A few days on an active volcano.
I’ve written a couple of times about Waikiki, the popular tourist area of the Hawaiian capital on Oahu. It’s a three-square-mile area which is packed with visitors from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea…
Waikiki paints a certain picture of Hawaii which, if you don’t leave the area, will leave an entirely false impression of this amazing set of islands. The rest of Hawaii is very different, and the Big Island is a wonderful, laid-back example of that.
The journey to Hawaii (aka The Big Island, Hawaii Island) took 19 hours in the sky and an overnight stop in London, extended by just a few minutes as the American Airlines pilot made a second attempt to land in Kona due to the strong winds. It was actually a very easy journey given I had booked it a year earlier on Avios to ensure a comfy business class seat along the way – the joy of reward points.
The view along the way was spectacular. Flying out of London up the West Coast of Scotland gave a great view of Glasgow (I could actually see my home), Loch Lomond and the Highlands. After cloud over Greenland and Northern Canada, the freezing towns below started to appear through the white as the flight continued south over the border into the USA. And then over Wyoming, Utah and Nevada, some truly spectacular views of mountains, valleys, Las Vegas, and a beautiful approach into Los Angeles.
I love that kind of flight – seeing the views from a unique perspective and taking so much in at once. Even massive mountains can look almost insignificant from up there, and the valleys and rivers look mesmerising as they wind their way for miles across the landscape.
After a short stop in Los Angeles, the comparatively shorter six-hour flight to Kona seemed an easy one.
Landing in Kona at night brought back the feeling I get whenever I’m on an evening or night flight. Looking at the lights and traffic below, it always stirs up the excitement of visiting somewhere different, somewhere new, wondering what’s going on down there. During the day we’re all working but at night we’re living (that feels like quite a sad distinction to make but is perhaps accurate) and this makes arriving somewhere in the evening that little bit more exciting.
Kona had a wonderfully laid back feel to it. It does cater to visitors with a good number of bars and restaurants close by, plenty of places to stop for coffee or a snack, space to sit and enjoy the sun.
The main reason for stopping at Hawaii was to visit Volcano National Park. At this time it was lacking the spectacular lava flows into the sea that I had seen in photos and videos, but it still a fantastic area. And seeing new areas of land that have been created, seeing how unstoppable nature is at times, and seeing how the Hawaiian Islands developed over millions of years – it’s all fascinating.
The drive from Kona around the island to the volcano is a long one but with great views and stops on the way: Mauna Kea; the terrain changing from lush rain forest to near-barren within a short distance, black-sand beaches, sea turtles, waterfalls.
There’s also plenty of indulgence on the island. Kona Coffee comes from the Big Island and is in abundance (tip: order an affogato and an extra shot of Kona coconut roast, pour the extra shot over, spectacular). And the Big Island is famed for some delicious macadamia nuts. They need to be tried.
Of the four main Hawaiian islands, Hawaii is perhaps the least obvious one to visit. But if only to see the incredible site of an active volcano, it’s worth a stop. And it has those wonderful Hawaiian sunsets.