This past spring I was able to take an amazing trip to visit two of the Hawaiian islands with my brother. Our first week was on Mau’i and a good portion of the second was on The Big Island. While the islands all have very unique microclimate zones the Big Island lets you know you are in for a surprise even before you land at Kona Airport in Keahole (about seven miles north of Kailua-Kona on the west side of the island). From the air you wonder if you are anywhere near a tropical paradise. The vast lava fields and the haze in the air from the active smoke and lava flow from Kīlauea in Volcanoes National Park near the south end of the island make it seem like you are arriving on some forbidden planet. Thankfully this is not the case.
Crossing the island, which we did a couple of times, you see just how different the scenery and climates can be in very short amounts of time. We drove the path shown on the map below from Puako to Hilo on Saddle Road as it was not only the most direct path across the island it also the most revealing of the climate diversity of the island.
Note that all of the photos below were not only shot in the same day, they were all shot within the somewhat less than 2 hour trip from Puako to Hilo.
The top photo was taken from our obviously moving car of the mountains (mauna) looking east toward the center of the island from Puako. The landscape appears desolate and devoid of life but, surprisingly, it lit up at night from all of the homes that have been built out there. This area was very arid and warm and reminded me of much of the desert Southwest with one big exception: the rocks. The rocks you see in the foreground are lava rocks; most of which would be more accurately described as boulders as they are, in some cases, as large as 2 feet across. From the airport in Keahole to Puako the roads are bounded by these large chunks of lava. The green areas you see a short distance into the lava is part of the resort area that we stayed in and was man made.
The bottom two photos are from a quick stop along the road near Waikoloa; just a short distance from Puako. While the temperature in Waikoloa was not that different from that in Puako, the landscape is already staring to change. The lava rocks have been left behind and we found more open grasslands. It was in these areas that we saw the island’s feral goats. They were in the fields and often right at the side of the road. Mau’i has its feral chickens, the Big Island has feral goats.
A short drive past Waikoloa you climb to higher elevations and pass between the volcanoes. Near the entrance drive to Mauna Kea observatory is the Pu’u Huluhulu Cinder Cone. Unlike the areas near the west side of the island the lava here is not in chunks but rather in frozen flow-states. The lava in this area is estimated at around 1,000 years old and vegetation is growing in and around it. Most notable are the Mauna Kea Silverswords seen in the top left photo below.
While at the cinder cone the discovery of the rock with the words “Hawaiian Kingdom Still Exists” did not make much sense but a quick bit of research revealed that it is in reference to an ongoing legal battle that concerns the status of the Hawaiian Islands and the potential violation of International Laws by the United States if they are determined to still be a sovereign nation. This Wikipedia entry provides a description and history of the Hawaiian Kingdom: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Hawaii.
Just down the road beyond the cinder cone things start getting a bit more colorful. The lava is now no longer in large contiguous flows but back to rocks again. Unlike along the west side of the island these rocks are much smaller. The is the Upper Waiakea Forest Reserve. Groundcover plants like the flowering Pink Knotweed shown in bottom left and right hand photos below and various grasses are everywhere in this area.
Once past the Forest Reserve the tropics start to reveal themselves. Ferns and other dense greenery border the highway and lava is no longer visible. In the distance you can see the ocean on the east side of the island. From this point forward east and up and down the east side of the island the landscape is lush and green.
To be continued (once I get all of the photos from return trip up along the east coast of the island and back across through Waimea to Puako ready)…