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Haleakala National Park

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Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

On the top of our list are volcanoes. We have seen many already, also here in Hawaii. But we really saved one of the best volcanic area’s of Hawaii for last. Haleakala National Park on Maui. Haleakala means ‘house of the sun’ in Hawaiian and we planned to go there on a Friday. In just 60 km we drive up from sea level to an altitude of 3,055 m. That is tough business for our car and the driver (me). I have to say, I simply love winding roads. About halfway up the mountain we find the clouds stubbornly hanging loose. Why not, Hawaii is all about hanging loose. Will it be clear on top? We keep on driving until… we are above the clouds. Nice! We check with the ranger at the visitor center for the forecast and he tells us it might even be clear in the ‘crater’ below the clouds. Okay, let’s go down and see.

Haleakala is not a crater as such. It is a valley originated as a result of erosion of the volcanic rock. In the valley are several smaller volcanoes which are responsible for many of the eruptions in the past. The volcano is now dormant, but according to scientists not extinct yet. We head for the Keonehe’ehe’e trailhead to hike into this valley for a few miles. The weather is cold and misty. We wear jackets and keep warm by moving down. It is a relatively easy descent. In the end we probably go 350m downhil, realising we have to go up the same way. But, before we go back, we take all the impressions we can get. And with much pleasure. The landscape is not of this world and was used by NASA in the past for training astronauts. Between the hanging clouds we get glimpses of what is there. Rocks, rocks, many rocks and lava sand. And there is some life. Plants in various shapes and sizes, protected by signs telling us to ‘stay on the trail’. A unique plant we see quite a lot is the Haleakala Silversword. A very nice, but endangered plant. We are too late for the blooming, but it looks incredible. Slowly the clouds are disappearing as well and by the time we get hungry we find the perfect picnic spot. A wooden plank on 2 rocks, with a view at the valley in front of us. We sit and just watch the scene and the clouds coming in and disappearing again. This is amazing. We feel so small. Many small cinder cones are visible when it is clear and we want to climb them, but that is not allowed. We take many pictures, just because we can.

By the time we take our lunch ouf of our bags I hear a strange sound. Chuk, chuk… if we don’t speak, it should be completely silent in here. But now there are some chukies coming. Chukar (patrijs) they are called and they are most definitley not native. Probably they get food from hikers. We decide to go with the park advise to ignore them. Which is difficult if two of these birds are sort of chuking around you, within 2 meter distance. But we manage. Aftr lunch we go back up. A long hike, but with a surprising end. I feel like an angel when the Brocken spectre effect suddenly appears. I have a halo around my shadow… you see, I always knew there is something good in me…
We end the day with a view from the summit. We can see Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the Big Island (both around 4000m high and above the clouds) in the distance and a very nice sunset over northern Maui and the clouds.

Hiking the ‘crater’
On the Sunday, just 2 days later, I decide to go to Haleakala again for some serious hiking. I start with the sunrise, which was nice. The sky is clear above the crater, giving me a perfect day to hike. I brought enough water, food and sunscreen and take off around 7:30am. There is still some frost on the soil. The ice cristals show it has been cold up here last night. I wear my fleece, but only for a few minutes. The sun is shining and there is no wind, so it gets pretty warm. I go down the Keonehe’ehe’e or Sliding Sands trail for about 6.3km and descent roughly 800m. In the crater I eat my apple and enjoy the views. I meet some other hikers doing the same teail and after a few minutes chatting I proceed to and around the Halali’i cinder cone, which is another 2.5km. I feel small in this gigantic lava field. Lava bombs the size of skippy balls are all around me, what if…
While walking around the cone I find a 20m deep pit and a very colorfull landscape: black, grey, brown, red, yellow and white rock. All in one area like a painter’s palette.

It is relatively quiet today, only the 4 of us are doing the whole loop to the Halemau’u trailhead as far as I can see at that moment. The trail proceeds on the Halemau’u trail and I include the Silversword loop. A small detour which passes a field full with these strange plants. The views of the cliffs of the crater in the background are stunning. Lunch is after another 3.2km at the Holua cabin. We are eating and chatting and slowly see the clouds moving into the valley. They take over and somehow I am glad. After the hut the trail only heads up for about 6km and with the clouds blocking the sun it will not be too hot. We need to take a path winding at the face of the cliff, ascending a bit more than 300 meters. Probably because there is nothing much to see in the mist, I start feeling tired. Of course I cannot give up now and I just keep on going. It is like climbing a building with 100 floors, just a bit more serene. Imagine that.
After a long day, I think I have been hiking for around 6 hours, I make it to the top. Now I only need to hitchhike back to my car. It is parked at tge start of thd trail, 9km up the road and I really do not want to hike that anymore. Luckily I am not the only one hiking the trail like this. There is a special hitchhiker pick-up spot alongside the road. It takes me just a few minutes before a Swiss couple is so friendly to pick me up and drop me off at my car. I take another view at the crater and decide to drive down and get some food. I am hungry like a horse after this hike. All in all it was around 20km and worth every inch of it.

Haleakala – `A`ohe loa i ka hana a ke aloha.

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Moloka’i and Father Damian

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Moloka’i, the friendly island and the island of belgian Father Damian. We arrive after a smooth ferry ride from Lahaina, Maui. Along the way we even spotted some humpback whales jumping or just swimming. We have rented a car via some local rental agency suggested by the hotel. They never really confirmed until yesterday evening. The car should be waiting for us in the harbour, with the keys under the mat. Well, let’s see…  And of course it is there. Probably the car of grandma. An old Toyota Yaris sedan, with some funny seat covers and very basic equipped. The doors open with key only. Hihi… well, it is a small island. We get in, I start the car and push the gas. We both are pushed back in our seats. This old guy has power!

Of to the hotel. We notice a difference in scene compared to the other islands. It looks more native, old houses, old cars, less hawi (negative name for white people). The hotel is really nice, and we can even still have a breakfast. Yes, getting up early gives long days. We head west, to the nicest beaches of Moloka’i. We drive through dry landscape. Was this the green island? We get to the most western town of the island. Mauna Loa… and that is it. Empty streets, cinema closed long time ago, grocery is lovely and they even have a kite shop (?) We proceed west and get to the end of the road and a lovely beach. Almost empty, just a handfull of people here. After a while we head back. We need to buy some breakfast and lunch for tomorrow. We are going on a Father Damian tour like real tourists.

Father Damian was a priest, send on a mission to Hawaii end of the 1800’s. He heard about the Kalaupapa peninsula, glued to the steep cliffs of Moloka’i, which housed a large number of people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy). They where quarantined (basically exiled), forced to live in bad conditions until they died. He wanted to help the people by buildding a church and care for them, physically and spiritually. Until, after 16 years, he died of the Hansen’s disease himself. The people worshipped him, he became a saint and there even is an official Father Damian day on April 15th. The colony was officially closed in 1969, giving the remaining inhabitants the choise to stay or leave. Most of the people stayed and now after so many years only 8 former patients remain, the youngest being over 70 years old. The other people now living on the peninsula are state workers who take care of the National Historical Park. In total more than 8500 people have been quarantined here in the 103 years of existence of the colony. The stories are very sad. Our guide was friends with one of the former patients for more than 30 years and could give these patients a face during the tour. Impressive.

Impessive is also the hike downhil and up again. 26 switchbacks, 530m down, 3.6km long. We are pepared for the worst after reading all the reviews on the internet. We start early, in the rain. No clear views, but cool conditions. That is a plus as well. After 1 hour and 15 minutes we are down. One hour too early for the bus pick-up. Like I said, we booked a tourist tour. You can only enter after an invitation of one of the inhabitants, or through a tour, which is limited to one a day. Which is absolutely fine. The way up at the end of the tour is feared most by the reviewers. One hour and 30 minutes later we are back at the car… walk in the park for us.

The last day we spend driving to the east side of the island. A nice drive, with sunshine and rain. Looking at the green vegetation it is clear where the rain falls usually. The end point is Halawa beach park. A beautiful valley with a black beach with… no one on it. As the weather is stormy and cloudy we just enjoy the views a bit and head back to the hotel. We need to take the ferry at 5pm… looking at the rough seas I fear for the worst. We take our motion sickness pills in time this time. And for the good, as the way back (normally about 1hr and 15min) takes 2 hours and feels like a very rough rollercoaster ride. Wind will be something like 6-7 bft, swell a few meter. I close my eyes, taking the advise of my friend. It takes very long, but I do not get really sick. Until we eat something and drive to our next hotel. I feel nauseous. Tomorrow better. We are back on Maui. Moloka’i was nice, but we felt like white people in a native society. Not 100% comfortable. Nothing really happend, but we were defenitely intruding. Sorry, the people of Moloka’i have a nice island, maybe because of that somewhat distant attitude.

Helicopter flight

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He ali’i ka ‘āina, he kauā ke kanaka.” – The land is chief, man is the servant.

Before I came to Hawaii I decided that this would be THE place to do my first helicopter flight ever. I have seen some youtube movies and knew it, this is it. Big Island was the place where it should happen. Possibly over some volcano, hopefully spotting some lava. We booked a flight with Safari Tours for April the 2nd, in the front 2 seats. We came to the airport in time, well, too early to be honest. Eager to go. The lady of the company was very friendly. “Hello Joanne and Mary”, well, close enough. Together with a family of four we got our safety drill. Lifejacket on, instructions on how to use it, where the extingiusher is and what to do in csse of… and last but not least, she gave us the advise to enjoy ourselves!

Richard was our pilot. He parks the heli, we are pointed to our seats, locked in our safety belts, headphones on, and off we go. Richard talks and talks and talks some more. Very entertaining, like listening to an one man show during a flight. I am not nervous, just excited to get up there. We pass some Indiana Jones and Planet of the Apes film sets, our pilot figurated in them somehow. We see a town called Pahoe. Here people were in distress not even a year ago. They saw a big lava flow coming down from Pu’u O’o crater (part of Kilauea volcano), threatening to take over their town and their houses. After a few months, the lava stopped, taking only one house, part of a cemetary and just stopped next to the recycle station. We fly over the lava, now black, hardened out and cooling down on the inside. Scary to realise people are living so close to this highly active volcanic area. House prices so close tomthe crater seem to be the lowest on the island… I wonder why.

Next Pu’u O’o crater. The little devil herself. Well, wow, just wow. She has been erupting since 1983. An impressive lava flow is what we see, old, black, hardened out… at least that is what she makes us believe. Nothing is more deceiving than a lava crust. We notice smoke at the ends, we fly over and see trees still catching fire. It is that hot. Poor trees, they just burn and they did nothing wrong. Wrong time, wrong place. The methane gasses flame up as well and we realise that nature is beautiful when it shows its horror face (and when we are at a safe distance). Richard explains that new lava is shiny and silvery, and when you focus you can see it move. I look carefully and indeed suddenly I see a more silvery spot in the huge lava field, and coming closer, I see the dark red lava slowly moving. Again, wow, just wow. Then we fly over the crater of Pu’u O’o. Wow cannot describe it anymore, this is awesome (America’s favorite word). A pool of hot lava is bubbling and steaming. I try to make some photo’s, but it is difficult. I have to just remember and keep on dreaming about it. Richard loves flying the heli, so we go over, and over, and over the crater. Many times to give us all the opprortunity to see it. Did I say wow already?

Next we follow the lava flow down to Jack’s place. The last man standing in the lava fields. His house was completely isolated, but he loved it and stayed until the bitter end. Lived for more than 30 years in between all lava flows. They always passed his house and avoided it. Until April 2012. See some more on this webpage. We only see the remains of his water tank, the rest is gone. The black flows are very, very impessive. I cannot imagine how many people have been afraid and lost their houses. So sad and yet so beautiful.

Last bit of the flight is over the beautiful lush green forrests of Big Island. Thousands of waterfalls no one probably has even seen from down below. The pilot even named one after his daughter. We fly a bit, discovering more nice waterfalls, and finally get back to the heliport. Wow, just wow. This is so nice. I have this smile on my face which cannot be washed off. I was not scared, just enjoyed every minute of it!

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

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For me, Hawaii is volcano. My main goal of this trip is to see the Kilauea, Halema’uma’u crater and more. Lava, steaming vents, sulphur smell… well, we are on the right island. Big Island, land of Pele, beach boys and… 5 gigantic volcanoes. Mauna Loa even being the biggest volcanomon earth, calculated in mass  from the sea floor. It looks like a small hill, but the top is over 4000m high.

We arrive in the dark, in the mist. However, the next morning is nice. Sort of clear, blue sky, few clouds. The park is at around 3500ft/1000m, so temperstures are very comfortable. Much sun cream is applied until we are very sticky at the end of the day. Off we go. Steaming vents, check, sulphur banks, check, crater rim road and… Kilauea with the Halema’uma’u crater, check. Wow, impressive. This thingy is huge and steaming from the main crater. This is absolutely amazing. How can a place so beautiful be so dangerous as well. The stupid thing is, we all drive, walk, relax in this place, which endures earthquakes every day and it has a very, very active volcano underneath. Well, a hot-spot even. I do not care about the danger, even though our American hosts like to point it out on every corner of the street. Every parking or edge of the rim has multiple signs stating all the hazards, dangers, do not’s. Ah well, I just wanna see, wanna feel, wanna hear, wanna  smell. Just using all my senses, except for tasting. I am not a geologist and will not be licking rocks 😆

The weather forecast for the afternoon is not completely dry, so we decide to just drive past all touristic and scenic sites. Pit craters, echo crater, lava flows from 1979, 1974, 1973, a nice sea arch at the ocean, a road which has been over flown by lava in the 70s , some ancient petroglyphs and finally a very nice lava tunnel. So many sites to visit, all telling their own story of how tiny we are compared to the power of volcanoes.
Tired of driving and the many impressions we go to the crater rim after sunset to hopefully see the lava glow in the Halema’uma’u crater. Unfortunately clouds have come again and visibility is close to zero. No glow at all, which seems to be very rare according to the rangers. We go ‘home’, where we have a very nice ‘doggy bag’ leftover meal from the supersized Thai dinner yesterday. While eating a great idea pops up in our minds. In the mornings the sky seems to be clear, why not catch the glow in the dark before sunrise. We set the alarm at 4am.

4am, my alarm is buzzing. I silence it. Don’t want to get up. I check the window and decide it is very misty. After 10 minutes my friend says something and leaves the room. What the…? After few minutes she returns. She checked the webcam and it is clear and glowing in the pit. I check the window again… oh, it is condensation. Hmmm… well, why not. We get up, dress quickly and head off. 4:40am we are standing at the rim of the crater. We are definitely not the only lunatics and feel very fortunate to be able to see this. It is so beautiful. We enjoy every second, feel no cold (until our fingers are not able to operate our camera buttons anymore) and stay until the sun has risen. Wow, just wow…

We plan to hike the trail in the Kilauea Iki crater. We want to do this 6km trail before we have to check-out from the hostal. A very nice hike along and through this crater, which will take us 3 hours to complete. We are enjoying every moment, warming up a bit, seeing very strange landscapes of lava flow, with both pahoehoe and a’a lava. Along the way I remember we did not yet have breakfast and decide in the middle of the crater it is time for some food. What a nice place for a picnic. We have to go back to the hostal to get our luggage, but we will come back in the afternoon. Why not…
And so we did. In the afternoon we hike the nice trail to Pu’u Huluhulu and Mauna Ulu. Not too difficult, but again very nice. It is like walking on chips, you hear the crisping sound of breaking lava under your feet all the time. The view is nice, unfortunately clouds again come in, blocking the sun. Along the way we see lava creations with round holes in them. Tree stems, there were trees there when the lava came down. The trees are long gone, but the prints and shape of the stems are still clearly visible. Amazing! En route to the top of the view point at the end of the trail we meet a couple of Nene goose. They slowly walk the same trail. We do not want to disturb them, as they are probably nesting somewhere. Strange place for them, but hey, why not… The end of the day ends wet again. Rain is pouring down again. Time to move on (unfortunately) to Kea’au, on to our next airbnb host.

Aloha Kilauea, until we meet again!

Big Island – Hāhālua and more

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away!

Hāhālua, or manta, is a large fish swimming in the waters around Hawaii. Wing span can be up to 5 meters of this super friendly pacific manta ray. “They have no real teeth, no stinger, and a harmless disposition. Their only defense is to flee. These huge and gentle creatures feed on a food source of almost all microscopic organisms called plankton, so Manta must work very hard to get this tiny food. At night, light attracts brine shrimp, a form of plankton that rays feed on.  Using their cephalic fins like big scoops, they funnel water into their wide-open mouths and filter out these organisms.

We wanted to see them and decided to book a very touristic tour to a bay which is lit with lots and lots of lamps, attracting the plankton and thus the manta rays. Probably with 50 divers we were sitting at the bottom of the bay, lighting it up with our lamps. After a little while she came. A young ray, probably 1.5 – 2 meters wide, swimming and feeding itself. Mouth wide open swimming, no better flying over our heads.
In the end we arrived back safely in the harbour. We had a great dive, even though I was so, so sea sick. Lost a lot of weight there and fed the manta’s. So, it was all on me this time.

The next day we make a slow start. My stomage finaly relaxed again, so I needed food. Breakfast with a view on the sea, palm trees and a giant cruise ship. Hahaha, time to leave before all the guests start swarming the town. We drive slowly to Volcano, passing by some nice spots along the way. First of all the beach where Captain Cook got murdered in the end. To be honest, it is a very nice place now. Then to Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park (try saying that). This is a beatiful historical site with some houses and wood carvings representing ancient times. A great place to have lunch, with a view again. White beach, palm trees, nice swell and some lovely cardinal birds.
Next stop painted church, which is very nicely painted on the inside, and black sand beach. The last is well known for the endangered green turtles which come to the shore to just relax on the beach. Luckily, many Hawaiian volunteers do their best to protect these animals.
At the end of the day we arrive at Holoholo inn, a nice hostal, owned by an old Japanese world traveller in the town called Volcano. We enjoy a Thai dinner and go to sleep. We are the only guests tonight. It feels strange to be alone in this large place, but we sleep well.