As readers of this blog know, I usually just endure transition days. Tuesday of this trip was an exception. We were transitioning from our comfy condo just south of Kailua-Kona to a hotel in Hilo for the second portion of our vacation. Since we had already explored the Saddle Road, and the northern route as far as Waimea, we decided to take the southern route around the Big Island.
We were a little slow getting started, even though we’d packed up quite a bit the previous evening. We got the minivan loaded by mid-morning, checked out, and hit the road. We’d been waffling about some morning activities, and after finding ourselves on the route closer to the ocean, decided to visit one of those waffle-y options–Big Island Bees! We arrived at a time between tours, so we got the “short tour” in the on-site museum. Our guide uncovered the demonstration hive and pointed out the queen. She explained a little about bee behavior, including how bees tell each other where the nectar is (with very precise “waggles” of their backsides). We also learned that the bees will continue to use a single nectar source until it is depleted, which is how we get honey with distinctive flavors.
We next got to taste some of those honey flavors that are unique to Hawai’i, including Ohia-Lehua; Wilelaiki; and Macadamia Nut. There was also a honey mustard made with the Macadamia honey and Dijon mustard. It was all delicious. The Ohia-Lehua was our favorite–it is crystallized from the beginning and is very smooth. We of course could not leave without some of that, and a little Macadamia nut honey, AND some honey mustard. Good thing we had some weight to play with in the checked bags!
Next, we headed back to the Place of Refuge. We’d arrived after the Visitor Center closed on our first visit, and thus failed to obtain stamps in our National Parks Passport. And I wanted to see the turtles (Honu) again. The map showed a road near the coast from the bee place to the refuge place. This was true, but the road was narrow, a little rough (but paved), and came with deep ditches on both sides, so one had to be very careful when oncoming traffic appeared. Another adventure! We made it unscathed, got our stamps, and visited the Honu.
We finally headed into new territory a few miles down the coast. There were not many places to stop, and county and state parks on the Big Island seem to all be signed subtly, that is, with small signs that you can’t see until it’s too late to turn off. We finally stopped at a lava overlook that was very windy. We chose to eat our pretzel roll and cheese sandwiches (did I mention we acquired a cooler bag at Costco) in the van. We did snap a few pictures of the lava and the view of the southernmost part of the island.
Our next stop was the black sand beach at Punalu’u.
I was under the mistaken impression that this was a “beach beach,” and would be suitable for swimming. Though this might be true some days, it was not on this windy Tuesday. However, this beach did have–Honu!
I had read there would likely be turtles, but did not expect so many, and so close. (They were “coned off” from visitors.) We also watched turtles in the water. It’s somewhat mesmerizing waiting to see a flipper or a head peek above the surface.
The beach itself was black with volcanic “sand” and rocks.
There was also a pond with lily pads. (Right?)
We had to pass Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park on our way to Hilo, so we decided to stop in to the Visitor’s Center and get the lay of the land. We were just in time for a Ranger presentation (outside, but at least under cover, as it was chilly and rainy). We learned a bit about the six volcanoes of the Big Island, and the geologic features responsible for all of the Hawaiian Islands. We queried the ranger about the best way to see lava, and she confirmed what we had heard so far, that in uncertain weather conditions both boat and helicopter tours were unreliable ways to see the lava. She told us about the most efficient way to get to the lava, using rental bikes outside the park boundaries. More on this in another post… She also encouraged us to visit the Jaggar Museum before leaving for Hilo. We decided to do so, even though our bike tour the next day would return there. It was a good idea, despite the weather (cold and rainy). We got our first glimpse of Halema’uma’u Crater in Kilauea Caldera and it was spewing lava. (Volcano in Hawaiian is luapele, where small-p pele means lava.)
The rest of the drive was darkish, rainy and uneventful. We checked into our room at Hilo Hawaiian Hotel–Costco’s only option in Hilo–then changed rooms since our lanai allowed smoking (and smelled like it!) We were tired and hungry, so after determining that there was a highly regarded restaurant within walking distance, we braved the intermittent downpours and went to dinner. The Hilo Bay Cafe was more than serviceable, but I’ll save the full description for the food highlights blog. Little did we know that the come-and-go torrential rain would be with us for our entire visit to Hilo…