It has been a few years since I posted my last blog. I have finally decided to write about our trip to the Big Island back in December 2016.
The first thing you will notice when flying into Hawaii are the vast lava fields; a Mars-like landscape that was once covered with lush vegetation, only to be scorched by lava flow leaving behind a barren wasteland of razor-sharp lava rocks. Occasionally, you will see bright green ferns growing out of the dark lava rocks. Only Mother Nature can be so dangerous yet beautiful at the same time.
(left) Sunrise behind Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that is located on the northern half of the island of Hawaii. It last erupted sometime between 4,000 to 6,000 years ago. (right) A delicate yet resilient rabbit’s foot fern sprouts out of a lava rock.
We left the desolate landscape behind as we turned off the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway towards the beautiful Hilton Waikoloa Village, a 62-acre oceanfront resort on the Kohala Coast. It is located near one end of Waikoloa Beach Drive, a 2-mile stretch of road that is lined with Monkey Pod Rain Trees, manicured golf courses, timeshares, shops and beachfront resorts. The drive there reminded me of Wailea in Maui.
(above) Hilton Waikoloa Village. Photo credit: Hilton.
Located on a 62-acre oceanfront resort, the beautiful Hilton Waikoloa Village is made up of 3 low-rise towers – Lagoon, Palace, and Ocean, the latter of which is where we stayed. Transportation between the towers is linked by a man-made canal and a monorail system. Beyond the 2-story lobby is a 4-acre ocean-fed lagoon teeming with a variety of tropical fish and rare green sea turtles. As beautiful as this resort is, there is no sandy beach on the property. The beachfront (and the area from which the resort is built upon) sits on lava flow erupted from Mauna Loa between 1800-1801.
(above) Spacious lobby. (bottom left) Private lagoon. (bottom right) Canal. Photos credit: Hilton.
On the second day, we drove 15 minutes north to Mauna Kea Beach, a secluded white sand beach that fronts the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Golf Course. Although I love the beachfront property of the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Honolulu with its stunning views of Duke Kahanamoku Lagoon and Diamond Head in the distance, Mauna Kea Beach is probably ranked my favorite of all time. Unfortunately when we got there late in the morning, we started to experience wind gusts of up to 30 mph. We thought we were going to lie in the sun and hear the gentle waves lapping onto the shore… but instead we were literally getting sandblasted. We later found sand in our bags! Luckily, the water was warm enough for us to jump in and escape the lashing wind and sand. At one point, a wave came from behind and knocked me down with my Oakleys. I searched frantically for about 15 minutes and nearly gave up until I saw the reflection of my lens underwater! I couldn’t believe I found them!
(above) Mauna Kea beach. Photo credit: Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.
(above) The drive along the beautiful Mauna Kea Golf Course to the Mauna Kea beach resort.
I was planning on doing some toy photography but that didn’t pan out so I came back alone the next morning at the crack of dawn when the winds were calmer. As suspected, there was a slight breeze and a few sun bathers enjoying the morning sun.
(above) Some of my toy photography that I shot on Mauna Kea beach.
One of the most memorable parts of this trip was our day trip to see the Kilauea caldera, one of the largest and most active volcanoes in the world. It is also the youngest of five volcanoes found on the Big Island of Hawaii. On our way there, we cut across the island heading east with Mauna Kea looming to our left. From our hotel, we could see snowy patches at the summit. It is the surprisingly the “tallest” mountain in the world when measured from the ocean floor to the summit at 33,000 ft while it is 13,802 ft above sea level. Mount Everest has the “highest altitude” measuring 29,029 feet above sea level. Mauna Kea is so massive that it and its neighbor, Mauna Loa, cause the ocean crust beneath them to settle by 4 miles!
(above) Summit at Mauna Kea. Photo credit: unknown.
It was sunny at the base of the mountain and then it started to hail as we made our way to Hilo, the largest town located on the eastern side of the island. It has a local vibe with many of the locals living there since it is more affordable and less touristy than Kona and many of the resorts situated on the west side. We stopped at Naung Mai Thai Kitchen on Kilauea Avenue at the center of town near the crescent-shaped waterfront. The food was delicious, inexpensive and most of all locally sourced organic ingredients to help support their local farmers. As always, we can never get enough Thai food when we’re on vacation. We didn’t get to see any of the tourist spots as we were in a hurry to get down to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.
It was an ordinary road that led us to the entrance of the Volcanoes National Park, but as we drove a little further down, the scenery started to change. The barren lava fields were dotted with bright green ferns with steam vents rising out of the ground fissures. A park ranger at the visitor center gave a very informative and amusing talk about all there is to know about Kilauea and the continuing seismic activity on this island. Kilauea, translated to “Much Flowing” in Hawaiian, is located on the southeastern portion of the Big Island with a 10 mile long river of lava flowing south into the sea. What was once a 4,090 ft tall volcano neighboring the slopes of Mauna Loa to the west and north, it eventually subsided into a 3 mile long and 2 mile wide depression with an area of approximately 4 square miles. This is known as the caldera, a plateau resembling a miniature version of the Grand Canyon with a current depth of about 500 feet. The Halema’uma’u (“Fern House”) Crater, Kilauea’s most active vent, is located near the center of the caldera. According to Hawaiian legend, Halema‘uma‘u is the home of Pele, the Hawaiian fire goddess. You can see Halema‘uma‘u from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory at the Uwēkahuna Bluff on the western rim of Kilauea.
(clockwise from above) Flora sprouting through the lava rocks. Photo credit: unknown. A fellow photographer was super nice enough to let me use his zoom lens to capture the caldera from a distance.