As a child I had collected decals from each state we had visited as a family. Not until our children were teenagers did we get to visit the 49th state, Alaska. Utah remained missing from my collection of visited states until 2010. This year Lori and I completed our set of states visited with a long wished for trip to Hawai’i.
Lori did nearly all of the planning: finding the best prices for flights and lodging and making reservations. She also prepared a list of places we would visit.
Our trip began long before dawn, at 3:30 on the morning of October 8th, with an Uber ride to Tampa International Airport. Two plane rides later we landed in Maui! Our first stop was the Old Wailuku Inn, our base for our stay on the island of Maui. I expected this would be a short stop to check in, unpack, and perhaps a twenty minute nap before our initial exploration of the island as it was only 2 in the afternoon, Hawai’i time. Our bodies decided differently, extending that nap, as we had been mostly awake for the 17 hour journey preceded by only a short sleep the night before. Thus we arose and were dressed well before breakfast the following morning.
Our hosts recommended Gypsy Guide, an app for our phone that provides turn by turn directions with commentary for nearly all of the interesting sites on Maui. In addition to providing directions and pointing out interesting places to visit, the narrator commented on Hawaiian history and legends. This app was the next best thing to a personal tour guide at less than the cost of tips.
[Click on any of the images below to see a larger version.]
Our first tour was to visit Haleakala, the dormant volcano on the east end of Maui. At 10,023 feet, Haleakala creates it own weather and controls the weather for much of the island. Our guide pointed out various landmarks as we drove up, including a grove of eucalyptus trees. The Trade Winds push warm moist air up its slope bringing rain and a misty fog that frequently envelops its top. The wind mixes fine cinders with the mist as it slowly erodes the caldera.
We hiked a short distance across the crater valley and back. A little less than a mile each way. The whole hike is 11 miles, with several thousand feet of elevation change. Those who do hike the trail typically seek rides back to their cars at the top of the trail.
While there we saw rare and unique plants called Sliverswords or ‘Ahinahina. These grown to about 30 inches tall (judging by stalks from last year’s growth). The ones shown below were only about six inches tall with 3 or 4 inch silvery leaves specifically adapted to the harsh environment.
Later that day we drove through the lava field on Haleakala’s south side. Here the ominous gray sky matched the black field of ‘a’a and pahoehoe, two types of lava formations. ‘A’a, as seen in this photo, is rough and jagged. Pahoehoe has a smooth or rope-like surface.
Before running out of daylight we visited the Iao Valley, nestled into Maui Komohana, the West Maui Mountains formed from the erosion of an extinct volcano. This valley is historically significant as it was the sight of a major battle leading to King Kamehameha taking control of Maui and unifying all of the islands under his government.
The valley is also home to Kepaniwai Park which includes gardens memorializing the various peoples who came and settled the islands: Hawaiian, American missionary, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, and Filipino.
Our last day on Maui was spent driving the Hana Highway, a 52 mile road that follows the coastline. I had presumed that a half tank of gas would get us out and back with a reasonable margin. But that was before I had seen and experienced the over 600 turns and 59 mostly single lane bridges. Fortunately we were able to buy gas in Hana. Somewhere along this route we visited a black sand beach, formed from particles of lava.
On Thursday we said “mahalo” to our hosts at the Old Wailuku Inn. Our stay with them had been everything we had hoped for in a Bed and Breakfast: a clean, quiet, nicely appointed room, a beautiful garden where one might sit and read, a sumptuous breakfast with great conversation with other travelers, and helpful hosts.
Touring the big island
We flew from Maui to the big island, Hawai’i, landing at Kona Airport on the leeward side of the island near the city of Kailua then immediately drove north around Mauna Kea to Hilo. We stopped for lunch in Waimea, cattle country. According to our tour guide, and Wikipedia, the Parker Ranch which surrounds Waimea, is the largest privately owned cattle ranch in the United States. So in a little restaurant we tried a Loco Moko: a layer of rice, a large beef patty, fried eggs, and brown gravy. Maybe it was the Hawaiian beef, but this was far superior to any hamburger.
We stopped to overlook the Waipio Valley. The black sand beach can be accessed by a long hike down and later back up a very steep hill. We saw several people who had visited the beach and were thrilled to have reached the parking lot after a swim.
Several years ago tree frogs were inadvertently released on Hawai’i. In their native environment snakes control their population, here they are limited only by the food they can find. Thus they serenaded us all night long.
In the morning we drove to the most active volcano in the world, Kilauea. There we listened to a volcanologist tell us about its recent and current activity. This is currently the best view the public gets of the caldera after a lava flow destroyed Crater Rim Drive. Lava does not currently flow from nor is readily visible here. The smoke plume comes from a lake of lava within Hale Ma’uma’u crater which is inside the distant caldera.
An aggressive hiker can see lava flow from the a crater closer to the shore. This requires a five mile hike. One ranger talked about visiting the active flow with his son, buying him boots especially for this trek. At the conclusion of that hike, the ranger son’s shoes had been destroyed by the heat of the ground. We did not take that hike, but returned to the same overlook as the above panoramic photograph that later evening. This second photograph uses the same magnification. Occasionally we could see blobs of lava rising above the crater rim, as if tossed by an unseen hand.
We also returned to Kilauea on our last day on Hawai’i, starting from the Kona side. The following photographs are from both of those excursions as we drove down the Chain of Craters Road taking an occasional hike.
We were impressed by the trees and plants, even with fist sized fruit, that grew among the volcanic cinders.
These petroglyphs were made over a 500 year period beginning around 1325 AD +/- 125 years. Early Hawaiians would make and embellish small indentations to deposit umbilical cords as part of a ritual to assure long life.
After a long-cut (a shortcut that turned out differently than expected) we found this little painted church. It is significant as one of their former pastors had left this church to attend lepers who were exiled to a nearby island. Significantly it has survived two lava flows that passed nearby.
The painted back wall gives the illusion that the chapel is much longer than it looks.
We also found three sea turtles lying near a beach crowded with people swimming and splashing in the waves. The turtles were as unconcerned of the people as the people were of the turtles. Thus we took our photos from a safe distance and continued our journey.
The crabs however were very shy, disappearing as soon as we stepped near. This one let me take a quick shot of it.
After two full days on the rainy side of the big island our tour guide led us back around to Kona, passing through Waimea twice. The second time was not a long-cut, but an intentional loop to the northwestern coastal area.
Our guide urged us to stop at a botanical garden. He offered two and we chose the first. The founders had cleaned up and planted a valley that sloped steeply to the ocean with various plants most of which can be found on the islands. Technically nothing is indigenous to Hawai’i. Plants that had existed prior to the arrival of the Polynesians, had either floated there on chance ocean or atmospheric currents. The Polynesians brought edible plants and flowers with them plus hogs. Early sailors brought Norfolk Pines with them to provide tall straight timbers to replace broken masts as well as goats, cattle, and rats. Farmers imported sugar cane, pineapple, and chickens plus mongoose to eat the rats (a failed experiment).
The loop to the northwestern corner of the big island yielded several interesting sights including a large stone platform built by hand in the late 1700’s and still considered sacred by Hawaiians and a statue of King Kamehameha who had directed building of that platform. We were most impressed by this vista, from the side of Kohala (an extinct volcano) where we could see three of the four other mountains: Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai. Hawai’i’s fifth mountain Kilauea is behind Mauna Loa. A sixth volcano, Lo’ihi, is expected to break the surface of the water and connect with Kilauea in the next 10,000 to 100,000 years.
What Hawaiian vacation would be complete without attending a luau? Lori had found one within walking distance of our hotel in Kailua-Kona. After breakfast we walked over to the site to verify we could find it. We arrived at the exact moment the cooks began preparing the pig to roast for our dinner. Earlier they had stoked a fire in a pit and covered it with melon sized lava rocks. The cooks used long tongs to remove a few of the rocks and stuff them strategically inside the pig. Then they layered moist banana tree stalks over the fire and placed the pig atop the yellow stalks. Then they covered the pig with banana leaves and ti leaves. These were covered with cotton cloths, which were then covered with about three inches of dirt. Eight hours later they reversed the process, now dressed in traditional garb then served the succulent pork as part of our dinner.
Among the last stops on our tour was a coffee farm and processor. In addition to walking among the fragrant trees and watching their mill pop the beans from the fruit, we also sampled some of their product lines. This premium Kona coffee needed neither cream nor sugar, but at a price that far exceeded what we could afford to brew ourselves.
Three flights and an Uber ride later we had returned to our home in Tampa.
Where did I experience God in all this?
The geology impressed me with the age of the earth and all of God’s preparations to place humanity in an appropriate environment. In many ways, Hawai’i is a microcosm example of the creation story found in the first chapter of Genesis. Yet the numerous Puerto Rican tree frogs and other invasive species demonstrated how easily we humans can damage creation and the importance of good stewardship of God’s creation.
I was also impressed by the diverse people who consider themselves Hawaiians. Some with only a sliver or even no genetic connection with the original Polynesian settlers. Their ability to work together across cultural lines, while preserving their ancestral heritage demonstrates a hope for world peace. Yet the treachery by which Hawai’i became part of the United States and continued disharmony as a result provides a warning about acceptance of strangers with strange customs.
I was also impressed with the relaxed pace on these two islands. Rarely did we see anyone exceed the speed limit as nearly everyone was willing to accept life as God makes it available, one day at a time. The Hana Highway is a notable example; the locals continue to resist replacing the one lane bridges as two lane bridges would remove a natural impediment that forces visitors and residents to take time and wave at each other, honoring the image God has placed in each and every person.
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
— Genesis 1:27 (NRSV)