I woke up nice and early to the sound of – yep, rain. This time it was knocking incessantly on the tin roof as if to tell me to hurry up and move on to the next town. I told the rain “Alright, alright – I’m outta here!” to which the wind howled in relief alongside the rain’s banging.
So I packed up quickly and went downstairs to find Satoshi, the owner of the Holoholo Inn hostel that I was staying at. We soon struck a conversation as I had so many questions about the building. It was rustic, but not that kind of purposeful designer rustic, it was raw and real and ragged. Satoshi told me that he had built this himself from 1986 to 1988. After getting a framer in, he took two years off from work and built it on his own.
He originally hailed from Fukushima, Japan but moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1972. He was always a traveler – having frequented places like Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan or having worked as a TV repairman in Sweden – he had a dream and a passion. He wanted to one day settle in the countryside and have his own business. So he built a hostel to continue experiencing the greatest joy of travel for him – talking and meeting people of the world.
Satoshi told me the highs and lows the hostel had been through. You know, like many businesses, through the financial crisis and pre and post dot com bubble era. From the times of having brochures at airports, to lazy Lonely Planet researchers to Airbnb – it was interesting to hear it all. We even touched on his personal life. He had two young children at the age of 70 as he settled down late. He said he was always a wanderer and didn’t want the responsibility for so long until he met his wife in Vietnam.
I met her on one of my days there and she was a young beauty, so I wasn’t surprised to hear that she was only 36 years old. I found him to be a peculiarly different Japanese man, yet in contrast, a very typical one too. His life went so astray from the others I’ve met of his generation but things like the meekness, the hospitality and having to take your shoes off before you enter the building brought him right back to his roots.
Funnily enough, the inn was beside an old Japanese school that last taught Japanese in the 60s. He said he had been using the unused space as a carpark and decided to buy it 5 years ago. The school is now his children’s playground and his inner child’s storage.
We then made our way back to Hilo but stopped through the Puna district to try and find the lava destroyed town of Kapoho. We passed Lava Tree Park so decided to check it out. Lava trees are when molten lava coats living plants during an eruption and forms these sooty rocky figures.
The below… is not a lava tree but I liked how throughout the district they used volcanic rock to create walls and fences. Why not make some use out of it aye?
We missed a turn and ended up at (we found out later) Pohoiki or Isaac Hales beach park. We found this gorgeous fallen tree on the beach so I spent some time being a monkey. It was a great climb haha.
And Paige found her tree to climb too. Haha.
As we made our way to find Kapoho again we were greeted by archways of luscious rainforest.
We finally found the town of Kapoho. It was a tucked away gated beach community that had limited public roads open to certain times. Since the town’s destruction from the lava in 1960, Kapoho is now mostly known for its lifestyle of having black sand beaches, natural tide pools (with AMAZING snorkelling opportunities) and hot springs. Houses here can cost anywhere from $1,000,000 making it the most expensive place to live in the Puna district. Cute homes though. We were trying to find Cape Kumukahi Light, the lighthouse and only thing that survived the 1960 tragedy, but we kept getting lost in private roads so we gave up (add to this, we were starving).
So we grabbed some nasty Taco Bell (it was actually so delicious) and headed to Hilo International Airport. We had a doors off helicopter ride booked! WEEEOW.
While I was waiting, I started having a conversation with this beautiful lady (oh no, her name escapes me now). I walked over as I noticed that the airport had two Lei stands outside selling fresh Leis. I was so intrigued as it just showed me how much of a custom it is to the Hawaiians to have stores set up. I hadn’t been near one or seen one so I asked what the custom of a Lei was. She told me that it was tradition to be gifted or gift a lei when someone has arrived or is departing. We then talked about a lot of things like she was curious about my background (everyone here thinks I’m a super pale Hawaiian) and I asked about her background. All while I watched her make these gorgeous wreaths to be worn around the neck. She had a warmth about her that left me glowing as I thanked her for her time and walked away.
The helicopter ride was AWESOME. I’ve been on a few helicopter rides but this was my first time on a doors off one and my first time seeing lava activity. I wish they had told me earlier that it was going to be 10 degrees up there and super windy. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it. They really concentrated on the NO LOOSE ITEMS so I didn’t want to bring a flappy coat and sunglasses. But I couldn’t feel my face when I came down from the windburn and my eyes felt like they had shriveled into sultanas.
I thought the suburbs of Hilo was SO GREEN.
And then it quickly turned into lots of this hardened muck.
The above is an active lava tube where a flow of molten lava is moving to enter the ocean.
Then we hovered over a skylight. This was awesome. We just ducked and weaved through billows of smoke to try and catch a glimpse of lava.
Then we went and did a similar thing with the lava entering the ocean. I’ve never seen anything like it ever, ever, eveerrrrrrrrrr. It was sooooooooo cool. I am also glad I didn’t do the crazy hike to only be able to see white puffs of smoke because the wind blew it that way. You can also hike from the Kalapana beach side but there’s just no way you’d be able to see it as well as how we did up in the air. We were seeing it FRONT ON.
Hello, that’s me in the back.
We then moved onto the old lava fields from the 70s and 80s that started to show signs of rehabilitation. The funny views were the original patches where the lava flows never got to.
The picture below is an interesting one as earthquakes created a huge crack in the earth to which lava was directed from its main flow to fill the gap (gap makes it sound like a little feat haha).
The weird patterns in the landscapes are due to macadamia tree farms to eucalyptus plantations and of course, natural rain forests.
We then flew over to the waterfalls. The only way to see these waterfalls is through air as its Hilo’s and other surrounding areas ONLY source of water. So they ban people from visiting it as they don’t want the water quality tainted. Due to the recent heavy rainfalls, apparently the rivers were sitting a lot higher than normal. There was quite a bit of flooding in Hilo that we saw too.
The below is what remains of an old lava tube. Actually most of the river has been created because of old lava activity.
It was time to land. After checking out we got into a conversation with a couple that we shared the helicopter flight with. Mel was from Darwin and Brian was from Florida and stationed in Honolulu. They had met while he was in Darwin as part of the marines and were holidaying together to reunite their new romance. We were just having so much great, humorous and usually awkward conversations (talks of laser hair removal & in-growns, eating ox penis and balls, the differences in American and Australian culture, flaky cold handshakes etc.) that we all stood around in front of the helicopter business’ counter for a good few hours. We exchanged contacts and after about the 6th time of saying “Alright, we should go” we finally departed ways.
That meant we kinda didn’t check out Hilo town, oops. But like Satoshi said in the morning – one of the greatest joys of travel is meeting and talking with people of the world.