The Sockeyed Blog

Ben Johnson's Blog

Volcanoes and Hilo

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We began Thursday with a fresh fruit smoothie, which has become our habit, and packed up the car and headed out. From Hawi, we turned south onto the Kohala Mountain road through verdant ranchlands and up 3500 feet, dropping after 21 miles into Waimea. From Wiamea, the Belt Road took us along the northwestern coast across many bridges to Hilo. 

A cow on the Kohala Mountain Road

I took an immediate liking to Hilo. Once the centre of the now-defunct sugar cane industry, Hilo has a worn and sleepy attractiveness to it. The narrow downtown streets are lined with low wooden buildings with great shopfronts, and the signs reflect the Japanese-Hawaiian-American culture that has evolved there. Bento and musubi are for sale in many of the local restaurants, along with loco moco, a dish of rice, a burger patty smothered in gravy, and an egg on top. We stocked up on mochi, the Japanese sticky rice dessert, at Two Ladies Kitchen. 

Shops along Hilo's waterfront street

We had lunch at a Miyo’s, which serves up traditional Japanese dishes in a teahouse-like setting overlooking the Waiakea pond. Located in what seemed a derelict resort, Miyo’s was busy, basic, tasty and fun. I had a sesame chicken don. 

Seasame chicken don at Miyo's

A low-fat meal featuring a char sui egg sandwich

Volcanoes National Park is a short 45 minutes drive away. Just inside the park, we stopped at the visitor centre and found out, alas, that the lava isn’t visibly flowing at this time. Nevermind, there was still tons to see. We started with a 2km walk around Kipukapualulu, a 4,000 year old island of closed-canopy forest that has survived the lava and is home to a rich assortment of birds and rare trees.

The highlight was an end-of-day hike to the Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder Cone and the Mauna Ulu shield. Stopping en route at a couple of massive pit craters, we arrived at the trailhead which was originally part of the Chain of Craters Highway until lava flows in the early 1970s smothered it. We parked the car at around 4:30 and headed east across quite barren flows of ropey pahoehoe lava. The warm, low light brought out wonderful details in the landscape. The cinder cone itself is forested; older than the landscape around it, it seems to have been protected. We hiked around the cone, then climbed up towards the steaming Mauna Ulu crater. The landscape here was lunar, with only a few small ferns and bushes poking through the lava. Closer to the crater’s edge, steam issued from fissures. With the sun close to the horizon, it was very atmospheric and impressive. 

Pahoehoe lava flows with the Pu'u Huluhulu Cinder Cone behind

Looking down on the forested Pu'u Huluhulu Cinder Cone

The steaming rim of the Mauna Ulu crater

Kristi on the rim of the Mauna Ulu crater

The 1974 lava flow over the Chain of Craters Highway

The hike back into the setting sun was quite lovely. Driving back towards the entrance of the park, we stopped in the Thurston Lava Tube. The darkness outside didn’t matter for a walk through the 500′ long, lit tube. We drove around the crater to the Jagger Museum’s viewpoint over the enormous Kilauea Crater. A crater within it, the Halema’uma’u, is currently very active, and at night is a massive orange-glowing furnace emitting copious quantities of steam high into the atmosphere. It was pretty thrilling to see.

We spent the night in the very-nearby town of Volcano (I’m not sure who would want to invest in real estate on top of an active volcano). Our guest house was simple and comfortable. We weren’t there for long – we went to bed at 9pm and woke at 6am to make the best of an early morning hike.

At 6:30am, we parked next to the Kilauea Iki crater. In 1959, this crater erupted, firing lava as high as   1,900′ in the air and creating an enormous lake of molten rock that took 30 years to solidify. Our hike took us down into the crater, along the crater’s floor and up the other side. 

Dawn light hits the far end of the Kilauea Iki Crater

We were the first to arrive in the parking lot and were treated to an amazing symphony of bird songs as we looked down at the first light hitting the crater floor. We took the trail clockwise, dropping quite quickly down a series of switchbacks, then out onto the flat expanse of the crater. With the rising sun behind us, we set out across the floor, with steam rising out of cracks around us. Near the far side, we came to the actual cone and crater the lava spewed out of. Looking way up to the summit of the cone about 500′ above us, I recalled the photos from 1959 of the molten lava launched several times higher than the cone. 

Buckled lava on the floor of Kilauea Iki

Steam rises from the floor of Kilauea Iki

The ground became rougher and more broken due to its proximity to the cone. We made our way over it, then began a steady climb up through forest back towards the car. Viewpoints along the way provided great views of where we’d been. 

Looking back across Kilauea Iki

The cone which spewed a giant 1,900' tall fountain of lava

Looking across Kilauea Iki towards the steam cloud from the active Halema'uma'u crater

On the way out of the park, we stopped at the roadside steam vents and got steamed.

We arrived back in Hilo in the late morning. We strolled around the streets, enjoying the clear blue skies, warm temperatures, and funky little shops. Amazingly we ran into two people we know from Vancouver, Keltie and Paul, coming out of the Salvation Army thrift shop with two boogie boards. Small world. After the initial surprise, we chatted and shared what we were up to on the Big Island, said goodbye and headed on in different directions. 

The Palace Theatre in Hilo

Kristi and I had good sushi for lunch at Ocean Sushi. I particularly liked my ahi poke roll. Poke is raw fish, usually ahi, marinated in a shoyo-sesame sauce, and is a staple in Hawaii. On the way back to the car, we stopped at the small farmers market (the huge one is on Saturdays, unfortunately) and picked up four papayas (for $1), a pineapple, tomatoes and rambutans. Everything came to $8, I think. I also stopped in a small snack shop for a musubi to go. 

Maki at Ocean Sushi in Hilo

Rambutan and other fruit at the small version of Hilo's farmer market

Our final stop in Hilo was the Suisan Fish Market on the waterfront, where we picked up half a pound of poke, which we put on ice for our dinner. A park across the road had a nice Japanese garden and huge banyans. 

The Suisan Fish Market

An assortment of poke at the Suisan Fish Market

Kristi under a giant banyan tree

We took more time diving back than on the way down. We dropped off the highway in a couple of places to drive on more scenic routes, stopping at one point to walk down to a rocky cove and watch breakers roll in. Driving uphill from the highway near Hononu brought us to Akaka Falls State Park. We took the slightly longer walk to the falls through lush forest, then were treated to the falls themselves, dropping straight down 420′ into a fern-filled basin. The town of Honomu was pretty attractive too, with its typical strip of old wooden storefronts, and a great old theatre, unfortunately closed. Every small town seems to have a classic old theatre, some functioning, others defunct. 

On the coast just north of Hilo

Akaka Falls, 420' high

The abandoned theatre in Honomu

Our final stop on that coast was the Waipi’o Valley. We only experienced it from the viewpoint, but it was still stunning, looking down on the valley floor far below and the massive cliff faces on the coast receding into the distance. The valley has an ancient history as a centre of taro cultivation for Hawaiians. It is possible to hike down into the valley, up the other side, across several smaller valleys an into a larger valley beyond where you can camp. What a trip that would be. 

Looking down into the Waipi'o Valley

I jumped out of the car for a few minutes in Honoka’a, the lively local town near the Waipo, for a few photos of the old centre of town. 

Honoka'a's active old theatre

The drive back followed the same route and we dropped down off of the Kohala Mountain Highway at dusk. It felt good to pull up back at the cottage. For dinner, I threw the poke on skewers and made tuna tataki, which was quite delicious.

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Written by sockeyed

February 4, 2011 at 15:01

One Response

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  1. Lovely photos, as always. Kristi looks awesome and her bump is so cute!

    Unbalanced Asian Cycling Girlie

    February 12, 2011 at 13:00


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