At 4am, the alarm went off and we got ready for the drive in the darkness. When I left the truck, I was absolutely astounded by the sight of the stars. I can honestly say I’d never need them so bright nor the Milky Way so clearly, including the blackout of the dust clouds. I stood in utter awe, looking up at them and feeling the simultaneous immensity and negligibility of existence.
We began our drive but the website for monitoring wind speeds said they were upwards of 70kmph, which meant the road would likely be closed. But we were hopeful!
To no avail, however. Darn! We were so so grateful that we’d managed to see the mountaintop the day before, and that we got to see the stars. We spent the morning at the Visitor’s Centre, which was as far as you could go. My leg was causing me a lot of grief!
It was our friend Nancy’s birthday so we made her a birthday video from the picnic area, wrapped in the duvet we brought out to keep warm against the wild winds. After taking many photos of the sunrise, we returned to Puu’Huluhulu and I hiked up the small hill.
Trails led all around the mound, and I had to turn around and back a few times because we didn’t have a lot of time there and I didn’t want to wander too far. My leg was protesting, not that it felt sprained, but my range of motion was really limited and it didn’t like holding a lot of weight so I was favouring my other leg. Despite that, the hike felt very serene and there was a sense of sacredness to it. After a time, I climbed back down the hill and got into the truck.
We returned the rental vehicle and waited while they did a very thorough inspection. Overall I felt the second rental was a really good investment in an experience we couldn’t have had otherwise, and when I look back on this experience while writing it, driving to the peak of Mauna Kea was one of my favourite Hawai’i memories.
It was only about ten in the morning when we returned to Hilo, but since we’d been awake for so long, we were hungry. We went to Ken’s House of Pancakes, which was probably way too much food way too early in the day. I think a salad would have sat better… With full bellies, I drove the car to Waipio Valley. Kai napped a little bit and it was a beautiful drive.
There is a awe-inspiring lookout over the valley not far from the parking lot. We spent a lot of time there, getting photos and talking about our plan. Initially I’d intended to hike down, which, though I’d read mixed reports, was supposed to be about 10km. I’d come to the conclusion, however, that my leg could not handle that trek. Just driving the car had all but put me out of commission, since it was my right leg.
There were interpretative signs at the lookout which read that Hawai’ians only allowed visitors at Waipio Valley by invitation. It is considered a sacred space and it’s not meant for everyone to visit. On our way to the lookout, we’d noticed a ranger stationed at the top of the steep road down, so we went to talk to him. We’d been considering hitching down to the valley so we could see it, but we didn’t want to go if we weren’t welcome.
When asked what local people thought about tourists visiting the valley, the ranger flat-out stated, “they don’t want you there.” He explained that the state had, as recently as that year, opened the valley to the public, but many Hawai’ian people were understandably upset by this. He told us that he didn’t necessarily agree with that position because he personally believed tourists had a right to see Hawai’i’s beautiful nature, and he felt very proud of Hawai’i and wanted to show it off. He also explained that he felt the same way about the many observatories atop Mauna Kea – that they are something to be proud of and something that will inspire young Hawai’ians to learn about astronomy and science. Although we could see where he was coming from, our conclusion was that it was not appropriate for us as white tourists to visit the Waipio Valley. We were a little sad but we got to see it from the lookout and we had seen so many other stunning sites, so we decided to move on.
We drove to Hawi, which is the northernmost area of Hawai’i. Far from the coastal driving we’d become accustomed to, this was more inland, though just as lovely. Very winding. We stopped in Hawi to arrange an airbnb, and this one would take us over to the west side of the island again, where we’d begun. There was a definite sense that the trip was winding down. We looked at ukuleles in one of the shops because I really wanted to learn how to play one, but they were too expensive.
Our airbnb was in Waikoloa, in the middle of a really dense suburban neighbourhood that was clearly built relatively recently because surrounding it in every direction was the jutting black lava rock of a recent eruption. It made me ponder – beneath this neighbourhood, annihilated by that lava flow, was another neighbourhood. It was seemed almost inevitable that this one, too, eventually would succumb to the internal workings of a volcano. There was a sense of a lack of permanence, and an immediacy to life – slates constantly being wiped clean.
We arrived early at the airbnb so we picked up the proffered snorkeling gear and took the owner’s advice to try a private beach. Now this was an experience! In order to get there, you have to enter a private resort, drive all around, come to a gatehouse where we thought for sure we’d be turned away, but instead were given a pass to put on our windshield and told where to go. It was a public access beach in the middle of a resort! As a result, there was almost no one there in this pretty little alcove by the sea.
We couldn’t believe our luck, and it was only just beginning. Because unlike the murky and shallow water where we’d gone snorkelling before, this water was deep, crystal clear, and absolutely awash with tropical fish! I’d never seen so many fish in one place, and so many colours… Directly beneath us, schools of yellow tang mixed with small black fish with neon markings, bigger rainbow fish, and so many others, all together. We swam after them, they’d stop at a coral and nibble and then, as one, swim away. Kai and I would follow different schools and then wind back up together. It was one of the most exciting things I’d ever experienced. We were in the water for several hours and eventually had to get out, much to our dismay.
Back on the beach, we let the sun dry us while we talked. When it started to get chilly, we decided to head to the airbnb. Before that final stop, however, we went to a Foodland. It was obviously a rich neighbourhood because the grocery store was so much fancier than any we’d been to yet, and rather than just a shelf or two, it had an entire alcohol section.
Kai was really beat from the long day so she stayed in the car. We have very different shopping styles – Kai is very frugal and always finds the most amazing deals, but she does like to take her time comparing prices and qualities. I’m more impulsive and like to find weird or unique items, and will pretty much get whatever strikes my fancy. So needless to say, I couldn’t be trusted. I got us some poke, snacks, booze, musabi, a tea for Kai called Kai (which means ocean in Hawai’ian), and mochi ice cream because Kai had never had that!
$80 dollars later, I returned to the car, alternating between a sheepish and shit-eating grin. I had quite the haul!
Kai loved the mochi, and we had green tea, pistachio, and vanilla. Back at the airbnb – it was awesome! Lovely big bed, en suite with a tub (at last!), and a hotplate and supplies to make some breakfast. We liked the place so much we inquired about availability the next night, but unfortunately they had booked it. It was our second last night…
Kai spent much of the evening scouring the internet for the perfect final place to stay. We both wanted to try a hotel room with a pool because it seemed like such a perfect stereotypical Hawai’i vacation thing to do, but of course they were all exorbitantly priced. I left her to that, knowing she is the best deal-finder in all the land, and I finally had my bath. I enjoyed some boxed chardonnay and read a book about Mauna Kea. I loved the photo of a 1920s woman in a fancy dress holding a postcard to the active lava flow, burning the edges – apparently, this was quite the way to prove to your loser friends that you were the hot shit that had local people carry your lily white ass up a mountain. But really, it did seem like a cool memento!
When I came out of the bath, Kai was pretty pooched and disappointed that she hadn’t found anything for accommodations yet. Since it was her birthday the day we were to leave, I knew it meant a lot to her to find something awesome.
She fell asleep early and I stayed up for a bit and watched half a movie on Netflix before crashing myself.