I woke up nice and early at 5:30am because of jet lag but I was surrounded by views of lush jungle, sounds of tweeting birds and the slow onset of the Hawaiian sun.
Once Paige woke up we got on our merry way to the end of the Hamakua coast at Waipio Valley. This was where two cliffs faced each other to look out to the gorgeous black volcanic sand beach. Here, it is one of the last remaining undeveloped valleys and fortunately, a lot of tradition still gets practised. It used to be a place where thousands of Hawaiian natives resided but now only 100 live here farming taro, poi and other produce. This is also a dead end stop for most tourists as you need a 4WD to head down into the valley or an ATV or a horse – none of which I packed into my suitcase.
So we turned back to Honokaa to get a feed at Tex’s Drive In – a local favourite – to grab a freshly fried malasada (a deep fried Portuguese donut). I got mine with Bavarian creme. Once our tummies were content from malasadas and a breakfast omelette we headed on upwards toward Waimea.
We stopped by Anna’s Ranch as I had read about it in the morning and didn’t think it was on our way. Anna’s Ranch used to operate as a working 110 acre cattle ranch and was run by one of the most innovative women in ranching (she also was known as the ‘First Lady of Ranching’ in Hawaii) Anna Lindsey Perry-Fiske. It now sits here as a heritage site dedicated to the local community.
We walked around the site where we learned about local folklore, ranching and history. It was pretty interesting. The Hawaiian word for cowboy is called ‘Paniolo’ as it is the Hawaiianised pronunciation of their understanding of ‘Espanol.’ When cattle was first introduced to Hawaii, they were allowed to breed and roam freely in the wild. The King had placed a ban for cattle to be killed until the stocks were plentiful. Then there were dedicated hunters who would chase for wild cattle. When a few vaqueros were invited over from Mexico, locals were taught cowboy skills which then lead to the popularity of ranching.
So funnily enough, the cowboy culture is regarded highly here on the Big Island too. When we went through Honokaa, I had noticed that they were the town that hosted an annual Western Week. Since the vaqueros had introduced ranching, Hawaiians have developed their own traditions, art and innovations in ranching and rodeo. It would’ve been super cool to see.
Above are some old walls to fence off the cattle and keep out the wild hogs.
After enjoying the Swiss town vibe of Waimea and its background of undulating hills or as they call it pu’u, we kept on trucking upwards to reach the north coast to Pololu Valley. On the way we got to enjoy a crazy cocktail of landscapes.
We stopped at the northern point of Pololu valley where the ocean was a swirl of different blues due to volcanic deposits and sand. The palm trees were so tall! We then stopped off in Hawi to enjoy the cute little colourful village and to grab some takeaway dinner (or as they say ‘to go’).
I love how in Hawaii, you know that every mustang convertible has tourists sitting in it. We were totally sucked into the idea of hiring one too but the price tag didn’t agree with our wallets. Anyway, I’m still so glad we got the lucky jackpot of a free upgrade to a Tiguan, the space has been luxurious.
We then started the trek up Mauna Kea – the tallest mountain in the world measured from the base (10,000m!!!!!). The landscapes again would change so dramatically, from volcanic graveyards to lush rolling hills to fluffy deserts. Our ears would keep popping every few minutes due to the incline we were making. We decided to make a note of the temperature before we got up there to see how much it would drop.
We finally reached the Onizuka Observatory Visitor Information Centre where we waited for our 4WD tour to take us up to the summit. We spent 30 minutes acclimatising to reduce the probability of altitude sickness. I was actually feeling pretty nauseous so I had a hot cocoa and a quinoa salad I brought up from Hawi to try and ease my mind.
Most rental car companies don’t let you drive your cars up this road EVEN if it is a 4WD as it’s altitude is crazy high that most engines overheat and brake pads burn out. The drive up was around 30 minutes and within even 2 minutes the information centre seemed so far away. Our guide told us that he sees a rental car wreckage every month from tourists trying to attempt it.
IT WAS ALREADY COLD AT THE INFORMATION CENTRE – BUT HERE IT WAS FREEZING. But I guess heaven wasn’t ever going to resemble a hot and humid tropical getaway. Here, I got to enjoy a gorgeous, gorgeous sunset. Easily one of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen. My other favourite was my sunset in Bagan, Myanmar where I sat up on my own temple staring out across flat fields of ruins and at hot air balloons that speckled the sky.
The red in the lava piles is caused by the abundance of iron. Climbing up to the top made me think I was on another planet. Interestingly, they test all the Mars rovers here before they go up into space. The University of Hawaii students have robotics competitions out here too – I would’ve loved doing that back when I wanted to be an electronic engineer (haha things change so quick like the Hawaiian landscapes).
I’ll let the photos talk for itself, but I’ve never sat above the clouds like this. The sunset was magical. I chose a spot off the edge of one of the observatory foundations and absorbed every moment with my eyes and camera and iPhone and polaroid.
We came back down to do some stargazing. I got to see the northern star for my first time, the amazing spiral of a milky way that earth sits in, other constellations that I’m not going to bother trying to recite (Scorpius? Sagittarius?), Saturn, Mars, Antares and even a moving satellite. The best part was seeing Hercules’ cluster and Saturn (I could see the ring and all!) through a telescope. Then I sat around listening to astronomers talk gibberish for a little bit. Apparently, less astronomers travel to the observatory now to study as all the observatories are now accessible from the internet. However, there were still some around last night – some that were happy to share some knowledge and some sounded like they were up in the stars talking in some intense conference calls across the world.
We then made our journey to our next town stop – Kona. Making a note of the car temperature at the information centre, we could not believe we dropped an entire 33 degrees. Can’t even imagine what the summit temperature was. My hands also swelled up from altitude, they were numb from the knuckles up and looked like bee stung digits.