Friday, March 18, 2016

Hawaii: The Island of Hawai'i (First Day)

Hawaii consists of eight islands, seven of which are inhabited, and only six of which are publicly accessible. Of those six islands, Laura and I only visited two on our trip: Oahu, the densely-populated home of the state capital, and the island of Hawai'i, often simply called "the Big Island" in order to prevent getting the island and the state confused.

The Big Island is, of course, the biggest island, and it's far less densely populated than most of the other islands. Personally, I liked it a lot more than the crowded streets and manufactured paradise of Oahu. There was a lot more that I could personally connect with there.

The Big Island has two primary towns: Kona on the west side and Hilo on the east side. The southern part of the island is mostly taken up by the national park service and active volcanoes, and the northern part of the island is mostly just uninhabited wind-swept fields, since that side of the island faces the wind. I'm not sure how populated the mountains in the center of the island are since I never passed there during the day, but I do know there are observatories you can visit near the tops of the mountains.

We got pretty familiar with the perimeter of the island because we spent most of our first day there, making the circuit around the whole thing. The entire circuit took maybe six hours, including the occasional stops to visit places.

Let's rewind a bit, though. We arrived on Hilo at about 9am, rented a car, and drive an entire 10 minutes to the bed and breakfast we would be spending the next couple of nights at. The house was a restored plantation house, which apparently means something very different in Hawaii than it does in Louisiana. Here's the place's website, if you want to check it out. It's a nice place, so I recommend it if you plan on spending a few days in Hilo.

The city of Hilo is no bigger than my own home city: Houma, Louisiana. This could be one reason why I felt so comfortable there, since it fit with the scale I'm used to.

After dropping off our bags, we proceeded to Hilo's most famous restaurant: a 24 hour diner-like establishment called Ken's Pancake House. The restaurant features a wide variety of food, from breakfast and American sandwiches to various native Hawaiian and Asian dishes. Many of their dishes offer "Sumo" versions of the dish, which basically amounts to piles of food that turns your meal into a challenge. I ordered the Sumo Stacker Pancakes, which was three eggs (any style) on top of a huge pancake (5/8" thick, 9" diameter) on top of several strips of bacon on top of another pancake on top of a slab of ham (1/8" thick, 8" diameter) on top of yet another massive pancake. I failed to complete the challenge, in part because frankly the pancakes weren't that good no matter how much butter and syrup I slathered on them. Oh well.

After Ken's we set off down the highway, heading counter-clockwise around the island. By that point it was past noon, and Laura wanted to reach Kona in time to visit one of the coffee plantations, since apparently Kona coffee is a big deal. (I'm not a coffee drinker, so I'm pretty ignorant of that world.)

We took a scenic route that took us through some rainforest and the lair of a man known only as Coconut Willy. Soon we entered the windswept grasslands at the northern parts of the island, where the grass swayed hypnotically.

Eventually we worked our way back down to Kona, and we just barely managed to visit a coffee plantation before it closed. Though the coffee itself didn't interest me (I tried it, it tasted like liquid wood), the story of the founders fascinated me. It was a story I'd hear time and again, in fact: some white people from the mainland decided to up and move to Hawaii, realized they needed to do something to make money, so they started a business and made it thrive.

This is basically the story of that coffee plantation, our bed and breakfast, the botanical garden, Cheeseburger in Paradise, and probably 50% of the other small businesses in the islands. The rest of them are probably the same thing but Japanese people instead of white people.

Anyway, after Kona we worked our way to the southern tip of the island, which happens to also be the southernmost point in the United States. There's a green sand beach in that area, but there was a long hike involved to get there, and though we gave it a shot we soon realized that the sun would set long before we reached the beach. So, instead we visited South Point and checked out the fishermen casting their lines into the Pacific from the top of a cliff. The wind in that area was crazy, open as it was to the sea on nearly all sides. There was a monument there with a hand-made sign that said something along the lines of, "THE KINGDOM OF HAWAII IS STILL ALIVE. WE NEVER LEFT." I wish I had taken a picture, but my phone was in its death throes and refused to activate its flash.

After leaving South Point we made our way back to Hilo, passing through Volcanoes National Park along the way. At some point we passed an orange glow in the sky that we later confirmed to be lava reflecting off of the clouds. It was a good first impression from the volcanoes we'd be meeting in person the following day.

I'm going to have to break up this island into at least two blog posts, though. I'm pretty sure I've already written more about this one day on the Big Island than I did about two days on Oahu, and all we did was drive around so far. I think that illustrates my point about which island interested me more.

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