Vacationing in Hawaii

[This post was intended to be posted sometime in May … of 2008. I’m just catching up with my old articles]

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What does one do with leftover vacation when an opportunity presents itself to go away for a week?

Go away to Hawai’i!

After a short drive to Calgary, short hop to Vancouver and a boring satellite-tv-less ride to Honolulu, we arrived at our hotel for the night around 10pm. Quick trip to the gas station and we scored two mega cans of pre-mixed bud, clamato, salt and lime. Not a bad score at 11pm 🙂 Each wrapped in its morality white protective bag. Ah, when the liquor disappears by being placed in a paper bag…

Next morning’s flight to Kona was enjoyable. We got tiny pre-packaged 10% real-juice punch mid-flight, and before we knew, we were at Kona airport. We disembarked on the tarmac, and walked into a farmers market converted into an airport. Everything was under the roof, but not many structures had surrounding walls. Benefits of not having winter to contend with, I guess. After hauling our bags to the rental shuttle and 5 minute ride to the car, we were on our merry way.

Driving the coastal road we found a WallyWorld and a grocery store, and kept going to the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park for our tenting site.

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Our campsite was without running water, but it did have a very nice vault toilet. Tent pads were really well made and the scenery was hardened iron-laden pahoehoe lava with trees and hardy shrubs poking out. In the next couple of nights, we learnt that nights are extremely windy. The tent creaked and groaned and tried to keep us awake for couple of hours every night.

At first it was succeeding, but we grew accustomed to it eventually. Remainder of the first day was spent walking around the Kilauea crater and taking some snapshots of the new vent. We took a look at the steam bluffs and tried to go around on the Crater Rim Drive, but it was closed due to elevated levels of sulphur dioxide(SO2).

We never got to smell it (it smells like a freshly struck match) and we never got to drive around the crater; Park Rangers had most of the road blocked off from the public.

Second day we got up early and went to Volcano farmers market. They had the biggest avocados I’ve ever seen! They were as big as papayas are in the grocery store – and it turns out those are not the biggest varieties either. There are even bigger ones. We looked at the local bananas (which were awfully green) and picked up some very good bread and pineapple-jalapeño humus.

We drove through Hilo, got a little bit lost and then quickly found on the Saddle road, on our way to the Mauna Kea (Snowy Mountain) to visit the observatories. Saddle road is a joy to drive from Hilo. It is windy, challenging, smooth and very well marked. It made me glee with joy as we were slowly making our way up and up.

At one point, the road switched to a gravel road because of road construction but our Caliber took that in stride. We kept driving and driving, enjoying the scenery and I completely managed to miss a sign towards the visitor’s centre. Half an hour later, after driving through a military training range and mini-Scotland’s replica, with other coast in sight we clued in that we went too far.

We turned around, and after 20 minutes we found the access road. The drive to the visitors centre was impressive. It was a 7% average gradient, and car started to struggle a bit with the climbs. As we were getting closer and closer, I started developing a headache and a bit of nausea. We didn’t know it yet, but we were feeling the effects of altitude sickness. We had our lunch at 9000ft above sea level and waited for the guided tour to start. It was a self-drive, 4 wheel drive required guided tour.

Our little Dodge was having issues going up and the rental agency restricted us from going further up1, so we hitched a ride with a couple from San Francisco to the top. We bribed them with a package of Wasabi & Teriyaki macadamia nuts. They wanted to stay until sunset, which suited us perfectly! They were kind enough to take us in the back seat of their Jeep. Once we started climbing, it was perfectly clear why we needed a 4×4 for this trip. The grade bumped up to average 10% and washboard gravel road. The road got windier, and steeper and Jeep did need the low gear.

10-15 minutes later, we were at the top. At the top, we were taken into the visitors area at the Keck 1 telescope. One lady got quite ill and required additional oxygen. We were all somewhat dizzy, but after 45 minutes it all went away. It’s pretty amazing how quickly body gets used to adverse conditions.

At this point we were well over 13,000ft and the air was noticeably thin. Attempting to walk up an incline at a normal pace was getting me winded in 20 paces. We knew going up that the temperature was going to drop. I never expected it to drop as much as it did. At the top it was very windy and the windchill was driving the cold through our jackets. After donning all of our remaining clothes, we found some solace and warmth.

Since the sunset was three hours away, we decided to "scale" the peak of Mauna Kea. It is right beside the observatories and it has a little shrine built up from volcanic rocks. We took the non-snowy route there which involved a little bit more climbing.

It was like walking on marshmallows. It’s not that the rocks are soft, but they’re very light due to all the gas bubbles inside them.

Due to the high elevation, what should have been a 10 minute walk up a 30-40m incline on loose rock, turned into a 45 minute hike. We would go up 10 meters, stop and catch our breath. Halfway up, Kim had a nap in the weak sun and it was really nice. We were shielded from the cold, and for those 15-20 minutes we were warm!

We watched Steve and Ann-Marie hike the ridge against the clouds and I managed to get a couple of National Geographic type photos. We followed their lead about 20 minutes later getting back to the peak and the observatories just in time for the sunset.

I’ve had my share of wonderful sunsets on tropical beaches. They tend to be nice, but the originality of them diminishes with every evening. Seeing a sunset at the top of Mauna Kea, in the company of airplanes, ancient gods and my love, above the sea of clouds is unforgettable. We stood and watched the sun hide behind the cloud and colours of the rainbow filled the sky. As the light dimmed, we piled into the car, quickly went down the windy road and by the time we got to the visitors centre, the night’s sky had blossomed into the most amazing display of stars.

I’ve gotten close to seeing a sky that full of stars. It was at Kyle and Erron’s cabin near Sundry – but this was a whole new level. You could actually see the Milky Way (our home galaxy) stretching from one side to the other. The Saturn was clearly visible, with three of its moons and the rings were casting a shadow on the planet. It looked surreal – like someone had made a cutout and placed it at the lens of the telescope.

1 We later found out that Thrifty allows you to go up in their 4×4’s to to top