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Today started extra early as we were up at 4:10AM in order to leave no later than 5:15AM for the airport. Our flight to Kona, Hawaii departed at 6:50AM. The nice thing is there is very light traffic at that hour. The bad news is, street signs in Hawaii are small and not where you expect them to be coming from the mainland. We have learned to look more at eye level, but when both of you are essentially still waking up and require corrective lenses for reading, well, let’s just say it makes for some funny conversation in the wee morning hours! Fortunately we have driven the route before, and we were able to find our way without any trouble.

The plane left 10 minutes early as all passengers were on board and ready to go. I have to give a shout out to Island Air. They have been phenomenal both times we’ve flown with them. Extremely friendly staff, on-time (usually early) departures/arrivals, and some of the best pilots.  Even coming into Honolulu with flash flood warnings they managed to minimize the impact of turbulence, and some of the best landings I’ve experienced. (Granted, it’s a small prop engine plane compared with a large body jet, but I think the lighter planes are harder to land. My pilot friends can tell me otherwise if they disagree.)

Anyway, we landed in Kona, grabbed brochures and maps of the island and boarded the rental shuttlebus.  The driver gave us a brief “tour” on our way to pick up the rental (well, gave D. the tour as Iwas on the phone with my other half.) He commented “welcome to the moon” and showed us the way in and out of the airport before dropping us off.  A wonderful example of island hospitality.  We opted for the convertible this time, and we were off and exploirng within an hour of landing. A quick stop in town for coffee and essetnials, and we were on our way.

We took the route across the island as we had to be in Hilo by 12:45PMfor check-in.  The Big Island is a study in contradictions. We passed obvious lava fiels, followed by lush green rolling hills.

As we drove along Saddle Road, we passed a flock of wild turkeys.  I’ve gotten used to the free range chickens, but the turkeys surprised me. We both commented along this stretch how clean and fresh the air smelled. No regrets to having the convertible so far! 

We stopped at Mauna Kea, the highest point in Hawaii. It stands at 13,802 feet above sea level.  When measured from its oceanic base, Mauna Kea is over 33,000 feet tall, making it taller than Mt. Everest. At 13,000′ elevation, it’s a bit chilly. Add to that some sprinkling rain on occasion, and it makes you happy to arrive in Hilo.

Mauna Kea

The clouds were so low we could almost touch them!

We arrived in Hilo with time to spare, so we drove around town a bit and visited the Wailoa Cultural Center and Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The Vietnam Memorial is a sacred, somber place. The inscriptions in the granite gave us goosebumps, and every tree on the walkways up to the memorial was planted in honor and in memory of those Hawaiians who lost their lives in Vietnam.

The various water levels during storms.

Why is he running toward the water if it’s an evacuation? The “End Tsunami Evacuation Area” sign has him running away from the water.

We got a good giggle on the way to the Hila Airport as the Garmin told us to turn onto “KAH-may, HA-may, HA” Road. D and I looked at each other quizzically, realized she was trying to say Kamehameha Road. It really has been an adventure listening to the different navigation systems attempt to pronounce Hawaiian words. None do well, but Garmin has probably come the closest.

We checked in for our next flight of the day right on time, got our safety briefing, and headed out to the tarmac where our helicopter awaited us. There were four of us on our helicopter, and I think we were all too awe-struck to be very talkative. There really are no words to describe what we saw. The volcano cone is where you can see the lava bubbling and boiling. The lava tube is underground, but you can see where the steam escapes as the lava flows at approximately 35 MPH out to the sea.

Macadamia nut orchards

Looking into the volcano cone

You can see the steam rising through from the lava tube as it travels out to sea.

The steam caused by the molten lava hitting the ocean.

Lava flow that has covered a road

Over 100 homes were wiped away when this lava stream occurred 20 – 25 years ago. And yet there is still green to remind us that life goes on.

From there we flew to PeePee Falls and the Wailuku River, and Rainbow Falls. Amazing to see the falls from this level!

Wailuku River and falls

Rainbow Falls

A quick pitstop, and we were on our way back to Kona, this time on the southern route.

Turtle sculptures and garden at the Kona Airport

The weather was a little iffy at this point, so we left the top up, but the windows down. Still a beautiful drive. First stop, Ka’u Coffee. Great coffee and macadamia nuts.

One of my favorite trees! The trumpet flower.

Next stop, Black Sand Beach. 

We wanted to stop at Pu’unaloa, and the green sand beach. Unfortunately we learned it was an ATV/off-road or 4 mile hike in. We also realized we were going to be cutting it very close for our return flight, so time was of the essence. Time to snap photos as you ride!

The sky looked like it was on fire as the sun completed setting. This was one of the most incredible sunsets we’ve seen.

Art work in the Kona Airport told some of the Hawaiian legends.

Our flight left early again (thank you, Island Air!) and we had an easy time back to Waikiki.  We dropped things off in the room, then headed to Hula Grill for dinner.  I had  poke tacos, and D. had crabmeat and macadamia nut wontons.  I remembered to catch a picture before I got too hungry. Both were very good, and the service was great. This is upstairs from Duke’s, and if you get a table on the balcony you can look out onto the beach. We opted for indoors tonight as we really just wanted to crawl into bed at this point.  It had been a long, yet incredibly wonderful, day.

It is beyond bed time at this point, and I can barely keep my eyes open. Fortunately tomorrow is a down day with very, very little on the agenda. Amen for that!