Defying Gravity

Hilo (on the big Island of Hawai’i)

Despite having only 1 day in Hilo (HE-low), Michael and I managed to cram a lot in. We signed up for a shore excursion that included a land and sky tour of the island. We didn’t see a whole lot of Robert and Alicia that day, but then again, it’s good that they got some time for themselves.

Our tour group was very small – there were 2 other couples from the cruise ship besides us. One of the couples was from Queensland, Australia and the other was from Florida. We met them and our tour guide on the pier, then quickly climbed into a tour van to begin our adventure.

Emma had to be one of the best tour guides I’ve ever encountered. Her family has lived in Hilo for a long time. They owned a small place near the cruise ship port, and have lived off the land for quite some time. If you ever wondered what the Aloha Spirit looked like in human form, it has to be this woman. She knew everything about the native foliage (or rather, imported foliage. Something like 90% of the plant life in Hawai’i came from somewhere else. A lot came from Australia, actually), the history of the island, and she really knew how to make you feel as if you were a personal guest that she had been waiting impatiently to see.

Despite being largely devoted to agriculture, the big island of Hawai’i has a lot to offer in the way of scenery. Not a lot of outsiders settle here, largely because of the active volcano (we wouldn’t want to upset Pele, the Hawai-ian goddess of fire, in her home), and partly because it really is a small, rural town. Everyone knows one another here. If you want cheap land in Hawai’i, this is the place to go. Seriously.

The first place we visited was Queen Lili’uokalani Gardens (pronounced LEE-lee oo-oh-kuh-LAWN-ee. The apostrophe, called an ‘okina is a glottal stop in the Hawai’ian language). The land for the gardens was donated by the last Hawai’ian queen in order to make a garden to honor the Japanese immigrants who came to work on the sugar plantations in Hawai’i. Sugar and pineapples used to be huge industries in Hawai’i, but those industries have largely been replaced with macadamia nuts and coffee now. In any case, here is some of the scenery (click to enlarge):

Japanese garden bamboo Japanese garden bridge Japanese garden beach

Japanese garden path Japanese garden trees reflective puddle

After our brief visit to the gardens, we traveled on to see a few waterfalls. First we saw Rainbow Falls.

Rainbow Falls rainbow falls stairs

And a chunk of the island that broke off during a storm.

piece of island falling off

We then moved on to Akaka (ah-KAH-kah) Falls. There was a longish path to get to this waterfall. Along the way we saw some lovely foliage:

ginger flower ginger flower and inedible banana an a banana flower with budding fruit.

Neither of these is what we think of when we think of ginger and bananas. They are both inedible, but related to the edible versions.

Akaka Falls river A small stream wound its way through the rain forest, previewing the waterfall.

And then we got to the falls:

Akaka Falls Akaka Falls2

Really, these things are quite breathtaking.

From the waterfall tour, we headed out to a ranch to have a picnic and kayak in the little pool at the base of a small waterfall. The path to the picnic site was lined with macadamia nut shells (kind of like our driveways might be covered in gravel), and a rock with a ancient petroglyph marked the end.

macadamia pathway petroglyph

Emma and her cousin (who knows if they were actually related – Hawai’ians call everyone cousin, or auntie or uncle if they are elders) made us a barbeque lunch while we kayaked.

michael kayak near falls

Afterward, we hiked back to the open field to meet the helicopter. At the fence to the ranch, a baby cow with a lame foot rested, watching us as we got closer. He got skittish as we got too close, but kindly posed for a picture.

blackie cow Isn’t he adorable!

The helicopter tour was only about 45 minutes long, and for the first time on the trip, my memory card filled up. I hurriedly deleted what I hoped were the worst of the pictures from the previous days, so I missed a lot of what I could see from the sky. Still,

there was a view of Akaka Falls from above,

helicopter waterfall

little green islands that were untouched by all the surrounding lava,

islands of safety

Steam from a vent coming from Mt. Kilauea (Kill-uh-way-uh). I should explain that this is an active volcano, still forming land on the big island to this day.

steam from volcano

This is where the lava hits the ocean and cools.

lava hitting water lava hitting water2

And this is the lava actively burning trees it encounters. This is the only point on the tour where you could smell anything, and the aroma of the burning wood was quite strong here. Surprisingly, I didn’t notice a sulfur smell.

lava burning trees You have to enlarge the picture to see the fire – it’s in the center.

As the helicopter landed, we could see our cruise ship.

cruise ship from helicopter

It was a very long day, and not long after we landed we had to get back on the ship for our trip to Kona, which is located on the other side of the big island. Can we have a nap, now?

us in front of helicopter

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