Monday, September 15 –
Today we had to wake up early for our flight to the Big Island of Hawaii – so named because it is the largest of the Hawaiian Islands. With an area of 4,028 square miles, the Big Island is larger than all of the other islands in the archipelago combined. It is also the largest island in the United States.
We left on Aloha Airlines from Kahului at around 8:15 a.m. for Hilo. We had to connect through Honolulu, so we didn’t arrive in Hilo until about 11:15 a.m. Hilo is the county seat and largest city on the island. It is also the wettest city in the nation.
Hawaii was the home island of Kamehameha the Great, the king who united most of the Hawaiian islands under his rule in 1795. He soon gave the name of Hawaii to his entire kingdom.
Another important person connected to Hawaii is one of the most prolific explorers of all time: English navigator Captain James Cook. After discovering the islands and first setting foot on Kauai, he set out to explore the other islands. He land on Hawaii in February 1779. According to historical stories, natives stole one of Cook’s longboats. When the English went to retrieve it, a battle took place and Cook was mortally wounded. A 27-foot-high white obelisk stands on the shore of Kealakekua Bay marking the spot where Captain Cook died.
Most of the Big Island’s economy revolves around tourism, especially in resort areas on the western coast of the island in the North Kona and South Kohala districts. Today the island has become a leader in sustainable tourism. It is also home of one of the most famous sporting events in the world every October: the relentless Ironman World Championships in Kona.
The Big Island’s economy also relies heavily on agriculture. Traditionally, sugarcane was the backbone of the economy for more than a century. But by 1996, the last plantation closed. Today’s significant crops include macadamia nuts, coffee beans, papaya, flowers and tropical vegetables. Kona Coffee is one of the most sought after blends in the world. The island’s orchid agriculture is the largest in the state.
The Island of Hawaii is built from five separate shield volcanoes, that over time, have erupted and overlapping each other. They include (from oldest to youngest): Kohala (extinct), Mauna Kea (dormant), Hualalai (active), Mauna Loa (active) and Kilauea (active).
Mauna Kea is the world’s highest mountain when measure from its undersea base of -19,000 feet to its summit at 13,796 feet. Interestingly, Mauna Kea – Hawaiian for ‘white mountain’ – receives snow for a few months in the winter that offers adventurers to ski almost 100 square miles of sugar corn like snow called pineapple powder. A 4-wheel drive vehicle serves as a “lift” because there are no lifts, no grooming, no resort. Skier take a road to the summit that serves astronomical observatories on the summit.
After picking up our rental car, we decide to do a helicopter tour above the south side of the island. Our Safari helicopter takes us on a journey to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We saw a lot of damage from lava flows from the air and the Pacific coast meeting up to steam lava flowing from Kilauea volcano. We saw some homes and a church that had been destroyed by the lava fields and cut off from roads. But the highlight though was flying over boiling Kilauea to see the lava bubbling below us. The volcano is the world’s most active and has been erupting continuously since 1983. Because Mauna Loa and Kilauea are active volcanoes, the island of Hawaii is still growing. Between January 1983 and September 2002, lava flows have added 543 acres to the island. Kilauea’s lava flows have destroyed several towns, including Kapoho in 1960, and Kalapana and Kaimu in 1990.
After the amazing tour, we landed back in Hilo. We visited Akaka Falls State Park, about 11 miles north of Hilo since it was one of the main sites in the Hilo area. We took some fabulous photos in front of the 422 foot tall waterfall. We stopped for lunch in Hilo at the famous Café 100 diner to try the traditional loco moco: a fantastically healthy meal of white rice, topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg and brown gravy. Not the most responsible meal, but great comfort food.
Then we drove towards the drier side of the island and entered Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We checked into our hotel, the ominously named Kilauea Lodge. We also ate dinner there. Because the dark lava rock and wide open plains of the park are very hot to walk on during the day, we decided to visit at night.
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park encompasses Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano, and Mauna Loa, the world’s most massive subaerial volcano. The park’s elevation rises from sea level to include the summit of Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet.
That evening, we drove to the park when it was cooler. We entered the main entrance from the Hawaii Belt Road. The Chain of Craters Road took us past several craters from historic eruptions to the coast. Before 1987, the coastal road continued to another an entrance near the town of Kalapana, but that portion is now covered by the Puu Oo lava flow up to 115 feet thick!
After driving the Chain of Craters Road, we parked with hundreds of other cars along near where the road ended – essentially where it was cut off by the Puu Oo lave flow. The flow originates from a cinder cone in the eastern rift zone of the Kīlauea volcano and began erupting 20 years earlier.
Because there were no lights, we took flashlights with us. We followed road reflectors glued to the hardened lava which marked the safe areas to walk. Heading off path could send you through the crust into a river of underground lava! Mom and Dad took a shorter walk, but we didn’t go all the way to the ocean ourselves. We stopped at a lava overlook where we could see small flows in the distance burning bright orange as they trickled towards the specific. The sulfur smelled like rotting eggs and the temperature was hot. Unfortunately, I dropped my watch in a crack of volcanic rock. I managed to get it out, but I cut my finger so that I embedded a small sliver of rock glass into it.
On the return, we met up in the car and drove back to our hotel.