Goth Panda

July 12, 2016

Traveling Pandas Tuesday – Big Island, Hawaii


January 9, 2015

Hawaii: Volcanoes, Helicopters, and Stargazing

The first thing I did this morning was to check the view of the volcano from Volcano House. It was clear and sunny, so the view was terrific.

Clear and sunny at the volcano this morning.

After breakfast, we went back to the Jagger Museum Lookout to get closer photos in the daylight, and to actually go into the museum. I was most interested in the display of volcanic glass, which Hawai’ians call Pele’s hair, and the webcam from inside the caldera. Also apparently Hawai’i is made up of five volcanoes – and a sixth is projected to eventually meet up with them, which will provide some new island real estate.


Volcano from the Jagger Museum Lookout

When we got back, we hiked to the bottom of our caldera, the one that Volcano House overlooks. We couldn’t go all the way, because part of the trail was closed due to toxic gases. We did make it to the bottom, though.

We hiked down to the bottom of our caldera, Halema'uma'u. This is the one Volcano House overlooks.

While hiking back up past steam vents, Mike changed his mind about taking a helicopter ride over the volcano. I’d suggested it earlier since there was no flowing lava we could see. Neither of us had ever been in a helicopter, and Mike is prone to motion sickness and wasn’t sure if he wanted to try it. When he changed his mind and said yes, I booked the tickets for that afternoon out of Hilo airport.

It turns out the helicopter ride didn’t make either of us sick, but it did make for some good photos of the volcano.

Top of the Volcano

Top of the Volcano

Top of the Volcano

Top of the Volcano

I’m not sure I will want to do another helicopter flight anytime soon, however.

After the helicopter flight, we drove around the Hilo area, stopping at a few scenic waterfalls, and then we had dinner in Hilo. After dinner, we headed up Mauna Kea for the Visitor Information Station, which has stargazing programs every night. Due to the elevation (9,300 ft.) and the mountain range that surrounds it and keeps back the clouds, Mauna Kea has clear skies almost every night. There are telescopes set up for public viewing, and the staff gives a “star tour” with a laser pointer. Once we got there, I had to change into long pants and a fleece sweatshirt since it was so much colder at that elevation. It was hard to get photos without a tripod, so we balanced our cameras on a rock wall outside the station.

Sunset at Mauna Kea Observatories

Sunset at Mauna Kea Observatories

The next day, we drove back to Kona for our flight to Honolulu for the second half of the trip: Waikiki. We waited for the flight at the open air Kona airport for longer than the flight actually took.

Aloha from Kona airport, where you check in, wait for your flight, and claim your bags in the open air.

October 6, 2014

Volcanoes National Park

It was sunny and clear when we woke up at Volcano House, so we were ready to hike. Before breakfast, I stopped to take a picture of the volcano.

It's sunny at the volcano this morning.

We walked across the street to the Visitors Center, and consulted with a park ranger about the hikes. He recommended we hike Kīlauea Iki in the morning, then stop at the Thurston Lava Tube, and finally to drive to the end of Chain of Craters Road, so that was what we did.

Hiking inside the "still steaming Kilauea Iki crater lava lake."

The volcano that Volcano House overlooks, Kīlauea, is one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and it has currently been erupting since 1983. The Iki in Kīlauea Iki refers to the eruption in 1959 that created the crater.

A view of the volcano from our hike this morning. I think that might be Volcano House on the right.

A view of the volcano from the rainforest trail. I think that is Volcano House on the right.

The trail descends from the rim of the crater through rainforest to the “still-steaming” crater floor, as it is described by the NPS, and they are not kidding. The crater floor is not dangerous, but you can feel the heat rising off of it and you can see steam escaping in other parts. The crater looks like a moonscape, and the black lava rocks glitter in the sunlight like crushed diamonds.

Flowers in the lava lake.

Flowers on the crater floor.

The Thurston Lava Tube was short but fun. A lava tube is basically a cave that lava used to flow through.

Hiking the Thurston Lava Tube.

On our way down Chain of Craters road, we came across a family of nēnē. These are native Hawaiian geese and they are endangered. We kept encountering caution signs while driving that said “Nēnē Crossing,” so we were delighted to actually see some. It was a small family: mom, dad, and three chicks crossing the road, but we didn’t have a chance to get photos.

As we drove down to the coast, the temperature rose into the 80s and I began to regret not bringing sunscreen. You have to leave your car and walk the final bit to get to the lava flow that covers the end of the road. We both ended up getting a little sunburnt walking to the lava and wandering around on top of it.

Lava Meets Road

Road closed at the end of Chain of Craters Road.


Lava Meets Road

The lava made crazy patterns and colors. Some parts it fanned out like a shell, or it was twisted and ropey. Some pieces had an iridescent, oily sheen, or ribbons of pink and purple color in the rock.

Lava Patterns

Lava Colors

Lava Colors

The lava ran right into the ocean, so we climbed over and sat looking down the lava cliffs into the waves crashing below.

Lava Cliffs

Waves and lava cliffs.

Waves and Lava Cliffs

Afterwards we drove out of the park for a late lunch in the nearby town of Volcano. Then we rested in the afternoon and had dinner again at Volcano House. After dinner, we drove to the Jaggar Museum for a closer view of the volcano.

Volcano Glow

October 3, 2014

Hawaii: The Big Island

Just a note that “Hawaii Day One” mostly refers to Day Two, since Day One of any trip to Hawaii is taken up by the long flight to get there. The first time I visited Hawaii was in 2002. We only went to Waikiki, and we took a direct flight. Ten long hours. Usually I am all about direct flights, but this time I decided to break it up by choosing a flight with a short layover in Phoenix each way. In the end, the layovers were too short. I forgot they board the plane half an hour ahead of the flight, so we barely had time to eat or pick up snacks between flights.

As soon as we landed in the Kona airport, I realized that my experience in Waikiki did not prepare me at all for the Big Island. I had been confidently telling Mike all about Hawaii based on my earlier trip, but I discovered that Waikiki and Honolulu are very different from anyplace else in Hawaii. We drove all around the Big Island while we were there. The biggest cities are no more than towns and the majority of it is rural. The tourism industry is concentrated around Kona on the western side of the island, which has better weather. The eastern half, centered around Hilo, we were informed gets rain approximately 360 days out of the year. We stayed at Volcano House in Volcanoes National Park, and it seemed to have its own ecosystem. It was at a high enough altitude that the weather stayed cool and the hotel didn’t even have air conditioning.

I was struck immediately by the undeveloped landscape, and as we drove along, by the contrast between the dark black volcanic rocks and the bright yellow grass on the side of the road. But I was also exhausted so we did not stop for photos. We got lunch at the Kona Brewing Company, and then we drove to Volcano House, checked in, and went to bed.

The lady next to us on the flight in from Phoenix was a Kona resident and she couldn’t believe we were going to drive the two hours to Volcano House after the flight. Later on other people said the same thing – you drove to Kona and back in one day? I thought it was funny that the locals made a big deal of what to me are fairly short distances. I make two-hour day trips all the time on the East Coast. Most days with traffic, it takes half an hour to get to the grocery store in New Jersey.

The first thing I had noticed upon getting out of the car at Volcano House was the pleasant scent of burning, like a campfire. But I realized later that it wasn’t a campfire, since there were no nearby campgrounds. It was the scent of volcano. But that first morning, and the night before, we weren’t able to see the volcano from the hotel because of mist, clouds, and rain. We weren’t sure what to do because of the weather, and we ended up driving back to Kona along the south end of the island.

It's rainy at the Volcano this morning. We are driving a little bit in search of sun.

We stopped at the black sand beach at Punalu’u. There was a sea turtle asleep in the designated sea turtle spot. As we watched, she slowly made her way to the water and dove in. It seemed to take so much effort. She must have been happy to get back to the water where movement was a million times easier.

Black sand beach at Punalu'u.

Green sea turtle at Punalu'u.

Black sand beach at Punalu'u.

We continued on the way to Kona, passing through a bunch of small towns and signs for coffee plantations. We stopped when we got to the resort area at Kailua-Kona, where we parked and walked down to the beach. It wasn’t raining, and the weather was 20 degrees hotter and more humid than at Volcano House. We had lunch at Huggo’s on the Rocks and then browsed around the touristy stores. Mike was looking for tiki figurines to give our friends back home, in the hope that one of them might be cursed like in the Brady Bunch episode. One of the employees at the coffee shop we stopped at recommended looking for them at the Farmer’s Market, so we went there, too.

Kailua-Kona farmers' market.

We drove back to Volcano House, and the weather had cleared so we could finally see it from the observation deck.

That rising plume of smoke is the volcano.

We had dinner in the Volcano House restaurant, and we scored a window table to watch the sun set and the volcano glow. We both ordered drinks to celebrate, and this was the beginning of a trend where I preferred whatever drink Mike ordered to the one I got myself.

Celebratory Hawaii drinks! Mai tai and Blue Hawaiian.

Mai tais, eh. Blue Hawaiians, yum!

Volcano glow!

Volcano glow