Been to this big retreat?
Sun-kissed beaches, aqua-blue waters and snorkelling… But, this archipelago offers much more — an unimaginable variety of food, a historic park, waterfalls and gardens. GEETA PADMANABHAN goes wow!
EXPLORATION UNLIMITED The crater; the National Historic Park
The immigration officer at San Francisco airport looked at my visa status — ‘tourist' — and raised an eyebrow. California, year-end was bitterly cold! “On my way to Hawaii,” I announced. “Wow”, he nodded. And, wow was to be my reaction too over the next nine days on the Big Island of the Hawaiian archipelago — if you'd discount Aloha and Mahalo.
The island chain of Hawaii is lavaland — a million years ago molten liquid from within the ground exploded on to the ocean and cooled into islands that drifted apart. In a world of disappearing coastlines, Hawaii's land mass is expanding. With oozing lava. And, you can see it.
At Halemalu, a quaint bungalow on a hilly property on the Kona side of Big Island, we'd have expected holiday crowds to wear colourful skirts and flowers, to pick at barbecued food and dance with a drink in hand. Ha, but no! With owner Eric, we devoured ripe guavas and figs, and picked, roasted and ate hundreds of macademia nuts. Gorged on delicious varieties of fruit, fresh bread, cereal and coffee. Kids got to plant papaya and pineapple saplings, paint stone plaques, make fruit jam, bake cookies, run around the hillside…
Loaded with beachwear, shoes (lava stones!), umbrellas, towels, float noodles, snorkels and snacks, we splashed about in the beaches. We braved the choppy waters on a high-speed boat for exceptional snorkelling in the calm waters near Captain Cook's monument in the Kealakekua Bay. Dolphin sightings and a detour to lava tubes and water caves were a bonus.
Shortly, we hit Honaunau and its National Historic Park. The stone wall built without mortar, the well-preserved village, and remarkable wood carvings tell how ancient Hawaiians escaped the myriad ‘kapu' laws (men and women couldn't eat together, commoners' shadow couldn't fall on the king) and death penalty by sailing to this city of refuge.
A must-see — for its history and the sea turtles sun-bathing on the shore. So is the charming, painted church with lovely murals and the replica of Pieta (statue) in its yard, off the highway.
We headed south, stopping to wade at many wayside tide pools. We kept our eyes peeled for the monkey-pod tree planted by Mark Twain, stopped at the Na'alehu Stand for Ka'u oranges, and just after the 56-mile marker, found the Punalu'u. We stood and gaped — at the glittering pitch-black sand washed by a deep blue sea. Here, freshwater streams out of the ocean floor — a gift ancient Hawaiians collected in dried, hollowed-out gourds.
From the Jaggar Museum, we watched Halema'uma'u, one of the most active volcanoes, throw grey clouds into the sky. That was inspiration to do the unthinkable — the four-hour hike across Kilauea Caldera.
We walked through lush rainforest, and stepped down into the top of the crater. This, we crossed, watching steam-spewing vents, Hawaiian petroglyph, just-formed lavaland, stones of all shapes, and incredibly, flowers in bloom.
We trudged, feeling the ominous heat underfoot, and prayed to fire goddess Pele.
Back on the road, we stopped to inspect bark-textured lava trees created by lava hardening around wet trees. We were ready for Hilo on the eastern side. It gets a lot of rain, bursts with giant hibiscuses and incredible orchids.
We also saw the dramatically-changing Rainbow Falls, the Banyan Drive, and the Tropical Botanical Garden.
And, then we ate. And, ate — everything macademian, divine Thai food, heavenly pizzas, Hilo's home-made ice-cream, Big Island candies... And, shopped at Hilo's Hana Hou.
But, we weren't leaving without a look at the lava ‘flow'. We had to take the ‘expensive' helicopter ride.
It flew so low over Mauna Lua that we instinctively drew in our feet, as he closed in on the bubbling orange river.
Expensive, yes, but, we'd pawned jewellery for that ride!
POINTS TO BE NOTED
From the Californian coast, fly Alaska or Hawaiian airlines. It's a six-hour flight
If you're vegetarian, carry food
Wear a pair of sensible walking shoes
Snorkelling is fun; buy good snorkelling equipment
Don't pick up black sand, pebbles, shells, plants as souvenir — ancients will curse you, moderns will fine you
Oh, and find out why you cannot pluck a Lehua blossom!
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