Today we were anchored off the coast of Kona on the west side of the Big Island of Hawai’i. Our day started very early with breakfast at the Aloha Cafe buffet. We then took a tender ship to the port in Kailua-Kona to meet our tour. Sara was fascinated by the tendering process and getting aboard a lifeboat.
Our excursion was centered around a visit to the Kahuku Unit of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. This part of the park is close to the southern tip of the island and located on Moana Loa. Our guide, driver, and naturalist today was Ken who has been living on the Big Island for the past 15 years.
On the way down the western coast to our first stop, Ken told us a lot about the district of Kona. Our drive started out in the resort area and moved to more outlying areas. With this transition we saw significant vegetation changes. The resort area is artificially lush due to landscaping and irrigation systems.
Outside of town, the landscape was filled with lava flows that Ken said looked like a “parking lot gone wrong.”
He told us about “magic beaches” on the Big Island. These beaches change color between white and black sand. When the tide goes out it takes the white sand with it revealing black volcanic sand and rocks beneath. When the tide comes back in it delivers the white sand back on the beach and covers the black sand.
Kona is well known throughout the world for its coffee. Coffee was introduced to Kona in 1828. Today the cheapest you can find 100% Kona coffee on the Big Island is $27 per pound, but it can cost up to $95 per pound. It’s unique taste comes from the slightly acidic soil in the district. In order to be classified as “Kona Coffee,” it has to be grown and processed completely in Kona.
Our first stop was at the Bay View Farms in Honaunau-Kona, which is a coffee farm.
They had an adorable, long-haired chihuahua named Honey Girl who followed us around during our visit. In addition to coffee, they also had mango, plumeria (produces Hawaiian wedding flower), and avocado trees on the farm.
Ken talked to us about the steps to grow and process coffee beans as we toured the farm. He also told us that the coffee “bean” is actually a fruit, which I did not know, and that it takes 4,000 beans to make a pound of coffee.
Ken was very knowledgeable about coffee because he and his uncle have a plantation in Puna on the east side of the island with 2,000 coffee trees. They actually sell their coffee beans to the Hilo Coffee Mill that we visited yesterday and are the estate for their “Puna” coffee.
After the tour, we were able to sample both medium and dark roasted Kona coffee while taking in some spectacular views of Kealakekua bay. Unlike the Maui coffee yesterday, I vastly preferred the dark roast today. Kate tried the dark, medium, and dark decaf roasts. The decaf was her favorite. Sara tried the dark decaf, but she said that she hated it (not surprising).
Our next stop was at the nearby Saint Benedict Painted Church. Upon arrival we received a briefing from Kathy, who is the caretaker. The building is dedicated to Father Damien who dedicated the last 25 years of his life to caring for lepers in Hawaii. It was originally built by the coast in 1845 as Saint Francis Regents Church, but was taken down and rebuilt in its present location at much higher elevation by Father Benedict in 1901.
Benedict decided to paint murals on the inside of the building as a marketing tool to get people into the church so he could teach them the Bible. There are three murals on each side. The left side is called “The Good Life,” and includes murals such as one depicting the temptation of Jesus. The right side is called “Understanding Death” and includes murals such as one depicting hell. These murals were painted using paints with plant based dyes, because there were only three house paint colors at the time. All of them are in pretty good condition, except that the mural depicting hell is melting. I found this pretty ironic.
On the outside of the building is a graveyard with graves above the ground due to the lava.
There is also a statue for Saint Damien. From the church, we got back on the highway toward Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
Along the way we saw lots of ‘ohi’a lehuna trees that were dying due to a fungal infection. This was discovered eight years ago and is referred to “rapid ‘ohi’a death.” The infection doesn’t get killed off because it never freezes on most of Hawai’i.
In preparation for arriving at the park, Ken explained about the two types of volcanoes in the world:
*Strato – Example would be Mt St. Helens. These are come shapes mountains with high density pyroclastic eruptions. These eruptions last up to a day and wipe out everything in their path.
*Shield – Examples would be Kilauea and Moana Loa. These are dome shaped mountains that ooze lava during eruptions to release pressure. The 2018 eruptions on Kilauea lasted 104 says and the previous major eruptions on Kilauea lasted for 10 years.
Just before arriving at the park, we passed South Point, which is the southernmost part of the island, of the state of Hawaii, and of the U.S. This point is part of the southern slope of Moana Loa. Recently Moana Loa has been showing signs of unrest and has just been upgraded to yellow alert. It last erupted in 1984.
We arrived at the Kahuku Unit of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, also on the slopes of Moana Loa. This part of the park only receives about 4,000 visitors per year compared to the two million that visit Kilauea where we were yesterday.
We stopped briefly at the Visitor’s Center where the girls got stamps in their National Parks Passports and we got our shoes cleaned to remove any potentially invasive species before proceeding further into the park.
Our destination was two parts of the Pu’u o Lokuana Trail.
The first of these was an 1868 lava flow. This flow was still very desert-like with only ‘ohi’a trees and some small shoots of sword ferns.
The landscape was black and broken lava rock with a small lava tube. We spent about 20 minutes exploring this area, and it was awesome.
These lava flows are unlike anything I’ve seen anywhere else in my travels, and one of the reasons I love the Big Island and Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park so much.
The second area was a cinder cone that was created by a lava flow and fountain from the early 1800s. Unlike the 1868 flow, this cone was completely covered with grasses, sword ferns, and ‘ohi’a trees. The additional 50 years has given time for the ‘ohi’a trees to more fully break up the lava and allow things to grow.
Another big difference was that the lava in this area was reddish in color due to a greater concentration of iron in the flow. We were able to see this because for many years this land was owned by a company who used the cone for excavation. This has left a kind of quarry in the cone where the reddish lava is clearly visible. About 15 years ago this land was donated to the National Park, and that was the beginning of the Kahuku Unit.
We hiked all the way to the top of the cinder cone and the views were incredible. On the northern side you could see further up the massive Moana Loa and on the southern side you could see all the way to the ocean. The grass on the top of the cinder cone was so thick, it felt like a sponge. The ‘ohi’a trees at the base of the cone were also much bigger than what we had seen in the 1868 flow and at Kilauea yesterday. Ken said that ‘ohi’a trees can grow up to 85ft tall.
After finishing the hike down the other side of the cinder cone, we boarded the van for our next stop. Having passed the South Point, we were now traveling up the east side of the island. Ken explained that the ocean on the east side of the island is much rougher than the west, and the white caps were very visible from the highway.
Speaking of highways, Ken explained that there were no paved roads on the Big Island before WWII. During the war, 94 small bases were built on the island and the highway was constructed to connect the bases. After the war, many of the military bases became county parks. There is still one military base on the Big Island on Mauna Loa.
Our next stop was at the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach State Park. This beach was the first black sand beach I’ve ever visited, and it was awesome.
We first had lunch at the picnic shelter, and spent time walking up and down the beach. Right I the middle of the beach we were able to see several Green Sea Turtles who were warming themselves in the sand.
Ken told us that some of the turtles can weigh up to 300 lbs. This beach was the highlight of the day for me.
Our final stop was the Punalu’u Bake Shop just down the road from the beach. They specialize in sweetbread and lilikoi which are Portuguese donuts. We were able to try samples of the traditional (yellow), taro (purple) and guava (pink) sweetbreads. My favorite was the traditional but Olivia, Kate, and Sara all preferred the taro.
After sampling the sweetbread, we spent some time out back in their beautiful plant and flower garden. They had blue ginger, plumeria, lobster claw haliconia, coffee trees, hibiscus, and ti plants among many others.
It was a long drive back to the port and Ken told stories from the legends of the Hawaiian people. I was sitting up front, and Ken and I spent a fair amount of time talking about running and hiking.
Back in Kailua-Kona, we did a little bit of shopping, and Olivia and I had some Kona Coffee, before boarding the tender ship back to the Pride of America.
After getting cleaned up, we had dinner again in the Liberty Dining Room before dropping Sara off at the Splash Academy Kids Club. While Sara was at kids club, Olivia, Kate and I went to another magic show by Jason Andrews, and it was even more impressive than the show yesterday.
We picked up Sara at 10pm and then had a little snack in the Aloha Cafe before turning in for the evening. Tomorrow we should arrive in Kauai.