Hawaii - The Big Island

Thursday 15 November 2007

The shuttle arrived at 9:00am as promised and it was only about 40 minutes until we arrived at the domestic airport and Aloha Airlines.

Security was a bit tedious as always, but you do have to look on the positive side, because it is related to passenger safety, and I'm all for that!

Our flight was supposed to leave at 12:26pm, but for some reason - possibly that all the passengers were signed in - we took off at 11:26am.

[Right - View from the balcony of our room at the Outrigger Resort]
[Below - another view from the balcony]

View of the amenities from our balcony
View of the sea from our balcony

When we arrived at Kona Airport we couldn't identify the shuttle that we were supposed to catch and assumed that they would be along in an hour's time. But after we'd asked some questions we found them and were trundled off to the Outrigger Resort.

Resorts are Margaret heaven of course, and we didn't mind parking our bags and waiting until we could be checked in at 3:00pm. Waiting involved beer, fish and chips, so it was hardly onerous.

Once again we had our room upgraded, which I think meant that we are now on the top floor. The views of the amenities, shoreline and so on are fabulous.

[Below - Margaret enjoys the Hawai'ian sunset]

The shoreline itself is black volcanic rock, nothing like the sandy beaches on the other islands, but the surroundings are excellent, as are, we understand, the snorkelling and so on.

There are a lot of surfers as well, because the waves aren't nearly so large and dangerous as they can get on O'ahu for example. Much better for amateurs and tyros.

We booked a bus tour of the island for tomorrow, and in  the process learned that the flow of lava into the sea stopped in October and has been replaced by a lesser flow in an inaccessible area, so that it won't be possible to see this from the land.

After some quick discussion we decided that this was one of the things we came here to see, so we booked a plane (Cessna probably) tour on Saturday afternoon.

Banyan tree

We had dinner on the Verandah lounge which juts out over a large tidal pool which has three resident eels, one of which is a bit less than a metre long, as well as little schools of fish.

There was insufficient light for photography, but it was fascinating to watch.  Margaret had a couple of margarita's to my beers, so we were both very relaxed!

Friday 16 November 2007

We were up bright and early for our 7:30am start to what will be about a 12 hour day of sight-seeing.  There were the usual stops at vendors of Kona coffee, portuguese sweet bread and so on, but as these also included amenities, it wasn't a bad thing at all.

[Left, Banyan tree on the south coast]

Almost the first stop that we made was at the "black beach".  The sand is formed when volcanic lava with a high silica content and very high temperature hits the water.

The outer layer explodes away and is then crushed by the action of the waves to form sand which is black.

There was a green sea turtle on this beach and most of the people took no notice of the sign which required them to stay a minimum of 18 feet from the animals, in fact, most were not even 18cm away.

The scenery changes quite dramatically from place to place. One side of the island has 10 inches of rain a year, the other, 100! The volcanic mountains which make up the island have a tremendous effect on the weather.

Kilauea is accessible by road, and we first got to see it from the Visitor Centre which is perched on the rim of the crater.

Turtle on Black Sand
[Above - Turtle on black sand beach in Hawai'i]
[Below - Vista from Kalauea Visitor Centre]
Kilauea caldera from Visitor Centre

Entrance to volcanic pipe

With my binoculars we could see into the area of the caldera which is collapsed and where the most recent activity is taking place. Steam rises from vents in the ground and bright yellow-green sulphur (sulfur for the Americans) is being deposited.

After having had a quick bite to eat and a pit-stop, we proceeded to do the circuit of the crater rim, at one stage going down into the major crater to the edge of the Kilauea Iki crater where the action is.

On the way we passed sheets of lava, some of which have been raised and shattered by the volcanic pressure below.  The whole thing gives you the distinct feeling of being totally insignificant in the face of the power generated by the forces below.

[Above - Entrance to volcanic pipe]
[Right - Wall of the volcanic pipe]
[Below - Sulphur deposit at steam vent in Kilauea Iki Crater]

We were able to stop and proceed through a small section of volcanic pipe, where the lava flow solidified on top, but the lava continued to flow underneath, eventually leaving a hollow pipe.  These can be enormous both in diameter and length.

Some, having been collapsed or blocked in some way at both ends, can be repositories for huge volumes of rainwater which was filtered down into them.  We were told that this is the major source of potable water on this island which is really only inhabited on the edges.

The volcanic mountains have built up from the bottom of the sea so in overall height they would tower above Everest.

Wall of the volvanic pipe
Sulphur deposit at steam vent in Kilauea Iki Crater

[Below, left and right - Hawai'ian Orchids]

The largest on the island, Mauna Loa is the most massive mountain on earth, with a volume of 19,000 cubic miles!

The type of volcano here is different to the explosive sort (eg Krakatoa and Mount Saint Helens) but tend to sort of ooze lava over an extended period, building landmass slowly but surely.

From ground level it's difficult to get a feel for the extent of the lava fields, but there has been enormous activity over the years and many new houses are perched on lava beds.  Why?  I have no idea!

Two of the afternoon stops were at a candy factory, where we had an ice-cream, and an orchid nursery.  The orchids were fabulous, but not something that we are in a position to pursue, given the climate where we live.

We enjoyed the bus trip and were returned to our hotel by about 7:00pm, so it was a big day.

Hawaiian Orchid Hawaiian Orchid
Hawaiian Orchid Hawaiian Orchids
Hawaiian Orchids Hawaiian Orchid

Saturday 17 November 2007

Our plane trip isn't until this afternoon and we have a taxi booked for 11:30am which will get us to the airfield in plenty of time. Consequently we had a leisurely start to the day.

Mel, the Philippino taxi-driver was actually early.  We went through a pre-flight briefing, signed the waivers and took off at 1:00pm.  Even in the little Cessna we covered more ground in two hours that we had the previous day in the bus.

From the air you get an idea of the extent and age of the lava fields, and they are enorrmous.  The younger they are, the blacker they are and the less vegetation there is.

We flew from the Kona Airport (there's another airport on the eastern side of the island at Hilo), over our resort , roughly on the same track as the bus had taken, following the highway south.

Island Hopper Cessna
[Above - Island Hopper Cessna]
[Below, left - Smoking crater of Mauna Loa volcano] 
Smoking crater of Mauna Loa volcano

As well as the pilot, Shaun, there was another couple in the plane. He was a Canadian with French dual nationality while his wife was a Canadian citizen with Philippino dual nationality.

I guess at the beginning of the day they would have to decide what language they would be using!

They were pretty quiet though, hardly saying a word during the flight, but obviously enjoyed it.

Smoke pours out of the crater of Mauna Loa, while the lava which in June was issuing from a fissure from the side of the volcano and pouring into the sea, now runs into a remote area within the Volcanoes National Park.

[Below, left and right - lava flow from Mauna Loa volcano]

We couldn't get to the area where the lava was flowing yesterday, but today from the air we were able to see the flow quite clearly. In the pictures on the right and below, you can see the red glow of the molten rock through a split in the crust which forms over the top as it cools.

From the air we could also see the distinct climatic zones, although I think the most dramatic (other than the volcano) would be the area of the island which comprises the north-east corner.

It consists of deep, steep-walled valleys with jungle vegetation, impenetrable by vehicle, with sheer cliffs where it meets the land meets the sea. It is only accessible by helicopter or boat.

We were told that parts of the film Jurassic Park were filmed there.  It certainly fits the bill!.

Lava flow from Mauna Loa volcano
Lava flow from Mauna Loa volcano

The clouds obscured the view a little and the still photographs don't do it justice, but hopefully I'll be able to capture some stills from the video footage once it has been downloaded.

The pilot wants to take his girlfriend there to ask her to marry him, but can't work out the logistics of it because he's a fixed-wing pilot and he needs to be a rotary-wing pilot in order to get there.  He's ruled out hiking in, which seems pretty reasonable to me.

Margaret suggested he take her up in the plane and propose while flying over it!

 The plane trip was really worthwhile, and we had a great time.  We'd recommend this or a helicopter trip to anyone wanting to get a good view of the volcano as it is now.

That's about all for now, as we fly out this evening to O'Ahu and then to Sydney, I'll finish the saga when we get home to sunny downtown Gundaroo. Jurassic Park!

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