Sunday, December 6, 2009

Hawaii — First Days

Lagoon view from our balcony.I still didn’t come up with a good structure to write about this trip, so I’ll just go on about things that come to my mind. Our general approach to this vacation was to take it a bit more easy than usual, but we ended up driving somewhere every day anyhow. There was only one day when we didn’t use the car at all.

Our room in the hotel got upgraded because of our Gold VIP status. I didn’t realize this at first and was slightly upset, but later on after checking the website it turned out that we ended up in the best location the whole resort has to offer. We had a small balcony. The view on one side was a lagoon and on the other dolphin pool and open ocean.

View of the ocean and some lava rocks.As for the island itself I expected it all to look like Jurassic Park. Turns out different parts of the island are polar opposites of each other. The western side is mostly a lava dessert. Everything is surrounded by dried up lava and sharp black rocks. Barely anything grows at all. Very unusual looking landscape.

Our yellow Jeep.On our first day we decided to explore the western side of the island, the part that we were staying on. Since we drove to our hotel during the night we didn’t really see any surroundings. There were also 3 official national park sites on this side of the island — two to the south and one to the north.

Sea turtle. This one was about a meter in length.In the morning, after eating our breakfast1 we got into our awesome yellow Jeep and drove south. Our first Hawaiian stamp stop was Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. We were told that there are giant see turtles feeding near by and went went down into the water. At first we couldn’t really see anything and felt disappointed. And then we started noticing that there are numerous huge turtles sitting in the water. Since they barely move around they are hard to spot.

Wooden statue at the City of Refuge.Next stop was another NHP — Pu`uhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park. This location probably has the most unfriendly and unhelpful ranger we have ever met. But since the territory is rather small anyhow we just took a hike on our own and saw the wooden carved statues that I’ve seen pictures of before.

In the evening we ate dinner in the Lagoon Restaurant that’s right under our hotel room, but the food was crap again and we still payed a lot even with coupons. That was the last time we tried eating at the hotel with the exception of Luau. And that was the end of our first day.

On Saturday we couldn’t help ourselves, but go to the Volcanoes National Park, the thing that I wanted to see the most. The drive is about 3 hours and we took the road that goes by Mauna Kea through Hilo and to the south. The ranger at the Visitor Center was very helpful and she built a good plan for us for the day.

Volcano crater at Jaggar Museum point.We went in the direction of Jaggar Museum. First short stop was near some spot where vapor was coming up form under the ground. Normally this might be a very interesting sight, but after our Yellowstone trip this looked utterly unimpressive. The next stop was a view point near the Jaggar Museum itself.

Now there one could clearly see a very large volcano caldera filled with lava and in the middle of it there was a large crater with a lot of fumes coming out. During the day the lava glow is not visible, but at as we saw later at night there is a distinct red glow inside. For some reason I always imagined the volcano in the way they are drawn in cartoons — big mountain with a top cut off. This really looked nothing like it, but it was a first time I actually saw a volcano crater.

Inside the caldera.After that we drove in the other direction to some other caldera (I don’t remember any of the actual names). What was interesting about this one is that there was a hiking trail down to it. I’m not sure about the actual elevation difference, but the hike itself was about 1.2 miles each way along a rather steep trail, so not an easy exercise, especially for those of us who barely move at all on regular basis.

Lava rocks. Walking on these sounds like walking on frozen snow.Walking on the lava is an interesting experience. At some points it felt like a good asphalt and in others it felt like walking on a frozen snow. With each step you can hear the cracking of little pieces of lava breaking up under your feet. They are actually very sharp little stones full of pores from the air when it was drying up.

Then after we got out of the caldera we went through a lava tube — the place where lava actually used to flow. It reminded me of Carlsbad Caverns somewhat because of how moist, dark and cool it was. At that was about a time when I started to realize that not taking any kind of a sweater was a big mistake. On the other side of the island, where we were staying the temperature was around 90 degrees and here it was quite cold in a t-shirt.

Inside the lava tube.Our dinner was yet another “adventure”. We found a place with really nice Zagat rating not far from the park entrance. We ordered some hot soup and hot tea in an attempt to try to stop shivering from the cold. I also ordered a $40 filet mignon and Alena ordered some salad. The said part came when our food was given to someone else and we were told that it was the last filet mignon they had. And we saw all this play-out in front of our eyes, but not like we could stop the waitress and say — are you sure that’s not our food? )

Either way, they did have another piece for me and they ended up giving us their most expensive appetizer and the soup for free and the steak was just exceptional. So we hold no grudge.

Then we drove back to the hotel and as soon as we got back we went to the pools. It was nice when they keep them open until 11pm. They had one of the jacuzzis there that can only be reached through the water and is completely secluded from 3 sides. I don’t think I have to say anymore. ) And that pretty much concludes our Saturday.

  1. We paid $40 for a rather simple buffet after applying $20 Gold VIP coupon. Would’ve been $60 otherwise []

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