June 01, 2003

Go South Young Man (and Woman)

Day 6

The Big Island of Hawaii is very, very different from whatever it is that you see in your mind's eye if you've never been to Hawaii. Parts of it are stark, harsh, and covered with the barren black death of lava fields as far as one can see. There is also a lot of farmland and probably hundreds of tiny little unnamed beaches. There are very few roads (nearly none more than a few miles inland) and the island is dominated by Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa - the two volcanoes that formed the island thousands of years ago. There are only two developed "cities" (Hilo and Kona) and less tourists than Maui, Oahu, and Kauai. There are also many opportunities for adventure and discovery and some unique features that make the Big Island my favorite.

On this, our first full day there, we wandered the town of Kona to find some breakfast and to check out the scene. We had walked the streets the night before but we were exhausted and just wanted to grab some dinner. (Which we did - some downright awful Hard Rock Cafe takeout after a loooooooong wait.) Kona is a funky little beach town most famous for the Ironman Triathalon and Kona coffee. It's very relaxed and friendly and laid back - essentially exactly what you'd expect from a Hawaiian town but multiplied by ten. We found a cool little breakfast joint (which we ate at 3 more subsequent times) and returned to our beachside hotel.

Just behind our hotel was a little lagoon full of tidal pools. Actually, since no one was out there, we figured there was nothing to see - but that was a bad assumption. We carefully picked our way over the jagged black, lava rock and had a great time discovering all the different colorful urchins and anemones in the small pools. There were brightly colored fish too, just hanging out - this was all quite new to us New Englanders and was worth a good hour of just staring in wonder. Afterwards, we hopped in the rental car and drove south down the western coast of the Big Island.

A few miles south of the town of Kona, it became immediately apparent that Hawaii is the "authentic" island. Lots of native language signs and businesses dotted the landscape. At times, the view out of our windshield resembled more South Dakota than tropical paradise, with rolling fields speckled with horses and cows. We drove west across the southern edge of the island towards Volcanoes National Park and the famous fields of petroglyphs that dot the landscape.

On the way, we made a stop at Punalu'u Black Sand Beach. Black sand beaches are great to look at - but not so much to do regular beach stuff at. The sand is very coarse (from volcanic rock) and really not condusive to laying about on. But it's wicked cool to see and experience and to take pictures of. But we had more places to see, so it was back to the car after an hour or so poking around Punalu'u.

After reaching a rather random spot, we stopped, got out of the car, and walked around. This is one of those desolate beautiful places that hipsters film indie rock videos at. Or, better yet, goofy newleyweds switch their digital camera to the black and white setting and try to capture the stark beauty as if we knew what we were doing.

(There were many more - I've spared you.) For the record, my Aunt Pat has nearly made a career of photographing this island and its very unique features. She has spents days upon days photographing the petroglyphs of the ancient Hawaiians with her old school box camera. It is truly breathtaking stuff, trust me. So with that in mind, Hoang and I left the rock carvings to Aunt Pat and hit the road back towards Kona.

However a funny thing happened on the way... Hoang noticed something on the map and made a wonderful suggestion. Please, if you've read this far you'd be doing yourself a great disservice by not clicking on the link to the story of our adventure to the southernmost point in the United States! And if you thought black sand was cool, what about green sand?! Don't worry, I'll link you back here when you finish.

After that incredible side trip, we simply took a nap, had a delicious romantic dinner at the resort, and watched this sunset for an hour.

Day 7

Another lazy day of honeymooning; after getting our acts together, we made our way up the coast a mile or two to go snorkeling. I had never been snorkeling before so I was very excited to do it. Once we got the hang of the breathing and flippers, we floated around the shallow area for at least an hour. It's just amazing to see all the colors and different forms of sea life there on the Kona coast. Unfortunately, I didn't bother buying an underwater camera and I have no record of most of what we saw. What I DO have pictures of is my favorite animal we saw on the entire trip - Sea Turtles! They were just beautiful gliding along effortlessly beside me in the ocean. That was truly an experience I will never forget.

After the snorkeling and some lunch, we left Kona to drive across the northern section the Big Island all the way over to Hilo, on the eastern rainy side. You'll hear that Hilo is pretty lame, at least for vacationing purposes - and what you hear is true. First of all, it's constantly raining in Hilo and everything is damp and dank. Our hotel was perfectly fine, but the whole city just had a sort of dingy film over it.

Perhaps my feelings towards Hilo are colored by the fact that we asked around for the best local joint to eat in, were pointed to some Japanese place, and had thoroughly unimpressive meals. And since everything closes at 9PM, we were stuck going to be moderately hungry.

That said, Hilo is a very important city because of it's proximity to the volcanoes of Volcanoes National Park. And for that reason alone, it's absolutely worth visiting, as you'll read about in the next day's report.

Day 8 coming soon!

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