Coming back to Hawaii meant so much to me on so many levels. There was much that needed to be peeled off. First there was the coming full circle in my relationship and personal development, then there was the physical challenge of hiking to places we wanted to see and lastly, I was on a mission to grow as a photographer. I had it all set in my mind that this trip was going to be spectacular on every level.
We landed and started to explore Hawaii’s Big Island first. This was also my first destination when I was here with my ex-husband over 11 years ago and I was greatly looking forward to seeing more and being there with the right person. I was coming full circle and it was time to rediscover myself and this magical place. I let Dave take the reigns and make the reservations with a few insider tips on what was the best side of the island to stay and where we would likely be spending most of our time.
We landed in Kona around sunset and still had to trek all the way to the other side of the island where we were staying in Hilo. I had warned Dave before we left that it was going to be a difficult drive, but he swore he was up for the challenge. We got in our little compact car and took off through the center of the island. The ever winding roads were dark and treacherous with sudden cliffs and one lane bridges, yet still, I somehow managed to sleep through most of the 2hour long drive to the other side. We would later take the same route during the day to find that it took you 10,000 ft above sea level between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa mountains where there is a space observatory. I was amazed at the new development of this road, which was little more than a dirt path last time I was there.
We finally pulled into Arnott’s Lodge a little after 11pm to check in for the night. We were going a new route with our lodging and booked an Airbnb style place vs the all-inclusive experience the big hotels had to offer. All we needed was a clean bed, air conditioning, and a shower and that is exactly what we got. To be fair, there was also an attached shared kitchen and living/lounge area. My only complaint is that the room was so small there was hardly any room to maneuver around the bed or to store our suitcase. Chin up; we weren’t there to be in the hotel, so it was exactly what we needed and the cost was fair.
We were up and ready to eat at 4:30 am local time. Good thing Ken’s House of Pancakes was open 24 hrs! You walk in the door and you’ve stepped back in time to 1972. Everything is the same and original to the historic diner. They serve everything from eggs and spam to the Sumo! We found the Just Nuff menu to have just the right amount of food for us. Oh and you can even order your eggs with rice, but don’t ask to substitute your bacon for ham. That is No Buenos unless you order off the side menu. My advice is to just forget the ham. It comes as a giant thick ham steak that is far too much to eat for my entire family let alone me in a diner at 4:30 in the morning.
After leaving Ken’s, one of the first places we went to see was Volcano National Park. We got there just as the sun was rising behind the misting clouds. It was so early that the gates were left open and no one was there. It was surprisingly cold this morning as a weather pattern came through the area. I was a little bummed that I had already missed the opportunity to photograph my fist sunrise, but that feeling quickly subsided once we drove into the park and saw the steam vents rising along the sides of the road and among the ancient lava fields and vegetation that has started to reclaim its soil from the rocks that surrounded us from all sides. It was like we had stepped back into prehistoric time.
Despite being exhausted from traveling the day before, Dave’s face lite up with wonderment at our surroundings. We stopped and got out to get a closer look at two giant steam vents rising from a crack in the earth. The steam vents were warm and smelled of minerals, earth, and steam. Standing in it was like a welcome sauna in the unusual 50-degree misting cloud we found ourselves in. I could have stayed in those steam vents for a good while longer, but there was so much more to see. After hiking around the lava flows we decided to head further into the park.
We moved on to the Kailua caldera where there was smoke coming from the center of it. It was awe-striking to see the massive scale of this volcano. It looked as if you are on another planet with lava fields as far as the eye could see with the crater itself taking up over ½ our viewing area. We pressed on to the lava look out center, where we could visibly see the molten lava rhythmically bubbling up from a crack with in the caldera; seemingly to some type of hypnotic hula that left you transfixed on Pele herself dancing among the ring of fire.
This was an amazing sight to see and one that I was experiencing for the first time as well. The last time I was here, we didn’t make it down this road. We went to the lava tube and then for the hike that would do me in for the remainder of my adventure here on the Big Isle. The best part of the experience was Dave. He had finally understood why this place was so special to me and it was like we were first dating again and had the freedom to have fun and explore without the worry and responsibility of the kids or the bills. We would stand in wonderment, taking it all in and follow the moment up by saying how much the kids would think this was cool… and then laughing at the cost to bring them all.
We explored the park until our stomachs told us that it was time to go. As we were leaving the park, I saw a sign for the Lava House and decided to see what they had cooking. When we walked in it smelled of fire and breakfast. We walked across a large room with an old fireplace to a seating area in front of a large window that looked on toward the smoking caldera. The sight was awesome! After finding out the breakfast was buffet only, we left in search of smaller portions.
We found ourselves biding the park farewell and backtracked a couple of miles to the small town of Volcano Village where we came across Eagles Lighthouse Café, an outdoor pit stop for coffee and sandwiches. This place was perfect for the local and explorer alike, family owned and full of the Aloha spirit. The owner talked with us about where we are from and what we have seen while his son made our sandwich and his wife was prepping food in the back. He even joyfully gave me a sample of his favorite soup, which consisted of Spanish sausage, pork, cooked potatoes, onions carrots and celery in a red-orange broth. I love this beautiful place full of genuine and beautiful people. I feel so at peace here.
Stay tuned. Our next stop on this epic adventure includes some no so ancient, but still awesome jungle ruins and black sand beaches where I saw a sea turtle!