I must confess I was quite skeptical about my trip to Hawai’i. Simply put, I was afraid of being disappointed by over rated sand beaches. After going to Algarve coasts in Portugal and snorkeling coral reefs in Cuba, very few beaches match your expectations (I would like to be mistaken … Any suggestions?) All in all it was going to be an expensive affair. So I was unsurprisingly in a “meh” mood while boarding the flight. Normally every time a boarding pass gets scanned I get this bubble of childish excitement inside my stomach, let the flight be going home to India, or a simple visit for a job interview within Germany. But there was none of that this time. Zilch. The flight in itself was uneventful and surprisingly not tiring (12 hours from Munich to LA and another 6 from LA to Honolulu). Honolulu was all that was “matching” my fears; what with the resort pools filled with people besides empty beaches. Only offset was my wonderful hosts. By the second night in Honolulu I was already getting restless. It was time to move.
There is some kind of unworldly beauty of the islands that can be observed only from air. You don’t need expensive helicopter rides. You only need to fly from one island to the other. Diamond head is admirable, if not only, from air.
Hawaiian air was my choice for inter island flights. Best option is to check online, for the rates change drastically depending upon the time of day, and the day of the week. Having some flexibility will get you a long way in saving some bucks here.
And now some words about the protagonist of the story. Hawai’i: no no not all the islands but the island of Hawai’i…the big island as more commonly called. It is infact the biggest of the currently existing islands ( them being quite dynamic you see ). But as always, every natural wonder has been eluding me the first (sometimes more than just) couple of times around for e.g the auroras, this island was no exception. Where should I begin? Weather? Volcanic activity (or the lack there of)? Unavailable tours? Strong ocean currents? You get the gist. Even so, as determined I always am about milking the most out of a vacation, I was already hunting for possibilities. First up on the list, in the sequence of availability, was night snorkeling. Already snorkeled a few times, the idea was quite intriguing. Of course the sum was hefty but I had kept my maths locked up (I earned enough bonus by working in Christmas to afford such a luxury as parking my calculations) . Otherwise I certainly would not have have made the most of it all. As an after thought I can only say one thing: it really was worth every penny (if not more). Personal suggestion- go for wet suit snorkeling (unless you are a hardcore SCUBA etc. diver, then you know better). It does get quite cold if you are going to float in water (even tropical) at night, with hardly any movement other than occasional steering and slow movement of your flippers, for 45 minutes straight. The tours are entertaining and people are very enthusiastic (I took Big Island divers tour : Big Island Divers ) . And I was not disappointed. The Manta rays, objects of interest for the night, came in from all sides, amazed us beyond doubt and left a lasting image in their wake.
The big island has lots of hidden gems. You will definitely find a hoard of activities on websites for example (personally speaking quite over rated) the Rainbow falls. But if you want to avoid disappointment and wastage of money, I suggest to do some good research on what you like and what each island has to offer. So back to hidden gems here are some of my personal favorites.
Let us divide them into Kona side and Hilo side as locals do (Maps to your rescue). Kona side: DIY snorkeling at Two step (Pae’a (aka “Two Step”)), swimming in Ali’i Dr. Salt water pools, Makalwena and surrounding beaches (saw turtles here). Hilo side: DIY snorkeling at Kapoho Tide pools (abundant corals and marine life in shallow pools), swimming in Warm water pools (Ahalanui County beach park), Wednesday evening local party at Uncle Robert’s Awa Bar and Farmers Market, near Kalapana. Not to miss. These are just to name a few (Referneces: local people and beloved Lonely Planet Hawai’i book).
Without further adieu then, the volcanic activity. You are at the mercy of mother nature. Even though that sounds poetic, the validity of the statement cannot be ignored. Some extra cookies here :
-Always check on official website for the current lava activity on Kilauea (https://hvo.wr.usgs.gov/activity/kilaueastatus.php). Do not trust tour guides, remember they are there for the money. Trust the park rangers. There are four usual ways to see laval: 1) Up at the crater from the View point at Jaggar Museum in the Volcanic national park – it is visible if the lava lake is inflating. If it is deflating, the night orange glow is still spectacular even if the spluttering lava is below the visible crater rim. 2) Hike up to places where the lave is flowing on surface (check again on the official website for this, as guides may say it is there, but after hours of hiking you may not really see anything) 3) Personal recommendation: To observe the lava pouring out into the sea. (take early local boat tours – sunrise time is the best idea, sea is normally calmer -expect cancellations due to weather… so keep flexible dates ) 4) to cycle/hike to a “view point” – 1st veiw point on side of Volcano National park-drive to the end of rim of craters road and then hike from there .2nd view point kalapana side – drive to the end of 130 hwy and then hike or take bikes until the view point (this is easier to access than view point 1). Now all that being said, I was not lucky enough to see surface flows. However the lava oozing out of fissures and splashing into the sea with a loud fizzzzzz was a complete privilege to watch! I could not but be humbled by the whole experience. It is one of the places in this world where you are overwhelmed with the feeling of helplessness against the power of sea and fire.
Next hop was onto the island of Maui, which was quite an entertainment. Unable to get a star gazing program at Maunakea, due to weather (check their website frequently for events and cancellation updates : http://www.ifa.hawaii.edu/info/vis/visiting-mauna-kea/visitor-information-station.html), I was quite keen on getting some Milky Way shots combined with either a sunset or a sunrise at Haleakala. Sunrise seemed to be much complicated than expected (google booking Sunrise Haleakala). But the sunset was not disappointing either. However the cherry on the cake was the lovely Milky way shots this place had to offer due to dry weather and clear skies (clouds being heavy and below you, rather than above). It was my first attempt at astro-photography, and I would say the choice of place could not have been better (Shot : Milky Way).
Last but not the least, this post will be incomplete without the mention of some interesting observations about the islands; people take efforts to live a sustainable life style, islands in general being obviously the best test cases; a substantial hippy community (in the original sense of the word) which is very conscious about the environment; sadly dying native culture; the “shaka” sign spreading Aloha spirit around and of course without a doubt, plenty of beautiful mythological stories in a language containing ironically very few letters (12 letters in Hawaiian language). All in all, I was taken. Completely. (Album: Hawai’i )