On to the big island – Volcano time!
As we drive back down the Oahu island to the airport, we first take a stop at the Dole Plantation – aka pineapple frenzy. It is a very touristy haunt with very cheezy attractions such as a tourist train and a treasure haunt maze; Luc and I take the challenge there which was somewhat underwhelming and thus we got a refund. The massive store in which you can find anything pineapple and more is a fun stroll and diversion though, so it was not a waste of our time :-).
But of course the big action point for today is making that Southwest flight out to Kona on the Big Island. For those not in the know: This is the island where up until 2018 you could actually see the lava red and hot in the volcano, but unfortunately an eruption in that year put a stop to this 35-year spree and emptied out he massive crater of all its lava leaving the caldera for those visiting today. That does not mean that it is not worth visiting though, as the entire south side of the island is one big lava flow with streams from different years. We land in Kona, on the Western coast, and have indulged in renting a very large apartment with a beautiful view out on the ocean… but only when the heavy rain gave up and gave us a glimpse of the sunset.
The first full day is of course to explore the Volcanoes National Park, and what a joy it is to go out again and flash that America The Beautiful card! We stamp away in our NP-passports and the boys score 2 more Junior Ranger booklets, while we learn about all the different eruptions over time and how it left the landscape afterwards. Roads destroyed, trees leaving very big ‘Tree molds’ in the ground, vegetation barely hanging on to their lives as the soil burnt away. Unfortunately the Jaggar Museum is not open to educate us further, but some short hikes through the park are a great way to find out for ourselves. The highlight is most definitely the walk through the Lava Tube in the middle of a bit of rainforest, and on top of that we run into a pair of Hawaiian ‘Kamana’, the state bird of Hawaii (a goose, that is).
We decide to round the island and come back by crossing it right over island which is a very decent 2000m climb up and over. Thankfully we have a sedan rental car and not our trusted RV, Jerry, so we can scale this thing at the speed we are actually allowed to drive, without annoyed people behind us waiting to pass :-). With the rain clouds coming in at the top, it feels much more like being on Iceland than it is being on a tropical island such as Hawaii, but that should not dampen the fun as the drive is incredible to do. As we head back out to Kona, we decide it is about time we find a place with some good fresh fish on the menu and thus we treat ourselves to a night out on the town.
Hawaiian history and beach time!
The rest of our time on the big island, we alternate between Hawaiian history and its beaches. The weather has cleared up versus our first day, and thus we are enjoying the warmth of the sun while we head out to some of the National Park Historical Sites that were set up here. First stop is Puʻukoholā Heiau , the location of several temples (Heiau) where the story of king Kamehameha is told and with that the unification of all Hawaiian islands into what is today ‘Hawaii’. We learn about the traditions of the islands and spend a good time peering at the water as the god of the Sharks is known to roam this bay – in the shape of black tip reef sharks. No luck however, so after pledging & badging, we stroll down to the beach next door for some much needed food and bodyboard fun.
No waves at this beach, but that does not bother the boys, and the snorkeling makes up for it as we run into a Hawaiian green sea turtle while swimming across the sandy bottom after some parrotfish! The facilities at the beach are great with showers, shade and plenty of picnic tables, so we spend a good hour here for lunch and beach fun.
On the way back to Kona is another historical site Kaloko-Honokōhau. Here we are taught about the land-owning system and early tax-system of Hawaii, and most importantly their fishing ways through ponds and traps that still exist to date. Out at the beach here it is time for turtle number 2 of the day, a cheeky fella that merrily swims through the dozen or so fishing lines without a care in the world! Such a cool site, even though our boys freak out at the kids that run after it and touch it which is very much against the Junior Ranger Rules! 🙂
We finish the day right around the corner of our apartment on White Sands beach, which has a nice surf break that is begging to be bodyboarded. As always, the 3 men have a blast and are unstoppable, much like turtle number 3 of the day, who decides to come do some surfing with all the people in the bay.
The next day we head out to Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau, our final NPS stop on the big island. Another place we are very impressed with, which shows some Hawaiian traditions, including how to play a game of Konane (Luc wins!) and the site itself is right at the water which has created some massive tidal pools. We thus spend a lot of time searching these for fish and other creatures which is a feast for the eyes (and a tickle to the hand as loads of shrimp come to say ‘hi’). After working hard at the JR booklet and some very necessary pledging and badging we literally go next door to one of the best snorkeling bays of Hawaii – Two step.
Once we have filled up on enough fish gazing, we head back to our apartment where the boys hit the pool one last time as the parents clear out the place and pack the bags. With not enough time to finish the Kaloko Junior Ranger booklet yesterday, the boys worked hard in the meantime which means we can drop by the site on our way to the airport. Here the boys are surprised by not only a badge, but also a patch and 2 stickers!! That was certainly worth the hard work! Satisfied it is on to the airport to head back to Oahu.
24hrs more on Oahu
The last day we have left to spend on Hawaii we have booked a hotel at Waikiki beach… where else? As we arrive in the evening we do not get to enjoy it that much yet, but our flight the next day is late at night, so we have plenty of time. Breakfast is served ‘to go’, so we pick up the bags and head straight to the beach for a nice picnic breakfast while watching the surfers, sup yoga’ers and others enjoying the water. We then take a stroll along the boulevard while shopping around for a proper souvenir (and window shop the very cool surf shops!) including the Christmas Store – go figure…
The afternoon is blocked for our final National Park experience but an absolute must-see: Pearl Harbor. Now we have to say, that after having visited 30+ National Park sites we feel we have a bit of a right to be critical, and this is probably one of our least favorite ones so far. Part of the site is commercialized (read: lockers to put your bag, new museums you have to pay for), and with that those parts that are actually managed by the National Park system really lack the personal touch we have come to love.
Add to that the fact you have to pay for the Junior Ranger program (which we did of course), and then struggled to find anyone to help with it or do any pledging (and a cheap plastic badge without a Pearl Harbor dedicated logo – we have become a bit of a snob here ;-)), made the experience very underwhelming. Yes, the two exhibits are very educational and shed some more light to how it all came about, including stories from both sides, and yes, the boatride out to the memorial was a cool touch to see the actual ship under water and commemorate those that lost their lives, but it all just felt very rushed and artificial. Maybe our American Pride has not kicked in enough yet to appreciate it, but some rangers (we hunted them down) who worked at other sites as well agreed the place lost its magic.
Back at Waikiki, Sven did the one thing you HAVE to do when there: Rent a surfboard and ride those waves, while the rest of us took to the hotel pool to wash of the heat of the day. Our evening was topped of with a lovely dinner at Lulu’s (had to show our vaccination proof to be seated), before driving back to the airport for our flight to our home away from home: Jerry!
Back to mainland USA
After a horrible red-eye flight – screaming kid in front of us – and a long wait at LAX (4 hrs) we finally got back to Las Vegas. Tara, our new friend who kindly stored our RV while gone, was even willing to pick us up from the airport and thus we had a smooth transition back into the mainland. The temperature in Las Vegas has also gone down a bit, which made it more bearable, and as we drove up the driveway towards our steed the boys were incredibly excited to be back with their beloved bed bunk and other stuff.
A few points were still on the list, including a picture at the Las Vegas sign, so we tick those of first, and stock up on groceries again. Another lifesaver is our next stop: Kathy. A friend of our dear friend Jordan who was so kind as to accept some Amazon packages we ordered (new locks for our outside storage, life vests for the kayak, bike tool) so we went to her place to pick those up. Unfortunately our bike rack did not come (argh, and we need to replace the one that is pulling away at our bumper), so we reordered that to be shipped elsewhere, but all else we could happily throw in the RV. Not only did we enjoy this smooth pickup, we also saw a glimpse of some incredible housing like we know it from TV… absolutely stunning and very cool to see, especially the differences with the Netherlands.
All chores out of the way we drive out of Las Vegas, for a short hour drive out towards the state border with California. We spend the night at a Harvest Host; Artesian Cellars in Pahrump NV, a sweet spot that still served a wine tasting and dessert when the boys fell asleep in the parking lot. Ashley, our host there, provided us with a great evening of wine tasting and again more insights into US life and Nevada rules & regulations (or the lack thereof hahaha). The wine was a great way to forget about our horrible flight in, and so the lights literally went out smoothly :-).
First stop California: Death Valley National Park
As we wake up slowly, trying to push away the time difference with Hawaii, we drive out of Pahrump to head towards our next state on the list; California! While the temperature in Las Vegas was better than how we left it, we are now driving into what is memed the ‘hottest place on the planet’ – Death Valley National park. The route to the park is dotted with colorful mountainous terrain, which are movie worthy (which is probably why several Star Wars scenes were filmed here :-)), and our Jerry makes his way easily through roads limited to 25ft or smaller vehicles. We are technically that size (the ‘Tioga Montara 25K’ suggests as much) but I guess with the bikerack we go over that. Nothing to worry about though, as both drivers know their way around it now so the roads we take are mostly really fun and challenging.
In Death Valley we cross off all the highlights the park has to offer: Dante’s View, Badwater Basin, Artists Drive, Mesquite Sand Dunes and 20 Mule Team Road. As we search a place for the night, we are pointed towards a free campsite up on the mountain in the park which sounds like a good plan to get away from the blazing heat of the valley floor (which is 85.5 meters below sea level!). What we forgot however is that throughout the day those same mountains were covered in a haze of firesmog from the wildfires some 50 miles away, and thus as we drive up the mountain in the dark the sharp smell of fire fills our noses. Too late to come up with plan B (it is already dark) we push through and spend the night in the cooler but dirty air, only to leave quickly in the morning.
With wildfires raging west of us, we have to change our plans of visiting Sequoia/Kings Canyon next (closed until further notice) and decide to opt for a cross over into the valley and then northbound. On our way we go to Manzanar National Histocal Site, another location where Japanese were interred just like Minidoka. This time however, barracks are rebuild with some great explanations about the camp and its inner workings, and with that broadening our knowledge again, while we marvel over the beautiful rock gardens that were made by those imprisoned there to make it feel more like ‘home’. On to our stop for the night: a free campsite higher up a mountain WITHOUT fire smell, but with another hot treat: our own private hot spring! Well… not private, but we camp 50m from it, so we have it pretty much to ourselves while there!
Next week: More of California, including Yosemite National Park!