Day 11: Volcanoes and More

Truly, there is nothing more frustrating than technical difficulties while trying to write about the wonders of the day. I simply had to give up last night or I might not have a device to record this on today. I’ll try again and hopefully all will go smoothly.

An early alarm of 7:00 a.m. called to us because today we had planned to see the Botanical Gardens in Hilo on the other side of the island. We wanted to be on the road early so as to see all the sights and be back before sundown.

Breakfast on the deck was lovely as we’d beaten the sun to the spot. But we didn’t linger as we wanted to enjoy the full day. Just as I was packing some water and snacks, I hear a whimpering “Oh no!” from my driver. He had just discovered our destination for the day was not open on weekends.

So, plan B was implemented. We would go to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park instead and save the botanical gardens for Monday. We packed out by 8:45 – pretty good for vacation time – and set out on highway 11 for some 80 miles around the edge of the island. The views were stunning, the roads windy and the foliage along the way gigantic. There are so many plants here that I know as little house plants on end tables, yet in their natural environment they are simply gargantuan. Just like something from the land that time forgot. It still amazes me as we drive by and I see them 100 times the size I’m used to seeing.

About 10:20 we required a comfort stop and managed to locate the one town along the route with a gas station and a convenience store, Naalehu. As my driver bought some coffee, I browsed the little mini mart and my eye caught what my nose smelled . . . the aroma of fresh baked bread. What I found was Hawaiian Sweet bread from Punalu’u Bake Shop, the southern most bakery in the United States. That heavenly smell was coming from the stack of square loaves, about 18 inches long that looked strangely like angel food cake loaves. I simply had to have one. And, it was heavenly – in every way! All afternoon everytime we opened the car door we could smell that sweet Hawaiian bread as if it had just come out of the oven.

Not to be distracted with sideline attractions, we traveled on and made it to the Volcano Visitor Center by about 11:30. Since much of the park is closed due to the recent eruptions, the first thing we noticed were signs all over the place saying there is no active lava flow in the park this week. So we asked a ranger for her expert advice on where to go to safely see the volcano. She advised us not to miss the steam vents along the crater’s rim. So we hiked half the rim of Kilauea and could see steam escaping from various vents all along our walk. When the winds blew, the vapor floating past us felt hot – that’s very hot! It felt as if we had just opened the oven door to a blast of hot vapor in our faces. Our sunglasses fogged up and despite the heat, I was covered in goose bumps. It was very eerie.

You have to physically be there to experience the enormity and vastness; the unpredictability and the wonder of Mother Nature at work. I can’t describe the feeling when I first caught sight of the crater, or what it was like to stand at the rim and look into the caldera. We have been to Mount St. Helens and have seen the crater that blew out the side of the mountain — from several miles away. But today we were STANDING looking into the crater formed in May of this year, when Kilauea blew; actually seeing and feeling the steam venting literally at our feet.

After such an astonishing experience at the crater’s caldera, we hiked back to the car and drove to another suggested viewpoint to see lava beds from a blast that occured in 1974 – when we were in college. Despite such destruction, there is life coming back among the basalt. Life is tenacious and even in the midst of upheaval, life fights for survival. It’s an inspiring sight. There is much we could learn from the messages of nature. 

Leaving the park, we went in search of some refreshment. We found it at Hilo Burger Joint where they served a juicy, piping hot burger complete with crispy hot fries and fresh salad. It could not have been more refreshing. 

One last stop in Hilo was required before going back over the mountains to the Kona side of the island. My driver had found another Discount Fabrics in Hilo, a much larger town than Kona, and he knew my delight in finding another candy store to visit. And, just as my driver predicted, this fabric store was bigger than the one we had just visited in Kona, and it was more delightful as well. I found two more pieces of fabric I simply couldn’t go home without. Now, we could return to our apartment.

As we drove between Mouna Loa and Mouna Kea on the way back, the sun dappled the landscape as it sunk to meet the ocean. It was truly beautiful. Darkness arrived before us, but by this time we could find our way in the night, as the landscape was becoming a bit more familiar to us. There was so much wonder and beauty in this one day, packed between sunrise and sunset on the Big Island.

A very, very full day, with never to be forgotten experiences, made for very, very tired vacationers. Hence, the trouble with the technology last night just about sent me over the edge and I just had to stop and go to bed. But, grace and beauty surmount it all . . . and we are still here to enjoy one more day.