It’s 4 :15 on Monday afternoon, Hawaii time. The first moment I have had since yesterday morning to take a breath. Not too many though, because the Spicy Strawn 6 will pick us up in 25 minutes to take us to our big Luau in Big Lou. But first, I must get down some thoughts about yesterday. It was unreal. I saw the southeast side of the island from the air and the northwest side of the island on the ground. Having thought about it the last day or so, I have decided that they might be my favorite two spots on the island. (Well, the southeast side WAS one of my favorite spots until it was overrun by lava this past summer.)
Mike, Dan and I dropped off Casey early yesterday morning so that we could get over to Hilo in time for our helicopter flight. Mike and Dan made sure to tease Paige ALOT before we left (she was terrified for us — thought we might die in flight) and we spent 90 minutes crossing this big island climbing and descending along the Daniel Innoye Highway to Hilo.
I am not sure you can see a more diverse selection of climates on any drive other than when traveling from the one side of the Big Island to the other. Fifteen degree swings up and down, fog, sun, lava fields that look like they arrived yesterday and gorgeous rolling hills covered in grasses owned by the famous Parker Ranch. With Mauna Kea to our north and Mauna Loa to our south, it is one incredible drive.
However, it doesn’t compare to the 45 minute helicopter ride we then survived. The three of us and our pilot Dan flew 140 mph without any doors. I know, it seems a bit crazy when I think about it and I still can’t believe
we, I did that (the boys are pretty much fearless when it comes to that stuff so it is clear they would have gone without me if I had chickened out.) But the truth is, I was actually not scared at all, once we got situated and listened to our safety briefing. In fact, I told Mike that I can honestly see the appeal of being a helicopter pilot on these Hawaiian Islands. You never stray too far from your departure spot and you see the most incredible sights every single day of your job. The only time I got just a bit scared was when I forgot the pilot’s urging to keep our arms and legs inside the copter at all times. This seems intuitive but you get up there, start looking at sights that you recognize from the ground and want to point them out to your family. I only had stick out my arm one time before I learned my lesson — that going 140 mph in a helicopter with rotors above and behind you, the wind can be mighty powerful. I stayed completely inside the rest of my flight but the right side of my face still tingled for a couple hours after our flight; all because it was getting slapped with gale force winds for 45 minutes. And yet, it was still worth it.
We traveled south along the eastern coast of the island, over Hilo, Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm, and Hawaiian Paradise Park until we hovering over Kapoho, or at least, what is left of it. Actually, there really isn’t anything left of Kapoho, except black, still steaming but solid, lava. It’s embarrassing to admit but I cried when I saw all the newly created earth that now covers the most beautiful tidepools and adorable, lush, quiet neighborhood that existed less than a year ago. During our 2017 trip, we spent our last glorious week watching the sun rise over the most beautiful (and some say the healthiest in the world) tidepools. It was just a quiet neighborhood, not really a tourist destination, and we loved it. We met or at least noticed several of our neighbors who were either full time residents or at least owners of these homes and I thought about what they are doing to rebuild their lives now. Like the man next door to us whose wife had just had ankle surgery on the day of our arrival and spent the entire week we were there never coming down the steps of her home built on high stilts. Or Pam, to the right of us, who told us to make sure we hit Uncle Roberts, it’s a sight not to be missed. Or this guy, who lived behind us and would stay up all night on his cozy porch, smoking and working and talking by the glow of his computer screen. But that entire area is completely covered now and forever. The healthiest tidepools in the world, gone. The gorgeous dense and lush trees, koi ponds where we fed the fish our leftovers, the brand new road built to withstand the daily tidal flooding, the famous ‘pink’ house that stuck out over the tidepools, buried. Where are they now? Did they have insurance? Were they able to get back on their feet? Have they had a chance to see what I am witnessing right now?
These were the thoughts that ran through my head as I tried to picture what it was like having to evacuate in the middle of the night because the lava was coming. Meanwhile, we flew over the blackest earth, with pockets of steam still coming out from what must be small vents or cracks. They say when it rains, the entire lava field is covered with steam that quickly evaporates because the lava underneath is still just so hot.
We moved on towards Poihiki, a treasured surfing and relaxation spot that was barely spared by the lava.
A huge black sand beach formed right in front of it, rendering the boat ramp and dock completely useless, but access by car is now easy since they have paved new roads over more southern lava flows, so this new beach has become a bright spot for the local residents who have been through so much. It is absolutely gorgeous.
Moving back up north towards Leilani Estates where all the fissures cut through the subdivision like a knife, you could see steam rising out of each of them, all in a perfectly straight line.
And then, the famed Fissure 8, yet to be officially named by the kapuna of the area, the one that spout out 26,000 gallons of lava a second for several months, finally came into view. It was hard to believe I was hovering right over it, although from a very safe distance (honestly, I wanted to get closer). It looked somewhat small and powerless now compared to all the photos and video I saw this past summer, when lava was spewing out 200 feet into the air.
Two days later, I am still thinking about that helicopter ride. I am also still thinking about the delicious meal we ate at the famous Ken’s House of Pancakes after our flight — the Rock (Dwayne Johnson; SWOON!) was right, this place is not to be missed. Awesome breakfast diner where they bang a gong and yell out ‘SUMO’ anytime anyone orders a “sumo” style (just think, HUGE) breakfast. We’re talking three massive piles of fried rice with whatever you ordered; extra large pancakes, monster omelets, etc.
Upon our return to the drier, west side, we found that the Strawn’s had enjoyed more beach time at Mauna Lani and were just finishing up lunch. I gathered up Paige, Luke, and the big boys and we drove north through the quaint town of Hawi to Pololu Valley, perhaps one of the prettiest spots in the world. They could not get over the beauty and Luke got to see his first black sand beach. We did not make it to Pololu Valley in 2017 so I was glad to be reminded again why I love this spot so much. Lush greenery everywhere, opening up to beautiful black sand, smooth, round rocks, gorgeous drift wood (yes, we grabbed a couple pieces to take back) and finally the incredibly strong ocean waves that seems to come from infinity.
The boys loved it too and had to try out the rope swing back in the forested area behind the beach, along with Luke and Paige. I hung back for videos and laughs, not wanting to mess up my back, which turned out to be a good thing because Paige literally bit the dust and did a complete roll over some dirt and rocks after trying to get off the swing a bit too early. Unfortunately, I did NOT get video and I am so so mad at myself. We did get a final picture though. Let’s just say her butt is still recovering.
Mike, who courageously held down the fort by himself back at the condo, texted that the natives were getting restless, so we all met at Kohala Burger, but not before stopping for the best smoothie in the world. It’s called a Home Grown, and has papaya, pineapple, lime and maybe even a few other fruits I don’t remember. It was amazing. Dan was incredibly disappointed that the white pineapple was not in season and therefore not available. He’s been raving about that white pineapple ever since he returned from his Marine Biology trip to Kona this past summer. Unfortunately, I have to keep hearing about that white pineapple until we can get back here during the summer.
PS — Mike wants me to put this disclaimer on his photos from the heli tour — it was HARD to get those images right. He’s not pleased with them. The lighting wasn’t great, it was raining and the movement of the copter made it difficult to focus. We all now have a greater appreciation for what those professionals did all summer long tracking this eruption from the air.