In 2022, Julia & I crawled out of our covid isolation a few times to became travel butterflies, most recently to Hawaii’s Big Island for an enjoyable week with my brother Jo, his wife Priscilla & son Jack.
After a lazy day (of grocery shopping, chatting with dolphins and a dinner BBQ) proactive tourism began when Jo drove us to the island’s Northernmost point and the Pololuu Valley Lookout. My plan was to sit and sketch the view from the top of the trail, but it was too windy, so I took photos while the others braved the hike down to the beach far below. Then thirsty hikers were rewarded with a meal at a brewhaus in Waimea.
Neither Julia nor I had visited Hawaii before, and marveled at the many different eco systems and micro climates of the Big Island. From barren lava flows, to tropical jungles, mountains, an active volcanic crater and lush green cattle meadows that could have been in Ireland. Driving around, my brother & I saw areas that could have been in our home county of the New England Tablelands of NSW, or the central coast of Eastern Australia. Tropical beauty was on full display at the Hawaii Tropical Bio Reserve & Botanical garden, which has to be one of the most beautiful gardens I’ve seen anywhere. A few hours later we were up at 9,000 feet on Mauna Kea, only to have a relaxing dinner in a pub at Honokaa back on the coast.
Next was an all day road trip where our first destination was Puuhonua O Honaunau Historical Park, part of the old Hawaiian Royal Palace, and a safe haven/sanctuary in times of tribal conflict. We drove south, to a point overlooking the southernmost tip of the USA and soon had lunch at the most southerly restaurant in the country, then visited a beach with distinctive black sand. Many Big Island beaches were rocky but this sandy beach was formed when the island’s black volcanic rock was ground into particles by the sea. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Because the black sand is beneath the sea, it gives the water an unusual gun-metal blue. While I marveled at the view, elsewhere on that same beach Julia spotted a sea turtle resting on the sand. Magical.
Next stop was Volcano National park to see the Kilauea crater, recently enlarged by volcanic activity in 2018 and still belching volcanic steam. As the sun went down I was surprised & awed to see that the steam was actually underlit by a fiery red volcanic glow that had been obscured in bright sunlight, but had a dramatic effect by dark. We were in the perfect spot to witness it, eating dinner in a restaurant on the rim of this active volcano, like a scene from “Restaurant At The End Of The Universe” or a Doctor Who episode. Unusually for such a tourist view-restaurant, the food was yummy & the drinks were definitely NOT watered down, and we dined as Pele‘s fire glowed out our window.
After dinner Jo had a plan to drive back to our hotel via the Saddle Road which connects both sides of the island via a pass between the two mountain peaks (Mauna Kea & Mauna Loa). The hope was to get a clear view of the night sky before moonrise at 10pm. Unfortunately, all Jo’s calculations and hard driving were thwarted by a mist that obscured the stars, even at high altitude.
Our last day was taken up with a Captain Cook Cruise, which had special interest for the two Australians among us, as Captain James Cook is well known down our way. In my childhood, he was revered but more recently his flag-planting exploits are called into question (much as Columbus’ land grabs are now reguarded in the USA). However, what is still unchallenged is Cook’s reputation as an intrepid adventure and seaman/navigator par excellence. So it was with interest that we visited the site where Hawaiians, who’d apparently thought Cook a God just a little while earlier, killed and ate him (when they realized he was just another long pig). From deity to dinner in a matter of weeks is quite the character arc.. The Cruise itself was schizophrenic. An informative tour in one direction taking us to Cook’s monument, but when we turned around it suddenly became a party boat. As some passengers took to the dance floor others fought back sea sickness.
The next morning after checking out, we had a yummy brekky in Kona before each flying off to our respective destinations.
Mere weeks earlier, Julia & I had taken another trip to a wedding in the Napa Valley. Without wheels since Julia’s Mini Cooper died last year, we rented a hybrid SUV (and I’ve never seen Julia fall in love with a gizmo so fast). After checking into an underwhelming hotel with overwhelming prices, we had a lovely dinner with friends (and fellow wedding attendees). When Julia & I awoke next morning to primp for that day’s festivities, the hotel’s boiler had broken. After cold showers we resolved to checkout next day and spend the rest of our extended weekend elsewhere.
The wedding was in a lovely venue, and on arriving I went to take a photo of its epic view of the Napa valley, only to discover that my iPhone had fallen out of my pocket when exiting the Uber. On a borrowed phone, I could find no way of speaking with a person at Uber, but told the text ‘chat’ staff I’d pay the driver to bring my phone back. Though it should have been simple to do so, they refused to make that connection. After about 40 frustrating minutes, I gave up and joined the wedding festivities. Thankfully, in the meantime the driver had found my phone, and was already driving back to return it. Uber’s Kafkaesque Chat Limbo/customer ‘service’ did what it was designed to do (IE: nothing) but my day was saved by the goodness & initiative of an actual person. When I tried to give this lovely man a huge tip, Uber again made that impossible, as they have a cap on tips (uh, why?) Anyway, the wedding itself was marvelous.
Next morning we checked out of Hotel Lame & Pricy, had a yummy brunch with another pal (staying at a $400 per night Motel 6 – Oi, Napa!) and checked into Hotel Good & Pricy instead. The rest of our trip went swimmingly: a winery tour & tasting, a Yountville posh brekky and a drive home (when sadly, Julia had to part ways with her new fave ride).
We both have other 2022 trips planned, so stay tuned!