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


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In 2013, 2 weeks after the wedding, I am again back on the islands. This time, I have my wife Yvonne with me. 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 insulted. There is only lava flowing at the active PuuOo crater. Years ago I had seen a film of a French volcano researcher who walked the "Rainforest to PuuOo Hike" with the students. Through fantastic rainforest. Unfortunately, you can find little on the Internet, but in the "Ultimate Guidebook of Big Island" instead. There is a detailed description of the hike, about which opinions differ. Is it allowed to walk it or not? I feel a little unsure. 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 only disturbed only by melodious birdsong. Slowly, the rainforest becomes a bit thinner and the helicopter noise of the tourist flights increases. According to the the guidebook, the "Big Crack" should lie before us. A crack caused by an earthquake. The "Big Crack" proves to be quite harmless, you can cross it with one 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 perhaps see molten lava in a few moments. To the left of the crater, I discover a Spatter Cone, a type of 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. I can't make any progress on a lava field with burned and fallen trees. 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 because there is a flicker of heat in the air. I am out of sight of Yvonne, now she will worry about me. I consider turning around but I 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. The helicopters with tourists are circling above me. Unfortunately, in the midday sun, liquid lava can't be recognized. 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, this is the only right thing in this situation. The heat increases around me and it crackles. Shortly thereafter, I discover 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 uncomfortable. Yvonne urges to turn around now because of the increasing sulfur in the air. I ignore her for a moment, take a few photos and shoot a short video. However, I am so excited that I can hardly hold the heavy camera steady. What if more lava appears around me that I don't expect? Which could block my way back? I get too hot 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 for our return trip ahead of us. By now, I would also prefer a helicopter. Halfway, we meet a young adventurer from New Zealand. So some people also want to experience this spectacle. We start talking about our fascination with volcanoes and he tells us about his crazy experiences of the last few 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. In addition to 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 am interested. Do we have another lava adventure in store for us? The New Zealander wants to spend the night at the PuuOo That sounds like a great adventure. After all, the lava looks most spectacular at dusk and 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. He will probably 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 Outlook at the Jagger Museum. The big column of smoke with the poisonous gases looks threatening. The wind is strong as usual and drives the smoke south. Nevertheless, you don't 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 with 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 I realize that I probably have to travel to Big Island another time to look at the 200 meters large lava lake 😉.

That same evening, we drive to Kalapana, quite exhausted. We stay at Oliana Guest House again 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. 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 only 300. Nobody was harmed 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 the story in such detail and very emotionally, which brings tears to our eyes...

Lava in Royal Gardens

The next day, we 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 feels guilty and we book the noon tour. To stroll over the lava fields the whole afternoon in the blazing sun gives me a little headache. However, my volcano fanaticism knows hardly any limits. I'm willing to put up with just about any effort.

We buy 5 liters of water and a few granola bars for energy. To me, that seems like enough because you don't want to carry too much. After all, I still have my entire camera 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 adventure. 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 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 and at the same time cross the Royal Gardens Subdivision. A pristine rainforest area that has fallen victim to lava again and again in recent years. There are only a few green spots 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 only wanted to spend 6 months in Hawaii, now it has been 6 years. Fascinating career path.

lava tour guide big island Big Island

The total of 8 miles is not such a long distance, however, the residents do not call these miles Lava milesfor no reason. You have to concentrate on walking constantly here which is why 8 miles become quite tedious when you have to follow every step you take. You don't 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 set in quickly. 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 tube,can be seen on the horizon. Actually, it no longer looks so far. 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 our goal 3.5 exhausting hours later.. You feel like you are on another planet, a few trees spared by the lava stand in the otherwise destroyed former residential area.

Jack Thompson, a hippie of about 60 years, lived here. The last resident, who 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 hear of 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 back and forth 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 the hippie up and forcibly transfer him to 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 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 enough of these fantastic sights. In the meantime, it got almost dark and Prince guides us to another eruption. Where we have passed this on our way there, a hatch has now opened, from which aa lava, a viscous and somewhat cooler type of lava, flows out. Both types of lava in one day. What a lucky guy I am. This red and orange spectacle at night is beautiful. A whole hour has passed at the active lava already 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 complaint. That's more coming from me. Every 20 minutes I look at the watch, 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 we approach the parking lot around 23:00. The Village Cafe has unfortunately closed already. I would have liked to end the evening again with a beer. We are happy with iced soft drinks and our guides Prince and Selma dismiss us with the words "You are real animals." I have to get out of my shoes. Totally exhausted, we fall into our beds after this 10 hour trip. With the frog concert again. 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 during my fifth visit to Hawaii, I finally make it to the legendary Kealakekua Bay, To do this, we drive around the south and 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 jumped the 10-meter-high cliffs with Martin back in 2007 already. Despite the rusty ladder, which does not look particularly safe. 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, you reach Puuhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, which is also called the "Place of Refugee" The rocky bay is said to be one of the most beautiful snorkeling sites on the islands. It is indeed. Yvonne is so fascinated by the colourful fish that she doesn't notice how dangerously close she is to the sharp-edged corals. I still want to warn her but I realize quickly that I will not succeed with my snorkel underwater. And it already happened. The blood on the lower leg flows in streams. Without having to search much, we get help in seconds from locals who disinfect the wound with tips and tricks and stop the bleeding. My brave wife is almost 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 Bay,which we head for the same evening. It requires some logistical considerations here, since the large bay, and especially the "Cpt. Cook Monument" are accessible only by kayak. A white statue commemorates the 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 honour 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 started to fight more and more. Many inhabitants lost 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 known. This was when the Hawaiians knew that it could not have been Lono for sure. For one simple reason: Gods do not groan! And actually, they don't die either.

We spend 2 nights directly at the Bay and book a kayak at the family business "Ehu and Kai". The mother is sitting comfortably in a lawn chair knitting and 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 suspicion. He is 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 is British property, you are not allowed to stop there. For this purpose, a security guard stands on the shore of the snorkeling paradise all day and strictly makes sure that no one enters the sacred land. Therefore, you 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 worries. It's the dolphin's bay. Sharks respect that." In addition to our underwater camera, we have a cooler filled with ice cubes, sandwiches, snacks, delicious vitamin water and Starbucks double-shot espresso. After 40 minutes of paddling on the open sea, we reach the bay. We hear other tourists cheering already from a distance.

Snorkeling Kealakekua Bay Big Island

Small Spinner Dolphins jump out of the water and turn multiple screws in the air. We do the same as the others, leave our kayak and drift motionless in the Pacific. Since the water is very deep here, we see nothing but blue at first. When you can't see anything at all, it's easy to lose your nerves and discomfort sets in. But before we can think about it too much, we suddenly see them. Below us. Next to us. Around us. Huge pods of dolphins. Feelings of happiness flow through us. Like in an unreal film. But we 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. I am usually not fast enough with my camera. 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 start to grow webbing.

See dolphins Kealakekua Bay Big Island

With heavy hearts, we board our kayak to paddle to the nearby Cpt. Cook Monument. Once we arrived there, we enjoy a picnic in the kayak, take several snorkelling trips in the crystal clear water with colorful schools of fish. A good day exploring corals and we can only hardly believe it.

After 6 hours on and in the water, we are shivering and 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 Sea's 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 snorkelling. The swells keep bringing in new colourful 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. The most important Hawaii rule: never stand with your back to the Pacific.

Queensbath kauai Big Island

We stop at a parking bay along the road to visit the Hanalei with its crescent-shaped bay to take a picture and 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 our car is his car waiting for him together with his family, 3 children and a dog. Has he been so blown away by the beauty of Kauai that he overlooks his family? With an embarrassing laugh he apologizes and quickly walks to his car. 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 camera, 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 onward journey to Hanalei, you have a wonderful view into the green Hanalai Valley with its Taro fields. The heart-shaped, green plant grows on this emerald-coloured, landscaped patchwork and is used to make Poi 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 an outdoor shower behind it, fenced by bamboo mats and tropical palm trees. Homemade decorations in the house and garden, as well as small ceramic signs such as "Please remove your shoes" decorate the entrance doors. The crowning glory in the garden is the whirlpool that changes colour every few seconds. Of course with a view of an incredible night sky full of stars. 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 the best company. We can hardly believe our "lottery win" when 2 cute kittens visit us and make themselves comfortable on our laps. Pierce Brosnan lives in a luxurious mansion directly at the beach across the street. But nobody is interested in that here. He knows why he moved here.

Even years later, Marc welcomes us for a coffee and invites us to the 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, we have received congratulations on our birthdays via Facebook.

Photos (c) Florian Krauss

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