I got up at 7 and felt like maybe I had already adjusted to the time change. Stephanie and her sunburn (which was substantial enough to constitute another entity) got up and we headed off down “Highway” 19 (highways in Hawaii are something entirely different than in the rest of the universe. They could conceivably term a cattle track a highway, from what I saw there.) We were in search of food, and soon discovered nothing was open, not even the coffeeshops. The whole town of Honaunau was without power. We finally found a grocery store in Oceanview, and bought fruit and snacks. In the midst of the lava-dust parking lot, they were hosting some kind of weird outdoor flea market thing, with fruits I’d never seen before.
old lava flows
The Kona Coast is all trees, ferns, flowers, and coffee farms. About 40 miles to the south, the lava fields begin. The first time I saw them, I wondered why all the earth was plowed up like that. It looked like a freshly-tilled field in Wisconsin, only with scrubby plants. The colors range from brown to grey to black. I thought it was what it must look like on the moon.
We drove through a cute little town with a classic car parade and a giant sea turtle painted on the roof of the main building, very close to the southernmost point in the US. We stopped to see a black-sand beach along the south coast of the Big Island; it was incredible. The sand is very gravelly and hard to walk on until you’re close to the water, and then it’s fine and powdery and warm from the sun. We climbed over lava flows and watched black and red crabs scrabbling over the rocks. I was really smart and wore flip-flops to do this. Also, we very quickly discovered that one cannot spend a single moment outside in Hawaii without sunscreen. Within 10 minutes, I could feel my nose burning.
We got to Volcanoes National Park, made the obligatory stop at the visitors’ center to pee and see if the rangers were hot, then set off for some hiking. We saw steam vents, which made walking around in the heat extremely unpleasant, and then the sulfur vents like one sees at Yellowstone.
offerings to pele
We saw the crater at a couple different overlooks, then spent time walking around the gravelly lava rock. I was fascinated by these piles of rocks I saw everywhere; at first I thought they were trail markers, but there were way too many. I still can’t figure out what they were about, but I fell in love with them.
We hiked up Devastation Trail to the other big crater, then toured the Thurston lava tube. The lava tube portion of the park was the first real rain-foresty environment I’d ever seen in my life. It was amazing.
thurston lava tube
By 2pm, we were exhausted from the hiking and not having much to eat. We decided to drive to Hilo, which was the opposite direction from our hotel, and the other “big” city on the island. It was probably the lack of food that made us extremely cranky, but we were immensely pissed off at Hilo. We couldn’t find the downtown. We could only locate fast food and Wal-Mart and a crappy mall. We drove in circles until finally the guidebook led us to the Hilo Bay Cafe, one I had originally chosen.
The food was excellent, and we were both reminded of Real Food Daily in L.A. at the exact same time. Our faith in Hilo was restored.
We asked our server girl if it would be faster to take the loop around the top of the island from Hilo back to Kona, becase it seemed it might be quicker that way (technically, there’s the Saddle Road that cuts across the middle of the island, but apparently it’s only passable half the time). She said it was a nicer drive to go that way, so we did. On the way out, we discovered the real downtown Hilo, and our faith was doubly-restored. It wasn’t the industrial, boring city I had read about at all. It had a cute little downtown, an awesome farmer’s market, and a natural foods store where I stocked up on healthy treats like a crazy person.
Eleven miles north of Hilo, we turned off to see Akaka Falls. The route led us through a tiny town of maybe six buildings, with a very cute cafe where we stopped for coffee. We drove up the hill through bamboo farms, then hiked in to Kahuna Falls, then Akaka Falls.
This was even more rainforest than it had been at the national park. I couldn’t get over it. Monstrous trees, ferns, and dangling vines everywhere. It was so humid it was painful to breathe. It had its own little local rainshower.
It seemed as if there were hundreds of birds singing in the trees, but I couldn’t get a glimpse of them at all. It was beautiful.
We drove up the coast over valleys, each with their own waterfall. Near Waimea, we took the exit and drove up to see the Waipio Valley, along the north coast. The travel guide warned us three times to not drive Captain Cook down into the valley, as he would likely never come out. Just the walk to the overlook was so steep I was worried about falling down the hill. We got to see the sun starting to set over the ocean.
We drove back to Kailua in the dark, which pretty much sucks on those Hawaiian “highways”. We decided to give in to the ridiculous touristy aura of the tiny main drag in Kona, which was all bars and restaurants on second-floor decks over ABC Stores and the like. We went to Lulu’s, because the book said they were offbeat and their servers had horrible attitudes; it screamed Luce to me. Of course, no place can ever be Luce but the real thing. The main lesson of the night was do not make eye contact with drunk guys at any cost!
But the nachos were awesome.