Railroad Redux

That was fun, let’s do it again!

We had such a great time on our last overnight Amtrak trip that we couldn’t wait to do it again.  Again, we were taking one of Amtrak’s most scenic routes – the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle.

Since we came directly from our return flight from Hawaii, we arrived at Union Station with several hours to go before our train.  We were just settling in for the wait when I decided to check at the Amtrak window to get our boarding passes printed out… just in case we needed them.  The Amtrak lady saw that we had sleeper accommodations booked, and said “Oh honey, you don’t need to be down here.  You’re first class.  There’s a lounge you can wait in.” Wow! First class. As a budget traveler, I must admit I liked how that sounded – mostly because lounges come with free Wi-Fi (for Stephanie) and food (for me).  We headed up to the lounge and relaxed with free Wi-Fi and food until it was time to board our train.

Our roomette was just as we remembered it, so we left our things there and went to check out the Parlour car.  Amtrak’s Coast Starlight is the only train in their system that features the Pacific Parlour Car.  It’s like the Sightseer Lounge Car, but for sleeper (read: First Class) passengers only. The Parlour features the same panoramic windows, but has more luxurious seating, unique food options, and Wi-Fi.  The car itself is a genuine railroad relic from the 50s, refurbished and styled in luxury. It wasn’t all wood-paneling-and-velvet, Victorian luxury, but there was enough brass and heavy drapery to let me pretend.  There’s even a small cinema on the lower level.


A holdover from the golden age of Railroad travel


The Pacific Parlour Car

We opted for lunch in the Parlour Car (Asian salad), and spent the morning enjoying the real reason we booked this journey – California’s gorgeous coastline.  The Coast Starlight hugs the Pacific coast from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo, and is one of their most sought-after routes.


The Asian Salad was giant and delicious!



Say goodbye to Hollywood – see the sign?


Looking the other way

After San Luis Obispo, we turned inland, and the views grew more mountainous while I turned my attention to more serious pursuits.


A farm in the desert with mountains behind

That evening we watched a beautiful sunset before Stephanie surprised me by saying we should go watch a movie in the on-board cinema.  (The movie was The Martian, and it was made more enjoyable by the fact that we were watching it on a speeding train.)

That night, our roomette was already turned down for us and set up for bed.  Again we squeezed into a lower-bunk meant for one person, and let the soothing swaying of the train put us to sleep.  We woke up to a chilly morning in Klamath Falls, Oregon, just in time to stretch our legs.


Even the train is smiling

As the train made its way north, we passed duck ponds, glacial lakes, and some rural Pacific-Northwest living before arriving in Seattle that evening.


Which one should I drive?

We’ve pretty much used up our Amtrak points, so it doesn’t look like we’ll be doing this again in the near future, but I keep nagging Stephanie to start racking them up again.  Yes, train travel is slower and can even be more expensive than air travel, but there is something relaxing and romantic about it, and we’d love to do it again someday.

Hawaii Wrap-up

So, where were we?  Oh yes… the Big Island of Hawaii.  By now, our lava photos and videos have had some time to cool, so we’ll fill you in on the rest of our time on the island.  Although, compared to live, flowing lava, well…what can compare?

Along with Ann, we took a Kayak through Kealakekua Bay to the Captain Cook Monument.  We had done this before but it was Ann’s first time, and it is always a lovely kayak trip.  This is a protected area, so unless we wanted to pay way too much for a permit, we were not allowed to actually land anywhere.  No problem.  The bay is protected, so all we had to do was let our kayaks float around by themselves while we snorkeled.

Considering how many people snorkel here, the reef is in really great condition with more fish than you ever knew you could see in one place. And while we’re talking about Hawaiian reef fish, let’s just settle a little debate right now.  The Hawaiian Black Triggerfish – also called Huma Huma ‘ele ‘ele – is a (mostly) black fish with w-h-i-t-e stripes.  These stripes are not blue, despite the clear, Hawaiian waters making them look as though they are.  I’m just sayin… (They are *so* blue – Stephanie.)


He has spots, but the stripes are white


Back in the saddle again

Next up was the Painted Church in Honaunau.  This church has hand painted frescoes on the inside depicting various scenes from the bible.  Personally, my favorites were the columns painted to look like palm trees.  Stephanie’s favorite was the big, beautiful golden-colored dog sleeping under the pews.  That was a first!


Only in Hawaii

And of course, no visit to Kona would be complete without touring a coffee plantation – Greenwell Coffee Farms to be exact.  Kona coffee is only grown in a narrow section of the eastern coast of the Big Island where the rain and sun are (almost) always predictable and reliable.  We had an exuberant and informative guide show us around the plantation, as he explained the history and practices of the farm.  Since Greenwell doesn’t roast the beans themselves, they don’t put their name on it, but many places that offer Kona coffee use Greenwell’s beans. This might’ve been Barry’s favorite stop on the island.  After the tour, we spotted a cool iguana trying to hide in a tree right in front of where the car was parked.

In the evening we went out to dinner where the road on which we were staying ended at the sea.  Now, dinner out is not such a remarkable thing.  What is remarkable though is the Hawaiian sunset we enjoyed while we ate.

The next day, we drove north of Kona to visit Kaloko National Historic Park which features some fish ponds.   These manmade enclosures were created by the ancient Hawaiians to let the fish in, but only let the seawater out.  As we hiked along the sandy beach trail to the second fish pond, I spotted at least seven sea turtles swimming near the water’s edge, in each direction!  Too bad the clear water didn’t last all the way back to the swimming area.  At Honokohau harbor, we went snorkeling around the third fish pond in the murky water.  We couldn’t see much, but we did spot a couple of the obligatory sea turtles.  Stephanie swam way out into the deeper water and finally found some clarity and a bunch more fish.

The next morning we got up early and drove north again, this time all the way to Kohala.  The big draw in Kohala was riding inflatable kayaks through the old irrigation ditches.  These ditches were originally designed to bring water from the rainy mountaintops throughout the sugar cane plantations.  Now that the cane fields aren’t really in use anymore, the trenches make for a fun, leisurely ride through mountain forests and hand-carved tunnels.  The ditches were surrounded by leafy vegetation and picturesque waterfalls.  The tunnels, some of which were quite long with low ceilings, were our favorite parts.  The water on the wet shiny stone made it look as if they were coated in tiny jewels inside.

The company we went with is called Flumin’ Kohala, and our guides were great.  They were knowledgeable and very funny, filling us in on plenty of local Hawaiian jokes.  They admitted the ride through the ditches and tunnels was free before someone got the smart idea of selling it to us tourists.  And at one point our guide even grabbed us some guava right off the tree.  Mmm, mmm fresh!

After a quick lunch across the street from the King Kamehameha III statue, we visited Lakapahi State Park.  We took a self-guided tour of the ancient Hawaiian ruins there.  The site was on a hillside leading down to crystal blue water, and the hike was sweltering.  We grabbed our bathing suits before leaving and cooled off in the ocean.

That evening the four of us drove up Mauna Kea – the tallest mountain on the island – for an evening star program.  Wouldn’t you know it, that particular night featured low cloud cover which blocked the stars for hours?  We did get to see a great movie about Mauna Kea, which went into the animal and plant life on the volcano, as well as the conflicts that have arisen among scientists and local Hawaiians as they try to share the mountain for their differing interests.  By the time we could see the stars, it was very late and very cold, despite it being a relatively “warm” time of year.  We did get to look at a couple of planets through telescopes.  Personally, I never get tired of Saturn and its rings.

On our last full day we were pretty tired of heavy-duty activities, so we did something a little more low key.  We went to tour the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm, which we had heard about from our niece, who learned about it from a friend in school back home!  These guys are dedicated to raising seahorses in captivity for sale to the pet trade.  This prevents them from being threatened in the wild, and apparently we were pretty clueless about exactly how threatening the sea horse trade has been to these innocent creatures of the sea.  As a bonus, we were able to “hold” a seahorse.  They curl their little tails around your fingers and just hang out there for a bit.  It’s really pretty cute, no matter how grown up you are.


Good little seahorse

In the afternoon we did some snorkeling with Ann at a very local black-sand beach.  At first we swam way out deep along the side of the beach, and it turned out there wasn’t much reef there.  We did see a couple of unique new things, though.  When we swam back to the center of the beach and not so far out, we actually found a higher concentration of fish, and, guess what?  Sea turtles!!  It was a nice relaxing wrap-up to a nonstop month of Hawaiian activities.

On our very last day we watched the sun set from the Kona Airport before flying back to the Mainland.  Even the airport can be beautiful on Hawaii!


Thanks for visiting. Come back to Hawaii soon!

Lava, Lava Everywhere!

Welcome to our adventure with red, hot lava.  We’ve got photos, we’ve got videos, we’ve got a story.  Stick with us through this post and we promise you won’t be disappointed!!

Stephanie: Ever since our first visit to the Big Island of Hawaii, it has been my goal to get us out to see flowing red lava up close. Just before we had left the Mainland, Elliott asked if the lava was accessible this time. Kilauea volcano has been erupting steadily since 1983, but often the flow is underground or inaccessible.

Elliott: “Do we really need our hiking boots? Can’t we just do our hikes in Tevas? If we’ll only need our boots if we are hiking to red hot lava, can’t we just check and see the status of the eruption before we leave Philly?”

Stephanie: I informed him that even if the lava wasn’t accessible today, that didn’t mean it wouldn’t be accessible in three weeks when we arrived on the Big Island. Things change very quickly there.

Just a few days after we arrived on Maui, we heard another tourist mention hiking to the lava. I checked with him to make sure he meant active, flowing lava. We had arrived in Hawaii on July 23rd, and the flow had become accessible to hiking on July 26th. I was beside myself!

Elliott: “Good thing we brought those hiking boots!”

We were determined to go see it. Now that we were back on the Big Island, it looked like we were finally going to get our chance. But first, a little background information is in order.

The National Park Service does not try to stop people from hiking to the lava. Instead, they advise that you be in shape, bring tons of water and a flashlight, etc…. Much better than the standard American Way of saying “Oh, you might stub your toe, so a 15 square mile area is closed to the public.” We did have a run-in with a Fear-Of-God salesman on our first day, though. This guy works for our vacation club, and does a talk on the activities available on the island. Usually, we don’t bother with this sort of thing, preferring to figure it out on our own, but they offered free breakfast, so what the heck.

Stephanie: This guy was a completely sleazy sales guy, the type who scares you so bad you have no other choice than to pay him to guide you safely to everything you want to see. I was ready to leave within about two minutes of listening to him.

Elliott: He started by telling us how terrifyingly dangerous it is to hike out to lava. You could get lost and wander the lava wastelands forever. You could crack through the surface and boil in a fiery lake of hot lava for eternity. (Can I get a Hallelujah, brothers and sisters?) Even driving on the island was a life-in-your-hands activity; you could get in a horrific car accident and spend the only vacation you may ever take in your life in a hospital. Fortunately, he had a solution to all this doom and gloom. He informed us that the BEST way to see the lava was to take a $500 helicopter tour, and get a real nice view from several hundred feet in the air. Oh, and none of that troublesome walking was necessary. His tours were designed to pick us lazy Americans up at our door, so we wouldn’t ruin our vacation by actually having to do something for ourselves. Why am I telling you all this? To show you how easy it ended up being to do this on our own.

Stephanie: Easy? Maybe. But it took a lot of planning and a lot of driving to do this as a day-trip from the west side of the island.

Elliott: Right. Ann, Stephanie and I opted to leave at 4:00 am. This would give us plenty of time to make the 2-hour drive from Kona to the end of Chain of Craters road–

Stephanie: Which you slept through, while Ann and I navigated in the dark fog and rain–

Elliott: to hike the four miles to the actual lava flow, and still beat the heat of the day. We also brought snacks, six liters of water and two liters of Gatorade to keep us hydrated. It turns out we were WAY over-prepared.

Stephanie: Over-prepared? Maybe. But it’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Besides, we didn’t know what type of terrain we’d be hiking these eight miles on – gravel road, or newish hardened lava? It makes a huge difference (1.5 vs 2.5 hours, each way) and it wasn’t clear from the information online.

Elliott: We did luck out in that respect. At the end of Chain of Craters Road in the national park, there is a 4-mile, emergency-access road. The lava happened to be flowing above-ground, right across this road and then into the ocean. This means that the bulk of our hike was on the gravel road with no chance whatsoever of getting lost. It also meant we could go faster since we wouldn’t be clambering over an unmarked lava field.

Four miles later, at the end of the gravel road, a rope had been strung across it to let us know that we weren’t supposed to go any further. We took it as a sign that we were headed the right way and ignored it.

Stephanie: I think it was there to discourage us from going further forward in that direction. The road had been consumed by lava at that point from some former eruption anyway. But it didn’t stop us from going right or left. First, we followed the rope about 100 yards to the right, over the lava, to the coast where we had a much more intimate view of the lava waterfalls that we had seen from the ship two weeks before. This was our first view of red lava (sans zoom lens), and it was amazing, but this was not what I was going for.

Elliott: Beautiful, but not good enough. The lava was underground, and only broke the surface when it got to the edge of the cliff. We wanted to get right up to it, but the clouds of steam mixed with sulfuric acid made us keep our distance. So we returned to the end of the rope and decided to head inland to find the flow. Ann left us to our own devices, as we started off following the heat shimmer.

Stephanie: This time, we really were clambering over fairly fresh, silvery-black lava. As we followed the heat, we would feel the ground to see if it was getting hot. As we got closer, I found the glow of fresh lava deep in a crevice, and showed it to Elliott. I could feel how close we were getting!

There were two other hikers nearby, and we started working as group to find the red stuff. We were all looking in different directions, stepping quickly now. We were investigating any place that had steam coming out of it, felt extra hot, or appeared to be lighter in silver than the other areas. It was tough because we’d be sure we were there, and we’d stare hard at the silver, waiting for red to poke through. When nothing happened, we’d carefully test the strength of the lava we were about to step on, realize it was hard lava, move on and start all over again. We had to find it, so we’d look for the next spot, and the next. And then we finally saw it. Red!

Elliott: The actual lava was less than a half mile from the end of the road, and is probably the most amazing natural phenomenon I have seen in my life. It would ooze from the ground like bright orange toothpaste, and immediately start to cool once it hit the air. As the lava cooled it turned a sparkly silver color which would eventually settle into the familiar black of the Hawaiian lava fields. We could stand about five feet from it and watch it flow while feeling the heat from the liquid rock. LIQUID ROCK! You really don’t think about what that means until you’re seeing it with your own eyes. This is rock at a temperature of 2200°!! When we would stand right next to it for a photo, it was like stepping into a blast furnace. If I wanted to keep my eyelashes and leg hair, I could only stand there for a few seconds. Take a look…


Us and the lava

VIDEO: Filling the Crack

Stephanie: What he said. This is seriously the best experience we’ve ever had!!!!

It got better with time, too. It’s nerve-wracking because you know how dangerous it is, yet the lava keeps changing and making new shapes, forms, waves, and even lava “falls.” I didn’t want to leave. Elliott and the two other guys were ready to go before I was. But I insisted on staying, and I’m so glad we did. The lava flows kept getting bigger and better!


Filling the crevice

VIDEO: Lava in the Crack (good one!)


Oozing out

VIDEO: Best Oozing


Fresh breakout

VIDEO: Big Dramatic Lava Flow (awesome!)

The other cool thing was that we stayed so long, that this entire triangular area got filled with the lava. Originally we were standing in it, having these other guys take photos and videos of us. 20 minutes later, we were taking photos and video of brand new lava that was now covering the areas we had been standing on! Amazing!


Damn, that’s hot!

Elliott: Wow! That was seriously amazing. If you have a chance to get up close to flowing lava, take it. It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Stephanie: Take it even if you have to hike five hours each way (which we didn’t). I don’t care – I would do it. It’s incredible. Just be prepared – it is exciting, exhilarating and yes, definitely dangerous. Use common sense though and you should be fine.

On our hike back, we helped coach lots of people on what they were about to encounter, how to prepare for it, and how to find it. We had fun betting on which people would make it all the way to the red stuff.

Elliott: On the drive back up Chain of Craters Road, we stopped with Ann at the Thurston Lava Tube. Lava tubes are like long caves formed when new lava flows beneath the surface, and hardens on the outside edges of the tube, allowing the red lava to flow out and create a lasting space. The Thurston Lava tube is a bit more tourist-y than some we’ve seen before (like the one on the Galapagos Islands), but worth a stop.

We rounded out our volcano-oriented day with a stop at the Jaggar Museum in Volcano National Park for a view of the Halem’uma’u crater of Kilauea. (I looked for information on Mick Jagger in the museum, but there was none. They need to rename that place.) There’s isn’t much to see at the crater. There is a lake of lava inside, but it is well below the surface, and cannot be seen except from the air.


Halem’uma’u Crater

Stephanie: The crater is much better when viewed at night. While Elliott was still sleeping and we were approaching the area of Volcanoes National Park, I woke him up to show him the glow of the lava coming up from that crater, and reflecting on the clouds. It was really cool, and you see that same glow all night.

The Jagger Museum has a lot of great exhibits as well – definitely worth checking out to learn about the volcano and lava you’re viewing.

Elliott: After all the volcano-ing, I’d say the day was pretty full. We spent the rest of it driving back to the west side of the island, relaxing, soaking in the hot tub, and wondering how the rest of our time on the Big Island would ever measure up to being close enough to flowing red lava to dip our toes in. (Editor’s note: Dipping your toes into flowing lava is a very bad idea, and we are not liable if you actually do it.)

Fun in the Air, Sorrow in the Sea

A brand new morning on Kauai – full of possibilities, sun, and the smell of plumeria.  What better time than to go check out Spouting Horn – a blow hole in Poipu, Kauai.  The endless waves eroded a hole in the rocks along the coast.  When the water comes rolling in, it blows out of a crack in the rock sending a geyser dozens of feet into the air.  There’s also a secondary hole through which air escapes creating an eerie moaning/roaring sound.

VIDEO: Spouting Horn

We then went with Ann on the Po’ipu Shoreline Sandstone Hike to the Makawehi sea cliffs.  We did this hike once before when we stayed at the Grand Hyatt, Kauai (one of the most amazing hotels we’ve ever stayed in), and thought Ann should see it for herself.  It’s pretty short, but the views are amazing.

While hiking up on the cliffs, we saw a straw hat floating in the water down below.  It had clearly been blown off someone’s head.  By the time we returned to the beach it was still there, and appeared to be a challenge, so we set out on a rescue mission.  You’ll be relieved to know, we saved the hat from being blown out to see. Ann wore it during the rest of our time in Hawaii and then left it with our vacation club in case future visitors wanted to use it.

We also did some snorkeling at Po’ipu Beach.  The reef is well trampled, unfortunately, but the fish are always plentiful.  Po’ipu beach also has this cool land feature called a tombolo.  This is a narrow spit of land leading out to a small island.  The waves collide over the tombolo from opposite directions causing a lot of spray.

All of this, believe it or not, was a precursor to the main event of the day:  a helicopter tour over the gorgeous island of Kauai.  Helicopters are not something we get to travel in too often, and it was especially exciting to be flying over all the places we had been visiting for the last week or so.  They even strapped Carlos into a harness so he could fly with us. We spent an hour doing a full loop of the island, and taking in absolutely everything while our pilot, Jason, gave us a running commentary. A photo is worth a thousand words, so check these out:


With our pilot, Jason

VIDEO: The Na Pali Coast as seen from the air

One of the last photos above is of Wailua Falls, made famous in the opening credits of Fantasy Island.  We decided to go get a closer look.  While we were there, there was a professional crew filming a Hawaii Tourism commercial for Expedia.  They took up the choicest viewing locations so they could pilot their silly drone all over the place. (I kind of wished I had a BB.)  Once they left, however, we got some good shots.  We even saw some wild pigs that held still long enough to be snapped.

A fairly low-key day was up next, or so we thought.  We went back to Kalapaki beach (where the wedding was) for some fun in the surf.  We brought boogie boards, but the conditions just weren’t conducive, so we ended up renting a stand-up paddleboard.  Stephanie had no problem with this since stand-up paddleboarding might just be her favorite water sport.

We headed over to Kealia beach – a primo surf spot, and one of our favorite places to boogie board in the world.  The waves are nice and small way on the North end of the beach, and they get larger as you go south, allowing you to tailor the height of your ride to suit your tastes.  It was there that disaster struck. At first, everything was great.  We were riding the waves and having a great time.  At one point, I found myself getting tumbled in a wave.  No problem – all part of the fun.  But then my hand hit a rock.  Not hard enough to hurt, but just at the exact angle necessary for it to lift my wedding ring up over my knuckle and slide it off my finger.  My wedding ring.  That I haven’t removed in almost 12 years.  My custom engraved wedding ring to match my wife’s.  Needless to say we were both pretty upset.  We spent the next 45 minutes fruitlessly combing the surf.  I left a description with the lifeguards, and offered a $300 reward (yours if you find my ring).

That night, Stephanie tied a piece of floss around my finger until we could find a replacement.  It’s funny how you don’t notice a ring that lives on your finger until you take it off.  We stopped in a few jewelry stores the next day to look at replacements, and learned that many a married man loses his ring in the surf.  Great, I’m a statistic.  We looked online for a ring like the one I lost.  It wasn’t cheap to begin with, and the price has gone up.  So for now, I have a $10 stainless steel ring.  It may just have to do.

We opted not to let this sentimental loss get us down, and the next day set off on one of our favorite hikes.  It is not our favorite for the beautiful tranquil woods, the meandering river with its multiple waterfalls, or even the decaying body of a 40’s era car that could never have driven to its final resting place.  It is our favorite because there is a rope swing over the river.  Nothing makes you feel like a kid again more than swinging on a rope and splashing down into water (except maybe sledding, but that’s kind of hard to do in Hawaii).


Midair Stephanie

VIDEO: Stephanie on the rope swing

That night was our last on Kauai.  We had been in Hawaii for three weeks, and still not engaged in that most important of rituals: The Luau.  Now, I’ve been to several Luaus, and Smith’s Garden Luau on Kauai is my very favorite-est. I was excited to be returning as well as to be going with Barry & Ann.  With me in my loudest aloha shirt, and Stephanie in a very Hawaiian-looking dress, we headed on over.

This particular luau starts nice and early with a narrated tram ride through the Smith Family’s extensive grounds.  Afterwards, there is plenty of time to stroll the gardens before the actual luau begins.  Then comes the gathering around the Imu (underground oven) for the ceremonial unveiling of dinner, and of course, all-you-can-drink Mai Tais.

After dinner, rather than sit at your table, there is a stage area with water features and an honest-to-goodness erupting volcano.  Too cool!  Most luaus feature dances from several South Pacific islands, but this time, there were dances from China, Japan, and a most interesting dance from the Philippines.  It’s called Tinikling, and it’s done by stepping in and out of two fast-moving bamboo poles while trying not to get your ankles clipped.  Here’s a video. (The sound is pretty quiet, but you get the idea.)  All in all, the Smith Family Luau was a great way to wrap up our time on the island.  Three weeks completed, and one island to go.


Fire Knife Dancer

Wild Chickens and Muddy Hikes

Let me just get this out of the way: wild chickens play almost no role in this blog entry.  They are, however, prevalent on Kauai, and make for a nice title.  Chicken also featured heavily on our first evening on the island.  Short story: not a single restaurant we wanted was open after 5:00 on Saturday night, so we ended up at KFC (which I dubbed Kauai Fried Chicken).  Going to bed full of grease, we resolved the next day would be better.  I also resolved to give KFC a wide berth for a while.

On day one we drove all the way to the end of the road at the Northern end of Kauai.  The beautiful Na Pali coast prevents the road from going all the way around the island.  Nothing, however, prevents rain from falling, and there was a lot of it.  We tried to share the gorgeous views along the drive with Ann since it was her first time on this island, but many places were fogged in.  We were unable to hike even the first few miles of the trail that connects one end of the Na Pali coast to the other; the trail was so muddy it was closed.  Undaunted, we headed to northernmost Ke’e beach as well as renowned Tunnels Beach for some snorkeling.  The rain stopped by the time we got there, and we even got to see some of the more elusive fish of Hawaii.

Before leaving the area, we played in a “rainfall” and Ann checked out one of the small caves.  Driving back the way we came, it rained off and on, and we could now barely see the carefully laid out taro fields and the town and bay of Hanalei.  Stephanie and Ann hiked down a muddy, steep (but luckily short) trail to check out the beach featured in the old musical, South Pacific.


“Rain” fall

Our next big stop was Princeville, a very high-end resort area that attracts the rich and famous.  Our goal was not to see resorts but rather to make it to a place called Queen’s Bath.  The short hike to this tide pool was made more treacherous by the rain which turned the entire path to mud.  Barry remained safely in the car while we ended up hiking barefoot with Ann!  It was probably the muddiest hike we’ve done to date, and there was no escaping this hike in a clean manner.  It was well worth it though.  Queen’s Bath is a round “pool” created by the huge lava rocks surrounding it and protecting it from the ocean, but it can be unsafe, and the last time we were there, we could not swim in it.  This time, despite the fact that the storm off the coast had set the water to churning, we could tell it was calmer, and locals told us it was very safe as long as one used common sense.  While Ann picked her way down to the edge of the pool, Stephanie and I opted for the mid-air leap.  Once in the pool, we’d get close to the ocean, and let the waves sweep us off our little shelf and back into the pool.  This place was a blast, and Stephanie wanted to stay all day.


One more plunge

VIDEO: Getting washed away at Queen’s Bath

Our last stop of the day was to get some views of the beautiful peninsula housing Kilauea Lighthouse, and as a bonus, we had a nene following us around.

The outdoor fun never ends in Kauai, and the next day found us kayaking up the Wailua River with Ann.  Ann was worried that we would out-kayak her in our double kayak, so she headed off a few minutes before us. Ann, however, is apparently some kind of kayaking powerhouse, because we didn’t catch up with her until it was time to dock our boats and hike to Secret Falls.  Last time Stephanie and I were here was in the off season, so the falls were barely a trickle, and there was no one there.  Today however, the entire kayaking population of Kauai was at this one spot.  Some secret!  Seriously, I have never seen so many kayaks in one place.

In keeping with the theme of our Kauai hikes so far, he trail was a muddy mess.  Once again, we set off sans shoes.  Our usual 25 minute hike took almost an hour as we picked our way through muddy trails, and across one swift river. This hike now took first place as the muddiest hike we had ever been on.  Our reward, however was that Secret Falls was flowing at full speed.  It wouldn’t do to pass up an opportunity to swim in the falls, so swim we did before heading back to continue kayaking.

We paid a quick visit to Kauai’s famous Fern Grotto, before paddling back to our starting point.

Day 3 was Waimea Canyon. We had visited this briefly with the New Jersey Contingent while we were on our cruise; now it was time to get some serious hiking in (with Ann, of course).  Canyon Trail started off in the woods, but soon took us to the ridge on the “back” edge of the canyon. Stay on this trail long enough and you reach that Hawaiian-hiker’s reward: a waterfall, this time Waipo’o Falls.  This one was waaaaay too cold to swim in.  That is, unless you’re Stephanie.  That girl will swim anywhere!  After she froze her extremities for a bit, we took a steep little spur to the top of the giant part of the same waterfall that you can see from the viewpoint across the way. This one is something like 1400 feet to the bottom, so there was no swimming at the top, but the view was pretty remarkable.


Jumping bug

After catching up with Barry, we decided that since we had driven as far as possible to the north on our first day, we should drive as far as possible to the south.  Barking Sands Beach didn’t appear accessible thanks to a military tracking station, but Polihale State Park is. This beach is at the end of about four miles of unmaintained, and badly rutted road. Our four miles took us a good 30 minutes, during which I was stressed that I would damage our rental car on this rutted road.  We took a quick peek at the beach, and then doubled back a bit to Queen’s Pond.  (We learned that any place a Queen swam was dubbed Queen’s Pond.  Boy, this queen sure swims a lot.)  I’m not quite sure where the “Pond” came from, since this stretch of ocean is not a pond. It’s not even a cove.  But it does have some huge sand dunes that you have to descend to get to the water. It was supposedly much calmer than other parts of the beach in this park, but the water got deep fairly quickly and there was a strong sideways current, so we didn’t swim too long before heading out.

Our next day featured one of the most fabulous Hawaiian adventures we’d had to date, but I see you’ve had enough Hawaii for one day, so you’ll just have to come back for our next installment. Instead, we will leave you with a picture of wild chickens and some hibiscus flowers – both of which are all over Kauai.



Cruising, Hawaiian Style, Part II

When last we left our heroes, they were on a boat rounding the Big Island of Hawaii after departing from Hilo. Kona was our next stop, but knowing we would be back on this side of the Big Island soon for a whole week, we decided to stay within the town of Kona itself before relaxing on board. (Relaxing is very big with me.) We walked through town, checking out some jewelry shops, a Del Sol (where everything they sell changes colors in the sun), and the local Kona Market.  The market was full of crafts and souvenirs but also extraordinarily hot.  After a quick run-through, I introduced Barry and Ann to the local chocolate-and-macadamia chain, Donkey Balls, where I graciously bought us all some balls.


Barry and Ann try their first Donkey Balls

Since it was hot and we still had plenty of time before heading back to the ship, we all indulged in another local food item, shave ice (kinda like a snow cone).  We had ours with a snow-cap which is condensed milk on top. Super delish!  Afterwards Barry and Ann headed back to the ship, while Stephanie and I snorkeled just next to the pier.  There were a surprising number of pretty fish for such a small, crowded cove.


Mango shave ice with a snow cap

We had a long afternoon onboard, so we went to a couple activities in and around our pool time.  We made cheesy origami Humuhumunukunukuapua’as (Hawaiian State Fish), and later made Lauhala Ribbon Weave Leis in another class.  They actually came out pretty cool, and we brought ours home.  For a change in pace, the family tried the ship’s 50’s style diner for dinner.

Our ship cruised over to Kauai that night.  The next morning we tried the free cardio boxing class on board, a first for me.  I realized I could get into that.  Then we drove to Waimea Canyon, which is considered a “mini Grand Canyon” of Hawaii.  We climbed in our cars up Waimea Canyon Drive, and took in some of the best views with the whole gang.  The edge of Waimea Canyon overlooks the back of the beautiful Na Pali coast.  It can be a bit cloudy there, but the views are still fabulous.


Looking out over the Na Pali Coast

The evening was dominated by one major event: Wendy and Linda’s wedding. They had had a civil union performed many years ago, but thanks in part to recent legislation, they were having an honest-to-goodness wedding.  What better spot than a cozy nook on a beautiful Hawaiian beach, and who better to officiate than the Honorable Reverend Elliott Segelbaum of the Universal Life Church (courtesy of the Internet)?  We ended up choosing Kalapaki beach close to the ship for easy sunset access. The view was so nice you would never know there was a giant Marriott only steps away.  We found a little tent in which they give beachside massages during the day, and we managed to magically transform it into a wedding tent.  The ceremony was short but sweet, and all the kids had a part, be it a reading or handling the unity candles or providing the music.  Wendy and Linda even had matching outfits.  Afterwards, we had a mini-dance reception in the tent, and that night at dinner on the ship, we had the wait staff bring a cake and sing to the “newlyweds.”

After such a busy day, we opted to spend our second day on Kauai relaxing while the New Jersey Contingent went touring.  We slept in and then headed to morning trivia where I totally won one of those insulated can holder thingies that we will never use.  Then it was back to Kalapaki beach for a swim. Stephanie and I got so into our conversation that we didn’t notice the current taking us waaaaay out.  We swam the 47 miles back to shore against the current, after which I crawled onto the sand to rest while Stephanie actually swam some more.  (The girl is part fish, I tell ya!)

Back on board, we spent the afternoon sailing around the Western side of Kauai – The Na Pali coast.  This coast is touted as the most beautiful coast of all the Hawaiian Islands, and it lives up to its reputation.  The sharp angles of the Na Pali Coast were carved by water eroding the volcanic island when it was newly formed.  Stephanie and I had been here before on a Zodiac, but it was just as amazing when seen from deck 12 of the cruise ship.


Girls of the Na Pali Coast

And just like that, our cruise wrapped up.  We had our last family dinner together and watched a few of the shows that night around packing.  The next morning we ate breakfast and said farewell to the New Jersey Contingent, then enjoyed spending a surprise shipboard credit in the gift shop.  We disembarked and set off for Week III of our Hawaiian adventure.


Just Married

Cruising, Hawiian Style, Part I

A Hawaiian cruise was the whole reason for this family trip.  Wendy (Stephanie’s sister) really wanted to see as much of Hawaii in a short time as she could.  Given that we’d spent time in Hawaii previously, we were content to let Wendy direct this show.  Now – we love to cruise (some of my faves were our trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific crossings), and we love Hawaii, but honestly, we would not have thought to combine these two things.  There is so much to see and do on the islands, and with a cruise, you simply don’t have enough time.  (We call most cruises “sampler platters.”)  That being said, it’s pretty hard not to have a great time on a Hawaiian cruise!

So after our great week in Maui, we hopped an early morning flight to Honolulu where we met up with Wendy, her wife Linda, and four of our nieces:  Emily, Allie, Rachel and Ellie; all six of whom will hereafter be referred to as “The New Jersey Contingent.”  Our first day, we took it easy exploring the ship and relaxing in the pool. Dinner the first night was at the buffet.  What?!  No formal dinner in the dining room in my tux with ballroom dancing to follow?  How ever was I going to survive?  No problem. Being the smooth, advanced traveler that I am, I downshifted into casual mode, and prepared to have a nice understated cruise.

Our first full day brought us right back to Kahului, Maui from where we had just departed less than 24 hours prior.  (We joked that we could have stayed on Maui and picked up the ship the next day, but once I pointed out that we would have missed several buffets, we agreed we had made the right choice.)  Barry and Ann decided to stay on board, while the rest of us piled into two rental cars to tackle the famous Road to Hana.

The Hana Highway is a twisty, 52-mile road that is considered one of the most beautiful drives in the U.S.  It’s on the National Register of Historic Places since many of the bridges date back over a century.  This wonderful drive used to be extremely narrow often forcing cars to negotiate around each other with a cliff walls on one side, and a nasty drop on the other.  We were excited to show it all to the rest of our family.  Who cares that it was raining?  Who cares that it was raining?

26 The North Maui coastline

The North Maui coastline

Our first stop was at a waterfall called Haipuena Falls. The name doesn’t matter as much as the fact that this is just one of the many gorgeous waterfalls, surrounded by lush tropical foliage, for which the Road to Hana is famous.  And the fact that this is one in which you can swim!  At first everyone declared the water to be too cold, but after climbing upstream a bit, Emily and I decided to double back and take the plunge.  Pretty soon all of us were in the pool at the base of the falls.  Since our last visit, someone had hung a rope ladder over the pool, and we took turns trying to climb up it with varying degrees of success.


We stopped at the Ke’anae Arboretum for a short hike through tons of nature.  It’s a state-owned place that’s free, and the plants are varied and well-marked, so we really enjoyed finding lots of new flora.

We continued on to the Ke’anae peninsula, and we drove to the end of the road that travels down it. Here, the rainy day was making for some huge surf which sent football-sized lava rocks rolling and tumbling with each breaking wave.

VIDEO: Big waves and rolling rocks

A few more waterfall-viewing stops along the way, and we were at Waianapanapa State Park.  This is the home of Maui’s famous black sand beach, and the girls were fascinated with it.

In keeping with the colored sand theme, our next stop was the red sand beach.  To get to this one, you have to take a 15 minute hike along the shore around a mountain.  Your reward is a secluded beach made of red, volcanic sand, towering cliff walls above you, and a protected cove to swim in. Stunning!

67 Family on the Red Sand Beach

Family on the red sand

We had two days on Maui, which left us with an interesting problem: What would we do with our rental cars overnight?  Even if we wanted to pay exorbitant cruise-port prices, there’s no parking to be had at Maui’s cruise port, and all the shopping plazas in walking distance warn that they will tow if you leave your car overnight.  Luckily, however, there is an open lot on the faaaaaar side of the cruise harbor, about a half-mile away.  We rolled the dice, left our cars there, and walked back to the ship.  (Both cars were perfectly fine when we returned the next morning. Yay!)

For dinner that night, we went to the formal dining room, but the best they could do for us walk-ins was two tables for four.  The girls all ran to get a table together, which gave us an opportunity to have a nice dinner with Wendy and Linda. (Barry and Ann had eaten much earlier while we were on shore).  We knew we didn’t want to sit separately again, so after dinner, we all converged on Barry and Ann’s stateroom to make a plan.  If you think cruise ship cabins are tight when there’s only two of you, try stuffing ten people into one room.

74 Family meeting in Barry & Ann's stateroom

Family meeting in Barry & Ann’s stateroom

For our second day on Maui, we hit the beaches.  First up, our favorite turtle-spotting beach: Po’olenalena. We’ve written about this beach before, and we were hoping to introduce our family to our friends the sea turtles (Honu in Hawaiian).  There were four Green Sea Turtles there, and they completely ignored us as they swam round and round some rocks looking for tasty algae.  After snorkeling with the honus, we changed beaches to Maluaka beach. There were more turtles, followed by frolicking in the waves, having chicken fights and stacking nieces on top of ourselves.

85a Group shot at Po'alenalena

Group shot at Po’alenalena

Back on board, NCL actually advertised a ballroom dancing event.  Stephanie and I got all dressed up and headed over to check it out.  The bad news was that the dance floor was maybe 12 feet across.  The good news was that we had it pretty much to ourselves.  Very good news, actually, since it could only hold about three couples.  This being our most formal night, we had a formal cruise photo taken of our whole gang.

125 First formal night

First formal night

Our next day was at Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Since we would be spending a week on the Big Island soon, we opted for a leisurely day rather than run all over trying to see the volcano with too little time.  We went into town with Barry and Ann, checked out Hilo’s famous craft market, and even saw some live music.  The market is usually a weekend thing, but they open up when the cruise ship is in port.

137 Hula dancing too

Live music and hula dancing

Back on board, we learned how to make fresh flower leis, and then experienced the most amazing part of the entire cruise so far.  THE POPCORN MACHINE!  (No photos sadly.)

OK, that was #2. The highlight was sailing past the point where lava from Kilauea cascades into the ocean.  The ship turned off her lights so we could really appreciate the glowing lava in the darkness.  Neither the photos, nor our video do it justice.

VIDEO: Kilauea at Night

We’ll leave you with this photo until next time.

155 Kilauea flowing into the ocean at night

Kilauea flowing into the ocean