United States of America
FROM HAWAII WITH LAVA
As we round the familiar silhouetted Kona-coast, I see a cluster of similar dive boats to mine, all bobbing in the water surrounding giant, illuminated lily pads (which I would later realise are just stand up paddleboards) all filled with snorkelers and divers. My fear immediately turns to wonder.
“Alright! Let’s get in!” my dive instructor commands.
As I slip into the fresh (and unnervingly warm) Pacific ocean off the coast of the Island of Hawaiʻi, I grab a handful of rope around one of the paddle boards which also has a high powered LED light attached to it and is pointing straight down into the pitch black abyss below. I put my head under the water and almost swallow my snorkel mouthpiece, as three massive Manta rays do acrobatic flips inches away from our faces in our spotlight.
Night diving and snorkelling is one of the truly unique experiences that the Jack’s Diving Locker does exceptionally well. The learning curve to get into the water is only minutes long, and the resulting experience is unlike anything I have ever seen before. The lights attract plankton, which in-turn attracts giant Manta ray which in-turn attracts us divers. They are otherworldly, beautiful and as jaw dropping as an underwater Cirque Du Soleil show from another planet.
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Having your mind blown works up a surprising appetite, so back in the tranquil town of Kailua-Kona I make a dash for dinner at a restaurant called Umekes, where a ravenous long line of people has already formed outside. In a place like Umekes, it’s quite difficult for a foodie to order. Taro leaf roasted coconut oysters, fresh Ahi fish belly with unagi glaze, and a dish simply called 'Get In My Belly' which is too decadent to even try to describe in a story like this. It's a symphonic menu and I hold myself back from ordering everything.
“Don’t think, just do it,” says Chrissi, my all knowing bartender as she slides two shot glasses stealthily with a sideways squint.
“Left, then right. Left … then right,” she repeats to me with determination. I do as she says for fear of upsetting her and I smash the liquid down my throat in its prescribed order. Immediately my mouth starts doing the electric slide.
“That’s buffalo trace whiskey, and that’s a house made mango pickle shot. We call it a Buffalo Soldier. Together, they make decisions here easier to make,” Chrissi says with a wink and smile.
I think to myself, what a novel cure for the indecisive folk.
At the crack of dawn, still sporting a Buffalo Soldier hangover, I shoot across the Jurassic-era like centre of the island in my hire car on Route 200, destined for the city of Hilo on the island’s east coast. I arrive at the city’s charming little airport that resembles a ramshackle bus stop, anchored in the middle of paradise and minutes later I’m walking on the palm tree-lined tarmac towards my helicopter. As I climb aboard the shiny Bell 407 chopper and strap myself in, fear catches up to me and I realise there's no doors. Immediately my terror-inducing experience of diving the ocean at night wasn’t that scary after all. Now I’ve got to fly over the mouth of a couple active volcanoes without any doors.
Hanging out of the helicopter, now suspended over a lava-filled active volcano, I witness the raw and powerful nature that makes this chain of islands so special, peering into the spewing, molten guts of Mother Earth. A full hour passes while I’m looking down the lens of my camera and we’re back on terra firma, safe and sound, but apparently I wasn’t done flying for the day.
Hawaii Zipline Tours is just a half hour north of Hilo and is the best example of what a ziplining adventure through a tropical jungle can be. I’m driven up to a stunning, working plantation where I’m placed on a short zipline just a foot off the ground to get the initial feel of soaring through the air only tethered to a line. There are about a dozen lines here, each getting progressively more intense. And as I zip through the farm, trying each line, I learn about the various types of vegetation, food, fruit and history that this part of the island holds sacred. I even pick bananas and other local treats right off the vine as a snack as I wait my turn or as I sail by.
This corner of the island is so idyllic, mountainous, lush and picturesque that I almost miss that now I’m on the last line, I’m sailing hundreds of metres above the ground flying at 65 kilometres per hour across a deep gorge.
Having had my fill of flying for just about a lifetime, I start my journey south. Route 130 would take me to the lava fields, which as it sounds, is a barren, unearthly place devoid of any vegetation unlike the rest of this idyllic place. As the highway turns to a single lane paved road, then into a pure gravel path, I instantly think to myself that I probably should’ve taken the extra insurance out on the hire car. After a good 30 minutes pushing my poor Toyota across what looks like a Martian parking lot, I finally reach my final place of rest: Hakuma House.
It may be odd to travel to see nothing, but that is exactly what an overnight adventure to Hakuma House is; nothing. The lodging is a modest, two level timber home that sits atop a massive lava flow. As I stand at the edge of my abode for the evening, around me there is absolutely nothing. No grass, no trees, no water, no mountains, no sound. It's blissful nothingness. Tonight I’m sleeping on what is the world's freshest skin and it's an experience like no other.
As the sun sets, I draw a bath in the outdoor clawfoot iron tub and put a bit of shampoo in to make it feel fancy. I extinguish the deafening sound of running water and slip into the tub looking out into the void of an ashen black lava flow horizon, where the only sign I’m not just floating in outer space is the complete lack of stars hidden from the fluctuating weather patterns.
For just a minute of soaking in my private bath, I completely forget where I am and I let the emptiness fill me in a wonderful way. For a brief moment, I think I understand what it is like to live here, to be Hawaiian, where nature consumes you and is such a protagonist in everyday life. The things you would worry about in other places don’t apply here because it is like another world.
In Hawaiʻi, there is only nature, her needs, and your desire to fulfil them. Once you come to realise that on your next visit to Hawaiʻi, you’ll get the holiday from yourself that you never knew you needed.
Hawaiian Airlines flies direct from Sydney to Honolulu for just AU$1,050 round trip. It’s then just a hop, skip and a jump over to the big island of Hawaii for AU$125 round trip. Hire a car when you’re there, it’s definitely the best way to get around.
From AU$500 per night.
Hawai’i is the largest of the Hawaiian islands; but it is also the newest at just 500,000 years old. It has two active volcanoes and is the best place to see active lava flow.