Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

Thursday, June 19th, 2008 | All Things, Travel

Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park is a site on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and the most popular attraction on the Big Island, offering a glimpse of landscapes unseen anywhere else. From desolate stretches of volcanic rock and ash to lush green rainforests, from oozing lava to belching clouds of sulfur and hissing steam, it’s a tangible reminder of how actively the Earth continues to evolve.

Since a small eruption in March, the Halema`uma`u Crater has been spewing clouds of sulfur dioxide gas into the air resulting in the partial closure of Crater Rim Drive:

Steam forced to the surface when rainwater seeps into the ground, meeting with hot rock below:

In 1959, an eruption in Kīlauea Iki Crater shot fountains of lava over 1100 feet high, blanketing this area along what is now known as the Devastation Trail. The patches of vegetation are the result of land left to regenerate on its own, as a kind of experiment.

Thurston Lava Tube — an approximately 500 year old cave-like channel formed when slow-moving lava developed a hardened upper crust, forming a roof above the still-flowing lava stream. This segment of the tube is lit (another 1000 feet — open to the public, but blocked off by a chain link gate — is not), with ferns the only vegetation, sprouting up around the edges of the lights.

Check out the rest of the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park photos on flickr.

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Do the Loco Moco

Thursday, June 19th, 2008 | All Things, Eats, Travel

Hawaiian cuisine is a reflection of the various ethnic groups that have immigrated to the islands over the past couple of centuries: strongly Asian-influenced — Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean — and with an emphasis on local ingredients. (See: poi… though I only ever actually saw the well-known Hawaiian dish on the menu at the two lua’aus we attended.)

Given the easy access to fresh seafood and fruits, I was somewhat surprised by how starchy and heavy most of the local dishes were. Though this does explain why a staggering 39 percent of the native Hawaiian population is obese.

Case in point: Cafe 100, which we visited on our one day in Hilo.

After dropping off the kayaks just after dawn, we raced two and a half hours to the other side of the Big Island for my much anticipated helicopter tour over the active volcanoes. Alas, however, the heavy cloud cover that morning resulted in my ride being canceled at the last minute. Instead, we settled for an early lunch at this Hilo institution.

The Miyashiro family opened Café 100 six decades ago. According to our guidebook, the restaurant, now in its third incarnation, survived destruction by tsunamis in 1946 and 1960. It was named for the original owner’s World War II comrades in the famed 100th Battalion — a Honolulu-based unit comprised predominantly of Japanese Americans.

Café 100 is really more of a fast food stop than a café: open air tables and a simple counter where the staff still take down the orders with pen and paper and end every transaction with a cheery “Mahalo.”

Besides its tasty, cheap eats, the place is most notable for its role in popularizing the Islands specialty “Loco Moco”: a local dish comprised of a mountain of white rice topped with a hamburger patty, brown gravy and an egg or two. Loco Moco was invented in Hilo, though whether by Richard Miyashiro of Café 100 (as I’d read) or by Richard and Nancy Inouye of Lincoln Grill is a matter of some debate.

Other dishes on the menu include the ubiquitous “potato mac salad” — yes, exactly what it sounds like — daily “mixed plate” lunch specials and more standard mainland fare such as cheeseburgers and fried chicken.  Not refined fare, by any means, but all fast, fresh and good.  And did I mention cheap?

Café 100’s Loco Moco is offered in many variations (14, at my count), substituting the beef patty for Spam (of course), “smokie” [sic] Portuguese sausage, hot dog, kalua pig, or fish — here, the mahi mahi. Or was that the ahi?

And below, a photo of our Loco Moco from Kailua-Kona’s Big Island Grill the day before. We hadn’t packed a defibrillator for this trip, so after these two hearty samples, we called a moratorium on the Loco Moco for the remainder of the vacation.

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By the bay

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008 | All Things, Travel

Papaya and gecko:

We rented a pair of kayaks from Kona Boys, stacking and strapping them onto the roof of the car for the 6-mile drive to Napo‘opo‘o Beach for our afternoon excursion into Kealakekua Bay. The Marine Life Conservation District is home to one of Hawaii’s most spectacular coral reefs and marks the site of English explorer Captain James Cook‘s first landing in Hawaii in late 1778.

With a little assistance, we set off from a concrete pier into the water surrounded by sheer cliffs. The mile-wide expanse is one of the most protected bays in the Hawaiian islands, with little current and few swells which made for relatively smooth kayaking.

Our guide at the rental shop had told us in advance to expect spinner dolphins in the bay. (Had he not, the first sighting of that swarm of fins circling our kayaks would have been a much more disconcerting experience.) Even so, we did not expect to see quite so many of the friendly creatures — several pods, nearly two dozen dolphins in all — leaping and spinning in the air as if for our entertainment. Amazing and delightful!

No photos of our near one-hour crossing, unfortunately: my camera was packed away deep in the dry bag, which in the end was a good thing as the rough surf at the ancient canoe landing at Ka‘awaloa made debarking the kayak a much trickier affair than embarking. Let’s just say that I became much better acquainted with these rocks than I would have liked.

At the north end of the bay, the well-developed reef slopes steeply from the shore to a depth of over 100 feet of pristine water, clear as glass, from which we spied jewel-like coral, myriad colorful fish, sea urchin the size of our heads, and even a squid or two. The best snorkeling of the trip.

When Captain Cook first arrived on the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii), he was revered as a god — some natives may have believed him to be a returning form of Lono, the Hawaiian God of peace, agriculture and prosperity — but his subsequent visit in 1779 met with much less favor: a 27-foot white obelisk marks the spot where Cook was killed by Hawaiians on February 14, 1779.

So caught up were we with the marine life that we happily missed the deadline to return the kayaks that evening, opting instead to carry them along to our dinner at the gorgeous Four Seasons Resort Hualalai later that night.

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