31 December 2012

Volcano National Park

Today, we slept in a little bit and got a late start.  It was 11am by the time we hit the trail, but we made up for it with a 6.5 mile hike.  We started out at the visitor center of Volcano National Park, where we walked along the rim of the Kilauea Caldera, a huge depression that houses Halema'uma'u crater, one of the active volcanos in the park. Because of eruption and activity, much of the caldera was off-limits for hiking. Here's Halema'uma'u smoldering in the distance:

Along part of the ridge hike, we walked along what used to be a two-lane road encircling the caldera, until some volcanic activity in the '80s destroyed part of the road.  Now the road is pedestrian-only, and you can see how nature is slowly reclaiming it:

The middle section of the hike was around and through Kilauea Iki Crater, which had lots of steam vents and lava ridges.  Part of the hike went right through the crater:

After that hike, we grabbed a quick lunch of some quiche before beginning a drive down Chain of Craters Road, which is a 40-mile round-trip road down from the caldera to the coast. Along the way, you pass a bunch of craters of varying states of awesomeness. Towards the end, when the coast is in sight, there's a pull out where you can have your mind blown by the vastness of the lava fields:

Also towards the coast is a hike into the lava fields to see some of the petroglyphs that the ancient Hawaiians made.  Not much is known about these carvings, except that one set of them were used as repositories for umbilical cords. 

When we got to the end of the road, the sky had cleared, the sun was setting, and it was beautiful.

After we reached the end of the road, we parked the car and continued on foot down the road. The Chain of Craters Road has been rerouted a number of times because of lava flows (the Ranger Station down there is a mobile home so it can be easily moved), and at the end of the road we reached a section where the lava had completely covered the street. All that was left was this forlorn sign:

After a long day of hiking, we were pooped! Thai for dinner, then home to chill out and go to bed early. Happy New Year to all of you out there!

Kona to Volcano Village

I hit the gym for a morning workout, and it felt good to move again (too much sloth on the days after Christmas!). S had booked us a couples massage at the spa at the hotel, and we were treated to an amazing hour of massage on a balcony where we could feel the ocean breezes and hear the waves smashing against the lava rocks. Wow!

After the massage, we checked out of the resort (Aloha, Sheraton), grabbed a disappointing breakfast at  a highly-reputed coffee shop, and continued down to the Place of Refuge:

The Place of Refuge is one of a handful of spots on the Hawaiian Islands where commoners who had committed crimes (most of which were punishable by death) could be absolved of their transgressions and reaccepted into society. This PoR is one of the most well-known, and because it's run by the National Park Service, it's one of the most well-maintained. There were lots of recreations of structures, historical points, and plenty of beautiful shorelines.  S and I spent quite a while waiting for a turtle to pose for us.

After the Place of Refuge, we jumped back in the car for the journey south. Our next stop was at the southern-most point in the United States (suck on THAT, Florida!). The point was a 12-mile detour off the rainy highway down a one-lane road, at the end of which you end at a cliff where fishermen have dropped lines into the water. Despite the warnings about how strong the current is, people were jumping off the cliff and into the water, swimming madly for the ladder once they came up for air. S and I estimate the drop was about 25 or 30 feet. S wouldn't let me jump. Sad face.

After watching a couple of jumpers go down and come back up, S and I left them for the last half-mile walk down a dirt road (again, note the changes in climate)...

to the southern-most point of the USA. S stands with her hands raised, the only thing preventing her from a current-driven trip to Antarctica being her sure footing on those lava rocks.

From there, we jumped back in the car, back to the rainy highway, and on to one of the few remaining black-sand beaches. Black-sand beaches are formed when cold water shatters hot lava. As the beach naturally erodes, the sand is washed away, so all black-sand beaches have a definite life-span. This beach was lovely, full of solitude. We made it to the beach just after sundown with enough time to wander for 20 minutes or so. Again, turtles!  Here's a shot of S lining up a photograph: 

After the beach, we hopped back in the car, drove through more rainy highway, and got to Volcano Village just in time to grab dinner (not as impressive as last night, but still quite good). Our b&b here in VV is exquisite - spacious, cozy, well-appointed, and very convenient to Volcano National Park, where we'll spend tomorrow!

30 December 2012

Whales and more!

Up at 5 this morning to get a little bit of exercise in. S and I were out the door by 6.15 to get to the whale-watching boat by 7. We were at the top of the waiting list, and thankfully, we were able to board. The boat was captained by Dan McSweeny, a very knowledgable whale-ologist. As he piloted us north of the harbor along the coast past the airport, he talked about whale history, psychology, family practice, study, and behavior. But it wasn't until we were on our way back to the harbor that we finally spotted  a pair of humpbacks.  Here's a tail:

We were back at the harbor by 10am, and we headed north along Rt. 19 (Queen K. Highway). We had no specific stops in mind - just a direction to wander. Our first stop ended up being a pull-out on the side of the road, which led to a hike through an arid desert/lava wasteland before we got to the beach. Here's some wasteland:

The beach was called Kiholo Bay and featured some preserved fishponds and some lovely vistas. From there, we walked south to the Queen's Bath, a spring-fed natural pool buried in rocks. I dipped my legs in, but it was too cold to fully submerge myself. Along the beach between the two sites, we passed Bali House, a genuine Balinese house that was broken down and moved here a long time ago. It's privately owned, so we just shot it from the outside:

After checking out the Queen's Bath, we returned along a 4WD road. Note how dramatically different the environment is! The Bali House photo and the ones below and above it are less than a mile apart:

Back in the car, we drove north along the west coast highway, stopping for a yummy fish and salad (and mai tai) lunch.  We continued north to the sleepy artsy town of Hawi, where I bought a ukelele and S hoped to pick up some fudge. The fudge, however, was being snacked on by centipedes (or some other gazillion-legged creature). Gross. When we pointed it out to the clerk, she just shrugged and said 'that's Hawaii for you!' Grosser.

Up and over the northern tip of Hawaii to the end of Route 270. It ends at a sudden dead end at a vista overlooking Pololu Beach. There's a hike down to the beach. We only did the first half, as the light was waning and I had worn the wrong shoes (blisters). The beach is full of black sand and rocks, and the surf is heavy (swimming is not recommended). Dig:

Back in the car, retracing our steps to Hawi, where we turned south on Route 250 and into the mountains. A little way up the hills we stopped the car and looked north, where we could see Maui way in the distance. You can see it here (behind the clouds):

Check out the green grass also - we were about 2500 feet above sea level, and for this part of the drive, we passed verdant fields rotten with cattle. And rain!

Back to the coast, we made it to A Bay to catch the sunset. It wasn't as spectacular as we had hoped, but it was still pretty damn great.

Dinner was at a great restaurant called Holuakoa Cafe. The food was exceptional - S had gnocchi with pumpkin, and I had seared ahi with lemon/bacon risotto. To drink, a margarita with rainwater limeade!  Yum

28 December 2012

Holidays & Kona

It's the end of the year.  I dropped the ball on keeping up posts recently, but here's what's been happening.  Once classes ended, I had two weeks of steady work at home and the U. Grading papers, prepping for new classes, reviewing applications for the committee I'm chairing.  S had plenty of work to do for Glee, so we both stayed busy. We had a few holiday events to take part in (including seeing the LA Gay Men's Chorus's Holiday Show), but mostly, we worked and worked until we left LA on 23 December.

From LA, we flew to Virginia Beach, where we spent Christmas with my family. It was the first time in quite a few years where all of the kids of my generation were together, and we celebrated with a photo:

We had a terrific time seeing family and friends. S got to meet cousin J's girlfriend R, and on the night of the 26th, S, D, and I went to visit one of my great friends from when I was a kid.  K and his wife W threw us a nice dinner, and we got to see some of his family as well.  Was great!

On Thursday evening, S and I got back on a plane to fly back to LAX via ORD. Our flight before Christmas was uneventful, so we had built up some bad karma that came back to haunt us in ORD. At any rate, we landed at LAX two hours late (12.30am instead of 10.30pm). We hurried home to finish packing our new bags and get about 90 minutes of sleep before zipping back to LAX for a morning fight to Hawaii.  That flight was truly uneventful, and we're now spending our first of seven nights on the Big Island.

We flew into Kona today and picked up the rental car. A woman in the Avis line ahead of us was trying to find a rental car, but she hadn't made a reservation. No such luck. She was trying all of the car companies, but no one had a vehicle for her. Fortunately, we made reservations, so our car was waiting for us.

We were too early to check into the hotel, so we drove into Kona for lunch (pork sandwich, cheeseburger) and drinks (a mai tai for me), a bit of culture (the Governor's Palace in Kona), and some browsing (I might come home with a ukelele...). The Governor's Palace was small, but it was well-appointed with historical artifacts and attended by knowledgable docents. Our guide did an excellent job telling us all about the building and the people who lived in it and visited it.  Kona itself, at least the parts we saw, were very touristy and less exciting for me.  We found a neat farmer's market and have made some mental notes of things we want to bring home with us: musical instruments, mango tea, eucalyptus honey, volcanic sea salt.

We checked into the hotel late in the afternoon and spent the rest of the night chilling out and exploring the resort. The Sheraton resort is huge, with a massive pool structure, multiple restaurants, game room, spa, gym, tennis courts, basketball courts, manta-viewing platform, and a sports equipment shop. We grabbed a quick bite at one of the restaurants and were back in the hotel room by 9, pooped.

Tomorrow, we hope to catch up with a whale-watching tour. The tour was sold out, but the guide told us over the phone that the early tour usually has no-shows.  If that's the case, then we'll be able to jump on the tour and hopefully see some whales!  More tomorrow.