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As a family, we’ve hiked in locations around the world and have been lucky enough to hike in Germany, Slovenia, Guam, Hawaii, Virginia, and many more. But I wasn’t surprised when my daughter deemed the Kīlauea Iki Trail on the Big Island as her all-time favorite hike. It’s a fascinating place located within the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kilauea remains an active volcano to this day.

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At the Kīlauea Iki sign, you can go in either direction but I would advise taking the trail to the right and hike counter-clockwise which will lead you through a rain forest, the 1959 lava lake, steam vents, cinder cones, and large fissures in the lava. Keep an eye out for the native nēnē (Hawaiian Goose) ~ we saw two but they were too fast to get a photo. The nēnē are the sixth most endangered waterfowl species in the world.

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The rainforest section of the trail is well-worn but be careful with the rocks and occasional exposed roots. We started early in the morning and didn’t see anyone else until we got to the lava lake.

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On hikes, my daughter only uses her phone to take photos but while we were on the trail, her college released the dorm assignments and she was excited to learn where she would be living for a year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the dorm she preferred and it was the only sad part of the hike. But, fast-forward six months later, and she’s thrilled with her suitemates and her dorm.

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The ‘Ōhelo berries are a favorite treat for the nēnē and can be found throughout the trail. It is a hardy plant that even grows on the lava. The plant is a relative to the blueberries and the berry can range in color from dark red to pale yellow.

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The amazing view from the rainforest.

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It was a little surreal to see a runner come through as we walked along the deserted and isolated lava crater but he obviously runs this trail frequently.

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Be sure to follow the Ahu (stacked rocks) to find your way through to the other side of the trail. Please don’t disturb them!

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If you go, here are a few words of advice:

  • The trail is moderate to challenging. It’s steep and rocky. The descent/ascent is 400 feet (122m).
  • It’s a 4-mile (6.4km) loop. It took us approximately 2.5 hours and we stopped for a snack.
  • The trail head is 2 miles (3.2km) from the Visitor’s Center.
  • Once you’re at the Kīlauea Iki parking lot (off of Crater Rim Drive), you may go either way from the trailhead. We preferred to go right which took us through the rainforest first then down to the crater floor.
  • Be sure to bring water, food, hat, sunscreen, camera and rain gear. Be prepared for all types of weather conditions: hot, dry, wet, windy (!). Please remember to “leave only footprints” and bring all your trash and items back out of the area.

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Having grown up in Hawaii, I’m used to the occasional earthquake, big surf, an active volcano and unpredictable weather. And then there’s the ever-present threat of a tsunami. While having dinner with my brother this past week, he recounted his story of surviving a 7.7 earthquake, landslide and the largest locally generated tsunami to hit the Big Island in the 20th century.

In 1975, over Thanksgiving weekend, my older brother and cousins decided to go camping in Halapē which sits at the base of the 1,000 foot cliffs of Puu Kapukapu. There were eight hikers in his party ~ most between the ages 19 to 25 and one brought his dad with him. They also had four horses. This is his account as he told us the other night over dinner:

On Friday, 28 November 1975, they hiked in the early afternoon to fish and pick ‘opihi. Once the fish/’opihi were on ice, they had a campfire dinner. He was still awake when the first earthquake hit in the early morning of 29 November. Actually, it was a foreshock measuring 5.2. The second earthquake, measuring 7.7, is the one that rocked the entire area. It bounced the rock he was sitting on so that it moved in a circle. He tried to hang on but after a few seconds he found himself on the ground.

His group, along with the Boy Scout troop also camping in the area, ran for the trail that would lead to higher ground but there was a horrendous noise coming from the mountainside which they knew was a landslide  ~ the large falling rocks impeded their ascent. They turned around to avoid being hit by the boulders, but someone screamed they saw the ocean rising. There was no time to do anything else, the wave smashed into the cove and swept him away. He was tumbled under the waves until his need to breathe began urgent; he was certain he would die. His thought was “I now know what it’s like to drown.” He swam as hard as he could to get to the surface and, miraculously, made it to the top long enough to take a big gulp of breath before the second, and much larger, wave slammed into him. He was tousled towards the rock and hung onto a big boulder. His ability to hang on to the boulder is what saved him.

Unbelievably, only two of thirty-two campers perished in the tidal wave. The US Geological Survey estimated the second wave was 14 meters high (just shy of 46 feet). This tsunami was caused by the largest locally generated earthquake (part of Kilauea Volcano) ever recorded in Hawaii history and because the epicenter was only 19 miles from my brother’s location, the waves hit within a matter of minutes. Many of the surviving campers were hospitalized for broken bones, concussions, etc. My brother walked away with one or two scratches. He has one heck of a guardian angel watching out for him. It gives me the chills just thinking about it.

tsunami evacuation zone sign

We are currently staying at a beach house right on the water and we see the tsunami signs all along the road. On Friday night (9 July 2016), the tsunami sirens, located directly across the street, jolted us out of bed. We were especially alert due to the story of the 1975 tsunami we had just heard. I’m proud to say the only thing I grabbed was my purse ~ thinking that I needed my license to drive. We headed for higher ground while listening to the radio for further instructions. Turns out it was a system malfunction but I’m not sorry we evacuated ~ better safe than under water.

There’s a scene in the movie Leap Year where the lead male character asks “if your apartment was on fire and you had sixty seconds, what would you grab?” ~ I’m happy to know the only thing that mattered to me was my husband and daughter.

If you’re ever at the beach in Hawaii and there’s an earthquake, don’t hesitate ~ head for the high ground!!

Photos of the aftermath (courtesy of the Pacific Tsunami Museum):

Hawaii Beach after 1975 Tsunami

 

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My visits to the Big Island follows a familiar pattern: land in Kona, rent a vehicle and head to the Volcano Nationals Park for a couple of nights. Many of my mother’s family live on the Hilo-side of the island and it’s always great to see them and catch up with all the happenings.

We landed later than usual (after 8pm), and since the drive to Volcano National Park is about 95 miles from the airport, we decided to stay the night in Kailua-Kona. Kona is probably the most “touristy” spots on the island ~ reminds me of Lahaina on Maui. Lots of shops, restaurants and activities. And traffic.

Kona Parks and Recreation

The Parks & Rec building in Kona


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Early Morning in Kailua-Kona

Kamehameha the Great, the first king to rule all the Hawaiian Islands, chose Kailua-Kona as his home. It’s not hard to imagine why ~ the waters are bountiful with fish, the area is beautiful and, if you can picture it without throngs of tourists, it would be an ideal place to call home.

Here are a few highlights of the town:

The historic sites include Hulihe’e Palace, built in 1838 by Governor Kuakini, is now a museum run by the Daughters of Hawaii. Directly across the street from the palace is the Mokuaikaua Church, built 1820. It’s the first Christian church built in the Hawaiian islands.

Kailua-Kona is the start of the swim and the finish of the world-famous Ironman Triathlon. Below is the swim start:

Kona start of the Ironman swim and end of the run

Every October, about 2,000 athletes compete in the Ironman by swimming 2.4 miles in the rough ocean waters, 112-mile bike ride and to finish it off, there’s a 26.2 run which must be completely within 17 hour deadline. It’s a brutal event and, many years ago, I was thrilled when I had a chance to cheer some of the participants during the running event.

Kailua-Kona is a great stop for a day or two but don’t let it be your only experience on the Big Island ~ there’s so much more to do and see elsewhere on the island.

Kona sailboat on the waters

Sailboat in Kailua Bay

 

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After a vacation, it’s tradition that we list our top 5 things about the trip. We went to Oahu for a quick three-day trip and here’s our Oahu top five:

1) Snorkeling at Shark’s Cove on the North Shore. The ocean is calm in the summer and we got to the cove early enough to get a prime spot on the beach. The snorkeling was fun and being back in the pacific ocean felt fabulous.

2) Spending time with our friends, The Karamaths and The Petersons. Always great to see Army family again.

   Heather, CJ and Hayden

 Jake, Shelley and Hoss

3) Parasailing with Hawaiian Parasail Inc ($62 per person and $30 for their photos) in Waikiki:

4) Paddleboarding in Haleiwa, lots of turtles in the river/bay:

5) Driving along the North Shore ~ checking out all the beaches such as Sunset and Waimea Bay. For a few days, I was no longer a Displaced Beachbum. I will never tire of being on a beautiful beach!

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Vacation Wrap-Up

Our last two days on St. John were spent at the resort ~ we felt no need to wander the island anymore. Favorite Girl could have spent the whole day at the beach just outside of our room but we took her on a mini-boonie stomp ~ it was only a half mile hike but, if you ask FG, she’ll tell you it felt like a grueling 5 mile climb. She was not pleased with having to hike around looking at lizards and crabs when she could have been floating in the water looking at fish.

We kept to our goal of two new beaches a day and, on Saturday we visited two more beaches at Caneel, Paradise Beach:

and Turtle Bay:

After the hike, FG and FM went for a little sail around Caneel Bay:

There were a lot of seasoned sailors who were anxious to help FM with his sailing ~ he got a lot of comments of what he should and shouldn’t be doing 😉 No doubt there are a lot of over-achievers who stay at the hotel and it was nice they wanted to share their expetise. Of course, FM didn’t listen to them, he doesn’t like to be told how to do things. Not by me or anyone else. Personally, I thought he did well for not having sailed a boat since his Boy Scout days. I preferred not to go out on the sunfish ~ it’s too crowded in the bay and I always think the ferry boat is going to run me over.

We enjoyed a sunset dinner at The Equator Restaurant which is located in the old Sugar Mill:

It’s a beautiful setting and the food was fabulous ~ in fact, it was the best dinner we had during our stay. 

On Sunday, we walked to Little Caneel Bay and Honeymoon Bay. We reached our goal of two beaches a day and saw all seven of the beaches at Caneel. We spent most of the day snorkeling right outside of our room. Made it easy to rinse off, read a little and then head back to the water. I was so relaxed I didn’t even want to go up to the hotel for lunch so FM was nice enough to bring me a bite to eat.

Our flight out of St. Thomas was at 8 am which meant we had to catch a 5:30 am water taxi. At least it was too early in the morning for me to feel too sad about leaving, I was relieved we actually made the boat on time! But, really, I was sad ~ so many fond memories are wrapped up in that place.

Here’s FG on the boat leaving the island:

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Cinnamon Bay should be called Sugar Bay because the sand is so white and soft. Like Trunk Bay, Cinnamon is located within the National Park. The beach has a small rental shop for items such as snorkel gear, boogie boards, etc. It’s a long winding beach with more waves than the other beaches on the island so it’s more popular with the “surfers” ~ a little more eye candy at this beach 😉

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We had our rental car reserved until Friday at 1:15 pm and took full advantage of it ~ returning it ONE MINUTE before it was to turn into a pumpkin & cost us an extra day. Breakfast Buffet was included in our room rate and we ate like kings every morning. My favorite being the green tea with infused pineapple and the freshly sliced mango. After a good morning nourishing, we headed to Trunk Bay which is located within the National Park. It’s the only beach on St. John you have to pay to enter but it’s only $4.00 per person and well worth it. The park service maintains the beach area and there are showers, changing areas, information desk and lifeguards.

I hate to even use the word gorgeous because all the beaches on St. John fit that description but Trunk Bay is a stand-out among them:

 

View of Trunk Bay from roadside:

We arrived by 8:30 am and, other than one other family, we had the beach to ourselves. We enjoyed about an hour on the beach and then went snorkeling along the underwater snorkel trail  which has plaques, generally located 5 to 15 feet beneath you, that give you interesting facts about the coral and fish you may see while snorkeling. There were plenty of fish to see and the swim was an easy one ~ it’s geared toward beginners and I didn’t bother with the fins. FM and FG did the trail first while I watched our stuff on the beach and then we switched. I went out with FG while FM stayed ashore. The snorkel trail takes about 15-20 minutes.

Whenever I snorkel, I get mesmerized by the fish and feel like I’m in a whole other world. I was more than a little shocked when I completed the trail, popped my head up, looked toward the beach and saw this:

 

and this:

and this:

Hoards of people had invaded Trunk Bay! FM said he was peacefully enjoying the tranquility when he heard an announcement over a bull horn calling out to a group of cruise ship people to head to the beach. FM heard them coming first and then he saw them pouring onto the beach.  Turns out, everyday, the day trippers from the cruise trips docked in St. Thomas, arrive around 10 -10:30 and then leave around 3-3:30. Needless to say, if you find yourself on St. John and want to enjoy Trunk Bay ~ go EARLY or LATE but not during the middle of the day. At first, we thought it might be entertaining to “observe” the cruise people but then the family who plopped themselves next to us started creeping me out. The husband (I’m guessing to be about 35 years old) kept calling his wife “Mommy.” She was in the water and he’d yell “Mommy, look at my mask ~ don’t I look good?”

It was definitely time to pull up the beach towel and head to another beautiful beach: Cinnamon Bay

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