Our cruise had an itinerary change. Several months before we sailed we were notified that we wouldn’t be able to go to Kona because of the Ironman World Championship. At first I was upset — I mean, what else could possibly happen with this trip?!? In the end, the change was actually a good thing, because it allowed us to see things we never would have otherwise, like lava at night!
We arrived in Hilo on a beautiful, picture perfect morning, with hardly a cloud in the sky and a stunning view of Mauna Kea (which many never see).
We had decided to do a small group excursion called “Land of Frozen Fire” to the Puna District of the Big Island. This tour took us to the area most heavily impacted by the 2018 Kilauea eruption.
The most fascinating thing about the tour was how arbitrary the lava was. We drove past (but not through) the Leilani Estates neighborhood, made famous in 2018 when fissures erupted and lava flowed through the neighborhood. Here’s a link to a Wiki article about what happened in the neighborhood during the eruption: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leilani_Estates,_Hawaii
Driving through lush rainforest with the coast on one side, we suddenly came upon a desolate, craggy landscape with a road built right over the top. This “Frozen Fire” is what was left behind when the lava flow cooled and hardened. It’s uneven, sharp, and almost impossible to walk on (for the most part we didn’t even try!).
We also went to the Black Sand Beach at Punalu’u Park. The beach is huge and waves crash dramatically on the nearby lava cliffs.
One of the most interesting sights at the park is the road that dead ends into a wall of hardened lava. Adjacent to the wall are untouched picnic tables! I wondered why the road hasn’t been rebuilt over the lava, and learned it’s still too hot! I can’t even imagine something that wouldn’t be cool enough to build on after 5 years.
On our way back to Hilo we stopped at the famous Star of the Sea Painted Church. The history of this small church is very interesting, including a move by trailer to save it from a 1990 lava flow! Here’s an article with more information about the church: https://www.civilbeat.org/2020/03/how-the-faithful-took-it-upon-themselves-to-save-this-unique-painted-church/
After we left the church we headed back to Hilo, and stopped for a few minutes at the Grand Naniloa Doubletree Hotel. No surprise that the tour company just happened to have a gift shop there! Luckily the other thing they had was a wonderful view of the ship across the harbor.
Most of the couples on our tour opted to stay at the resort for the rest of the day, but Jim and I went back to the ship for lunch (at Cagney’s) and to rest a little before Day 1, Part 2!
Since we were overnighting in Hilo, the local HOHO company, Keikana Tours, had added an evening tour of Volcanoes National Park for lava viewing. Remember when I said the itinerary change ended up being a good thing? That’s why! We never would have gotten to see lava during the day…just smoke and steam.
We took a small bus with 12 people to the park. Our first stop was at the Thurston Lava Tube, which we walked through and I thought was kind of creepy.
Here’s some information about lava tubes: https://www.nps.gov/havo/learn/nature/lava-tubes.htm
The lava viewing was both an amazement and a disappointment. While we didn’t see giant rivers of lava, we saw flows within Kilauea’s Halemaʻumaʻu Crater. Occasionally we saw a flare up from a fissure, and the sky had an orange glow reflecting off the clouds. That was the amazement part. The disappointment part was the selfish people who had gotten there early, set up tripods and chairs along the rope, and refused any and every request to share space, even when asked by the park ranger. The darker it got the better the viewing got, and the more immovable the squatters at the rope became. Thus, most of my pictures were taken by crouching and shooting between peoples’ legs or holding my camera in the air and shooting over peoples’ heads.
Nevertheless, we saw lava and also stopped to experience a steam vent on the way home. The steam vent was interesting…cold on one side, and hot enough to give yourself a facial on the other!
Dinner wasn’t much. Remember the banana, mango, and guava breads from Maui? They found their way onto the bus and were enjoyed by everybody on the way back to Hilo. We had a quick snack in the buffet when we got back to the ship, but for the most part we were just tired and we knew we needed to get up early to be tourists again!
It was a great day and if I had it to do over I would make the same decisions!