Sightseeing on the Big Island
So, our adventure continues with a stopover in Hilo, Hawaii. Before we left on this trip, Paul was most anxious about the dangers of the Australian outback. Snakes, spiders, crocodiles, the relentless heat to name just a few. When people found out that we planned on driving from Melbourne to Darwin they told us most assuredly that nobody is mad enough to do that. Not even the locals! But nobody – absolutely nobody – showed any concern when we told them we were island hopping in Hawaii. What dangers could possibly be present there you ask, after all, it is in the United States. And, although I have watched Hawaii 5 O, so I know they have crime on the islands!!! But really, I was not at all worried about travelling to Hawaii. Quite frankly, I have always thought of Hawaii as a rather quiet and decidedly non-dangerous place.
However, as we set off, the Island of Hawaii – otherwise known as the ‘Big Island’ – was in the grip of a Dengue Fever outbreak. Now, I know all about Dengue Fever. We pass through ‘at risk’ areas at least twice later in the trip. So, we packed some high-strength DEET-based insect repellent in preparation. But this is the United States! But, somewhere in the region of 250-300 people have contracted this rather nasty disease since November. However, the outbreak is centered around the tourist resort on the other side of the island from us. Although, there have been a reasonable number of cases around Hilo, Hawaii where our hotel is.
Assuming we avoid contracting anything nasty there are other dangers to consider. Hawaii Island is home to one of the world’s most active volcanoes. We visited the Volcano park on our first morning after arriving in Hilo, Hawaii on a short flight from Maui. We shared our 40-minute flight – barely time to serve us a cup of coffee – with a local basketball team. On arrival at Hilo airport, Dollar kindly upgraded our car from the cheap small one I had paid for to a decent-sized one. So touring the island is a breeze.
But, back to the volcanoes. As we entered the volcano park, the ranger passed us a leaflet with the following warning: ‘VISITOR ALERT: High amounts of dangerous sulfur dioxide gas may be present in areas of the park’. In fact, parts of the park have been closed to the public because of the high levels of gas present. The leaflet goes on to state (rather obviously in my opinion) that ‘Volcanic eruptions can be extremely hazardous. Aloha, welcome to Hawaii. See, there is danger everywhere here.
The Hawaiians call the volcano park ‘Aina a ke akua I noho ai’ which means ‘Land where the goddess dwells’. The National Park shows the results of 70 million years of volcanic activity in the area. We started by driving along the Crater Rim Drive to the Jaggar Museum which has displays on the nearby volcano. Near here is the viewing area overlooking the Halema’uma’u Crater. The crater was created by an eruption and covers a considerable area within the Kilauea Caldera (which is enormous). The vents inside the crater are still spewing out hot sulphurous steam and apparently at night you can see the red glow of lava (although I cannot vouch for that).
We made a few stops around the rim drive. The boardwalk to the Sulphur Banks provides a particularly nice walk past a number of steam banks and through a landscape coloured by the effect of extreme heat on different rocks and minerals.
Thurston Lava Tube
Then we visited the Thurston Lava Tube – this was quite different from the lava cave that we walked through in Maui. This one was lit but was quite smooth inside and surrounded by a crater filled with tropical rainforest. Quite spectacular.
Chain of the Craters Road
After that we set off on the ‘Chain of Craters Road’ which took us past a landscape shaped by volcanic eruptions as recently as 1975 – driving along you can see where the lava has flowed downwards towards the ocean, destroying everything in its path. The effect is absolutely stunning.
The road winds right down to the cliffs overlooking the ocean. Unfortunately, due to the high gas levels, the road beyond this has been closed to the public. We did pass a large notice as we headed down to the ocean though ‘entering Tsunami risk area’ – see, danger everywhere.
But seriously. On arriving at our hotel late this afternoon, the only Hawaiian danger I have succumbed to is the sun – really, it didn’t feel that hot but my nose and my neck are sunburned. Too busy worrying about mosquitoes and volcanic eruptions – and forgot the sunscreen!
On day 2, we drove north of Hilo, Haawii along the scenic byway to Asaka falls. There is a loop walking trail here which leads through tropical rainforest and past a viewpoint for a smaller waterfall before passing close to the main cascade.
The waterfall is not the highest in Hawaii – that one is in the Waipoi Valley – but it is pretty impressive, dropping in a near-vertical cascade from the hillside into the pool below.
On northwards, we a quaint little village and arrived at the overlook for the Waipio Valley. The valley itself is pretty inaccessible – there is a road down but it is very steep and only 4×4 vehicles are allowed. We were only planning to view from above which is just as well as we were greeted with large signs telling us that the valley was closed due to the Dengue fever outbreak. We did get some good views into the valley which is a fairly unpopulated, untouched rainforest – although it is unfortunately not possible to see the waterfall from the overlook. The whole area was swarming with mosquitoes – and would you believe Paul had forgotten to put any insect repellant on – so we didn’t hang about too long.
Back to Hilo Hawaii
From there, we looped into the anterior and drove back to Hilo via Saddle Road, which cuts between two volcanic mountains. The landscape is wild and barren with hardly any signs of civilization, so we were rather amused to pass a couple walking down the side of the road pulling a wheelie case. I cannot even begin to guess where they might have come from, let alone where they were going.
In case there were not already enough dangers in Hawaii, as I pointed out yesterday, as we entered the pass between the mountains a sign warned us that ‘Today’s risk of fire: Extreme’ – and we did actually see some smoldering bushes and undergrowth. As you get nearer the mountains there is more and more evidence of volcanic eruptions – miles of lava fields in every direction. Hawaii Island is the youngest of all the Hawaiian Islands and continues to grow due to volcanic activity. It is, of course, this geological instability that makes it such a fascinating place to visit despite any potential dangers.