To celebrate the completion of an epic year Dreadknot and I decided to fly over to the Big Island of Hawaii from Oahu and have a three day camping and day hiking adventure.
It's always a fantastic experience flying over the chain of islands which forms Hawaii. If you sit on the right side of the plane you can look out of the window and see Molokai, Maui and the impressive peak of Mauna Kea as you descend to land in Hilo on the east side of the island of Hawaii, otherwise known as the Big Island.
Hilo is a picturesque seaside town on the lush, windward side of the island. It's lush for a reason, it rains a lot here. Arriving here one gets a feeling of going back in time to "old Hawaii", with its quaint buildings in the town center, framed by the often snow capped Mauna Kea in the distance and the tsunami vulnerable Hilo Bay forming the ocean access point.
Somewhere over the Rainbow:
Our quest for today was to see as many waterfalls as possible. We started in Hilo and wound our way to the Hamakua Coast and then on to the Kohala Mountains and Waipio Valley.
Rainbow Falls aka Wai'anuenue Falls: This was our first destination.
The walk consisted of a 0.75 mile stroll including a viewing point and then along a little muddy trail past a beautiful big Banyan tree upstream from the falls followed by boulder hopping which took us alongside the cascade of water from the top of the waterfall.
What an invigorating experience! We were at this vantage point at precisely the right time of day (between 10:00am and midday when the angle of the sun is perfect) and were able to enjoy seeing a rainbow above the waterfall's 80ft drop over a large lava cave into the pool below along the Wailuku River.
According to Hawaiian mythology, the goddess Hina lived in this cave which seems quite an elementally charged place to call home.
With no time to waste we drove up along the Hamakua Coast to reach our next waterfall experience.
Enroute we took the scenic detour past Onomea Bay, passing over numerous streams and smaller waterfalls as we snaked along, admiring the beautiful black sand beach and bay lined with lush tropical jungle foliage. A 600ft hike down to sea level takes you along a trail to Onomea Stream. Apparently this bay used to be a busy port during the early heyday of the sugarcane industry which does not exist anymore.
Akaka Falls State Park is about 11 miles north of Hilo and just outside of the old-world town of Honomu. The park contains a well maintained paved walkway which circles around in about a 0.5 mile trail and allows you to walk through the lush jungle which includes beautiful orchids, ferns, bamboo groves and Banyan trees, while enjoying the sights of the magnificent Akaka Falls as it plummets 442ft into a gorge. Kahuna Falls (100ft) lies a little further in the distance.
If you don't want to pay the $5 parking fee, park outside the gates along the road.
I've come across two different legends surrounding Akaka Falls. One was of a chief named Akaka who plummeted to his death over the falls after running away from his angry wife when she found out he was having an affair with two maidens, Lehua and Maile. The word "Akaka" means notch or cleft.
A long drive followed to the windward side of the Kohala mountains on the northeast shore of the island. After passing through the charming town of Honokaa, we arrived at Waipio Valley lookout. What a breathtaking vantage point! Ahead lay the valley which was once home to King Kamehameha with a black sand beach way down in the distance against the striking panoramic vista of plummeting cliffs and the wild Pacific Ocean.
The hike down into Waipio Valley is along an extremely steep, paved but rutted road which can only be accessed in a four wheel drive vehicle or on foot and is very slippery when wet.
Upon reaching the river we were unsure of which way to go to reach the falls. There were signs up saying that the trail was closed and that you would be trespassing if you attempted to hike there. After striking up a conversation with two locals parked beside the river we decided to walk a short way along the river bank. They told us that it was really too late in the day to make it to the falls and back before dark and we did not have our headlamps with us. We heard woeful tales about how hikers had been drowned or injured walking this trail in the dark.
Once we had gone a little way along the river bank we could see how close the trail was to people's homes and cut it right through an ancient burial site in the woods. Through the branches emerged a glimpse of Hi'ilawe beckoning. We did not continue as it felt wrong to be trespassing, as well as the fact that it would be dark within a couple of hours. A joint decision was made that we would be back in the future and get permission to hike here. I'd also like to mention that the Hawaiian song, Hi'ilawe recorded by Gabby Pahinui in 1947 and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and John Cruz more recently, is one of my favorites.
Back up from half a steep climb and a short hitch up the hill, we made our way to our designated campsite for the night all the way down in the south of Puna at Isaac Hale Beach Park, approximately a 45 mile drive. We had acquired a camping permit online and arrived in the dark to set up our awesome Big Agnes Flycreek UL3. I had been sponsored by Big Agnes for our hiking adventure across northern Spain.
It rained overnight and the air was chilly but we remained warm, dry and cosy in our cocoon. I must add that the camp facilities were minimal, only consisting of toilets, a sink and cold outdoor shower but the grounds are pretty and right beside the ocean.
The sound of car tyres scrunching the gravel car park and car headlights flickering through the tent awoke us at around 4:00am. Upon inspection we saw tourists boarding a huge boat in the car park via a ladder. They were about to be towed to the boat ramp all nicely seated in the boat and sail away in the dark in order to observe the lava flowing into the ocean a little way down the coast before sunrise.
After a morning of property hunting, an exploration drive followed and we wound our way along Government Beach Road, through old lava fields and into the thick of a lush tropical jungle near Hawaiian Beaches, where we stumbled upon a beautiful work of art " Moonwalker", displayed in Papio Ocean Park.
During our flight over from Oahu while "talking story" with some other passengers we learned that there was a beach just north of Hilo nicknamed "glass beach" where one can apparently pick up a fair amount of sea glass off the black sand beach. We guessed that it may be Honolii Beach, which is also a popular surf break, but after speaking with a couple of super friendly lifeguards we discovered that it was actually the next beach up. However they suggested we look along the small section of sand beneath the bridge, which we did, and were subsequently rewarded with many glistening pieces of multi-colored ocean smoothed glass.
That evening, we too decided that it would be awesome to see Madam Pele, goddess of the volcano at work and set off down Hwy 130 to the gravel road entrance to the now lava covered Kalapana Gardens which leads into Volcanoes National Park. The turn was just before the village of Kalapana which had been destroyed and partly buried by a lava flow in the 80's.
Starting out at dusk we hiked the 8.5 miles round trip journey to the lava viewing area on the blackened lava cliffs. As we walked along we were amazed out how resilient people were, reclaiming the land that had been over taken by the lava flow in Kalapana Gardens in 2010. They had literally rebuilt their houses on top of the hardened black lava.
As we went along, hundreds of people were cycling towards us, leaving the lava viewing site in the dark. A string of headlamps were streaming along the the track, and the bicycle rental operations at the start of the trail were obviously doing a booming business. The beautiful Hawaiian song " Holei, a song for Kalapana" played over and over on my mind as the chilly night wind whipped around us in the dark, with the huge plume of billowing smoke lit up red at its base showing us our destination.
A roped off section allowed us to clamber over the lava rock and visualize the elemental power of Mother Earth as molten lava spewed forth. Upon meeting the raging ocean, it lit up the waves and sent smoke and steam into the air above it.
What we didn't know then, was that this area we were standing on would break off in two days time, causing this 26 acre lava delta to go smashing into the ocean below, even causing a small tsunami to occur.
Such are the exhilarating tales from life on the islands.
Once we returned to our campsite, it only took a few minutes for us to pop our tent up again and we slept peacefully through another night of rain. Again we were awoken early by the boat people. With no time to waste we packed up camp as soon as dawn broke and ventured upcountry along Hwy 11 to the village of Volcano to seek out some breakfast. We couldn't have chosen a better venue and enjoyed a sumptuous feast beside a log fire in the early morning mist at Kilauea Lodge.
The journey continued along Hwy 11, through the huge tracts of open land as we descended steadily down the flanks of Mauna Loa. Our destination for the day was Punaluu Black Sand Beach and South Point, the most southerly tip of Hawaii and the USA.
I discovered the meaning of Punaluu during this trip.
It comes from the words "diving (lu'u) " and "spring (puna)". Ancient Hawaiians had a tradition of diving to the bottom of the bay with upside down containers and filling them with the fresh water bubbling through the sand from springs. On arriving at This gorgeous beach I could clearly see how it got its name.
Adjacent to the incredible black sand beach and the stark contrast of the rolling white foam caused by waves breaking on its shore, was a magnificent fresh water pond filled with flowering water lilies.
Behind the pond and over a rickety bridge lay the remains of a resort, now lying in ruin and being taken back by the jungle. From what I could gather the resort development was abandoned due to local opposition. I fully understand why there was opposition.This area is an ancient sacred place for Hawaiians, it has a Heiau complex (temple) stretching for miles along the shoreline. One of the heiau's, Lanipau was almost completely destroyed by the development of the golf course here. A great example of the power of people uniting to protect cultural heritage sites.
Fortunately part of the Heiau complex often referred to as Punalu'u Nui is still intact.
We walked up the heiau path to experience being in this spiritual place and could most certainly feel the "mana" (energy). From here we could see the ancient trail "Ala Kahakai "extending into the distance. This trail was important as it linked coastal communities and legend says that the god Lono walked along this lava rock trail from North Kohala to the southernmost tip of the island and then windward through the Ka'u region to Puna, (in other words it was a very long walk).
Watching cliff jumpers at South Point and taking in the beauty of this most southerly tip of the Hawaiian island chain was a wonderful way to end our adventure and we'll definitely be back for more.
If you'd like to read stories about my running adventures and walk along the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada in book form, I would be delighted if you purchased my book " Dream it. See it. Be it. ", available in person, on Amazon or via my website www.heatherhowells.com.
Mahalo for joining me on this adventure.