Monday, June 25, 2012

Hawaii Big Island - Day 3

Day 3 on the Big Island was a mish-mash of delightful surprises! We started the morning with a fantabulous breakfast prepared by our hosts. At this point, I should say a few more words about our hosts. We found our lodging for our days on the Hilo side via Originally we had wanted to stay in Hilo, but affordable options were booked, so we looked to the small town of Mountain View (this one is Google-less). Actually our decision turned out to be one of the best we made this trip! First of all, MV is equally close to Hilo and the Volcanoes National Park, and seeing as how Hilo town center was not actually that interesting, we didn't really lose out by not staying there. But more importantly, the hosts we stayed with, Leslea and Daryl, were such a sweet couple with such a wonderful wonderful home. They built their own home in Mountain View on a plot of land of 2 acres from scratch (yes, they own a bulldozer...), and we stayed in the Coconut Cabana, a cute cottage adjoining their own house. They also planted papaya, mango, coconut, and lychee trees on their land, and it is absolutely beautiful. The cottage itself is very clean and well kept, and decorated with style. The best part, they have 2 super cute dogs, Peachy and Scooter, who love having guests! They also have 2 cats and some birds and a herd of goats and chickens too... 

Leslea and Daryl's furbabies, Peachy (husky/chow mix) and Scooter (Shih-Poo). We LOVE Peachy. Sweetest dog we ever met!

Gorgeous view of their yard from our Cabana
Anyway, we had the best time staying here. Every morning Leslea makes a 2-course breakfast for their homestay guests from home grown (literally grown in their own yard) or other local ingredients. This morning, for example, we started with a course of fresh fruits from her garden/farmers markets(she trades produce from her yard at the farmers market for items that she doesn't grow - how self-sufficient!): A plate of the most delicious tree-ripened mango, hawaiian papaya, and apple-bananas, garnished with fresh peppermint and shredded coconut. SO DELICIOUS. I thought that was breakfast. But no. For the next course, she made a healthier version of the loco moco: a scoop of rice, eggs from their own hens cooked over easy, and two hearty slices of grilled fresh ahi, and instead of the usual gravy, she made a sauce of butter, chili flakes, and oyster sauce. Heaven! 

With our bellies filled with yummy breakfast, we set out for another day of fun. Today's agenda was to drive along the northern shore from Hilo to Waipi'o Valley, and check out some of the sights there. The first stop was Onomea Bay and the Hawaiian Tropical Botanical Gardens. We took the guidebook's suggestion of taking the Old Mamalahoa Hwy Scenic detour, which follows the Hamakua coastline north of Hilo. The scenery along the way was gorgeous. Lush rainforest-like foliage and vegetation line the side of the road, and with a light sprinkling of rain and sunshine just peeking through the clouds, it felt like we were in paradise. In particular, the lookout over Onomea Bay was like a scene straight out of a movie! Any one can take postcard-like photos here!


But the most enjoyable surprise was the Botanical Gardens. Those that know me know that I am way more an animal person than a plant person. I'm one of those people that plants hate, and I couldn't keep a cactus alive... But the guidebook had never failed us, so when it recommended the gardens as a "Real Gem", it convinced us to make the stop. I am so glad I took the advice!!! The garden is filled with mind-boggling plants and flowers, some so alien that it's hard to believe they are from this planet! The cute, multi-coloured geckos that poke out their tiny purple tongues to drink the flower nectar is an added bonus. Hubby's mad photography skills managed to capture this:

The garden also has a pretty intriguing history, but I won't make this blog post longer than it already is. Just a taste of the beauty you can feast your eyes on at this garden:

After visiting the Botanical Gardens, we stopped at What's Shakin', a small eatery by the side of the road, for a bite of lunch. They are known for their awesome shakes, made with nothing but the freshest fruit. They also carry Tropical Dreams Ice Cream, which is made locally on the island in Waimea. We got a tub of Kona Coffee flavored ice cream, a Farmer's Favorite shake (papaya, banana, apple, blueberry, and coconut milk), and a macadamia nut bran muffin to wash it all down. The muffin was meh, but the ice cream and shake were PHENOMENAL! I would recommend this place to anyone who's driving by this area! They also have fresh lychee from their own lychee tree. I haven't seen lychee this fresh since I was in Hong Kong!!! And it's not always lychee season. I had already bought a bunch of lychee from another truck on the way over, so I passed on these, even though they were actually cheaper and more fresh looking than the ones I bought earlier. =( Serves me right for being so impatient!

Our next stop was Akaka Falls. To be frank, the waterfall itself did not really impress me that much - I have seen larger falls, and more beautiful falls. But the really nice part about Akaka Falls is the setting. It's kind of in a tropical wilderness type of area, and if you take the longer walk around, you pass some majestic tall bamboo that sway gently in the wind. Even though it was raining a little when we visited, the view of the bamboo forest felt so peaceful that my mood was instantly lifted. The on and off raining actually added some magic to the atmosphere; fresh rain falling among the trees emanates the scent of sweet, sorrowful romance. 

Next, a visit to Laupahoehoe Point to check out the waves. Apparently ~40 children were washed away in a tsunami that hit here, and locals still have memorials here for this sad event. The waves here were so big one time that a whole cargo load of cars got tipped over as the ship was about to reach port, and all the cars were lost to sea. Having been there personally, I can agree that the waves are indeed big and scary, but we still see local fishermen cast their nets. We took a nice afternoon nap here, to the sound of waves breaking against the rocks. 

Heading back to Hilo, it was still early enough for one more activity. We had our flashlights on us, and enough energy. Spontaneously we decided to brave the Kaumana lava tubes. Peeking from over the ledge, the caves look like giant mouths, swallowing everything going in, including the light. We started with the cave on the right. It was dark dark dark in there. And wet. Tree roots dangling down from the cave roof dripped water, and made the cave smell lightly damp. Good thing I wore my hat - what if the water has sulphur in it and burns my scalp?! The cave opening was quite large, allowing us to walk in standing straight up, but soon we reached a choke point, and only a small hole allowed passaged to the next area of the cave, so we had to squeeze in by crouching as low as possible and doing the duck walk. Because the lava was highly fragmented on the ground, and their fragmented edges are sharp, I was staring at the ground all the time to make sure I had a good foothold. The consequence of this was that I hit my head on low ceilings and rock protrusions from the side wall multiple times... Good thing I completed my Ph.D. already, otherwise those brain cells would be more sorely missed!

Hubby Jay crawling through a bottle neck in the lava tube
At some point while we were crawling through the cave, Jay decided he would turn off his flashlight, just to see how dark it is. And you know how sometimes at night when it's really dark, you turn out the lights and momentarily you get freaked out because of how dark it is, but then a few seconds later your eyes adjust, and it's all okay? Well, I waited for my eyes to adjust... and waited... and waited... but it didn't happen. I just remained freaked out until the light came back on. I guess if one day you want to know what it feels like to be blind, this is one way to experience it. After about 20-30 minutes of trekking and crawling and grovelling in the lava tube, the air started to feel a little thin, and damp. I guess because there is no ventilation in there, the oxygen level is lower than usual. We headed out when we started feeling a little claustrophobic. After finding our way out of the right cave tunnel, we ventured into the left cave tunnel. It was interesting how the two caves were different in structure. The right one felt much larger initially, but has many bottlenecks and choke points. The left one starts out with a small and narrow opening, so you feel like you can't even proceed. But once you make it past the first bottleneck, you enter a huge cavern, with an almost cathedral like feel to the high, arching ceilings. Fascinating!

We ended our day very tired out from our little adventure in the caves, and had a very mediocre sushi meal for dinner at Ocean Sushi in downtown Hilo. Well, at least Peachy and Scooter were there to welcome us come at night :)

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