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Hawai'i: January 2019


Hawai’i (2010 km and 24 days)
Hawai'i is the largest island located in the U.S. state of Hawai'i, the island is often referred to as “Big Island”. Big island has 63% of the Hawaiian archipelago's landmass but only 13% of Hawaiʻi's people. The island of Hawaiʻi is the third most popular choice among Hawaii visitors, with over 1.6 million travelers annually. The vast majority of the tourists stay in the Kailua-Kona area with its sunny weather and the vast choice of low cost/ high fat dining options. Well, we experienced all these in the worst possible way. Landed late in the afternoon at the airport, Avis-Budget had no cars available! This, despite having prepaid two months in advance: all sold-out!!! We’re told that we might get one beginning of January … So we’re now stranded in soulless Kona with thousands of tourists ... A wonderful Xmas present!

Nonetheless, we manage to find two nice places in desolate Kona (on foot, of course). The first one is the Kona Brewing Co with decent IPAs and a stunning Purple Grain amber ale brewed with lavender and grains of paradise (7% ABV, 22 IBU) as well as the gorgeous Edge of Insanity imperial IPA made in collaboration with Edge Brewing Project, Melbourne (10.7% ABV, 55 IBU). The second one is the Paradise Brewery Co, which is actually not a brewery but the bar of the largest beer distributor on Hawaii: an exceptional selection of outstanding craft beers. All the beers from Big Island Brewhaus we tasted there, are exceptional. We will go there for an extended tasting if we can get a car eventually…

Christmas and Boxing Days are lacking the Magic of Christmas. We’re hardly spoiled for choice and without a car and no taxis available, it’s a nightmare… At least, the sunshine is out and it’s warm.

We email and call all the managers at Avis-Budget, unsuccessfully. So, on 27th December, we decide to go to the agency and wait there until we get a car. At 07:15, the taxi drops us on the big parking of the agency ... there is only one black car parked, otherwise it’s completely empty.
We’re the only ones around at this time ... We enter the agency and start to emotionally explain our situation … the desk manager asks us with composure: Driving license and credit card please … Unbelievable, we get the only car available ... the black car that somebody brought back late last night ... it's still being serviced.
There are over 1000 customers stranded without a car in Kona but we’re the lucky ones and we got a car! Our gamble paid off. We have a car for the next 3 weeks, at last ...

No time to waste then. We start our first tour of the island: Kona – Saddle Rd – Hilo – Waimea – Kona.
Hawai’i island is built of 7 separate volcanoes that erupted sequentially (from oldest to youngest: Mahukona, Kohala, Mauna Kea, Hualalai, Mauna Loa, Kilauea and Loihi). Hualalai, Mauna Loa, Kilauea and Loihi are active volcanoes. Kilauea and Loihi are very active: Kilaulea is in continuous eruption and Loihi grows quickly underwater and is about 3000 m high, only 975 meters below sea level and will “soon” (in the next 100’000 years) make Big Island even bigger.
Once on the Saddle Rd, we see that Mauna Kea has a snow cap ... stunning … a tropical island with snow on the mountain. With 4205 m, Mauna Kea is the highest volcano of the island (Mauna Loa is 4169m) and is considered the tallest mountain in the world measuring 10’21 0m from the summit to its oceanic base. We take the ride to the visitor’s center, from the Saddle Rd, and in 9 km you’re up from 2000 m to 2805 m. The weather is outstanding with only a few clouds on Mauna Loa, otherwise absolutely clear … would be a perfect day for hiking to the summit. Unfortunately, today we’re not prepared for this very long hike (20 km return, from 2805 m to 4205 m) but we will return here once we’re located in Hilo.
On the other side of the island, the landscape changes abruptly from a dry brownish steppe to lush green forests and pastures. This part of the island receives an abundance of rainfall, indeed it rains heavily in Hilo when the rest of the island has sunshine and deep blue sky. From Hilo, we drive to the Waipio Lookout. The sacred Waipio Valley was the boyhood home of King Kamehameha I, and is an important site for Hawaiian history and culture. The 4WD track into the Waipio Valley is extremely steep and is only accessible to native Hawaiians.
Next stop is Waimea, where the brewery of the best craft beers we have tasted so far is located:

Big Island Brewhaus: http://bigislandbrewhaus.com  

It’s really a microbrewery, the size of a garage, and everything is handcrafted in the back of the very small pub - a real community gathering “Haus”. Most people are locals, just a couple of tourists. Twenty striking beers are available on tap today, all styles from pale ale to IPA to porter. The choice is difficult so we order 3 tasting paddles with 14 beers of different styles. Of course, the darker and stronger ones are among our preferred. To mention as excellent the following ones: Hoptopias, double american IPA with 7.5% ABV and 65 IBU; Bourbon barrel 18 months aged Best Leid Plans IPA with 7.3% ABV and 40 IBU; Red Giant red IPA with 6.8% ABV and 53 IBU; Golden Sabbath Chardonnay barrel 13 months aged Belgian pale ale with 8.9% ABV and 46 IBU. The fantastic ones: Bourbon barrel 13 months aged Black Whole stout 7.5% ABV and 35 IBU; Red Sea Imperial red ale with cacao and sea salt! 8.7% ABV and 37 IBU and finally, Dark Sabbath, a dark Belgian abbey ale 10.0% ABV and 35 IBU. What a beer discovery day!

On our second day with our “unexpected” car, it’s Kiholo Bay Trail (4.5km return). A little off the beaten path, but we hope to see many sea turtles here as this is known to be the best place on Big Island. Indeed, we see at least 20 green turtles in the waters, near the shore while walking to the Wainanalii Pond. This brackish turquoise lagoon was once a fishpond constructed by Kamehameha I in 1810. In 1859, a lava flow from Mauna Loa destroyed this engineering feat. We see here only two turtles swimming in the calm waters. On our way back, in the nice “turtle” cove we spotted on the way, we see about ten turtles, some feeding only 2 m from the shores but the real highlight has to come … one turtle is basking on the beach! Incredible. The big green-brownish carapace is very prominent on the black beach.
So, we go for a test: a couple is coming on the trail, we look apart, they walk behind us and don’t see the big turtle just below. Another couple is walking on the beach, we have to stop them as they’re walking straight into the turtle … hey! It’s big and green on a black surface!
To end the day, we stop at OLA Brewery in Kona, a mini-brewery recommended by the Big Island Brewhaus. A couple of decent beers but none to justify another ride up there ...

On our 6th day in Kona, we drive up to the tourist resort of Waikoloa. Here, amid residences, hotels and golf courses, there’s the Waikoloa Petroglyph Reserve. The countless petroglyphs around the trail are scattered like graffiti everywhere you look. Some are figurative or even anthropomorphic and others are cryptic (dots, lines or circles). 
The oldest petroglyphs may date back to the 16th century, thus not very old. In this period, in Europe we had Leonardo and Michelangelo creating magnificent masterpieces. 
However, there’s a very interesting petroglyph representing a post-western contact warrior on a horseback. Hawaiian learned to read and write from the missionary teachers, and started to carve names in Roman letters and dates. Unfortunately, these recent graffiti have quite denatured the profound relevance of the more ancient petroglyphs.
Sadly, the construction of the resort and golf courses has destroyed many of these treasures. At least, a major field has been preserved and is freely accessible to the public.

We visit the Kekaha Kai State Park on our 8th day in Kona. A stretch of shoreline that extends 7.2 km from Mahai’ula Bay to Kua Bay and including three of the best Big Island beaches. As these beaches are usually very crowded, we decide to walk to Makalawena Beach, the one without a direct car access. There is a long, rocky and bumpy 4WD track on the North leading near to the beach and a 1.5 km trail from the South, used by most people. We take the longest possible walk across Pu'u Ku'ili, a 105 m cinder cone with great view and then we follow the 4WD track (7 km return). This is the first time we see an inviting blue sea with very clear water in Hawaii. The sea here on this coast looks like the ones in New Caledonia or French Polynesia with tens of different blue and turquoise shades. The beach is very bright nearly white-sand. We see a pod of Spinner Dolphins near the shore, playful and spinning from time to time.
Back in Kona, the evening is somewhat depressive: it’s the 31st December, New Year’s Eve and contrary to all other days, it’s dark with little people, most shops closed … restaurants are closing at 21:00! Hey, in Europe this is the longest night of the year and here nothing … everything shutting down … no fireworks, no parties, no one in the street! And this in the biggest tourist town of Big Island with ten-thousands of tourists! Hard to believe...

We’re in 2019! Two years we’ve been travelling already! 

For the first day of the year, we pay a visit to the South of the island. This is a very windy area, gusty winds sweep across the coastal plains ruthless, within minutes your hair and your eyes are full of sand. From the South Point Rd, we walk to Papakōlea (also known as Green Sand Beach or Mahana Beach), it’s a very nice walk of 8.6 km return, across pastureland and wild shores. Unfortunately, there are too many 4WD fans on this island, so we see at least 50 vehicles going there illegally, including a “green sand shuttle” that brings mass of lazy tourists for 20$ … all this over protected Hawaiian Home Land. The landscape has scars of tens of 4WD tracks. In a one single point, we counted 10 different tracks, all leading to the same point: green beach … The land erosion has a free ticket here and nobody is stopping it … a simple gate for a couple of hundreds dollars would do it ... but it’s a big business. Not only erosion has a free ticket here, pollution too … if you walk down to the shore, you see tons and tons of trash swept in by the waves: it’s incredible to see such amount of trash on a coast. We think back to our green beach on La Réunion: no 4WD’s, no people, no trash … 

Before leaving for Hilo, we want to plunge into the waters of Kona to see the giant manta rays in their nighttime habitat. 

There are 3 known locations where you can see the manta rays at their “feeding stations” but only the North and South Kona sites can be considered as guaranteed. We select to snorkel at the original site  "Manta Village" in South Kona.
Mantas first began congregating here back in the early 1970’s, when the Kona Surf Hotel opened. The hotel had the idea to provide guests with an illuminated view of the ocean at night, so bright floodlights were installed. The plankton was attracted by these bright lights and mantas began to learn to associate lights with their food.
Nowadays, tour operators use underwater blue lights to create a commercial manta viewing experience.
The reef manta rays in Hawaii do not migrate and spend their lives in the coastal waters around the islands and can grow up to a wingspan of 5.5 m.
While observing the mantas, it's mandatory to hold a floating board. Despite the late hour (20:30) and the heavy rain, the sea around us is very crowded: tens of floating boards, each with 6-8 people are eagerly waiting to see the mantas. Soon the mantas begin their graceful aquatic ballet as they swim through the water in search of clouds of plankton for their evening meal. The manta rays perform elegant loops and come very close to the water surface, nearly touching us … only a hand-span water is between us and the huge mantas … difficult to take pictures at this distance. The blue light gives the final magic to this amazing nocturnal experience. That’s another lifetime experience ...

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After 10 days spent in Kona, we move to Hilo. We are in a beautiful big house with all the amenities and equipment to make us feel like at home!

We visit the best rated snorkeling spot on Hawai’i: Capt. Cook Monument in Kealakekua Bay. It’s a long walk to get there, 6.2 km return and a drop of 400 m under the sun. Once arrived, you see the crowd of people … most of them came in by tour operator on a boat. The sheltered bay is indeed the best snorkeling place in the State of Hawaii, we visited so far. The water is blue, clear and visibility is at least 20 m and there is sea-life: the first living corals in Hawaii we’ve seen so far as well as one turtle and one white tipped shark along with a lot of colored reef fish.

On our 16th day in Big Island, we have optimal conditions to take the long hike from the visitor’s center at 2805 m to the summit of Mauna Kea at 4205 m. The Humu'ula Trail is a long challenging trail of 10 km length (20 km return) and an interminable ascend of 1400 m. Mauna Kea is the highest mountain in the Pacific Rim. We’re up at 05:00 in the morning in order to get to the Visitor’s center around sunrise. We’re ready to start from the Visitor’s Center at 07:15. It’s quite cold here, only 7°C and down on the Saddle Road, it was even colder with 1°C. The sun is over the horizon since half an hour and we feel is warming up. Indeed, after the first kilometer, we can take out our fleeces. It’s possible to drive to the summit, but where’s the fun in that? You don’t see and feel the volcano, walking on the dusty ash, on sharp scree, uphill on loose slopes, across rough fields of Aa lava ... The main challenge of this hike is not its length nor its steepness but the effort required for each single step ... you feel the high altitude, once over 3500 m the air becomes thin and you’re tired after five hours walk behind you … the ascend continues and the summit seems still so far away … The wind is rising and it’s now getting colder … it’s midday and our heads start to hurt … the first sign of high altitude sickness. We finally got to Lake Waiau 3980 m. Waiau means "swirling water" in the Hawaiian language, and this is probably meant to evoke the myth that Lake Waiau is the portal to the spirit world or underworld. This is a sacred place to the Hawaiian people, and many religious offerings can be found along its shores. The Humu'ula Trail continues for a short distance before reaching the paved Mauna Kea access road. From here to the summit, you have to share the road with inexperienced car drivers (tourists): the only dangerous section of the entire Humu'ula Trail. From the final parking, you can start the short circular walk around the crater (1.2 km), the summit is only 20 m higher than the road.

On May 3rd 2018, the Kilauea volcano erupted from new fissures and sent lava flowing over streets and neighborhoods. Seven hundreds homes were destroyed and 1800 people evacuated. Unfortunately for us, the eruption stopped well before we arrived and lava flows from Pu'u 'Ō'ō crater ceased. There is no molten lava or lava glow to see anywhere in or outside of the park. President Donald Trump took care of the rest: the Volcano National Park is closed and no hikes are allowed ... Thus, our only option is to drive to the area most impacted by the May eruption and see the cold lava flows. It’s impressive to see highways ending into a wall of lava, abandoned table and chairs a few meters from the flow and more ... The lava started flowing from several fissures in the middle of a housing development called Leilani Estates in the SE corner of Big Island. After 3 months of continuous magma discharge from these lower fissures, the Kilaulea summit caldera in the Volcano National Park collapsed. The caldera floor dropped by 500 m causing a dramatic change to the landscape.

As the Volcano National Park remains closed, we drive a couple of times to Punalu'u Beach, located between Pahala and Nā'ālehu on the SE Ka'u coast. The black sands of Punalu’u Beach are a great place to see large honu (green sea turtles) basking in the sun. Normally, sea turtles don’t bask on the beach but green sea turtles do this occasionally at a few locations. While walking along the beach, we keep an eye out on the ocean, because we might see turtles popping their heads out!

The green turtle is an herbivore and feeds on marine plants in shallow waters along the coastline. Red seaweed is a favorite food for turtles and flourishes on the encrusted rocks in the shallow waters of the Punalu’u bay. Swimming at Punalu’u is possible but there can be strong ocean currents. Getting into the water isn’t very easy neither due to the many lava rocks but once you get through you can start to look for the turtles!

In Punalu'u there are numerous underground freshwater springs that flows into the bay. When this cold fresh water mixes with the warm seawater, the different densities of the waters provide a cloudy and blurry vision, making it quite difficult to find the turtles under water. The presence of fresh spring water gives Punaluu waters a nice chill ... brrr! In Hawaiian puna luʻu means "diving spring" … the legend says that in times of drought, the ancient Hawaiians would free-dive in Punaluʻu’s ocean waters with a flask or a jug to get their drinking water.

There can be strong currents at Punalu’u beach and snorkeling is difficult due to low visibility. Despite the impaired vision, this is the best spot to swim with turtles on Big Island.

There is a bronze plaque honoring Kauila at Punalu'u Beach. Kauila is said to be the mother of all Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles. According to a Hawaiian legend, Kauila was a turtle with special power. During the day, she could turn herself into a young girl and watched over the children playing on the Punaluu beach.

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Maui (690 km and 11 days)
Maui is the second largest Hawaiian island and the second most visited with 2.4 million visitors each year. Maui is an island formed from two volcanoes that are joined together in the shape of an “8”. The West Maui mountain is Mauna Kahalawai, much older than the larger volcano in the Eastern part of the island: Haleakala, 3055 m, which had its last eruption 200 years ago, and this lava flow can be seen between Ahihi Bay and La Perouse Bay.
Maui features great sunny beaches along the west coast as the high volcanoes block the majority of precipitation from ever reaching the leeward side of the island. While the west coast is often dry, the eastern part is a lush green area with many waterfalls, similarly to all other Hawaiian islands.
During the winter months, Maui is home to numerous migrating humpback whales, and is considered one of the world’s best whale watching locations. After Australia, New Zealand and French Polynesia, we’re looking forward to gaze at the Kohola (the Hawaiian name for the humpbacks). So far, we saw around 10 whales per day at 1-4 km from the shore. Not too many, but at least they are here. We will see how our first whale watching cruise unfold.

After checking-in at our 7th storage of this journey (following St. Pierre, Cairns, Brisbane, Auckland, Nouméa, Papeete), we visit the supposedly best snorkeling spot in Maui: “Turtle Town” (Maluaka Beach), known for its high population of green sea turtles. The seascape is not inviting here, rocks with a lot of urchins and few corals. Corals have no diversity here, there are only lobe corals in their typical green or cream color. Less than 80 coral species occur in the Hawaiian waters compared to 473 recorded species in New Caledonia. What a change … We manage to see only one giant turtle in Turtle Town … there must be Happy Hour somewhere else...

In view of the stable weather conditions and the free access to some National Parks thanks to Mr. Trump’s shutdown (25 bucks more in our pockets ...), we decide to do our first hike on Haleakala. It’s an early start as usual in order to have the best conditions. We begin at the second Visitor Center and follow the Sliding Sands trail until Split Rock and then to the Ka Luu o ka Oo cinder cone (8.5 km return and from 2970 m down to 2510 m). It’s probably the best view of the colorful Haleakala “moonscape”. Our hiking altitude is between 3000 and 2500 m, it’s mostly desert (ash and scree) with some alpine meadows. The valley below (it’s not a caldera …) is amazing with several cinder cones and a multitude of colors ranging from ash gray to brick red. The Apollo astronauts used this area for lunar environmental training. You do understand why ... On a clear day like today, you can even see Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa in the distance…on Big Island, reminiscent of good memories. The views of Haleakala are sweeping and majestic, and at each new trail turn even more spectacular. We’re lucky enough to be on the trail at times when nearly no other hikers are there! In the afternoon, it gets crowded here ... mass of city tourists in sandals and shorts trying to get down ... The trail is sandy and dusty but large like a motorway … it’s often used by horses … yes, people that don’t like to hike can ride down into the valley on a horse and we had to give way to 2 of them while going back up...
Near Split Rock (3 km from the parking slot and 385 m further down), you see some larger fields of Silverswords. Silversword (Ahinahina) is an endemic perennial plant which can develop from seedling to flower in as little as three years, but typically requires more than a decade. The plant remains a compact rosette until the final few months of its life. Then, the plants send up a flowering stalk with one to five hundreds purple flower heads, sets seed, and dies. The dense silvery hairs on the leaves protect the plant from the harsh ultra-violet rays of the sun and aid in water conservation. A strong taproot secures the plant in high winds. Despite harsh conditions, silverswords can live up to 50 years.
The uphill climb back to the top is quite challenging because of the high elevation … it makes it hard to breathe and your heart is running crazy with every step taken too quickly. So, we take the time to enjoy the magnificent views with stops every now and then.

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For our 5th day on Maui, we’re going to take a tour of the Maui Brewing Company in Kihei. The visit is rather short and not really inside the brewery, you actually walk around the tanks and bottling facilities, so you don’t get a real feeling of the works as we experienced in many other places outside the US, where everything is restricted for whatever reason. Maui Brewing Company claims to be Hawaii's largest craft brewery. However, with 36 beers on tap at any time, a production of over 50’000 barrels, 600 employees, 4 restaurants ... we called it a commercial brewery. Nevertheless, their non-flagship beers are very good and sometimes excellent especially the Pe’ahi American double IPA (9.5% ABV and 95 IBU) as well as the 9675-Tree triple IPA (10.8 ABV and 75 IBU). We started to drink Maui Beers in Waikiki and now continue here in Maui. Every week, we check out the new special releases available in limited quantities, which are the only ones that truly merit the name of craft beer.

Today is our first Whale Watching on Maui: Sunrise cruise with Pacific Whale Foundation with departure 06:30 from Maʻalaea. No time too waste, it’s starts just outside the harbor with a big breach just meters from the boat ... a huge humpback out of the water in every detail and we got nearly wet. That was so fast that we had no time to take pictures, we weren’t ready yet! The sun rises above Haleakala and the show continues with more breaches that we’re able to catch on camera. You need to be quick to move around the boat to get the best position. A wonderful time full of exciting moments where we saw at least 20 whales. That’s promising ...
In the afternoon, we go back to the ocean but this time we’re in the water. We snorkel in Poolenalena Beach, the best snorkeling place so far in Hawaii! We see at least twenty turtles and healthy corals! The bottom is nearly fully covered of lobe corals with helmet-shaped colonies of 3-4 m. The water offers a good visibility here, up to 10 m with a clear deep blue color. We will certainly return here again! Hundred times better than “Turtle Town”.

Our second whale watching cruise with Malolo Charters takes place in the afternoon. It’s a disappointment. The catamaran is crowded, there’s no possibility to move around. Where you are is where you stay for the entire cruise. No comparison with Pacific Whale Foundation. No way to approach the few whales swimming in the channel, the captain is always steering in the wrong direction while the whales are swimming away … one would think it was their first whale watching tour … never again.

On our 8th day, we visit Hali'imaile Distilling Company, located upcountry on the slopes of Haleakala. It’s a very small distillery where everything is handcrafted in small batches. They distill pineapple Vodka, Gin, blended Whiskey and Rum. The Rum is terrible and has nothing to do with a real Rhum, despicably sweet with some foreign ingredients to provide spice. The Gin and the Paniolo Whiskey are just drinkable. The flagship brand is Pau Maui Vodka made by distilling the sweet Maui Gold Pineapple. Hali'imaile Distillery is settled in the middle of the last Maui pineapple fields, so it was an obvious choice. Unfortunately, the Vodka is tasteless and you don’t feel the extra sweet pineapples used for it. The Pau Maui Oaked Vodka is the only distillate of the range that one could drink.

It’s already our 10th day in Maui and we have an exciting experience at Hookipa Beach Park in Paia. Here, one can observe clusters of up to 50 turtles basking on the sand in the late afternoon. When we arrive there, we see 74 turtles resting on the beach like a layer of rocks ... incredible!!! When we're about to leave, just before sunset, more turtles are swimming in to the beach! We never ever saw such a concentration of turtles in one single spot and this, on land ...

The day after, we tour West Maui. The coast is unspectacular and the same is true for the touristic spot of Lahaina. The only notable highlight of the day, is the Nakalele blowhole. It’s a forceful spout of seawater rising up to 30 m every few minutes when the surf and wind are up. You can feel the ground tremble beneath your feet as the water is blasted skywards and the hollow sound of the blow can be scary. This is a really impressive blowhole when compared to the asthmatic blowholes seen on Oahu and Kauai.

After our big disappointment with Avis-Budget in Kona, we've a new preferred rental car company: Alamo. Very convenient pricing, clear and transparent web-page and a very friendly service … and we already got 2 gift certificates from them! Yes, all our next rentals are with Alamo. Avis-Budget is dead for us ... 

After 11 days in Maui, we’re on our way to Moloka’i, dubbed the authentic Hawai’i, for 3 days.


Maui (2)

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