The Big Island has dramatically different characteristics as you move across it. As we took our trip on the helicopter to see the volcanic activity, we continued up the east side of the island which is considerably wetter than the west. There are dramatic valleys and high cliffs. The terrain looks impressive from the air but I imagine it looks even more amazing when you are on the ground. Our pilot described hiking around some of these valleys. Crossing one ridge is apparently a six hour hike and that is if you are not loaded down with too much gear!
We flew in to some of the valleys to have a look around. The ground towered above us on most sides and you really felt in awe of the geology around you. Everything is so large, images don’t even start to represent what we saw. We also came in to the highest falls on the island. The largest of these drop over 3,000’ down the sides of the mountains. We flew in to a corner where these falls were raining down. The shots are not special but I include them to try and give an impression of what was there. The scale is impossible to judge and I also had plenty of reflections from the cockpit glazing but here they are anyway.
We buzzed around a number of these valleys always surrounded by lush, steep slopes. This is not an area for the faint of heart. We then headed back towards the west up another valley climbing towards the ridge ahead of us. As we popped over this ridge the green foliage was almost instantly replaced by the dry, brown landscape we had originally come from. The transition was instant and rather surprising as, while climbing up, you had no idea what was ahead. Then it was a straight run back to our base.
I am like many tourists in that I am a sucker for waterfalls. I suspect as I go through the many posts on this blog that I will find plenty of waterfall shots. Today I shall be adding one more. Akaka Falls on Big Island are a popular spot. Tour parties seemed to be a feature the day we were there. We saw so many people wearing badges defining which group they were in and you could see the group number change as you walked around and obviously came across a different part of their schedule. However, they were not what we were there to see.
You can take a short walk to the falls from the parking lot. What is nicer is to take the longer loop. You actually get a view of some other falls early on in the loop although they are across a valley and so a little less dramatic. The area is rain forest like in its conditions so you get to see plenty of cool plants and wildlife as you go, some of which has already made its way on to this blog. Near the end of the loop, you come down a slope and the Akaka Falls are in front of you.
They are some pretty high falls. The volume of water rushing over them was substantial and you could see smaller streams of water around the opening. Sadly, the viewing area was such that it was hard to get a good view of the bottom of the falls and the surrounding water so everything felt a little isolated when trying to frame it. I’m sure with more time and persistence, I might have found a better way to get some shots. The blog is most suited to landscape format shots but these falls were stretching the wide angle nature of the lens I was using so portrait was often the best option. They are snapshots of a tourist spot but they make me remember a really cool waterfall.
Big Island is not short of waterfalls. The most well-known ones attract tourists like us who will drive to see them. However, so much of the island is not close to the roads and there are rivers and falls all through this area. Our pilot was a keen hiker and he showed us his favorite falls. Apparently this trip will be a full day hike to get you in and out again. I assume this includes some time to hang out and enjoy the falls once you get there.
If you are slightly less energetic, flying over the falls in a helicopter is a lot quicker to do and certainly doesn’t tire you out as much. The location certainly looked cool though and, from above, you get less of an immersive feeling. Judging by the river we saw on our way to the falls, there are plenty of cool sights to see on the way as well. You do need to be well prepared though. Forget cell phone coverage. You are on your own out there!
Driving back to our hotel from Hilo took us across the center of Big Island. This is a pretty high drive as you pass between the two big mountains of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Mauna Kea is the home to a number of observatories. We did drive some way up the mountain to the visitor’s center. You are already at quite some altitude at this point and you could feel the lack of air when you moved too quickly. There was an option to drive all the way to the top but we had other things scheduled and didn’t make the trek up.
From the visitor center, you couldn’t actually see the observatories. However, as we drove towards the turn for the mountain, we did come to a pull off where you could see them up on the summit with the sun glinting off the domes of the larger installations. Another time I would certainly like to go all the way to the top. However, I think I shall be alone on that trip as Nancy was already feeling the effects of the altitude.
Gratuitous sunset shots are not usually my thing. However, where we were staying on Big Island provided a great place to watch the sun go down. It was easy to have the sun go down in line with a little headland by the beach so why wouldn’t I do that? I watched a couple of the sunsets from there. The sky was better for one of them but there wasn’t a lot of high level cloud to really light up.
It’s interesting to see how many people that came out for the sunset disappeared right after the sun went down. They missed some of the more lovely sky colors that resulted as the sun illuminated the clouds from below once it had passed beyond the horizon. A little patience is worthwhile, although it doesn’t seem like such a sacrifice for a photo when you are standing by a tropical beach.
We were heading out of Hilo and starting back in the direction of where we were staying but our route took us almost directly past the Rainbow Falls. Having already seen some good falls on this day, we were curious but not determined to see these falls. Moreover, it was looking a bit overcast as we drove up. This was the beginning though. As we pulled into the parking lot, the heavens opened. It was hammering down. Having got there, I figured I would take a look anyway although Nancy was quite happy to wait in the dry. Your intrepid photographer had to bear witness though.
Rainbows require two ingredients. Water vapor and sunlight. Without the sunlight, there was not going to be a hint of a rainbow. The falls were pretty cool looking though. I bounced around the perimeter checking them out from various angles while getting progressively wetter. It wasn’t just wet, though. The wind was really picking up so combine and damp and cold guy in some low light with a lot of wind blowing and getting the shots was beginning to be tricky. Instead, I took a good look at the falls and then admitted defeat. Back to the car to peel off the wet jacket and try to dry off on the drive back across the island.
This time the shots I am sharing are not my own. I was there when they were taken but these were taken by Nancy. I was traveling light with one camera and a wide angle lens as we walked along the trails to the falls and Nancy was carrying her camera. It is a Nikon P900 and that thing has a phenomenal zoom range. When I saw the geckos on the leaves of the trees, there was no way I was going to be able to get a shot that showed anything of them given how small they were and the distance to them.
Nancy, on the other hand, had an ideal opportunity to get some shots of them. There were multiple geckos on the plants, some on their own, others together and some others chasing the first ones out of the way. They move very slowly for a while and then burst into action. You do end up with some shots of empty leaves as they spring away just before the shutter is pressed. However, she still got a number of them and their bright coloration really shows up well.
Rain forest conditions do tend to mean lots of moisture in the air. That much moisture means perfect conditions for the growth of lichen. The lichen do a great job of collecting the moisture from the air to keep them well watered. The way the water drops form on the surface of the plant can be really interesting. Just a small vibration would send them dropping to the plant life below but, for now, they were safe.
One evening, while having dinner near the beach, we saw a flash of wings as a bird flew down to the water’s edge and landed. It was a heron. He was standing on the rocks as the waves washed in. Every once in a while, he would catch a fish and then walk away from the water before dealing with his meal. We talked to the staff about him and they told us he was a regular feature every evening. They had even named him Roger. Each night we came by to see if Roger was there and, sure enough, there he was. Same spot each time, just standing and waiting for dinner to come to him. On our first night he was joined by a manta ray that came in very close inshore but, sadly, he never showed up again while I was there with a camera. Roger was far more reliable though.
The biggest thing that made me want to go to Big Island was volcanoes. I have seen plenty of photos and video of volcanic activity but I have never seen it for real. I wanted to try and experience the awesome power welling up from the heart of the earth. Awesome is a word that gets pretty free use but I think when it comes to the violence that the layer of energy just below the crust of the earth can produce, awesome is a word that is entirely justified.
The south end of Big Island is the one that is most active volcanically. Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea are both sitting quietly at the moment but neither of them is considered done. Mauna Loa has erupted relatively recently. However, the one that is playing at the moment is Kilauea. It has been busy erupting for a long time now. We checked it out by helicopter – the most easygoing way to see things. We took in two locations of activity.
The first was an open route to the inside of the planet. It has been active for a long time and has a visitor center. Apparently, you used to be able to walk close to the edge of the hole as a tourist. A parking lot is still visible. However, a violent outburst a few years ago suggested that this location was no longer safe. Now the visitor’s center is as far as you can go. There is a circular hole in the larger crater in which the lava bubbles. The level rises and falls daily and often will come over the lip into the larger crater. While we were over it things were a bit below the lip but you could still see the heat just below the surface of the lava. Because the air cools the lava quickly, you rarely see the molten lava is it is usually under a crust. Still very hot, but not liquid.
We then headed off to another area of activity. Here there was a rip in the surface from which gases were billowing. As you looked through the various holes, you could see into the heart of things and the glow from the lava was impressive. The color was intense and you could sense the heat within. As the lava emerged from various fissures in the surface, it would cool to make a new crust. A metallic looking surface would appear. Occasionally, the lava would bubble forward and, oh so briefly, there would be a red glow on the surface. Then it would cool and add a bit more to the metallic surface.
Big Island was a constant stream of references to the incredible forces that had formed the island. The lava fields covered much of the island. Even on the beaches, you had to be cautious of the lava chunks on the sand. My delicate feet did not like the lava. However, nothing could match the raw power that was on display at the volcanoes. I was certainly not disappointed having focused so much on them in planning the trip. Nature is amazingly powerful.