Waikiki is everything Kona wasn't. Big and shiny, large and loud, a land of white sand beaches fringed with palms and skyscrapers. ABC stores full of Aloha shirts rub shoulders with designer stores, and the nearby Ala Moana Mall is big enough that you could spend your whole holiday in there if you want to. I'm steering clear- I'd like to say it's because I'm not materialistic but really it's because I know there's at least one Barnes and Noble in the complex and I've been away from decent book stores for so long that I daren't walk through the door for fear of blowing my bank balance.
The designer stores and big hotels give the place a 'could be anywhere' edge, but the rolling surf, blue water and long expanses of sand are far removed from most major cities. Nestled at the edge, Ala Wai Small Boat Harbour feels a little out of place. It should be charging a fortune and be full of multi-million dollar super yachts. Instead it's home to local boats and cruising yachts- and, right now, Island Prism.
My first impressions weren't favourable. I started this blog post a number of times over the last few weeks and each time deleted it because it felt like I was complaining. After a few weeks it has grown on me and I'm ready to write. My initial impression was affected by the amount of rubbish in the water. We'd arrived after heavy rain had washed tons of rubbish from the Ala Wai canal into the marina. Most of it was wood and branches- natural detritus. However, there was also a huge amount of man-made debris, from bits of chairs to yoghurt cartons, shoes, flip flops, lost balls, syringes, broken toys and an endless supply of plastic straws, polystyrene fast food packaging, plastic cups, lids, bottles and boxes. It felt like fast food waste was quickly smothering us.
I spent a couple of days complaining. One lady, Christa, was getting her hands dirty hauling out the junk. I decided to help and spent a bit of time each morning pulling out rubbish, piling it on the dock and moving it to rubbish bins. After a couple of days I decided to start sketching what I pulled out- somehow it made me feel better. Within a week, the two of us had made a difference to a good sized section of the marina. Eventually the marina managed to organise contractors who completed the progress. Things look much better now, though the littering hasn't stopped and the canal continues to be used as a conveniently tragic rubbish disposal.
The noisy city with busy, badly repaired roads took me time to adapt to. My inner travel snob disliked the fact that I was more drawn to the glitzy touristy expanse of Waikiki rather than the urban jungle of downtown Honolulu. It took me a few weeks to shut her up. Waikiki was an easy walk from the marina, we could hang out on the beach with a picnic or occasionally indulge in happy hour with our friends from Kealana and Cheers (the boat most appropriately named for happy hours)! The sand was a manicured world away from the lovely beaches of Fakarava or Bora Bora, but it was still lovely and there were fireworks every Friday night.
Honolulu was also a great place to stock up on boat parts and get things done. We had some supplies meet us from the mainland and Canada, and took advantage of the well-stocked branch of West Marine. Jim made me buy wellie boots ready for the chill waters of Canada- I managed to find brown sailing boots with a cute floral print on the inside, which lifted my mood about the whole concept of being cold- at least I'd be cold with pretty feet. Though my feet still haven't got used to the idea of wearing socks.
One of the great things about Hawaii is how easy it is to get to. My friend Kate came out for a visit with her family and snuck me into the Hilton pool for an afternoon, and a bit of Canada came to us in the form of Brother-out-law Tim. We hired a car and toured the island, including the beautiful Foster Botanical Gardens- an oasis of calm in the middle of a buzzing city! The exotic and sometimes odd plants were fascinating- and who could stay stressed whilst sitting under a descendant of the tree where Buddha found Enlightenment? I can't say I was enlightened, but I was finally finding that there was plenty to like about this city after all.
We'd spent over a month in Kona and we still weren't getting bored. Personally, I could have stayed forever. The marina waters were clear, with daily visits by turtles who used it as a quiet place to nap. Surprisingly, they also liked to tuck in to the carcasses thrown overboard by fishing boats. I'd always thought turtles were vegetarian! A porcupine puffer made its home under the dock we were tied to, and an endless procession of tangs, boxfish, parrotfish and Moorish idols kept our keel and lines clean. We discovered great snorkeling right next to Honokohau harbour, and took the dinghy to the harbour entrance where the resident pod of spinner dolphins make a game of playing in powerboat wakes. They weren't bothered by us as we bobbed about, and repeatedly swam right past as they made lazy circles round the bay. It was a great way to spend a morning- and if we didn't want to take the dinghy out we could just walk to the headland and watch them from shore.
When we weren't in the water, Jim was on wheels- in training to try and cycle up Mauna Kea. He embarked on a training programme of stiff hill climbs and explored possible routes up to the mountain. Every other morning he'd get up at the crack of dawn to catch a bus to a new place to go Up. Like in Hilo, the buses had the capability to load bikes on the front. The drivers seemed to be a quirky bunch, and bus routes were rather flexible depending on whether the driver needed a cigarette break. But fares were cheap and the service covered a lot of the island. The training plan was going well, and Up is plentiful on this moutainous isand, but the logistics proved trickier. The cabins just below the park were closed, there was no other accommodation and sneakily camping brought the complications of having to bring up enough food and water. Then the weather added to the difficulties- both sides of the island were experiencing heavy rainfall and the normally clear peak of Mauna Kea was obscured by cloud night after night- an enormous inconvenience to all the observatories up there. Jim's dream of standing above the clouds and staring at the stars seemed less and less likely.
And then, after repeatedly extending our marina stay, it was time to leave. We had farewell drinks with Gary and Joanna aboard 'Cheers', and they mentioned renting a car. Within minutes our plans had changed. Again. Justin, a local who is fitting out his own boat ready to sail to Tahiti, was a whizz on Google and knew the local rental places- and soon we had a car booked for a week, and were smiling sweetly at marina management to have our berth for another week and a half, please.
Of course, the first thing we checked was Mauna Kea's weather. Nothing hopeful for the next few days- but plenty more island to explore. And plenty of places to eat. Hawaiian food is based around pork, taro, chicken, fish and rice- often with a Japanese or Chinese twist, a touch of pineapple, an American edge or a little extra aloha which turned stodgy to succulent. Pork is cooked long and slow til it's tender and falls apart, taro leaves are treated like spinach and spices are handled with flare. The portion sizes tended to be very generous and generally lunch would feed us through to the next day's breakfast. I can recommend the orange chicken at L&L BBQ, the pizzas at the Kona Brewery and the pork and rice at Maddie's, but the grand prize has to go to the Hawaiian-Style Cafe in Waimea. My fluffy omelette was accompanied with gravy and delicious hash browns, plus a stack of pancakes the diameter of a dinner plate and as much syrup as I cared to drizzle. Thankfully we'd skipped breakfast so I made a valiant attack on the omelette, but even with Jim helping me most of the pancakes ended up in a takeaway box (and were still delicious later). We are now having a week of salads and vegetable stir fry to compensate for our week of indulgence!
In between these feasts, we managed to see quite a lot of the island. Hawai'i is full of small towns, historical buildings, archaelogical sites, dramatic valleys, twisting gulches and incredible views of the volcanoes which dominate the island. The landscape and wildlife are tied into a host of legends which explain this diverse and contradictory land of fire and snow. Pele, the volcano goddess, often takes centre stage with her jealous nature and capricious and fiery temper. The snow maidens dominate the higher mountains and occassionally Maui pops over from his eponymous island to visit his mum, Hina, who lives in the as-picturesque-as-they-sound Rainbow Falls.
Waterfalls are a feature of Big Island- especially on the Wet Side- and with the generally soggy weather they were in full flow. The north east coast is home to a lot of them, where they tumble down the sides of the beautiful but intensely private Waipio Valley. The road down to the valley is steep and suitable for 4x4 vehicles only, so we satisfied ourselves with taking in the view from the lookout at the top. Sheer cliffs fringe the flat green river valley floor before twisting out to form a vertical coastline. Waterfalls cascade off the top and tumble into the sea. The valley was decimated by a tsunami, but although few people live there now it is still cultivated. Much of it is closed to outsiders, giving it a secretive, 'lost world' feeling.
The 'Akaka Falls are much more accessible, but that doesn't stop them from being beautiful. A 400 foot waterfall drops into a pool, surrounded by emerald vegetation. It belongs in a storybook or a shampoo advert, and the viewpoint is perfectly located to take in the whole of the falls. The well-paved walk meanders past banyan trees, pretty cascades and lovely vistas, whilst orchids and ginger add splashes of colour.
A short drive away, we found the Rainbow Falls which enthusiastically launch themselves into freefall, the riverbed sloping in just the right way to give the water a run up before it takes the plunge. We were there too late to see the rainbow for which they are named- that's a sunny morning phenomenon. Behind the falls is a cave, which legend says was home to Hina, mother of Maui. A true fairytale falls, it even had a giant lizard monster to bother it, once upon a time.
After our waterfall themed day, we returned to Puna and the south coast. The Punatics were still about and the funny smell still clung to much of Pahoa. We ate brunch then drove to the tide pools near the south east tip, where I found the best snorkelling we've had in Hawai'i. The deeper pools were home to thousands of fish living amongst varied and pristine corals. I found this healthy coral very exciting- whilst the other snorkel spots we'd visited were teeming with fish, the coral was mostly bleached and dead. Parts of the west coast have reserve systems where swimming is not allowed at all- I'd like to think that those areas host coral gardens just as lush as these.
How to follow a chilly snorkel? A visit to the hot pools! Fed by underwater springs warmed by Pele's fires, the pools are a bath-like temperature. They're open to the sea, which stops them getting too hot, and fish seem to enjoy them just as much as humans. Concrete areas around the sides make access easy, but the sandy bottom and overhanging trees keeps everything feeling natural. The only occasional spoiler to the relaxation were the small fish who kept trying to nibble Jim and Joanne's legs. None of us wanted to get out, and we'd probably still be in there now if we hadn't started to get hungry.
Getting back to Kona involved driving along Saddlecross Road, which crosses the plains between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. When the weather is clear it offers spectacular views out to sea, and the sunsets are incredible. Low clouds make everything more mysterious, as the volcanic vents form odd shaped shadows and twisted trees create eerie goblin forests in the fog. Every time we crossed from one side of the island to the other the light was different, and Gary got us safely over the saddle, whatever the weather threw at us. Joanne was DJ and we usually had a great soundtrack to our roadtrips.
The west coast also had a lot to offer. We snorkelled at Two Step and saw Kealakekua, where, as Jim likes to say, "they wrote the Captain Cook Cook Book". Thankfully these days 'long pork' is not on the BBQ menus. Farther up the coast, Lapakahi State Historical Park offered the remains of a fishing village with many fascinating glimpses into traditional Hawaiian life, and the petroglyphs at Waikaloa literally made the past an open book. Carved letters and words were not modern graffiti but the recordings and experiments of people learning a new alphabet system. More fascinating, to me, were the carvings of people, boats, fish and turtles, and the mysterious but once meaningful systems of lines, dots and concentric circles which formed a method of communication long before the Latin alphabet sailed into town.
The valleys of the far north were obscured by heavy rain, but the little town of Hawi had enough cute little shops and galleries to entertain me and Joanne. It was a typical little town with buildings which just beg to be described as 'quaint,' including a historic cinema. Gary and Jim were less impressed, but cheered up when we added coffee and cake to the itinerary. They were more enthralled by the driving- from coast to rainforest to mountains. This island does manage to pack a lot of variation into a short distance.
We did a few boat things too- chiefly a big trip to the shopping behemoth of Costco to bulk buy provisions. Our last full day of car hire was laundry day. As we sat in the car, Jim checked the weather on Mauna Kea one last time. Sun. And a clear night ahead. Suddenly doing the washing turned into a scramble, as we planned the quickest way to get petrol, gather snacks and find enough warm clothes for a night up a cold mountain. We made it up to the visitors center whilst there was still plenty of room in the car park and walked up a hill for stunning sunset views of Mauna Loa. As it grew dark, telescopes were set up outside the visitors center. After a dinner of leftovers (of course), we were treated to a laser-guided tour of the cloud-free heavens, and then had a peek through each telescope. Binary stars, colliding galaxies, the Jewel Box cluster, the Cigar galaxy (actually a side-on spiral) and the Orion nebula- it made amazing viewing, like real-life Star Trek, and the volunteers were able to answer all our questions. Jim finally got to see the stars, and it was totally worth the wait.
After the car went back, it was time to disassemble our bikes and say our goodbyes. Yes, we finally managed to untie the mooring lines and make the crossing over to Oahu. The marine chandlers were calling and Prism needed work done before the passage to Canada. Hawai'i is something really special, and I've pretty much run out of superlatives to describe the landscape, wildlife and people. I'd love to sail back here next year- so long as I get a thesaurus first.
Over on the Rainy side of Hawai'i, people speak of Kona as if it is some terrible, overdeveloped metropolis. Changing sides of the island, we were expecting unfriendly city people, heavy traffic and tall buildings obscuring the sun. We were wrong. But before we could explore, we had to get there.
The voyage was nothing short of spectacular. The weather cleared up enough to give me views of Mauna Kea as I sailed down the west coast, and I was entertained by breaching whales and frequent sightings of mothers and calves. My final count was four whales on the Hilo side and eight on the way to Kona. Swimming with the whales is forbidden here but they're always a breathtaking sight, especially when they launch themselves out of the water. One male was visible from miles away as he threw up huge plumes of water with tail and fins. I was so busy watching him I was taken by surprise when a mum and baby surfaced near Prism! We're meant to keep our distance but nobody told the whales that... I swiftly adjusted our course as they swam in front of us and toddled off out to sea. The distant male continued his antics for the next half hour- but I was careful not to get too mesmerised as I steered us up the coast!
After sailing all night and enjoying a whale-filled cruise in the morning, we pulled into Honokohau Harbor and were instantly baffled by the mooring system. They call it 'Tahitian mooring'- but it is unlike anything we ever saw in Tahiti. The maneuver involves catching a mooring buoy on the way past and then stopping the boat just off the dock so the deckhand (Cap'n Jim) can get a line ashore. Powerboats with bow thrusters and the ability to make fine adjustments in reverse make this look easy. On a more classic sailboat, it's more of a challenge.
Prism doesn't do well in reverse. It's very hard to steer her and if there's a current or a puff of wind, things can get messy. So we decided to go in forward. Our berth was on the end of a row, so we only had a boat on one side- initially this seemed like a blessing as the clear side gave us more room and less things to try not to hit! I turned us in to the dock, and Jim prepared a line to lasso the mooring buoy. By the time we did it, the wind had blown Prism's bow round into the fairway and no amount of steering would bring her back in towards the dock. So we had to throw Jim into the dinghy to tow a line ashore and pull us in, Mediterranean mooring-style. The marina staff were highly amused- and we didn't know whether to be glad that we were given an end berth or not. Our fellow cruisers weren't much help when it came to technique- using fenders and the boats next to you to move forward seems to be accepted procedure! And Google was no help. Any suggestions from anyone who's tried it?
Once we were safely moored, Kona turned into a social whirl. We caught up with long-time cruisers Jim and Joy, who are sailing their way to Alaska. Jim soon met Will, an Alaskan cyclist with an infectious sense of humour and a lovely wife, Carline. They were great company, shared great stories and told us all about their fascinating friend Teri, who is known as the 'gecko whisperer" for her incredible photos of geckos surfing, painting, ironing and modelling Easter bunny ears. The next day we went into Kona to see the monthly hula at the palace. The afternoon involved great dancing, beautiful music, torrential rain which flooded the roads and cocktails at Gertrudes with jamming ukuleles all around us as the flood waters rose. Between tasting samples of Kona coffee and catching the performance, we saw a lady selling cards covered with geckos. I seized the day, introduced myself, swapped cards and followed up with an email- and a friendship was born. Teri is one of those people who has a story for every occassion. Her husband Gil is great company, makes excellent fish tacos. We even got to meet Teri's gecko models- who are totally wild and pose for the fun of it!
The kindness of strangers in Kona was incredible. Chuck and Linda invited us to their home for dinner after deciding Jim seemed like a reputable sort, and Gail and John, two ex-cruisers who had thrown out the anchor, understood the value of a hot shower and the use of a washing machine. It was fascinating to trade tales, and we really appreciated being welcomed and looked after.
John and Amanda arrived from Hilo on Mahina Tiare, and I got the chance to go out paddling in a wa'a with the Waikaloa Canoe Club. This outrigger canoe holds six people- a steersman and five paddlers. Ohana Day meant that we weren't racing, but were still expected to pull our weight. Paddling in time and changing sides became an exertive but meditative experience- though I had to make sure that I didn't fall out of sync every time was saw a humpback (watching breaches from a va'a? A truly spiritual experience). We crossed the bay to Mauna Kea resort, stopped for a glass of water and then made our way back out through golden clouds of yellow tangs, passing the occasional whale and turtle.
Jim got man flu, I met watecolourist Jean Haines at a workshop at the local art shop and Amanda saw my Month of sea Monsters and commissioned me to her illustrate her latest book about marine diesel engines. It's been a fantastic experience as we trade ideas and inspirations and build something together. I've been learning all about the systems that keep Prism going and honing my Photoshop skills at the same time. You know you're doing the right job when you get up early, full of ideas and ready to go. My only complaint is I need more hours in the day so I can work on the commission and my book, sketch the local area and practice the new watercolour skills I've learned!
The Kona Coast is relatively flat which makes it great for biking. Hawai'i isn't really a beach destination, but there are patches of white sand if you look. Magic Sands is one of the most unusual beaches. Storm waves regularly sweep away the sand, only for it to be replaced later. It's small and full of both locals and tourists- a fun place for people watching. We liked to get poke from Da Poke Shack (delicious Hawaiian raw fish salads with rice and seaweed or edamame), and spend an hour enjoying the vibe. Nearby was another beach with great snorkelling and numerous historical sites. The beach was salt and pepper pebbles, comfy enough for me to doze off in the sun.
Cruise ship day was Wednesday, which always led to extra bustle in Kona. The Pride of America runs on a precise schedule, and I built up a mental picture of cruise director Crystal from her impossibly perky and peppy event announcements (25, blonde, ponytail, short shorts and white socks with tennis shoes). It all seemed a bit too much like floating 'Hi-de-Hi' for my taste, but the tourists all seemed happy and liked to stop and chat to me when I was sketching in town. The Princess line ships visit on a more occassional basis, dwarfing the town. But even on cruise ship days, Kona feels real. Which is hard to explain- but there's still space to walk, still room on the little beaches, no designer stores just for the rich tourists. The older buildings, full of character, have not been swept away for glossy glass and steel confections. I loved the labyrinthine board walk and the century-old Kona Inn tower, built from lava rock and looking quite medieval. When you're in Kona, you're definitely in Hawai'i- not in an identikit city which could be anywhere between London and Dunedin.
We were so happy there that when it became time to leave we extended our stay, then extended again. We got to go aboard the Hokule'a, which circumnavigated the world using traditional Polynesian navigation techniques, explored the galleries in the lovely little town of Holualoa (where many of the buildings have been owned by the same families for over a hundred years) and visited Greenwell coffee plantation, which put Kona coffee on the map- and still makes a great cup! We had other adventures too- but I'll leave them for my next blog post.
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Does offbeat and off-grid mean off your rocker? I was going to find out when we decided to take a few more days away from Prism and visit Puna, a sprawling region in the south of Hawaii. It’s where people go when they reject the groove of Hilo and want to find a new rhythm entirely. The locals are collectively known as Punatics, and Jim was itching to meet them. I fancied the arty vibe, yoga classes, hot pools and snorkeling, so we set about trip planning.
The first thing we learned is that being a hippie is expensive, at least if you’re travelling spontaneously. We wanted to find somewhere to stay on the coast, but the place with the home-built huts was full, the one with the shared bathrooms and hot tubs was ridiculously expensive and the clothing-optional one just seemed weird. We ended up booking another Air BnB at Black Sands- which is not a beach at all, but an off-grid development up the hill from the coast. Our room was delightful, with views over the rainforest and a happy population of bright green day geckos outside. Our lovely host, Susan, was very welcoming and it was worth the steep cycle and interesting bus journey to get there.
We’d taken the bus from Hilo to Pahoa, popping our bikes on the rack on the front. I’d watched the world out the window, whilst Jim broke the cardinal rule of public transport- Do Not Make Eye Contact. He spent the one-and-a-half hour bus journey being regaled with the near-death experiences of an aging musician whose brains seemed pickled by too many illegal substances. Getting off the bus and on to the bikes was quite a relief!
The scent of marijuana hung over most of Pahoa. There wasn’t much to the town- a health food store, a few restaurants, some shops selling second hand books and tie dyed clothes. It seemed like smoking was all there was to do. We had lunch at a bar, and got chatting to a glass blower named Tom who seemed very sane, then hopped on the bikes and took on the rolling hills to Black Sands.
Kalapana used to be a village. Then the lava came, slowly burning down forest and destroying homes. The flow is still active today, and people cling to the edges, making the most of the fact that the authorities don’t care what you build on land which could become a lava field in a couple of years. Potholed roads can be a worthy exchange for freedom if you’re happy with tank water and solar power. Uncle Robert’s Awa Bar has turned its end-of-the-road location beside the old flow into a thriving business. There’s a market there every Wednesday, full of local vendors selling everything from clothes to woodwork, jewelry and glass. There are also dozens of food stalls and a live band. We grazed our way through green papaya salad and watched some hula dancers take to the floor for an impromptu performance. Then the band turned to classic rock and roll, and even Jim’s ankles wanted to get moving. The clientele were a fun blend of tourists and locals, the atmosphere was amiable and the coffee cake was amazing. Outside there was fire dancing, and that unmistakable scent again.
Jim and his ankles don’t like walking, but he was willing to give it a go to stand on the edge of the lava flow. The viewing here is totally unregulated- once you get past all the warning signs, you are on your own. No signs, no barriers, no path. The landscape here is still being born- always changing as the flow switches direction and changes in intensity. The start is a moonscape, though houses have already begun springing up, their unique architecture reflecting the quirky personalities of their owners. With no soil, gardening is impossible, though tubs of grasses or hydroponic arrangements gave splashes of green.
The rock beneath our feet was iridescent in places, covered in shimmering gold or patterned with rainbow strands. It was also sharp and brittle. We had to take care not to fall- no mean feat on the tortured ground. Lava had hardened in rope like coils and enormous domes, often shattered in the middle. Some areas were smooth and others looked like they had been bulldozed. What on earth could turn huge chunks of rock over like that?
The temperature rose as we got closer to the flow. Between the lack of path markers and the uneven ground, taking a direct path was impossible. Some walkers returned having never found the flow, others pointed us in the right direction. Steam vents became more frequent and the air stank of sulphur. And then- finally- we found the lava.
It was constantly in motion, red-hot syrupy rivulets. One cascade would harden and new one would start to run. Cracks glowed and grew; hardened patches were pushed aside as the pressure increased behind them until a new wave of molten rock bowled them out of the way. The landscape behind us began to make sense as I watched it being formed. I was mesmerized.
I had the flow to myself for a while, perched on a very solid slope a few feet away. The ground was still too hot to sit on, and a melted shoe nearby reminded me to keep checking the soles of my trainers. Jim soon joined me and we must have spent half an hour watching the earth being born. A group of tourists came, venturing beyond the slope and walking on the flow, treading on rock that had been liquid a few minutes before. Not the safest place for that Instagram-worthy selfie. We left them to it, and Jim had great fun complaining all the way back to our bikes (it gave him something to do).
The wind howled all night, and in the morning Jim called the harbourmaster to check up on Island Prism. Good job he did- her anchor had dragged and night security found her up against the university dive boat. Details were vague- she’d been moved and the fire brigade may have been called. They thought everything was ok- but our heads filled with thoughts of damaged stanchions and gouges in expensive dive boats.
Our hostess Susan leaped to our rescue and drove us all the way back to Hilo. We found Prism tied up securely against the strong winds which were sending whitecaps over our previously calm little anchorage. Tom, who works on the University boat, joined us to inspect them. Both vessels seemed scratch-free, and we thanked him for his help the night before as he’d been called in the early hours to wrangle our misbehaving yacht. We moved Prism, with two anchors out this time, glad that no expensive boats were damaged and our home was ok.
We’ll never be sure exactly why Prism dragged. Our Bruce anchor is twice the weight it needs to be, we let out 20 metres of chain in the 3 metre deep anchorage and most of the seabed in Radio Bay is mud, which offers good holding as the anchor digs in well (it’s also a pain to clean off the chain when you haul it up). We always reverse the boat to set the anchor, and try again if we’re not sure it worked. All I can think of is that the bed may actually be a mix of mud and rock- once we hauled up the second anchor and it was suspiciously clean. It’s possible we were just resting on hardpan, rather than being dug in. Or maybe the strong gusts were simply enough to move the boat despite the heavy anchor and extra chain. Perhaps Prism just had abandonment issues and wanted a hug from the dive boat. Thankfully no harm was done and everybody was remarkably nice about it.
Our Puna adventure cut short, we decided it was time to think about moving round to the west side of the island. Another boat came to join us in Radio Bay for the last few days- Mahina Tiare, owned by John and Amanda, who cruise the world training up blue water sailors. Their numerous circumnavigations have given them a host of fascinating stories, and we were lucky enough to catch up with them for coffee before we left.
Then it was time to raise the anchors and head up and over the north of the island, to the sunny side of Kona.
Our first few days in Hilo, Hawaii were pleasant. After checking in with customs- who were very pleasant and easy to deal with- we made our way to Walmart to buy me a cheap bike. Wheels opened up the city, and we began to explore.
The waterfront is beautiful. Devastated by two tsunamis, the locals didn’t want to move back in so it’s now mostly parkland. A string of parks run along the coast, some with wild surf and other more sheltered and suitable for paddling amongst the rock pools. We fell in love with Banyan Drive, dotted with trees planted in the 1930s by figures such as Amelia Eaheart and Babe Ruth. Jim insisted on pedaling through it any time we went to or from town- and Suissan restaurant and its excellent raw fish salads- known as poke- was a draw as well. To celebrate our wedding anniversary we cycled north to the gorgeous tropical botanic gardens, and pedalled the lush rainforest and tumbling waterfalls of Four Mile Drive. The people were friendly, and slightly offbeat. We were invited to join in an anti-nuclear sit-in, and saw downtown bustling on the day of the women’s march. The anchorage was calm and secure and we only shared it with a couple of other boats. There were even warm showers ashore.
And then it rained. Not just showers but ten days of constant downpours, and so humid that everything on the boat felt sodden. Drying clothes was impossible, and even clean things from the wardrobe felt moist. The intense humidity had my computer going haywire, and watercolours took all day to dry. We even fired up the diesel stove as I shivered in my jeans and jumper, feeling damp and not at all as if I was I the tropics. Despite ten years of disuse, the stove fired up well and heated the boat nicely. We opened a tin of duck and roasted some carrots and potatoes- very tasty, but not how we’d envisioned spending our days in this island paradise.
By day ten, Jim and I were fed up of being cooped up. There is no public access to the mooring area at Radio Bay, which is next to the cruise ship terminal and container port. Cutting through the port was forbidden, and so any trips ashore involved rowing the dinghy to shuttle the bikes to the nearby public beach. Keeping the bikes ashore was not an option due to the high risk of theft. We ventured through the rain to the Astronomy Centre, feeling near to hypothermia under their blasting air conditioning, then dripped our way round galleries and museums. We were about ready to give in and endure a soggy sail to Kona, reputed to be the sunny side of the island.
Then I checked the forecast- a single solitary sun icon for the following day! We decided to seize it, hastily booked accommodation and woke up bright and early the next day. And it truly was bright- the sky was free from clouds and for the first time we saw the full bulk of Mauna Kea- highest volcano in the world- towering over Hilo. Shouldering our backpacks, we pedaled down to the bus station and loaded ourselves and our bikes on the bus to Volcano National Park.
The bus dropped us off at the visitor’s center on Mount Kilauea. It was a very short cycle to reach the first viewpoint on the rim, looking down into a huge caldera of black, red and ochre with smoky plumes rising from it. A sickly yellow cloud hung above, to be blown down the mountainside as ‘vog’- volcanic fog which often obscures large parts of the south of the island, even when the weather is clear. Vents puffed away around the crater rim, giving a sulphuric tinge to the air. The most prevalent plants were ferns and the ‘ohi’a, with red flowers almost identical to New Zealand’s endemic pohutukawa. This clever plant was able to close the pores on its leaves, holding its breath whenever the vog became stifling. Between the ferns, vapours and scarlet blossoms, we could have been in Rotorua.
Kilauea’s most unique point is best visible at night. It is the world’s most active volcano, and at night its lava lake can be seen spitting molten rock up into the sky. Once, visitors were allowed onto a lookout right above the lake. A great experience- but one night the volcano went ballistic and the lookout was destroyed- what wasn’t instantly burnt was hurled across the park, with lava bombs literally hot behind it. Thankfully, being 2am, the park was deserted and nobody was hurt- but if the eruption had taken place in the daytime it could have been a very different story. Crater Rim Drive was soon truncated to avoid barbecuing visitors. Definitely a safer choice, but I was disappointed that I could not gaze down into the turbulent heart of Pele’s realm. After the up-close theatrics of Mount Yasur in Vanuatu, Kilauea felt like a distant show- the difference between standing front row in a stadium concert and being so far back that the main act is little more than a dot on a stage. But it was still much better than watching it on YouTube the day after- so I’ll be happy with what I got. After all, you don’t get to see flying lava in Rotorua (for which the locals are probably very grateful).
We spent three full days up at Kilauea, exploring lava tubes, cycling the wel-named Desolation Road and enjoying countless breathtaking views over the craters. I walked across the caldera Kilauea Iti whilst Jim attempted a strenuous uphill bike ride towards Mauna Kea. We extended our trip by a day, met some local artists and found a fabulous Air BnB to spend our final night. Rather reluctantly, we eventually loaded our bikes back onto the front of the bus and headed back to Hilo, to return to the banyans and contemplate our next adventure.
An Artist Afloat- Painting the world one anchorage at a time.