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Originally published at chair-in-the-sky.com. You can comment here or there.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is almost overwhelmingly vast. I’ve been several times, and these are my tips to help ensure you get the most out of your visit.

If you’re a hiker, there are over 150 miles of trails you can enjoy. If not, there are still several hours worth of driving and other activities.

At present, you can only see lava by helicopter. The current lava flow is actually outside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

  1. Don’t forget the basics. Sunscreen, hat, water. Camera. On the sunscreen, even if you’re not hiking, that few minutes out of the car here and there add up over time. Read the rest of this entry Ľ )
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Kilauea, of course.

Except for being resized, these are straight out of camera. Taken in 2010. These were taken with a wide-angle (28mm) lens half a minute apart.

close volcano

water over volcano

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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Taken Nov 22, 2011. I drove as far south as one could go south from Pahoa, which is south of Hilo on the big island of Hawai’i. The road ends near Kalapana, then there’s a dirt road that other cars were going on, so I went too. (Never a great idea.)

The “dirt” road turns out to have been a paved road that lava flowed over. A few hundred feet back, there’s a bit of road again, leading out to a parking lot ending in a guard shack with a bunch of scary signs. I parked there and got out, went to the guard shack. He made sure I knew where the safe boundaries were and that I had water, sunscreen, and a hat.

Walking in the sun on a Hawai’ian day is brutal enough, but the black lava just soaks up heat. As if that weren’t enough, you’re not actually that far above the actual real hot lava flows that are probably radiating even more heat.

Despite my SPF 85 haole basting sauce, I managed to get a sunburn.

P1110614

Oh, and I’d been very close, only a few hundred feet away, the year before. Here’s what the view looked like from offshore back on Nov 23, 2010:

L1000511

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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I thought I’d bring up some small Hawaii businesses I’ve run across on my two trips to the big island. The first two you can only enjoy from the island, but the rest you can enjoy almost anywhere.

First, two tour companies.

  1. Lava Ocean Adventures does ocean tours to the volcano (and other points out of Hilo). It was an awesome experience last year. (This year, lava wasn’t flowing when I was there, so I skipped it.)
  2. Vavoom Volcano Tours does the obvious volcano tours, but also can customize day tours. Lori’s great.

Food companies.

  1. Volcano Winery is Hawaii’s only full-grape wine producer. There are a couple of other companies on Maui that make pineapple wine, etc., but this company grows grapes. They do offer two blended wines, though. They are less than a mile from the entrance to Volcanoes National park, so the name is no exaggeration. I tried four of their wines, including two that aren’t on their site. I’m not a wine person, but they seemed decent. The Mac Nut Honey wine (which has a champagne yeast, iirc) is very light and delicate.
  2. Hilo Coffee Mill is one of the non-Kona coffee growing regions of Hawaii, and one of three on the big island (the other being Kona, which includes both North Kona and South Kona, and then there’s Ka’u, which is east of Kona and west of Kilauea). Because of the rainfall, it’s the mildest coffee, but it’s also significantly less expensive than the premium Kona coffees. (Example: Kona coffee at Peet’s, which is a very nice select grade, runs $50 per pound. Hilo Coffee Mills’s coffee runs $29.) I have had some truly awful roadside Kona coffee (that I needed to cut with TJ’s coffee to improve it), so I can say for sure that not all Kona coffee is created equal. In essence, Hilo coffee is shade-grown simply because of the frequent cloud cover. Because of the difficulty transporting and logistics surrounding manure and compost from other farms in a high-rainfall area, this is not an organically-grown coffee if that’s important to you, but they do not use pesticides in growing, just non-organic fertilizers. I am incredibly impressed with their pineapple coffee. Usually, flavored coffees are an excuse to use up the worst beans, but that’s not true in this case. It’s a subtler flavor than you’d expect, and a nice addition to the coffee. Really. None of their coffees are bitter, so if you like coffee but not bitter, you might give it a try. Our pound of the pineapple coffee is almost gone. Sniff.
  3. Aunt Phyllis’s Macadamia Nut Butter with Macadamia Nut Honey. Three ingredients: mac nuts, mac nut honey, and sea salt. This stuff is incredibly addictive and I am now out. I will be getting more in a few weeks. They do mail order (it’s $10 a jar plus shipping), but don’t have a web site set up. If you want contact info, let me know.
  4. Wao Kele honey (link is to a story and video about them, but they don’t have a web site) makes great honey. I do have a PO Box for them off their labels if anyone’s interested. The lehua honey is particularly nice.

Other.

My favorite discovery by far is the funny and gregarious guy who runs Filthy Farmgirl Soap at the Hilo farmer’s market. He definitely has great marketing and labels. Product names range from the extremely tacky to the merely quirky, each with its own unique label and ingredients. He advertises “no yucky stuff” and means it. Most of the soaps are vegan; a few are not (e.g., the Goat’s Milk Chai soap we picked up for my mother-in-law). I picked up some of the Filthy Geek (aka Hyper Mocha Minx) soap (chocolate and fair trade coffee) for ourselves. Unlike most of the other small businesses listed in this post, he’s got a shopping cart and takes PayPal.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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Stuff to do and see:

1) Finish packing (ugh)
2) Farmer’s market (6 am – 4 pm), specifically for jam/honey guy and soap guy
6) Imiloa (9-5, $17.50, but this is the most interesting of the museums  for me)
7) Place that sells unrefined Hawaiian salt near the farmer’s market
8) Mokupapapa Discovery Center (which is awesome and also free)
9) Hakalau bay (this actually is most relevant to my book, so it’s the most likely to get done)

After most everything closed, I still had hours to kill, so I saw Arthur Christmas. Not bad, not great, but enjoyable. I skipped dinner, likely a mistake, but I wasn’t hungry. I still have cashews. Everything else is checked. With the honey, jam, wine, coffee, etc., my new lighter bag came near 50#. I thought it was heavy.

Halakau bay was awesome in its way. I hope some of the pictures look good.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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Stuff to do and see:

1) Finish packing (ugh)
2) Farmer’s market (6 am – 4 pm), specifically for jam/honey guy and soap guy
3) Zoo, specifically Namaste’s feeding at 3:30 (zoo’s open from 9-4, free)
4) Pacific Tsunami Museum (9-4:15, $8)
5) Lyman museum (10-4:30, $10)
6) Imiloa (9-5, $17.50, but this is the most interesting of the museums  for me)
7) Place that sells unrefined Hawaiian salt near the farmer’s market
8) Mokupapapa Discovery Center (which is awesome and also free)
9) Hakalau bay (this actually is most relevant to my book, so it’s the most likely to get done)
10) World Botanical Gardens (near Hakalau, $13)

Except for the zoo and the beach, all are within a few blocks of each other. Since my plane doesn’t leave until late, I could, in theory, manage several of these.

I’m guessing I’ll get the following done: 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9; some of them are only a few minutes and are clumped together.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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First, a bit left over from Monday: I went out to Hilo Bay Cafe, which is a more high-falutin’ place than the name suggests, and had an awesome beef short rib dinner. Now, I’m not normally a beef person (except for hamburgers) and I generally don’t like short ribs at all because they are too tough. This was grass-fed beef and super-tender. I’d been there on my previous trip and they were really great to work with to find food I could eat, plus they specialize in local and organic. Considering that (and the price of food generally on the island), it was quite reasonable.

This morning, I went first to Volcano winery. As the name indicates, it’s up by the entrance to Volcanoes National Park, and it’s literally at the end of the road past the golf course. ¬†I tasted several of their wines, but I’m not a wine drinker. I’d heard their wines were sweet, but they didn’t seem particularly sweet compared to other wines I’ve tried. So I picked one for Thanksgiving. They do have a macadamia nut honey wine that is very delicate — it reminds me a lot of an elderflower cordial that I’ve tried in the past.

After that, I went to Hilo Coffee Mill, which has coffee from several regions around the big island, and even coffee from other Hawaiian islands. They do roasting for a number of growers, and they gave me a little tour. I had to dodge a few chickens (they’ve got about 200, so if you’re ever in Hilo looking for super-fresh eggs, you might want to try there first).

I tried several of their coffees. As they put it, they get so much rainfall that their coffee is milder than on the Kona side, which is far drier — for the simple reason that soil chemicals tend to get washed away. They do supplement the soil, and they’re not an organic farm as a result, but that’s the nature of working with what you’ve got sometimes.

There are coffee plants on the east side of the island that are 100 to 150 years old; it’s a longer-established coffee-growing region than Kona.

What surprised me most, though, was their pineapple coffee. It doesn’t scream “bad coffee hidden by horrific fruit flavoring” — no, it’s good coffee with a delicate lilt of pineapple, and it seemed to me to work very well. So I got some.

At that point it was around noon. I decided to head south past Pahoa (a town I keep going through) and see how far south one could actually drive. About a mile out of Kalapana, the road forks, and I kept going on highway 130, which ended abruptly. There’d been signs earlier that visiting hours for the lava flow were 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Now that I knew where the entrance was, I had about an hour to kill, so I went and got lunch, then headed back.

At the end of the road, there were scary signs that said, “Restricted Access – Authorized Personnel Only.” So I parked just before that and started walking, but a woman pulled over in a car and said I could drive in anyway. So I did, wondering if I were negating my rental agreement in doing so. I drove about a mile in (over two sections of relatively recent lava flows and regular old road between them) and parked where the security people told me to. The woman said, “Oh, because it’s between 2 and 10, you’re authorized.” Nice to know.

Then I set out to walk to the end of where they let you walk, which is about 4/10 of a mile down the road, crossing several flows that seem at most a few years old, houses (still inhabited) dotting either side of the road. Of course, yards are problematic.

It was brutally hot. The wind was behind me, so I didn’t feel it on my face, and it was full sun, I had SPF 85 on, and a liter of water, my camera bag, and my purse. I felt like a camel. I managed to get up onto the end of the road where the lava flow was and look out; I didn’t see any actual lava activity, but they said it was about six miles from where I stood. Then one of the women who worked there said the flow I was standing on dated from January.

I was thinking as I walked it that it seemed that this spot of land was in fact the very land I was photographing last year from the water’s edge. Some of the details seemed familiar, though of course the perspective was radically different. Another staffer said they’d lost a mile and a half of road in the last year — just eaten up by lava.

So, yes, I was basically standing near the hot melty stuff I photographed last year.

New lava flows are shiny and glassy. I tried to capture that in photos, but didn’t capture it last year and not sure I did this year, either. It turns out that silicon is part of the flow, and it rises to the surface as the lava is cooling (being less dense than some of the other minerals), so it gives the freshest lava a very cool sheen. I’d seen that on the black sand beach last year but hadn’t known the reason. I took some photos; we’ll see how they turn out.

Because silicon isn’t super-hard, though, that layer wears off fairly quickly (over 2-5 years), and then lava takes on the more familiar matte appearance.

On the walk back, I had the breeze in my face, but it was still pretty brutal. At the end, I was hot, I was tired, and I kind of collapsed into the car, turned on the air conditioning, and drank some extra water until I felt unshaky enough to drive.

After that, not much. I missed Namaste’s feeding again, darn it, so I’ll just have to go tomorrow. I’m reserving tomorrow for Hilo town stuff: the zoo, the planetarium, the farmer’s market, and a store I wanted to visit.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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I slept in late (really, I slept 8 hours, I just got to sleep late) and got up and had the same old thing at Ken’s Pancakes. For breakfast, I’m a creature of habit.

I’d planned to go to Akaka falls and the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Garden on Tuesday, but the high bright overcast this morning meant rain wasn’t likely. After the last couple of days, that made for welcome weather prospects, so I headed north to the HTBG, went in and bought my admission and water (knowing there weren’t such facilities at Akaka), then headed to Akaka first.

Last year, I simply couldn’t manage the pathway. It’s 56 steps down, some nasty paths (which are paved at least), and about 2/10 of a mile to the falls proper via the shorter route. The longer route also visits another, smaller fall, but it seemed to have more stairs, so I chickened out on that one.

I managed it without difficulty. Further, last year, if I had done it, I couldn’t have done any other major walking immediately afterward like I did this year, when I walked all two miles of the paths (save for about 100′ where the handrailing for the stairs was underneath significant amounts of overgrown plants). Last year, I walked about 2/3 of the paths and it took me five hours because I was so tired and in so much pain. I wasn’t striving for time (since the point of going was enjoying the scenery, sitting in front of the falls, taking photos of cool plants, etc.), but it took me just under 2-1/2 hours this time. HTBG’s literature says that an average complete visit is around two hours. So I’m not exceptionally slow any more, which is great.

As a photographer, one of the problems of my lack of stamina has caused is that my hands shake when I’m that exhausted, and obviously that means I blow more photos. Much less of that this year.

However, the real point of going to HTBG is the same as last year: Isle of Pearls is set in an alternate Polynesia, and this is the closest thing I have to walking through some real rain forest. It’s not all native plants, granted, but the variety (not to mention size) is stunning. I noticed details that I hadn’t noticed before: how the cliffs are pummeled away at the water line, the difference between the water sounds and the wind sounds, etc.

From last year’s trip, I used a lot of details in other work I’ve done since, but IoP still needs a full re-write and I now feel ready to tackle it.

Now I just need to figure out what to do with the rest of my day; it’s only six in the evening. Hilo being Hilo, that basically means the tourist stuff is over for the day, but there’s still other kinds of adventures like dinner.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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Woke up fairly early and decided to venture forth for breakfast. Last time, I found a cheap place to eat, but their food quality wasn’t so hot, so I decided to try some place different this time.

When I asked about the farmer’s market at the airport, the guy said to turn left at Ken’s Pancakes. Now, as a celiac, I notice pancake houses like never, but this place is an institution, it’s open 24 hours a day (except a few days a year), and it’s close to where I’m staying. Fine.

They had things I could eat, so I had a nice breakfast of corned beef hash, eggs, hash browns (I know, seems redundant, right?), pineapple and coffee. Not bad.

On my flight over, I’d struck up a conversation with a woman who works at Starbucks, and she told me about some of the non-Kona growing regions of coffee on the big island, so I decided to check them out. Essentially, I’d made a pact that I wasn’t going to the west side of the island. Not not not. All the tourist stuff is there, but there’s so much to see on the east side, I’d spend all my time driving around again like last year. Boo.

So one of them was in Hilo, so they were on the way to the volcano. I accidentally passed the place, so I kept going to Volcanos National Park, paid the $10 to get in, and then drove to the steam vent lookout. The area between the parking and the rim is covered with molasses grass, and last year it smelled strongly of sulfur and molasses together (yes, that is weird). This year, though, the molasses grass was mid-thigh height, and the rain minimized the sulfur smell where the dampness made the molasses super-strong. Very neat. I got a half-decent picture of a lehua blossom on an ohi’a tree, so I’ll post that when I get a chance.

It was too wet for me to feel safe going to the Thurston lava tube again, plus I went last year. Just as I was pulling into the Kilauea Iki lookout, the sky opened up, so I continued south along chain of craters road.

You don’t realize how big even a relatively short shield volcano like Kilauea is until you drive the whole thing: it’s about 20 miles from the summit to the shore. ¬†Shield volcanoes are deceptively large, like super-big cow pies that make up a big chunk of a large island.

I pulled out several places to take pictures of the destruction one lava flow or another caused, but the sheer vastness of the place was overwhelming, and I was actually volcanoed out  (which happens like never) before I was done for the day.

On my way back, I stopped at the coffee place, but it turns out they were closed on Sunday all along. I licked my wounds and went to the Mauna Loa macadamia nut farm, which I hadn’t visited on my last trip. There’s 2500 acres of mac nuts, and they are separated by very tall and very narrow Norfolk Island pines. The 2500 acres contain about 250,000 mac nut trees, apparently.

I don’t know what I was expecting — more, maybe? They had a little Maui Divers jewelry store in the shop, and the woman recognized the gold coral necklace I was wearing as one of theirs (since they’re the only purveyors of gold coral). Also, they told me that the pink coral they have, they will not be getting more of it, so if you like it, go pick some up. I’m not that into the pink, personally, so I just filed it away. I will say they take their ecology very seriously, and if they aren’t harvesting pink any more, that’s because there’s either an issue of ecology or economy.

Anyhow, I walked out with the requested macadamia nuts, as well as a small can of the kona coffee-covered ones Just For Me ™, which I have half enjoyed.

For dinner, I went downtown to another place, Café Pesto, which is mostly a pizza and pasta joint, but they do serve local fish and stuff. The waiter knew exactly what I needed when I asked about flour content, got me my ahi just right and all gluten-free. Yay.

I wasn’t tired, but it was wet and dark, so I decided to go to the movies. I really wanted to see the new Clooney flick that takes place on Hawaii, but it’s not showing here. Instead, I went to see Twilight 4 of 5, which was better than I’d feared (given the general bad ratings it’s gotten) and reminded me how much there was in that last volume of the series. They got Carter Burwell back for composer, and this time, they nailed the ending — which is pretty hard to do in the middle of a book.

I’m down to 5% battery on my iPad, so I’m going to call it a night and post this.

Originally published at deirdre.net. You can comment here or there.

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Just hold your fingers out in front of the volcano to warm up:

Kilauea at Dawn
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Lori making an offering to Pele on the edge of Kilauea's summit crater. The plume is coming out of Halemaumau crater.

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This may be my favorite of the Kilauea pictures for the following reasons:

1) moon hid partly by the steam
2) fresh lava skittering across the water
3) you can see the cracks in the fresh flow
4) directly above (and behind) the fresh flow, you can see green (trees in this case)
5) fire backlighting some of the clouds

For 3 & 4, you'd probably need to look at original size -- sadly, it's a fairly noisy picture because of the ISO -- it was significantly darker than the picture makes it appear.

Kilauea At Dawn
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Miles driven: 739
Volcanos seen: 5
Lava flows seen: 1
Lava tubes walked through: 1
Brimstone hair days: 1
Vog emissions seen: 1 major, several minor
Maximum elevation: 6632 feet (Saddle road)
Minimum elevation: -108 feet (submarine)
One-lane roads driven on: 6
One-lane unpaved roads driven on: 2
Zebras seen: 1
Goats standing on mounds: 1
Mong(ooses|eese) seen: 4
Green turtles seen: 1
Hawaiian boars petted: 2
Tallest trees seen: I don't know, but they were huge.
Tallest waterfall seen: 442 feet (sadly, it was too dark to get a good photo)

Heiaus (temples) visited: Several on two different sites, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau and Pu'ukohala Heiau. The fact that there were multiple heiaus on the same site raises questions I will read more about.

I'm thankful I finally got the time and opportunity to study more about the culture and context of one of America's native peoples. No matter how much you read, it's easier to understand in location.
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So, this has been fun and exhausting, and I have 20 mosquito bites on my right arm, but I'm actually not here on vacation.

I keep setting my work in Hawaii or a fictional Polynesia, and I needed some specific location details for a novel I'm revising. Up until now, only a couple of key scenes were in Hilo (and, for logistics reasons, had to be there), but I lacked a sense of the place.

Kilauea dominates life in southeastern Hawaii in all kinds of subtle ways, and I feel the volcanoes are a much bigger day-to-day influence than on other islands I've visited.

The tour I went on today, the lady running it has a house over a lava tube. Just ponder that for a moment....

Anyhow, I'm exhausted and need to sleep....

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