Our final Big Island adventures.
We all woke early, during a brief spurt of sunshine and packed up camp. Then the rain started. We were planning the crater chain hike, but motivation was low. When we arrived, our interest dropped to zero upon discovering the trail required backcountry permit. We decided to wander aimlessly around the park instead, stopping at many of the less advertised stops.
I found it curios how the trails are setup on this island. I do not fully understand the draw to certain areas. Numerous trails led you to exposed lava rock, with no water, that would be radiating heat when sunny and completely lifeless without sun, and no grand vistas. Strange trails. Not that I am against hiking for hiking’s sake. But these trails are well established routes. I suppose my spoiled mainland life leaves me looking down on building trails where space is available instead of building trails where interesting nature happens. It would be incredibly challenging to live in a place where a year of weekend adventures could completely exhaust all hiking avenues. As a visitor it is fantastic, but as a resident, I would find these islands to eventually feel too small. I have always been a wanderer though.
We stopped at Mauna Ulu. I purchased a trail guide and regaled the group with its super neat back-history. Namely, the pamphlet detailed the timing, quantity, close call of life, changes to landscape, and lava tree formation of Mauna Ulu’s eruption between 1969-1974. It produced over 350 million cubic meters of lava! The flows covered approximately 44 square kilometers, and in some places the lava pooled almost 8 meters deep. Like the flickering of a flame, lava is even more tantalizing. I read once that in cultures where fire is used regularly as a tool, people generally stop revering fire once they have mastered how to create, maintain, and extinguish a flame, about the age of seven. But I don’t know if I completely agree, because I know how to do those things, and yet I find fire to be mesmerizing. And lava even more so. Maybe I need to gain a higher level of understanding about large fires to satiate that curiosity.
We also stopped at Devastation Trail. This path leads through a still recovering dense rain forest to the 1959 eruption site of Kilauea Iki crater in 1959. A fissure eruption that produced towering lava fountains, reaching almost 500 meters into the sky. Remnants remain today of Pele’s hair and Pele’s tears formed from the spurting lava. Today it was a cold and soggy cloud enclosed tunnel of trees.
Having exhausted the remaining places to visit, we headed for the visitor center and our final exit. The power was back and I wandered through the gift shop, collecting mementos. What a worthy place to visit. We even saw three nene while driving this morning. No photos, but every time I saw this Hawaiian native goose, I kept singing “now watch me whip, whip, now watch me nene.”
We drove back to Hilo, the rain continuing the rest of the day, clouds blanketing our views. We took one last jaunt through town, eating lunch at the boochery. I had a delectable roasted veggie sandwich on sourdough, with sweet potato salad, and beet booch mixed with super ginger tonic booch. Yum!
It seemed like every shop and store were closed from the weather. Everyone taking the day to curl up with a hot drink and book. Really it was just a Sunday, and Hilo seems to close down that day. Luckily the coffee shop was open, so we went for a second round of ice cream. I also bought a breakfast cookie! So excited! The ingredients are like my own dense cookie pucks. We waited out the rain a little while with a crossword. We pretty much killed it with four brains at work.
My sister and I dropped Libby and Jack off for their flight. They were able to catch an earlier flight. It was fantastic seeing them! We tried to give them all our leftover food and snacks to take home. I hope to visit again soon to continue exploring the other islands. Erika and I continued our drive. We thought we could gain some ground to shorten the remaining distance tomorrow. Our hope was to explore Kona a bit more.
We took several side trips. A highlight was the Ka’u coffee plantation. I learned that macadamia nuts were once named “donkey balls” by earlier voyageurs when they visited the islands. They let us explore the coffee drying area. They also claim to be the oldest plantation on Hawai’i island. I found it difficult to fact check that information. I am not much of a coffee drinker. Honestly it makes me feel anxious and sweaty. But they had samples out of all the different bean types and roasting options. It was pretty neat to actually try a variety and compare the flavors. I even felt motivated to buy my favorite flavor as a gift. Hopefully my untrained taste buds serve me well! The best part was samples of macadamia nut brittle! Delicious! This was a neat side trip.
The best side excursion was to Papakolea Beach, or the Green Sand Beach. It turned out to be a much longer distance than we had realized, both for the drive and the hike out. It was actually pretty eerie as we drove out. First we drove through a couple small communities, then the drive continues on this small paved road toward nothing, and you drive on that road for quite awhile with nothing around except pastureland. At the very end of South Point Road we turned into a sketchy parking area with just as many broken down and abandoned vehicles as seemingly not broken down vehicles. There were foundations of all these buildings that didn’t exist. Everything looked abandoned. Just a lone corner of the island at the end of an empty road, everything dusty and broken down. The perfect setting for every horror movie you have ever seen. There were just enough signs of life that we kept going, not really knowing where we were going or how far it was to get there. We parked and started walking. It turned out to only be about 3 miles out on a rugged path heavily abused by off-road vehicles. The erosion of the volcanic ash created a super fine powder that completely caked our legs. And we could see a storm coming in as we began the hike out. At first we stayed on the path closest to the coast and watched raging ocean waves crash against the jagged basalt. It was a peak at the raw coastlines we had not seen on the islands yet. There was an overwhelming abundance of sea debris: propeller blades, metal trap cages, fish netting, bottles, drift wood, everything. It was filthy. It is what the beaches would actually look like if the tourist areas weren’t maintained, collecting all the waste dumped into the ocean. This was more visceral and disgusting than any exhibit I have ever seen to bring awareness to ocean littering. I will leave this article if you want to read more about the problem of plastics in our oceans. Anyway, this is clearly a local hangout. So many beefed-up off-road vehicles were driving around and parked by the ocean, one of the few signs that this place isn’t really abandoned. We could see the olivine content increasing in the small sand pockets as we neared the beach, but I was not prepared for how amazing this was going to be. A whole beach composed almost entirely of olivine grains eroding out of the partially collapsed volcanic tuff ring. This is one of four beaches in the world with sand made almost entirely of olivine! Olivine is one of the first minerals to form as magma cools, and is common in Hawaiian volcanoes. The beach is mostly olivine because this ferrous iron (hence green) mineral is denser than the volcanic ash, which is washed out to sea. The surrounding rock is relatively stable, so the layers are preserving previous eruptions and lava flows. We climbed down these layers to the beach below. It was magnificent! I know my sister enjoyed it, how could she not, but I sorted of lost my mind at first geeking out over how spectacular this was. I remember pacing around the beach, checking the sand for the highest olivine abundance, and scurrying across the rocks to look at where the grains were eroding out from. I was geeking hard for geology. I am constantly reminded how I study the neatest science. After collecting myself, we hurried back to beat the encroaching storm and quickly fading light. We were rewarded with a beautiful sunset over of the pasture. We had to wash off in the ocean before getting back into the vehicle. We were both covered in thick, orange layers of volcanic ash. I cannot imagine driving over that slick powdery surface in the trailer vehicles that were giving people rides.
It was a dark drive back to the main road. We did not have a plan for where we would be able to camp. Somehow we were able to get in at a beach camp that must be mostly predominantly favored by locals. The night guard was surprised when we pulled out California ID’s after announcing our non-local status, which unfortunately resulted in a different camp cost, which we literally had to count out coins to come up with. Of course we didn’t have any more cash on the last night of our trip, haha! We set up the tent and snuck off for stealth showers at the outdoor beach area. It was scandalous but so worth it. There were feral cats, cockroaches, flat box bugs, ants, palm nuts falling all around us, and ten feet from pounding ocean. I think we both slept like babies. Our final night’s rest at the end of an incredible trip. Aloha Hawai’i, until next time.
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