George and Sandy's 2003 Trip to Hawai'i

This trip is based on an excuse. Katie is leaving home to attend the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. The excuse is that Sandy and I needed to deliver her there. In all fact, we could have stuffed her on an airplane and sent her off on her own, but she is our only daughter so some special dispensation was indicated. Our plan is to deliver her to Hawai'i on the first day, drop her off on the second day and then bug out to the Big Island for a week. It sounds like an excellent plan.

Saturday, 16 Aug 03, about 08:00 Hawaiian Time

I'm sitting in a bulkhead behind seat (which means that my seat won't recline) on ATA Flight 755 our of LAX. The guy in front has his seat reclined so I am really crammed in here. Sandy's iBook is propped between the tray table and my tummy and I'm going to get an instant case of carpel tunnel syndrome if I do this for too long. We're about 2 hours out of Honolulu. I'm using Sandy's computer because I gave my old iBook to Katie. When the next batch of PowerBooks arrive, I'll get myself a new one.

The trip started when we got up at 05:00 to rouse Katie and Grandpa Charlie who graciously came down to stay with the boys while we are boondoggling around. We left home at about 05:45 with the plan to wait in lines at the airport. We were not dissapointed, there were lines aplenty.

The airport stuff was routine. Katie is actually on another airplane about 400 miles behind us (Hawaiian Flight 1) because the package trip that we arranged through AAA couldn't handle Katie's round trip (returning in Dec). After we all got checked in, we left Katie in Terminal 2 at LAX and then walked to Terminal 3 toward our gate. The security line was so long there that the airline folks then walked us to the International Terminal to go through security there and then bussed us back to Terminal 3 for our flight.

Later Saturday, 16 Aug 03, about 06:40

We got into Honolulu on schedule, recovered our bags and then walked all the way across the airport to Hawaiian Airlines terminal to meet Katie. We got there about half an hour before Katie did but she found us right away and her bags arrived as well. However, when I was dragging her suitcase to the rental car bus, the handle pulled right out the case. Since this case was extraordinarily heavy, it was now really hard to drag around. Further, the Dollar car rental didn't have our car ready and we waited around at their office for about 45 minutes until they came up with the minivan that we had reserved.

The traffic on this Saturday afternoon in Honolulu was really bad. It took 45 minutes or so to work our way across town to find our hotel (the Radisson Prince Kuhio). However the hotel parking entrance was not accessible from the direction we were going and it took a lot of winding around on one way streets to get into the parking structure.

waikiki balcony viewThe room is nice (on the 24th floor facing the ocean). The desk said that the room would normally go for $275/night but I have no idea what we are paying for it because it is part of a package. I would imagine that it actually cost much less.

We unloaded our stuff and then went out in search of food. We ended up at a Taco Bell. We then stopped by a SafeWay to buy some supplies for Katie. Then the plan was to get her a cell phone, but it was unclear that there was good coverage at UH and the phones are expensive. We ended up not buying one as she has a calling card and will have Internet access in her dorm. Email and IM will have to do for now.

Back at the hotel, Katie and I went swimming in the hotel pool while Sandy napped. Later this evening, the plan is to take a walk near the hotel in search of more food.

Sunday, 17 Aug 03, about 19:00

We've made it to Hawai'i (aka "the Big Island") but first, some fill in of the events since the last entry.

Last evening we walked down one of the main drags in Waikiki and found a Subway sandwich shop. The prices were about 2x what I would expect to find in California, but the sandwich was the same. Half my sandwich served as dinner and the other half ended up as breakfast. Katie did the same, Sandy wasn't hungry.

I awoke at 04:00, (07:00 my time) and didn't get back to sleep. We ate breakfast in the room and then packed up to leave. First was a trip to WalMart (about 20 miles away) to buy Katie some more warm weather clothes and then back to UH to drop her off. It turns out that UH is just the other side of the freeway (H1) that runs across the northern side of Honolulu.

katie and sandy at dormHer temporary dorm was in an obscure part of the campus (right next to the freeway) and she couldn't check in until 14:00, but we had to leave to make a 12:50 flight. We said our goodbye's and took off. Katie is now launched from the nest, it is up to her to fly.

The lines at the airport were disorganized and intertwined so it took some time just to figure out which line to wait in. It took awhile, but we got the SkyCaps to check our luggage and we managed to get through security with just enough time to grab some lunch and make the gate. For reference, there was a Burger King there, a Whopper was $3. We had grab Chinese, but at about 2x the price that you would find at a typical Panda Express. The flight to Kona was uneventful, but our bags must have been the last off the plane as everybody else had picked up their stuff and gone by the time ours appeared.

hapuna aerial viewOur hotel, the Hapuna Beach Prince, is about 25 miles north of the airport. This area leeward side of Hawai'i is mostly volcanic rock. The land is very arid and there is little growing except for a few acres of irrigated green here and there near the coast. As it turns out, the vast majority of the green area is golf courses, they are scattered all over this part of the island. Our hotel is in one of the those patches surrounded by a golf course.

hapuna beach prince lobbyThe place is very large and open and is clearly an upscale hotel. The lobby is totally open to the outside. I didn't ask for one of the best places, but that is what AAA booked for me. This is probably a Japanese owned hotel based on the brochures in the lobby for many other "Prince" hotels all over Japan. I asked the desk clerk for the regular room rate of the "partial ocean view" room that we had booked. It was $360. However the desk clerk informed us that we had been upgraded two levels to a full ocean view room. If one just walked in a booked that room, it would have been $599 and it turns out that there are also suites that run for at least $1200. Since the retail cost of this room well exceeded our whole trip cost (four air legs, 8 days of a rental minivan and all the hotels), I clearly wasn't paying that although I'll bet that it is still over $200 a night.

hapuna balcony viewFor almost $600, it ought to be a nice room and it is. There is indeed an ocean view. I've stayed in some hotel rooms that are smaller than this one's bathroom. The pool is large and the water was just right. There is a jacuzzi next to the pool and the beach is next to that.

I went for a swim and then explored a little. There are two restaurants open for dinner. The more casual and less expensive one had main dishes for up to $34. Appetizers ran up through $22. The Hakoni Sushi and Steakhouse ran from $32 to $68. Being fundamentally cheap, we decided to pass. A few nights later, we discovered that between 18:00 and 20:00, there is a grill down by the pool that has a $6 hot dog.

Instead of eating at the hotel, we got in the minivan and drove about 5 miles up the coast to a very little burg called Kawaihae. This is just a harbor with a freight and fuel port and a few small businesses. We ate at a place called Tres Hombres. Two fish tacos ran $13, but they were very good and also quite substantial. I barely finished them and gave up on the beans and rice. There are two other restaurants in the "town", we'll try them later. Then we stopped at the little store nearby and bought some breakfast stuff (bagels and juice) and then went back to the hotel. The plan for tomorrow is to just lay around and not do much of anything and then go to see the Kilauea volcano on Tuesday.

The Kilauea volcano is just about as far from our hotel as it could be on this island. Visiting there will be an all day affair. Some other day were going to try to get up to the top of Mauna Kea where the major observatories are. Mauna Loa has has some observatories but they appear to be less accessible. Our our way back from Kawaihae, the clouds had cleared from Mauna Loa and we could see something on top glinting strongly in the setting sun. Mauna Kea is 13,796 feet above sea level. Mauna Loa is 13,679 feet tall.

Monday, 18 Aug 03, about 08:45

mauna loaThis is Mauna Loa as seen from our hotel room balcony the following morning. We can't see Mauna Kea as it is behind the hotel.

Sandy and I just came back from a stroll on the beach. This beach is regular silica sand about half a mile long wedged between lava rock cliffs on both sides. The south half of the beach is a state park, the north half is dominated by out hotel. The water is clear and warm. The air temperature got to about 86 F yesterday, it's 83 now and very humid. We stopped by the Ocean Terrace cafe to look over breakfast. They have a very complete breakfast buffet. So complete that it runs $22. We passed and I had an adequate breakfast of two bagels and a cup of orange-mango juice that we had purchased at the store yesterday.

point northI went snorkeling off this point just north of the hotel beach. The water was quite warm and very clear. There was virtually no swell. I first swam straight out toward what appeared to be a reef, but there was nothing but sand desert. As I discovered later, I didn't go out far enough to reach the rocks offshore. I didn't see fish number 1. Then I turned north toward the point in the photo. When I finally got to the rocks, there were lots of fish. The rocks were covered with various kinds and colors of brain coral but no coral fans. The fish were typically tropically colored. Most of them were parrot fish feeding on the coral. There were schools of fish ranging from 1/4" to 2" with each fish in the school being about the same size. All along the rocks, the water got clouded with fresh water. The Hawaiian word "hapuna" means fresh springs. There are plenty here. I could feel the temperature of the water changing as I swam into and out of the fresh water inclusions.

point southThe Hapuna Beach State Park is immediately south of the hotel. These rocks are part of the park. Next time, I'm going to walk down there and snorkel around that point.

our roomOur room is on the 7th floor, just the left of center in this picture. All the trees made it hard to find a spot to take the picture from.

Later Monday, 18 Aug 03, about 19:40

After the swim in the ocean, Sandy and I got into the car and took a drive to Waimea which about 12 miles away on the road across the north side of the island. As we climbed away from the western coast, the terrain was still very arid. However, up on the side of the Kohala mountains we could see a line where the brown grass turned green. When we got to Waimea, we had reached that line and lo and behold, the town was green and lush. It was drizzling lightly.

We found a nice place for lunch. I asked the waiter if he knew of anybody that arranged trips to Mauna Kea and he didn't know but suggested that we go to the Keck Foundation offices which were right next door. We walked over and the watched a couple of short videos on the construction of the Keck Telescopes. We also picked up some Keck propaganda.

We stopped at a store to pick up a little more food and asked an employee there if there was a coin laundry in Waimea. She said there wasn't. Waimea is a fair sized town and I was surprised. She said the closest one was in Honokaa, another 15 miles down the road. We decided to see what was there and drove that way. As we went, we entered sections of deep forest and it began to rain with a vengeance. By the time we got to Honokaa, it was dark and raining hard. We located the coin laundry and turned around. Back at Waimea, we stopped at a craft store. I asked on of the clerks if there was an Internet cafe nearby. She said no, the closest one was in.... Honokaa.

Internet access here is available but expensive. In the hotel, it is $10/day and you have to use the TV. The business support center in the hotel offers internet access at $1.75/5 minutes. It occurred to me that I had not left our itinerary with anybody so I composed a message to Katie, Richard and Grandpa Charlie describing our contact info. I was able to send it from the iBook in the business support center and to see that I didn't have any time critical mail waiting for me.

Sandy wanted more time on the net so we decided to drive to Kona where there were at least two internet cafe's located. I also wanted to stop at the Costco there to buy some tee shirts and underwear so that we wouldn't have to wash any clothes. As we were driving toward Kona, we saw a building up on the hill that looked like a Costco from a distance, but when we got there, it was a Home Depot in an industrial area. On a hunch, we drove around the area a little, and the Costco was indeed there as well. After we bought our stuff, Sandy wanted an ice cream bar from the hot dog stand there, so we had a romantic dinner at Costco.

We then found an internet cafe in downtown Kona. It was just a small room with four computers jammed behind a shaved ice stand however the rates were acceptable ($8/hr) and they had more or less real computers as opposed to a low resolution TV set. Sandy checked her email and we had a couple of messages from Katie. Things had apparently been going ok for her.

We got back to the hotel just after sunset. Tomorrow the plan is to do the island loop and tour the Kilauea volcano. It'll probably be a 200+ mile loop.

Tuesday, 19 Aug 03, about 21:00

We're back from volcano exploration. It was a 320 mile drive including all the driving around inside Hawaiian Volcanos National Park. The park also includes the Haleakala volcano on Maui. We left about 08:00 and took the highway 19, the north route, through Waimea, Honokaa and Hilo. After spending about six hours in the park, we took highway 11, the south loop, back to the hotel and got in well after dark.

The island if Hawai'i has a diverse climate, ranging from deep rain forest to arid desert. The northeast coast is the rain forest area. About at Hilo (roughly in the center of the east coast), it is still green but clearly dryer. As we traveled south, the terrain got a little dryer but clearly still got a lot of rain. Around the south end of the island, it was dry forest until we rounded the southern tip and the countryside became more arid again although it was raining on and off on us all the way through Kona on the west coast. Past Kona (roughly in the center of the west coast), the terrain turns to desert with volcanic rock and dry grass extending all the way back to our hotel which is on the northwest coast.

While we were at the park, we did the crater loop around the original caldera and craters. Kilauea really isn't a volcano in its own right. It is merely a vent on the side of Mauna Loa which is itself still active. Kilauea erupts from fissures that can open up anywhere, the original caldera has been quiet since 1982.

Pu'u 'O'o eruptingA new fissure, the Pu'u 'O'o crater, opened up about 10 miles east. This is the one that has been going on and off for the last 20 years. This is what it looks like when Pu'u 'O'o is erupting.

At this time Pu'u 'O'o is fairly inactive so that there isn't much eruptive action to see. We drove down the The Chain of Craters road to the coast to where there was any publically accessible volcanic activity at all. The actual fissure area of Pu'u 'O'o is off limits, but even when the main fissure is quiet, there is still some slowly flowing lava. At the end of the 20 mile road to the coast, the park rangers have blocked the road just short of where the lava flows have covered it. They set up a small telescope so that the larger flows on the cliffs below the fissure are visible but one must walk to see the flows close up. It was a quarter mile along the road and then about a mile cross country to where the moving lava currently is. This last mile is a rough walk.

Sandy on the way outAbout a half mile into the walk, we got to a fairly recent flow and the going got tougher as it was up and down the flows every step of the way because the low spots hadn't filled with dirt yet. One has to be careful at every step to avoid turning an ankle. Hiking shoes with good ankle support are highly recommended. Sandy and I just had walking shoes so we had to be very careful. As such, it was slow going. The "trail" (such as it is) is marked with yellow highway lane markers like the one that you can see at Sandy's foot. Sandy is looking pretty cheerful at this point.

red lava before a small flowAt then end of the trail, there were many spots where red lava could be seen in cracks in the more hardened lava. I took this picture of one such spot and then walked away to photograph another feature. While I was off wandering around, I heard a dull pop sound coming from where I was before. I figured that it was one of the methane bursts that we had been warned about.

red lava after the flowI walked back and found that the crack in the flow that I had photographed before had bulged out and flowed even more. The new surfaces created by the flows cool to a silver/black color immediately, but a tinge of red can still be seen through the thin hardened crust.

It was hot out there. Even though a stiff wind was blowing off the ocean, the wind was blowing across the new flows and was significantly heated so it felt like it was coming out of a furnace. I could also feel the heat through my shoes so I couldn't stand on the newer flows too long. I'd have to move to the older, cooler stuff so that my shoes could cool down. The newer flows have a silver sheen to them. The older stuff is jet black. The very old stuff is weathered brown and has brown sand on it.

rope lavaAll this lava is called pahoehoe, commonly known as rope lava, because it sometimes forms into "ropes." This is an older flow. A section of a much older weathered flow can be seen in the upper left.

George on the way backPart way back, Sandy took my picture. I was hot and sweaty, but I was feeling pretty good.

Sandy on the way backBy the time that we had returned to the approximate location of the first photo of Sandy, the heat and exertion of the walk had taken its toll. She is not a happy camper here. We went through a 1.5 liter bottle of water on this walk and it wasn't enough. When we got back to the parking area, we bought another bottle and chugged much of that.

Wednesday, 20 Aug 03, about 16:00

kohala leeward coastAfter our long trip yesterday, we slept in today. About mid morning, I went out to snorkel off the rocks at the south end of the beach. I didn't stay out long. There was lots of surge and swell and funny currents that kept pushing me places I didn't want to go. There was also nobody else there so if I had gotten into trouble, there would have been nobody to help. I turned around after 100 yards or so and came back in. About 1/3 the way up the beach, there were some rocks maybe 50 yards off shore that had collected some other snorkelers so I went out to see what was there. The rocks just broke the surface and had collected some coral and a few fish. However as I was coming around the other side, a small sea turtle rose from the rocks and swam off. I was fighting the swell there too so I got tired quickly and came back in. Maybe I'll try snorkeling again another day when the conditions are better.

About 11:00 or so, we took off on a short drive up highway 270 on the Kohala district coast to the Pololu Overlook which is the end of the road. The entire leeward (west) side of the island looks much like this, except that there is more vegetation here than most other regions to the south. The wind was fairly strong as evidenced by the whitecaps in the ocean. Just a mile or so up the road, everything turned green very suddenly. The difference happened in just a few hundred yards. We had turned the corner to the windward side. As we made our way east across the northern tip of Hawai'i, the vegetation got thicker and greener as we went. By the time we got another 10 miles to the end of the road, we were in a rain forest.

pololu overlookAt the end of the road is the Pololu Valley Overlook. Pololu valley ends in a black sand beach just before several miles of cliffs and dense forest. During times long past, the population of this area was very large, 50,000 or so because of the excellent soil and abundant rain. The population declined over the years until a tsunami drove most of the remaining people out and they moved to higher ground. We drove back to Hawi Town and turned south on highway 250. This leads over the Kohala Mountains to Waimea.

view from the Kohala MountainsAs mountain roads go, this one was pretty good with long straight sections. The peak of the road was at 3564 feet elevation and by that time, we were in the clouds. We had come down about 500 feet and we got just below the clouds. The view from there was back toward our hotel which is just about in the middle of this photo. At Waimea, we had a late lunch (at about 15:00) and then drove back 12 miles or so to the hotel to relax.

Thursday, 21 Aug 03, about 14:30

Today was a low intensity day. We slept in and then drove down to Kona to get some gasoline ($2/gal at Costco, the cheapest on the island) shop for tourist type stuff at Hilo Hatties (Katie's recommendation) and WalMart. We then drove the 35 miles back to the hotel to relax for the rest of the day.

We purchased our first meal at the hotel for dinner. Since we had a $25 credit for meals, we figured that we'd burn it. Sandy's cheeseburger was $8.50, my Cobb salad was $13 and Sandy's drink was $8.75. This was a little much even for a light much for the hotel food.

Friday, 22 Aug 03, about 08:45

I got up at sunrise today to snorkel. I had observed on previous days that conditions in the early morning tended to be better than later in the day. I went off the north rocks this time. The Pacific was peaceful this morning. There was no swell or surge. I could swim and over right next to the rocks without getting pushed anywhere. I didn't stay out as long as I had intended because my hip started to hurt again. Sometime during or immediately after my last abortive snorkel expedition, I had pulled a muscle across the back of my left hip. It hurt pretty bad Wednesday and got better on Thursday. I thought it was ok this morning, but I'm not quite 100% so I though better of pushing it out in the ocean with no help around.

We've abandoned all hope of getting to Mauna Kea. There is a rumor that there is somebody on the island that takes groups to the top but we couldn't find hard evidence of their existence. I stopped by a tour promoter in Kona and asked and he fed me a line about it and then offered a "deep discount" from a price sheet that he wouldn't show us. Then we found that to get that "discount" we'd have to sit through a time-share marketing pitch. I dropped that guy like a hot rock.

Today was a kick back day. We did nothing but eat and sleep almost all day. At dinner time, we drove up to Kawaihae again and stopped at the Cafe' Pesto. The food was reasonably priced and very good. I was served the best Caesar salad that I have ever had. Then we stopped by an art gallery next door (way too expensive but nice). Another stop at the little store/deli upstairs was for supplies and then it was back to the hotel for the evening.

After a swim at sunset we came back to the room to find that housekeeping had been there to turn the bed. In the process, they moved the bathroom trash can back to where they like to leave it. Twice a day, Sandy moves it where she wants it. Twice a day housekeeping moves it back. I don't think that Sandy is going to win this war.

Saturday, 23 Aug 03, about 09:30

This our last full day here, our flight out leaves about noon tomorrow. Overall, this has been a very nice place. It's way out in the boondocks and one has to drive at least 5 miles to get anywhere else, but at least its quiet. The weather has been clear the whole week if not a little warm and humid during the day. There are essentially zero bothersome bugs.

Saturday, 23 Aug 03, about 14:00

puukohola heiauWe just relaxed until lunchtime. This time, we drove back to Kawaihae for a hot dog and a shaved ice at the little stand next to the store. The shaved ice was huge, as much as I could handle. On the way back, Sandy requested a stop to see a pile of rock that was near the road. It turns out that this rock pile is one of the most revered sites in Hawai'i. This is where King Kamehameha I built Pu'ukohola Heiau (The Temple on the Hill of the Whale) in 1790. It was here that he defeated his last major rival on the island of Hawai'i. Over the 20 years he either defeated all the remaining chiefs or negotiated peace and he became king of the entire island chain. We are not allowed to go inside, that is reserved for native Hawaiian ritual ceremonies. The upper structure is Pu'ukohola Heiau itself. The low structure is an older temple.

Saturday, 23 Aug 03, about 21:40

Saturday nights are movie time by the pool. This week Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was playing starting at 19:00. Sandy and I went down to the Beach Bar by the pool and staked out a table near the screen and ordered cheeseburgers for dinner and watched the movie.

Tomorrow we travel home. Our flight leaves sometime after noon. Its been a relaxing time. In a way, I want to stay, but in another way I want to go home to see my family. There is NO WAY that I want to go back to work....

Sunday, 24 Aug 03, about 21:00 PDT

I sitting in seat 3C on ATA flight 720 from Honolulu to LAX. We're about halfway back to LA. This was the first airline meal (some kind of pasta with a white sauce) that I can say was any good, actually it was quite good.

We had got to the Kona airport fairly early and it was good that we did. First, we went through the Agricultural X-ray check, then we stood in line to check in and get our boarding passes. However, the check in agent couldn't check our bags through directly. We had to stand in another line, in the sun, to get our bags screened. Then we had to wait there until the bags cleared. Then we had to stand in another line to get or carry-on stuff, our persons screened and our ID checked. Everything had to come out of our pockets, we had to take our shoes off and then everything went through another X-ray machine. We went through the incredibly sensitive metal detector. At boarding time, it was another line to check ID again and then we got directed to the TSA again. With our pockets emptied again and our shoes off, the went through each compartment of each bag, camera case, computer case and each pocket of our carry-on luggage. We got individually screened with a wand and then sent to wait in ANOTHER line at the gate. After they took our boarding passes, we were finally allowed in the plane.

At Honolulu, it wasn't nearly so much hassle because we never left the secure area and our bags were checked through to LAX. We'll see if they get there with us. However, when we got the gate, there was no gate agent there. We needed to convert our travel vouchers to boarding passes. When the agents finally arrived, they worked so slowly that I was unsure that we were going to get boarding passes and we were fourth in a long line. They finally did check us in, and then they said that we would be boarding in 5 minutes, fully 45 minutes before the schedule departure time. We needed to get something to eat so we just left the gate area and got some grab. By the time that we got back, they were just starting to pre-board. So much for 5 minutes....

We'll be getting home about 01:00 Monday so I'll be looking and feeling my best when I show up at work at 08:00 Monday morning.

It's been a very good trip, no major hassles or problems (other than provided at no extra charge by the TSA) and unlike returning from most vacations I can say that I'm in better shape now than when I left.

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© 2003-2005 George Schreyer
Created Aug 16, 2001
Last Updated January 30, 2005