Thursday, December 29, 2011

Big Island, Hawaii - Day 7

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We had booked the Big Island Volcano Adventure Tour through the Polynesian Culture Tours about a month in advance of our Hawaii Travel. We called them 24 hours before our travel to confirm our pickup from the hotel. The day started by the sound of the alarm go off at 4.00am and the tour bus picked us up from our hotel at 5.00am. We took the Go Mokulele flight at 7.00am and it was a 35min journey to Hilo Airport, Big Island.

Liliuokalani Japanese Gardens

Liliuokalani Japanese Gardens

Our first stop was at the 30 acre Liliuokalani Japanese Gardens, which is named after Hawaii's last monarch, Queen Liliuokalani. This beautiful garden was built to honor Japanese immigrants and is popular among locals and tourists.

Banyan Tree Drive

We drove through the historically significant Banyan Tree Drive, where the banyan trees were planted by political leaders, movie actors, local Hawaiians. Each banyan tree has the person’s name and the year that it was planted.

Richardson’s Beach

Richardson's Beach

Our next stop was at Richardson’s Beach, which is a very popular snorkeling destination in Hilo. It is a common sight to see honu (green sea turtles) near the beach shores. It is the closest black sand beach to Hilo. When you take a close look at the sand, you can see green particles that were formed by lava.

Leleiwi Beach

Leleiwi Beach

Adjacent to Richardson’s Beach is Leleiwi Beach, which is also a popular snorkeling destination because of its vast marine life.

Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls

We then stopped at a very picturesque Rainbow Falls, which falls 80feet into a large pool. Behind the waterfalls is a cave that is said to be home of Goddess Hina. A small trail up the waterfall took us to Boiling Pots, where some of the water flows beneath old lava, then suddenly bubbles up. We were told that it resembles a steaming Jacuzzi, but it did not.

Macadamia Nut Factory

Our next stop was at the world famous Macadamia Nut Factory for about 20min. We thought that the nuts would be cheaper to buy them at the factory site because there is no middle man involvement, but we were wrong. We later learned that Costco is selling them at a cheaper price!

Orchid and Anthurium Nursery 

We stopped here for about 30min, the nursery has a huge collection of bonny orchid plants. I did not enjoy this place because I am neither interested in gardening nor am I big fan of flowers.


We stopped at a local café for lunch and then drove to the Jaggar Museum.

Jaggar Museum

View of Kilauea Crater

The observatory at the Jaggar Museum monitors four active Hawaiian volcanoes. The observatory itself is not open to public; but the museum has exhibits on the work done in the observatory (i.e) information about volcanoes, lava, etc. The observatory deck near the museum offers spectacular views of Kīlauea Crater which is emitting an ash-laden fume.

Steam Vents and Steaming Bluffs

Steam Vents (Image from website)

About a mile or so from the Jaggar Museum are the steam vents. Here, underground water seeps through the hot volcanic rocks and returns to the surface as steam. I started sweating after standing next to the steam vents for a few seconds; was like taking a steam bath.

A short walk from the steam vents took us to the steaming bluff, where we caught another breathtaking view of the ashes from the Kīlauea Crater.

Kilauea Visitor Center

View point on Chain of Craters Road

We then drove to the Kilauea Visitor Center and stopped there for 20min. This is a good place to get hiking information and latest information on the current lava conditions. We drove through the Chain of Craters road to see a 2003 lava flow that crossed the road.

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube

Our last stop in the Big Island was at the Thurston Lava Tube, which was discovered in 1913 by a local newspaper publisher. Several hundred years ago, a red lava river rushed through this tube. These lava caves are formed when lava solidifies, forming walls and ceilings. The lava tube was lit by electrical lights and the walk was for about 10-15min.

We drove to the Hilo airport to take the 7pm flight to Honolulu and in 35min we landed in the Oahu airport. The tour bus dropped us back to our hotel. Overall, we were disappointed with the one-day volcanic tour through the Tourist Agents. The reason is, they cover a lot of places in a quick span of time; leaving no time to explore something or hike a volcano.

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