The lava adventure is calling!
My wanderlust and also the enthusiasm of my good friend Nico and his girlfriend Fela made me get on the plane again in 2009. Since my first trip, I have informed myself a bit better and read a lot about the Hawaiian volcanoes and also about the Fire goddess Pelewho is still around there. Her early home was the over 3000 meters high Haleakala crater on Maui.
With an extension of 49 km², it is the largest volcanic crater on earth.
Pele has been banned there by her sister Namaka, the goddess of water, and since then she has been living in the Halemaumau crater on Big Island.
Although I already know the national park a little bit, I am full of excitement when we drive past the park's entrance sign. We spend the night in the Volcano Hale again and receive a great tip from a couple there. Looking for lava inside the park doesn't make any sense at the moment,they tell us. We would have to go to Kalapana, where liquid lava flows into the sea. They show us their experiences of the last night on a small digital camera. I look at my friends' discomfort but I insist on visiting the small fishing village at night to hopefully experience a similar natural spectacle. So we leave around 3:00 a.m. in the direction of Kalapana.
After an hour drive, we reach the former fishing villagethat got almost destroyed by lava in the early nineties. We park at the end of the road, which was also buried here under Pele's eruptions. It is pitch dark and raining. Nevertheless, we set off with flashlights and can see the red columns of smoke from the "Ocean Entries" through the haze.
At the Ocean Entries, molten magma pours out of the underground lava tube into the sea.
This creates a bombastic column of smoke and small explosions when sea water flows into the lava tubes. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we encounter a small white dog on the lava field. We are worried that he might belong to a ranger who walks around at night to chase away adventurous tourists.
The dog, however, stays alone and disappears after a short time from the light of our flashlights, walking the black lava fields all alone until the darkness swallows him. Excitedly, we walk towards the column of smoke, the old lava crunching under our feet. Between the cooled lava, chunks have formed volcanic ash You walk like on raw eggs and we panic slightly because we don't know where the underground channel system is. This makes the whole thing very uncomfortable.
About 300 meters in front of us, the molten lava is flowing into the Pacific Ocean. We decide not to go closer and rather continue to the next Ocean Entry, which seems more friendly to us because of the smaller column of smoke. Far distant lights in the darkness suggest another village on the coast. However, as daylight reveals a few hours later, these were small lava eruptions on the surface. The rain stops and it clears up. It is also slowly getting brighter and we feel a little safer. As the sun rises, the old lava turns golden in the sunlight.
A fantastic sight.
Nico has brought sausages and so we put our breakfast in a hot lava crevice to eat burned hot dogs at half past six in the morning 🙂 I shoot countless photos and discover something shimmering between the lava rocks not far from the cliffs. It feels like metal chipsbut it consists of thin threads of volcanic glass formed from lava during basaltic volcanic eruptions. Moved by the wind the long, threads resemble human hair, which is why they are named after Pele. I feel very close to the goddess, my companions only share half of my enthusiasm.
I would have liked to see the small eruptions on the surface but they are difficult to find in the increasing light. We orient ourselves by the helicopters flying tourists over active lava fields.
However, the lava field is so large (140 km²), that it is difficult to search for lava on foot. Due to the flickering heat and small columns of smoke rising from the lava field, you can make out the underground lava tubes But as soon as the sulfuric acid makes our eyes and nose itch, we turn around. You should not inhale too much of these toxic fumes. By now, the sun is located quite high in the sky and it is only now that we see the extent of this huge lava field.
Only darkness around us, with single ferns or Ohia trees,that have found their place in the cracks of the lava. The palm trees and the rainforest from which we had come look the same everywhere. Nobody knows exactly where we have parked our car. So we wander around for some hours without knowing exactly where our way leads us to. When we finally arrive, we feel exhausted and fight over the passenger seats.
We have a long drive ahead of us. At a souvenir store, Fela buys a book about legends of Pele. She reads a paragraph that makes us shiver: Fire goddess Pele appears as an old woman but near the crater takes the form of a young girl. She is accompanied by a small white dog...
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A night in the perch - Kona Side
Martin, Nico, Fela and I stay in the middle of the jungle of Big Island for the night in 2010. An acquaintance of Martin has created her paradise there. Surrounded by colourful and lush fruit trees, which she at the weekly market in Kona, there is a round wooden pavilion, including a kitchen, a bedroom, a TV corner and Wi-Fi.
We reach the hippie commune over muddy roads at dusk. The mood is a bit down because of the drizzle. Some other things seem a bit creepy too. For example, a Rastafarian who spends the entire evening scratching his back with a large Y-shaped stick. Can too much marijuana cause itching?
Nevertheless, we have a fun evening and sleep in an oversized perch. There are 3 shabby mattresses, all sides are open. Sleeping well looks different. The next morning, however, is breathtaking. The morning sun lets the green vegetation shine in a magical light. In the morning, we stroll through Kailua-Kona and visit the small harbour, which is the venue of the Ironman every year in fall and treat ourselves to lunch in the beer garden of the Kona Brewery.
And just like that my second trip to Big Island ends and another island hopping to Kauai is ahead of me. The Kalalau Trail was particularly challenging and I would like to share my experiences with you.
On to Kauai - The Kalalau Trail
The garden island is home to the Kalalau Trail one of the hardest, but also most beautiful Trekking trails of the world. Famous it seems. My poor father sits at home and accompanies me on Google Earth. As an experienced hiker, he gets quite nervous at the sight of the narrow and steep paths and is very worried. However, I get this information only afterwards. I probably would not have done it otherwise. Fears and challenges but also a lot of magical experiences await me and my friends at the legendary Na Pali Coast.
Every time that I visit the North Shore a few years later, I walk the first bit of the trail and always meet adventurous hikers there. So one day, I take a hitchhiking couple from Haena Beach Park to the start of the trail. I can tell right away from their big backpacks that they will be walking the Kalalau Trail the next morning. "Is it tough?" the girl asks me and I grin to myself. "It is," I reply. I climb a half-mile and sit in the evening sun with a cold Budweiser. There she is again... my beloved Na Pali Coast at sunset. Over and over again, I meet exhausted, sweaty and muddy Kalalau hikers on their way back. They all ask me the same question: "How long is it until the start? My "Only 40 minutes" doesn't even begin to reassure them. In the end, every minute is too much. The first thing that counts after this trail is a damn long shower, a good meal and a decent mattress.
So in April 2009, Martin, Dana, Nico, Fela, Mike and me start a 5-day tour to paradise. We expect 11 miles along the coast, through untouched nature and steep, unsecured cliffs. No cell phone reception, no shower (but numerous waterfalls), no real bed, no electricity. No music, no alcohol, limited food and water from the numerous rivers along the trail. Each of us are loaded with a backpack, over 10 kg. What goes into this backpack? Tent, sleeping bag, rain jacket, gas stove, flashlight, pocket knife, camera, sun lotion, change of clothes, food for 5 days. Also, sterilization tablets. To take enough water with you for just under a week is impossible. The water contaminated by mountain goats is tapped from rivers or waterfalls, purified with tablets and refined with raspberry powder. Otherwise, it tastes very much like chemicals. Warm too. And it is always warm on this trail. Sounds hard. It is. But manageable.
On the Kalalau you learn for life. Whoever masters this trail, masters the rest of his existence.
The compensation for the hardships is untouched nature, a dream beach, even a waterfall, which is used as a shower with fresh mountain water. Now and then, you meet petty criminals, hippies and stoners there who live for several weeks or months in the valley. But all of them are more than peaceful, helpful and anything but criminals. They are safe from the police in Kalalau Valley.
The evening before seems extremely nerve-wracking. A last overnight stay in the tent at the dreamlike Haena Beach. The last sandwich, the last beer, the bedtime is set by Martin for 21:00. He knows what he is talking about. He's been down this road twice before.
Kalalau Trail - We start!
The next morning is dreamlike. I wake up with excitement at 5:00 already and enjoy the colourful sunrise. Slowly, my friends also crawl out of their tents. We pack up and drive to Kee Beach, a few miles away, where our tour starts at 6:30 in the morning. The nervousness rises. Are we fit enough? Are the hiking boots well broken in? How will the weather be? During the heavy rain showers that occur almost every day, the ground turns into mud, small rivers grow into rushing brown streams within minutes. The islanders then talk about "flush flood".
The path runs steeply uphill from the beginning and, due to the many stones and rocks, resembles more a scree slope than a comfortable hiking trail. The backpack is extremely heavy. I tighten the waist belt and the weight hangs on my hips. Nevertheless, after the first quarter of an hour, signs of fatigue are already spreading. The sweat flows in streams. The humid morning heat constantly forces us to take short breaks to replenish our fluids. We are overtaken by a well-trained hippie with a bare upper body, surfboard in one hand, water bottle in the other. No clothes to change into, no tent, no food. With only flip-flops on his feet, he masters the path at a pace as if he was on the run.
After the first half-mile, we finally get a small reward. We have a wonderful view over Kee Beachwhich sparkles in the sun below us. The lagoon with turquoise water is breathtaking. After 2 hours and a heavy descent, the first stage is finally done: Hanakapiai Beach.. This beach is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and lonely beaches in the Hawaiian Islands. However, due to the waves and strong currents, it is extremely dangerous. A wooden sign points out the annually increasing number of fatalities. We tap fresh water from the Hanakapiai Stream and eat a snack. It's a mystery to me how I'm supposed to manage a good four times the distance we've covered so far. But Martin pushes us to continue, we have a tight schedule.
The path leads us uphill and downhill again and again through green valleys and small rivers. Other hikers are rarely encountered here, as the rest of the trail can only be walked with a permit from the State of Hawaii. Around 13.00 o'clock, we reach Hanakoa Valley. From here onwards, the big challenge of the tour begins. The path gets narrower and stonier, not even 50 cm separate us from the cliffs that drop almost vertically into the sea. Wild mountain goats cross our path. A large rocky outcrop further on is the part of the trail that takes my breath away. A short part of the trail without bushes, without scrub, only stones and slippery gravel. So we have to go through the middle of the rock wall unsecured, which has a slope of 50 degrees. I am completely exhausted and have a small panic attack. My knees are shaking, the fear of sweat is running into my eyes, I'm worried that my heavy backpack could pull me into the abyss at the slightest gust of wind.
I'm already thinking of turning around when Martin comes back and helps me through "The Balcony", as the most difficult part of the trail is called,to bring me safely to the others. Years later, I still have a numb feeling in my stomach area when we take a boat trip on the Na Pali Coast on our honeymoon and I immediately recognize this spot from a safe distance. Another descent, another ascent and I am at my end. I pass out and wake up a few minutes later with a wet t-shirt on my forehead. Nevertheless, we still have 4 miles ahead of us, which I master somehow.
Sunset at Kalalau Beach
From Red Hill, it is only one mile to Kalalau Beachwhich we see glittering in the distance like a mirage in the evening sun. A last descent through the forest, the last river to cross and we reach a paradise that welcomes us like a Garden of Eden. Colourful flowers, white fine sand, green overgrown rock walls, complete isolation. Kalalau Beach lies untouched and majestically in the valley, waves rolling in calmly. Behind the beach, sharp-edged cliffs rise and are lost in the clouds above us. It's a sight straight out of a science fiction movie. The flip-flop hippie has long since arrived and is surfing in the evening sun. I manage one more photo, then I sink into a 12-hour sleep just in time for sunset at half-past six. Without food, which I would have had bitterly necessary. My friends have lovingly built the tent around me.
I wake up in the morning at sunrise and collect myself before I realize where I was. My whole body feels broken. Shoulders, back, legs and feet are affected the worst. We nurse our sunburn with fresh juice from the leaves of an aloe vera plant. I sit down under the waterfall on the face of the rock and enjoy the cold, clear shower.
We live in tropical paradise for two full days, eating our bagged food, which becomes a reasonably tasty meal with boiled water.
Mike carried a bottle of whiskey in his luggage. The disappointment can be seen on everyone's faces. Couldn't he have brought a case of beer? The whiskey is kept cold under our waterfall at least and we collect limes from the jungle. In the evening, we have Whiskey Sour.
The sun continues to burn the next day, so we spend most of the time in or underwater, in the shade of the cliffs or nearby caves. The pain in my joints and tendons has not disappeared even on the second day and I question how to make my way back again. In the early evening, a rather surreal situation surprises us, disturbing our paradisiacal isolation. Out at sea, a boat stops with some young people who throw big black garbage bags into the waves. Are they polluters on a grand scale? The bags are slowly washed towards the beach, we still can't make out what's inside. As the boat crew struggles through the waves to pull the bags ashore, we can hardly believe our eyes. Inside the air-filled sacks are large jukeboxes, emergency generators and a DJ booth. Beach parties are great. But does loud techno music have to be played in the Garden of Eden? The leader of the gang also turns out to be an arrogant, muscle-giant. We stay away from this inappropriate party fun and hear nothing from the beach section of the techno people thanks to the high cliffs.
When we wake up the next morning, they are long gone. Just in time for our departure, it starts to rain. Within 10 minutes, we are wet to the skin. Climbing Red Hill only works if you crawl because of the slippery red clay. We look muddy after a very short time. But it's fascinating how quickly your body gets used to such exertion. Happy to feel your strength and endurance. A break gets too long even for me and I keep on walking alone, with a lot of fear to panic in "the Balcony" section again.
But the longer and faster I hike, the less the fear. After walking alone for two hours, I decide to wait for my friends, hoping for moral support. Smiling, they reach me with the words "You're still alive." Strange. Once you have overcome "The balcony", the place doesn't seem to exist anymore on the way back.
It is raining constantly. Nevertheless, we hike through the muddy jungle in high spirits. In the meantime, the small rivers have grown to chest-high streams. We form a chain, so that no one is washed away during the crossing. The sight of the river after the next ascent is a blast. It makes its way through green lush vegetation looking like a huge red snake.
We master the way back in two stages and reach our night quarters in the Hanakoa Valley. Our tent fits exactly between two trees. Sleep is probably out of the question. Sleeping bags, jackets and sweaters are soaked, under the tent floor large roots and stones and probably still wild boars, which search for food around our camp. This is why we store our remaining food supplies high in the tree. The next morning, I find a long-forgotten pack of cigarettes in my soaked jacket. Especially Nico can hardly believe his luck. 10 cigarettes. 5 smokers. Half a day. Quite manageable. I calculate briefly and with a heavy heart, I have to make it clear to my friend that he is only entitled to 2 for the next few hours. He doesn't care. He smokes his supply one after the other. We continue our hike with the vision of a damn long shower, a good meal and a decent mattress.
Shortly before the end, the sun finally comes out again and it is crowded with people. Even though we were only in isolation for quite a short time, this gathering of people seems to be overwhelming to us. Even with our heavy backpacks, we are already faster than the day visitors of Hanakapiai Beach with their ridiculous hand luggage. They nod at us full of humility and respect. "Sissies" we grin to ourselves and are proud to have outgrown ourselves. A quick look back along the coast. We've mastered it all. A special moment that almost brings tears to our eyes. I ask a passing couple about the way back. "How long is it to the start?" "Only 5 minutes" they answer me.
In the U.S. thriller "A perfect getaway," I review my experience once I was back at home and, because of the beauty of the Kalalau, can hardly believe that I walked it myself.
Photos (c) Florian Krauss