PuuOo - The hike of my lifetime - the 4th and 5th Hawaii trip


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2 weeks after the wedding I am again on the islands in 2013. This time I have Yvonne with me, my wife. I book the flights from Oahu to Big Island very short term to have a real chance of active lava. 5 days before our arrival the lava flows at the sea become inactive. I am offended. Only at the active PuuOo crater lava is flowing. Years ago I had seen a film of a French volcano researcher who with students visited the "Rainforest to PuuOo Hike." has gone. Through fantastic rainforest. Unfortunately, you can find little on the Internet, but in the "Ultimate Guidebook of Big Island". There is a detailed description of the hike, about which opinions differ. Is it allowed to walk it or not? I feel a little queasy. Face to face with the most active crater in the world. And whether my wife goes along with it? She does!

One or the other tourist has already gotten lost there due to lack of orientation and had to be rescued by helicopter. So we took small garbage bags with us to attach them to trees so that we would still know where we came from on the way back. But we note that everything is already marked and the path is pure joy. A bit muddy, but good to walk through pristine rainforest.  

Rainforest to PuuOo Hike Big Island

A narrow path leads through lush greenery rarely seen. And a silence that is unparalleled, disturbed only by melodious birdsong. Gradually the rainforest becomes a bit thinner and the helicopter noise of the tourist flights increases. Soon the in the guidebook mentioned "Big Crack" lie before us. A crack caused by an earthquake. The "Big Crack" proves to be quite harmless, one has nevertheless overcome it with a big step. I can hardly believe that I am standing directly in front of the most active crater in the world and the excitement rises to possibly see molten lava in a few moments. Left on the crater I discover a so-called Spatter Cone, a Sweat cinder cone that the underground lava tube feeds. I am determined and leave Yvonne behind with a guilty conscience. I promise her to be back in 20 minutes, but it takes longer than expected. On a lava field with burned and fallen trees I can't make any progress. The loud helicopters above me show me the way. It can't be far anymore.

PuuOo Lava Fields Big Island

A feast for the senses. It smells burnt, it crackles, the heat streaming from below gets warmer and warmer the closer I get to the smoke of the burning scrub. The whole area is impossible to photograph sharply because there is a flicker of heat in the air. I am out of sight of Yvonne, what will she worry about me now. I consider turning around, but have to fight hard against my fascination to explore the destroyed area further. Then, a few hundred meters behind me, I hear a familiar whistle. My wife followed me and waves at me with a grin. How nice. I venture further and climb a small lava hill. Above me the helicopters with tourists are circling. Stupidly one can in the Midday sun liquid lava does not recognize. It shimmers more silver than red. Also, in daylight, you can't see how old this silvery lava is. It can take several weeks or even months for lava to cool completely. So I rely on my sixth sense. As it turns out in the next few minutes, also the only right thing in this situation. The heat increases, around me it crackles and shortly thereafter I discover 5 meters in front of me a small Pahoehoe Power. The thin-bodied magma, which can pick up speeds of up to 30 km/h, becomes viscous, slow-flowing lava. However, this flow is still so fast that I feel a little queasy. Yvonne's pleas to turn back now because of the increasing sulfur in the air, I ignore for a moment, take a few photos and shoot a short movie. However, I am so excited that I can hardly hold the heavy reflex steady. What if more lava appears around me that I don't expect? Which could possibly block my way back? I get too hot in the truest sense of the word and follow Yvonne's request. I'm totally happy to have found lava again and so we settle down in the shade of the rainforest and eat our well-earned packed lunch. With a view of the most active crater in the world. I can hardly separate myself from this sight of red crater walls, silvery and black lava, withered trees and the ominous-looking column of smoke.

PuuOo lava hawaii Big Island

We have 2.5 hours to get back. In the meantime, I would also prefer a helicopter. Halfway we meet a young adventurer from New Zealand. So there is definitely one or the other who also wants to experience this spectacle. We get talking about the fascination of volcanoes and he tells us about his crazy actions of the last days. "Yo, you want to do a REAL crazy thing, man?" he asks me. Then he tells me about the Halemaumau Crater, at whose ruined lookout he hiked yesterday to take a look into the crater lake. This view must be so stunning that he spent over an hour there, despite the rising heat. More than that, he even climbs down the crater wall to stand right on the precipice of the crater lake. "You are crazy" I answer. "The Trail to the Overlook is closed". "As closed as your Trail to the PuuOo" he answers with a laugh. How right he is. I've tasted blood. Do we have another lava adventure in store for us? The New Zealander wants to spend the night at the PuuOo stay. That sounds like a great adventure. After all, the lava looks most spectacular at dusk and at night. And it's easier to find. Nevertheless, I would not be completely comfortable with this. I give him some tips not to approach the crater too much, let alone climb it. Probably he will have ignored these tips... Too bad that we have not exchanged contact details, I would have loved to know what he has experienced there.

The next day we want to dare the New Zealand adventure and drive directly back to the national park to see the Chain of Craters Road along to the barrier. Here you are much closer than from the Outlook at the Jagger Museum. The big column of smoke with the poisonous gases looks threatening. The wind is right as usual and drives the smoke south. Nevertheless, one does not really feel safe here. We climb over the barrier and walk over old fissure eruptions towards the crater. It is getting dark, the old lava is cracking under our feet. Not really comfortable what we do here. After a few photos we break off our little expedition. We are worried that we will not find the way back and get lost in the black lava field. The next day I have to realize that we had not informed ourselves well enough. The map shows the Chain of Craters Road, which leads directly to the Lava lake of Halemaumau leads. That I probably have to travel to Big Island another time to have a look into the 200 meters large lava lake, I realize at this moment 😉.

That same evening, we drive to Kalapana, quite exhausted. We stay again at Oliana Guest House and want to go on a lava hike with the guys from Kalapana Cultural Tours. The Kalapana Village Cafe is unfortunately closed today, but we still find one of the guides to inform us about the status of the lava flows. Prince, who was born in Kalapana, willingly tells us about his experiences. So he was up close and personal as a teenager, when Pele buried his village in the early 90s. At that time 2000 people lived in Kalapana, meanwhile there are still 300. Nobody came to harm, but the houses of the fishing village are all buried up to 10 meters under lava. He shows us his house and some lava debris that stopped only a few meters from his garden. Prince tells in such detail and emotionally, that we both have tears in our eyes...

Lava in Royal Gardens

The next day we have booked a lava tour with "Kalapana Cultural Tours" in Royal Gardens, but Yvonne sets the alarm one hour too late and we miss our tour. My little chaos woman. She has a terribly guilty conscience and we book the noon tour. To boot the whole afternoon in blazing sun over the lava fields makes me a little headache. However, my volcano fanaticism knows hardly any limits. I'm willing to put up with just about any effort.

How to buy 5 liters of water and a few granola bars for energy. To me, that seems plenty, but you don't want to carry too much. After all, I still have my entire SLR equipment with me. Tense and a bit queasy we wait for our guides and their briefings. Prince's first sentence "Begin stretching" makes our excitement rise even higher. This seems to be a strenuous undertaking. Next to us, a Swiss woman of quite an advanced age sits calmly at the table and sips from her water bottle. She is the only one not doing any stretching. Does she really know what she's getting into? "This hike is much more different than all other hikes" Prince continues and explains that we have 2.5 hours of ascent over the lava fields ahead of us. In the process we will have to climb about 500 meters of altitude overcome and at the same time Cross Royal Gardens Subdivision. A pristine rainforest area that has fallen victim to lava again and again in recent years. More than a few green spots are no longer to be seen there. The other guide is Selma, a studied biologist, who after her work as a ranger in the national park has now joined Kalapana Cultural Tours. Originally she wanted to spend only 6 months in Hawaii, now it is 6 years. Fascinating career path.

lava tour guide big island Big Island

The total of 8 miles is not too long a distance in itself, however, the residents do not call these miles unjustly Lava miles. Concentrated walking is indispensable here and so 8 miles become quite tedious when you have to follow every step you take. One does not want to fall here, the old lava is sharp-edged like glass in many places. The Swiss woman stands impassively by. As it turns out, she doesn't speak a word of English. She doesn't understand it either. Lack of understanding spreads. Yvonne takes care of her and translates the essentials. After only half an hour in the midday heat, we have used up a fifth of our water supply and I try to drink very little, since we still have most of our tour ahead of us. Tiredness and headaches quickly set in. The guides notice this and reassure me. I should drink as much as I need, they would have enough water with them to survive here for several days. This calms us down immensely and I let masses of water run down my throat. New energy sets in immediately and so we walk in good spirits towards the Royal Gardens Subdivision.

Finally, I find myself in the inaccessible area that until now I only knew from my daily visits to the guides' blog site. Our destination, a column of smoke from the underground lava tubecan be seen on the horizon. Actually, it no longer looks so far. From 2.5 hours have now become 3, we are slowly but surely approaching the active area. From another guide, who is already longer on the way with another group, we learn by walkie-talkie that we have to go a detour, because it is too dangerous to cross the lava tube. So we climb further and further up the mountain until we finally reach 3.5 exhausting hours have reached our goal. One feels as if on another planet, a few trees spared by the lava stand in the otherwise completely destroyed former residential area.

Jack Thompson, a hippie of about 60 years, lived here. The last resident, he lived there completely alone. No roads led to his house. So he made a virtue out of this hardship. He converted his house into a bed & breakfast and paid for the helicopters that brought him the things he needed to live with the money he earned from his overnight guests. Why did I never notice this before? The hippie sat with his tourists in his green oasis in the middle of nowhere and watched the lava flows for months and years. An insane story that culminated in 2012 when the lava flows were heading straight for his house. Pahoehoe lava flows very slowly and so there was enough time to pack up everything important for the emergency. The helicopters flew a few times to rescue Thompson and his belongings. But he didn't want to. He fought back tooth and nail. The helicopter crew finally had no choice but to tie up the hippie and forcibly transfer him to the helicopter to drop him off in the capital city of Hilo. From Hilo, Thompson hitchhiked directly back to Kalapana and walked alone at night for 3 hours across the lava field back to his house. He needed and wanted to be there when his home fell victim to the lava flows. This seemed to have been a particularly spiritual experience.

Lava Royal Gardens Big Island

We are a bit disappointed when we see only small lava flows. But little by little the lava erupts more and more from the earth's surface and pours its magma slowly and crackling over old cooled streams. It's like Pele was waiting for us. The group is enthusiastic. It is insanely hot and quite a challenge to photograph here in peace. Nevertheless, I manage a few great close-ups. Nobody is thinking about walking back yet. We can't get away from these fantastic sights. In the meantime it is almost dark and Prince guides us to another eruption. There, where we have passed on our way there, a hatch has now opened, from which Aa lava, a viscous and somewhat cooler type of brocken lava flows out. Both types of lava in one day. What a lucky guy I am. This red and orange shining spectacle at night is indescribable. And already a whole hour has passed at the active lava and we make our way home.

glowing lava big island Big Island
Aa Lava hawaii Big Island

3 hours at night and rain setting in across the fields. No fun. The Swiss woman must also experience this. She thinks in all seriousness that we will be picked up here by helicopter. Nevertheless, we all take our hats off to her. She walks the never-ending way home without a single grumble. That's more like me. Every 20 minutes I look at the clock, every minute drags. My feet are tired and aching, my concentration is waning. Halfway back we take a break in the pouring rain.

We can't wait to finally arrive and at night around 23:00 we approach the parking lot. The Village Cafe has unfortunately already closed. I would have liked to end the evening here again with a beer. We are content with iced soft drinks and our guides Prince and Selma dismiss us with the words "You are real animals. I finally have to get out of my shoes. Totally exhausted we fall after this 10 hours trip to bed. Again with frog concert. The frogs on Big Island have become a real plague, especially since there are no natural enemies like snakes or foxes in Hawaii.

Kealakekua Bay - The dolphin's bay

Only with my fifth Hawaii visit I finally make it to the legendary Kealakekua Bay to pay it a visit. To do this, we drive around the south, stop at the fabulous Punaluu Bay, a pitch black sandy beach with swaying coconut palms and countless Green Sea Turtles. At South Point, the southernmost point of the USA, I plunge with Martin from the 10 meter high cliffs already in 2007. Despite the rusty ladder, which does not look particularly confidence-inspiring and leads up again. Nearby is also the Ka Lae Green Sand Beach, a secluded beach formed from olivine crystals, which can only be reached by jeep or on foot through hilly countryside. Continuing east, one reaches Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, which is also "Place of Refugee" is called. The stony bay is said to be one of the most beautiful snorkeling sites be on the islands. It is indeed. Yvonne is so enchanted by the colorful fish that she doesn't notice how dangerously close she is to the sharp-edged corals. I still want to warn her, but realize quite quickly that I will not succeed with snorkel under water. And already it happened. The blood on the lower leg flows in streams. Without having to search much, we have local help in seconds from locals who disinfect the wound with tips and tricks and stop the bleeding. My brave wife is really happy about her lifelong souvenir.

For our honeymoon, I put a lot of effort into the organization and check out the "Ultimate GuideBook" about the Kealakekua Baywhich we head for the same evening. It requires some logistical considerations here, since the large bay, and especially "Cpt. Cook Monument" are accessible only by kayak. A white statue commemorates the great British navigator who lost his life in the bay in February 1778. Cook sailed into the bay at the time of a Hawaiian harvest festival in honor of the god Lono. It may be that the Hawaiians were still a bit naive at that time, but they considered Cook to be their fertility god Lono. And he even had a ship. This worship did not go unnoticed by Cook, of course, and he behaved accordingly like a god. But the Hawaiians did not like that at all and it came more and more to the quarrel, in which some inhabitants let their lives. This pleased the remaining Hawaiians even less and they strangled Cook in the bay, who collapsed groaning on the beach. Whether with a pineapple, a coconut or with other things, is not handed down. At the latest now they Hawaiians also knew that it could not be Lono. For one simple reason: Gods do not groan! And actually, they don't die either.

We have 2 nights directly at the Bay and book us a kayak at the Family business "Ehu and Kai". The mother is sitting comfortably in a lawn chair knitting, 2 young sons are sitting on the shore fishing. 4 other young girls are fooling around on the balcony of the house.

A fat lazy father with his bright well-trained son feels responsible for us after initial suspicious looks and is then also very friendly and courteous. They explain to us how to paddle to Kealakekua Bay and what we have to pay attention to when getting in and out of the kayak. Since Cpt. Cook Monument British property, you are not allowed to invest there. For this purpose, a security guard stands on the shore of the snorkeling paradise all day and meticulously makes sure that no one enters the sacred land. You therefore have to leave the kayak in the water to snorkel and also climb out of the water back into the kayak. Sounds complicated. But it isn't. While snorkeling, you tie the kayak to your foot and explore the underwater world. To Yvonne's question whether there are sharks in the bay, the son answers dryly with "Yeah, plenty. But no worry. It's the dolphins bay. Sharks respect that." In addition to our underwater camera, we have a cooler filled with ice cubes. Bulging with sandwiches, snacks, delicious vitamin water and Starbucks double-shot espresso. After 40 minutes of paddling on the open sea we reach the bay. Already from a distance we hear other tourists cheering.

Snorkeling Kealakekua Bay Big Island

Small Spinner Dolphins jump out of the water and turn multiple screws in the air. We do the same to the others, leave our kayak and drift motionless in the Pacific. Since the water is very deep here, we see nothing but blue for the time being. When you can't see anything at all, it's easy to lose your bearings, and unease sets in. But before we can really think about it, we suddenly see them. Below us. Next to us. Around us. Whole pods of dolphins. Feelings of happiness flow through us. Like in an unreal film. But we ourselves are right in the middle of it. Yvonne can even hear her locating signals. I want to shout my enthusiasm to my wife, but more than a gurgling sound from the snorkel is not possible. Dolphins are extremely elegant swimmers, moving gracefully and with dignity around us, diving quite close and unexpectedly under us. With my camera I am usually not fast enough. Sometimes they come so close to us that we can look directly into their friendly smiling faces. They give us such a gentle and shy look that we melt away completely overwhelmed. It almost seems as if they are attracted to us in an extraordinary way. We are probably better playmates than the dreaded sharks. The effect of the sweet creatures on us is almost healing. After an hour in the water, we feel like sea creatures ourselves and also start to get webbed.

See dolphins Kealakekua Bay Big Island

With heavy hearts we board our craft to paddle to the nearby Cpt. Cook Monument. Once there, we enjoy picnics in the kayak, take several snorkeling trips in the crystal clear water, to colorful schools of fish Good day to say, exploring corals and can only hard believe what a great day we are having.

After 6 hours on and in the water we are shivering and we make our way back to Volcano Village, dead tired but incredibly satisfied.

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South Sea magic in the north

The North of Kauai is one of my absolute highlights of the island chain. South Seas magic like from a picture book. Princeville is a luxurious resort of the rich and beautiful, wonderfully situated in lush and green nature with a view of the Na Molokama mountains. We grab a gorgeous accommodation with a huge garden, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and an automatic ice maker in the fridge. We feel so comfortable and at home in our domicile that we even cook German noodle casserole in the large kitchen 😉.

A real insider tip is the somewhat hidden Queensbath. After about 20 minutes you reach a black rocky coast via a beautiful path. Directly on the sea, a natural pool has formed there from old lava rock. The water in it shimmers olive green and is so clear that you can see the entire length of the pool underwater while snorkeling. The swells keep bringing in new colorful fish over the edge. This extraordinary pool lives up to its name. In winter, however, the waves here are so high and unpredictable that the pool is not visible at all. Some tourists have already lost their lives here because of the dangerous surf. In search of beautiful family photos, they were swept over the cliffs by the waves and swallowed by the ocean. Thereby reads the most important Hawaii rule: never stand with your back to the Pacific.

Queensbath kauai Big Island

We stop at a lay-by along the road to visit the Hanalei with its crescent-shaped bay to take a picture, we see out of the corner of our eye that a man is sitting at the wheel of our rental car. Shortly before he can drive off, we draw his attention to the fact that he has taken a seat in the wrong car. Directly behind it his car is waiting for him together with his family, 3 children and dog. Has he been so taken by the beauty of Kauai that he overlooks his family? With an embarrassing laugh he apologizes and quickly looks for the distance. 2 hours later we discover a strange backpack in our trunk, which must have belonged to the puzzled driver. Besides a raincoat, some cash and photo equipment, which I unfortunately can't use for my mirror reflex, there is also a note with a hotel address in Princeville. As it turns out, the family is unfortunately not a guest there. Nevertheless, we don't know how to help ourselves other than to leave the backpack there. Whether he was smart enough to ask there after his car mix-up remains a mystery.

On the Continue to Hanalei from the road you have a wonderful view into the green Hanalai Valley with its Taro fields. The heart-shaped, green plant grows on this emerald-colored, landscaped patchwork and is used to Poi to make, a Hawaiian staple. Tastes like nothing, though.

taro fields kauai for poi Big Island

West of Princeville on Kauai's North Shore is the peaceful town of Hanalei Town. This timelessly beautiful small town has everything to offer from historic sites to contemporary art galleries. Plus great light, green mountains, South Sea magic, dream beaches. "Blue Hawaii," "6 Days, 7 Nights" with Harrison Ford and "Pirates of the Caribbean" were filmed here. To mark the occasion, we photograph the house on the beach from George Clooney's "The Descendants".

The Descendants House Kauai Hawaii Big Island

Our accommodation is the Kalalau Bed & Breakfast, 5 miles from Hanalei. Tightly surrounded by lush green jungle vegetation, 2 minutes from Haena Beach and with incredibly kind and friendly hosts. Sandy and "Chief" Marc welcome us as if they had been waiting for us for years. Unfortunately, they have sold and the lodging is no longer available as far as I know. The philosophy of life is "real hawaiian". Our bedroom consists of a small wooden hut, the "Jungalow", right next to it we find a lovingly furnished kitchen and behind it an outdoor shower, fenced by bamboo mats and tropical palm trees. Homemade decorations on the house and garden, as well as small ceramic signs as "Please remove your shoes" adorn the entrance doors. The crowning glory in the garden is the whirlpool that changes color every few seconds. Of course with a view of an incredible starry sky. In addition, iced Budweiser and funny conversations about Hawaii with Marc and his girlfriend Christine, who studied business math in Ulm. So we are in best company. We can hardly believe our "lottery win" when 2 cute kittens visit us and make themselves comfortable on our laps. Across the street Pierce Brosnan lives in a luxurious mansion directly at the beach. But nobody is interested here. He will know why he moved here.

Even years later Marc welcomes us for a coffee and invites us to wonderful "Soul food" at Kee Beach. To my question, why he is so friendly and obliging, although we are not even guests at his place this year, he answers with a broad grin "Well... That's my job". Since then, congratulations have been coming in on time for our birthdays via Facebook.

Photos (c) Florian Krauss

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