Our Hawaiian Adventure – Part 4

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My absolute favorite part of our trip was swimming with the manta rays in Kona.  It was the one must do thing on my list for our trip and the primary reason for our jaunt over to the big island since there isn’t a manta ray swim available from Oahu.  My wonderful hubs made all the arrangements, so I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect but had a basic idea of how it would go having first seen the idea on an episode of Briget’s Sexiest Beaches a few years ago.

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The guides put out a platform with lights that attract plankton, which the manta rays feed on. Their teeth are pin-sized, peg-shaped ridges just inside their mouth and are used only for gripping each other during mating so to eat they just swim along collecting plankton in their mouth with the help of two scoop-shaped fins located on their head. They swim in giant graceful backflips under the lights over and over again gathering plankton with each pass. And unlike their sting ray cousins, they have no barb on their tail so they pose no danger to humans.

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The night we went the water was pretty choppy due to strong winds, so it took me a while to get comfortable and put my face in the water but even before I did I could see the rays under the light platform.  You aren’t supposed to touch the rays because you could introduce harmful bacteria to them doing so, but sometimes they might touch you.  Even if they don’t, they are still within inches of you with each pass.

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We had several different rays visit our lights although I couldn’t easily tell them apart except for size differences.  Each would circle a number of times and then rotate off to visit another light rig.  This created a few breaks where there were no rays in sight but nearby fish came to take advantage of the food source and were entertaining to watch as well.

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This was definitely something I’d do again if we went back.  It was a truly magical experience to be right next to such beautiful and graceful creatures who are completely at peace in their natural habitat.  We booked our manta swim with a company called Sunlight on the Water and would highly recommend them. Their crew was super friendly and made sure everyone in our group had fun, even one gal who got quite sea sick. They also got in the water with us to take photos from below which they share on their Facebook page and checked on how everyone was doing often.  The images in this post are all screen shots from video the Hubs took with our GoPro while in the water.  He did a good job, considering this was our first experience using the GoPro.  Check the Facebook page later today to watch the video these images came from.

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Our Hawaiian Adventure – Part 3

Today’s recap includes our trip from the Hawaii Volcanos National Park back to Kona.  Since we had driven across the middle of the island via Saddle Road on our way to the volcano we chose to take the route along the coast back, which provided numerous landscapes of coffee and macadamia nut farms with massive lava flows in between.

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In Kona we checked in to the hotel and took a stroll on the water front, where I fell in love with these gorgeous bougainvillea cascading over a stone wall.  A little further down the street was a MASSIVE tree that the town seemed to have grown around.

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Back at the hotel we stopped by the beach which had a small lagoon and spotted several tropical fish swimming along the pier.  I haven’t looked up what they all were but I love this angel variety because it’s the same kind of fish as the leader of the tank in Finding Nemo.

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That evening we went on a guided swim with the rays which was an amazing experience.  I’ll do a whole post just on that once I get the images off the Go Pro since the hubs ran that while we were in the water.  The next morning we had a few hours before flying back to Oahu so we decided to head out the road a bit in search of Kiholo Bay where many said seeing turtles was a sure bet.  The beach was very rocky, but still beautiful.  It was the perfect place for a vacation selfie on the beach!

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We walked further down the shore along a well defined trail and eventually found some freshwater pools that I believe used to be used as baths for the royals.  We also spotted this crab defying the waves pounding the rocks and a few shore birds who seemed very uninterested in us.

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But there were no signs of turtles, so we headed back to where we started and walked a bit in the opposite direction.  This side of the beach had a few areas of sand, but was also very rocky.  And every few yards we’d spot wild goats in the trees which would scurry away anytime they thought we got a little to close.  Eventually we came to a large sandy beach in a cove, but still no turtles, so we enjoyed the view for a few minutes and then started to make our way back toward the car in order to make our flight.

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As we were walking back I suddenly spotted a turtle laying on the beach up ahead! He must have come ashore after we had walked by, although he did blend in so well it’s possible we were looking at the goats in the trees as we went by and missed him on the way out. Thankfully I was prepared with my large zoom lens and was able to get several close shots from a distance so we didn’t disturb his nap too much. He did occasionally open his eyes to see what us strange white humans were up to but then settled right back into dozing, barely concerned with us being around.

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His nose and big eyes reminded me a bit of Stoli’s expression, yet not as comical.  After spending several minutes admiring him we finished our walk to the car with huge smiles on our faces. We had been blessed to see a Honu (turtle) and couldn’t think of a better way to end our time on the big island.

Our Hawaiian Adventure – Part 2

Today I’m sharing our experience at the Volcano National Park.  We started the day by going out to the overlook we’d visited the night before which was located at the Jaggar Museum.  It was amazing to see the view during the day, having first seen it in darkness under the glow of Kilauea.

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In addition to interesting exhibits about volcano stats there were several artistic depictions of Pele and other Hawaiian gods at the museum.  As someone interested in Greek and Roman mythology I found these very interesting.  This one was so large I had to use the panoramic option on my phone to get it all in one shot, which distorted Pele’s face a bit.  Hopefully she’s understanding and forgives me.

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This was one of my favorite depictions of Pele interacting with the water goddess.

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There were also depictions of the stories about Pele’s vengeful nature such as this.

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I also found the statistics about the local volcanos interesting, especially when paired with other famous volcanos for reference. 5

There were several displays of various types of volcanic materials which showcased the diversity needed to study these evolving formations.

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Although I hadn’t considered it before, this display showing how geologists can determine the temperatures of lava from its color made perfect sense.

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There was an active seismic monitor for all of the local stations at the museum along side an area where you could jump or stomp to create your own “earthquake” on a separate monitor, which was fun to test.  This legend of how different seismic activity are depicted was good info – especially for those of us who live on the ring of fire!

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This damaged uniform was on display to showcase the dangers of working around volcanos – even for the professionals.

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It was amazing to see historical photographs of how residents of the island have lived alongside the volcanoes as they change the landscape.

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It’s easy to see why people would come to watch the eruptions, they are amazing and so little was known about the dangers that it wasn’t really considered.  I thought this display should have been titled ignorance is bliss!

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Even Mark Twain stuck around to watch the action and described it in his writings and drawings.  24

At one point while we were touring the museum several visitors, including myself started coughing occasionally.  Just as I noticed that others were coughing consistently as well,  the ranger on duty went around closing the windows and doors noting that the air quality had decreased on her monitors.  Because the air quality was changing, we finished up inside and decided to head out to the other areas of the park.  Outside the smell of sulpher was stronger than it had been when we arrived so I snapped this shot of a sign about the formation of the caldera and we headed to the car.

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Next we visited the steam vents, where pressure from the lava turns rain and ground water to steam and it is released through cracks in the ground.  There was a strong sulpher smell here as well.

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We walked out a short trail to see the steaming bluff, where vents in the side of caldera release steam up the cliff.

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The view across the caldera showed where the lava had pooled in times past and gave a different vantage point of the active portion of the crater.

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There were dozens of these pretty orchids growing everywhere along the trails.  I was surprised to see them growing like weeds, when we have to coddle them in Alaska to keep them alive.  I later learned these are not native plants, but bamboo orchids brought in from Asia.

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Next we walked the trail to the Sulpher Banks, where we saw more steam vents on either side of the path.

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Eventually the trail opened to a meadow along a hillside where mineral deposits from the venting steam have colored the rock.33 34 35 36

We also saw many of these flowering bushes, which apparently like the sulpheric conditions and are often the first plants seen on new lava flows.

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We stopped for lunch at the Volcano House, where we enjoyed the view as we ate and it seemed appropriate to try the “volcano” drink while doing so.

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After lunch we headed down the Chain of Craters Road to see the other sites in the park.  Starting out it was a beautiful road through a lush rainforest, but soon we were crossing several ‘recent’ lava flows like this one from the 70’s. You get a whole new perspective on the massiveness of the flows when you’re standing among its formations and caves.

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These forms in the lava are called tree molds and are created when the lava flows around a tree which eventually burns leaving a cavity in the cooling lava.

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There were several areas where the road had been cut back into the landscape through a lava flow which sat as an impressive reminder on either side of the road.  But the it also created uniquely beautiful landscapes along the way.44

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At the end of the road is a sea arch formation created by the pounding of the waves against lava deposits.  I’ll share a video of this location on my Facebook page later today for you to enjoy.  The view out the other side of the lookout was just as amazing.48 47

Although the lava can be devastating to vegetation, it also becomes home to new life as it cools and solidifies, creating pockets where seeds gather and grow such as this interesting flowering bush. We later learned the legends surrounding this plant also involve Pele, you can read about them here.  There were also some pretty yellow flowers that gave quite a pretty contrast to all the dark lava.

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Looking back up the hill we had traveled down it was easy to see the course each lava flow had taken and imagine the sight it must have been as it coursed down over the ridge toward the sea.

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When we stopped at one of the pull offs we realized that the road had previously been covered by a lava flow a few feet away. If you look carefully you can see patches of pavement that survived in the left side of this picture.

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Our final stop was the lava tunnel, which you can walk through. You’d never even know it was here if they didn’t point it out as it’s at the bottom of a dense rainforest area.  It was cool to see the roots from the plants above hanging down from the rock and considering the whole structure had been carved out by molten lava.

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Upon exiting the tunnel we went up a small set of stairs and found ourselves on this beautiful trail where the birds were in a constant chatter of songs.  At the end of the trail there was a sign about the many unique creatures that call this spot home and aren’t found anywhere else in the world – such as the happy face spider.  I wouldn’t want to interact with him but he’s still cute.

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We had a bit of time to kill before sunset so we decided to check out the Muana Loa lookout on the suggestion of someone we’d met the day before not knowing that the road became more primitive as you climb the mountain. We drove for several miles on this single lane road, spotting numerous wild chickens but not much else. When we finally made it to the top just before sunset we found a stone structure with a view of the caldera and signs describing an intense hike to an overnight cabin farther up the mountain.

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We enjoyed a beautiful sunset from atop the mountain and then headed back down.

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Which proved to be even more of an adventure than going up the mountain!

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Once we’d found our way back to the main road, we decided to get some dinner and looked up a delicious Thai restaurant. The food was so good it didn’t last long enough to be photographed but I did get a shot of my passion fruit margarita, which was so fresh it had seeds – those little black dots you can see there.

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We ended the evening back out at the overlook watching the glow in the caldera and listening to the rumble of the lava. This time I had the DSLR and got several good shots of the steam rising from the crater along with a few videos as well. I’ll share one of those on my Facebook page as well.

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Next up will be our adventures in Kona where we saw a sea turtle and swam with the manta rays!  Until then enjoy reading these other Hawaiian legends you should know about before visiting

Our Hawaiian Adventure – Part 1

I’m still sorting the massive stock of photos I took on our Hawaii trip to find the perfect ones to share but I’m finally ready to start with images from the first few days.  I’ll also be sharing a few tips as we go along for those who might be planning a trip to the Aloha state themselves.  So let’s get this trip going!  Alaska gave us a beautiful but icy send off, which led into lovely views above the clouds as well.

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We enjoyed flying first class, where the food was hot and oh-so yummy while watching movies on the media players they provide.  And here’s Tip #1: Don’t rule out first class just because you think it’s expensive.  The hubs got a better price on our non-refundable first class tickets than the refundable coach tickets he was searching, even with a small additional cost for trip insurance which made the tickets basically refundable if something were to come up.  I’m so proud of how his bargain hunting skills have evolved, especially when it means an upgrade for me!

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And the complimentary Mai Tai’s didn’t hurt either!  I lost count of how many I had in total, but it was a long flight. 🙂

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After several hours in the air we had our first glimpse of Oahu as we approached for landing.  Right away I spotted Ko’Olina where we would be meeting with my friend Edgar and his family a few days later to create family portraits and reconnect.

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We landed just in time to catch our first Hawaiian sunset.  Even from the plane window it was amazing – especially for us Alaskans who are used to minimal sunlight this time of year.

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Once off the plane we navigated the airport easily while enjoying some very Hawaiian signage.

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A quick shuttle ride took us to the Hale Koa, where we would spend the night before heading back to the airport in the morning to fly to the big island for a few days.  We caught a quick dinner at the hotel’s great buffet, where I enjoyed a blue Hawaiian while the hubs tried something else.

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On the way back to our room we stopped by to see “Gus”, the massive banyan tree in the Hale Koa courtyard.  With the blue lighting it looked like it had been taken straight out of Avatar.

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Luckily, because we had arrived later in the evening we received an upgrade on our room and got an ocean view rather than a garden view.  Tip #2: Late night check-in can earn you a free upgrade!

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The next morning we flew to Kona on the big island, where we were surprised to find a completely open-air airport!  You literally step off the plane and head ‘in’ to the gate, which is just a series of coverings that lead to a larger covering for baggage claim.  Neither of us had seen anything like it before.

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We got our rental car and headed out toward Hilo on Saddle Road.  I’d been told that there was a variety of odd wildlife on the big island ranging from donkeys to kangaroos, but all we saw were goats.

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The landscape here was vastly different than Oahu, with visible evidence of more recent lava flow activity dotted by scrub brush and an occasional cactus.

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The road was pretty foggy as we headed into the mountains, but it soon cleared to an amazing blue sky over miles and miles of desert like landscape.

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As we neared Hilo there were strange markings on the road.  I thought they looked like fangs and were meant to entice you to slow down on the curves.

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They eventually disappeared and we enjoyed the tree lined drive into Hilo.

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After passing through Hilo we headed to the Volcano National Park where we would stay at the Kilauea Military Camp.  I spotted this amazing stained glass art in the main building as we checked in.  It was the first of many we’d see on the property.

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We had a cute little one-bedroom bungalow on the edge of the camp.  It was just the right size and had loads of charm.

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The mini fridge and microwave came in handy for snacks when we stopped in to refresh between exploring different areas of the park over the next few days. The stained glass art continued inside the bungalow with these amazing sconces and lights.

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Once settled in to our cabin, we headed out to explore the camp and find some dinner.  All of the amenities are located in the center of camp, which was just a short walk down the path from our bungalow.  We knew the restaurant was closed for another few hours so we stopped at the lounge where we found a few more large stained glass windows including one with a Nene, Hawaii’s state bird. I later learned that Nene are a variety of goose who long ago migrated to Hawaii and never left which caused them to evolve and become flightless.

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Unfortunately, the lounge wasn’t serving either so we headed over to the bowling alley which had a little cantina and ordered a quick fare.  We enjoyed our meal outside with the view of these pretty stone row houses.  I investigated around them after eating and saw they also had more stained glass windows.

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Nearby we spotted this cool ride and some pretty poinsettia plants which were growing like weeds along a building.  The hubs had a hard time believing this was the same plant that we buy at a fraction of the size in the stores at Christmas!

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We headed back to the cabin to get ready for “After Dark in the Park” at the Visitor’s Center, which we thought was a tour, but turned out to be an interesting presentation on the history of local volcanos as part of national volcano awareness month.  Apparently we timed our visit just right!

After the presentation, we went across the street to the Volcano House where we ate tropical flavored ice cream in the dark while watching the Kilauea crater glow in the distance. That’s definitely something most people can’t claim to have done!

Not ready to call it a night, we ventured out to the last viewpoint on the park road to see the glow a little closer.  The steam from the crater created vog – volcanic fog that made the flickering glow even more mysterious. We had left the DSLR at the cabin so all we had were our camera phones which just didn’t do the scene justice. So instead we snuggled and listened to Pele rumble in the distance. It was a uniquely romantic experience.

Next I’ll share our second day of adventures at the park, including lava tunnels, steam vents, sulfur beds and arches of volcanic rock along the sea cliff so check back for that soon!