After our stay in Zambia, we were off to Australia for two weeks of visits with family and friends. We hopscotched across the country taking two days in Perth, a few in Melbourne, and a week in Sydney. This, combined with my previous visit to Sydney, Cairns, and Auckland, you can find in an upcoming blog posting.
After our time in Australia, we took a flight from Sydney to Oahu, Hawaii. We had a layover in Auckland because we wanted to fly with Air New Zealand based on the quality of their long-haul flights. Upon landing in Oahu, we took a quick flight to Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawai’i. We chose to spend the majority of our time in Hawaii on the Big Island for a few reasons. First, we already experienced “honeymoon beach-going” in the Seychelles. Second, we wanted to see volcanoes and do some hiking! Third, we wanted something different.
A little clarification on Hawaii: The state (Hawaii, with no apostrophe) is made of several islands. The most well-known are Oahu (where you find the international airport, Honolulu, Waikiki, and Pearl Harbor), Maui, Kauai, and the Island of Hawai’i (with the apostrophe), also known as the Big Island. There is some ongoing confusion as to when to use “Hawaii” vs “Hawai’i” but I’m going with what the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has to say about it. Hawaii refers to the state, and Hawai'i refers to the Big Island, nodding to the more emphasized pronunciation by the locals.
Big Island Culture and Beaches
We stayed on Big Island, less known for tourist activity, and also on the lesser-common side of the island. Hawai’i’s popular side is the Kona District, on the western side. There you find famous beaches, manta rays, and Kona coffee. On the eastern side is Hilo, and a bit further south, Pahoa, the town of Volcano, and Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. We positioned ourselves near Pahoa at a bed & breakfast, about 30 minutes’ drive from the park.
Hawai’i is a pretty interesting place, especially on the eastern side. A far cry from the touristy, resort-filled islands of Oahu and Maui, Hawai’i feels a bit like a hippie commune. It’s known for trust fund kids turned bohemian and for retired military vets, both of whom dawn the same unkempt grey beards. The former can be spotted with dreadlocks and flower child garb, typing away on their modern Apple products, and the latter might just be the actual originators of the Hawaiian tee-shirt and "bare foot don't care" look.
In addition to lots of hippies, Hawai’i is also full of really interesting and unique beaches. You can find traditional tan sand, black sand, green sand, rocks, pebbles, cliffs, and on and on throughout the island. The geologic variations alone are a great reason to just drive around and check out the many beaches and literal watering holes that you can find.
Because there is active volcanic activity on the island, there is also the opportunity to “chase lava” on foot, by boat, or by air. We were enticed to take a lava boat tour when we were told that “lava was flowing” and able to be viewed from the ocean. One of the most sought-after sights and popular photography shots sold about Big Island is burning red lava flowing into the ocean. I must warn that this sighting is super rare and occurrences happen years and years apart. The locals, proprietors of B&Bs, and boat operators will know full well if lava is flowing to that capacity because the whole town will be talking about it. Otherwise, you can view lava bubbling on land from about two miles off the coast in a boat, where you may at best see some simmering red lava in the distance. The cliffs on the boat ride are pretty, but for me, it was certainly not worth the price of the ride, nor because I succumbed to quite a case of nausea and violently “feeding the fish." There are other ways to catch sights of lava, especially if you are willing and able enough to hike the 6-10 hours out to the flows. Otherwise, your best bet is by air if you can afford it, or likely at the National Park, where we were super pleased with the views.
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park
The crème de la crème of Big Island is Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. If you like easy-to-moderate hiking with big payoff views, if you have interest in geologic phenomena, or if you are simply interested in seeing unique sights that aren’t available just anywhere, the park is a fascinating place for you.
There is a visitor’s center where you can discuss your preferred activities and sights. We chose the Kilauea Iki Trail, the Chain of Craters Road, and a few other places to pullover and explore. The sights from the Kilauea Iki Trail hike are unmatched, maybe only comparable to spots in Iceland or New Zealand, for obvious geologically similar reasons. There are many payoffs: a giant smoking volcano mouth, walking an enormous crater gorge, solidified lava, and Ohia trees with plumes of pink flowers bursting from the blackened lava floor.
The Chain of Craters road feels like you’re driving on the moon, through lava fields that look like frozen black cake batter, some of which had previously spilled out over the road and solidified. Here you can also get your steaming crater payoff, and we were lucky enough to have it combined with a rainbow and a bit of bubbling red lava seen from a reasonable distance. Keep scrolling for a few of my favorite shots.
Oahu and Pearl Harbor
After three nights on Big Island, we got chased away a day early by impending Tropical Storm Darby, so we hopped an earlier flight to Oahu to settle for the last days of our Hawaiian visit. We stayed in Waikiki because it was easy and accessible to the airport and Pearl Harbor, but it is not a preferred destination for me. If we had more time, we would likely have explored the north side of the island to make the most of Oahu. We did have one hike up Diamond Head State Monument, which is basically a conga line of tourists itching to get the same shots from the top, only to have to turn right around and come back down. Admittedly, it’s a nice view.
The main reason for staying in Oahu was so we could experience Pearl Harbor. Anyone who likes history, doesn't like history but respects big events, or wants to know more about history, should visit. We used a travel packager to pick us up, for entry tickets, and to drop us back off in Waikiki. You really don’t need this, though. Just take a taxi to Pearl Harbor and you can buy tickets on site. The USS Arizona is the main “attraction” but I use the word lightly, as it is a memorial built atop a sunken ship where thousands of navy personnel still remain. There is also a memorable dedication with names of survivors who chose to be interred with their shipmates upon their own deaths. We stayed at the site for a few hours, solemnly walking the harbor, and catching an informative video presentation of the historic events that occurred there.
So with that, the Hawaiian portion of our trip was over. Next we would take a direct flight from Oahu to New York City for another stop geared toward visiting family and friends. New York would be our final stop, and we would then complete our around-the-world- trip by flying back to Amsterdam.