From Honolulu Barbara and I flew to Hawai’i, also known as Big Island, the largest and youngest of the islands. It’s best known for its active volcano called Kilauea, but is a natural phenomenon in many perspectives. Four of the worlds five major climate zones (and eight of the thirteen sub categories) can be found on this 10km² spanning piece of volcanic rock. That is one reason it is important to choose the place you want to stay wisely. While Kona on the westside is comparatively dry, the island’s main city Hilo in the east is statistically the rainiest city in the US. We made Kailua-Kona our base for the island’s exploration. We rented a Jeep Wrangler with a removable top to get around, a good choice as the next lines will proof.
Kilauea, one of the volcanoes located in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the one responsible for the island’s continuous growth due to constant lava flows has been increasingly active in the months and weeks before our arrival. That’s why we booked a helicopter tour to get up close to Kilauea. Our pilot Kyle from Safari Tours Hilo was excellent and we got the two front row seats. Besides the fact that we have never seen anything like it before, it was also Barbara’s first helicopter flight and she loved it!
Seeing the actual lava in the crater, then flowing below the surface visible only through cracks and wholes and finally coming to a rest in the sea was a once in a lifetime experience.
On the way back from Hilo to Kona we decided to drive up the steep gravel road to Mauna Kea, with 4’207m the highest peak of Hawaii and himself an extinct volcano. Only 4WD vehicles are allowed and some warm clothing is recommended as the 35°C from the beach turn into 5°C at the top. Due to its location and the low light pollution, some of the worlds most powerful telescopes are located there. We stayed for the spectacular sunset and on the way down we gazed at the stars and the Milky Way.
The next day we started at Mauna Kea Beach. Its fine white sand and the cristal clear water make this a place we won’t forget anytime soon.
We relaxed there for a while and then headed across the island to Waipi’o Valley. An extremely steep and narrow road in bad conditions led us down into the valley to two waterfalls at the valley’s one end and a black sand beach at the other. Man was that a fun ride! Again a 4WD was mandatory and there is no way you could make it without one. At one point the four wheels were practically under water and the next moment we drove over steep steps of rocks. The black sand beach itself was a beautiful and unusual place.
In the evening we visited the Kekaha Kai State Park, basically a rocky road through a black lava desert. There is no wildlife nor special vegetation (at least we didn’t see any) but for sure that is one strange landscape.
On our last day on Big Island we made a scenic drive along the coast south of a small town called Captain Cook. In a few days the Ironman triathlon would take place here, which is why we saw hundreds of athletes cycling or running up and down the hills in preparation for the big day. I did a little snorkeling at one of the beaches and back in Kailua-Kona we made a new friend while having a beer.
Big Island is a very special place and it was well worth the visit. We hope our next island, Maui, also has something to show for.