Thursday, October 7, 2010


DAY 10
Today we dock in Hilo, Hawaii (The Big Island), Hawaii. We have reservations with Thrifty for a rent car and catch their shuttle, along with several other groups, to their open-air rental counter at the airport. They have two people serving the line and it takes most of 30 minutes to get our car but we are finally on our way.
We decide to drive up to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and then on down to the southern-most point of the island and of the United States. Leaving the airport, we climb steadily for some 20 miles to and elevation of 4,000 ft. and turn into the park. We remember to bring our National Park Passport book and our pass so we are waived on through the entrance station and stop at the visitor center.

There is an electronic sign indicating that Kilauea Volcano is emitting high levels of noxious gas and that the Crater Rim Road is closed past the Jagger Museum and Volcano Observatory. We go into the park’s visitor center, view the displays, stamp our National Parks Passport, buy Jack a pin and decide to come back later when the visibility may be a little better.

Leaving the park, we turn left onto Hawaii Belt Rd. and begin the long, downhill drive to the coast and the southmost point on the island. The first part of the drive is through extensive lava fields. The sky looks like rain but we believe what we are seeing are volcano created clouds and not weather.

Just past the village of Naalehu, we turn onto South Point Rd. and descend toward to sea. The road grows worse as we proceed. We pass an abandoned wind farm with 30 or so derelict wind turbines. Some are just rusty and still while others are missing one or more blades from their three bladed fan. Not too far away stands a new, large wind farm with taller turbines. All but one of these are spinning in the moderate breeze from the sea.

Driving the last mile or so on a badly rutted and potholed road, we finally arrive at Ka Lae National Historic Landmark, the Southernmost Point in the United States. The point is on a bluff surrounded by sheer cliffs some 50 feet tall. The water is beautiful, clear blue and one can see the bottom strewn with boulders. It looks like a great place for a dive if you can get to it.

Returning the way we came, we drive back to Punaluu and turn right down to Punaluu Beach Park (Black Sand Beach). We park and walk on the black, volcanic sand. We decide to try to do a snorkel and move the car nearer to a good entry point after changing into our swim wear. We are cautioned by a local to be careful and stay fairly close to shore as there have been several drownings at this beach in the recent past. The water is cold but not unpleasant after you get in. We are short one snorkel due to a packing error but we enjoy a swim and see a Hawksbill Turtle and several pretty tropical fish including a Humuhumu Nukunuku Apua’a or Reef Tigerfish, the beautiful Hawaiian state fish.

Returning to the first car park, we use an outdoor shower to rinse off the salt water, dress and head back up the 4,000 ft. climb to the park entrance. This time, the clouds are even heavier and we do run into some light rain as we climb. Entering the park, we head on out the Crater Rim Road to the Jagger Museum and Volcano Overlook. Here, we look down into Kilauea’s Caldera and see the source of the plume of smoke we have been watching as we drove back from our swim. There is no lava to see, just the smoke and steam venting from the crater floor.

We drive back to the park entrance and turn down Chain of Craters Road toward the Thurston Lava Tube. Unfortunately, the lava tube is a steep climb down and back up and we reluctantly decide to pass. We drive on down to the first of the old craters on the road take a look at it and some older lave flows and call it a day.

It is getting late and the shuttle back to the ship from the car rental location quits running at 5:00PM. We gas up the car and catch the last shuttle back to the dock.

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