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  1. #1

    Default Hawaii - A place of Contrasts

    The Big Island: Hotels and Sebrngs

    For the first time in over three months I awoke outside of North America. Unfortunately my preconceived image of waking up in a luxury hotel overlooking a beautiful beach proved to be hopelessly inaccurate: it was 1.30am, I was in the passenger seat of my rental car and I was being woken from my less than peaceful slumber by someone banging on the window. Unsure whether I was about to be robbed or asked to move on by the police I rolled down the window. It turned out that it was a guy who lived nearby and who had walked up from his house to make sure I was okay. "Apart from the lack of hotels, I'm fine", I replied. "Ah, you'll get used to that", he replied, before wishing me well and wandering back to the comfort of his house.

    I didn't sleep for long and, at first light the next morning, I was wide awake. It wasn't so much that the Hotel Sebring was uncomfortable - on the contrary, it was actually pretty good - but I had things on my mind. When I'd arrived last night I'd discovered that the baggage handlers had somehow managed to squash my bag and cause the contents of my shampoo bottle to cover its contents. It had been too dark to do anything about it at the time so it was high on my to-do list for the morning.

    After a quick stop at the smallest grocery store I'd seen for some time I headed south towards the town of Volcano and the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park. I had planned to stop of en route at the black sand beach of Punaluu Beach but, spotting a sign for Ka Lae, I couldn't resist turning off the main road, passing the Pakini Nui Wind Farms and visiting the area otherwise known as South Point. It's a fitting name as, despite what the good folks of Key West will tell you, it is actually the southernmost Point in the whole of the United States. It is also the first place that the Polynesians - having miraculously navigated thousands of miles across open ocean - first came ashore all those years ago. Ka Lae, to this day, is incredibly barren - you can only imagine what was going through the minds of those sailors.

    After making the planned stop at Punaluu Beach, and a spot of lunch, I arrived at the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park. The first port of call when visiting a national park should always be the visitor center and, upon my arrival, I discovered that there was a ranger-led walk down into the Kilauea Caldera about to leave. I quickly changed into my walking boots, filled my water bottle and tagged on to the back of the group as it headed off across the parking lot and through the lobby of Volcano House. On my way into the park I had tuned into the park radio service and had been disappointed to hear how a large portion of the Crater Rim Drive had been closed due to the volcano emitting large amounts of sulphur dioxide but I hadn't appreciated what exactly this meant. As we stepped out onto the back deck of the hotel it soon became very obvious! On the morning of March 12th there was a huge rumble - the first eruption in the Halema'u ma'u Crater since 1924 - and a huge vent, or fumerole, had opened up. There was now a spectacular cloud of gases billowing skyward and I couldn't wait to descend into the crater to see it from ground level.

    I'd expecting the hike to be one to get the blood pumping but it didn't work out that way - it was actually very educational and extremely interesting - and I was disappointed when we arrived back at the visitor center three hours later having barely broken into a sweat. By now I wanted to see more of the park so, after watching the movie in the visitor center, I headed off to drive as much of Crater Rim Drive as I could. Reaching the ‘road closed' barricade, I turned the car around and headed out instead on the 18.3-mile long Chain Of Craters Road; passing by numerous craters, lava tubes and petroglyphs. It descends from 4,000ft to sea-level in spectacular style over its final few miles before abruptly dead-ending where a lava flow blocked the road in 2004. You can stop your car at the lava field and take a short hike to get a view of the vent at Pu'u O'o... seven miles away. A better view of the vent can be obtained by leaving the park and driving an hour and a half to the other side of the lava field at Kaipana - from there you can see the lava actually pouring into the ocean after dark. Guess where I was heading next?

    I had hoped to find some camping out near the viewing point at the end of route 130 but, having checked out a number of state parks and beaches in the area, I was becoming aware that I was running out of time if I was to see the sun set, so I gave up in my quest and headed off towards the viewing area instead. Worrying about where to sleep would have to wait until later. As I'd been advised I drove around numerous ‘road closed' and ‘authorised vehicles only' signs, along a bumpy road chiselled out of the lava field (past a number of cars with nervous looking drivers who had pulled over, unsure if they were in the right place), before finally arriving at a fast-filling parking lot. I grabbed my torch, water bottle, jacket and camera and headed off in the direction of the crowd. The walk across the lava to the viewing area was a little tricky but I made it out without breaking my ankle which, as you would agree if you'd seen the route we had to take, was actually a bit of an achievement! All of these efforts to get here were adding to the palpable sense of anticipation in the air and, unsure of exactly what to expect, people were excitedly chatting away with those around them.

    All of the chat stopped as the sun disappeared into the ocean in a beautiful sunset. It was quickly replaced with ooh's and aah's as it got darker and the lava flow in the distance slowly became visible. It wasn't a constant flow - you can't even get to see that anymore as the authorities have closed off access - rather a regular explosion of light and colour as the hot lava poured through tubes and hit the cool ocean water below. It was an absolutely breathtaking sight and most people spent an hour or so transfixed by the spectacle before making their way slowly back across the lava field to their cars. If anyone had thought the hike tricky in the daylight, they wanna try it in the darkness of a moonless evening!

    Still with no idea where I would spend the evening I headed back to the Kulanaokuaiki Campground back in the national park. It was a long way off my route but, with the advice of one of the rangers, "it's a lawless area, out there", ringing in my ears, I didn't fancy sleeping in my car near the lava field. And, besides, there were rumours of hot showers belonging to the cabins at Namakenipaio. I arrived at the campground around 1am to discover that I was the only person there - probably the only person for many miles - and that it was free of charge to camp there. I was tired and really couldn't be bothered to put up my tent so, safe in the newly found knowledge of just how comfortable the passenger seat of a Sebring can be, I crashed out in the car once again, amazed by the absolute silence around me and brilliance of the stars above as I drifted off into a peaceful slumber.

    The following morning, having confirmed the existence of those rather lovely showers, I headed out of the park once again. I stopped at Hilo for gas but it didn't seem to be a fantastic place to stop so I pressed on northwards along the scenic Hamakua Coast. After a short detour inland to see the waterfalls at Akaka Falls State Park, I returned to the coast to visit the memorial at Laupahoehoe Point. It was there that, following an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands, a deadly tsunami swept in and wiped out almost an entire school as the students sat on the beach waiting for school to start.

    The idea was to head out to Hapuna Beach where I had been told there were cabins available to rent but there was still plenty of hours left in the day so I decided to turn right at Waimea and go explore the mountains. Almost immediately the weather changed as I climbed up into the clouds. It was quite surreal - from the tropical scene along the coast to what resembled England in winter in a matter of minutes. By the time I reached Hapuna Beach it was still only 5pm and, not liking the look of the much-vaunted cabins all that much, I decided to press on again. I should have known better but I was convinced there had to be a hotel available somewhere on this island and I was determined to find it after two-nights of slumming it in the car. Of course, despite searching high and low, there was nowhere to be found along the Kohala Coast. The whole situation was becoming quite ludicrous and, after so long in Canada and the States, it was quite a shock to the system.

    There was nothing else to do but sleep in the car again but, as I drove around looking for a suitable place to park up for the night, the miracle that I had been hoping for happened when I stumbled across Inada's Kona Hotel. It may have been bright pink and very, very, very basic but, at 30 bucks a night, it was perfect.

    The following morning I had a short drive to the airport for my flight to Kahului on the neighbouring island of Maui. After three nights without proper accommodation I was looking forward to a change of scene and looked forward to arriving in Kahului and discovering row upon row of hotel!

    Originally published on - and Copyright retained by - Boogity, Boogity, Boogity

    Previous: Las Vegas to Zion & Bryce Canyon and back. Then Pacific Coast and Los Angeles
    Next: Onwards to Maui
    Last edited by UKCraig; 05-18-2009 at 06:18 AM. Reason: formatting

  2. #2

    Default Onwards to Maui

    Arriving on the Island of Maui just before lunch I decided to forego the undoubted delights of nearby Kahului and head straight out to the small town of Pa'ia; just along the coast. The Big Island isn't the only Island in the state of Hawaii to have a National Park and I‘d booked myself on to a tour to Haleakala National Park the following morning to watch the sun rise from the top of the 10,023ft high volcano before making my way back down again on a mountain bike. I quickly found the office of Maui Sunriders - where we were instructed to meet at 3am the following morning - and was reassured to discover the guys in the shop were friendly and helpful. Pa'ia started off as a plantation town but soon went into decline before word got out to the international surfing community about the potential of nearby beaches. It is now world-renowned as the ‘Surf Capital of the World' and there is a real buzz around the place. I spent some time checking out the town and, I have to say, I liked Pa'ia a lot.

    Afterwards I decided to take the opportunity to drive the 68-mile Hana Highway which was an awe-inspiring experience. People rave about the Pacific Coast Highway through Big Sur and, having driven that route just days before, I was in the perfect position to compare the two: let me tell you that the route through what locals refer to as ‘the jungle' is a hundred times more spectacular. No matter what you class as important in a good drive - be it challenging switchbacks, interesting places along the way, fantastic scenery or good roadside food - you will not be disappointed.

    I'd learned that the town of Kahului boasted two hotels and a hostel but, with me needing to be in Pa'ia at 3am, I decided one more night in the car was on the cards. I found a suitable side road near the beach and settled in for the few hours sleep that were available to me but soon discovered that a Camry is nowhere near as comfortable as the one in the Sebring but, before there was time to worry about it, my alarm went off to wake me again!

    I made my way back to the Maui Sunriders shop where I met up with our tour guide, Remi. One-by-one the other people on the tour arrived and, after filling out the obligatory disclaimers (at least one person a year is killed on the descent), we climbed aboard the van and headed off towards Haleakala. As we drove we received an amusing commentary which kept us all awake but, just to be sure, I necked a can of Red Bull!

    We soon arrived at the entrance to the national park and started the ascent to the summit. The road from Paia to the summit took us from sea level to 10,023ft in just 37 miles - the greatest elevation rise in the shortest distance to be found anywhere in the world - so there were switchback galore and a couple of the passengers in the van looked a little off-colour by the time that we reached the summit. But reach the summit we did and, having swept through the parking lot, Remi announced that we weren't gonna stop and drove us back out again. We all looked at each other - we'dnot come this far to just turn around - but, of course, we weren't gonna be doing that. He just had a better location in mind: as he announced as we arrived at the Kalahaku Overlook, ‘Haleakala's best-kept secret'.

    It was still only 5am and there was an hour to go until sunrise. Most of us had arrived in shorts and t-shirts but, feeling rather clever with myself, I had worn two t-shirts and a jacket. Thirty seconds outside of the van and it was blindingly obvious that this wasn't gonna be enough to keep the bitter screaming wind from the bones. I had waterproofs in my bag so I pulled those on, and added a pair of gloves for good measure, and found myself a wall to hide behind in a vain attempt to keep out of the wind whilst we awaited the sun.

    Thankfully, as it always does, it finally appeared on the horizon and, having each snapped a few photos, we made a dash for the van which was sat waiting for us with the engine running and the heater cranked up to max. When we reached the park boundary we pulled over and were each issued with a mountain bike on which we would return to the shop. We had the bike for the entire day if we wanted it but I couldn't help but speed down the switchbacks as fast as I could. On one curve I ran out of brakes (and skill!) and was lucky not to tonk the Armco but, miraculously, I covered the 26-miles back to the shop in around 90 minutes.

    Having returned the bike, and driven back to the park for a proper look around, I decided that a nice relaxed day was in order so I headed back into Kahului to find a hotel for the night. I bowled up to the first hotel and requested a room but was given the news that they were full up so I made my way to the other hotel in town only to discover they had no vacancies either. I had been looking forward to a bit of luxury for the rest of the day so I disappointedly made my way across town to the thoroughly iffy looking hostel. Hardly able to keep my eyes open through lack of sleep, I was shocked to hear that same reply. The entire town was full-up!

    Not for the first time since I arrived on the islands I had no idea what to do or where to go but, rather than get stressed about it, I just kept in mind that old saying that everything happens for a reason and headed off towards the resort town of Lahaina where I hoped to find accommodation. When I arrived it became apparent that, whilst there were plenty of hotels, they didn't accept walk-in customers! Frustrated, I headed out of town. After a couple of miles, as I passed a particularly beautiful looking beach, I decided to pull over to contemplate the situation. A couple of hours later, after a refreshing swim in the warm ocean, I felt a lot happier and more with it. I decided to push on and see what happened.

    I'd heard that the route looping round the western end of the island was worth a drive out so I headed off in that direction. Several hours later I was back in Kahului and ready for sleep. Not wanting to spend another night in the car I decided to head for the only campground that I had seen on the island - back, once again, at the national park. It seemed to take an age to make my way through the rush-hour traffic and out to the park but I finally made it; only to discover that it was full and I was sleeping in the car once again! After a long and tiring day I slept for a full 12 hours before the pitter-patter of rain on the roof finally woke me up.

    I still had half a day to kill before my flight on to Honolulu so I headed back up to the summit area of the national park in an attempt to get a photograph across the crater - my attempt yesterday had been thwarted by heavy cloud - but, to my surprise, I found myself in the middle of a cycle race. Having driven from Pa'ia up to the summit of Haleakala twice in two days - each time it took 1Ż hours to climb the 10,023ft - I was amazed to discover that once a year there is a race along the same tortuous route. The competitors must be insane!

    Once I left the park I drove to the south of the island and took the other road to Hana. That really is one route you'll not find in any tourist guide and it would be a really really bad idea to mention it to your car rental company should you decide to ignore all the signs and go for it!

    Originally published on - and Copyright retained by - Boogity, Boogity, Boogity

    Previous: The Big Island: Hotels and Sebrings
    Next: O'ahu: A place of contrasts
    Last edited by UKCraig; 05-18-2009 at 06:16 AM. Reason: formatting

  3. #3

    Default O'Ahu - A place of contrasts

    Landing at Honolulu proved to be an exciting proposition. With Pearl Harbor to the right and an Air Force base to the right, our approach was more akin to a military plane arriving in a warzone than a commercial passenger jet landing at a holiday destination. Maintaining altitude until the last moment we then descended rapidly, banked sharply to the right, and went for it. With people holding their breath and bags falling from the overhead locker as we bounced down the runway we had arrived. I'm not altogether sure that it all went to plan but we arrived in one piece so no point complaining!

    I collected my bag and made my way outside to collect my car - which, I was very excited to discover, was a Subaru Impreza - before heading off downtown. If my landing at the airport had left me with a smile on my face then my arrival in downtown Waikiki left me grinning from ear to ear. After the Big Island and Maui, the rows of high rise hotels, bars, restaurants and supermarkets of Waikiki were a huge excitement.
    I checked in to the Holiday Inn using some of the Priority Club points that I'd gained over the past few years and spent the rest of the evening catching up on the outside world by tuning in to the BBC News channel on the TV and replying to my email. I was in heaven! The following day I moved across town to the Aqua Aloha Hotel. I'd chosen the Aloha based purely on cost - around 70 bucks a night - but was delighted to arrive and discover that it was in fact a fine hotel with luxurious rooms and a fine view across Waikiki from my balcony. I spent the rest of the day hanging out and chilling around Waikiki Beach before enjoying a couple of drinks and an early night.

    Much as I was enjoying the conveniences of Honolulu, there was no getting away from the fact that it was all a bit Disney: all a bit false. With all the beautiful people chilling out on the beach in the day - and partying in town at night - it was somehow incongruous that, just miles away, lay Pearl Harbor. I really couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit whilst I was in the neighbourhood so I took the short drive down Interstate H-1 straight after breakfast. (Did I miss something here - surely an Interstate is a route which links two states?!)

    Now, as an Englishman, you might think that I wouldn't be moved by a visit to Pearl Harbor - I certainly didn't think I would be - but it's impossible to visit and not be. Pearl Harbor itself is huge and there are a number of ‘attractions' but I was heading to the best known of them all: the USS Arizona Memorial which is operated by the National Park Service. It's a popular destination so you must be prepared to arrive early or wait patiently (up to three hours at the busiest times) for your turn to visit the 184ft long memorial which spans the mid-portion of the battleship which now lies submerged in Battleship Row off Ford Island.

    When you arrive you are handed a numbered ticket and, whilst you wait your turn, you can enjoy a self-guided audio tour, visit the museum and talk to survivors of that fateful day, 67 years ago. When your tour is called you will be ushered in to the theatre where you first receive a brief introduction by a National Park Service ranger, followed by a 23-minute documentary film on the Pearl Harbor attack. Immediately after the film you board a Navy-operated boat which shuttles you across the harbour. It is hard to imagine the noise and violence of that day as you step from the boat and step in to the silence of the memorial which straddles the final resting place of most of the 1,177 crewmen who lost their lives on December 7, 1941.

    I didn't linger on the Memorial for long - I felt really uneasy and couldn't wait to get back on the boat. Arriving back at the visitor center I decided that, rather than visit any of the other sites, I would rather spend the rest of the day doing something a little more light-hearted. First I headed off to check out the west of the island, where I spent a couple of hours sat on a remote and quiet beach.

    I then headed east and drove the spectacular road along the east coast before heading back to Waikiki once again. It was time to pack my bag once again: tomorrow I will be heading off on the long trek to Australia!

    Originally published on - and Copyright retained by - Boogity, Boogity, Boogity

    Previous: Onwards to Maui
    Next: "Where the bloody hell are ya?"
    Last edited by UKCraig; 05-18-2009 at 06:13 AM. Reason: formatting

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula

    Default No visit to Haunauma Bay (sp?) ??

    My favorite place in Oahu. It's a reef where you can snorkel with thousands of tropical fish. Amazing.

    And no visits to the other islands either? Oh, will have to go back!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Washington state coast/Olympic Peninsula

    Default So glad you DID see the islands

    I did the sun & bike at dawn down Haleakala and it was absolutely amazing. But, dang, your volcano experience sounds even moreso.

    I bet that bed felt good!!! :)

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 1998
    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Default Great photos and real adventure!


    I really enjoyed the photos and the tale of the motel-less time on the Big Island.

    Last edited by UKCraig; 05-18-2009 at 02:11 AM.

  7. Default

    Definitely Oahu is very beautiful but i love Maui and Kauai as well! Anyways my cousin is in Honolulu which is very nice too and with a short trip you can be on any other island ;)
    Last edited by AZBuck; 12-17-2008 at 08:58 AM. Reason: Commercial Link Removed

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