Why I Didn’t Run in Hawai’i (part three, the final part)

Hawaiian Islands

Hawaiian Islands

We finished our boat tour of the lava flow into the ocean, full of awe at the spectacle of being so close to flowing melted rock.  Rather than head back to Kona, which would be a two hour drive, then return again the next morning, we decided to spend the night at a bed and breakfast close to Volcano National Park, which would be our next big adventure on the big island.  This also meant skipping the Saturday morning run with the Big Island Running Company, which I had planned to do before realizing how tightly packed our itinerary would be once we got here.

We stayed overnight at the Aloha Crater Lodge, in Volcano Village, close to the entrance to Volcano National Park.  This is a small Bed and Breakfast in a converted house within the rain forest, with very reasonable rates.  They have five rooms, each with room for three to four occupants, and the breakfast is provided in-room, with a coffee maker and a small refrigerator stocked with milk, juice, cereal and fruit.  Being in the rain forest as it is, the room was very humid, but the bed was nice and comfortable.  Close to the lodge there is a lava tube, which is a large cave-like tunnel created by the flow of lava.  They give tours daily of the lava tube, but we decided not to participate, since we would be seeing the same thing on our bike tour of the national park.

Aloha Crater Lodge

Aloha Crater Lodge

We arranged for a tour of Volcano National Park with BikeVolcano.com, a company which offers several different bicycle tours of the park, although not every tour every day.  They require a minimum number of people signed up to do a tour, and one needs to sign up at least 48 hours in advance.  They also will ride rain or shine, since it rains often on this side of the island.  We were able to sign up for their shorter tour, although we really wanted the longer one.

Like any other national park, there is a nominal fee to enter.  We drove up to the visitors center, and had some time before our tour started to look at the exhibits and browse the gift shop.  Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park extends from the summit of Mauna Loa to the sea, with Kilauea being the active volcano.  Our bike tour company pulled up with their trailer to the parking lot.


Photo obtained from national park service web site.

Naturally, the first order of business was for all the participants to sign a waver saying we wouldn’t hold them responsible if we fell into a volcano, or any other mishap.  We were driven up to the Jagger Museum, where we would see the giant caldera of Kilauea, which has its own name, the Halema’uma’u crater.  Thomas Jaggar was an M.I.T. geologist who started the study of volcanoes scientifically here in 1912, in response to the eruption of Mt. Etna in Italy in 1908, which claimed 125,000 lives.  The caldera is very wide, and has an enormous pool of lava churning in a central pit.  There is an impressive time-lapse video on the park website of the glow from Halema’uma’u as the sun sets, revealing the glow from the central lava lake.

vapors from Halema'uma'u

Vapors coming from the central pit of Halema’uma’u crater

At the Jaggar museum, overlooking the Kilauea caldera.

At the Jaggar museum, overlooking the Kilauea caldera.

Along the edge of the caldera is a hiking trail.  The tiny white dot in the photo is a sign warning hikers to not go off the trail.

Along the edge of the caldera is a hiking trail. The tiny white dot in the photo is a sign warning hikers to not go off the trail.

We had some time to peruse the exhibits on volcanology at the Jaggar Museum, learning about the difference between a shield type vs. a cone type of volcano, how volcano activity is monitored, how geologists collect lava samples (which can be tricky, and dangerous as we saw), and what makes up the airborne emissions from volcanoes  We were then directed to the parking lot and were assigned a bike.  The bikes were Sedona hybrid bikes, made by Giant.  They were adjustable to match our own frames, did not have toe clips, and were equipped with three front rings and seven gears in the rear.  They were set to the second ring in front, and their was a briefing from the tour guide regarding how to shift.  We would be riding on paths and roads around the park, and there were a few hills involved.  We got a chance to practice riding around in the parking lot before we set out.  Our guide was well equipped to give us our tour, as he was a graduate with a geology degree, and he had a special interest in volcanoes.  He also seemed to be very laid back, with long hair and a bright, easy-going demeanor.

Our guide in red, and fellow cyclists at one of the stops.

Our guide in red, and fellow cyclists at one of the stops.

We were taken by steam vents, down old roads partially destroyed by lava flows, and to other crater formations within the park.  One particularly interesting phenomenon is the lava tube.  These are long cave-like channels through the ground which are conduits for flowing lava.  They can be a few hundred yards long, or several miles.  They provide insulation for the flowing lava so it remains molten as it travels through the tube, eventually draining their contents out onto a lava field or into the ocean.  One of the most famous of these is the Thurston lava tube, named after the Honolulu newspaper owner who helped Jagger get his start studying volcanos, and who personally discovered this tube.

Looking into the Thurston Lava Tube.  Note the flat floor, from cooled lava, and the lava level marks on the side walls.

Looking into the Thurston Lava Tube. Note the flat floor, from cooled lava, and the lava level marks on the side walls.

We walked through a portion of this tube, about 100 yards, and exited up through a vent whole.   It is located within dense jungle growth, with steep crevices and sharp rocks all around.  We were told this tube goes on farther, but that section is closed to the public.  A side crater of Kilauea, Pu’u O’o, is the source of the lave we watched flow into the ocean, and it travels there through tubes like this one.

Typical of the ground around the lava tube, it is all crevices and rock with jungle-like overgrowth.

Typical of the ground around the lava tube, it is all crevices and rock with jungle-like overgrowth.

Discovering this lava tube originally would have taken some fearless exploration.  We also cycled to see a steam vent, where steam, not lava vapors, were coming up through a crevice in the ground.  Unlike the vapors from the lava, which contain all sorts of harmful airborne particles and gasses, this steam was just water vapor.  Interestingly, many people treated this crack in the earth like a fountain, and threw coins into it, I suppose, to curry favor with Pélé, the goddess of volcanoes, whose home is Kilauea.  It is considered tabu and a serious crime against Pélé to take anything such as volcanic rock away from Hawai’i.  A popular story told to us tourists is that the main post office in Hilo has a collection of rocks sent back by visitors who took them away, then suffered Pélé’s wrath.

We finished our tour on bikes looking at several other impressive craters, such as the “Ever-Smoking” Crater, with its numerous vents of smoke rising, and the Kilauea Iki crater, near the main caldera of Kilauea, where an eruption in 1959 reach heights of 580 meters (1900 feet) occurred.  A USGS film documenting the eruption was made, and is available in four parts on YouTube.

At a stop along the way, on our bike tour of the Hawaiian Volcano National Park

At a stop along the way, on our bike tour of the Hawaiian Volcano National Park

After finishing our bike tour, we headed back to the gift shop, naturally, where I picked up a refrigerator magnet showing lava flowing into the ocean, and a book on volcanoes, called “Volcano Watching, Revised 2010 Edition”.  It is short, but filled with well-written explanations about the science of volcanoes.  We then headed back to our car for the two hour drive back to Kona, along the southern perimeter of Hawai’i.  We stopped for lunch at a well known bakery and restaurant called Punalu’u Bake Shop.  It is known for its sweet breads, and for excellent sandwiches.  We also stopped along the road at an old cemetery, which had grave stones present from the late 1800’s forward.  The grave sites were notable for many above ground or partially buried stone containers of the caskets, presumably due to the difficulty of digging into rock.  Since there were a number of family members visiting relative’s graves here I did not take any photos.

Arriving back in Kona, we went to our hotel, for a bit of rest before our repeat trip to see the amazing dancing manta rays.  Sea Paradise, our manta ray tour company, has a guarantee (with asterisk) which states one gets a second opportunity for no extra charge if manta rays are not seen.  We were determined not to allow the letdown of the first trip discourage us.  Again, we headed back to the check-in office to sign the usual release forms, and to get our wet suits.  We then drove back to Keauhou Bay, waiting for the boat to load.  We had a beautiful sunset and also watched canoe racers practicing turns around a buoy.

Canoe racers practicing in Keauhou Bay.

Canoe racers practicing in Keauhou Bay.

The drill getting into the boat was the same as last time.  We had to take off our footwear and place them in a container before boarding the boat.  We had a different crew this time, but they were just as energetic and confident as the last crew.  The captain, a young handsome guy who appeared to really enjoy his job, was back at the helm.  As we motored out to the viewing area, we were treated to the now familiar talk on manta rays, what they eat, how they are attracted to the plankton, and how the plankton are drawn to the lights.  We were offered tea or juice on the way out, and masks and snorkels were handed out.  Once at the viewing area, we pulled on our wet suits and prepared for the dip into the ocean.  I was a bit concerned that this would be another hour spent breathing through a snorkel in the dark, with nothing to show for it.  We marched down the ladder into the ocean, Kathleen and I, along with about twenty five other people.  This time, I was stationed at the end of the long floating device with the attached lights, next to one of the crew at the very end who helped keep the float in the proper spot.  I started my vigil.  Yes, the plankton, true to their nature, were amassing under the light.  I could see some fish swimming around in the deeper water, and under them were large lava rocks.  Time was passing.  Not wanting to miss the first glimpse of the undersea marvels, I kept my head down, listening to my breathing sounds as my breath passed through the tube.  One becomes consciously aware of one’s breathing in this setting, and instead of it being automatic, one starts to think about it.  I found myself needing to actively initiate inhalation, then exhalation.  Still, the plankton swam about but no manta showed his or her wide wings.  The crew had moved the barge around to the front of the boat, perhaps hoping, as I sometimes do while fishing, that by changing location we’ll get lucky.  I started to look for ways to distract myself, since I was getting cold, and my right shoulder, injured the week before in a fall in San Diego, was starting to hurt.    I started to name the plankton.  There’s Susie, Fred and George, there goes Samantha and Robert, and look, it’s Kealea and Hunahuna, native Hawai’ian plankton.  I followed the path of my little friends as they swirled and scurried about.  I noticed people had left their posts at the barge, and had made their way back to the boat.  Apparently, I was one of the last to hold out hope of seeing a manta that night, along with Kathleen, who, no doubt, was also determined not to give up.  The two of us, though, came to the same conclusion, no mantas tonight.  We swam around to the stern, but as we swam we noticed, no, not mantas, but a huge school of needle fish which were swimming all around us right at the surface of the water.  They made the trip worthwhile.  They have iridescent colors, swim within inches of one’s face and arms, but never come in contact.  They were quite a marvel, and we stayed in the water a bit longer to enjoy them.  We then got back in the boat, stripped off our wetsuits, gave back our masks and snorkels, and sat down for the return to the dock.  The hot cocoa provided on the boat was very welcome, as I was shivering.  We were disappointed, but not overly so.  Again, you can’t command these creatures, you can only try to lure them, and I know our crew did the best they could for us.  After getting back to our car and changing back to clothes, we drove back to our hotel.

The following morning was our last in Hawai’i.  Unlike many trips, the flight out doesn’t leave until late, in our case, 10:00 PM.  So we still had a full day to enjoy just wandering around Kona, not needing to get anywhere.  Kathleen got her henna tattoo freshened up.  I went for a swim in the cove in front of our hotel, with a rented mask, which cost only $5 at the beach side equipment rental.  I saw myriad numbers of incredibly colored fish, with patterns one might think were made up by Dr. Seuss.  In the afternoon, we went looking for a bookstore, the Kona Bay Bookstore, which was difficult to find by walking, as it was tucked into a semi-industrial area, as we later found.  Instead, we found ourselves at the Kona Brewing Company, where they give tours of their brewery and a free beer tasting.  The last tour that day was at 3:00 PM, and they had two spots left.  We signed up.  The brewery, which was started as a very small operation by a father and son in 1995, has grown to major proportions.  The brewery in Kona now only produces kegs, no bottled beer, and distributes it only to the other Hawai’ian islands.  They also sell beer for growlers (two liter bottles one brings to get filled) at their brewery and there is a restaurant on premises, which looked very busy while we were there.  They have partnered with breweries in Oregon, Washington and New Hampshire to produce the beer in bottles sold in the U.S. mainland and other countries.  After our tour, our group sat around two large round tables in the restaurant.  Fortunately, the tables had umbrellas, since it was raining, although we hardly noticed.  We had a great afternoon, sampling five of their various brews including a coffee stout made with Kona coffee, and chatting with our other tour mates.

Across from our hotel, the start and finish of the Kona Ironman Triathlon Championships.

Across from our hotel, the start and finish of the Kona Ironman Triathlon Championships.

Hawai’i has attracted numerous famous visitors, from all over the world.  Mark Twain traveled as a correspondent to Hawai’i, known then as the Sandwich Islands to non-Hawai’ians, and recorded his thoughts in letters back to the mainland.  Herman Melville, Robert Louis Stevenson, Amelia Earhart, and I’m sure, many other famous people, in the era before modern airfare (not to dismiss Amelia Earhart’s accomplishments), traveled the long journey by steamship to visit the Hawai’ian Islands.  Today, it is still a long trip to get here, but definitely worth the effort.

We left Hawai’i that night, having had an incredible adventure and a lot of fun.  I would enjoy going back to do many of the things we didn’t get to do on this trip, such as see sea turtles, do some volcano hiking, and maybe, just maybe, see a manta ray.  I also might go for a few more runs on my return.  We found the local people of Hawai’i to be very friendly and helpful, and they take very seriously the ecology and care of their island.

Aloha Nō!

Hawai'ian sunset, Keauhou Bay.

Hawai’ian sunset, Keauhou Bay.

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