Tuesday 7th February, 2012

Hawaii - Round Island Tour

This was the day on which we had booked our round island tour. As we waited for our promised "proper bus" to arrive, a minibus turned up! However this did have rows of seats, rather than benches, so was comfortable enough and getting on and off was pretty quick. The major downside was that we were seated right at the back. The air conditioning blasted over our heads and people in front complained of being cold, while we were hot.

The tour involved no fewer than 5 stops at shops, at each of which our tour guide got some kind of gift as a reward for bringing a bus load of customers. To be fair to the tour company, all of the stops offered good clean toilets and the opportunity to get refreshments. However, it was frustrating only to be allowed 20 minutes at the major stop of the day in the volcano national park .. and allowed 20 minutes in the cookie factory.

I did a similar tour in 2002. This time, the tour was very different. Because of a recent eruption, large parts of the road around the rim of the volcanic crater were closed and the restaurant overlooking the crater had closed down.

Our first stop was at a shopping mall in Waimea. We were told that there would not be anywhere to buy lunch, so were encouraged to buy something to eat from the supermarket. We got an oversized snack pack with cold meat, cheese and crackers, together with some crisps and cookies, which provided a welcome change from overpriced hotel food.

The tour took the Northern road around the Island towards Hilo, where the first stop was at  at Rainbow Falls.

Known in the Hawaiian language as Waiānuenue Falls, the Wailuku River falls 24m into a large pool below, almost 30m in diameter.

We stopped briefly at the King Kamehameha Statue in Wailoa River State Park.

King Kamehameha I was one of the most beloved of Hawaii's heroes. Kamehameha I was the one who conquered the Hawaiian Islands, unified them and established the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810.

Our final stop in Hilo was the Candie Factory (basically a shop).

The next stop was the Hilo Orchid Farm about 12 miles out of Hilo on the road towards the volcano area.

The highlight of the tour was meant to be the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. However, large areas were closed because of dangerous levels of fumes and we were rushed through the stops we did make.

Stop #1. Thurston Lava Tube.

A 20 minute 1/3 mile walk through a tree fern forest and lighted cavelike lava tube. Several hundred years ago a river of red lava rushed through. And that lava currently travels to the ocean in a labyrinth of similar lava tubes.

Stop #2. The Thomas A. Jaggar Museum is a museum on volcanology with displays of equipment used by scientists in the past to study the volcano and working seismographs. Here we got our best view of the new fuming vent in Halema`uma`u crater which has caused much of the area to be closed to the public.

Stop #3. Steam Bluff. Non-sulphurous steam vents result from rainwater percolating down through the ground being boiled by the hot rock beneath and streaming up vents to the surface.

After visiting the volcanic area, the tour took the Southern road back towards the Kona area.

A short drive from the road took us to Punaluu Black Sand Beach. Resulting from the breakdown of black lava, a black sand beach is an impressive sight. A highlight was a large honu, or Hawaiian Green Sea turtle climbing out onto the rocks.

It was now time to head back North towards our hotel, a long drive, made worse by almost stationary traffic in the Kona area. The main road through Kona was closed because of a bush fire.

We stopped twice, once at the Southernmost Bakeshop in the United States and once at the Royal Kona Visitor Center Mill and Museum.

By the time we got back to our hotel at around 7:30pm, the wind had got up and it was starting to rain. We couldn't be bothered to go out get anything to eat, so just stayed in the hotel, where we discovered the downside of there only being one restaurant and that being largely open air. We were cold and got slightly wet.

I spent many hours sitting in a bus and did quite a lot of walking without problem.