Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Past Vacations #15: Hawaii 2004

I decided that "Installment #X" was a little dreary so I am renaming this series to Past Vacations. It just took me 14 posts to figure this out. Oh well.

Our fourteenth vacation as a married couple was to Hawaii. I had been there several times as part of my job. My visits were limited to Oahu (Pearl Harbor to be exact) so I was hoping to use this vacation to broaden the experience a bit. We flew out on a Friday afternoon after work. This turned out to be perfect in that we arrived in Honolulu just in time to go to bed. I think this helped us adjust to the time change.

We were met at the airport by one of the wife's cousins who lived in Honolulu at the time. After getting lei-ed at the airport we rented a car and drove to our hotel. The hotel was an interesting place - the Hale Koa. The Hale Koa is exclusive for military, retired military, DOD, and retired DOD. It is located next to the Hilton, home of Don Ho, and is right on prime beach real estate. The hotel has a couple pools, a commissary, and a couple good restaurants - all for just over $100 a night. That's a good deal for where the hotel is located and the amenities. I was pleasantly surprised.

The next day we slept in before heading over to the 'Iolani Palace to take a tour. Afterwards we had lunch with the wife's cousin. After a nice lunch the women decided to go chat at the cousin's place. Not that interested in doing this, I optioned to do one of the geocaches that I had prepared for just such an occasion as this. I headed for the "Strangled Palm" cache. The cache was supposed to be located in an interesting area that offered a view of Honolulu. The map I had was pretty good - only a few wrong turns - and followed it up a winding road up to Pu'u 'Ualaka'a Park (I have always thought that the Hawaiians were guilty of vowel abuse and that if you combined Hawaiian and Polish you'd actually get a complete alphabet). All I can say about the view is - OH MY GOD! Spectacular. On the far left was Diamondhead and on the far right you could see Pearl Harbor. In between you could see a panorama of Waikiki, the punchbowl, and the rest on Honolulu. Truly awesome. Unfortunately it was fairly crowded and I couldn't figure out how to get to the cache without someone getting suspicious. I looked around and thought I saw a possible trail but a walker was heading down it with her dogs and I didn't think I could look for it without being seen so I headed back to the hotel to meet up with the wife.

The next day we met up with the cousin, ate breakfast together, before heading up to Diamondhead. The short walk up the trail was worth it as the views from atop the extinct volcano crater are pretty cool. The waters, as seen from the top of Diamondhead, were beautiful.

After hearing about my geocaching strike out the previous day and after hearing about the great views, from Pu'u 'Ualaka'a Park, we decided to take another crack at the geocache and give the wife and cousin a chance to see the views. We get up there and I made my way into the bushes. My GPS was jumping all over the place and I couldn't pin it down. I was about to give up again when I noticed a crowd gathering on the grass near where I was - they were holding Mass!!! I couldn't walk out of the brush with a whole crowd watching so I headed further down the hill and lo and behold, I came across a trail. Soon afterward I found the cache at the base of a palm tree. I followed the trail around and sure enough it curved back around to the parking lot to where I had seen the walker and her dogs the day before. The wife and her cousin were peeing themselves expecting me to continue hiding in the bushes until the end of mass.

We ended our second day with some time on the beach, lounging by the pool, and walking through the international market. We stopped for lunch at Duke's where the wife ran into one of her students from Omaha - The wife has a knack of running into people she knows or people from places that she's lived wherever we go.

The next day we drove around the Oahu heading to the north shore. We stopped at the Pali Lookout to soak in the emerald green vistas. We visited the Byodo-In Buddhist Temple with it's 9 ft Buddha and 3 ton brass Peace Bell. We continued on to the Polynesian Cultural Center where we met up with the cousin. We enjoyed the Polynesian exhibits even though it was as hot as hades and the sun was beating down. We were able to find shade and cool drinks. After the shows we headed up further up the coast before heading back to Honolulu.

Our last day in Oahu was a busy one. We visited the Punchbowl and Queen Emma's Summer Palace before heading for Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. I am amazed at the festering hostility still surrounding Pearl Harbor. Once, when I was working in Pearl, I heard of a worker that had been approached by a Japanese tourist who asked in broken English: "Where was the Arizona?" The guy replied "Right where you left it the last time you were here." Memories run deep and feelings run deeper. The memorial does stir feelings. Standing on the memorial, looking into the water, watching the oil slowly bubble to the surface, you can't help to be moved by all the souls still entombed in the derelict battleship below. A very somber moment indeed.

We left Pearl and drove to the airport. We were catching an early evening flight to the big island of Hawaii. As I was waiting for our flight I reviewed the map of the big island. We were flying into Hilo but spending the night in Kona. My intention was to drive straight across on the island on highway 200 but, I changed my mind when the map said that four wheel drive was recommended for certain stretches of the road. What made it worse was that it was going to be dark most of the drive. We arrived in Hilo and decided to drive the north side of the island on highway 19. I think this was a better decision. The drive took about two hours. On the way we turned on the radio an came across a radio station from San Diego (!! Ducting!!). Since it was late at night the show was an interview with some wacko who thinks that Yellowstone National park is going to blow up and the west coast of the United States was going to sink into the Pacific Ocean.

We arrived in Kona and checked into our hotel. The hotel was nice enough but it was showing its age. The room needed some updating but it served its purpose - we were there for Hawaii, not the hotel room.

The next day we had two activities planned - a submarine ride off the coast and a Helicopter tour of the island including the volcanoes. The submarine was in the morning. It was a little cheesy but it served its purpose. We got to see the sea life off the coast of the island. Someday I'll have to learn how to scuba dive since the submarine didn't quite give you that amongst-the-fishys feel.

After being submerged in the morning we drove north to a hotel where we would be picked up by the Sunshine Helicopter people. We booked the longer 1 hour tour which turned out to be a little too long. The helicopter flew over the volcanoes giving us our only view of molten lava on the trip and took us around the island. We saw a lot that we couldn't have seen from the car. While the trip was a little too long and we did feel a little too dipped and twirled, it was worth it.

Back on the ground, we drove back to Hilo and continued on to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Our hotel was the Kilauea Military Camp. Like the Hale Koa on Oahu, this resort, the only one inside the park, is exclusively for the military and DOD employees. We were a little concerned ... the name sounded a little spartan. Boy, were we surprised. Our cabin was absolutely gorgeous. Stone fireplace, hot tub - in the room - and very roomy. The room could be divided by sliding pocket doors. There was a microwave and fridge in the room. There was a commissary for all your grocery needs and a restaurant. And, since it was in the park, the location could not be beat.

We got up the next day, had some breakfast and toured the park. Unfortunately there was not exposed lava at the time of our visit but it was still cool. We drove down to where an earlier lava flow had closed the road. I walked the half mile or so and climbed up on the lava and took some pictures.

It was still early so we drove into Hilo and had some lunch. We decide to visit Akaka Falls State Park located north of the city. The park land is beautiful. The plant life is lush and once you enter you can imagine yourself in a prehistoric jungle. The falls are spectacular in their own way. We wandered around the park and returned to the car where I promptly realized that the car keys were sitting on the driver's seat. D'OH!! We borrowed a cell phone and called the rental car agency. About an hour or so later the agency person showed up with an extra key. I was really disgusted with myself. We went back to our cabin and enjoyed a soak in the hot tub.

Our last day in Hawaii we visited the Punalu'u Black Sand Beach and we drove to the southern most tip of the United States. I had seen black sand beaches before so it wasn't that special for me. The drive to the southern most tip was interesting in that it took you through rural roads. People were fishing there and the water was a beautiful turquoise blue.

On the way back to Hilo we stopped to do a geocache. "Lava Trees" cache is located in the Lava Trees State Monument. The park is neat and it was a nice, low key, end to our vacation.

We returned to Hilo airport and returned home. I have to say, I had a great time on this vacation. If anything, it was too short. We packed a lot into this one short week. At the same time it was not rushed - we had planned this vacation very well. We will have to go back to Hawaii sometime as I would like to visit one of the other islands such as Maui or Kauai. Pictures are here.

P.S. One lesson learned here. We decided to try to pack everything into one bag. This seemed like a good idea until we were charged extra for the excessive weight of the bag. We managed to get the fee waived for three of our four flights. Sometimes it's not worth trying to make things more convenient.

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