"Big Island"


"Big Island"-week two

After leaving Johnny in Kauai and Mike finishing his "performance" at the Lihue airport, we board a plane for the Big Island. Mike has wanted to come and explore both Volcano National Park and the Mauna Kea astronomy observatory for years. Both sound like great adventures to me. From the air I realize this island is much different from Kauai. First of all it is HUGE. All of the Hawaiian islands could fit in it with room to spare. Second, much of it is brown and black from the volcanic activity. Kauai on the other hand is small and green. We find the Kona Coast Resort ideally located outside of Kona and the traffic and within ocean view. It is a top notch resort and we are ready to discover the secrets of the Big Island.

We arrive at Kona late Friday afternoon in time to buy groceries and enjoy the sunset.

We stay at the Kona Coast Resort.

The resort is surrounded by a beautiful golf course.

Pool area..


Our master bedroom opens onto a huge deck.

Living room and deck.

Saturday we check out the town of Kona.

A colorful town with lots of shops and restaurants.

Sunday we drive North to explore the Kohala coast
This barren coastline appears at first to be inhospitable, with the dominant feature being the craggy black rocks deposited by lava flow after the eruption of Mauna Loa.

 Several small roads off the 30-mile coastal highway lead to a handful of stunning public beaches, most with a luxury resort complex nearby. 


We find a beautiful and pricey shopping area.

Lots of art galleries with "cool" stuff.

We arrive at Pololu Valley where North Kohala's main artery, Hwy-270, comes to a dead end. It is the last of the chain of inaccessible valleys,

A trail leads down to the black sand beach.

Polulu Valley and beach from the top. Reminds us of Kauai.

Looking away from the ocean into the lush valley.

Kathie hiking down the trail.

We get closer.

Mike stands among the rocks near the beach.

Kathie stands on the soft black sand.

We stop in  Hawi on the way back to Kona.
It is the northernmost city on Hawaii filled with art galleries, shops and a few restaurants.

We drive back to Kona over the rugged landscape.


We arrive home in time to enjoy another "unreal" sunset !

This map shows the many districts of the island. Much of the southern coastline is new land made from the eruptions
of Mauna Loa and Kiluaea.  The northern coast is old and full of lush green mountains and valleys. The northeastern area, around Hilo is very wet making it great for growing coffee, macadamia nuts, and produce. The western side is hot and dry with rugged terrain left from older volcanic eruptions. Many resorts are on this side with beautiful golf courses surrounding them.

Facinating Facts


Ka Lae is the southernmost point in the United States.


Kilauea is the world’s most active volcano and has been continually erupting since 1983.


Nearly every one of the Big Island’s stunningly diverse regions’s from the lava fields of Puna to Kohala’s lush valleys’ boasts its own nationally recognized park. And Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the state’s only UNESCO World Heritage site, one of only three in the country.


Parker Ranch is one of the largest privately held ranches in the United States.


Milolii, on the southern Kona Coast, is Hawaii’s last authentic native fishing village.


You can see 90% of all the stars visible from earth from Mauna Kea, the world’s tallest mountain when measured from its base below sea level. 13 world-class telescopes, representing nine countries and 30 years of astronomy research are found here.


Hawaii’s Big Island is a worldwide leader in harvesting macadamia nuts andorchids and is the only place in the United States where vanilla and cacao beans (the raw material used to make chocolate) are grown. Kona is also the only place in the United States where gourmet coffee is grown.


The Big Island is known as the Golf Capital of Hawaii with 20 golf courses and several more scheduled for completion.


The Big Island is the most ecologically diverse, with natural environments ranging from the desert plains of Kau to the rain forests above Hilo, to snowcapped Mauna Kea. There are said to be 13 climatic regions on earth and the Big Island has all but two, the Arctic and the Saharan


Monday morning we take a 2 hour plane tour around the island. Since the island is SO big and has such a varied topography, seeing it from above helped us understand it's diversity.

Everyone has a window seat! We take off from the Kona
airport and fly counter-clockwise around the island.

The coast south of the airport.  Pretty rocky.

Kona is famous for sportfishing, snorkeling, sunsets and coffee. The weather and ocean conditions can be vastly different on each side of the island depending on the time of year and the predominant trade winds. 

Because the mountains block the northeasterly trade winds, the Kona side of the island gets very little rain and enjoys more than 300 days of sunshine a year.


Getting close to the southwestern tip.


The Kau District. Southern coast.
Vast, rural dry, windblown, remote describes this region, which lies about an hour from the Hilo airport, and two hours from the Kona. You can clearly see the paths from the lava flows.

Old cinder cones now covered with vegetation.

Steam vent in the distance. The island has 5 volcanoes, with Mauna Loa and Kilauea still active.

Clouds of steam as lava flows into the ocean.

The red hot lava looks like two eyes!

Our pilot circles and we get a closer look into the active vent where we could see lava sputtering into the air.

More views...

Kilauea has been in constant eruption since 1983. A large collapse occurred at Kilauea volcano in November 2005.

Lava flows destroyed over 100  houses in Royal Gardens subdivision since February 2008. Notice the black areas.

The Puna district  is located on the fertile slopes between sea and the Kilauea summit. All sorts of tropical fruit, flowers, papaya, herbs, macadamia nuts, are grown here.  Below are macadamia fields.

Hilo fronts the large curved Hilo Bay. The area is always lush and green due to an annual rainfall of over 70 inches per year and is the wettest city in the USA. Opposite from Kona !

Green fields near Hilo.


The Hamakua district is filled with deep water-carved gulches and valleys thick with tropical foliage. Parks are nested down winding roads by the shore. Waterfalls tumble down the  ravines reminding us of Kauai's Napali coast.

This is where Mauna Kea’s slopes fall away into pali (cliffs) of pounding surf.

Countless waterfalls.

In ancient times the Hamakua uplands were a rich source for bird feathers and canoe logs. During most of the 19th and 20th centuries, the coast was covered with sugarcane

Hamakua Average temperatures: 68° in winter, 78° in summer. Annual rainfall: 84 inches

Mauna Kea above the clouds. We go to it's summit later
in the week on a star-gazing tour!
Mauna Kea's summit is 30,000 ft. above the adjacent ocean floor, making Mauna Kea the tallest mountain in the world. It is 13,796 ft. above sea level. Because of its high altitude, thin and clean air, and great distance from urban areas, the summit of Mauna Kea is an idea place for sky watching and star gazing. In fact, this mountain is home to the world's most powerful telescopes and astronomical observatories It is well-known to locals, however,as a great place for skiing and snowboarding. Many people travel to the mountain every winter because it often has snow at its summit and because there is a road leading up to it. In fact, it is because of its sometimes snowy summit that the Hawaiians named it Mauna Kea (or "White Mountain").

The Kohala Coast. Among the ebony lava fields that comprise this landscape are several world renown championship golf courses.

It is unbelievable how man can bring beauty to a
desolate landscape just to play a game. (golf)

Another good shot of a lava flow from the past.

Mike, Kathie, and Darryl our Hawaiian pilot.
We arrive back at the Kona Airport ready to explore
by car and foot some of the things we saw from above.

From the air or from a distance the green fairways that blanket this rugged terrain soften its landscape.

We drive up the mountain from Kona to
visit Holualoa.

The town is closed on Monday, but we find this
gallery and others that we visit later
in the week. We end up purchasing a smaller version
of the red "urn" in the window.
Lots of unusual art galleries here.

We eat a late lunch on the ocean front at Bubba Gumps.

We stroll the shops of Kona as the vog (volcano smog) fills the sky from Kilauea's ongoing eruptions.

We watch the sunset as we make our way back to the condo.

The vog gives a strange color to the sky and clouds during sunset.

Tuesday morning we drive 2.5 hours to Volcano National
where we have reservations at the park hotel
"Volcano House"

Our accommodations are VERY rustic yet in a beautiful setting.

We eat lunch at the park restaurant on the rim of the active Kilauea Volcano. Notice the crater and steam.

A better outside view of the Kilauea Volcano.


This map shows more detail of the Kilauea volcano and surrounding area. Because of the poor air quality much
of the crater rim drive is closed, however, the Chain of Craters Road is still open.

Kilauea Facts
Who could have known that the fountains of fire that first lit up the night sky on January 3, 1983 would continue to burn with such intensity seventeen years later? The eruption of Kilauea Volcano in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park continues today as the longest-lived rift activity in Hawai'ian volcano history. Unstoppable in its march seaward, lava leaves few reminders of what was. Stretches of Chain of Craters Road lie entombed beneath 80 feet of basalt. Every minute, another 130,000 gallons of molten rock gush from earthcracks on the volcano's flank, enough to pour a lava veneer over Washington, D.C.'s 63 square miles in just five days. But wherever lava meets the sea, the island grows.  Since 1983, more than 550 acres of new land have been added to the "Big Island".

Even though the air quality is poor, we decide to do the
18 mile drive on Chain of Craters Road.

This scenic drive takes you from an altitude of 4,000 feet to sea level and back again.

Here are some pictures of the weird lava
landscape along the drive.

The ocean can be seen in the distance.

Kathie in a lava field. The wind was unbelievably strong.

The hardened lava reminds me of baked brownies.

The remnants of the road are seen where the lava flow missed burying it.

The ocean, lava fields, vegetation, clouds, and lava steam make this a place of eerie beauty.

That evening we drive to a viewing area about 40 miles
away near Kalapana.
The small town of Kalapana was once a treasured Hawaiian fishing village. It was also the site of one of the largest and nicest black sand beaches. But in 1990, Madame Pele changed the landscape of Hawaii dramatically. From April through December of that year, lava flowed relentlessly, burying the town and the Royal Garden Subdivision under 10 meters of molten rock.


I didn't have a tripod so this picture is blurry, but it shows the fire and smoke
shooting into the air against the evening sky.

Wednesday on our drive to the Volcano Museum we
witness some incredible rainbows..


This rainbow is so perfect I can't believe it is real !

Mike at the entrance to the Volcano Museum and Observatory.
The Thomas A. Jaggar Museum is a museum on volcanology with displays of equipment used by scientists in the past to study the volcano, working seismographs, and an exhibit of clothing and gear from scientists who got a bit too close to lava.
The Museum has large windows which affords a sheltered view of the caldera and main crater, Halema`uma`u, when weather is inclement. The overlook outside the building offers an incredible view of the volcano with interpretive displays about Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes.

View of the caldera and main crater, Halema'uma'u

We spend several hours at the museum. It is filled with
informative exhibits explaining EVERYTHING about volcanoes. Very interesting.

Not quite done with viewing the volcano, we drive to the Hilo airport and take a helicopter flight (doors off !) to get a closer look.

We leave the airport and first fly over the lush greenery of the Hilo area located on the eastern side of the island.

The macadamia nut groves look like patchwork quilts from above.
The lack of doors on the helicopter allowed me to take some great pictures. No reflections!

We reach the southern part of the island and see the landscape "alive" with steam vents.

A collapsed lava tube leaves a "rut".

Closer view. The red glow of lava can be seen below the surface.

My best shot of red hot lava in a vent hole.

Another view but not as clear.

A house remains in an island of trees surrounded by a lava field. Our pilot said the man moved back in but has no electricity, water, or road. Strange.

Devastation. Notice the burned house in the middle of the lava flow that also covers the road.
Hot lava destroys whatever is in its path.

Another structure demolished right next to the flow.

This is the viewing area near Kalapana that we hiked to the previous evening.

More lava-scapes..

Our pilot takes us to the northern coast which is in stark contrast to black lava.
The area is full of waterfalls spilling over cliffs in the lush mountains.

Waterfalls galore...


Hilo Bay

We make it back to the airport with our pilot "Crazy George". What a thrilling experience.
Now for our 3 hour drive back to the western side of the island in time for bed.

Thursday, our last day, we go on an all day excursion (2-11pm) to the Mauna Kea summit
to see the sunset, eat dinner and star gaze.
Our adventure began when we left Kona at 2 p.m. . Our guide was great, he discussed the island geology and natural history as we made the 2+ hour drive to the mountain. We stopped for dinner and a chance to  acclimatize at the
Onizuka Visitor's Center (9,000 feet). Before leaving the visitor's center, we were suited with parkas and gloves before getting back into the bus to continue the steep half hour drive to the top. On the summit, our  guide pointed out the observatories. It was VERY cold. We watched as the sunset transformed the area into a beautiful and quite unearthly spectacle. When the best of the color was past, we descended to mid-mountain again where the sky is equally clear but the climate is much more comfortable for stargazing using their Celestron Nexstar 9.25" GPS telescopes. Really Cool!

Map of the many international telescopes that have a home on the summit.

The summit of Mauna Kea on the Island of Hawaii hosts the world's largest astronomical observatory, with telescopes operated by astronomers from eleven countries. The combined light-gathering power of the telescopes on Mauna Kea is fifteen times greater than that of the Palomar telescope in California, and sixty times greater than that of the
Hubble Space Telescope. There are currently 13 working telescopes near the summit of Mauna Kea. Nine of them are for optical and infrared astronomy, three of them are for submillimeter wavelength astronomy and one is for radio astronomy. They include the largest optical/infrared  telescopes in the world (the
Keck telescopes), the largest dedicated infrared telescope (UKIRT) and the largest submillimeter telescope in the world (the JCMT).
The westernmost antenna of the Very Long Baseline Array (
VLBA) is situated at a lower altitude two miles from the summit. 

As we drive rain clouds start moving in and we all become discouraged at getting to see a "sunset" at the top.
This is a Boy Scout camp along the way.

At 9,000 ft. we stop and have supper at the Ozinuka
Vistors Center.
The weather when we arrive is looking
really bleak. There is no glimpse of the sky.

Miraculously as we eat the sky clears and we can see
the astronomers apartments in the distance.

I catch Mike taking a bite of his supper.

The endangered Silversword plant is roped off for viewing.
These plants in general grow on volcanic cinder, that is subject to freezing temperatures and high winds.

After we eat the clouds move in again.
Telescopes that will be used later. Maybe...

Signs warn and inform us of the crazy weather up here.

The "dangers" of the mountain!

We re-board our van to travel the remainder of our trip
to the top. We are not hopeful of any sunset viewing.

The sun, Mauna Loa, the ocean and the
stars are out there

Suddenly, we get above the cloud layer as we near the
summit and the blue sky can be seen!

We are above the tree line and the landscape reminds
me of the pictures taken from Mars.
No vegetation in sight.

An aerial photo (not mine) of the telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea.

We arrive at the summit, almost 14,000 ft. and get to see
the various telescopes. This is the JCMT telescope.
With a diameter of 15m the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) is the largest astronomical telescope in the world designed specifically to operate in the submillimeter wavelength region of the spectrum.
The JCMT is used to study our Solar System,
interstellar dust and gas, and distant galaxies.

The UKIRT infrared telescope.
This is the  world's largest telescope dedicated
solely to infrared astronomy. 
It is owned by the United Kingdom Science
and Technology Facilities Council
and operated, along with the
James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT),
by the staff of the Joint Astronomy Centre,
which is located in Hilo.


Why Mauna Kea is a unique site for astronomy.

Mauna Kea is unique as an astronomical observing site. The atmosphere above the mountain is extremely dry -- which is important in measuring infrared and submillimeter radiation from celestial sources - and cloud-free, so that the proportion of clear nights is among the highest in the world. The exceptional stability of the atmosphere above Mauna Kea permits more detailed studies than are possible elsewhere, while its distance from city lights and a strong island-wide lighting ordinance ensure an extremely dark sky, allowing observation of the faintest galaxies that lie at the very edge of the observable Universe. A tropical inversion cloud layer (what we drove thru) about 2,000 ft. thick, well below the summit, isolates the upper atmosphere from the lower moist maritime air and ensures that the summit skies are pure, dry, and free from atmospheric pollutants.

The Subaru Telescope. It is an optical-infrared
telescope owned by the Japanese.


The Keck "Twin" telescopes.
The key advance that allowed the construction
of the Keck's large telescopes was the ability
to operate smaller mirror segments
as a single large mirror.

Our guide gives us a overview of the telescopes.
I am bundled up and getting colder by the minute.

Kathie and the telescopes.

Looks like we will see a sunset after all.

Mike and the sunset.

Just above the clouds in the distance we can see
Mt. Haleakla on the island of Maui.

Mauna Loa can also be seen above the clouds.

Lots of cinder cones seen from the summit.

Mike beginning to "freeze" as we watch the sunset.

A great last sunset for our final evening on Hawaii.
Our van takes us back to the visitor center at 9,000 ft. where we spend 1.5 hours star gazing thru their telescopes.
The evening sky ended up being totally clear, perfect for seeing the "heavens".
Friday we board our plane for Texas and back to reality.

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