Our grand trip of the year was to Hawaii. We flew into Honolulu and immediately boarded another flight to Maui, second largest of the islands. It is dominated by two volcanoes, Haleakala (Photo #1)to the east, and Pu’u Kukui to the west. We picked up our car and drove to the hotel, which has a great view of of the volcano. We crashed immediately after dinner because of our long flight.
The next morning we set out for Haleakala National Park. We headed for the summit (10,000 feet) on the long (22 miles) and winding park road. Once at the top, the vista was truly other-worldly — the crater was totally barren, covered in red, brown, and black sand, with several small cinder cones rising up within it. I found it stunningly beautiful! We were also impressed with the Silversword plant, with its striking silver lance-shaped leaves and its incredible flower spike which can be 6 feet tall or more. It only grows here on the summit of Haleakala.
We attended a Ranger talk on the history of the volcano, then walked the Sliding Sands Trail which takes visitors down into the crater. As we descended, we walked several other trails along the mountainside. There were many groups of bikers speeding down the mountain (a popular activity on Haleakala).
Our next stop was the Iao Valley, a sacred place to Hawaiians, which has both a religious history (this was a place to worship the Gods of Agriculture to insure a bountiful harvest) and a military history (here Kamehameha defeated the Mauians in his ultimately successful bid to unite all the islands). We climbed the 133 steps up to the Valley Viewpoint where the observation area focused on the Iao Needle (Photo #2), a vertical plug of rock detached from the neighboring ridge.
That evening, we had reservations for the Old Lahaina Luau (Photo #3), the most popular and reputedly the best luau in the islands. The town of Lahaina is the old provincial capital of the islands and is a quaint old town with charming, Western-style buildings and many shops. The luau itself was certainly worth the steep admission price ($79.00 per person in 2003). The buffet which featured oven-roasted pig, Mahi-mahi, Hawaiian Chicken, Pulehu Steak, and poi, the traditional paste made from the root of the Taro plantm was very good. The entertainment was fantastic — beautiful, young, energetic Hawaiians doing hulas and various other Polynesian dances, relating the history of the islands. Add to this an open bar all evening and a beautiful, clear, warm night along the beach and you can understand how magical these islands can be.
Our last day in Maui was spent primarily on the Road to Hana (Photo #4), a 50 mile or so drive along the northwestern coast. It is celebrated as the most scenic drive in the islands, and winds through over 600 hairpin turns and numerous (59) one-lane bridges. The are various stops along the way. We checked out many waterfalls, several nature-walks, some vistas, and a few beaches. Our favorite stop was at Wai’anapanapa State Park (Photo #5), an absolutely gorgeous piece of rugged coastline with several offshore arches, a lava-tube cave, and the most beautiful teal-colored water.
On the way back (the road is a one-way excursion — you must return the way you came) we stopped for a bit at Hookipa Beach Park, one of the best wind-surfing beaches in the world. We watched them for a while, then returned to Lahaina to browse the shops before our great dinner at Pacific-O, where the service was impeccable, the food beautifully prepared, and the view from our waterside, outdoor table, was spectacular.
We left Maui and, unfortunately, had to fly back to Honolulu in order to get to the Big Island, the island of Hawai’i. We landed in Hilo, picked up our car, and then drove around the edge of the island, first north to Wailea, then west, then south to Kailua-Kona, to reach our hotel. The traffic near Kona was horrendous!
The next morning we set out for Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The Visitor Center provides a film about the park and Rangers are available to offer details about the current lava flow. The Rangers were very discouraging to people who want to see lava flowing, citing the dangers and accidents from the past. However, I was not to be denied.
We drove the Crater Rim Drive, stopping at several overlooks and trails, in particular, the Thurston Lava Tube Trail (Photo #6) which takes visitors into an old lava tube.
Then we took the Chain of Craters Road (Photo #7)down toward the shore and the current lava flow. The Ranger a the station at the end of the road also attempted to discourage people from walking out onto the lava field. Lee walked a short distance, then turned back, but I persisted — when will I ever have the opportunity to see flowing lava again in my life? The walk was long (over 2.5 miles) and difficult (terrain is very uneven) and there was no real trail. Basically, I just walked until I saw some people stopped, then went to investigate. It was awesome!! We were standing on lava which was only a few hours old; we could actually feel the heat below us; a young boy threw a rock at a section of lave and we all watched it open up and molten, hot lava flowed out (Photo #8). Incredible!! This was definitely the highlight of my Hawaii trip!
On out way back to the hotel, we stopped at Punaluu Beach, a black sand beach where we admired the scenery and collected a bit of the sand for Sam and David.
Heading back to Hilo, we took Route 190, which was much more scenic than our first drive. We also stopped at "Tex", a roadside eatery which features a local favorite — malesadas — basically a filled doughnut. They were very good.
Our last interisland flight took us back to Honululu, where we would complete our vacation with a full week at the Marriott on Waikiki Beach. After check-in, we strolled along the beach, soaking up the tropical ambience.
The next morning we headed for Diamond Head State Park, at the eastern end of Waikiki, and climbed to the summit of the crater, up 271 stairs, through 2 tunnels, and down a treacherous path (bring a flashlight if you go, since the tunnels are long and very dark). The view from the summit is breathtaking(Photo #11)!
We then took a nostalgic ride to Wahiewa, where Lee lived when she first got married — we not only found the street, but also the rooming house, which seemed to her as if it hadn’t changed in over 40 years. On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at the Dole Plantation Store where we enjoyed a Dole Whip and browsed. We ended this wonderful day with a fantastic dinner at "House Without a Key", a restaurant in the Halekalani Hotel (a place associated with the Charlie Chan Mysteries. The view of Diamond Head from the dining room terrace is positively stunning!
The next day, July 4th, was our scheduled trip to Pearl Harbor, the naval base where the US was attacked, by surprise, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941, spearheading our entry into World War II. We arrived at the Visitor Center just prior to its opening, at 7:30 AM. The line was long but it moved fairly fast (important note — bags of any kind are not allowed at the USS Arizona Memorial (Photo #12), so leaves pocketbooks and camera bags in the car prior to getting in line). The National Park Service introductory film is great — archival footage of the attack from both the American and Japanese perspective. There was not a dry eye in the theater by the time it was over. The emotion continues after the short boat ride to the Memorial, when visitors see the hull of the Arizona, still seeping oil, and the list of names on the walls. The Memorial straddles the wreck. Frequent ceremonies involve dropping flowers into the water and the silence (visitors are asked to respect the memories of these soldiers by being very quiet) is also extremely moving.
We then headed out of the city, along the Likelike Highway and the Pali, stopping at the overlook to try to appreciate the significance of this place in Hawaiian history (it was the scene of the final major battle in the war for unification of the islands). We continued on toward the North Shore, where we admired Sunset Beach and Waimea Bay, even though there was no surf so few surfers.
That evening we watched fireworks from our hotel room lanai — it was magical!
Our next day was very low-key. We spent the morning at the Stadium Flea Market — a good place to find those obligatory souvenirs at much lower prices. The market takes place on Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, from 6:30 to 3. Our dining experience this evening was truly special. We ate at Bali By the Sea (Photo #9), in the Hilton Hawaiian Village. Service was impeccable, food was absolutely delicious (we both had the signature dish — Macadamia-nut encrusted Opakaka) and the setting and view were stupendous. Our meal was finished with complimentary truffles, presented on a Diamondhead-shaped chocolate and billowing with white smoke as the volcano were erupting — very special!
We beached it the next day. The most memorable part of the day was Gary’s walk up to the Honahona Room (Photo #10), at the top of the Sheraton Royal Hawaiian. The huge windows behind the bar look out over all of Waikiki and on to Diamond Head — to die for!
The next morning we headed southeast toward Hanauma Bay (Photo #13). This sheltered bay, the eroded crater of an ancient volcano, is home to numerous, colorful, tropical fish and is one of the most famous snorkeling areas in the world. After an introductory film (about safety and conservation), we rented gear and, along with hundreds of others, enjoyed seeing these beautiful fish only a few feet from shore.
After a drive to Makapuu Point and several other areas, we returned to Honolulu for dinner. Tonight we decided to try something other than fish, so we went to an Italian restaurant, Caffe Sistina. It turned out to be a great choice. Lee and I both had veal dishes and they were superb. The staff was friendly and attentive, and we were amazed at how many diners found this place on a Monday night.
On our last full day in Hawaii, we drove out to the Polynesian Cultural Center, a sort of theme park focused around the various Polynesian islands and their unique cultures. On the way, we stopped at the Byodo-In Temple (Photo #14) and enjoyed the tranquility and spirituality of the site.
The Polynesian Cultural Center is all about entertainment. We watched the parade of canoes (Photo #15), different colors representing different islands, on which young, enthusiastic Polynesians in colorful, traditional costumes danced their native dances. The groups included Samoa, Tahiti, Fiji, Hawaii, Tonga, and Maori (New Zealand).
Following the parade, we wandered through the rest of the park, where each culture has its own area, complete with authentic buildings and demonstrations. Samoa taught us how to open a coconut; Lee tried the Hula in the Hawaiian village; I threw spears at mounted coconuts in Fiji; and I took part in a pig hunt in the Marquesas.
The evening show, called Horizons, was very entertaining, with elaborate costumes and energetic dancing. Again, each of the cultures was represented. All in all, it was a worthwhile experience although extremely commercialized. We also found out that the operation is run by the Mormon church, which makes us wonder about the authenticity.
In the morning, before our afternoon flight, we went to the government area of downtown to see the Iolani Palace (Photo #16), America’s only royal palace, the Statue of King Kamehameha, and the State Capitol Building, with its unusual architecture.
1. Hawaii allowed us to experience one of the more depressing things about travel. When you return to an area, it is impossible not to notice the changes that have taken place. The particular attraction which left this negative impression was Hanauma Bay. When I was here previously, I remember an incredible number and variety of fish. The snorkeling was still great, but it does not compare with the earlier experience — the quality of the area has diminished considerably, and this is, of course, due to its popularity. Herein lies the paradox. As tourists discover a "gem" of a place, more tourists come and the sight gets overused and exploited. Remedy — Careful management is obviously necessary, but how careful can you be without discouraging people from coming. For instance, Hanauma Bay now requires visitors to view a conservation film, and they limit the number of people on the beach at any one time.