Saturday, July 11, 2015

#1475 vacation recap day 7: all around the Big Island - Akaka Falls and Volcanoes NP

On the seventh day of our family vacation in Hawaii, we decided to see the other side of the Big Island: the tropical, wet, volcano side. We left Waikoloa around 7AM and headed north up onto the mountain and then we veered east toward Hilo. We went up through Waimea and the change from the Kohala area where we were staying was pretty immediate. Where it had been dry and sunny in Waikoloa the days we had been there, it rained off and on all day on the east side of the island.  Where it is dry and has lots of visible lava on the Kona side, the Hilo side is lush and green.

Check out how tall the trees are on either side of the road:

I mentioned this in the Hawaiian foodie Friday post, be we went through the town that has Tex Drive In and we stopped for malasadas. They are like a filled donut, but the donut part is much heavier, that is, the malasada is not light and fluffy. It's a sweet bread. Needless to say, I loved it. I love bread. Fried bread with sugar on it and filled with cream? Yes please.

After the malasada stop, we kept driving. I looked to my left and saw this:

I looked to my right and saw this:

I loved the bright orange flowers in the trees. Such a beautiful pop of color in all that green.

Soon enough we made the turn to Akaka Falls State Park. You pay a small fee to park ($5/car) and you're in. There are two waterfalls in the park that you can see from the very nice paved trail: Kahuna Falls and Akaka Falls. We chose to see them both since we were there and the loop trail didn't seem too strenuous for anyone in our group.

You walk through a beautiful rain forest to get to the falls. It wasn't raining as we were heading down the path, but it had been raining. The smell was unbelievable. I don't really have words to describe it except to say that the candles and air freshners that say they have a rainforest scent are lying.  The smell was fresh and light and soothing. It was a mixture of the smell of rain and of bamboo and eucalyptus. I stood on the trail, closed my eyes and took deep, deep breaths, hoping I could remember that wonderful smell and the peaceful sounds of the rainforest. It was pretty magical to me.

Here is a photo of some of our group walking down the trail in the rainforest:

Here's a pretty shot I took during the walk:

Kahuna Falls was kind of tucked away in the forest and I didn't get a really good photo of that waterfall. I headed up the trail to Akaka Falls.

These falls are just spectacular. The water falls over 400 feet into the pool at the bottom which is what feeds Kahuna Falls down below. All of us just stood at the fence and stared at the waterfall. Then we all took a bunch of photos of each other and asked another tourist to take a photo of the seven of us. Then it was time to head back up to the car. That's when it started raining. None of us had our rain jackets with us - the jackets were in the car, but it hadn't been raining when we headed into the rainforest. Silly us! We were all pretty soggy when we got to the car. It wasn't cold though. Just wet. We dried off pretty quickly.

We stopped briefly in Hilo to get some gas, but we didn't really see much of the town.

Our next stop was Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The park appears to be pretty good-sized, but we only went through a small part of it. We started at the vistor center where we learned that we would not be seeing any lava flow that day. The volunteer ranger told us that the lava was flowing into the rainforest in the heart of the park and the only way to see it was by air. Bummer. We had all been hoping to see the lava flowing into the ocean, but it wasn't meant to be. I guess the lava hasn't flowed into the ocean for a few years now. It changes, though.

There's an art gallery next to the Visitor's Center that is certainly worth a look. There is a lot of different types of art there from photos to carvings to stained glass to jewelry and even some furniture. I didn't buy anything because the thing I really wanted, a stained glass piece of a turtle, was over $300. Maybe another time :)

We walked across the road to Volcano House for our first view of the Kilauea caldera.

This photo isn't actually the first view we had. When we got there, it was very cloudy/foggy/misty, so we could just barely make out some smoke coming out of the caldera. We went into the gift shop to look for t-shirts and this is the photo above is the view we saw when we came out. We stood there for a long time taking it in. The caldera is huge and the crater that is smoking is just part of it.

Our next stop was the Jaggar Museum and overlook.  We were much closer to the Halema'uma'u crater there.

You can see that the sky cleared up a bit and we had a good view of the crater. At night you can see the orange glow from the lava party that is happening down there. We didn't stay until it was dark though.

After the overlook, we decided to go find the lava tube that you can walk through. We parked the car and took the trail through the rain forest along the caldera's edge. Awesome!

We walked down to the lava tube, but I couldn't go in it. That enclosed spaces thing got to me. I took a few steps in and sort of ran back out. I stood there and looked at it and watched people go in, then I walked back up the hill and waited for the family. The exit path out of the tube was a lot easier than the path getting down into the tube. The path was paved, but it was steep and kind of slippery because of the rain. The path through the rainforest along the caldera was not paved, but it was a very good trail.

At that point, we had a decision to make. Did we want to take the Crater Rim drive down to the ocean or just head out? It was around 1:30 in the afternoon and we had eaten nothing but malasadas and trail mix so we were getting hungry. We decided we were done with the park and we headed out toward the black sand beach at Punulu'u hoping to find food on the way.

We were not successful at finding food on the way, though. There probably are towns between Volcano and Punulu'u, but they are not on the road. You do not see McDonalds and gas stations all along the way. The road is just two lanes, one in each direction, and we didn't see a lot of other cars coming our way or following behind us.

We made it to the black sand beach and parked. It was very cloudy, not cold, but the surf there was pretty rough. It's not a beach I would like to hang out at, but I'm glad I got to see it. The sand is sharp because it is lava rock that has been broken down by the mighty Pacific Ocean. The guidebook said not to take any of the sand for a souvenir, but it sticks to your shoes and your legs anyway.

I wanted to see the black sand beach not only for the black sand, but because it is a place where turtles often go to rest. And guess what? There was a turtle there!

You can see it was very dark but it was only like 2:30 or 3 in the afternoon. It was just gloomy there. And there was no food. I pulled out the guidebook and found that they recommended a place to eat that was just down the road, the Hana Hou. I wrote about this place in the Hawaiian foodie Friday post. I liked it. The lady there was friendly and the food was good.

After that stop, we just headed back to Waikoloa. It took us a little over two hours to get back to the resort. We didn't stop again along the way because it does get dark early there and goats and donkeys roam the side of the road at lava fields. You gotta watch out for those little guys. I'd been hoping to stop at The Place of Refuge, but we were pretty much done being in the car and just ready to get back to the condos.

We got back to the resort just after 7PM, so it took us 12 hours to go around the island with some stops along the way, of course. It was a long day in the car, but I'm glad we got to see so much of the island and so many cool things.

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