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
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