Hawaii Trip Report 12/04

Trip Report for Hawaii

December 4-11, 2004


Rebecca has always wanted to go to Hawaii, and this year, for her birthday, she got her wish. We bought a package fom an Internet travel site which included round trip airfare from Dulles to Kona, Hawaii and seven nights in a Marriott hotel there.

--Matt Fender

Matt's Travel Log

All Times in Hawaii time (GMT -10)

12/5/2004 7:38AM

We arrived yesterday about 4:00 local time. We were quite tired, as we had been up since 5:30AM EST. We upgraded to United’s “Economy Plus” class at check-in, which gave us seats with additional leg room and priority boarding.

Our bags all made it, and we claimed them without incident. While we were waiting, I met a guy named Bill, who was a 1972 Virginia Tech grad. He noticed my Virginia Tech T-shirt.

We had to hop a shuttle bus to the Avis car rental facility, where we got our car for the week, a Red Mustang Convertible. The people were very friendly at the Avis counter, but rather slow, and I didn’t seem to get any priority treatment for being an Avis Preferred member.

We drove the 18 miles to our hotel without incident, and got checked in. We are staying at the Marriott Waikoloa Beach. We had a drink and an appetizer in the bar, then went to bed early.

We got up early this morning, with plans to go to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. We ate well at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, but it was a bit pricey for breakfast. We paid about $50 with tip.

12/6/2004 9:44AM

We drove over to the other side of the island yesterday, with the goal of visiting Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It took about 2 hours to get from Waikoloa Beach to the town of Hilo. We took the back way there, a route called Saddle Rd. that crosses the interior of the island.

It is very sparsely populated once we got away from the coast. About half of Saddle Road is part of an Army base. It did not appear to be occupied, but the guide book indicated that military vehicles are often sighted. We saw a small airfield and a camp made up of decaying Quonset huts. There were also numerous signs warning of live artillery fire and unexploded munitions.

According to our GPS receive, the peak altitude we reached was about 6800 feet. There are two mountains on the island that exceed 13,000 feet.

Once we got to Hilo, we had about another twenty miles to go up to the Park. On the way we stopped at the Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm and factory. They have about 2,500 acres planted with macadamia nut trees. There wasn’t really much to see, but they do have a series of windows where you can look into the factory, and a series of short videos explained the harvesting and production process. Rebecca bought some nuts at the gift shop, and we had ice cream.

We went the rest of the way up to the Park and paid $10 for a 7-day vehicle pass. We left the Park briefly to top the Mustang off with gas, as we anticipated a good bit of driving inside the park.

We went about a half mile to the town of Volcano, Hawaii, which consisted of a post office, several B&B’s and two stores, one of which sold gas for $2.40/gallon. We topped off and headed back to the Park.

There are actually two volcanoes on the Big Island. Mauna Loa, which is also one of the two big mountains is not currently erupting, and is not directly reachable by car. It is encompassed by the park, but it would represent a substantial hike to reach it, with the need to camp overnight. I was feeling the urge to climb it, but it will have to wait for a future trip when we are better equipped.

The other volcano, Kilauea, is much lower, only about 5,000 feet. It has been continuously erupting since 1983, although not violently so. This volcano is quite accessible, and there is a road that circles the top. This area is collectively called the “Caldera”, and it includes a large crater that is about 100 yards deep and 400 yards wide. This crater was literally a lake of red lava in the first part of the twentieth century, but it has since cooled.

We took a short hike to check out the Thurston Lava tube. This is a tunnel, created by an old lava flow. The trail actually went through it for about 100 yards, and it was lit by electric lights. There was a break in the tube, where the trail exited, but the tube continued on. An unlocked gate, marked by a sign, indicated that we were welcome to explore the tube further, and that it continued for about another 300 yards. Since it was unlit, flashlights were required.

We went about 100 yards in, using our Surefire flashlights. We quickly determined that is was just more of the same, and decided to turn back. We finished the loop trail and returned to our car.

Next we made the turn down Chain of Craters Rd, which took us down the mountain to the ocean. We crossed a number of lava flows and saw lots of craters, of varying ages. Signs erected by the Park Service marked each lava flow and gave the date of its occurrence.

About 11 miles down the road, after a series of switchbacks, we reached the end. The road itself was obstructed by a lava flow in May of 2003, and there is current eruption activity just beyond. This was what we came to see.

We parked along the road and walked past a series of cars and tour buses to where a small ranger station had been established. There were some pit toilets, and some helpful Park Service employees, who gave us good information on how to get to the active lava flows. We were cautioned to be sure we had plenty of water. We were carrying two liters, which turned about to be somewhat inadequate. They actually recommend two liters each, and that would have been about right in my reckoning.

The hike to the lava flow was extremely strenuous, and not for the timid. We first walked an easy half mile from the ranger station to where the pavement was actually blocked by lava. There was a sign at the point which informed us that there was “Extreme Danger” beyond.

We starting crossing the lava field, and followed a short trail blazed with small yellow highway markers. This trail continued for about 1/3 of a mile. There were several old highway signs sticking up through the lava, which was cool. When we reached the end of the trail, there was a sign telling us so. I marked the spot as a waypoint in the GPS, and we pressed on.

Per the instructions of the park personnel, we followed a series of orange traffic pylons. These were not frequent, and we often couldn’t see the next one ahead of us. There were a total of six pylons, over the course of 2.2 miles from the end of the trail to the lava flow. The spacing was uneven, but they were easily 500-600 yards apart on average.

This doesn’t sound like a long hike, but it was really tough. There was a strong head wind on the way there, and the extremely uneven nature of the lava flow we were hiking on, made the going very tough. We passed a number of people coming back, who assured us it was worth the trek.

When we finally made it to the moving lava, it was really cool. There wasn’t a big river of red molten lava like you see in the movies, but it was making steady progress down the hill. It kept crusting on top, and suddenly you would see a small flow of red lava break out of the rock and run for a while before crusting over again.

It was really cool, but I had a disturbing realization that it was extremely dangerous. The places where the rock was just thinly crusted over didn’t look any different than the spots that we has been walking on. The only real warning was the heat. There was guy there observing the lava with us, who claimed to be a seismologist. He told us that the molten lava was about 2200 degrees!

We headed back, and made it back to the car about 2.5 hours after we started. An enterprising lady had set up a van selling Gatorade, and we enthusiastically bought some.

We turned the car around and headed back. We briefly drove around the main crater. We saw some gas vents that smelled strongly of sulfur, and noted an overlook where native Hawaiians leave offerings to the goddess of the volcano.

We headed down out of the park, and we had dinner at a place in Hilo called Harrington’s. They offered a mix of seafood and American food. It was recommended by the guidebook. The décor was shabby, and the food was just OK, but I was so hungry I ate it all anyway. We took the main road (route 19) back to Waikoloa Beach. It took us about 1.5-2 hours. We were really tired by the time we returned, and we fell asleep quickly.

12/6/2004 4:55PM

We spent this morning lounging and reading after a nice breakfast at the hotel. We ordered from the menu, which was clearly a better deal than the buffet. In the afternoon we drove North of the Airport to Kona for a little shopping. The shopping area wasn’t very well maintained, and it seemed a bit old and dingy. I bought a couple of nice Hawaiian print shirts and a pair of AA batteries for the GPS, as I neglected to bring extras.. Rebecca got some flip flops. We had ice cream to tide us over until dinner.

We are heading over to the Four Seasons for dinner. We have a 6:00 reservation, as we have to get up quite early to go diving tomorrow. We are supposed to be at the harbor, north of the airport on Route 19, by 6:45 tomorrow morning.

12/8/2004 5:05PM

Dinner at the Four Seasons was quite good. Rebecca had a dim sum appetizer, followed by veal, and I had pan sear foie gras followed with a macadamia nut crusted rack of lamb. We each had a chocolate soufflé for desserts, and they were finished with “Tahitian vanilla crème anglais.”

Yesterday morning we did out first dive of the trip. We went out for a two-tank trip with Mike and Earl from Aloha Dive Company. These guys were really great. They are a small operation, run out of the owner’s house. They run a small boat, and only take six divers maximum. The service was superb. The only negative was that thye wanted to meet at 6:45AM! They neatly stowed our gear, and took care of everything for us. They even rinsed our gear for us, and stowed it overnight, so we wouldn’t have to carry it back and forth each day.

Mike noticed the GPS receiver around my neck, and asked me what it was for. I told him that I was planning to mark waypoints at the dive sites for my blog. He very politely asked me not to, as he feels he has a proprietary interest in some of the sites. I was happy to agree, so the location of the dives is safe!

On the first dive we saw a nice White Tip Reef Shark, and a school of juvenile Gray reef Sharks. I had a really hard time getting down due to congestion in my sinuses, and I was also way light on weight. I had to fin hard to get down, so I burned up a lot of air at the beginning of the dive. Rebecca also didn’t have enough weight. We both added more weight for the second dive. Water temperature was around 80 degrees, and we were both very comfortable in 5mm wet suits.

During our surface interval we spotted a large school of Dolphins. Mike and Earl advised us that these were Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins, which are substantially smaller than the better known Bottle-Nosed Dolphin, which is found in deeper water. We made a couple of attempts too get in the water with the dolphins using snorkel gear, and we had some modest success the second time. They stayed deep below us though.

On our second dive we started out doing a drift dive through some deep water in hopes of encountering the dolphins again. We succeeded, and got quite close to a number of them. We drifted on over a nice reef, and saw a great variety of fish. I still had a hard time with my ears and sinuses when descending.

For lunch yesterday we went to a place in Kona called O’s Bistro. It had been recommend by some of our dive companions, and it was quite good. The location in a strip mall, next to a Subway, set out expectation rather low, but the décor and service were nice and the food was very tasty. I had seared Ahi Tuna over pasta, and Rebecca had a very nice rendition of Beef Chow Fun. For dessert we went next door to the Cold Stone Creamery for ice cream.

On of our companions on the dive boat, a gentleman from Wisconsin named Al, had expressed an interest in fishing. It turns out he is an avid fly fisherman. He and I discussed the possibility of sharing a charter some time during the week. I called and booked a company called Reel Adventures, to take us out on a 6 hour charter tomorrow afternoon. We’ll be targeting Mahi Mahi, using fly tackle.

We were quite tired, and we lounged about in the afternoon, then shared some drinks and appetizers in the hotel bar.

We got up early again this morning to dive. We trolled for fish while heading out to the first dive site, then again on our surface interval. We landed a large, barracuda-like fish called and ONA. Earl explained that it is related to a Mackeral. It weighed about 20 pounds, and was about 40 inches long. Earl neatly landed it with a gaff.

We had two very nice dives this morning. On the first one w saw a wide variety of fish, including an endemic Hawaiian species called a frog fish. I dosed myself heavily with Sudafed, and I didn’t have any trouble with my ears.

On the second dive, we saw a large moray eel, and a small barracuda. The most remarkable ting was that during our surface interval, we saw some humpback whales! Mike told us that these were the first ones he had seen this year. They typically come to Hawaii in December and linger for several months. I think there were at least three different individuals. One by itself, and then a mother with her calf. We saw them blow spouts of water a few times, then dive, with their flukes splashing up for us to see. Unfortunately, we didn’t get any pictures. This was the first time I had ever seen a whale. Very cool.

We came back to the hotel and had sandwiches delivered by room service, followed by a well-deserved nap.

12/9/2004 5:49AM

For dinner last night we went over to the Hilton at Waikoloa Beach. We ate in their Japanese restaurant, called Imari, which was recommended by the Fodor’s guidebook. It was quite good. The Hilton itself is a sprawling establishment, so much that it has a Disney-style tram to take you around the property. We chose to walk instead, and were charmed by a covered walkway filled with art and antiquities from throughout Asia. There were sculptures and paintings of obvious Chinese and Indian influence, and we knew we were getting close to the restaurant when the pieces became obviously Japanese.

The décor was peaceful and clearly Japanese, but we sat at regular tables instead of on the floor. Our waitress asked us if we were “comfortable with chopsticks”, which earned a grin from me. I really don’t think its possible to eat sushi with a fork.

We ordered ala carte from the sushi menu, and we were very pleased with our fare. I had and order of Ahi Tuna Sashimi, which came with five pieces. I also got a Spider Roll and a Spicy Tuna Roll. The Spicy Tuna Roll had cucumber in it, which was a nice variation on the standard. Rebecca had a California Roll and a Spider Roll, as she isn’t big on uncooked fish.

This morning we are up early again for diving, and afterward I’ll be off to my fishing trip. Rebecca is thinking about shopping, or perhaps a visit to the spa while I am out on the boat.

12/10/2004 2:26PM

Yesterday’s dive trip was awesome. On the first dive we entered the water right at dawn. Mike, our guide, brought along the carcass of the fish we caught the day before (sans the bulk of the meat, as it was filleted).

He took us down, and carries the carcass until he attracted a shark. A small Gray Reef Shark came around and circled us a few times warily. Mike then dropped the carcass on the bottom, and we backed off a bit. We go to see the shark eat the remnants of the carcass. T made several very quick, aggressive lunges at the carcass, tearing away some meat each time. Very cool.

Towards the end of the dive, we saw two large, Bottle-Nosed Dolphins. They came up at us from behind a ridge and swam quite close (within 20 feet.) They were quite curious and made several passes by us. When Rebecca and I went up to 15 feet for our safety stop, they Dolphins came with 10 feet of us several times.

After our second dive, we collected our gear and settled up with the guys from Aloha Dive Company. Al and I then went over and met with Dell Dykes, from Reel Action, to begin our fishing charter.

The plan was that we would troll for Mahi Mahi with conventional tackle, then as soon as we got a hook up, we would circle back, throw out some chum, and cast flies at the rest of the school.

Unfortunately, it was not to be. The conditions were quite windy, and whitecaps were everywhere. We got one minor strike, but nothing else. The ride was really bumpy, and we were soaked by the spray coming over the bow. Dell suggested we cut the charter short and we readily agreed, since it was way to windy t throw a fly line.

In an attempt to give us our money’s worth, Dell brought the boat into a sheltered spot near the mouth of the harbor, and suggested we put some bait on the bottom in hope of catching a Giant Trevally. He advised us that he had good success catching large fish that way in the past. We readily agreed, happy to be out of the wind.

He rigged a bat fish on a big circle hook with a steel leader, then weighted it with a sinker. Down it went. The fish finder marked the bottom at about 300 feet. We were using 30 lb. test, braided line on an Ugly Stick, 15-30 boat rod.

After about ten minutes, we got a solid strike, and the line started running. I quickly donned a belt with a rod holder affixed to the front and took the rod. Dell talked me through the correct procedure to fight the fish.

I worked diligently for about 30 minutes to get it in. I would pull the rod up slowly, then quickly reel in line while letting the rod tip drop again. My arms felt like rubber after just a few minutes, but I was loathe to give up or ask for help. Finally, the fish became visible as it neared the surface, close to exhaustion. Dell announced that I was a large Bull Shark. He slipped on a pair of protective gloves, and helped me do the same.

We had previously discussed the depleted shark populations do the practice of finning, and had agreed to release any sharks we might catch. We got the fish along side the boat, but rather than gaff it, Dell grabbed he leader and attempted to bring in close for a picture before releasing it without further injury. At that point, the shark thrashed violently and broke the leader.

It was easily six feet long, and Dell estimated it was about 150 lbs. I for one, was glad we didn’t try to bring it in the boat.

We attached a pennant to the radio antenna on the boat, proclaiming our catch, and another one indicating that it was released, then motored back to the harbor.

When we got back to the hotel, Rebecca and I were both so tired that we slept right through dinner and all night long!

We had breakfast this morning, and we are spending today lounging around the hotel. We are going out for a nice dinner tonight.

Tomorrow we plan to check out of the hotel then spend the day driving all the way around the Island. We have a 9:30PM flight home.

12/11/2004 9:26AM

We had dinner last night at the Mauni Lani hotel. We ate at their restaurant called the “Canoe House”. It is an open, terrace type affair on the beach. The experience was OK, but we both felt it was a bit overrated. The service wasn’t particularly good. I fellt they very overly solicitous, and we both had the impression that we were being rushed, even though half the tables were empty.

I ordered pan-seared scallops with foie gras, a daily special, and while it was tasty enough, the portion was inadequate, and I found myself longing for dessert. Rebecca ordered a Chinese-style lobster, which she liked. We shared a bottle of Moet and Chandon White Star Champagne, which was reliable as always.

We are about to check out of the Marriott, and we will spend the day touring around a bit, with plans to arrive at the Kona airport around 7:00PM.

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