Thursday morning we took a relatively short Hawaiian Airlines flight from Honolulu to Hilo, on the island of Hawaii. As we approached Hilo, we could see the two giant peaks that comprise much of the island. Mauna Kea, the tallest, is nearly 14,000 feet, with several world-class observatories near the summit. Nearly as tall is Mauna Loa, a volcano which is dormant right now, but could still erupt at any time.
Hilo is on the east side of the island, which is the wet side because the trade winds rise up the slopes of the giant peaks, building up clouds that drop lots of rain there. Numerous plantations dot that part of the island, fields and orchards where all sorts of tropical fruits and vegetables grow. Our group from the Brazos Valley stopped first at the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm, where we picked macadamia nuts fresh off the ground under the trees. Boy, are those things hard to break open! It's a good thing we went to the gift shop and picked some off the shelves.
Coming around the south side of the island, the climate goes from rain forest to desert as we enter Volcanoes National Park. I don't think I've seen a more awesome sight than the Kilauea Caldera, the most continuously active volcano on the planet. We even walked through a lava tube from an ancient eruption. From there, our tour bus stopped at the Punalu'u Black Sand Beach, where we saw some big green sea turtles resting on the black sand.
We made it to Kona on the west side of the island, where we checked into the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort in time to see the sunset. After dark, we saw several large manta rays in the water where a spotlight shines from the hotel. It was an eventful day, and we all needed a good night's rest.
Friday morning, some of our group went snorkeling, and the rest of us went to the Kona Joe Coffee Plantation. Because of the rich volcanic soil and perfect rainfall and cloud cover, Kona coffee is quite possibly the richest coffee in the world. Then it was back to the hotel, which is built on a lava flow. It just looks unreal to see all around us the folds of black volcanic rock that solidified years ago as the lava was oozing its way down toward the ocean. But there are those trees and other plants that take root right there in the middle of the rock, another unreal sight.
Saturday morning it was an even shorter flight from Kona to Kahului, on the island of Maui. Now this is truly a tropical paradise. I'll tell you more about this island tomorrow. Aloha.