Day 2 - Hilo, Big Island
|Sunday, July 29, 2007: We arrived at Hilo on the Big Island in the morning, where we were greeted by hula dancers performing.
|Maersk! Every island provided many Maersk-sighting opportunities. This photo was taken before our 1.5 hour-long ordeal trying to get our Dollar Rent-a-Car. Gentle reader, do not rent from Dollar Rent-a-Car in the city of Hilo. All we will say is that the Dollar folks confirmed that the unbelievable wait that we experienced was pretty typical of the Hilo location. We had no problems on the other islands. So, heed our words: pick any other provider on Hilo and make sure you book in advance on every island.
|After getting our rental car, Tom and Debbie filled out the rest of Tom's wardrobe with a trip to Walmart, where we also stocked up on local snacks (shrimp chips and Hawaiian Sun Pass-O-Guava -- Debbie's favorite). Then, we picked up Jill and headed back to the Hilo airport for our first helicopter tour, which we booked online with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.
|Vacation Goal Two was to do everything Debbie hadn't done on previous trips but had always wanted to, and a helicopter tour was one of those things. Jill and Debbie were seated up front with the pilot, Mike, ...
|... while Tom was seated in back. This was the "Circle of Fire plus Waterfalls" tour, which is only offered in the A-Star model of helicopter. The A-Star seats two passengers in front next to the pilot and four in the back. On this tour, there was an empty seat between him and the two women sharing our tour.
|We took off and were able to see our ship almost immediately, since the Hilo airport is just a few minutes' drive from the port, and even shorter by helicopter.
|We flew over the town of Hilo, passing fields of coffee plants. Hilo is famous for being a very rainy place, but we had gorgeous, sunny weather all day.
|Off in the distance, we saw two plumes of smoke. What could they be?
|Before long, we were able to see the answer for ourselves: the smoking crater of Pu`u `O`o, part of Kilauea's east rift zone, and a small grove of trees burning because of lava from an erupting fissure flowing into it. As usual, we found ourselves in great luck, as a major eruption had started occurring on July 21 and lava was still flowing. We also had the good fortune to arrive just after Hurricane Cosme moved out of the area on July 22 and before Hurricane Flossie hit on August 13.
|Our little mascot friend, Orchy, was thrilled to see the volcano too.
|Here's a better shot of the crater. Note that this is not the main Kilauea crater -- this is one of the craters several miles away that is currently erupting. It is all part of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.
|We circled around to get a look at the vent that is erupting. We saw a slow-moving river of lava, which looked grey most of the time, with flashes of red as the cooled lava crust broke apart during its travels across the landscape.
|We never got great shots of it, but you can see red lava in the larger views of these photos.
|At the end of the river of lava stood this small forest, which was already surrounded by previous lava flows. The trees were burning as the slow-moving lava encroached.
|This view is from the forest looking back to the crater.
|Another shot of the crater. We circled it several times during this part of the tour, and quite a bit more on the way back.
|After hearing about the July 21 eruption, we found several webcams on the Hawaii Volcano Observatory website and had been fascinated by the views of the red lava at night. At the edge of the crater, we were able to see some of the observation equipment HVO has in place, including those cameras.
|Pilot Mike dipped the helicopter for a good look into the crater.
|From there, we saw several of the volcanic features nearby, including holes in the top of collapsed lava tubes ...
|... and fissures in the land.
|One of the most sobering sights was seeing what remains of the town of Kalapana -- the subdivision of Royal Gardens.
|The entire area is surrounded by lava stretching for miles.
|Many buildings still stand in this area, but the only residents are the owners of a bed-and-breakfast that helicopters in its guests.
|Roads in the subdivision abruptly dead-end into lava fields. We saw a few people touring the area by foot on the roads.
|Just down the hill is the newest coastline of Hawaii, created by lava flows since Kilauea resumed erupting in 1983.
|It's easy to see how wide the new expanse of coastline is, since it's all black and flat.
|The ocean is already starting to fight back, creating new black sand beaches to replace the old ones smothered in lava.
|The current volcanic activity does not include lava reaching the ocean, so we weren't able to see firsthand lava entering the sea, and we headed back to the main attraction -- Pu`u `O`o.
|Pilot Mike took us over the crater several more times and flew us close to the lava river, circling around so that everyone got a few last looks.
|Next, we returned to the Hilo vicinity to see some of the waterfalls of the area.
|They certainly are lovely. We tried our best to appreciate them while still jacked-up on hot lava adrenaline.
|There's our lovely ship again.
|As our tour concluded, we circled over some of the Hilo resorts. They looked very nice, but we preferred the convenience of a water-based hotel that changes location every day or two.
|We returned to the Hilo airport filled with happiness. We'd seen hot lava, we hadn't gotten sick, and we had three more helicopter tours booked that we knew we'd love. Note to cruisers -- booking the tour directly through Blue Hawaiian Helicopters was significantly cheaper than taking the tour through the cruise line, even if you add the cost of cab fare to and from the airport and throw in the cost of the DVD of your flight (which you absolutely must purchase!).
|There's a beautiful orchid garden at the Hilo airport and we stopped to admire it as we headed back to our rental car.
|Next stop: Richardson's Beach in Hilo. Note that this area of the beach is located at the far right of the beach park -- you'll have to take the path past the park buildings to get to this area.
|We tested our newly purchased snorkeling gear for the first time. It's a good thing we did this, because it took a while to get our act together. Here, Tom realizes that he's accidentally worn one of his newly purchased shirts into the water. Bummer for him.
|Jill spent some time adjusting her gear as well. This area is very shallow, but there is a nice reef in protected waters on the right side of this bay.
|Finally, we were ready to go. Here's what we saw.
|Here are some convict tangs.
|We bought a waterproof case for our old digital camera specifically for snorkeling, and it didn't let us down.
|We passed the camera back and forth so we'll never know who got this amazing shot of this moorish idol.
|The coral, rocks, and plant life were pretty.
|Here are some shy sea anemones hiding in the rock crevices.
|To quote our little friend Katherine: "Fish!" This was a teardrop butterflyfish ...
|... and this one is a threadfin butterflyfish.
|Back on the ship, we ordered dinner from room service and enjoyed it on our balcony with the champagne from the welcome basket we had ordered the day before. It was supposed to be non-alcoholic, but NCL didn't get that right either, and Jill pronounced it disgusting.
|Here's the view from our balcony. We like Hawaii!
|We headed north around the island on our way to Maui, and our port-side cabin came in handy once again.
|We sailed past the observatories at the top of Mauna Kea, and the clouds opened up just in time to see them.
Yes, cruising Hawaii is relaxing.
Copyright © Deborah Schilling/Thomas Bundy