Day Four (continued): On To The Big Island

A waterfall nestled within a gulch surrounded by farmland, North of Hilo.

We flew over the Eastern side of the big island, seeing a waterfall in almost every gulch along the way. We landed at Hilo airport just as the fog rolled in. Hilo Airport is sort of a cross between an airport terminal and a picnic shelter with very nice appointments. It is probably the coolest airport I’ve ever seen; completely open air. We picked up our rental at the Thrifty counter: a 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Travis had the foresight to get a large four-wheel drive SUV for our stay on the big island, which proved to be a great decision.

Our drive up to the rental house in Waipi’o was partly through the rain and mostly at night. We arrived at our place and were very impressed to find a charming two bedroom bungalow up on piers with every possible convenience we could have wished for. We decided that before got too comfortable, we should get some groceries and dinner, as things tend to not stay open late in the country. Grabbing a cooler on the way out, we drove back into the neighboring town on Honaka’a and stopped by the grocery store (which closed at 8:00 pm, which I found odd) and stocked up. We then walked across the street to a little place called Cafe Il Mondo, which Frommer’s had recommended. It seemed a little pedestrian to be getting pizza for dinner while in Hawai’i, but we all agreed it seemed appetizing based on the description and the place seemed very cozy. There was a nice couple playing some folk music on guitar and upright bass. We arrived just around closing time, but were ushered on in and sat right next to the musical entertainment. We had an order of cheese-bread, a couple of pizzas, and some sundaes for dessert; and all I can say is that this place would be successful any place you dropped in the world. The food was terrific. Who knew such a great Italian place would be in a small town in the middle of the Pacific?

The Cliff House Porch
Day Five: The Big Island Loop
Black Volcanic Rock in Kona

Slick, black volcanic rock along the shore in Kona. Just one of many kinds of lava rock here.

We decided we do the longest driving on the first day of our stay, since we likely wouldn’t feel like after several days of hiking. The destination: the Southern-most point in the 50 United States. Yeah, I though it was Key West, too. However, South Point, or Ka Lae as it’s known to the locals, is at 18° 55′ compared to Key West’s 24° 32′ North of the equator1. Anyway, we drove around the Leeward side of the island to take in the cities of Kailua-Kona and hopefully sample some coffee. Kona has a lot more tourists that Hilo, and is known as the hipper part of the island (versus Hilo, a much more work-a-day city). It is also host to the Ironman World Championship each year. We were there a couple of weeks before the race, and things were starting to get pretty busy. We bought a couple of t-shirts and stopped at the grocery store, but didn’t stay long. We were on to find some more remote places.

Coffee Beans

A small handful of ripe coffee beans from Bay View Farm

Along the road headed south, Angela found us a nice little coffee mill and store to stop in at, Bay View Farm. While they grow some of their own coffee, they also buy from many of the locals, who seem to simply grow coffee in their yard. They have, as you might guess, mostly the Kona variety of coffee. I also tried some peaberry, which is somewhat rare and unique to the Kona coffee plants. (I was impressed enough to buy a half-pound and have been enjoying it for most of the month of October.) I also grabbed a few of the red beans, or cherries, which were ready for harvest for us to sample at the gracious direction of the store clerk. They quite sweet and choclatey, but also a little too fleshy and firm to make much of a snack of. I really enjoyed getting to see the coffee farm, and had they had some operations going on, I would have liked to have hung around even longer.

South Point Shore

The rocky cliffs at Ka Lea, the Southern most point in the 50 United States.

We drove on through too many lava fields to keep count towards South Point, stopping off to eat our packed lunch. Travis and I walked around on what from a distance looked just like mounds of dirt, but upon walking over, was essentially piles of loose, jagged brown rocks. Photos don’t do lava fields justice, since there is no way to judge scale, let alone the sensation of walking over large, loose cinder. Eventually, the lava fields gave way to green fields and we turned off on the narrow, winding side road that wove it’s way through cow pastures and windmill farms to the rocky cliffs of South Point. We came up on a number of locals fishing and cliff jumping. Upon seeing the latter, Travis took what seemed like all of about ten seconds to decide he, too, was going to jump off of the edge of the cliff. He, in the end, actually jumped off twice. I think if they climb up a very rickety, rusted ladder wasn’t so long, he’d have done it several more times. Travis later described it as one of the highlights of the trip, so I’m glad he took the time to do it.

Off Roading

Driving over dirt roads and rocks along the short to get to the Green Sands Beach.

Next, we decided to make the most of our Jeep and take it the six miles or so to the only green sand beach in the entire world, known as Puu Mahana. This was some pretty bumpy driving, since all the ground is nothing but sharp lava rocks covered with a thin layer of sand and silt. I think Angela and Meg felt like their heads were about to fall right off their necks from being shaken around so much, but we finally got a cinder cone angled down into the ocean’s edge. At it’s base is a coarse sand beach with a definite olive hue. It is very strange, and also very beautiful. We watched a fellow swimming with his dogs and walked around a bit before climbing back up the cliff and driving back over the rough terrain to the paved road. (This web site has much more about South Point and the Green Sand Beach.)

After seeing a green sand beach, well you immediately think, what other colors of beaches can I see today? Naturally, on Hawai’i, there are black sand beaches, due to all that black lava rock. We drove Northeast up to Punalu’u Black Sand Beach Park, where many sea turtles like to come to nest. There weren’t any while we were roaming around at dusk, but apparently this was at least one of the times of year that they choose to make nests. The black sand beach had much of the same coarse feel to it as the green sand beach (think: rock salt). As it began to get darker, we headed back up North, through Volcanoes National Park to Hilo in search of dinner. Dinner ended up being at Nori’s Saimin & Snacks (via Frommer’s), a Hawai’in take on the old greasy spoon diner. We all had various local dished, including fish sandwiches, teriaki, and bowls of saimin noodles, but Angela’s Lau Lau was the most unique to Hilo. A Lau Lau is a Taro leaf which has been boiled for a couple of hours, then wrapped around meat(s), and then steamed for several more hours. The result is a gigantic, wet mess of leaf and meat which is served with garlic oil. It makes collard greens and oil look like a snack. After all filling ourselves even more on desserts, we drove the hour from Hilo back up to Waipi’o, completing our journey around the circumference of the big island.

Green Sands Beach

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1According the U.S. Geological Survey, who know about such things. Although both the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and Guam all beat Hawai’i; especially American Samoa, since it’s 14° 23’south of the equator. However, to my knowledge, Hawai’i is the only one that is still growing, so let’s give this a few million years and re-measure. Of course, if the Pacific plate is just moving North, then don’t expect much.