Saturday, April 7, 2012

Self-indulgent vacation thoughts

Our family recently spent a week on Hawai'i (Big Island).  Since we never do anything quite like other people, we did our trip with camping (backpacking) gear, a rented mini-SUV, and some high-mileage hiking, often in the rain.

Spent the first three days in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, which encompasses the "live" volcanic areas.  In fact, parts of the park roads and trails were closed, as Halemaumau was smoking and steaming and emitting noxious gasses.  We saw signs everywhere warning about air quality and cautioning those with breathing issues to clear out.  We didn't notice anything except in a couple of spots where I found my eyes stinging.

Our arrival in Hilo was stereotypical--a sunny, warm day, got our car and went in search of supplies (we needed a pile of food and some camping stuff, notably fuel for our stoves and a foam cooler).  In the process, we stumbled on the Hilo Farmers' Market, where we picked up some local fruit, picking things the kids (and we) either hadn't tried (like rambutan, though that's not a native plant) or thought we didn't like (like mango.  The stuff we get here on the mainland, I swear, tastes NOTHING like the stuff we got there).  The pineapple was a bonus, though the boys, especially, had never tasted fresh pineapple and were blown away by how good it was.

We headed for the park at last, and got our first look at the steaming crater on the summit.

There was a fair bit of steaming going on all around us, too, and part of the parking lot was closed because a vent had opened up in the middle of it.  Food for thought, in my opinion!  The campground was only about a half mile away, as the crow flies, and well under a mile from the steaming vent itself.  I had to remind myself that Kilauea is an oozy volcano, not a St. Helens-style explosive one.

Halemaumau in the early morning, while still dark enough for the steam to be lit by the lava out of sight below.

 Ropey pahoehoe lava on the Napau Trail.

Kilauea Caldera

 The End of the Road.  Chain of Craters road dead ends in a lava flow from the 1990s.

When they say "Road Closed," they mean it!

This might be the tropics, but at 10,000' on Mauna Loa at the crack of dawn, there's frost on the lava.

Mauna Loa summit, more or less.  As high as we got (13,000')

Early morning light on the east coast.

Waipio Valley from the overlook.  We did hike down to the beach, but couldn't cross the stream to continue.

Honaunua Bay, where we did some snorkeling.

At the southernmost point in the U.S. 

This was my first trip to Hawai'i, and I was probably most struck by what it was not: not a steamy tropical jungle full of bugs.  We did find a few hot places, but spent a lot more time at altitude, often in the rain (and therefore not very warm!).  The landscape was so much more varied than I expected, as we went from nearly-fresh lava flows to beaches to, yes, rainforests.  

Stargazing at the Observatory Visitors Center on Mauna Kea required all the warm clothes we'd brought (and we'd brought most of what we'd take backpacking anywhere), but gave us a view of the night sky I've never seen, even in the High Sierra or the deserts of the Western US.

And one rainforest where we spent a few hours hiking struck particularly, because it wasn't crowded.  All the images I get of a tropical rainforest are much like the temperate rainforests I know (Olympic Peninsula, for example) only hotter, steamier, and even more thick with undergrowth.  This forest, at 2000' above the NE coast, was relatively open.  I didn't really believe it was a rainforest until it started to rain on us.  And kept on raining.  

Finally, I had completely forgotten how easy it is to swim in salt water (I hadn't been in salt water since the mid-80s).  What fun to be able to just hang out in the water and not have to work to stay afloat!  The incredible sea life we saw when snorkeling was a treat, but just swimming in the ocean was another sort of treat (as was the local coffee and ice cream we enjoyed afterwards!).

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