Our final Big Island adventures.

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.


Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Ka’u estate grown coffee. There were macadamia nut trees for miles!
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Coffee bean workshop at Ka’u Coffee.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Black sand beach! Sand made of crumbled bits of basalt.
This coastline was starkly different than the more touristy areas. Big crashing waves on jagged basalt with heaps and heaps of sea debris littered all along the coast. Fish nets, propellers, buoys, plastic bottles, metal traps, and so much more. Protect the ocean from trash, it’s important to the longevity of Earth’s largest ecosystems.
Incredible southern coast.
Olivine sand beach!
Green sand! It’s completely full of olivine!
Sunset over the pasture land.
Our last beach campsite.
Captain Cook bay
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Funny birds chilling on this truck and no where else in the parking lot.

For more photos you can follow me on Instagram @schemesinmotion

Lava viewing at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park!

Lava viewing at Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park!

After two extremely rest-filled nights, we woke early ready to go! We had to wait a bit for the desk staff to arrive so we could collect Jack’s work gear from behind the desk and our food from the kitchen. We re-packed the vehicle and left Hilo for Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park! While leaving Hilo we literally followed signs that said “volcano.” It was a couple hours of driving, and we saw a crazy wreck on the way with a car wrapped around a power line. It looked awful.

Once at the park, we stopped at the Visitor Center to collect maps and information. The power was out so I couldn’t buy souvenirs, and then a huge crowd of people appeared suddenly. We dashed away and went to the lava tube. The power was out, so people weren’t stopping. It was the biggest lava tube I have ever seen. Though I have only seen a handful in my life. I know they can be quite large and extremely long. It was neat walking in total darkness. And it would have felt completely empty if the maintenance team wasn’t shouting at each other trying to run backup power lines.

We decided to drive to the campsite and set up our tents. It is a first-come first-served site, and we had no idea how busy it would be this time of year. To my surprise, it was an extensive camp area. There are clearly a few designated sites with numbered posts, and then there is a whole region extending past that has equally nice camping. We grabbed a great little platformed site near the toiler and parking area. We were optimistic about good weather, but the platform was clearly designed for optimal rain drainage.

Next we stopped at some volcanic vents spewing out hot sulfurous gas. It wasn’t that interesting besides realizing that we were technically within the outermost crater walls. They have a nice path paving the whole crater perimeter. They apparently have a race around the crater each year. We walked up from a lookout to the Jagger Museum. It had the best crater overlook. A NP ranger told us not to take the route we had been planning to the ocean lava flow. She said the best lava access was from opposite side. Our route would have risked SO2 and lava rock dangers. Oops! I guess this is why it is so important to double check all backcountry plans with the appropriate authorities!

Before heading off for the long drive around, we drove down to Holei Arch at the end of the Chain of Craters Road. It is incredible to think about how young the lava cliff is compared to the crater above. The whole coast is literally building each day as the lava flows out into the ocean.

After thoroughly wandering the park, we headed off for the lava viewing. We had to drive back to the NP entrance and out toward Hilo, then dropped back down to the ocean on the east side of the park. This is technically private land, but the park has been acquiring portions as the lava flow migrates across. We hiked 4 miles out on a lava rock field. Then Erika, Libby, and I hiked out to the flowing lava. So bloody amazing!! Pahoehoe in action! Real flowing lava! I had close up access to lava when I hiked up Volcan de Pacaya in Guatemala, but I didn’t think we would be able to go so close to the real deal in a U.S. National Park! So neat how the cooling surface crackles as more molten lava flows below. It felt like we were ants walking across a giant brownie pan. I can understand their plight better than before. We were so small and insignificant compared to the crumbling surface of the lava field. After having our fill of close-up lava time, we headed back to Jack, waiting at the ocean lava flow viewing area. It was also amazing, but I wish we were much closer. The scale of 100 cubic km of flowing lava does not seem as mind boggling from a mile away. But that is truly a huge amount of lava. I know my description was brief, but this is something you have to experience to understand. It was of the neatest things I have ever done. I would happily return to spend more time wandering the lava field.

Late, dark, and tired, I drove us all the way back into HVNP. We stopped at the crater to see the glowing interior. We could see molten glow of lava below crater rim. Since the sky was still cloudy and rainy, the clouds really emphasized the red lava.

By then it was super late. I was cold and very tired of driving. We finished the haul back to camp, which felt like the longest four miles I have ever driven, and I went straight to bed. Surprisingly numerous tents had popped up while we were out exploring today. We were luckily there was still parking space available.


lave tube cave
Sister for scale.
Day shot of the crater seeping gases.
Modeling pahoehoe.
night views of the glowing crater
Feeling the heat!
Now watch me whip, whip, now watch me nene…
active lava!
Fresh ropey pahoehoe!
Holei Arch
Team sisters crater shot!
lava tube cave

Hilo is my new favorite place!

Hilo is my new favorite place!


After all the activity this week, we slept in this morning. I think this was my first night of continuous and solid sleep. I feel great! And clearly I really needed some rest. Plus it is nice to have a slow morning every once in a while.

Once we ate breakfast, Jack, my sister, and I went to Richards Beach to snorkel and look for sea turtles. Unfortunately we had no luck in actually seeing any sea turtles, but it was still great! We saw heaps of different fish and reefs with actual coral growth. For being in a protected bay that is avidly scoured by snorkelers, surfers, fisher people, etc., the reefs were in surprisingly good shape. After an hour of no luck, and the thermocline coming in, we rinsed off and continued our exploration of Hilo. Which turned out to be great timing because it began to rain off and on the rest of the day. Glad we caught the sunny window for ocean time this morning!

The rest of the day we spent exploring downtown Hilo. Super cute place! The buildings are all old, 1950’s era construction. We walked a big loop up and down the streets. Our first stop was in the Discovery Center. It was catered toward children, but I still learned about the various islands and atolls that make up the Hawaiian islands. I definitely want to do a live-aboard to dive at some of the northern territories. They also had an exhibit on beach debris that was quite disconcerting.

Very quickly my sister and I discovered that several stores carry these mumu jumpers things. Erika brought me a mumu from Guinea, and I have been in love with it, so we thought maybe these new things could be the next level of extreme comfort. Instead we learned that these things definitely should never have been created. Or I need to be 6 feet tall with a skeletal body. Anyway, hard pass. It was funny trying on the various styles and laughing at how ridiculous I looked.

We then stopped for ice cream. Chocolate hazelnut and ginger double scoop. So good! I think I mentioned that Jack and Libby love ice cream more than I do somehow, so it was an easy sell for 11am in the morning. We then found this bakery with fresh amazing deliciousness. I bought cinnamon roll for tomorrow’s breaky and a fresh veggie pizza to eat right then as lunch. I wanted to eat literally everything in the shop. It smelled so amazing! The guys working were also super nice. They too wanted me to buy everything. Haha!

Our next jaunt was into Good Earth Sandals, working the minimalist leather sandal with leather straps. It was a neat new business. Minimalist sandals are definitely the rage these days. And a really cool guy working who does all the leather work. He told us about a trip he went on into Waimanu Valley for ten days, eating foraged tree fruits. And when he came out and wound up in Hilo, he met a man named Kevin wearing these awesome sandals. He only wanted material but instead ended up with a job setting up this store with Kevin. Nice store. Great design. And they clearly want to expand. I will admit these are much nicer than the leather Luna sandals. I wear Lunas everyday. But their leather versions sucks. These sandals looked great and still have the quality functionality of minimalist shoes. Erika bought a pair. She finally undermined her Lunas while we hiked Waimanu Valley, so seems like an ideal coincidence.

Hilo was treating us well, and our next stop was at a chocolate shop. They grow their own cacao, pineapple, other fruits, and buy honey and macadamia nuts locally, and make excellent chocolate products! Not surprisingly, they were also amicable to our wandering in. I chatted with the main guy about climbing prospects in Hawaii and Erika asked after their orchard practices. And of course, we bought some goodies!

Next up, we checked out the Mehana Brewing Company. It was pretty awesome. We were the only ones there for a bit and the woman working was providing generous portions on our flight series. After working our way through the offerings, we bought our favorites for the road. Next up was the Big Island Booch Kombucha at the Conscious Culture Cafe. We basically loitered there the rest of the afternoon, sampling through all their offerings, until it was time to collect Libby from the airport. After a relatively quiet day, we headed back to Arnott’s and played some cards before heading to bed. What a delightful day!


Richardson Ocean Park
Good Earth Sandals
Richardson Ocean Park
Richardson Ocean Park
My awesome sister getting some new shoes at Good Earth Sandals
Erika and Jack appreciating the view up at Mauna Kea from the beach
Big Island Booch Kombucha
Papa’a Palaoa Bakery

Double summit: Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.

Double summit: Mauna Loa, largest mountain on Earth, and Mauna Kea, highest point on Hawai’i.

Hiking up yesterday took longer than we thought, so we did not reach the summit proper until this morning. Mauna Loa, largest mountain in world. Bigger than Everest! The volcano begins at the ocean bottom and rises to 13,679 feet (7,079 ft prominence). We traversed 5 miles around crater rim to reach the summit proper. Definitely worth the effort! By far one of the neatest accomplishments I have pursued. I was on top of the world, and felt like I was transported to Mars. What a crazy crazy terrain.

After reveling in the moment, we left the summit and hiked back down to vehicle parked at the observatory. We hiked 6.2 miles up 2,291 feet of gain to the summit cabin and 11.6 miles today (which still had 762 feet of gain, despite climbing down). Fortunately, I learned from the mistakes of Waimanu Valley and brought my phone battery to map our route!

On the return route we had better views of the more recent lava flows and a view over the Mauna Loa Observatory. Once back to the vehicle we drove back down the winding lava road, crossed the highway, then drove straight up the side of Mauna Kea.

Mauna Kea is the highest peak on Hawai’i (and the Big Island, obviously). We drove almost to that highest point. Mauna Kea is the location of 13 (soon to be 14) giant telescopes. So there is a paved road all the way to the top, except for an odd four miles right after the visitor center, which seems quite odd.

The true summit is 13,803 feet. Due to cultural and historical significances, we did not finish hiking to the summit. Others may violate that request, but I feel morally ok in claiming the Hawaii high point by standing just off from the true summit. Almost instantly after reaching the top we were enveloped in clouds. And while up there we drove to Keck Observatory but didn’t go in. So many telescopes!

It was barely after lunch and we had completed both volcano summits. Afterward we drove to Hilo and checked in at Arnott’s Lodge (seriously a hiker haven if I have ever experienced one!). There is camping in the plush lawn, enforced quiet hours at night, a large sitting area with tables and copious electrical outlets, and access to kitchen, laundry, showers with soap, coffee, and toilets. It was awesome!

Anyways, we showered and repacked the car. Then drove to bus stop to pick up Jack. The three of us went to store and then hung out at Arnott’s eating chips with guacamole and two soups mixed together and eaten like a dip. We drank beer, chatted, and went to bed.

Check out my Instagram for more photos and videos @schemesinmotion

Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Mauna Loa Summit Cabin


USGS marker
Trekking on a’a
Mauna Loa crater.
Mauna Kea summit proper. You can see the sign requesting people to respectfully go no further.
Me with the true summit as the clouds rolled in.
So many telescopes!
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Looking out from Keck Telescope

Sleeping on Mauna Loa, the largest mountain in the world!

Sleeping on Mauna Loa, the largest mountain on Earth!

We again woke early before sunrise. And it was definitely a better sunrise than sunset! To beat the heat for the climbs back out, and head off to our Mauna Loa summit, we set off quickly. Made great timing! Unfortunately I forgot my battery cable so wasn’t able to map the hike profile, but should be about 9.5 mile hike in yesterday and a 9.5 mile hike outthink morning. We arrived back to the lookout by 11 AM.

The local man watching the valley entrance was impressed we came out so early. Though we also had comments that our packs were really small. I am sporting my new Mountain Laurel Designs 38L Burn pack in the wasabi color, and my sister is sorting my old MLD 45L Exodus pack in the gray color. I haven’t really used my new pack extensively since it arrived in the mail, so I am excited to give it a variety of outings on this trip!

We hit the road and drove toward the island interior, to the high saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. The trailhead required a drive up this eerie single lane road to the Mauna Loa Observatory. Saw three adult mountain goats shedding their coats and one tiny baby black goat. It felt like we were leaving Earth on the winding and climbing road impossibly built into the a’a lava fields. The road climbs to just above 11,000 feet and we drove right up into a cloud. It was so calm and quiet with no one around. We were the lone vehicle in the parking area and the Observatory looked empty, despite it being just before 3 PM.

My sister and I set out on our hike up to Mauna Loa at 3pm. Later than we wanted, so we went straight to the Mauna Loa Cabin. Which is right on the crater rim opposite the mountain’s high point. Took longer than we thought. Lava rock hiking is no small feat, especially at 13,000 feet.

This hike was a geology wonderland! I felt instantly transported to Mars. A lifeless, desolate terrain devoid of motion except for the volcanic signature. Not even wind was overly effective at modifying the landscape. Some terms:

a’a = stony rough lava, burn, blaze. This is a rough, or rubble lava surface composed of broken lava blocks called clinker. The clinkers surface actually covers a dense massive core where the flow is active.

pahoehoe = smooth unbroken lava. This is a smooth, billowy, or ropy surface from the flow of very fluid lava under the congealing surface crust.

lava tube = Forms when lava cools at the surface, forming an insulating crust, allowing the more fluid lava to flow underneath. Over time the flow forms a tunnel-like conduit which eventually drains, leaving the empty and open tunnel behind.

crater = A circular depression in the ground formed by the subsidence of volcanic material as gases vent out and magma chambers empty.

Our hike up a mostly a’a trail was 5.9 miles up 2,100 feet to above 13,000 feet. Considering we started our day hiking out 9.5 miles from Waimanu Valley at sea level, we were kicking ass!

We made it to the cabin with some sunlight to spare. Mauna Loa Summit Cabin is a great cabin! I did not know what to expect. There were 12 bunks, a composting toilet, and rainwater catchment. We had phenomenal views over the main crater, Mukuaweoweo Caldero. In the fading light we could see a tiny lone release of gas from the rift zone cutting across the crater. No lava action today, but the rift zone is created from magma pushing up from below and pulling the rift apart.

What a great sunset! We are definitely on Mars. The air became instantly freezing once sun left horizon. The wind began to blow. But the rocks continued to radiate heat from the sun’s rays. The stars seems particularly bright and beautiful, but the bright full moon quickly diminished their twinkle. We met two other hikers at the cabin who came up from the Red Hill cabin the previous night on the Mauna Loa Trail.

Despite hiking up out of a cloud at the parking lot, the sky that night was particularly clear and crisp. We had stunning views of the Milky Way. I tried to find the Scorpio constellation that night. In Hawaiian culture it is known as Maui’s fishhook, called Ka Maka. We couldn’t see it. Nonetheless I began singing Moana songs in my head the rest of the night. “…Open yours eyes, let’s begin. Yes, it’s really me, it’s Maui, breathe it in. I know it’s a lot: the hair, the bod, when you are staring at a demi-god.” I really want to re-watch that movie now.


Check out more photos and videos on Instagram @schemesinmotion

Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Hybrid mouflon sheep. See the baby hiding behind the front mouflon?
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Sister selfie!
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Trekking up a volcano! #sistervacation
Mauna Loa Summit Cabin. Sitting above the clouds.
Cooking in the dark inside Mauna Loa Summit Cabin
Collapsed a’a lava tube
Mauna Loa crater filled with super smooth, glassy lava.
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Lua Manu pit crater.

Waipi’o and Waimanu Valleys trek to exclusive black sand beach.

Waipi’o and Waimanu Valleys trek to exclusive black sand beach.

We woke early and caught a beautiful sunrise over Hualālai volcano. Finished last minute errands around Kona then headed up coast to Waimea. Kona is an incredibly dry region of the island, but the island suddenly became lush and alive as we drove through Waimea. Hawai’i has 4 out of the 5 major climate zones (missing the continental climate, which occurs in places like Fairbanks, Alaska, and Fargo, North Dakota) and 8 of the 13 sub-zones: continuously wet (humid tropical climate), monsoon (humid tropical climate), dry (humid tropical climate), dry arid (dry climate), dry semi-arid (dry climate), summer dry (temperate climate), continuously wet (temperate climate), and polar tundra (polar climate), What is not found includes: winter dry (continental), winter dry (temperate), summer dry (continental), continuously wet (continental), and polar ice caps (polar). Waimea sits in the continuously wet – temperate climate, but the Waipi’o and Waimanu Valleys are a continuously wet – humid tropical climate region. The tropical forest I loved only occurs in the valleys on this side of the island.

We started our hike from the Waipi’o Valley Lookout. This place is amazing but Waimanu Valley on the far side was even better. From the lookout, we could just make out the zig-zag trail leading up the far valley wall. Today, families in Waipi’o Valley continue the tradition of their forefathers by planting taro, a type of root vegetable, and producing poi, a Polynesian staple food from mashing up the cooked tuber or corm of the taro.

After hiking down the steep road, we crossed the river to begin the Muliwai Trail to Waimanu Valley. This is one of the least developed regions of Hawai’i island. There are a series of valleys running from Waipi’o the north to Pololu in the west. They formed from volcanic faulting and subsequent stream erosion from when sea level was up to 1000 feet lower than today. The current valley floors formed at a modern sea level, creating flat and fertile grounds.

I sported my hiking dress and new MLD Burn pack for this trip. I am so excited to push my UL strategies to pack smaller and lighter. I have big thru-hiking plans for the future, so I plan to hone in my gear over the next couple years of short excursions. Saw several semi-wild horses in Waipi’o Valley. Both Waipi’o and Waimanu Valleys supported large Hawaiian populations. These remain important cultural sites and location of sacred burial grounds. It was an incredible experience to pass through these valleys.

After hiking down, up, across, and back down into Waimanu Valley, there was a final river crossing to an immaculate, black sand beach almost empty save for ourselves. I don’t know if it is due to the large influx of fresh river water and/or the complete lack of carbonates, but this was one of the nicest beaches I have ever been to. I bathed in ocean water and actually felt clean! The only downside was having but a single night in this paradise. Waimanu Valley is well worth the 9.5 miles of descending 1,200 feet into Waipi’o Valley, fording Wailoa stream, ascending 1,200 feet up the Waipi’o Valley wall, traversing across 12 smaller gulches, and finally descending on steep switch-backs into Waimanu Valley. I could have stayed for days, foraging fruit from the trees, forgetting the worries of life.

That night was hot! We slept without the rain fly, but still in the tent for bug prevention. It was a beautiful starry night and brilliantly bright moon. I seriously felt like sun was shining as the moon came right up the middle of the valley, peering down on us in the night.

My sister and I met nice local guy who told us about a good water source. He called it a spring, but it was more like a waterfall with a pipe fixed into it for safer access. Still, great to have extra water. We had packed in a bunch, heading warnings to not drink the valley water due to all the agriculture drainage. So it was awesome that we had extra water for tea before bed!

We celebrated the beautiful day, kickass hike in, and secluded beach setting with IPA beer and avocado chips that I packed in (and then packed out the remaining rubbish for. Please, people, LNT – Leave No Trace – at all times!).

Kona was dry and brown. Waimea was a green valley microniche. Felt like we hiked through completely different biomes. Hot, tropical beach down into Waipi’o, climbed up loose non-deciduous leaf litter, hiked across dry pine needle forest, then palm forest with passion fruit and avocado trees, down into Waimanu Valley on slippery palm blades with their razor edges, and back into tropical beach land. Cliff faces lined with waterfalls. So much lush greenery. Wild-ish horses in Waipi’o Valley. Felt like we were the only humans alive in Waimanu Valley.

The forests are mostly non-native. The ridge tops were planted in the 1930’s, but along the Waimanu rim is a native forest section of ‘ohi’a-kopiko-lama (Metrosideros-Psychotria-Diospyroa) and the understory supports Cibotium tree ferns (hapu’u) and Clermontia fleshy fruit-bearing shrubs (oha’wai). This was definitely a nook of lush, green life.

We couldn’t see the sunset, but watched the sky darken and colors streak by. We were both ready for an early night to bed.


Check out my Instagram (@schemesinmotion) for more photos and videos!

Aloha Kona, Hawai’i Island, and night diving with Manta rays!

Aloha Kona, Hawai’i Island, and night diving with Manta rays!



After the busy weekend, I slept in, showered, packed up, and then Jack took me to airport. I had an easy flight over to Hawai’i island (aka Big Island). Intra-island flights are like flying out of Hays, KS; small, fast, no hassle. My favorite flight situation. I met my sister at the Kona airport, we took a shuttle to pick up the rental car from Progressive, and went exploring for food, supplies, and seeing Kona. Target is apparently the place to shop! They have a great camping food selection, and are the only place with fuel for JetBoil stoves. Since Sports Authority closed down, Hawai’i island no longer has a commercial sporting goods store.

Anyway, after all the wandering around, I was left wondering if we missed the main Kona areas. This city seemed really disjointed. There were a lot of big box stores but I didn’t really see houses or places residents would be. It was strange. But glad we were able to grab everything to set out for the week!

That evening we headed to the pier for Kona Honu Diving! They took us out and let us snorkel with the setting sun. Then we geared up for night diving with Manta rays!!! So amazing!!!! We saw 13 in total, but they kept swimming back so it felt like way more. Our incredible hungry visitors at Manta Heaven (81°35′) were: Who, Ray, Eli, Kai Zed, Amanda, Regan, Bertha, Doug, Lee, Linda, Jordan, Ralph, Winona, and Shirley. Apparently they get their names by whomever first identifies them as a new manta not documented previously.

Manta rays have a flattened, diamond-shaped body with cephalic horns for feeding. They are primarily gray and black on top (dorsal side) and mostly white on the bottom (ventral side). The patches of black pigmentation on their bottoms are unique to each Manta ray, and thus are used to identify individuals. Manta rays are pelagic, meaning they live in open waters (here as coastal dwellers, with a 90 mile range, 30 miles up and down the coast and about 3 miles out from the coast) and do not live at the shore nor the ocean bottom, and they are filter feeders, eating large quantities of plankton while they swim through the waters. The Manta rays in Hawai’i can range up to 16 feet across, fin tip to fin tip. What incredible creatures!

As the dive went on, we were one of the final groups remaining. Our company let us stay the full hour. The Manta rays come because the “torch” of lights attract plankton. As other groups’ lights went out, the mantas began swooping closer and closer to our lights. A couple times one came so close it knocked my head and hands even though I was laying on my back with rocks on fins to keep me as low and still as possible. I felt so small next these agile and graceful creatures.

Their diet of zooplankton consists of copepods, fish eggs, mysid shrimp, and crab larva. They have to eat about 5% of their body weight each day, and these weigh an average of 1,500 lbs! You can see the gill slits on the bottom, gill arches and rakers when they open their mouth toward you, and they use the front cephalic fins to channel plankton into their mouths when unfolded. They frequently do back rolls while feeding and that is typically the only time they are willing to let humans be so close to them. Based on that, Manta rays are basically constantly searching for food.

The oldest recorded Manta ray is Lefty, first documented in 1979, causing scientists to predict Manta rays can live between 50 to 100 years. It is mind boggling how little humans know about so many marine creatures.

I would love to come back to Hawai’i and spend several days diving from a live-aboard in the northern islands. That would be amazing!

After we begrudgingly surfaced to head back to land, I stole my last few looks. I took my waterproof camera and hope the footage turns out! On the ride back we showered on boat, drank hot chocolate, ate snacks, and chatted with the friendly crew. It was a phenomenal time! So glad we decided to add this last minute. I can’t believe I was going to pass it up. They offer a “black water” dive too, where you are tied on a line 60 feet down and organisms come up from the deep lightless waters below. I would love to see a squid, with eyes the size of saucers!

We slept that night in the car in the parking lot. One of the dive leaders told us it was ok. We knew we wouldn’t have a campsite tonight. They all closed by 9pm, or earlier. Diving seemed worth one night in the car, and it was! I would do it all again! It was hot and sticky but we made do. No one bothered us and we were one of the last boats to return, so there weren’t many people around anyway. We stayed up by the boats since the beach area seemed to have a small gathering going on that night.

Check out more photos and videos on Instagram @schemesinmotion

sunset snorkeling with my sister!
Buying camping food. Mmm mmm, unicorn meat!
Boat ride out to Manta Heaven for night diving!
Night diving with Manta rays through Kona Honu diving.
Phenomenal creature! Check out my Insta (@schemesinmotion) for videos from the dive!
Heading to the “torch” area.
Sunset at Manta Heaven dive site.

Remember Pearl Harbor 

Remember Pearl Harbor


Today was my last day on O’ahu, and we headed to Pearl Harbor for the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument. This monument makes up three monuments in Hawai’i, California, and Alaska. It is run by the National Park Service.

On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the US Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor, claiming 2,388 military and civilian lives, 21 vessels, and 170 planes. As well as triggering the US involvement into WWII. The Japanese force sailed undetected for 4,000 miles and accomplished a complete surprise attach, and pulling the U.S. into the deadliest, most globally extensive war in history.

Of the 21 vessels, all were eventually recovered and repaired for further duty except three vessels: the USS Arizona, Utah, and Oklahoma. In less than 9 minutes the USS Arizona sank with 1,177 crew members after the ship exploded during the First Wave. After more than seven decades resting in the shallow waters, the ship is estimated to still contain about 400,000 gallons of petrol of the original 1.5 million gallons the ship would have contained when struck. About 2 gallons of petrol leak out each day. The USS Arizona burned for three days after the attack. The USS Oklahoma honors 429 sailors who died when the ship capsized. And the USS Utah commemorates its 58 dead. The monument is also home to the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum.

I have to mention this, because it is important to remember all aspects of war. I thought the Pearl Harbor Historic Sites were preserved in the best taste. A true memorial to the lives lost, the honor and valor displayed, a humble place to stand. They included a lot of history, gave voices to those lost. But I wish more was said about how Pearl Harbor ignited a horrendous response of fear and hatred towards American citizens of Japanese ancestry. Japanese-American internment is an often looked-over consequence of WWII in American history. Over 120,000 people, men, women, and children, were forced into incarceration camps without due process, all their belongings, businesses, and assets confiscated. This was a matter of extreme racism. About one-third of the population of Hawai’i was of Japanese ancestry, some 200,000 people, and about 1,500 of those residents were forced into internment. In the mainland U.S., nearly every single person of Japanese ancestry was relocated from their West Coast homes. Let’s not forget how easily fear and hate caused our country to reflect atrocities taking place in Europe at the same time. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” George Santayana.

After that somber and historical visit, we went downtown and walked among all the historic and government buildings. We stumbled upon the 11th annual celebration for the 179th birthday of Queen Lili’uokalani at the ‘Iolani Palace Grounds. We caught the Ku’uipo Kumukahi, the Hawaiian Music Hall Serenaders, and Halau Hawai’i performing. We gathered fishings for a sushi supper, my last O’ahu feast.

My last night on O’ahu. I have had a great time visiting Jack and Libby! I look forward to more trips in the future to the other islands so I can return and explore other parts of O’ahu. Three things for sure on that list are: 1) hike up Ka’ala, the highest peak on O’ahu; 2) visit the USS Missouri Museum on Ford Island; and 3) hike to Ka’au Crater.

After wandering around “Town,” as Honolulu is referred to, we stopped by a few markets for sushi ingredients. We made our own rolls for supper and enjoyed them on the balcony. We played cards into the evening and ate cookies with ice cream for dessert. My last supper and last evening in Honolulu. The past few days have been a blast, and I can’t wait to head over to Hawai’i Island, or Big Island tomorrow morning.


Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
USS Arizona
Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Wall of all the names
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Oil continue to seep from the USS Arizona
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Recovered from the USS Arizona.
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USS Bowfin.
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Conning tower from a submarine.
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‘Iolani Palace
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Honolulu Supreme Court
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View from Jack and Libby’s balcony.

Exploring the eastern coastline of O’ahu

Exploring the eastern coastline of O’ahu


Today Jack and Libby took me on a tour up the eastern coastline of O’ahu. While planning this trip, Jack was originally out of town this first weekend and with Libby starting a new job, I thought I would be excluded to Honolulu for foot distances. So I didn’t really plan anything major to do or see. So it was particularly awesome getting the Jack and Libby tour around to the North Shore!

First we stopped at Makapu’u Beach, with Koko Crater looming above and the Makapu’u Lighthouse peaking out. It was a scene out of a movie. The sand was stunningly bright white, the water every shade of turquoise, and there were even hang gliders and paragliders drifting through the sky above us. We stopped to catch some waves, soak up some sun, and people watch. The tide was coming in and started breaking right on the beach, and two sea lions swam up to play just off the beach in the breaking waves. It was so neat! And then there was this older couple who set there stuff down right in the impending surf zone, and it was cute watching them. The man had all white hair and big giant chops. He was standing in the break zone and getting taken out by the waves. He would just stand up and restake his footing for the next one. He looked so happy, with the biggest smile on his face, each time he came back out of the water. And then occasionally he would stand back by his wife and they would hold hands and watch the waves. If only they had figured out their stuff was going to be repeatedly soaked as they kept moving back little by little but never out of the surf zone. I almost wanted to walk over and tell them, but you would think the ever increasing waves and fact that the high tide wash zone is lower than the first sand barrier would have been fairly obvious. I still really enjoyed watching them frolic. After feeling thoroughly baked, we continued up the coast.

Just along Waimanalo are the steep spiring cliff-peak ridge-lines from the Ko’olau Range. We were on the windward side of the island where there is more rain and moisture. So the valley by Waimanalo is a luscious green. No wonder several scenes from Jurassic Park were shot here! It is also supposed to have great horseback riding. Maybe on another trip…

Next we drove into Kailua  for a Kailua Beach drive by. We were really aiming for Lanikai, a small neighbor town. Libby and I took a quick hike up Pillbox vista to look out over Kailua Beach and the Mokulua Islands, as well as up the ridge line to Mt. Olomana. We stopped at a Thai restaurant in Kailua for lunch and made a Target run for road snacks.

The next portion was mostly driving. We stopped near Kane’ohe at the Byodo-In Temple. We didn’t go in but went up to the cemetery behind the temple. It was a phenomenal manicured area with extravagant gravestones and mausoleums. There was a decorative fountain with big crazy plants that were little walkways to various tombstones. We drove to the very top where there were stunning views out at the bay. Incredible piece of reality.

We took a side trip and scoped out the LDS Temple in La’ie, where Jack and Libby had a crazy experience previously. Then drove to Kahuku and bought food at a food truck dining center market area. Everything smelled great, but Aunty’s Lil Green Shop looked like the right ticket. I got a Southwest veggie salad rice bowl and home brewed lemon-ginger kombucha. There is a sugar mill and enormous Polynesian Cultural Center nearby. Maybe I will visit on a future trip.

After grabbing supper snacks, we finally arrived at our final destination, Sunset Beach on the North Shore, to watch the most magnificent sunset. I know I love the changing colors of clouds as the sun sets, but this beach is aptly named! I don’t know when I saw such a stunning beach sunset. We were at the perfect spot, technically Rocky Beach, were the sun would shine through the waves and light them up like fire with the cloud streaked rainbow growing across the sky. A group of guys showed up right as the sun became its most beautiful form and they provided nice scale on the water with that glorious sunset backdrop. We met one of the guys surfing, he broke his brand new board and came out and sat by us while his two friends finished. He seemed really nice. Once the sky was dark, it was time to drive back via the island interior, a much faster route than we drove up.

We were all pretty tired after a day of sun and driving, so it was straight to bed when we returned.

Plant sightings of note. Plumeria, a genera of flowering plants in the dogbane family Apocynaceae. It has a sweet fragrance and vibrant colors, though I love the white ones best, and it is clearly an iconic Hawaii flower for lei strands. Also two types of ginger: Hawaiian Red Ginger (Pua ‘Awapuhi refers to the stunning blossom). We saw these for sale in abundance at the cemetery near Kane-ohe. It is apparently a popular blossom to put on gravestones. Another name used is “jungle queen.” Hawaiian royalty would wear leis of red ginger at ceremonies. The other is the White Butterfly Ginger. The blossoms are clusters of pure white, butterfly-like, fragrant blooms atop stocky lush stems. I saw as we left The Rockies (i.e. Sunset Beach) tonight. I could smell it and leaned in, not knowing the stamen stuck out so far, and literally got flower pollen up my nose.

I also learned some important language details. “Mauka” mean toward the mountains, and “makai” means toward the sea. People will use those when giving directions instead of cardinal terms. “Kai” means “sea,” which explains why I thought every area along Waikiki Beach had the same name, the signs were referring to beach access points.


Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Catching some sun!
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Jack and Libby pondering the setting sun.
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Most beautiful bay I have ever seen. Makapu’u Beach is idyllic.
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View of Lanikai from the Pillbox hike.
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Cemetery grounds behind Byodo-In Temple.
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Jack and Libby at Makapu’u Beach.
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Sunset Beach definitely delivers!
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Post sunset colors streaking across the sky.

Aloha Honolulu, O’ahu!

Aloha Honolulu, O’ahu!


Today was non-stop! I woke up at 5AM feeling spry and ready for the day. I forced myself to stay in bed until 6AM, but I never fell back to sleep. I sat on the balcony for a while watching the day begin. People were in the community garden below. It was raining, and instantly I could see umbrellas pop up in the streets. And then I saw a rainbow, floating above the city, a Hawai’i icon. It was the perfect start to my day.

Since I woke early, I was extremely hungry. Or maybe I woke up from hunger. Regardless, my first priority was to quest for breakfast. Thinking Google Maps was the way to go, I wandered away from the apartment toward the only area that had early breakfast. Unfortunately I was duped into the same trap every tourist likely stumbles into. I was led right to the heart of tourist capital and hotel land by Waikiki Beach. It was madness and bodies everywhere. I did eventually find a quiet place to stuff my face. It looked like an entrance to a surf board shop, but maybe that’s why they weren’t crowded. The food was delicious anyway.

After eating, I walked along Waikiki Beach toward Diamond Head Crater. Despite being morning, everywhere was packed with sunscreened beach goers. But it worked out because I am shockingly pale considering I live in Southern California. So I too was equally slathered with the highest of SPF’s. Despite the magnitude of bodies, I loved Waikiki Beach. There is a reason people come here, it is marvelous. The perfectly white sand feels soft as it squeezes between your toes, and on closer inspection it is predominantly made up of calcareous, reef-derived material. I loved how many perfect tiny skeletons of foraminifera, echinoderm spines, bryozoans, and mollusk fragments there were. Additionally, there were lesser amounts of medium sand-sized fragments of coral, coralline algae, and calcareous green algae. These well sorted, clean sandy beaches are my favorites too! It also afforded great people watching and the occasional dip into the warm Pacific waters. And to my delight, I was watching the tide build from low tide, so the waves were crashing around the swim barriers in the most spray-filled ways. Sometimes I think I should have been a water scientist because it is a mesmerizing compound.

At the far end of Waikiki Beach sits Diamond Head, or Le’ahi, a state monument. It sits prominently at the far edge of Waikiki’s coastline. It’s the full package for a tiny island; hiking trails, military history, and stunning views of the coastline. It is also super interesting geologically, obviously. Diamond Head is part of the cones, vents, and eruptive flows that make up the Honolulu Volcanic Series. These volcanic events occurred after the Ko’olau Volcano was already dormant.

I decided to hike to its summit as well as walk completely around the outside. About 8 miles in total. These are definitely some of the best views of the crater rim with Koko Crater and the Ko’olau range to one side and Honolulu and Waikiki Beach to the other. So worth the hike up! And back at the entrance gate I stopped at a “Shave Ice” cart for an ice cold blended pineapple drink. Ah! So tasty!

After that I was pretty tired and had been in the sun a long time. Jack was supposed to fly in so I tried to get back to meet him. I walked back up along the coast to Waikiki Beach. Then took a bus back to Jack and Libby’s.

After Jack arrived, he took me to Punchbowl Cemetery, or the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. This is a stunning cemetery to honor the women and men who have given their lives serving in the US Armed Forces, specifically dedicated to those who served in World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War. Many gravestones represent veterans whose remains were retrieved from distant battle grounds and some that are unknown. There is a deep history resting at those grounds.

I would also argue it has just as great of views as Diamond Head but with no people around. It is a beautiful gardened area overlooking Honolulu, and while we were there at sunset, hardly anyone else was up there. Plus the memorial is awesome. The inlaid stone work provides historical context with detailed battle scenes of various islands where key WWII battles took place in the Pacific. Definitely one of the more engaging memorials I have ever visited.

By the time we walked around the memorial, Libby had returned from work. So we headed to the grocery for food supplies and cooked supper. They are in an apartment just below Punchbowl and have great views over Honolulu. We sat on the balcony for supper, enjoying the sun setting over the Waianae Range to the northwest. We finished supper with ice cream and catching up on the US Open before heading to bed.


Copyright of Elizabeth Erickson.
Remnants of a rainbow over Honolulu
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Diamond Head
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Punchbowl Cemetery
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Ocean splashing up at Waikiki Beach
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Lifeguard tower that cracked me up from the “bike rack” stair rail
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Pre-hike up Diamond Head.
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Diamond Head crater.
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View over Honolulu from Punchbowl at sunset.