That's not our approach to vacationing in Hawaii. We spend most of our research time focusing on the Activities and Adventure sections of our favorite Big Island guide book. (The second greatest amount of time is spent on the Dining section -- we need a lot of kona coffee, ahi steaks, grass-fed burgers, loco mocos, and homemade ice cream to fuel our pursuits.)
Our trip began with climbing Mauna Kea, an extinct volcano which happens to be the tallest mountain in the world if you start measuring at the sea floor (>30,000 feet). This feat isn't that rigorous but it does involve putting on all of the clothes that you brought on your tropical vacation, including your winter coat. Our friends Pam and Roger who we were visiting had rented a 4 wheel-drive behemoth to cart the four of us and two other visiting Alaskans up the steep rough road to the observatories near the summit. From there we hiked a few hundred feet to the summit to watch the sun set over Mauna Loa, the other massive volcano on the island.
Pam and Roger are building a house but they try to keep their days balanced between work and play. They start with yoga and an outing, typically a walk or bike ride, before breakfast. One morning they suggested a short ride on the section of the King's Road near their house. It's an old trail that used to circle the island. In some places it's barely discernible, in others it's a foot path or a paved road, and near Pam and Roger, it's a four-wheel drive road over lava and gravel. They have 4 bikes - a 10-speed, 2 old mountain bikes without suspension, and Pam's new Giant country cruiser with front shocks. Roger offered to ride the 10 speed so Paul and I had the best bikes for the trail (though we missed our full-suspension on the lava flows). The morning was sunny and not too hot and we decided to push on farther than they had biked before. After an hour we came to a newer neighborhood and paved roads. We sat in a park near the ocean for a while before turning back. This two-hour ride inspired the longing for an expanded tour of the King's Road. We decided that Paul and I would rent bikes one day and the four of us would ride a tour that Roger had wanted to do for several years. But first, Paul and I had plans to head north for a few days.
For three days the small town of Hawi on the north coast was our base. We hadn't been there since our first trip to the Big Island with our friends Jim and Kathy in 2002. We visited several places that sounded interesting in the guide book and were surprised that we'd been there before. "We camped/hiked/snorkeled/ate here with Jim and Kathy!" It's amazing what you forget.
One day we repeated a hike that we did remember from our previous trip - Pololu Valley. It's a 500 foot descent into a valley at the end of the road. Below is a black sand beach backed by tall dunes covered with an open forest of ironwoods and a bright green ground cover, and farther up valley, a pasture with a stream and beef cattle. The day was cool with broken cloud cover and strong breezes so we decided to hike up the ridge on the opposite side and down to the next valley. Unlike the much-used trail down to Pololu, the trail up and out the other side was narrow and lined with native ferns and trees. From the top of the ridge, we could look down onto a narrow valley with thick native forest and a dry stream bed. The trail down seemed well-used until it abruptly ended. We later found out that it had been wiped out during an earthquake in 2006. The latest version of the guidebook (which we didn't have) said that the valley was inaccessible now but the author didn't know that some enterprising hiker had installed ropes down a new path to the valley floor. The thick ropes were in good shape and well-attached to trees on a slope that had not slid during the earthquake, so we decided to descend. Our reward -- a bit of adventure and a valley and rocky beach all to ourselves.
Paul ready to descend into the unknown forest
On our way back to Pam and Roger's a couple of days later, we stopped in Hilo to rent bikes for the bike tour of King's Road and Pahoa. The Giant Boulders were a good all-around bike for the ride - front suspension for the gravel and lava, smoother tires and more upright frame for the pavement. After a light breakfast we pedaled from their house, near the ocean, up to the main road to Pahoa. Nine miles brought us to the Pahoa Village Inn for breakfast (small loco moco with mahi mahi for me). Then we headed back toward the ocean under a canopy of albezia trees. We soon turned onto a one-lane paved road that rapidly descended through a corridor of mango trees. At the ocean, we turned onto a paved portion of King's Road and soon stopped at Aha'luani Hot Pond for a soak. From there, the royal path became pocked red lava-based asphalt and then gravel back to the park where we had turned around on the earlier ride. After a break in the same park, we were on the homestretch to Pam and Roger's.
Pedaling through a grove of protected mangroves on the King's Road
Our visit wasn't completely beach-free. We visited the beaches of the Kohala district. Strong surf kept us from snorkeling so we played in the waves at one beach park and hiked to a remote, protected cove with dozens of turtles. On the Puna coast, we snorkeled twice at the Kapoho tide pools. Though even there, Paul made that more than just a float by leading us across ledges and through gaps to explore the outer pools near the wave break.
Maybe someday we'll be those people you see at the beach park, with a cooler full of cold drinks, folding chairs, boogies boards and snorkel masks -- everything you need to camp out for the day. I'm not sure when that will happen when there are so many trails to hike, paths to bike, and tidepools to explore.
signs like this may be why we seldom saw other people off the beaten path in Hawaii
what about the aggressive bikers?