Sunday, February 04, 2007

2007 - Hawaii

"The winds are wrong." That, according to Rita, is what the long-time kamaina's (island residents) were saying. Instead of the usual trades from the north, these were coming from the south and were quite fierce, bringing damage and destruction. We got our share of rain over the 5 days we had in Maui, but also some nice weather as well. From our experiences, rain in Hawaii is never much of a problem, because it a) doesn't usually last real long, b) you can usually see and get to areas where the sun is shining and it isn't raining at all, c) it's liquid sunshine and you're in Hawaii to enjoy it and d) there's usually a rainbow to accompany it.

So after a day of lounging, we decided to drive up to the top of Haleakala to hike the Sliding Sands trail within the volcanic crater. It had been raining at our place in Wailea, but not to worry, I said. We would be above the clouds at the 10,000 foot summit and could laugh at the poor slobs getting rained on below. Sure enough, as we drove up the mountain, we did go through several layers of clouds. There was only one problem: they didn't stop. We didn't make it as far as the summit because the lady at the entrance to the national park told us it was cloudy and raining up there as well. The trip itself was neat anyway. Those rain clouds were pretty awesome, and there were plenty of rainbows in the places where the sun broke through.

We did manage to get a hike in though. Down past the end of the road (see the running description below), there's a trail over extremely rough lava flows with some great shoreline views. We had done it partway one other time, but this time we went farther, all the way to what I'll call a light beacon: a light-house without the house. It was on a cape at (I think) the very southern tip of the island. Feels like the end of the earth. The surf from those "wrong winds" was splashing all the way up to the top and over 50 to 100 foot sea cliffs. Although the footing is awful, this is a great hike.

Besides our usual 3-4 mile morning walk along the shoreline walk-way in Wailea, which we did a few times, we did one other memorable hike. It was actually more of a climb, down to the "olivine pools", so named by our guidebook. These are on the shoreline on the northeast side of West Maui - the back of the head. The pools are not unlike the Oheo Gulch, aka Seven Pools, but are much less known. They are tranqil pools almost entirely surrounded by rough ocean surf. We didn't get in for a soak, but they were neat to see. And we were the only ones around. After the climb back up to the road, we continued to circumnavigate West Maui. That drive is every bit as beautiful and harrowing as the famous ride to Hana. After a while we got tired of stopping to admire the view (ho hum, just another spectacular view) and just kept driving, dodging the occasional oncoming vehicle in the one-lane areas. And of course we didn't take the recomended clockwise direction. Going counter-clockwise as we did means that the cliffs are ALWAYS next to you on the passenger side. Seemed like only inches away.

It was great to see Rita during our time on Maui. She and I ran together a couple times, including once to the end of the road. (I did another solo run there.) Did I mention that it seems like the end of the earth? It really does - especially when the early morning darkness is still there. It's such a memorable running venue, and I'll never forget it. But back to Rita. She's such a great friend, and not just because she lives in paradise! We ate one breakfast (where she was beat-up from our just mentioned long run), and several dinners together. George couldn't make it - he was stuck in Cleveland with the flu. Too bad - we missed him, and Rita seems downright lonely there. Rita and George do have a wonderful condo in Kihei, and she even took us to her office. We couldn't find her desk though - there was only a huge pile of papers with a chair in her cubicle.

It was sad to say goodbye to Rita and to Maui, but it was on the Big Island. Lately we've been leaning more towards staying on one island because the trip between them takes so much time. This one sealed the deal: not only with time, but also stress. We thought we had plenty of time, but nooo: the wait for Hawaiian Air check-in was well over an hour. We did make it, but then they lost our luggage. And then we had to wait well over an hour JUST TO REPORT IT. They did deliver it to our hotel, but so late that night that we didn't actually get it till the next morning. One other problem that we were somewhat aware of coming in: construction at the Waikoloa Marriott. They have nice pools and the usual beach, but a makshift entrance and LOTS of construction noise. To top off the evening we thought we'd try the expensive hotel restaurant. The food was uncommonly bad. It was much worse than greasy spoon type stuff: they had to work at making these meals terrible. Such is life in paradise, I guess.

The best word to describe the Big Island is "sweeping". That's as in sweeping vistas. I'm thinking specifically of the coffee-growing area south of Kona, the Hamokua coast on the northeast side, and even in the Kohala region where we stayed (the Waikoloa Marriott). There are also probably more contrasts here than anywhere on the planet (at least for such a small area): rainforests, snowcapped mountains, deserts, black, white and green sand beaches, and, of course, lava flows galore. But it's those sweeping vistas that I think of first when I think of the place. There's been only one problem with these vistas: it's been more hazy than for our previous trips here. More on this "vog" later...

And the Big Island truly is big. It takes hours to get around or across it. We drove south of Kailua-Kona and toured the Bayview coffee plantation and bought a fare share of their beans. The scenery, gardens and coffee plantations make the area are as beautiful as any on the planet. But it's the Hamokua coast area where I've said before, and again on this trip, that I'd love to live. Once again, great views, and not too much development. It seems almost, but not quite, devoid of people. That's where we hiked quite a ways through the new World Tropical Gardens. Along the way we stopped at Umauma falls - a really beautiful triple tier waterfall and pools.

The running on the Big Island is as awesome as any running anywhere. Altough I've been sick with yet another cold, today I ran up the mountain past the village of Waikoloa, up to the area recently hit by the wild-fire. As the sun began to rise, I had great views of all the mountains around me: Mouna Kea, Mouna Loa, Huaalalai, Kohala, but not Haleakala - it was obscured by clouds this time. It's 10 miles up, and my legs felt it - I got slower and slower. When I turned to go back down, I picked up the pace, but even this quad-burning part of the run wasn't exactly easy. But the scenery made it all extremely memorable. I did this run once again on our last day on the island. It was even more awesome, with a great sunrise and mostly clear views of the mountains.

As my cold was beginning to get better, Debbie got it. So we spent a couple days lounging around the resort, where we did manage to get some walking and swimming in. We also made it to Kailua Kona for an evening meal overlooking the bay and the sunset.

It was also hazy at the Pololu valley up at the northern tip of the island. We'd hiked down into the valley before, but this time we were going for the whole enchilada: down into the valley, over to the next ridge and over and down that into the nearly inaccessible Honokana Nui valley. And, of course, back. After a very strenuous 90 minutes of hiking up and down the ridges, we finally got to a poit where we could at least see the Honokana Nui valley. It was a beautiful sight from the top, but we couldn't go any further: there was earthquake damage to the trail going down there. Not that we'd have been able to make it anyway -we were tuckered out and still had to get back. Which we did, somehow, manage to do. But those views of both valleys made this a really great hike.

We found out that the haziness is a "vog" - a volcanic fog. It's caused by the ash, dust, fumes, water vapor and other gasses being emitted from the volcano. It's usually blown away by the trade winds, but those winds have still been "wrong". We did wind up having a few beautiful clear days towards the end of our stay.

We spent a day at Hawaii Volcanos National Park, in part to find the source of the vog. (Not really - we knew what it was.) We listened to a talk by a ranger, did several walks including part of the Kilauea Iki trail (although not the part inside the crater), a short walk to the inside of Kilauea crater itself and a walk in "bird park", which was nice, but we only heard and didn't see too many birds. The exception was a couple of black frankolins. They're like grouse or wild chickens. We did see some bright red Hawaiian Honeycreepers while we were listening to the ranger. We intend to come back again some day (this was our third time here at the park) and do the entire Kilauea Iki trail.

And that's about it. We ...

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