The group hit the road a little later than anticipated due to a slight bit of over indulgence from the night before. Nevertheless, we hit the road before 9:30. The boys thought we were acting like men by letting the women drive to the Volcano. About 30 minutes into the drive I asked Robyn to pull over so I could get some fresh air (puke). Back on the road, this time in the front seat, we journeyed down the windy road to the volcano. We passed many coffee plantations and ‘must see’ sights but nothing was worth stopping for – we didn’t want to increase the already long drive of 2 hours to the Volcano. We did however get up-to-speed on the place we wanted to stop after the volcano – Ash’s wife was quite the researcher and didn’t get sick in the back seat (unlike others) while researching the best places to hit from the Big Island bible. We noted places like Volcano Country Club and the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach – all tops on the list after touring the Volcano.
Once arriving at Volcanoes National Park – Kilauea, we knew our trip would be a downer since a majority of the park was closed due to high gases – go figure. The trip only improved once we left the visitors center and we hit our first stop – the overlook of the Kilauea Caldera at Jaggar Museum. This was a great overlook and was only improved by the Roberts Hawaii Tour Bus that arrived at the same time as us. Despite our best efforts to rush out of the car and beat the onslaught of the arriving Roberts Hawaii Tour Bus we weren’t able to get our pictures and tour the museum before the Roberts Hawaii Tour Bus joined our small group. We quickly understood that the tour bus was from the cruise ship that arrived at the Kona dock the night before. We also quickly understood that we wanted nothing to do with these people as they smelled worse than the volcanoes’ gases and also walked slower than the creation of the entire island. Despite our best efforts we arrived at several other stops at the exact same time as these wonderful travelers. One of these travelers even managed to speed in front of Ash and toss her gum in front of his path – she looked like a English troll mixed with a hobbit – is that how every British woman in her late 70s looks? We did, however, manage to find our own stop without the Roberts Hawaii Tour Bus. We visited the steam vents, which was definitely a highlight. This was fun, not because the tour bus didn’t join us, but because the steam vents were really interesting. Charring the vegetation around the vent, they offered a glimpse into what lies beneath. Just a traveler’s tip in case you visit…maintenance on the path to the steam vents is quite sparse. Ash’s wife tripped on the gravel road (I’m sure it had nothing to do with her long twinkle toes) and let everyone around us know the clear lack of maintenance was to be blamed.
Next stop: Thurston Lava Tube.
The Thurston Lava Tube was created when magma rushed from the top of the volcano’s flow to the ocean. As the lava cools it hardens around the flowing magma – and the flowing magma flows to the sea. Overtime, the magma runs out and leaves a tube like tunnel. We were lucky to arrive at the lava tube two minutes after our cruise line friends. If you’ve ever wanted to walk at the pace of an 80 year old down wet steps through a dark, wet, smelly tube then this was just the time and place. We walked through the lava tube and wondered if we could walk any slower? Partly to blame were the large puddles in the tube that were splashing on a few 80 year-old ankles wearing sandals…it did get a little dicey. It’s a shame to focus on the people around you but when that’s all you can see and hear it becomes impossible to ignore.
After the lava tube we had a tough decision to make. Since the park was closed we had to ask each other whether or not we wanted to drive around the park and see lava flow outside the park – another 2 hours or drive for 45 minutes and see the steam of the lava flowing into the ocean from inside the park. Since we all were tired of driving we decided to stay inside the park and drive to the ocean and see the steam of where the flowing lava was hitting the ocean – we drove down the winding road through lava fields and got to the end of the road. It was easy to call it the end of the road – because there was literally no road left to travel. The lava flowed over the road in the 1990s and closed the road with a 15-20 foot wall of lava. We parked the car and walked down the shoreline to a vantage point where we could see the steam from the ocean. Even from a mile away it was amazing to see Mother Nature creating new land before our eyes. We tromped around the black rock; really an amazing site to see! Back to the car and off to lunch.
We all enjoyed a wonderful lunch at Kiawe Kitchen near the volcano. This restaurant was located in Volcano, HI. It was attached to a Hawaiian-style quickie mart, but much classier than your average Carls Jr. We all had pizza (which was quite tasty) and enjoyed the rest after a long tour of the park.
Next Stop: Volcano Country Club.
I don’t know why I expected the course to be better than it was; maybe because they called it a country club? Nevertheless, the course wasn’t better than any municipal we’d ever seen. It was a perfect dive for the locals who live around the volcano as the course was literally right next to the caldera we looked at earlier in the day. Despite the run-down nature of the facility I bought a hat, as I knew I would never run into another ‘main-islander’ with a Volcano Golf hat on.
Next Stop: Punalu’u Black Sand Beach.
The next stop for our group was the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach. We spotted the black sand beach in the Big Island Revealed Book (bible) and all agreed it was a must see. As we headed from Volcano Country Club to the Black Sand Beach, we got stuck behind another Roberts Hawaii Tour Bus on a two lane road – we knew our friends in the tour bus would be heading to the exact same location. And they did. When the tour bus took a left before our exit; we all got a little excited (phew, the bus is gone). Little did we know it would arrive from the other entrance at the exact same time as us. We rushed out of the car and got to the beach before the bus unloaded. We snapped a couple of pictures and headed back to the car. As we headed back to the car we were greeted by something none of us expected – we must’ve hit the jackpot when we ran into the folks in the convertible mustang. They asked our group “Do ya knaw wher da black sand beach is?” It’s not as if the black sand beach was a far distance from the parking lot – it’s not as if there isn’t any signs that say “BLACK SAND BEACH” and it’s not as if the black sand beach isn’t the most obvious thing on the island. This would be like standing in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris and asking where the Eiffel Tower is. Nevertheless, Ash politely pointed to these toothless southerners the direction of the beach (the direction they were already facing). We all agreed their kids pitched in together to send the folks to Hawaii from Arkansas for a 50th wedding anniversary – or Marlboro paid for a trip to the island with their 1,000 carton purchase – or the owner of the trailer park paid for their trip to keep them from suing him when the double wide rolled down the hill. Regardless how they got there, it was a true test for our group not to yell, “where’s the hidden camera”!?! So from now on when you hear, “Do ya knaw wher’ da black sand beach is?” you’ll know what it means.
Next Stop: Greenwell Coffee Plantation.
We all agreed we had to hit a coffee plantation while we were on the island. We all also agreed that we had been in the car way too long on the trip to the volcano. We also agreed that we didn’t want to drive back towards the volcano again that trip so we hit The Greenwell Coffee Plantation as we drove back to the condo. We went to this place because the book (Big Island Revealed) ranked it in the top three and because we all remembered where it was. We pulled in at 4:30 pm and the last plantation tour went out at 4:00 pm. Therefore, we bought our coffee and hit the road. I have to say this was some of the best coffee I’ve ever had and plan on ordering some over the Internet.
We capped the day off at the condo; not before we walked to the ocean at the peak of the golf course where we wanted to see where the path took us. We were slightly disappointed as all we saw was a bunch of locals fishing and we headed back to the condo for a few beers before heading out for an amazing sushi dinner.
We all agreed that we enjoyed the drive but would pass on touring the volcano next time.