– Big Island, Hawaii –
I would say that today was a day of history. That may sound strange, but the western coast of the Big Island is filled with what I would call cultural heritage sites, and most of what we did today revolved around places like that.
We began our morning at 5am with a drive over to Hilo for our run. I know that seems a little unnecessary, since Hilo is a half hour away, but the original plan was to go run in Hilo then swim at one of their beaches. Volcano, of course, is half an hour from the coast, so we can’t conveniently go swimming from our hotel. In addition, there aren’t any great places to run here, so we would have to travel somewhere to do it, even if it is just over to the National Park, which I think we will do tomorrow.
Our running route was through a delightful little park right on the water next to a tiny little place called Coconut Island, which is a teeny tiny island that’s only a little way from the shore. We actually did our warm up walk over there before running through the park back on shore nearby. It wasn’t a perfect run, but it wasn’t bad, and we thought we were going to go swimming on Coconut Island.
Unfortunately, the beaches in Hilo are incredibly lame. They don’t have any sandy beaches to speak of, and the ones that are considered the “best” are rocky and ugly. We searched around for 15 minutes before concluding that we really didn’t see anywhere in town that we wanted to get in the water. Mark mentioned that we were going to drive past a gorgeous beach later in the day, and we could plan to swim there.
After a quick stop at a McDonald’s for some iced tea for the road, we drove back to our hotel to get our showers. We were a little defeated, but it was still early in the day, so all was not lost. By 9am, we were on the road back to Hilo to make our drive up to the north today. We didn’t have to go all the way in, so we didn’t backtrack too terribly much when we took 200, or the Saddle Road, up the middle of the island toward Hawi. The Saddle Road is named such because it rides along the valley between the Big Island’s two great volcanoes: Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.
It takes a little over two hours to get to Hawi. The first part of the road we took was a major highway, but when it split to the north to go to Waimea, it turned to a curvy two-lane road with tons of little hills. The area was filled with ranches, and the weather went from cool and misty at the top of the saddle road (around 3,500 feet) to dry and hot at the bottom, reaching nearly 90 by the time we made it to Hawi and the coast.
Hawi, of course, is where our vegan restaurant that we’ve been planning to try is located. It is called Sweet Potato Kitchen, and it is really cute. Hawi is a bit of a hippy town, as you might expect of a tiny place where you can find a vegan restaurant. The little town is sort of touristy, but not as bad as other places on the islands. It was perhaps 11:40am when we arrived.
Our waitress also seemed to be the cook and the owner, and she took great pride in all of her creations. She didn’t make everything, but she had made all of the recipes for it, and it really seemed like the place was her baby. She was very proud of it, and quite happy to talk about it. She was quite friendly.
Mark ordered a vegetarian Loco Moco, which I believe I mentioned yesterday is a plate full of rice, covered in a hamburger patty, smothered with gravy, and topped with an egg. Mark’s hamburger patty was vegetarian and his gravy was made of mushrooms, but it was otherwise a reasonable imitation of the real thing. He enjoyed it, and I enjoyed my open-faced hummus sandwich, though I always find open-faced sandwiches hard to eat. I tend to cover myself in food.
With that out of the way, we were now at the top of the island, and our goal for today was to finish the entire western side. From Hawi, we first stopped at Lapakahi State Historical Park. When we got out of the car, the heat hit us like a brick wall. It had been around 78 on the Saddle Road, and almost cool when we left our misty, middle-of-the-rainforest hotel, so we were pretty surprised to find that the Jeep was telling us it was around 95 degrees. I mean, we knew it could happen, but we were still caught off guard. It was hot.
With the heat hammering down on us, we took our cultural site in in sections, bouncing from shade tree to shade tree to descend down to the ocean through the park. It’s interesting how heat seems to work in Hawaii. Out in the sun, the weather can be positively unbearable, but if you step into complete shade, the weather seems to totally change. Instead of blisteringly hot, you can suddenly feel a cool breeze, and it doesn’t feel like your face is about to melt off. The shade in Texas doesn’t cool you off, it just keeps the sun from cooking you. It isn’t quite to bad here.
This park contains the ruins of an ancient Hawaiian fishing village. It is partially restored so that visitors can see how the village might have looked during its heyday. This one wasn’t really on our list of parks to see, but we happened across it and though it might be worth a stop. It was interesting, but not so interesting that we were willing to brave the heat for more than about 15 minutes while we looked around.
Our next park was actually part of the National Park System, and of course I had forgotten our stamp book back at the hotel. Luckily we aren’t too picky, so we were able to stamp a piece of paper to tuck into our book later. The park is called Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site.
It was still very hot at this park, but because Mark was harassed into walking out around the heiau by a pushy park ranger, we ended up walking out further than we really wanted to take a look. A heiau is a Hawiian temple, and this one is considered the last major ancient temple. It was built in the 1790s by the King that eventually united the Hawaiian islands into a single nation: he of the statue from much earlier in the trip, Kamehameha.
This particular heiau is a luakini heiau, which means one meant for a sacrifice. The king built it to gain favor from his war god, and he sacrificed his own cousin, another leader, to consecrate the place. The whole story of the king a little jumbled, from what I can tell from reading the signs at the sites in Hawaii and a few pages on the internet. The Wikipedia article seems to jump around a lot, too. The pushy ranger guy wanted us to walk away with the idea that somehow the building of this temple united Hawaii, so that’s what I’ll leave you with as well.
By mid-afternoon, we had made it to Kona, the other larger city on the island. It has an airport like Hilo, but it is larger and a little nicer. It is more of a resort town, with tons of giant hotels and shopping centers and the like. We weren’t too impressed, and found ourselves glad that we were closer to Hilo, instead.
We did swing by a convenient McDonald’s to get new teas, though. We were still baking in the sun, though clouds were finally rolling in, so it wasn’t quite as bad any more. The bathrooms in this particular McDonald’s were locked with a key code that you had to get after you ordered something. This is usually a sign that local people with nowhere else to go will come into the McDonald’s to use the restroom and be in the air conditioner. We saw several people that appeared to be camped in the McDonald’s, sucking up the AC for as long as they could. It makes you a little sad to see.
Down from Kona, we stopped at a second park in the National Park System: Pu’uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? Half the time, Mark and I totally avoid saying the names of things here. We just butcher it, as all we can do is read it phonetically.
This park is the site of another type of temple. In ancient Hawaii, breaking any law (or kapu) meant a death sentence, but if the offender could reach a refuge site, or puʻuhonua, they could be absolved by a priest and then leave the site no longer fearing for their life. The nobility of a branch of a Hawaiian royal family was buried at the site for many years, as well.
Regardless of how it came to be, the place is just gorgeous. It is surrounded by hundreds of palm trees, and sits on a rocky volcanic platform right against the ocean. Interspersed with the volcanic rock is a ton of totally white coral, which really stands out against the black basalt.
In the little ocean inlets that creep into the park, you can spot some marine wildlife. We walked past a group of people all huddled against the water, staring down into the pools below, only to find that they were photographing some very pretty bright yellow tropical fish.
We waited a few minutes after the fish, hoping to maybe get a better photo of them or spot something else, when we saw several sea turtles. I’ve never seen a sea turtle out in the ocean before, and these were right at the surface beneath incredibly clear water. It was amazing. I just loved it. We definitely took a few photos, but it is kind of hard to see the sea turtles in the pictures, since we didn’t have a polarizing filter. They were much clearer to us in person than they are in the photo.
I promise we were very careful to check the waters around the park after that as we walked around. We took a little trip out to the rocky point from the temple’s walls to take some photos. There’s water across the path in a few places, so we had to carefully place our feet on the big volcanic rocks they use to line the path to cross. People wearing sandals were just stomping on through, but since we were in sneakers we had to be a little more careful. I’m proud to say neither of us ended up soaking our shoes.
One area of the park, the true heiau, is covered in what the map told us are called ki’i. Ki’i are large statues carved from solid pieces of wood, which were supposed to protect the heiau and the kapu, or laws, and were believed to be filled with divine power. All of the statues have grimacing or angry faces, and were originally meant to be intimidating or frightening. They are really neat, though it is unclear to me if they were replicas or originals.
When we finished up at this national park, we took a little drive down a gravel road contained within the park. It ended up only going back to a pretty little coastal spot that looked out over a rocky beach, but we had fun on the short drive there, and enjoyed the view.
From the park, we continued to follow Highway 11 down the bottom of the island. We’d driven a portion of this road the other morning, to get to our green sand beach hike, but we hadn’t really been paying that much attention to the scenery at the time.
It was around 5:30 when we passed through the town of Ocean View, just on the Kona side of South Point, where we took our hike. We spotted a pizza place up on the hill and stopped for some dinner. We were starving, since our lunch had been a little early and somewhat light.
The restaurant was called DJ’s Pizza and Bakeshop, and when we parked outside of it, we ended up next to a truck with a giant Great Dane in the back. I’ve really been missing Ripley, so seeing other dogs at least temporarily relieves the puppy withdrawal, and he was a particularly sweet and handsome specimen.
Inside the pizza place, we ordered our pizza, which could also have been vegan, as the menu was prepared for that. The shop also had a bunch of baked goods, as you might expect of a place with a name like that, and while we were tempted, we didn’t get any in the end. We did spot a few vegan desserts though, if anyone else needs to know. They definitely had vegan pizza (including imitation cheese), a vegan meatball sandwich, and a few vegan desserts. The woman working behind the counter (who I suspect was the owner, as she was also the cook), was very nice, and the pizza was pretty good.
We finished our drive back to Volcano at about 7pm, which is the absolute latest we can get back if I want to finish this blog posting thing before 9pm, so we can go to bed. This getting up at 5am every day thing is really tough, even if your internal clock has been reset by a major time change.
Tomorrow we’re planning to go for a run in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, then drive on down the the black sand beach a bit down the road, After that, we’ll head back here and shower, then see what we can do about driving up to Mauna Kea, which is supposed to be the tallest mountain in the world if you measure from the sea floor.
– Trip Total : 1,464 miles –