Thursday, June 10, 2010


View from Lisa's house of Diamond Head Crater

I spent two small stints of my Hawaii time on Oahu. When I returned from the Big Island, I hung out with Lisa Curtis of Pittsburgh ultimate fame. I nagged her into playing sometime around 2002. She couldn't throw when she started, but was as fast as could be. She went to nationals before I did. Anyway, our first morning we hopped on bikes and headed for Hanamau Bay that my dad had recommended for snorkeling. On the way, Lisa took me to the Spitting Cave that works like a blow hole but blows water out horizontally. I have never seen anything like it and we were lucky enough to see a couple humpback whales there too even though the whale boat I called said they were closed because the whales left town for the season.

Humpback whale.

The Spitting Cave

A view from our bike ride.

After enjoying one of natures little wonders, we set off to Hanamau Bay. I didn't entirely know what to expect except good snorkeling. I thought it might be a quiet place. It isn't. I'd guess it is the most visited beach in Hawaii outside of Waikiki. You have to pay to get in if you aren't a Hawaiian resident (which I like), but man was it built up. You could even take a shuttle down to the beach. The price varied for uphill and downhill rides. The snorkeling was good, but, again, not great. The farther you went out, the better it got. Unfortunately, it was colder farther out and they kept blaring the loud speaker about strong currents if you went out too far. I am a good swimmer and I had fins on so I think that makes me a great swimmer, but I've heard about ocean currents so much that I was worried. I don't know if they are that bad or just being careful. Any thoughts? I can tell you that Hawaii's state fish, the Humuhumukununukuapua'a, is brilliant and I would have had no problem identifying it at the Great Barrier Reef even if I couldn't remember the full name to save my life.

Hanamau Bay shuttle.

Hanamau Bay

I rounded out my first visit on Oahu by attending the Kokua festival at the Waikiki Shell. It is a festival put on by Jack Johnson for his charity that supports environmental education. Jake Shimabukuro, a Hawaiian born ukulele master played lots of pop covers. He was followed up by Taj Mahal & The Hula Blues Band. I've always enjoyed Taj's blues music. This wasn't that. It was still good, but not great, for me. Ziggy Marley did some solo stuff and then Jack Johnson closed out the show. This was a family event. Jack Johnson sang the songs he wrote for Sesame Street which was a hoot. The whole concert was done by 10pm, maybe 10:30pm, and that was just fine for me. I needed some more sleep.

On my second visit to Honolulu, my host for the evening was delayed. I ended up paying for my only night of lodging in Hawaii at a hostel near Waikiki Beach. It was weird to be in a hostel so close to the finest clothing boutique stores that you'll never catch me near. I was pretty exhausted from my trip to Kauai (next blog), so I just crashed out in the hostel.

Sunrise from a Diamond Head Crater bunker.

Honolulu from Diamond Head Crater.

The next morning, I was headed for Diamond Head Crater to watch sunrise on a tip from Celeen. I got directions from the front desk and followed the water as instructed. I was able to walk on most of it because in Hawaii the shoreline belongs to the people. It can't be owned by whoever has that giant house next to it. I eventually found the road that I was directed to. It didn't get me to the entrance to Diamond Head Crater. It did get me to Diamond Head though. It was pretty neat to see people rolling up at 5am to get their pre-work surf in. As the sun got closer and closer to rising, I realized that my directions were bonk. On an educated guess, I just took a left turn and started scrambling up the hill. I was pleasantly rewarded when I got to the crater rim. I walked from old military bunker to bunker wondering where the actual trail was. I eventually found it after the sun had risen and everyone else showed up. Apparently, I was lucky. The guards at the gate did not let anyone in until after the sun had already come up. One couple asked if I had been the guy on the rim that they saw at sunrise. I was and was a little proud of my serendipity, which I can't take any credit for. It just happened.

USS Missouri in Pearl Harbor.

My visit to Pearl Harbor was moving. After waiting in ninety degree heat and taking the longest bus ride ever to get there, I was told I'd have to wait two hours to take a tour of the USS Arizona memorial. In the mean time, you could explore all of the other tours that cost money. I signed up for a tour of the USS Bowfin submarine. I haven't been in a sub as an adult. Man, they are small.

USS Bowfin

After I left that tour, I was reading the 54 plaques with the achievements of the submarines that were lost during the war. For reasons I can't explain, it brought the experience a lot closer to home. It made it personal. I don't know of anyone that served on subs, but something clicked.

List of names of people interred in the USS Arizona

USS Arizona Memorial

When I was done, I headed over to my USS Arizona memorial tour. You take a boat over to the memorial which straddles the sunken ship. Once there, you get 15-30 minutes to explore and hear a ranger talk about what happened. In the memorial, there is a list of 1,177 men who lost their lives on the USS Arizona when Pearl Harbor was attacked. However, there is a second list of those who survived the initial attack, but chose to be interred with their shipmates when they died later in life.

Honolulu Airport Lounge

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Big Island, Hawaii

Akaka falls

End to end rainbow.

Even when I was just killing time before the main event of seeing lava, the Big Island offered up beauty. The eastern half of the island is cast in a rain shadow, receiving rain over half the days of the year. The benefit of rain . . . lush green forests and, of course, rainbows. It was amazing to see how quickly the rain would be blow through and leave a rainbow behind. I always thought I was about to get drenched, but it never happened. One of the neatest things I saw was rainbows that actually had a start and end. They didn't just disappear into the sky. I don't think I have ever seen that before.

First campsite with rock cliffs on left.

Punaluu Black Sand Beach

After my adventures in Volcanoes National Park, I decided to take a quick look around the rest of the island instead of staying put. I might have been better rested if I just stayed put, but that just doesn't seem to be my style. At least not when I still have energy. I definitely have trouble passing up a chance to do something new when I might not be able to get back there anytime soon. That set me on a track to see black sand, green sand, and whatever anyone else pointed out along the way.

Black sand on my hand

Green turtle on Punaluu, Black Sand Beach

My first great stop was at Punaluu, the black sand beach. It is a beach, just like any other, but it is black. There was a tour group at the beach when I arrived and they had all congregated in the middle, but I didn't know why. I was on the phone chatting with my friend Dana slowly heading towards where the tourists were. I was not completely paying attention. I was just hoping to get to the far side of the beach and then soak it up on the way back. Well, the problem with that is that you might almost step on a turtle!!! I didn't, but I was close. The sleeping turtles were why all the tourists had gathered around. The only time I saw them move was when a little boy pulled on one's fin. The parents said nothing. Grr.

Fishing with bags

Ka Lae

When I was on the Great Barrier Reef, a woman said I had to see Papakōlea Beach, Green Sand Beach. The first step to getting there was take the South Point road to the southern most point of the United States, Ka Lae. A lot of people think this is actually in Texas or one of the Florida Keys, but Hawaii has the same latitude as Mexico City, so the southern tip of Hawaii wins (Bonus points to anyone who can name the other 3 extremes relative to the Prime Meridian without googling. I bet most of you only get two right.). At Ka Lae, a number of people were using a fishing technique that I have never seen. They would essentially cast a garbage bag and hook up into the wind. To be a successful cast, they needed the wind to blow the bag far out to sea away from the cliffs. Apparently, that is where the big fish are, but it is impossible to cast it that far. Very, very cool

Green Sand in my hand.

Papakōlea Beach, a green sand beach

Anyway, getting to the green sand isn't obvious. I had to ask some locals, but before I could even get the question out they asked if I was there to cliff jump. I said no way, that stuff scares me. I watched them jump once, reaffirmed my desire to not fall that far, and then got directions. It took about an hour over roads that only jeeps were driving to get there. When I got there, the clouds had rolled in so the green color didn't really stick out. The green sand comes from the olivine rock that has been eroding for thousands of years. Pretty cool. Pretty quiet. I wish I had more time to spend there, but I had decided to try and hustle back to get talked into cliff jumping. I was kicking myself for turning down a chance to spend time with locals and take part in some of the nonsense they do. I figured, I travel to experience things, not just to see them and they had offered me a great experience.

My first cliff jump.

When I got back, the locals I had talked to were loading up to leave. I had said that I hoped to jump and one guy said I shouldn't because if I couldn't do enough pull ups to get on the rusted out ladder then I might get stuck. One of the guys, Tyler, said to forget that. He told me he'd do one more with me if I wanted, so off we went. They taught me a little technique. I gut checked about a hundred times, stopped thinking about it, and just followed Tyler in. I can't remember a time when I've been so happy to hit something after falling that far. It was such a relief to strike the water. No injuries. Lots of fun. Electricity flowing through the body. After that one, they tried to get me to jump in a hole that they also use. The drop isn't nearly as far, but there are rocks to each side of you and you have to swim out under a land bridge to the ladder. They said it is actually safer, but I was done for the day. I didn't want to have to figure out how to time my jump so the waves would pull me back out to the ladder. Eek! Next time!!


Road decorations on HI-19 north of Kailua-Kona

Donkey crossings, really?!?

After my jump, my adrenaline couldn't keep up and the rest of my trip was downhill. I slept the night on the coast again and then borrowed a local's kayak to go over to the one of the few pieces of foreign soil in the USA that isn't an embassy. The British government has been deeded the land where Captain James Cook's memorial is located in Kealakekua Bay. It marks the spot where he was killed after returning to the sheltered harbor for repairs. The snorkeling is supposed to be amazing in the bay. Unfortunately, I didn't find the great stuff. I think part of it is that I didn't know where to look and part of it was that I had just wrapped up three days on the Great Barrier Reef. I'd gone too big too soon and become a snob.

From there, I headed up the coast to Kailua-Kona, though everyone just calls the city Kona. I was really just passing through the Kona area to soak up some of their sunshine and to buy some coffee for a couple friends who are addicts, especially Betty who gets an extra shout out for surviving another bike accident, but this time a car hit her instead of her trying to take out an old lady. I think my favorite part of Kona was finding a gallery of Michael Wyland's because my mom raved about him for years. At first, I couldn't figure out why I knew the name, but it came to me after a brilliant meal at the Kona Brewing company. yum, yum. After some food, it was time to get moving. I had get back to Hilo to fly out by 8pm. I headed north and on the way passed more reclaimed lava fields. The highway cut right through the black rock. The best part was that people have taken white rocks and written messages up and down the highway on the black rock.

The original statue of King Kamehameha I that was lost at sea and restored.

Mauna Kea

Observatory equipment on Mauna Kea.

My last major stop was Mauna Kea. Its 13,803 foot summit is ideal for star gazing because it has over 300 clear nights a year and is above most air pollutants. I believe five countries have observatories near the summit. It was pretty incredible to see so much hardware so high up. It reminded me of Mt. Fuji which is so developed on the summit. The only thing I have seen elsewhere that comes close is Pikes Peak and to a much lesser extent Mt. Evans. Thankfully, we haven't built roads to the top of most of out taller mountains. Anyway, the drive and short hike to the summit was great. It was mostly clouded in but I managed to catch a few great sites before heading back down. Changing altitude so quickly definitely reminded me of my Mt. Fuji hike. Good memories. I think preferred the hike even though driving up was quite a bit easier for me, if not for the car. After hiking to the summit, it was time to get myself to the airport which is a special treat in Hawaii because they have waiting areas that are a lot homier than anything I have seen anywhere else in the world. I wish more airports would follow their model.

Big Island airport terminal.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, The Big Island, Hawaii

I went to the Big Island of Hawaii for one big reason, lava. Without the lava, I would have probably gone somewhere else. I don't drink coffee enough to appreciate Kona and I don't know my stars well enough to appreciate Mauna Kea. I wanted lava and the rest was just filler.

Homestead house

Original viewing area

On my first day, I drove along the coast line to pass the time until it got closer to dark when the lava can best be seen. When afternoon hit, I took my rental car and headed to the end of the road on the eastern side of the lava flows. I was early, but I had heard it might be a long walk so I hiked along the coast line hoping to see steam where the lava found its way to the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, I didn't see any in the distance after walking a couple miles across dried lava, but I did find a number of amazing off grid houses. Each one had been built on top of the lava that had wiped out the old landscape (and neighborhoods?). Their only electricity came from wind and sun. Their water was saved in giant metal containers that filled up with each rain storm. I have no idea what they do with their human waste. I'd guess a compost toilet, but I didn't see one, nor, did I ask. There were lots of keep out signs and since I had come in through people's backyards, and not the roads, I just quietly moved along toward the road that had come into view that people were using to drive to the lava viewing area. Apparently, I had found the wrong end of the road.

I hiked and hitched back to my car because I didn't want to be walking miles back to my car when it was dark. After I got there, I drove out to the county supervised lava viewing area. It was a major let down. We were no where near any lava. Apparently, the lava had started moving faster and they were worried it would overtake the path to the old viewing area so they moved it back a half mile on the night that I arrived. We could see some light behind the trees and then red in the distance. That was it. Boo. Hiss. Frump. On my disappointed exit, I asked a camera man where he had taken his photos labeled from that day since they had moved it back. He let me know that he goes in at 4am when no one is around to get photos which set me to plotting . . .

My viewing area

I left the lava viewing area and headed along the coast to camp in a state park. Around 3am, I was back up and heading for the lava. I didn't use an alarm. I think the excitement woke me up. The four or five security guards were all gone. There was only one truck of people finishing off their beers. I wound my way past the current viewing area to the lava path that they had marked with white paint to the old viewing area. I was super happy to have my skate skiing poles to use as hiking poles. Hiking on the lava at night, even with a flashlight, was definitely challenging. Unfortunately, my flashlight had decided to almost stop working so it was even more challenging. I just took my time and moved slowly. Finally, I found what I was looking for, lava.

Lava flow

It wasn't the fast moving lava you see on TV. A snail could have outrun this stuff. It was hot. I was breaking a sweat just standing near it. I did not succumb to sulfur fumes. I did not fall into a lava tube. I didn't a whole lot of things that they warn you about. Either, I am really lucky or it isn't that bad. I'm honestly not around lava enough to tell (so that probably puts me in the really lucky category), but the lava was moving slow and I had been hiking on the dried stuff for a few hours already that day without any issues. Where I hiked was also all old lava. I did get turned around a couple times in the woods, but I never walked on still warm lava. For the critics, that won't make it any better. For me, it made safe enough to try and entirely worth it. Next time, I'll take a friend and a headlamp. Next time, I also won't tear through my shirt, lose a wallet, and take home scrapes that I am still carrying two months later.

Kilauea caldera at sunrise.

Kilauea caldera when the sun is up.

After my lava adventure, I tried to head back to sleep but my mind wasn't having it. The sun was up and it was time to explore. I headed into Volcanoes National Park and up to the Kilauea Crater to watch sunrise and then down Chain of Craters road to the ocean. As you drive down to the water, you pass five old craters. I wonder how long it will be until the current one is an extinct vent. It is amazing that you can tell one eruption from another based on the color of the lava. I don't know if the different colors are based on color when it erupted or just time exposed to the elements. It is beautiful to see them beside each other and the ocean.

Striations of different lava flows.

Vegetation reclaiming the land from 30 year old lava flows.

Pu'u Loa Petroglyphs

Sea cliffs at end of Chain of Craters road

Holei sea arch

Lava tube

On the way out of the park, I stopped at a lava tube that you can hike in. I'm not sure what I expected, but that wasn't it. I expected something much smaller. You could have easily driven a large truck through it. Certainly neat, but I have trouble imagining that much lava pouring through there. Anyway, that was my whirlwind trip through Volcanoes National Park. Very, very worth it. Go. I wish I had more time to hike up to Mauna Loa. That will have to wait for next time.