We ate our last wonderful breakfast on the terrace of the hotel restaurant, and then drove to the airport. We flew to Kona, and had a really cranky retired flight attendant sitting right next to me. The short flight seemed long when sitting next to her! We picked up our rental Jeep and drove to the Hilton Waikoloa Village. On the way we saw some interesting Hawaiian graffiti. Much of the landscape is just black lava, and people write out messages in white coral on the black background. It is really quite charming. We got to the hotel. There is valet parking, and in the lobby you can either catch a "silver bullet train" or a mahogany boat to get to your room. If you don't choose either option, there is about a mile's worth of roofed walkways which are chock full of gorgeous Asian art. We chose the boat, and the driver told us that Al Gore was at the hotel with his family. When we arrived at the room, we were a bit overwhelmed at first. The hotel was kind of theme-parkish. It was so huge and seemed a bit of an inconvenience. We had liked the fact that at the Aston Wailea, we could park our own car and get easily to and from the room. This whole valet/boat/train business seemed inefficient at first, as we were in a hurry to see the island.
We drove into Kona that night, and had dinner at Tres Hombres (we were amazed at the amount of Mexican restaurants on the islands). We had margaritas, burritos, tacos, and quesadillas. We went into some shops, and fond that we were being followed by another tourist-looking guy. He seemes to always be behinfd us, and if we stopped to look at something, he stopped too. When we began walking, he began walking. As with anyplace, the islands are not devoid of crime, and although it is generally safe, heed th warnings they give about not keeping valuables in the car. We managed to lose this guy in the shops, and that was a relief. We bought some Christmas ornaments for ourselves and our families. We sat on a wall and watched the ocean for quite a while. We ate some Scandinavian shave ice and dropped off some film at the ABC store for developing. We would be able to enjoy our pictures and wouldn't have to worry about the film getting Xrayed at the airport, etc. We decided that since we would be on the islands for several days, if we dropped it off right away it should definitely be ready in time, even in the case that they needed an eactra day beyong their next day service.
We then went back to the hotel and relaxed in a hammock outside of our room. We were on the ground floor which was nice in some respects, but our sliding glass door didn't lock from the outside. Because of this, it was hard to just walk out the glass doors and hang out without worry that someone could enter your room. So we would lock the slider from inside and exit our room, walk down the hall, and go outside through the main door.
We ate the buffet breakfast at the hotel (there was often a line, so it was best to get there early). The dining room was nice, and opened onto a courtyard with tropical birds and waterfowl. We then drove the northern route, stopping at Akaka Falls, Kahuna Falls, and Rainbow Falls.
We then drove to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We did a short hike through the Thurston Lava Tube, which was interesting, but a bit of a let-down after the unspoiled beauty of Chuck Thorne's lava caves. This lava tube was huge, but a walkway ran through it and there was fluorescent lighting. We drove down Chain of Craters Road, where there were signs along the desolate way marking what year the lava had flowed in each spot. At the end of Chain of Craters Road, people park their vehicles and hike along the hardened lava. We wanted to hike up toward the flow, but we were not ready in the least. We could see an above ground orange flow way in the distance. However, the flow was very far away, and hiking on the lava was not easy. Some sections were made of a'a lava (very crumbly and sharp) and others were pahoehoe (very ripply, swirly, and smooth). I have a hard time hiking when the weather is hot and the sun is beaming on me (I have a tendency to dehydrate), and eventually we realized that if the sun even went down while we were out there, it would be pitch black. We would be stuck on the flow overnight without so much as a flashlight. So we turned around and hiked back to the car.
We saw a rainbow as we drove back up Chain of Craters Road. We got to Halemaumau Crater at sunset, and it was very other-worldly. We were the only ones there, and sulfur plumes were rising rom the crater.
Then we drove the northern route to Hilo. We ate dinner at McDonald's and then drove back to the hotel. I was exhausted and couldn't help napping while Craig drove through tropical downpours, as Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" played on the radio.
We ate breakfast at the hotel and then drove up the west coast through Hawi. We hiked from Pololu Valley Lookout down a steep trail down to a black sand beach. We seemed to descend indefinitely, and we were a bit worried about the hike back out. When we arrived at the bottom it was gorgeous. I had expected the black sand to be very coarse, but in reality it was very soft and fine. After enjoying sitting on the beach for a while, we hiked back up. The ascent wasn't as bad as we had feared. When we decided to take our first water break, we realized that we were only minutes from the top. The entire ascent took took just 25 minutes.
We then drove to Waimea and shopped at Cook's Treasures. We ate lunch at the Paniolo (a word which means "cowboy" in Hawaiian) Country Inn, a western-style restaurant where we had pizza, lasagna, chili, mud pie, and passion fruit margaritas.
We then did a 1.4 mile hike into the Puako Petroglyph Archeological Preserve at sunset. (The Preserve is on the grounds of the Maui Lanai Resort. The hike in was verynteresting, as we had to crouch down to get trhough some gnarled trees. We saw five nenes (the Hawaii state bird) on the hike. The petroglyphs were amazing! They were very well preserved, and there were tons of them. My camera battery died there, so on the way back to the hotel we stopped at the King's Shops to get a new one. We did some gift shopping as well, and then we went back and drank our complimentary champagne at the hotel room.
We ate breakfast at the hotel and then drove south. We stopped at the painted church, where missionaries had painted Bible scenes on the walls to teach the locals about Christianity. We then stopped at Pu'uhonau O Honaunau (Place of Refuge) National Historical Park. There was an interesting self-guided tour around this city,which once served as a place of sanctuary for defeated warriors and those who had broken sacred laws. The Great Wall, which separated the palace grounds from the rest of the place of refuge is an amazing 1000 feet long, 10 feet high, and an astonishing 17 feet deep! The wall was made of carefully placed stones, probably around the year 1550.
We then drove back to the town of Volcano. We ate sandwiches at the Steam Vent Cafe. We also stopped in at the Visitor's Center and brpwsed at the Volcano Arts Center. We checked out Halemaumau Crater again (this time it was packed with tourists and had totally different vibe from the eeriness of the other night). We also saw the steam vents (which would have been much nicer if insensitive tourists hadn't stuffed them full of litter) and the sulfur banks (where yellow sulfur was visible in the hillsides. We hiked on Devastation Trail, where you could see the regrowth of the land after being totally devastated by volcanoes.
We then drove down Chain of Craters Road, and a ranger told us of a secluded vantagepoint from which to watch the steam plume (where the lava meets the ocean) and the orange surface flow. We sat there alone while the sun set, and the stars were unreal. The clouds of smoke above the flow glowed red after sunset. It was surreal.
We stopped for dinner at Ken's House of Pancakes, a Hilo institution. We had teriyaki plate lunches and dessert. When we got back to the hotel, we walked to the room so that we could admire all of the art. It really was impressive, and we had the corridors to ourselves as it was 12:45 a.m.
We woke up late and then went to breakfast. As we had now seen a lot of what the island had to offer, we were finally ready to kick back and relax at the resort. It really was amazing, and we were in more of a mood now to enjoy it. We toured the grounds (which included a huge swimming pool with waterslides, caves, waterfalls, rope bridges, and jacuzzis). We sat in a cabana and enjoyed the ocean view, and then climbed a hill which led to a cement bench opposite a huge statue of Buddha. The whole hotel was quite surreal. They even had a dolphin ppol where guests could enter a lottery and, if they won, they could purchase a ticket to swim with the dolphins. It was a highly sought-after activity. One day during our stay, the entire dolphin pool area was cordoned off by the Secret Service, and so that Al Gore and family could swim with the dolphins. It seemed an incredible coincidence that they would just happen to win the lottery...
We then drove into Kona. We picked up our film and then stopped at the Kona Brewing Company for a tasting. Craig had seen a restaurant called Tom Bombadil's mentioned in a guidebook, and being a hige Tolkien fan, he wanted to try to find it. However, it had gone out of business and was now Tres Hombres, where we had eaten several days before. We ate at Sizzler (being from the East Coast, we had never eaten at one before), and we had a passable meal of a sirloin sandwich and a BBQ burger. We looked at our photos while we sat at the table.
We then went back to the hotel, and relaxed by swimming, going down the waterslide (it was Craig's first time ever), and sitting in the jacuzzi. We wanted some drinks, but we felt that we should go back to the room and freshen up and change clothes first. We passed the Hang Ten Bar on the way, where people were eating hambrugers and sipping drinks poolside. We decided that we would go there. After quickly freshening up, the bar was deserted. We ordered from the bartended, who rolled his eyes and was upset to have to break out the blender again. We didn't understand the problem, as it was still one hour from closing time. He did make our drinks, however. Craig tried the Lavaman Ale (a Kona Brewing Company beer which is exclusively sold at the Hilton Waikoloa), and I had a Lava Flow (which was a pina coloda with strawberries). We didn't feel like going back to the room, so we had another drink at the Boat Landing Bar, which stayed open a bit later. There weren't a lot of options for casual dinner and/or drinks at this hotel, and what few there are close early. There is a discotheque/nightclub and some fancy restaurants which stay open later, though. We then went back to the room and had room service pizza.
We woke up late and went to the buffet breakfast. Then we sat in a cabana looking out on the ocean. I read The Hobbit. Waitresses brought us drinks, and it was quite relaxing. We then spent some time in the pool, waterslide, and jacuzzi.
After changing clothes, we went into Kona. We were considering an expensive dinner to commemorate the last full day of our trip, but after looking at some menus, we decided we were both in the mood for something more casual. We ate at Pancho and Lefty's Mexican restaurant, where wer had margaritas and fajitas. We were seated on a terrace, and we looked out onto the streets of Kona, where people were taking horse-drawn carriage rides. We then sat on a rock wall watching the waves break. On our way back to the hotel, we smelled smoke and saw what appeared to be a large fire in the distance. We never learned what it was.
After eating breakfast on our last day, we rode on the mahogany boat for one last time as we checked out. We drove to the Waipio Valley Lookout. It started to downpour (as is typical in that region of the island) and our Jeep did not have a top. We ended up with several inches of water in the bottom, which eventually flowed out through the drainage holes in the floor. We stopped at a store for souvenirs and snacks. Then it was off to the Hapuna Beach State Recreation area, which was teeming with stray cats and kittens. We sat at a picnic table on the beach until sunset, and then it was off to the airport.
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