Monday, June 30, 2014

The Big Island ~ Pua Mau Place Botanical Gardens

Exploring the Kona or "dry" side of the island has always been a fun thing for our family to do. One of the places we have discovered is the Pau Mau Place Botanical Gardens. This year was amazing since we made a discovery that we had never seen before. A new flower that grabbed our hearts. But, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Pua Mau Place Botanical Gardens is right off of the main highway on the Kona side of the island. You wind a bit on the little road leading up to it but when you arrive there is plenty of parking and a guest cottage where you can buy local art, something to drink (highly recommend doing so when it's so hot) or chat to the person behind the counter. 
 In front of you when you park are the lovely bougainvillea, a little fountain and a glimpse at what there is to explore here.

 But, oddly enough, that wasn't the most fascinating thing in the parking lot. This is a palm tree trunk. I swear it looks like concrete but it's a real tree! I had to go touch it and everything to convince myself. Too cool! 

 Search out the Purple Crowns in the front as well. Very interesting flower and one I had never seen before.
 At this time they were doing some renovating so we parked in the upper parking lot which started us out at the top of the gardens. Wear good shoes because this is built on a hillside and what you walk down you will, eventually, walk back up again. But at the top is this lovely patio where you can unpack your goodies from the store and enjoy a picnic lunch. See the giant dragonfly statue? There are about a dozen similar animal or insect sculptures all over the park! 

 There are many different types of Plumeria. I know that most people love hibiscus, and they are very beautiful flowers indeed, but it's the plumeria that has my vote. I love making lei's from them and the smell is just intoxicating.
 There are a few different colors but they are all basically the same idea. Five petals that are slightly curved around a darker center. There are white with yellow centers like the first photograph, white with yellow and pink centers like these.
There are also white with pink on them. These are much smaller than the ones pictured above this photograph and almost all pink with white edges. They are just gorgeous.
 The new flower that just stole our heart is actually a tree! The Rainbow Shower Tree to be exact. It only blooms in September and since this was our very first trip at that time of the year we had never noticed them before. 
The trees are just loaded down with these clusters of flowers. And the smell is simply divine! We spent quite a lot of time under this tree in the middle of the patio just sipping our water and enjoying the breeze, the flowers and the scent. Lovely.
There is a house a the top of the hill that gives you a beautiful view down to the ocean. There are chairs here to relax upon and enjoy the view, a restroom that you really should use before you head down again and it's right on the other side of that lovely patio.
If you look down from that lanai you will see another area tucked into the trees. I decided to hike down to see what else was in that little area other than this brightly painted picnic table.
Along the way I found a few more sculptures including this leopard!
And while standing very still to photograph the leopard a wild turkey walked right past me! There are several types of birds who live here including peacocks. In fact, there is an entire peacock enclosure where you can go see them.
But down in that area I had seen from the house above was a whole bunch of fun waiting for me! These are bells that you can bang on to make lots of noise or even music. I'm not musically inclined so I'm sure it just sounded like a whole lotta noise but it sure is fun to do!
There are also benches there and on this very hot and humid day this was just a lovely place to sit, enjoy the view, cool off in the breeze and enjoy the sculptures.
 Walking back to the car we went through the upper gardens and this is where there are several types of hibiscus plants. The flowers are just so beautiful. Yes, I took over a dozen photos of different flowers but I'm just going to share a couple with you.
This one is my absolute favorite. The ultra bright colors remind me of Hawaii every single time I see this photo.
 But I also learned to love another type of flower. A Spider Lily. There were two types there that I found to be very beautiful. This one with it's white and green coloring was so very unusual to me. 
 But this one, the Queen Anne, was just so absolutely beautiful that we looked like paparazzi crowding around to take it's photo!
After 2 hours of hiking around the gardens we stopped back into the shop to pick up more drinks, enjoy the flowers by the fountain for a few moments more and then head back out again. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon. If you find yourself on The Big Island and looking for something wonderful to go do then you should look up the Pau Mau Place Botanical Gardens and spend some time surrounded by beauty.

Next week I'm going to take you to a hidden treasure on the Kona side of the island as well as a trip up to Hawi for lunch! See you Monday!


Monday, June 23, 2014

Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park

One of the greatest things about the Big Island of Hawai'i is the fact that there are so many different ecosystems on one island. There are the windswept, windmill dotted lands of South Point, the lava fields with little tropical oasis areas of the Kailua-Kona area, the desert-like area of area just south of Waimea, the pastureland of Waimea and Hawi in the north part of the island, the snow covered peaks of Mauna Kea, the deep jungle like tropical rainforest of the Hilo area, and the very impressive volcanic area of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.

There is plenty to see in the area of the volcano including MacKenzie State Park with it's amazingly high lava cliffs and Lava Trees State Monument where you get to walk through a tropical jungle with some of the most interesting lava formations on the island. Just take a side street and explore. There is just SO much to see! But today we are focusing on the volcano.

The first thing you need to know is that this will be the most affordable part of your visit to this island. It is only $10 per car to enter this park and that is good for 7 days. There is SO much to see in this park that it's $10 well spent.
 Sadly most of Volcano House was under construction when we visited this time with only a small convenience store and the back balcony open for touring. But this is a really lovely place to visit and an even lovelier place to stay. If you do stay the night at Volcano House be aware that while it's not inexpensive, about $300 a night for a volcano view....and you really want that view, it is totally worth it. Built in 1846 it is full of wonderful history and is a great point to touch down at the end of the day of discovery in the park. As I mentioned, it was just renovated so it's even more beautiful now than it was when we stayed there in 1998 and it was pretty fantastic then! As you can see, the view from the hotel balcony is stunning!
 If you take a right off of the balcony and hit the paths you will see that the trails are not long trails. You can find trails all over the rim trail road (it's about 11 miles around) so you can explore and not have to be in fantastic shape to enjoy it.
 The trails are full of lush vegetation and you really feel enveloped by the rainforest. It's just so beautiful!
 My mom's hand is used for size reference so you can see how small these delicate little orchids are that we found on the path. Quite the opposite of the orchids we found at the coffee shop, eh?!

 You will see this sign on every trail. And they are as serious as a heart attack. DO NOT GO OFF THE TRAILS. Lava is about 2,000 degrees. This is an active volcano with lava making it's way through tubes all over this area. You never know where the ground is really thin. There are steam vents, and cracks everywhere and the cliff face is not really all that protected so watch your little ones.
In fact this has been a very active volcano for the past 20 years with a surge in activity since September of 2011. We had visited several times before and could see some steam escaping the vent but never as much as it was this visit. The steam is so full and steady that it is actually making it's own clouds! At night it's been reported that you can see the glow of the lava. Usually you can walk right up to the Ha'akulamanu crater but right now that section is closed off due to activity. 
 Also be aware of those who may have sulfur allergies. This area by the hotel is full of these sulfur vents. A great way to understand the smell of lava but not so great if you are allergic to it. And, yes, in some places the smell of the sulfur is really strong and smells like rotten eggs. 
 But the winds are high and the smell is quickly whisked away from you so it's easy to really enjoy the walk from point to point.
 Do you have someone in your family with limited mobility? Just drive them to the first scenic point and then it's a very short walk to the rim for them. 
 The Crater Rim Road is currently closed between the Jagger Museum and the Chain of Craters Road, due to volcanic activity, (always check the advisory on the Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park Website for current information) but there is still plenty to see. One of those is the Nene. These geese resemble the Canada Goose in coloring but they are very different. It's pretty cool to see these native birds out on the lava fields. Just be very careful when driving because they will just waddle right in front of cars to cross the street. Make your way around the Chain of Craters Road the other direction, away from the museum, and head to the Thurston Lava Tube. Now, I'm claustrophobic so it wasn't the thing for me but I hear it's something you really should do if you visit this park so don't miss it!
 Our visit was cut a bit short due to an impending storm. We had intended to head into Hilo but the locals were warning us not to attempt it if we wanted to try to make it back into Kailua-Kona that night. So we took their advice and picked a little general store/cafe to have a late lunch with the birds before driving back.
 We all loved the Hawaiian style that is just everywhere here...even on the pay phones. In fact the pay phones are a great reminder that your cell phone may not get service everywhere you go here. If you see pay phones then chances are your cell service will be sketchy in that area.
True enough, the storm hit us for most of our drive back. We were driving in a V formation, down the Western part of the island to the South and then back up the Eastern part of the island to Keauhou and our hotel. Up on Highway 11, making the turn on Kamehameha III Road, there is a wonderful overlook that you can stop and enjoy the view. Even if you are staying in Kailua-Kona, this is a wonderful route to take to make your way back down to Ali'i Drive. This is also a wonderful place to stop and watch the sunset. It has a wide parking lot with a stone fence you can relax upon and take in the view. 

We made it back to our hotel lanai to watch the sunset and it was, as Hawaiian sunsets tend to be, breathtaking. Simply lovely.

Speaking of lovely...we'll head up the Eastern part of the island to Hawi making a stop at the Pua Mau Place Botanical Gardens. Hope you can come back next Monday for that.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Hawaii ~ South Point and Punalu'u (Black Sand Beach)

One of the reasons we love the Big Island is because of the different ecosystems there are on one island. It is also the reason why it's the only one of the Hawaiian Islands that I could ever see myself living on. The two areas we'll be visiting today are great examples of how different the parts of this island are here on the Big Island.

First up is South Point. Driving South from Kailua-Kona for about 60 miles you will pass through some really gorgeous areas, lush and tropical. 
 We stopped for coffee...naturally...on our way. Coffee is like pineapple in Hawai'i. Get it fresh while you can. It's simply amazing. So find one of the roadside roasters who, if not grow their own, roast beans from coffee plantations right there on the island. 
 This coffee stand came with a couple of surprises. The first one was finding the largest orchids I have ever seen in my life. These were bigger than my hand! Not to mention just breathtakingly gorgeous.
 This flower, a Pink Quill, looked completely fake to me. I was encouraged to touch it so I could see it wasn't plastic! It is a form of ginger and just amazing.
 And then the terrain changes...drastically! The volcano on the island, Kilauea which we'll tour later, erupts rather regularly and when there are big lava flows this is the direction they flow, South. Fortunately a big flow hasn't happened for a long time so the people have been fairly safe for years. You can see the path all the way to the ocean.
 But nature has taken back her own in this area with pasture lands that extend down to the cliffsides. We were very surprised to see pasture land and horses grazing. Take note of the trees...they give you an idea of what the winds are like on this part of the island!
 Driving out to South Point Park feels like you are driving for forever. If it were not for the fact that it's only one road you would think that maybe you had gotten lost. The windmills are not really the end of the road, it just takes a turn there! But, once again, the windmills give you an idea of how high the winds are out here.
 When you get to the park you find that it's really just cliffs and water. There is a blow hole that you need to be careful around but the kids here don't think anything of just jumping off into the water. Now the winds are really, really strong here. I am not a little person and they were practically knocking me off of my feet. And here there were little kids just running along the cliff edges and jumping off into the water! See the metal grate in the foreground? That's actually a ladder. This made for a great spot for Hawaiians to pull their canoes back up the cliff face and onto the island from the sea. The kids just scurry up those ladders to jump off the edge again. Click on the little photo to see just how small the kids are in this's amazing!
 Of course the original ladders were not metal, they were wood. High winds, sea salt deteriorating wood...doesn't give me a high sense of confidence in climbing these things. Yes, that's a propane tank there...for night diving.  
 But once you get to the edge, after battling the winds, the water is simply amazing. That color! The blue of the Hawaiian waters always takes my breath away but these deep blues were just stunning.
And you can see for miles. Past the beautiful lava formed cliffs to the windmills and pastureland all the way back to the tropical part of the island. 

A side note. There is a "green sand" beach here. You can not drive to it, you have to take the 2.5 mile hike out to it. I've been there. It's a tiny crescent beach and it's green because of the olivine that is formed from the lava thanks to the current in this one area. It's very pretty, it's a lovely place to visit but it's not easy to get to so if you are not a hiker then you may just want to enjoy the views from South Point but if you are a hiker then take a walk for a very unique experience.

The Black Sand Beaches of Hawai'i are often described as being very romantic and lovely. And they are...but they are also hot. The sun is absorbed into that black sand and on a cold blustery morning it is simply divine to snuggle your toes down into it! But that also means you have to be careful on a hot summer day because the sand is going to be very warm. I'd happily take my chances! Add in the sea turtles, of Punalu'u, who love to sun on these shores and you have one of the most perfect places on Earth!
 When you arrive at the little parking lot, after passing by one of the most beautiful golf courses I've ever seen, you will see a little Visitors Center area with restrooms. Walk behind that for this gorgeous view!
 The lava coastline is simply gorgeous. The bright green algae is one of the reasons the green sea turtles love this area.
 This is a lovely spot to spend the day as a family as well. Back along the shady treeline, looking like any Hawaiian based movie you have ever seen, are lots of little groups of families just enjoying the view, the sunshine, the cool water, warm sand and the sea turtles. One of the reasons they are set back up on the beach is for the sea turtles.
 Part of Hawaiian culture is the utmost respect of nature. The green sea turtle is high on that list. they pull themselves from the water up to the edge of the sand to bask in the sun here.
 And there are usually several here to see each time you visit Punalu'u park. BUT please be aware not to get right up on them. I have a VERY long lens that allows me to take close ups but please respect these wonderful animals and don't crowd them. Stay back at least six feet and don't ever touch them no matter how tempting it may be.
 I sat down on the sand about 8 feet from this guy and just hung out with him for awhile. That is part of being in Hawai'i...just hanging out with nature. Within a few minutes of realizing that the only danger from me was having his photo taken he drifted off to sleep. 
The black sands of Punaluu are simply gorgeous. Tiny little pieces of lava that have been pounded into grains of sand that warm up in the sun. But don't be tempted to take any home. Legend has it that if you take any lava back home with you from Hawai'i that you will be cursed until you return it to the island. Of course the real reason not to take any sand or shells home with you is to leave them there so you can come and see it again. If everyone who visited took home just 1/4 cup of black sand with them there wouldn't be a black sand beach to visit and nowhere for the sea turtles to sun themselves so we can hang out with them.  But do take the time to really soak up the sun, soak up the view and hang out for a long while with the turtles. It's an amazing way to spend an afternoon!

Next time we'll head up to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. Hope you can drop in again next Monday!