Day 13: Tropical Hawaii

After days on the dry side of the island, and two excursions into lava beds and steam venting volcanoes, today we opted for the tropical experience by visiting the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, just north of Hilo.

We had breakfast and set out, getting on the road by 9:15a.m. We thought we were doing well with the time. Taking the scenic route north and around the coast on highway 190, it took us just over two hours to make the trip. There was a stop in there about 11:00 in the town of Waimea. It was a lovely little establishment that grew up around the Parker Ranch – which still operates today. I spotted a Starbucks, a sure sign of civilization, and of course a coffee sounded good to my driver. We also made this a comfort stop, and I took some time to explore the Parker Ranch Store while the coffee was being made. I found a tiny pair of plumeria earrings that just caught my fancy. They probably cost less than the coffee, but I just thought they were cute and couldn’t be passed up.

About 11:45 were in the vicinity of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, but we were very unsure we were on the right path. Gypsy had us go off the main road and toward the ocean on skinny local roads that wound down the cliff side. There were private homes and absolutely no signage. It was correct, however, and once we found it, we paid our admission to see the tropical wonders Hawaii has to offer.

The gardens are a private enterprise started as a dream in 1978 and open to the public in 1986. They are comprised of 37 acres of tropical plants that take one from 120 feet above sea level down to the rocks at the base where the ocean licked the shore.

Just walking into the gardens, we were awestruck with the beauty and enormity of the plants; the delicacy and intricacy of the flowers; and the variety and selection of all different kinds of palms, ferns, orchids, and numerous species of flowers and trees I could never name, nor have I ever seen before – all exquisitely, colorfully, beautiful.

We walked every path and back again, admiring the wonders of nature and her abunant variety in the tropics. Finding our way to sea level, we were stunned by the immensity and power of the waves crashing against the volcanic rock. It was a heart stopping show. We could have sat there and watched the waves all day. The beauty was unparalleled.

Watching the water grind with force against the solidity of the rock formations, I couldn’t help but think of the endurance of nature. Over time, these waves will likely reshape the rocks and reform the beach. But it does take time. How impatient we are when encounrtering resistence. If something doesn’t work the first time, we are likely to give up and try something else. But, the slow, certain, work of the waves simply continues until the reshaping takes place. If only we could have that kind of persistence when it comes to reshaping ourselves; when it comes to encountering new people and new ideas; when it comes to reaching out beyond our comfort level; when it comes to reshaping ourselves into good citizens of the universe, at home in places as far flung as these tropical islands. Yes, it does take time, but I do believe it can be done.

We were hesitant to leave the wonder of the botanical gardens, but we needed to rehydrate and had another spot to explore before the sun would pull the shades on the afternoon. About six miles away was ‘Akaka Falls State Park, with one of the most photographed spots on the Big Island. We set our Gypsy and turned in that direction.

Easily finding the park, we paid our parking fee and gingerly took to the steps that lead us down into a jungle ravine. And, we went down and down and further down. The trees and palms rose above us, the vines twisted and tangled overhead, and the insects inspected us as we walked by. (Thankfully, the insect repellant we purchased last night seemed to be working! No small grace.)

We were truly in the jungle, deep down under a canopy so thick there was little light making its way through. And then we turned a corner, went up several stories of steps and came face to face with ‘Akaka Falls, in all its pristine beauty. The falls itself is twice as tall as Niagara Falls, but only a fraction as wide. Still, it was impressive. Several visitors along the path asked us to take their pictures, and they in turn, took ours. It was an international group, and so fun to exchange with folks from so many places.

All the beauty and wonder fed the soul, but our bodies were crying to be fed. We drove into Hilo for the dinner hour and rather than trying to find another excellent place to eat, we opted for a known quantity, The Hilo Burger Joint. Just as before, we dined on their superb burgers and fries, salad and ice cold water. Only this time we each chose a different burger, and both of us determined they were better than the ones we had here only two days ago.

The long day required a drive back across the mountains in the dark, but my driver did a masterful job. Having driven that road twice already in the daylight, he felt confident. We made it back to Kona and the Royal Sea Cliff by 8:00. It was a long day, but one of the most beautiful days we have spent in Hawaii. Grace filled each moment in this tropical wonderland.