Not many things will get me out of bed at 4:15 a.m., but a flight to Hawai’i is one of them. So began our adventure. Ian and I bid farewell to our thoroughly confused cats and headed for the airport on a dark, chilly Wednesday morning. Later, during a 2.5-hour layover in Denver, we figured it was probably about time to start drinking. It was vacation after all! The bartender kept trying to coax us (and everyone else in the vicinity) into doing Jägermeister shots, but we declined in favor of a more classic breakfast drink.
Several hours later, we (and our luggage–huzzah!) arrived safely in Kona, at which time we obtained our rental car and set off to pick up Rachel and Matthew, our friends and traveling companions…at Costco, of course. They had arrived a few hours earlier and decided they would save some time by purchasing provisions for the week before we got there. As a bonus, they perplexed their taxi driver with their requested destination. Who would have thought that Kona Airport to Costco is an unusual fare?
Trunk loaded with luggage, food, wine, beer, and a giant bottle of rum, we began the long drive to Pāhala, where we would be staying for the first few nights. I required a brief vomit-prevention stop along the way (hills + winding roads + no proper meal for many hours = queasy Liz), but the voyage was otherwise uneventful. It was late, and we were all jet-lagged and travel weary, so we had no greater ambitions than to enjoy some snacks and beer on the lanai, but with our beer came the added value of unexpected education! Bottle caps from Kona Brewing Company beer are printed with Hawai’ian words and phrases so that you might satisfy both your thirst for a tasty beverage and your thirst for knowledge.
The next morning after breakfast, we took a walk over to the nearby Punalu’u black-sand beach with hopes of spotting sea turtles. Alas, there were none to be found, but it was a pretty beach.
We had a full day planned, so we didn’t linger at the beach. Ian got the car stereo communicating with his iPad so we no longer had to listen to long stretches of static interrupted by brief bursts of music as we had on the way to Pāhala. Apparently, the car was a bit ornery that day because this is how we were greeted.
Undeterred, we headed to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. On the way there, Rachel expressed her concern that, if given the opportunity, she might have an uncontrollable urge to touch lava. I understood this perfectly, as I have suffered from numerous irrational fears (including a short-lived, but rather intense, fear of yeast) at various points in my life. Thankfully, helpful reminders regarding lava interactions were posted.
We didn’t get close enough to any lava for Rachel’s fears to be much of an issue. However, we did enjoy free (if slightly sulfur-smelling) facials at steam vents and saw lots of cool craters.
We left the park for a short time to visit the Volcano Winery, the southernmost winery in the U.S., where we sampled a variety of delicious wines, ate a giant cheese plate (because Rachel and I go on vacation together primarily to drink wine and eat a lot of cheese), and met a cat named Mele (who seemed completely indifferent to us). I have admit that, after taking several vacations in which wine tasting was a central component, it felt downright odd to visit just one winery without immediately continuing on to another. Of course, the only other winery in Hawai’i is on Maui, so it would have been a challenging drive.
We returned to the park and saw the Thurston Lava Tube, which ranks among the coolest things I have ever seen.
We then drove down Chain of Craters Road, passing the July 1974 lava flow (which we dubbed Ian’s Birthday Lava). For much of the drive, it was a bit difficult to believe that we were still on Earth. Relatively recent lava flows create landscapes unlike any I’ve seen before.
Our adventures for the day concluded at the Volcano House, where we watched the eerie orange glow of the Halema’uma’u crater come into view as the sun went down. The view was nothing short of magical, yet we remained at a safe enough distance to prevent Rachel from impulsively running amok and touching the lava.