in Hawaii, and fishing is another. The fishing in Hawaii is different than in our home state of Florida. The best fishing in Florida is miles offshore but, in Hawaii, it's just off the coast. We had gone on a half day fishing excursion right before this raft ride so we got to experience both adventures all in one day.


My husband was really looking forward to sportfishing in Hawaii. It's a little different fishing in Hawaii than it is in our home state of Florida where the fishing is best miles and miles offshore. In Hawaii, lines are in the water as soon as the boat is out of the harbor. There is deep water right off the coast. During the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament, we could see the boats from the beach at the hotel, that's how close in they were fishing.

We booked a half day fishing excursion on a boat called Tara even before we knew it was the winner of the tournament and we were hoping to have good luck while fishing on this boat. Darrell and his father and I boarded the boat in Honokohau Harbor early on August 9 and met the crew, Captain Nate and First Mate Jeremiah. They hustled around getting ready, we stowed our gear, and off we went. Tara is a 46' Hatteras and was well equipped with all the fishing gear we needed. I didn't plan to fish, just watch, but I settled into the fishing chair just to see how it felt.

The crew got the lines in the water to try and catch tuna to use as bait for marlin. It was interesting to watch as they caught a tuna, ran a line thru it's mouth and kept it alive by running water thru it at the same time. First Mate Jeremiah was quite efficient while performing those tasks, below.

I had to give up my fishing chair so that the real fishermen on the boat could have a turn. My father-in-law landed one of the tuna that we used for bait. But try as they might all morning, they never caught anything but bait fish. I guess the billfish were tired after fighting with this same boat during the big HIBT tournament! But both men agreed that, even without a big catch, they loved being out on the ocean.

And what happened to me you ask? While Darrell looked longingly out to sea in search of that prize marlin, I decided the sofa in the cabin looked pretty good so I tested it out for a few hours. After all, I had to get some rest so I would be able to snorkel later. We had booked a snorkeling trip for that afternoon so we had to be back to port by noon. The crew, anxious to catch some fish, was willing to stay out all afternoon if we wanted to but I didn't want to lose the deposit on the raft trip. After all, the guys had another charter booked for 8/11 so they'd have another chance at "catching the big one" then.

On 8/11, the guys got up early and headed out again, this time on Pamela, booked thru the Kona Charter Skippers Association. Pamela is a 38' Bertram sportfisher out of the same harbor. I decided not to go along on this one, I could wait until later to hear the fish stories when the guys got back. Well the story was much the same as the previous trip, a beautiful day on the water but no fish. Darrell was still glad he had gotten to fish even if there was no prize marlin tugging at the end of his fishing rod on either trip. See, doesn't he look happy?

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