Points East


Monday was the day the air conditioning was supposed to be fixed (Yes!) and the eleventh day of our fourteen day vacation.  There was not much more time to see the many sites on the island that we had not yet gotten to.  We started the day with a swim, the first in several days and it was very refreshing.  I packed my backpack with the usual: my camera of course, a long sleeved shirt and pants just in case even though it never got cold enough to wear them, an enormous avocado, macnuts and plenty of water.  We left hoping to return to a cool air-conditioned room.  We drove to Aki’s for breakfast.  The surf was still high but the beached scow continued to protect our favorite seats.  Our plan was to drive to Hilo on the other side of the island.

We drove up to Waimea and headed east on 19 past small farms of chickens and sheep, fruit trees and gardens, then past open pastureland for cattle and horses.  As we neared the east coast some fifteen miles from Waimea we drove through the Hamakua Forest Reserve.  The land was steep and craggy here and the mature eucalyptus grove planted after the sugar plantations closed was the deepest forest we’d seen on the island.  Just before the coast as Rte 19 turned southward, the road to Honokaa and the Waipi’o Valley veered north and we took it.  I had wanted to see the valley even if we didn’t have time to walk down to the beach below.  The road to it follows the coastline about 1,000 to 800 feet above it.  Green meadows sloped sharply down to the sea and quite a few houses sat on the grassy slopes with incredible views.

At the Waipi’o Valley lookout there are paved walkways with hand railings and a covered area to get in out of the sun or rain.  Quite a few tourists like ourselves were taking in the impressive view.  The narrow valley sits surrounded on three sides by steep, high walls cut with waterfalls and opens out to the ocean. The only way down the precipitous road is four-wheel drive, horseback or by foot.  I read that it had been the valley of the kings where much of the people’s food had been grown.  In 1946 it was completely devastated by a tsunami with many people killed.  After that it was abandoned.  In the 60s it was re-discovered by a handful of hippies and some Viet Nam war veterans.  They live there today, off the grid, growing taro and wanting their seclusion.  I couldn’t help wondering how they felt about all of us tourists up at that lookout taking pictures of their private place.  At the far edge of the beach below, you could just make out a waterfall plunging down the cliff.  We walked part way down the road which followed the path of a rushing creek and were tempted to go all the way down in spite of the steepness but there wouldn’t be time to go on to Hilo.  The trek to the Waipi’o Valley goes on my list of things to do on the next trip to Hawaii.

We backtracked to Honokaa, a pleasant looking town, and onto Rte. 19 heading south.  The drive along the Hamakua coast to Hilo is very picturesque.  It runs along the towering cliffs above the sea and is covered with rich green forests and meadows.  There are many streams that cut down from the mountains and form deep gulches which the road winds around.  There are also many small roads and paths off the main road leading to homesteads and a handful of small villages.  I had wanted to stop and see the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens just north of Hilo but I knew it would take a lot of time.  As a gardener, I wanted to learn all I could about the amazing trees, bushes and flowers of Hawaii so I knew I would want to spend several hours there.  I also wanted to see the 442 foot Akaka Falls, the highest falls on the islands.  So, since I was the navigator, I decided we would see the falls and save the botanical gardens for our next visit.  My only regret is that I don’t know the names of the trees that so impressed me especially as I try to describe them to you in this log.  But, they say a picture is worth a thousand words and there are many pictures of trees in this log.  Ignorance has some advantages; because I do not know their official names, the shapely trees of Hawaii remain mysterious for me and as I encountered them I tended to see them as individuals rather than as one of a particular variety or other.

Just after the Kolekole Beach Park turnoff (after reading what "the Big Island Revealed" has to say about this beach, it will be on my things to do list) is the road to Honomu and Akaka Falls State Park.  All of the Hamakua coast is old sugar country and in the area around Honomu it is still apparent with cane growing like a weed on the roadsides.  Honomu has enough appeal and character to be attractive to the tourists who pass by on their way to the falls.  Tourism seems to have saved them after the demise of the sugar industry.  This must have been an area where many Japanese settled as there is a definite Japanese influence in Honomu.  A few miles past old sugar cane fields we came to the state park. It was run well, with good facilities, a large parking lot and well kept paths leading to the two waterfalls on that site, the Kahuna Falls and the Akaka Falls.

I thoroughly enjoyed this walk through a tropical rainforest. It was a warm and humid day and the air was filled with sweet wet smells.   Everything that grows in this steep forested terrain, where the powerful Kolekole Stream meets several of its tributaries, grows in super sized form.  There were philodendrons growing all the way up very tall trees entwined around their trunks.  Bamboo forests, ferns as big as under-canopy trees,  and eight foot tall azalea bushes competed with exotic flowers and mammoth spreading banyan trees.  The air was filled with tropical bird calls: the cooing of the doves that are so plentiful at the Royal Kona and seem to be ubiquitous all over the island, other familiar squawks and a new bird that I hadn’t heard before with a particularly beautiful call.  There was also the sound of rushing water all around us as we walked beside a robust stream and across it by way of wooden bridges.  There was a mist in the air as we climbed to a lookout point cut out of the dense vegetation where you look across a steaming green forested valley to the cliff beyond and see a dancing silver strip of water falling a long distance to the green valley below from a crotch of land cut into the cliff.  This is Kahuna Falls.  We continued on the path and everywhere I looked I wanted to take a picture because of all the amazing and vital life that thrived there.  I thought there must be a lot of mana in a place like this.  Mana is like chi, it is the power from the spirit world that animates us, gives us life.  Long before we reached Akaka Falls, we began to feel droplets of spray falling on us and hear the steady roar of the falling water.  It was similar to the sound of the surf but more consistent, without the lulls and variations.  The falls are impressive.  The water spills over a sheer mossy cliff, thundering into a small pool below.  A halo of mist surrounds it.  As we were leaving I saw some of the same people that I’d seen at Waipi’o Valley.  I wondered how many sights they’d be able to fit in that day.  I was really pleased with this stop.  My one concern had been that there would be mosquitoes in such a warm moist climate but at least on that day there were none.

We got back into our hot car and continued on into Hilo.  We drove with the top down to cool off but the sun was intensely hot.  We could feel that we were coming to a large (for the island) population center.  It was a beautiful area and I could understand why so many people lived there.  Hilo has the feel of city to it albeit very small (40,000) but it is built in a very beautiful natural location which seems to predominate.  We stopped at a gas station just as we entered town and I was captivated by three enormous spreading, umbrella-shaped trees across a busy four-lane thoroughfare from me.  It seemed as though they had been planted exactly for the visual benefit of someone standing right where I was.  It was a good start to what I would see of Hilo.

One of the first things I noticed was how oppressively hot it was.  The temperature was 91 degrees Fahrenheit, the humidity felt like it was in the nineties as well and there wasn’t much of a breeze.  I had read and heard that Hilo was very windy but because of the storm the wind was coming from the south and west instead of the normal trade winds from the north and east, so the wind wafted off the land lackadaisically.  I directed us towards Banyan Drive which overlooks Hilo Bay and where all the big hotels are as well as the Lili’uokalani Japanese Gardens.  We drove past the hotels perhaps thinking ahead to a future island vacation then parked our car by the Japanese gardens.  We meandered over the paths, across stone bridges that crossed connected reflecting ponds and rested for a while on a covered bench.  We crossed the street and walked over a long bridge to Coconut Island in the bay.  It’s a postcard perfect little island covered with majestic coconut palms, warning signs all around to beware of falling coconuts, and a great little beach which was very popular on that hot sticky afternoon.  We walked along the bayfront watching tug boats and sailboats.

When we got back into the car it was a hot oven, so John put the top down.  But the sun was still intense even though it was later in the afternoon and I started to feel a little ill from the heat.  It was the only time that happened while I was on Hawaii; maybe I was a little dehydrated.  It is important to drink enough water in that kind of heat.  The car’s air-conditioning brought me back instantly.   Neither of us felt like driving around the city so we headed back the same way we’d come.  We’d seen a new, very beautiful face of Hawaii that day but going back to Kailua felt like going home.

All the while that we were driving there were threatening looking clouds gathering over the mountain peaks and occasionally we drove through squalls.  We thought that we would drive across to the western shore route where it rarely rains.  John and I had a bet going.   He said it would be clear by the time we got to Hapuna Beach where we thought about stopping for a quick swim and I said it would be raining.  We decided that it would be face that was at stake.  The closer to the west coast we got the harder it was raining.  By the time we got to the turnoff to Hapuna Beach, the rain was coming down torrentially.  We pulled into the beach parking lot not with the idea of swimming but of waiting out the downpour as visibility was practically nil.  We could see disappointed and thoroughly soaked beach goers climbing up from the beach with all of their drenched gear in tow.  A school bus had pulled into the parking lot with the same idea.  I didn’t gloat too much about my gain in face; after all it would have been worth being wrong to be able to go for a swim.  We made ourselves comfortable and decided to feast on the avocado and macnuts we had brought with us.  Everyone was just sitting around in their cars or hanging out under the eaves of the restrooms waiting for the rain to let up.  But it didn’t.  It continued to pour out of the heavens at a phenomenal rate.  I could see rivulets forming and running down the slope towards the ocean.  Before long there were ponds forming everywhere.  It was a very fluid situation.

John said we ought to get out of there while we still could and I agreed.  The school bus driver followed our lead.  As we were pulling out of the parking lot I saw a man walking through knee-high water.  One of the warnings I’d read about and taken seriously was flash flooding and we were getting a first hand experience of it.  When we got to the conjunction with Rte 19 we saw a bottleneck of traffic. The road dipped here and streams of water and debris were pouring off the slope across the road creating a muddy lake filled with branches and rocks.  Cars were stopped to the north of the gathering water, the drivers uncertain about attempting to cross.  Our Sebring had been a reliable vehicle but it was low to the ground.  I was very nervous about attempting to cross and also really glad that John was driving.  He thought that it would be best to go back north then east to Waimea and come back down the inland road which was higher in elevation.  I thought it would probably be raining all the harder up there and so we should stay on the main road.

John heeded my fears and turned south to avoid crossing the water but within a few feet we saw that the same condition was repeated at the next dip in the road.  Cars sat on either side of a deep puddle as one brave soul started across but their car was soon skidding sideways.  John made a quick U-turn and said he wasn’t going to get stuck on this road.  I wish that I had thought to take out my camera during all of this but I was too involved with the excitement of the moment and the outcome was too uncertain to think of recording the event for posterity or this log.

Calling out encouragement to our sleek Sebring steed, John propelled us through the fast moving muddy torrent, bouncing over branches and rocks that we couldn’t see or avoid, never letting up on the accelerator.  The puddle looked to be nearly a football field wide and felt endless.  But John and the Sebring brought us through to the other side unscathed.  The brakes were a little wet but they dried out quickly.  John was encouraged because we could still see traffic coming from the north while no one was coming up from the south.  When we got to 190, the clouds lightened and there was only intermittent drizzle on the drive back to Kailua.  I happily returned all of the face I had won on our first bet with interest.  We passed many highway crews going in  the opposite direction from where we had just come.

We got into Kailua just in time to see the sun set into the Pacific and yet another luau with some of the guests dressed in rain gear.  The room was oven hot so we both were right that the Royal Kona would not get the air conditioning fixed when they said they would.  John called down to the front desk to find out about it.  The girl said that it wouldn’t be fixed until Wednesday, which would be our last night.  The girl was very sympathetic and said that she would bring us a fan from home the next day.  With both doors open, the room seemed quite tolerable probably because we had been adjusting to the heat.  After resting a bit, we drove to Keauhou to have another superb dinner at the Royal Thai.  Since my return to the mainland, I have been experimenting with using some of the Thai and Hawaiian foods and cooking styles.  Vacations to new and different places inspire in many unexpected ways.

On the news that night, they mentioned that Rte. 19 was closed because of high flood waters and dangerous debris in the road.  John had been  right to get us off that road and to the higher ground of Waimea.  It had been an adventurous day and we settled down to a warm nights sleep, lulled by the ever-present surf.


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