When thinking of Hawaii one of the first things many people envision is of a waterfall in a tropical paradise. Well there are several on the Big Island of Hawaii to meet this expectation. Our first day on the island brought a conversation with a local orchid grower near Hilo regarding sights to see with waterfalls being high on our list. His response was a laugh followed by an explanation that there are numerous waterfalls with fast flowing water as it had been raining almost every day since the 1st of the year.
Our first stop was at Rainbow Falls near Hilo providing a beautiful waterfall flowing over the edge of a volcanic cliff crashing into the channel below. We were told that during the right time of day the sunlight casts a rainbow in the mist below giving this falls its name. It’s definitely a beautiful sight attracting many people to the area to explore this great water feature of Hawaii.
After taking some time to enjoy this area and listen to the water as it falls over the cliff and into the river bed below and use the available restrooms, it was off to see another of Hawaii’s popular waterfalls. After a short drive we arrived at the spectacular Akaka Falls State Park. Here there is a nice paved path winding through the jungle bringing you to an almost unimaginable waterfall. This is a waterfall with a 400 foot drop! I never imagined being able to get this close to such a place being able to witness this plunging river from a paved platform across the gorge. It is so tall and you’re close enough that it’s almost like you’re in a dream.
While the tall Akaka Falls is certainly the highlight of this state park, it is not the only waterfalls visible here. Another one can be seen through trees and shrubs and one more is quite a bit shorter but still beautiful to see. We were nearing the end of our day with the parking lot gate soon to close so it was time to leave but still difficult to tear away from a waterfall that seems like you only would see it in a movie or on tv. There are several other waterfalls but these seem to be the two most popular and worth seeing.
One of my favorite things to do on a tropical island is go snorkeling to see all of the amazing corals and colorful fish. So when we began planning a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii I knew we had to set some time aside underwater adventures. Anytime there were a couple of hours free we headed to a beach to see what was swimming below and was never disappointed. Our very first morning in Kona we walked to a nearby beach and saw yellow tangs swimming everywhere. Within a few minutes I had to go back to the hotel and get snorkeling gear to get a better view of these fish.
A short time later we were in the water swimming among these beautiful fish watching as they dart back and forth finding food and swimming with the motion of the waves as they came barreling towards shore. It becomes so easy to lose track of time when you enter this amazing underwater world. So much of the land world slips away down here. Well, until you find something from land that has made its way into the ocean such as a tire or plastic bottle. Some of it from careless people while other pieces make their way here by accident from either the wind or a larger wave. I ended up losing a key card at one point adding to this foreign debris. Fortunately it was found again and I was able to keep this little piece of trash out of the ocean.
During a few of our last snorkeling adventures we were fortunate enough to come across sea turtles swimming along the reef. One of them kept swimming closer and closer to a point I needed to swim away trying to keep a safe distance from it for its protection. It was so much fun to see these large turtles up close as they scour rocks and swim around the sea. They move in such a lazy fashion like they really have no worries at all and just go with the tide. Even though I was able to get in the water on four different occasion for a couple of hours each, I could have spent so much more time in the water exploring the different beaches and bays around Kona. It was a great time that I hope to be able to repeat sometime in the future.
It’s 4:27 am and I’m rolling over to shut off the alarm before it wakes anyone else wondering if I really want to get up and drive back into the park for another view of the volcano. After debating for a minute or so with myself I decide to get up and get dressed. Fortunately I had company as my cousin is with and decides to join me on another ridiculous morning adventure. When will we be here again to see this active volcano?
Fortunately one of the priorities of this trip was to witness the glow of lava during the night so we planned a one night stay just outside of the park in Volcano, HI making our early morning journey a fairly quick one. Within 15 minutes of leaving our lodge we were staring at the glowing coming from the top of the mountain. It looked like a large fire was burning off in the distance. Walking closer to Jagger Museum patio while scarfing down the last of a quick breakfast we could see the glow intensify as smoke continuously billowed from the caldera.
Over the next hour or so I just kept taking photographs of this almost unreal sight. In the above photo you can see a few stars along with the moon shining high above the volcano although it appears more like a star in this picture. Eventually I realized there was lava spatter erupting just above the rim from time to time. Seeing lava was something I hoped to accomplish while visiting Hawaii but the accessible flows had stopped a few days prior making it unlikely to spot and yet here was actual lava. The whole concept of standing on top of this mountain watching an active volcano spitting out lava seemed almost more of a dream than a fortunate reality. This was something I never imagined I would do during my life and here I was witnessing the continued creation of this island with my own eyes.
Daylight began to break across the horizon reducing the glow from the lava lake while my cousin and I realized just how much we were shivering as it was quite cool in the night air. It didn’t help that I wasn’t properly dressed for being at a higher elevation for an extended time only wearing shorts and a sweatshirt. Definitely worth getting up a little early to see!
There was one day set aside to explore Hawaii Volcanoes National Park so not a great deal of time. Making things a little less interesting was rain at the top of Kilauea making it difficult to see much and decreasing our motivation to venture too far from the car. Still we were determined to do all that we could on this final National Park adventure. Arriving mid-morning our first destination was the Kilauea Visitor Center to learn a little about this area and the active volcanoe we were standing on. Looking over the exhibits explaining what was creating this mountain and the surrounding new land along with plants and animals inhabiting it brought us to lunchtime. There really wasn’t a good place to eat nearby that we knew of plus our plan was for to have a picnic while taking in some amazing views. The rain outside indicated we needed to make other arrangements so looking over the park we found some possible places to sit and eat under dry skies at the end of Chain of Craters Road which was next to the ocean and away from the rain at a lower elevation.
After a short break eating, it was time to explore the coast in front of us a little and work our way back up to the summit of the volcano. Just looking out over the ocean was beautiful with the blue water and waves crashing against the shore. Examining the shoreline closer, which is really a cliff plummeting into the water made from a lava flow in 1971 which has been eroding ever since, we discovered a sea arch nearby. An interesting structure protruding from the cliff defying the brutal ocean waves which continually beat against it. Looking even closer the designs throughout this cliff wall made some interesting patterns and colors from all of the different layers of lava flowing at different times binding itself together to form new ground. You can make some of this out in the very top photograph.
A little bit of time to explore this cliff wall and stare into the sea and we began to ascend back up the mountain towards the smoldering volcano summit. Along the way we stopped to explore some of these lava flows just below the clouds more closely finding different types of lava formations. It was some much fun and amazing to see the different patterns and colors created from lava which flowed 45 years ago. Some has smoother edges more like a mud flow might have while other lava created sharper rocks that, from a distance, appear like dark, rich soil to grow crops in. This is not the case as there is almost nothing growing on it still after 45 years of inactivity.
Returning to the car we continued higher up the mountain and soon became enveloped in clouds followed by rain. We wanted to see the popular Thurston Lava Tube which is a cave created by flowing lava at one time. Bravely we donned raincoats and ventured out into the rain to explore this cave. With soaked shoes we entered this tropical cave feeling like we were entering something out of the movie Jurassic Park. Hoping for a dry place we found water dripping from the ceiling and large puddles across the floor. Fortunately the floor was lit up so you could make you way through this portion of the lava tube avoiding many of these puddles. Still it was an eerie experience to know large volumes of lava flowed through here not all that long ago to make this and this mountain is still an active volcano.
Making our way back to the car having been thoroughly soaked by rain and standing water we continued on to the top of the volcano to catch a glimpse of the large lava lake. Nearing the crater there were steam vents all around trying to alert us to the fact that there is hot lava close by. Still we drove on until arriving at the Jaggar Museum which stands at the side of the crater looking into this volcano. The clouds were covering this mountain making it near impossible to see anything so we headed inside to explore more exhibits and learn about this area. After some time looking things over the clouds cleared a little revealing more details of the mountain summit so I headed outside to look around. Shortly after getting outside there was a large clap of thunder. Excited to see a storm I scanned all around looking for lightning but found none. And then another clap of thunder and I decided seeking shelter might be a good idea. Once inside a ranger told us that it was not thunder we were hearing but rocks moving inside the volcano crater. That was kind of cool to hear and yet a little unsettling at the same time that there are large enough rocks moving to create a sound like that.
Unfortunately there was no erupting lava to be seen on this cloud filled day and the active lava flow had stopped flowing a couple of days before we arrived. It was a little disappointing to go all the way to Hawaii and visit an active volcano and not have the opportunity to witness actual lava with our own eyes and feel the heat protruding off of it. In a last ditch effort to see some lava I did return another time which I will write about later.
In a few short weeks we’ll be making our last trip on our National Parks Monoply board to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It feels like an amazing accomplishment to visit 27 different National Parks all across the United States. These include parks in Alaska, an Island in Lake Superior, and now Hawaii which makes completing this goal we set 9 years ago even more humbling as I plan for and reflect on this last journey for our family in this Monopoly game.
My wife and I have been to Maui and Oahu almost 15 years ago which is when this whole concept of going to each park on the board began. This is actually becoming a little difficult to write as I reflect back on our last visit to Hawaii and thinking about what we wanted for our children. The terrorist attacks on the United States were still fresh in our minds and the uncertainty to what type of future was in store for the kids. Still we were determined to share as many experiences for Kristy and Lysa as we could to show them this great country and the history which helped shape our nation.
It was on Oahu that our future adventures were conceived while visiting Pearl Harbor. The first stop upon entering the National Monument was a gift store as we planned our time here to see the exhibits. While walking up and down the isles of this store we came across a National Parks Monopoly Board. I picked it up and looked at all of the parks portraying each property and saw many that I had heard about and wanted to visit along with many I’ve never heard about. Looking over at my wife I said how much fun it would be to visit each park on this board with our children. She agreed it would be a lot of fun. The board was returned to its shelf with both of us believing we would never be able to actually go through with this idea and we moved on to learn about the horrific events of Pearl Harbor
With the terrorist attacks fresh on our minds we looked at the events of December 7th, 1941 with sorrow and detest. For the first time these events came alive in my mind and more than just a date I read about in history class. After a few hours exploring Pearl Harbor we continued on to see the Dole Pineapple Plantation and more of Hawaii’s beautiful landscape. In a few weeks, after watching molten lava flowing from the ground at Hawaii Volcanoes we’ll take our children to Pearl Harbor to learn what transpired there and stop once again in the gift shop completing what was once thought of as an impossible idea.