Hawaii – Big Island, Volcanoes and Hurricanes

This blog post is all about Big Island. It’s official name is Hawaii, and the whole Hawaiian state and chain of islands that make up the state is named after it. It’s also the largest island and is 3 times the size of Oahu, but only has a population of around 200,000. All the other islands of Hawaii could fit into Big Island comfortably. Although not as exciting as Oahu which hosts the state’s capital, Honolulu, Hawaii offers more in terms of natural beauty and hot lava action. If you are interested in Oahu, you can find out more on my previous blog post.

What are the chances of encountering 2 hurricanes in a week for your vacation? We were supposed to fly to Big Island but the day before our flight a hurricane warning was issued for the whole Hawaiian state. Hurricane Madeline was due to hit Big Island in 2 days time, followed closely by another hurricane, Lester, which will hit later that week. It was a mad scramble as we had to defer our departure, cancelling hotel stays and postponing our flight. What was supposed to be a 5 day stay on Big Island became shortened to a 3 day stay.

I never heard of hurricanes in Hawaii but it's quite rare, and hurricane season is from June to November. The last time a hurricane hit Hawaii was in 1992.
I never heard of hurricanes in Hawaii and it’s quite rare. Hurricane season is from June to November and the last time a hurricane hit Hawaii was in 1992.

So Hurricane Madeline skirted the south coast of Big Island and dumped a ton of rain onto the east coast. All parks and schools on Big Island were closed for 2 days as an emergency measure. By the time Madeline came, it was downgraded to a tropical storm instead of a Cat 3 hurricane. We had avoided Madeline and went to catch our flight to Big Island, hoping that Lester will be a miss.

One thing for sure is that at times like this, I’m glad we purchased travel insurance which helped to mitigate hotel cancellation charges and fees for flight changes.

Getting to Big Island

Strangely, although Hawaii consists of islands, there are few commercial ferry services and these only serve the island of Maui and a couple of other nearby islands. Travel between islands is usually by air. It took us 30 minutes just to fly from Honolulu to Kailua-Kona on Big Island. There are several inter-island airline services, and we flew with Hawaiian Air.

The relaxed atmosphere at Kailua-Kona Airport. You know you are in Vacationland.
The relaxed atmosphere at Kailua-Kona Airport. You know you are in Vacationland. We simply walked from the plane to the transit area. No aerobridges or aircon.
A Hawaiian band was playing in the transit area.
A Hawaiian band was playing in the transit area. The whole transit area is non-aircon, so it can get really warm.

Getting Around Big Island

Unlike Oahu, renting a car is the best (and possibly only) option to getting around Big Island economically in terms of time and money. Unless you are just going to park yourself in a resort for the rest of the your stay here, a car is the best way to explore Big Island, as there are no public buses going between towns, and taxis are super expensive. After collecting your luggage and exiting the airport, there are bus stops where shuttle buses will bring you to the respective car rental company counters. These are located quite a distance away from the airport, so walking is not recommended.

Because we had shortened our trip due to Hurricane Madeline, we decided to only visit the main sights on Big Island (west and south) and skip the eastern parts. We drove to Kailua-Kona which is the largest town on the west side of the island. Big Island’s scenery is dominated by the large volcano, Mauna Loa (4,169m) which makes up more than 50% of the island, the smaller but taller volcano Mauna Kea (4,205m) makes up the rest of the island. Everywhere you go, you are bound to see these two volcanoes in the background. Incidentally, Mauna Loa is the world’s largest volcano, and it rises 5,000m from the sea floor to sea level, before extending all the way to it’s summit. So Big Island is actually the top part of a huge underwater mountain.

Weather wise, the west side is dry and warm, due to the trade winds that blow from the east after passing over Mauna Loa, cool down and dump their moisture on the eastern side. Thus you will see that west of Mauna Loa, the island is quite warm and dry and this makes it a favorite spot for tourists. You will find most of the resorts and tourists activities here. The eastern side is characterized by heavy rainfall throughout the year and lush tropical jungles with waterfalls falling over high cliffs. There is another airport in Hilo, and depending on your travel schedule, you can fly to Hilo. Visiting the sights on Big Island is basically choosing whether you want to go clockwise, or anti-clockwise, since there is only one main road, Mamalahoa Highway, that circum-navigates the island. There is a newer highway, Saddle Road, that passes between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea in the middle of the island and is the fastest way to get from east to west, or vice versa.

Our shortened plan was to start from Kailua-Kona, drive anti-clockwise down south to Volcanoes National Park, and then pass through Hilo, and via Saddle Road go to Waikoloa and finally back to Kailua-Kona.

Our first sight of Big Island is the imposing silhouette of Mauna Loa above the clouds.
Our first sight of Big Island is the imposing silhouette of Mauna Loa above the clouds.

Kailua-Kona

This is the center of tourism in Big Island, since most tourists come to the west side to enjoy the warm and dry weather resulting in lots of commercial activity here. On the eastern side is the main town, Hilo (population of around 44,000), but it is mostly residential where most of the locals live. Kailua-Kona is a small town with a population of around 12,000 residents. There is only one main shopping street called Ali’i Drive which runs next to the coastline. Along Ali’i Drive you would find shops, restaurants and seaside resorts. It stretches from Kailua Bay all the way down to Keauhou.

A huge tree along Ali'i Drive.
A huge tree along Ali’i Drive near Kailua Bay.
The coast along Ali'i Drive. The waves were quite strong, probbly due to the effects of the hurricanes.
The coast along Ali’i Drive. The waves were quite strong, probably due to the effects of the hurricanes.
These guys were undetered by the big waves.
These guys were undeterred by the big waves.
We passed by Mokuaikaua Church which is the oldest Christian church in Hawaii.
We passed by Mokuaikaua Church which is the oldest Christian church in Hawaii.
We went inside the church and had a nice talk with a volunteer parish. He showed us around and told us about the history of the church.
We went inside the church and had a nice talk with a volunteer parish. He showed us around and told us about the history of the church.
Ali'i Drive with shops, cafes and restaurants. Further down are also hotels and resorts. The day was really sunny and hot, and I wondering 'What hurricane?'
Ali’i Drive with shops, cafes and restaurants. Further down are also hotels and resorts. Very few people were walking along the street that day as it was really hot and humid, and I wondered ‘What hurricane?’
Pearls are quite common here, and you can fish an oyster out of a pail to look for pearls.
Pearl jewelry is quite common here, and you can fish an oyster out of a pail to look for pearls.
Having our lunch at the Kanoe Club.
Having our lunch at the Kanoe Club. This is a café facing Kailua Bay with a boardwalk. This was recommended by the pearl shop sales girl when we asked her for restaurants to eat at.
We decided to check into our Airbnb. Our hosts said that Kailua-Kona was hot and sunny even when Madeline hit, but Hilo got a lot of rain and strong winds.
We checked into our Airbnb in the afternoon. Our hosts said that Kailua-Kona was hot and sunny even when Madeline hit, but Hilo got a lot of rain and strong winds. The forecasts were also saying the Lester was going to pass north of Hawaii and shouldn’t be a threat. Phew!

Mauna Kea Summit

Going up to the summit of Mauna Kea has to be one of the highlights of any trip to Big Island. However, it’s not easy going up there, and I decided to follow a tour with an established company for this. There are several companies offering tours to the summit, and they either leave from Kailua-Kona or Hilo. So you can choose which ones to go with based on your location. Otherwise, you can also go the summit on your own, although there are a lot of caveats to that.

If you rented a compact or sub-compact car, it won’t have the power to climb some of the steep slopes that you will encounter. For rental cars, the rental companies only allow you to drive them to the Visitors Center which is at 9,000 ft altitude. From the Visitors Center, the road to the summit at 14,000 ft is highly recommended to be driven by 4WD vehicles only as it is quite steep and is mostly gravel surface. A normal car engine can overheat trying to go up as there is less air at higher altitudes, and when coming down, continuous braking will overheat your brakes resulting in brake failure. There have been many incidences of tourists damaging or crashing the rental cars this way. When you rent your car, they will tell you that the car rental insurance is void if you decide to drive up the summit and you are liable to pay all damages to the car. There is only 1 car rental company that rents out 4WD jeeps and allows them to go up the summit. So if you want to drive up on your own, look for them.

I had to wait at the designated meeting point for the pickup and the tour started off at 3pm. After picking other passengers at Waikoloa, we started going up the road to Mauna Kea. With it’s dry environment, clear weather almost the whole year and high altitude, Mauna Kea is an ideal spot for astronomy and there are 13 telescopes on the summit operated by 11 countries. I also learned that the top of Mauna Kea is considered sacred by the Hawaiians and they are unhappy that the government has allowed the construction of telescopes on top of their holy mountain. In March last year they held protests and blocked the road to the summit.

Along the way to the Visitors Center, we encountered volcanic cinder cones.
Along the way to the Visitors Center, we encountered volcanic cinder cones. These are formed from past lava eruptions on the sides of Mauna Kea.
The weather was cloudy and raining in the foothills but cleared up by the time we got higher. This beautiful rainbow appeared in front of our bus.
The weather was cloudy and raining in the foothills but cleared up by the time we got higher. This beautiful rainbow appeared in front of our bus.
We reached the Visitors Center by 5pm and had an early dinner.
We reached the Visitors Center by 5pm and had an early dinner. We spent around an hour here for dinner and also to acclimatize to the high altitude. We had taken just less than 2 hours to get from sea level to 9,000 ft and it would take less than an hour to get from 9,000 ft to the summit at close to 14,000 ft. There is 40% less air at that height and altitude sickness is common.
A whole list of warnings about the summit. I like the sign that says 'Beware of Invisible Cows'.
A whole list of warnings about the summit. I like the sign that says ‘Beware of Invisible Cows’.
There is a small shop inside the Visitors Center that sells astronomy related souvenirs.
There is a small shop inside the Visitors Center that sells astronomy related souvenirs.
There is a small nature reserve beside the Visitors Center where you can explore a bit.
There is a small nature reserve beside the Visitors Center where you can explore a bit.
Inside you can see the Hawaiian Silversword plant. It's endangered I think.
Inside you can see the Silversword plant. It’s endangered due to over-grazing by wild goats and cows.
Quite a few indigenous plants can also be seen.
Quite a few indigenous plants can also be seen.
This stunted tree like bush is quite common.
This stunted tree like bush is quite common on Big Island.
Looking up you can see the summit of Mauna Kea.
Looking up at the summit of Mauna Kea.
The road that leads up the summit. There are signs saying that 4WD is required but I saw many tourists driving their rental cars anyway.
The road that leads up the summit. There are signs saying that 4WD is required but I saw many tourists driving their rental cars anyway.
We stopped at 1 point for a photo opportunity. Here are a couple of Jeep Wranglers coming up the road.
We stopped at 1 point for a photo opportunity. Here are a couple of Jeep Wranglers coming up the road.
The terrain of Mauna Kea resembles that of Mars a lot. For that reason, NASA actually trains astronauts and tested the Mars rovers here.
The terrain on top of Mauna Kea resembles that of Mars a lot. For that reason, NASA actually trains astronauts and tested the Mars rovers here.
We reached the summit just before sunset and drive around looking at the huge telescopes.
We reached the summit just before sunset and drove around looking at the huge telescopes. This one is the famous Keck telescope with a 10m diameter mirror.
At close to 14,000 ft (4205m) altitude, the air temperture is 0°C or lower.
At close to 14,000 ft (4205m) altitude, the air temperature is 0°C or lower. The tour guide handed out thick winter parkas and ski gloves and we didn’t hesitate to wear them. If you want to drive up on your own, you should be prepared for really cold temperatures.

After a while, we drove to the view point for sunset. As the sun sets, it gets even colder. I think it was below freezing by then as I could see water puddles starting to turn to ice and my hands turned numbed from the cold if I took off the gloves to handle my camera.

The weather was foggy when we first came up the summit but cleared in time for sunset.
The weather was foggy when we first came up the summit but cleared in time for sunset.
We were way above the clouds, with the Sun hidden below.
We were way above the clouds, with the Sun hidden below. The summit is above the inversion layer of the clouds and remains clear most of the year, another reason why so many telescopes are built here. This is the NASA Infrared Telescope.
A beautiful sky as the Sun sets.
A beautiful sky as the Sun set. The telescopes will start to open up after sunset, and all visitors have to leave the summit to avoid interfering with the telescopes. Park rangers came round to clear the area. The telescopes are unmanned and astronomers control them remotely from Hilo, the dormitories at the Visitors Center, or even halfway across the world. Pictures taken by these telescopes are transmitted digitally to anywhere across the world.
Just before we leave the summit, the Moon, Jupiter and Venus appear.
Just before we leave the summit, the Moon, Jupiter and Venus appeared.

We drove down in the complete darkness until reaching a spot, our tour guide stopped the bus and we all came out for some star gazing. A Celestron telescope was taken out from the back of the bus and set up. Hot cocoa and biscotti were given out, which was really welcomed in the cold. Without any light pollution and with clear skies, I could see the Milky Way stretching above and glowing in the night. This was a wondrous sight as I can never see such a thing in light polluted Singapore. Photographing the Milky Way here was easy, without the need for any special exposure tricks and extensive photo editing.

A single shot of the Milky Way at 24mm. F4, 30 secs and ISO3200.
A single shot of the Milky Way at 24mm. F4, 30 secs and ISO3200. What you are seeing is our galactic core, the center of our galaxy. The dark areas are gas clouds or nebulae that block the light from the galactic core.
And here is a 3 shots vertical panorama with the telescope.
And here is a 3 shot vertical panorama with the telescope that we used to look at the stars and planets.

After about an hour of star gazing where we got to see Mars, Jupiter and some of its moons, the rings of Saturn and Andromeda galaxy, it was time to pack up and leave. By the time I arrived back at the original pick up point in Kailua-Kona where most of us had parked our cars, it was already 11pm. Here is a video that I made of the tour, please enjoy.

The tours to Mauna Kea summit are pretty expensive costing around US$200 or more per person, but I feel that it’s worth it if you came such long way to see this. The drive up to the summit by 4WD and then down in complete darkness is already quite grueling and dangerous especially if you never had any experience driving a 4WD on gravel roads and in the dark.

South Point

The next morning we checked out from our Airbnb and started to drive towards Volcanoes National Park (VNP) where we would spent our second and last night on Big Island. It takes around 3 hrs to drive from Kailua-Kona to VNP. Along the way there are several sights where you could stop for some sight seeing. However, due to our shortened plan, we decided to stop only at South Point, bypassing the Captain Cook Monument and Pu‘uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park.

We stopped at this café along the way. It seems to be a very popular stopover point.
We stopped at this café along the way. It seems to be a very popular stopover point.
It has a balcony overlooking the bays along the shore.
It has a balcony overlooking the bays along the shore. There are coffee plantations around it where the famous Kona coffee is harvested and made.
Colorful lizards called Green Anole crawling all over.
Colorful lizards called Green Anole crawling all over the cafe. I read that you can keep them as pets.

South Point is the southernmost point in the USA, and here you can see people cliff diving into the ocean From here you can see the whole South Pacific Ocean and there is no land mass all the way south from here until you reach Antarctica.

Turning south from Mamalahoa Highway, the road continues all the way down to the coast.
Turning south from Mamalahoa Highway, the road continues all the way down to the coast. We could see farmland all around us.
There is a small wind farm here.
There is a small wind farm here.
Reaching the end of the road, we parked and walked down to the cliff diving action.
Reaching the end of the road, we parked and walked down to see the cliff diving action.
There a couple of large holes here, and I wouldn't drive off road here unless you are a local and know the terrain well.
There a couple of large holes here, and I wouldn’t drive off road here unless you are a local and know the terrain well.
Call it fun or mad, but it's definitely camera worthy.
Call it fun or mad, but it’s definitely camera worthy.
Divers jump into the ocean and climb back up using the metal ladder on the cliff.
Divers jump into the ocean and climb back up using the metal ladder on the cliff.
Hurricane Lester was spinning somewhere far from here, but rain clouds were still in the area.
Hurricane Lester was spinning somewhere far from here, but rain clouds were still in the area.

Further east of South Point is Green Sand Beach. The sand here is green due to the olivine mineral which gives the sand it’s green color. We didn’t go see this beach as we would need to hike 2.5 miles one way from South Point and we didn’t have the time to do that. If you are interested to get there, here is a blog post about it.

Black Sand Beach

After taking in the action at South Point we continued on and passed by a black sand beach at Punalu’u. It’s a really small beach and we didn’t spend much time there.

Stopping by the highway to take some photos. The black sand beach is down there in the background.
We stopped by the highway to take some photos. The black sand beach is down there in the background.
It seems to be a favorite spot for picnics.
It seems to be a favorite spot for picnics.
The black sand is from the volcanic rocks that have eroded.
The black sand is from the volcanic rocks that have eroded over the eons.
A fisherman at the black sand beach.
A fisherman at the black sand beach.

Volcanoes National Park

This is the premier park that you should visit when you are in Big Island. You will be close to the erupting crater of Kilauea which has been active for the last 2,000 years. We only reached VNP in the late afternoon and checked into our hotel at Volcano Village. The main village center consists of some restaurants, small shops, petrol kiosks and a post office which are all sparsely laid out. The various hotels, inns and lodgings are spread out over the village. Walking is not really a good option and you need to drive around just to visit the village center to get something. There are also several farms and artists’ studios around. VNP and Volcano Village is also at 3,500 ft above sea level, and can get really chilly at night. So remember to bring warm clothing. We were also surprised that our hotel room did not have air-conditioning and was stuffy in the day, but at night it was really cold.

Volcano Village is around 1 mile away from VNP and it’s the closest place to stay if you want to visit the park. There is a hotel within the park, but it’s usually full and quite expensive. Otherwise, the next closest place to stay is Hilo which around 1 hour’s drive away from VNP. The entry fee for VNP is US$20 per car (and everyone in it) and is valid for 7 days. The park is really huge and driving is the best option to get around. As this is an active volcanic area, at times volcanic smog (the locals call it vog) will be covering the land like haze, but with a rotten egg smell, so you have to get used to it. It’s not like your companion farted in the car.

First stop is the Kilauea Visitors Center where you can get up to date information on what's happening in the park.
First stop is the Kilauea Visitor Center where you can get up to date information on what’s happening in the park.

Your first stop in VNP should be the Visitor Center, where you can find out the latest information, sign up for guided tours, or watch documentaries on the volcanoes. The park rangers here are really helpful and we learnt from one of them how to get to the spot to watch lava flowing into the ocean. Lava had only started to flow into the sea since July this year, and it was a rare chance to see such a phenomena. By this time it was already late afternoon and we rushed back to our hotel to get our stuff and drove off towards Kalapana where the lava flow was.

It’s a 1 hr drive from Volcano Village to Kalapana, and we also loss some time getting lost, but in the end we found the place and parked our car.

The road ends and we had to drive through a gravel road until the carpark.
The road ends and we had to drive through a gravel road until the carpark.
After parking, we started on our hike towards the lava. It's a 4 mile (6.5km) hike one way, so make sure you wear proper walking/hiking shoes, bring water and food. The whole route is also unsheltered and be prepared for Sun and rain.
After parking, we started on our hike towards the lava. It’s a 4 mile (6.5km) hike one way, so make sure you wear proper walking/hiking shoes, bring water and food. The whole route is also unsheltered and be prepared for Sun and rain. Locals were also renting out bicycles for US$10, and you can cycle which is faster.
Warning signs before you go.
Taking note of the warning signs before hiking.
A surreal landscape greeted us. Old lava flows had covered several towns over the years. The residents built shacks on top of the lava just to claim their old land.
A surreal landscape greeted us. Old lava flows had covered several towns over the years. The residents built shacks on top of the lava just to claim their old land. In the distance, smoke from the lava entering the ocean can be seen. And to think that just years ago this place was a residential area.
The hike itself takes around 1.5-2 hrs depending on how fast you walk.
The hike itself takes around 1.5-2 hrs depending on how fast you walk. Lava covering the land is the only landscape you see throughout the whole hike, and the smoke from the distant lava flow beckoning you to push on.
We cross over from private land to the VNP land.
We cross over from private land to VNP land.
Lava flowing down the side of Kilauea. Most of it is flowing underground in lava tubes, so you don't see rivers of fire.
Lava flowing down the side of Kilauea. Most of it is flowing underground in lava tubes, so you don’t see rivers of fire.
Finally reaching our destination. We had planned to arrive before sunset but the hike took us longer than expeted and we arrived after dark.
Finally reaching our destination and the glow of red hot lava can be seen lighting up the steam clouds. We had planned to arrive before sunset but the hike took us longer than expected and we arrived after dark.
The road ended at the lava flow and we had to scramble over solidied lava flows to get nearer to the active lava flow Out of bounds area were cordened but nobody seemed to care about it, as everyone tried to get a prime spot.
The road ended at the lava flow and we had to scramble over solidified lava flows to get nearer to the active lava flow Out of bounds area were cordoned off but nobody seemed to care about it, as everyone tried to get a prime spot.
I finally settled on a spot because it was really difficult to walk on the jet black lava flow in the dark.
I finally settled on a spot because it was really difficult to walk on the jet black lava flow in the dark.
A person looking at awe on the might of nature.
A person looking in awe at the might of nature. Rivers of molten lava flowed into the ocean and steam formed when waves hit the red hot lava. We were around 100m or more from the lava and didn’t feel the heat.
The area is not lighted and completely dark except for the lava glow. I noticed the Milky Way above and tried for a shot.
The area is not lighted and completely dark except for the lava glow. I noticed the Milky Way above and tried for a shot.

Although the lava destroys property, it also creates new land as it flows into the sea. The lava flows slowly increase the size of Big Island over the years. This process of destruction and creation is what makes up our planet. After spending about an hour mesmerized by the power of nature, we reluctantly decided to leave. We had another 2 hrs hike back to our car, and another 1 hr drive back to Volcano Village. What else could happen? Well, we were 3/4 of the way walking back when it started to rain rather heavily. Although we had an umbrella and raincoat, our pants and shoes were all soaked. What a way to end the night. I also did a short video of the hike to the lava flow and it shows video footage of the lava.

If you want to see the lava flow, here are some of my thoughts. Go towards the evening, probably around 4pm when it’s less hot. You want to reach the lava flow area before it gets dark (sunset is around 6.30pm). The reason is that you have to walk over uneven solidified lava and it’s easier to do that while it’s still bright. The lava is black and even with a torchlight it can be difficult to see where you are going. The solidified lava is also like glass, and falling on it is going to be very disastrous, as it’s like falling on glass splinters. I cut my palms just by pressing onto the lava when I lost my balance. For photographers, bring your tripod and a telephoto lens, as you will be still a distance from the lava and a telephoto lens is great for close ups. Getting there early also ensures that you capture the lava during blue hour, something which I missed out on. You will also need a torchlight to see your way out after dark as the road is not lighted, and remember the rain gear. The hike should take you around 2 hrs (1 way) or shorter if you walk faster. If you want to see the lava only in the day time then you won’t be able to see the glow unless you get really close to the lava (as in a few metres away), but be prepared for the heat and volcanic fumes.

So we got back to our hotel at Volcano Village and changed out of our wet clothes. VNP is opened 24 hrs and we could still visit the park even though it was already past midnight. So what can you see in the night at VNP? Kilauea is still active and a lava lake lies inside it. Only at night can you see the glow of the lava in the crater. The level of the lava lake rises and falls depending on volcanic activity, and this time it was quite high. Since this was our last night, we had to see it.

Kilauea crater at night. The wind was blowing the fumes away from us which was good.
Kilauea at night. The wind was blowing the fumes away from us which was good as it gave us a clear view of the crater. The level of the lava lake was not high enough to be seen.
A close up of the crater. At times, we could splashes of lava as it bubbled in the lake.
A close up of the crater. Even though the lava lake was not high enough to be seen, at times, we could splashes of lava as it bubbled in the lake. It was drizzling by then and the wind direction started to blow the fumes towards us, obscuring the view. We decided it was time to call it a night.

The next morning we checked out and made our way to VNP for the very last time. But it was a rainy morning, and kind of a disappointing end to our visit. Maybe it was a parting gift from Hurricane Lester as it spun it’s way northwards away from Hawaii. I understand from the people here that rainy weather is quite common in this area, so be prepared for rainy weather when you are here.

We came back to the Jagger Museum where we were last night to view Kilauea crater.
We came back to the Jagger Museum where we were last night to view Kilauea. The rain had cleared when we arrived, just nice for some photos.
Kilauea crater by day. It doesn't look as impressive compared to the night photos. You can't see the lava glow in the day.
Kilauea by day. It doesn’t look as impressive compared to the night photos as you can’t see the lava glow in the day.
An info board telling about the history of Kilauea crater.
An info board telling about the history of Kilauea.

We drove down the Chain of Craters Road and it began to rain again. Due to the heavy rain in the higher altitudes, we skipped the Thurston Lava Tube, and drove all the way to the end of the road where the Holei Sea Arch was. At least it was not raining down at the coast.

The end of the Chain of Craters Road. It had been blocked by lava previously, but a temporary road has been built to enable visitors to see the lava flow.
The end of the Chain of Craters Road. It had been blocked by lava previously, but a temporary road has been built to enable visitors to see the lava flow. No vehicles are allowed though.
This is the temporary road that will lead to the lava flow we saw last night, but coming from the east.
This is the temporary road that will lead to the lava flow we saw last night, but coming from the east. You can hike from here to the lava flow too. What some people do is they bring their own bicycles and cycle from here. The distance is about the same at 4 miles, one way. We learnt from the park ranger that this route is rougher and exposes you to volcanic fumes along the way, but it is more scenic as it runs along the coast.
The Holei Sea Arch formed by erosion of volcanic rock. It's expected to collapse in the future.
The Holei Sea Arch formed by erosion of volcanic rock. It’s expected to collapse in the future as the waves erode it away.

After looking at the Holei Sea Arch, we had to backtrack through the Chain of Craters road back to the Visitors Center. There are several old craters and lava flows along the Chain of Craters road, but the rain prevented us from coming out of the car to view them. So we decided to continue all the way to Hilo and take the Saddle Road back to the west coast.

Waikoloa Beach Resort

It rained the whole time we drove to Hilo and even when we were driving on Saddle Road westwards, it continued to rain. The rain only cleared up when we were on firmly on the west and driving towards Waikoloa. So we have experienced the micro weather system on Big Island ourselves.

Waikoloa is an area where the beach resorts are built and is located on the north west coast of Big Island. You will find Marriot and Hilton, along with several other luxury hotels and golf courses here. If you are the type that prefers luxury hotels along the beach then this place is for you. We decided to stop here as there is a small village center that has restaurants, shops and a supermarket for the residents staying here. Actually, there are 2 such village centers. The one we visited is called the Queen’s Marketplace, and there is the other village center that is called the King’s Shops. Waikoloa is also near the airport and has a gas station to top up our rental car before we returned it. So we had our dinner here and did some quick shopping before heading to Kailua-Kona Airport for our flight back to Honolulu.

As we had shortened our trip, we missed out on the attractions on the eastern side of Big Island like the Rainbow Falls, Akaka Falls, and Waipio Valley. Some of the activities that we also missed were the night dive/snorkeling with manta rays, or swimming with dolphins. There is also Waimea where the largest cattle ranch in the USA used to be, and you can try being a cowboy riding horses.

Safety

Again the same rules apply as from Oahu. Never leave your valuables in plain sight when you park your car. Car break-ins are also common here and there are more secluded carparks here compared to Oahu due to the lower population density.

The speed limit on most of the highways is 45-55 mph, but many people like to speed. I noticed on many occasions that the police were having a field day pulling drivers over for speeding, especially on Saddle Road. The police drive in unmarked cars, and many cars just speed past them without realizing it’s a police car, then suddenly the red and blue lights come on and you are screwed. So if you don’t want a speeding ticket, keep to the speed limit.

3 thoughts on “Hawaii – Big Island, Volcanoes and Hurricanes

  1. Great post on Big Island – inspiring and I love the photos! I didn’t have the chance to visit Big Island on my Hawaii trip, but I’m hoping to go back one day. I’ve never tried photographing the Milky Way, either, since over here (Finland) it’s either too cold to stay outdoors (winter) or too light to see stars (summer). So next time I go somewhere tropical, that’s on my list! That lava looks amazing, kind of scary, too! Your post made me dream of lovely Hawaii and remember what it was like there, so thanks for that! 🙂

      1. I’ve never seen the aurora!! It’s always too cloudy in Helsinki or too light. And cars are so expensive here that we can’t afford one, to drive further away to look at them! So nothing to envy, really! I dream of seeing the Northern Lights, too! 😄

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