Hawaii Trip, Day 7: Kapoho Tide Pools and the Volcano

Today we spent the day mostly wandering around the Hilo/Pahoa area, with the highlights being exploring the Nanawale Forest Reserve/Park, snorkeling at the Kapoho tide pools, and getting close enough to poke hot lava with a stick (in Kilauea). (photos from today are on Day 7 of the Hawaii Trip Gallery)

But first we started the day by again visiting the local market, which offered the usual stands of fresh fruit and flowers. We wandered around downtown Hilo and got crepes for breakfast (at Le Magic Pan) – they were amazingly good, as good as ones we’ve had in Pairs. Before hitting the road, we stopped back at the hotel and ate some more – it had ripening bananas “on the vine” hanging by the coffee pot each morning, so we had to enjoy some bananas. (A beautiful banana grove was maintained by the hotel nearby.) A plate of fresh papayas was also available, but we’d had our fill of papaya by this point (but never enough mangos!). We then started heading out of town, down the highway to Pahoa. (But first we stopped by another Fun Factory in Hilo – Teisha didn’t win anything, but still had fun at the arcade!)

We stopped by Pahoa mainly because Teisha’s uncle, Allen Rowland. used to own a restaurant there, called the Paradise West Café. He died in 2002, so we were not sure how many people would remember him and his café, but after asking around the tiny town a bit we found where the restaurant used to be (it’s now Pele’s Kitchen). The current owner remembered Allen and Teisha’s aunt, who was there right before he died. It was nice to be able to see the area Allen lived in and the restaurant he had. (Allen lived in the Keaau jungle, but the area all seems very similar.)

We then took a little coastal road (mostly dirt) that the hotel staff recommended we check out – and we’re really glad we did. (This was taking Kahakai Blvd northeast until it hits the ocean at Papio St, and then turning right/southeast.) This was the most amazing stretch of road we’d seen on our whole trip – the jungle became thicker and thicker, and in most parts a person could probably walk 5 or 10 feet out into the jungle and you’d never know they were there from the road. (This was mostly in the Nanawale Forest Reserve/Park.) We even did this once, getting out of the car and finding a small trail (probably made by people living there…). Even with a little trail, it was hard to get very far very easily. There wasn’t much of a beach in this area, as old lava rocks came right up to the waves (with no sandy beach). As we went further on the road we saw more signs of actual houses in the jungle, some very nice looking ones. There was even a fruit stand on the honor system – a box was left out for people to leave money if they took any of the fruit. I guess you’ve gotta do something with all of that extra fruit!

Eventually we emerged from the jungle and tried to find the Kapoho tide pools, which were recommended by our guide book. They were kind of hard to find, but we did find them eventually. (We took highway 137 south just past highway 132, turned left on Kapoho Kai St, continued on this road as it curved around, turned left on Waiopea Rd, and then parked at the clearly marked beach.) It was probably the most deserted beach we’d been to, probably because it was surrounded by residential area and very hard to find unless you were really looking for it (not close to the highway or anything). What struck us first was that the ocean seemed so close to the roads and houses – the houses were all on stilts, and even while we were there the road was flooding. It was high tide, but still amazing to see a road flooding a bit from the ocean waters (even our car in its parking spot got a few tires surrounded by the seawater). The tidepools again didn’t seem that impressive upon first glance (none of the usual tidepool life we’re used to – no starfish, sea urchins, hermit crabs, or much of anything) but then Andrew scouted further out and found lots of fish lurking in the deeper pools. We donned our snorkeling gear for the fourth (and last) time of the trip and explored the corals – they were definitely the most impressive we saw on the trip. Lots of tangs again (yellow and convict), a larger fish that may have been a large (and intimidating looking) goatfish, several wrasses that seemed to follow us around (probably because we stirred up stuff in the water), and lots more. We even caught a glimpse of an eel. The waters were also very peaceful (manmade walls of lava rock helped keep the waves out of the protected waters). It was a great last snorkeling experience for our trip.

Salty and damp again (no showers at this little beach), we drove back to Pahoa for some lunch and a bathroom to try and wash off in. (Most places actually didn’t have public bathrooms so this was challenging at first, but we eventually found a place that worked – ashamed to say we went to a Wendy’s on our trip!) We then took the highway south again, heading to our 4PM date with some lava. We took highway 130 until it ended and then went past that, on a dirt road, and past the security checkpoint, telling them that we were going to see David Ewing (which is what we were told to say so that we could go to David’s house for the lava walk: http://www.yelp.com/biz/david-ewing-lava-walking-tours-pahoa-2). His house was on relatively recent lava flats – he’d built it there about five years ago. The land’s cheap on the lava flats, a few miles away from hot lava – about $8,000 to $10,000 for 0.2 acres – which is why a lot of people live there (also they don’t have the mosquito problems that the jungle areas do!). But it comes at a potentially high price – a few years ago the hot lava came about 100 yards from David’s house and he was ready to evacuate, but luckily it didn’t get any closer than that.

With about 12 people total, David and a friend who helped with the lava walks, took the group on a 3 mile rocky walk across recent (but nearly all cold) lava rocks. He explained the different layers in the lava rocks – the top layer is mostly silica, which makes the rock look shiny and very sharp (we were told to wear hiking shoes and long pants so we wouldn’t get scratched up, especially if we fell). He also talked about the different plants on the lava flats – after about 3-4 years, little ferns take root in the rocks (requiring no real soil), and after about 6 years the Ohia trees would start appearing – so the flats could be roughly dated by looking at the plants growing on them. After about 100 years it was thought that a lava flat would be all jungle. We had a long time to chat as it was about 3 miles to the lava flats, not including the considerable vertical distance going up and down on the rocks. We also had to sometimes jump across cracks that were several feet deep. We all took our time, especially because there were older people in our group.

When we got close to the hot lava (maybe within about 150 feet), we noticed it had gotten hotter. We looked down to see a red glow coming up from between cracks in the rocks, maybe 6 to 12 inches down. That was pretty terrifying. It’s apparently what’s known as “hot rock.” David recommended we not spend too much time on one foot so that it wouldn’t melt the rubber on our shoes. After some scouting ahead, David found some hot lava and guided the group towards it. It was amazing to see – the edge of the lava flow was red hot, but not moving all that fast. The top of the lava (maybe about 1 inch) had crusted over and looked black. (It was terrifying to realize that the top of that hot lava flow looked nearly indistinguishable from the colder rocks we could stand on – it would be pretty easy to step on it accidentally if you weren’t experienced.) We then got to take turns poking our wooden walking stick into the hot lava – if you did it just right, you could get a small chunk of hot lava on the stick and let that piece cool down somewhere (taking about 15 minutes) to create your own lava rock. Andrew was able to do this four or five times! Teisha tried twice but couldn’t get the lava to stick on the end of the stick – we learned the crust on the top of the lava is pretty hard, and you need fresh, quicker running lava to easily get it on the end of the stick (otherwise it’s too hard/stiff to work well). When that close to the hot lava, the heat on your face is incredible – you can only take it for a few seconds before you need to get away.

Our group then went a short distance to see where the main lava flows (much bigger, faster ones) were flowing into the ocean. It was truly amazing to see, watching new rock being continually made. There were several fast lava-falls going into the ocean, and chunks of newly made rock kept spraying off into the ocean. Occasionally there were little explosions and some lava would spray off into the ocean. The walk was timed such that we got to the ocean entry around sunset, and stayed much later since the lava is more visible at night. Eventually, maybe about 7PM, we started the long walk back, with walking stick in one hand and flashlight in the other – it seemed even longer this time, possibly because a flatter route was chosen to make walking in the dark easier. At one point it started raining on us, but luckily it didn’t last long – it was even refreshing after being around the heat of the lava. We got back to our car about 9:15PM and, exhausted, drove back to our hotel and collapse.

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