Green Sand Beach and Kilauea Caldera

Trip Start Mar 13, 2009
Trip End Mar 26, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Hawaii
Monday, March 16, 2009

We woke to a beautiful sunrise and clear blue sky. YAY! No clouds, no rain. I wake up much earlier than Jeff so I sat out on the lanai sipping coffee as the sun came up. Once we both were up and showered, we went down to breakfast and reluctantly packed our things and checked out. That was a great hotel. But we're on to bigger and better things.

Our destination was south point and the green beach. South point is the southern-most point in the United States. (Key West also says that, but their claim is relative to the mainland.) We drove through coffee country with the top down on our Mustang. Good thing it was too early for the coffee farms (they open at 9) or we might have gotten distracted. As we continued on Highway 11 to the turn off to south point, we marveled at the climatic zones we were traveling through and compared them to things we know on the mainland.  The Big Island has 10 of the world's 15 climatic zones. That's pretty impressive!

We compared Kona to the climate in LA. (It's not exactly, but close enough. Kona is really more like the Caribbean, but Jeff has no perspective on that climate as he's not been there.)

Coffee country is much like the foothills in Colorado. And at the height of coffee country you're at 1500 feet and there are these trees that look like pine trees with long (6-inch) soft-looking needles. Later we got close enough to touch the needles. They're very rubbery. Sorry we didn't think to get a picture. Maybe when we're in coffee country again touring the coffee farms (and visiting Kona favorite...more on them later).

As we continued, we drove through an area that we compared to northern Minnesota (sans the snow). There were lots of lush trees lining the highway. They were deciduous trees as opposed to the pine-like trees we saw earlier. It really reminded us of the tree-lined area of the drive to Duluth. (I'm sure the climatic zone doesn't compare as the only snow is on top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island. But you get the picture of what it looks like. By the way it's been too cloudy to Mauna Kea, but we did get a good view of it from the airplane. And yes, there is snow on Mauna Kea, Eddie. And it's probably continuing to snow with all of the weather activity here.)

So continuing on, we drove through rolling grassland with patches of trees smattered around. It reminded me of the terrain in the middle of North Dakota's rolling prairies. However, this prairie was broken by long patches of lava. This lava is a'a lava, which is the same lava that you might use in your gas grill. (literally!) It's very porous and ranges from a dark brick red to pure black. There's a great display of the types of lava at the King's Shops in the Waikoloa Village. We'll take some notes and explain in the blog later.

So after turning the corner onto South Point Road, the terrain changed once again, but only slightly. The grassland was no longer lush green, but it became very arid. And the trees changed from groves of trees to one tree all by itself every once in a while. We thought it looked much like pictures you see of African grasslands. The trees are quite interesting to note. South Point is quite windy all of the time. So the trees have adjusted. As they grow, they bend westward. I know! Hard to picture. (And we were so excited to get to the green beach that we didn't even think to take a picture. Sorry.)

The road to the green beach gets progressively narrower and shabbier. The edge of the road disappears into rubble and then into the grassland. When a car is approaching, both cars have to put one wheel in the rubble to scrape by the other car and hope that you don't get too close to the grass as there are places where it drops off. But we made it without incident. Thank God!

The Green Sand Beach
So at one point, we needed to abandon the car and start the hike. There isn't really a parking lot, but there were two other cars there already, so we parked next to them and headed down to the gate to the path armed with the 128 oz Camelback full of water and extra sunscreen.

The hike is 2.25 miles over terrain that ranges from rocky (lava rocks) to grassland. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, so we really enjoyed it. We came across a couple of beaches that were littered with garbage. (SAD!) This is garbage that comes from cruise ships as well as fishing boats. We looked closely at some of the junk and found bottles with Japanese writing. There were fishing nets and a lot of fishing line. I'm sure it's pretty devastating to the marine life in this area because there must be more in the water.

We pushed on and finally made it to the green beach. It's amazing! Even this picture doesn't do it justice. In the picture, you can see the beach below and the rock wall behind it. We had to climb down the rock wall to get to the beach (see rock wall behind Jeff in the next picture). It's not as hard as it looks. There is a path marked and there have been so many visitors that there have been steps carved out in the rock where you have to step down. So it's pretty easy. Once we got down to the beach, we had to take off our shoes and put our feed into the water. I was in far enough so that the waves that came in were about ankle deep. Suddenly, there was a huge wave that came in and the bottom of my shorts got wet. The waves came in twos and the second wave went even higher all the way up to the bottom of the zipper on my shorts.

In 2005, I didn't go into the water much past my ankles. I always regretted not going in for a swim. But we didn't wear swim suits that time so it really wasn't an option. This time I was prepared with swim suit under my clothes. While hiking there, I was considering whether to get into the water. Well after getting wet, it was decided...I'm going in. And it was an experience I'll never forget!

Once past he waves, we were able to stand without much problem. As some of the bigger swells (pre-wave) came in, they lifted me off my feet and I had to tread water for a few seconds. But the water was beautiful (a little cold initially, but you got used to it.)

We tried a little body surfing minimal success. The waves were coming in so fast, that it was hard to get in front of the swells. Well on about the 10th try I did it! A huge wave came and I saw it go over Jeff's head so I jumped up and got horizontal. As the swell turned into a wave, it carried me all the way into shore. I was 'whewhooing' all the way in. I knew that another wave was coming because they were coming in twos. The rip tide was really strong, so I had to struggle to get onto my knees and turn sideways before the next wave hit me. I made it just in time and the next wave crashed onto me. If I had stayed lying on my stomach, the next wave would have crashed onto me and carried me out to sea. With the ocean, you always have to stay in control, or it will take you. And never put your back to the ocean, if a wave hits you from behind and you're unprepared, it can easily knock you over and the rip tide will take you out to sea. We had a lot of fun, but we were covered with green sand and exhausted by the time we were done.

So why is this particular beach green? Is it mossy? No. It's made from the semi-precious stone olivine (a.k.a., peridot). According to the USGS, "The green sand beach on Mauna Loa's south coast formed after a lava flow rich in the green mineral olivine entered the sea. Ocean currents separated the heavier olivine from the other particles and concentrated the green mineral to form this unusual beach." So you could say that the Green Beach is a semi-precious beach. LOL. I did notice that the sand is much less green than it was in 2005, so I'm sad to speculate that it may not be a green beach in another 20 years. I'm going to compare pix from this trip to 2005 when I get home.

We rested for about ˝ hour and started the hike back. The hike back was uneventful, but the wind was in our faces so it wasn't nearly as hot as the hike out. Needless to say, we both got a little crispy even though we were well covered with sunscreen. We did stop at one rocky beach close to the end of the hike and put our initials in the lava with white coral. Had to leave our mark.

Kilauea Caldera
Next we went to the top of Kilauea. We stopped at the visitor's center and found that part of the crater rim road was closed because of the steam vent in the Halema'uma'u Crater in the caldera. But we were able to drive around half of it. 

Our first stop was the Thurston Lava Tube. This is a tube created when lava flowed around some obstruction. The obstruction (likely a tree or a root) decayed and left behind a tube much like a cave. We walked through a gorgeous rainforest complete with ferns and orchids and huge trees to get to the tube. It was a nice little hike. 

Our next stop was Kilauea Iki Crater, which is a much smaller crater than the Halema'uma'u Crater. But from the Kilauea Iki, we got a great view of the steam vent in the Halema'uma'u Crater.

By the time we drove to the Halema'uma'u Crater, the clouds were closing in. We could see them coming over the rim of the caldera heading our way. Jeff got a nice picture of the crater and the steam vent. We both thought that the vent was glowing red a little. So we wanted to stay until dusk to see if we could see any glow. We went into the Jagger Museum to learn about the lava and the history of the eruptions on Mauna Kea. We learned that there have been eruptions from the steam vent and in fact a not long ago, a piece or lava rock was projected from the vent and landed on the crater rim road, thus the reason for the road closing (along with the vog that's usually blowing that way).

Since I mentioned vog, I should probably explain that. It's not a typo. Even though I referred to the fog rolling in earlier in this entry, I did really mean to type vog this time. Vog is volcanic fog made up of SO2 (sulfur dioxide) gas from the steam vent. So you can imagine what it smells like when the wind shifts and the vog is blown in your direction. Yep. A very strong sulfur smell that gets in the back of your throat and you can almost taste it. If you've never experienced it, light a book of matches really close to your face. That initial pungent smell when you light the matches is sulfur. Now multiply that times 100. That's what vog smells like. Not pleasant.

So once we got out of Jagger Museum it was almost dusk so we went out to see if the crater was glowing. Unfortunately the fog (and a little vog according to our noses) had completely enveloped the whole caldera. Looking off the rim, it was like looking into nothingness. We're going back up tomorrow to see more of the Thurston Lava Tube (it goes waaaaaay back). And see if we can get a view of the crater glowing.

We stopped at Volcano House for lunch/dinner (at 6 pm) because we were starving and didn't think we could make it the 45 minutes to Hilo. We split a very nice, but extremely over-priced prime rib at the Volcano House Restaurant. As we were waiting for our meal, the rain and strong winds accompanying the fog started. We thought we were in a monsoon. So we scarfed down our meal, jumped in the car and took off into the fog to Hilo. Once we had descended 1000 feet (Kilauea is at 4500), we were under the fog (clouds) and it was just raining.

Uncle Billy's in Hilo
In Hilo, we are staying at this hotel called Uncle Billy's. If you want a traditional Hawaiian experience, this is the place to stay, complete with tikki bar (Jeff's editorial note: ...where we will likely have a number of drinks tonight and possibly fall down!!! So Diane, R U? I am!!!)  Everything is wicker with huge flowers on the upholstery. The rooms are better than I expected though. 

Last time we stayed next door at the Hilo Hawaiian. The rooms were fair, but overpriced. This year when I was booking hotels the rates were double the rate here at Uncle Billy's. So, knowing the tikki décor from our last trip (we had a loco moco at the restaurant) I decided to take the chance. I'm pleasantly surprised. The rooms are very much on the line of the Hilo Hawaiian. And parking's free. (You have to pay for parking EVERYWHERE here, even at most hotels.) So this is quite a deal. We were a little sad to find that the restaurant at Uncle Billy's no longer serves breakfast (the moco locos are made with fried rice. Yum). But we ventured out to Ken's House of Pancakes (also visited last time). I had a corned beef loco with a coconut pancake and Jeff had a Spam loco and a banana pancake. Yes, I did say Spam. Spam is huge here because it is easier to import than fresh meat. Of course it's 2009, so they do import a lot more meat than they used to. The Spam loco was actually pretty good. They fried the Spam. But of course, my corned beef loco was the best. It was homemade corned beef, not canned.

The Saga of Mr. Lighter

Once again, we ran into Mr. Lighter on the Green Beach. Man that little guy gets around! When we got back from swimming, he was sunning himself between our shoes. He must be stowing away in our Camelback. We decided to just go with it and Jeff posed with him.
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