Santanoni for the Range!

Order in ranking: 14

 

Santanoni had been my nemesis for a year.  Last October, we had started out to climb the Santanoni Range, heading up the Panther Brook trail to climb first Panther, then Couchsachraga before going to Santanoni, and down the Express Trail.
Our thinking was that if, for some reason, we couldn’t get to Santanoni, we could always come back and do an up-and-back via the Express.  And it turns out that we couldn’t get to Santanoni- by the time we got back from Couch, it was getting late, and we didn’t particularly want to walk back out in the dark.
So fast forward to March.  Steph had decided to try and do a winter ascent of Santa – having had success with Cascade, Porter and Allen, she thought she’d give Santa a try.  Unfortunately, the Express trail wasn’t broken out, and she while she could find the start of it, she lost it shortly there after.
Fast forward again to August.  We climbed Cliff on the Saturday, and then attempted Santa on the Sunday.  We made good time to the junction with the Express, but then we started to lose steam – our aches and pains from the climb before were hitting us hard.  We arrived at the Hilary Step around 2:00, and decided to turn around.  At the pace we were going, it would be another hour and a half to the summit, and we’d have to get down, and we were driving home that night.
So that makes 3 (4 in the case of Steph) attempts at reaching Santanoni’s summit. We were really feeling discouraged, but also determined – that summit was going to be ours.
We headed down in September for a weekend, and bright and early on a Saturday we were at the trailhead.  We headed up the road to the trail, and hit the express is just under 2 hours.  We were already making better time than our last attempt.  After a brief stop to chat with other hikers, we cross the stream (the water was low enough to rock hop) and head up the trail.
In August, at the Hilary Step

The Express trail is a bit erratic.  It starts off fairly even and flat, then there’s a rocky section that’s flat, then it evens out again but climbs, then a rocky section…this goes on for a bit before the trail starts climbing in earnest.  It starts off as a moderate grade, but quickly becomes steep….steeper….steeper… until you come to the Hilary Step – a massive white section of rock, that you have to skirt around to get back onto the trail, a point that Steph and I call ‘The Awful Up.’

This section was muddy and slippery the two times we’ve gone up it (and the two times down.)  We had to stop talking so we could concentrate on our footing – start climbing here, cross there, monkey swing around this, don’t pull on that it’s loose, climb up over there, cross again.  It took us a half hour the first time around in August, but only 15 minutes this time.
From there you enter in an area of blowdown, and you get your first view of Santa – and it looks a loooooong way off.  But just like Nippletop, the view is deceiving.  The trail descended a bit into a col, then climbed steadily (and steeply) through grabby trees, until we started to see more open rocky patches, with amazing views of Wallface, Marshall, Iroquois and Algonquin.
Elation! We made it!

Eventually you come to a junction with another trail, running left and right.  Turning left takes you over the false summit to Santanoni, right takes you towards Time Square.  We turned left, and it was minutes later that we came out to the false summit, and from there it was less than 2 minutes to summit – we got there at 11:47, four and a half hours after starting.

We spent nearly an hour on the summit, chatting with other hikers, and just enjoying the views and the fact that we.finally.made.it.  We headed down, elated that the hike had gone so well.  Everything about the hike had been (and would continue to be) perfect – the day had warmed up to a nice temperature, not too hot or too cold, the summit wasn’t windy, the leaves had already started changing…our hike down went just as smoothly as the hike up, and we reached the register at 3:55.  Santanoni was our 42 – only 4 peaks left!

Total climbing time: 8 hours 40 minutes
Left parking lot at: 7:15, returned at 3:55
Summitted Santanoni at 11:47

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The Azores: Sao Miguel

This was an exceptional year for us, travelwise.  We decided to do summer trips, each one a week long.  We thought it would be great!  And while the trips were, it was somewhat exhausting – packing, travelling, unpacking, washing, packing, travelling, unpacking, washing…it just ended up feeling like we didn’t spend much time at home.

So after our end of June trip to Hawaii, we spent the first week of September on the Azorean island São  Miguel.  (The Azores are a set of nine islands, belonging to Portugal, located in the Atlantic Ocean.  Far, far from anywhere.)

Lots of people say ‘where?’ when we said we were going to the Azores, and after explaining the above parentheses, they said, ‘How do you know about these places?’ because I always seem to end up going places that other people have never heard of, or rarely think about.  I have no idea how I knew about the Azores, it was just one of those places that I’ve always wanted to go to.

We bought our tickets via the Sata website. Sata is the airline for the Azores, flying between the islands, and to Europe and North America (Boston and Toronto). Fair warning though – the seat pitch on the planes that Sata uses, is horrible.  31 inches, so if the person in front of you reclines their seat, say good bye to your knees.  But otherwise, it’s a good airline – the flight attendants were friendly, the food on the way to Ponta Delgada was ok (on the way home it was awful) and the flights were on time.

Town square

We started our trip in Ponta Delgada, the capital of São Miguel. While they are part of Portugal, they are also autonomous and have their own government.  The airport is very close to town (but don’t worry – there are no night flights, so the sound of airplanes landing/taking off will not disrupt your night) We were staying at hotel, VIP Executive, on top of a small hill, just off the downtown area.  This gave us the opportunity to explore the city a bit more, walking to and from the hotel.  The town has a few rolling hills, but the closer to the harbour you get (where most of the tourist sites are located) the flatter the city becomes.  There are quite a few cafés restaurants – some are located around the main square, others to the west, and then a lot around the harbour.

The widest sidewalk in Ponta Delgada

Ponta Delgada is small and compact, and it’s very evident that it was built for horses and carts.  Streets are narrow and windy, with cobblestone – meaning that even little old ladies going 5 km an hour squeal their tires as they go around curves.  Sidewalks vary in size but are mostly non-existent, forget walking side by side with your travel buddy.  The architecture is brown and white, very colonial looking.  It’s a very pretty town to wander in – even the houses look quaint, and the sidewalks tend to have tiled designs of white and grey.  (Easy to use as a navigation aid, in fact.)  You most likely won’t need a taxi to get around the city, but if you do – there is a taxi stand at the town square, and your hotel will be able to arrange one (say, if you wish to travel to a different part of the island, or to a different town.)

We were there at the tail end of summer, so it was still quite warm during the day (anywhere from 25C to 30C), so most restaurants had patios set up, even if those patios were only two tables and 4 chairs.  Most of these patios would have umbrellas over the tables to keep the sun off the patrons, but around the harbour the patios had roofs.

We popped into the fort one day (entrance fee of 3€) to see the military paraphernalia.  It was really interesting – there are a number of rooms to visit, in three different locations in the fort. They provide instructions on how to structure your visit – which rooms to visit first, how to get to the others – they are all located near each other, and there are also signs to help you find your way.  For military buffs, it’s definitely a must-see.  We enjoyed ourselves, but I could see it not being as much of an attraction to some people.  Towards the end of the tour, you can actually climb up onto the fort walls (accessed via a staircase) and look out over the city and working harbour.

Street art in Ponta Delgada

One tour guide that we had (when we did a half-day tour to Siete Cidades) told us that Ponta Delgada has a street art festival every year.  There certainly was a lot of different artwork on display around the city – and all of it amazing. We used some of it as a navigation aid, helping us find where to turn to get back to the hotel.  You never knew where you would find a new painting, they seemed to pop up in unlikely spots around the city.

On our first day, we noticed that a lot of people were swimming in the harbour.  There’s a section that is blocked off from boats, and people can swim (either do laps, or just splash around) as they want.  We also noticed that there was a platform that the  kids were jumping off of, into the water.  So of course Ross and I decided that we’re kids (well, we’re somebodies kids, right?) so one day we bought towels (travelling tip #34:  always bring towels.

Jump jump!

Even if you’re staying in a hotel, bring a towel.  Douglas Adams had it right.) and headed down to the harbour, where we proceeded to fling ourselves off the platform.  (We were, by far, the oldest people to be doing so.  The other adults were sedately using the stairs.)  It was actually a lot of fun, if a little cool at first.  Getting out was a little harder – the concrete steps and ladder are slippery with algae, and you had to time the climbing with the waves – wait while the wave comes in, then haul yourself up when the water rushes back out again.

There really isn’t anywhere comfortable to sit and dry off, other than a concrete step, or bench, but there’s plenty of room, and lots of other people doing the same.  For those worried about safety, there were life guards on duty while we were there.

From Ponta Delgada you have a plethora of tours to choose from.  We opted to a half-day jeep tour to Siete Cidades with Futurismo (they also do whale-watching tours).  The benefit (for us) in doing a smaller tour was that we got to go to places that the large tour buses couldn’t – for example, we headed up into the mountains to see two lakes in a  park.  We also got to go at our own pace – either spending more time somewhere or less time, depending on how we felt. It started out as a grey day, but the sun came out as we headed to Ferraria – where a hot spring meets the Atlantic Ocean.  During low tide you can swim in the ‘pool’, but unfortunately when we went, it was not only high tide, but also very windy, making it dangerous to enter the pool (we would have been dashed on the rocks had we tried.) For days when you can enter the water, there are ropes and a ladder available to help you.

View from the lookout
Siete Cidades

The other tour that we did was a whale-watching tour with Moby Dick Tours.  The day we booked to go ended up being very windy, so they shuttled us to the north of the island, to do the tour out of Rabo de Peixe.  (It’s only about 8 km from one side of the island to the other, so this isn’t as big a deal as it sounds.) We’ve gone whale-watching before (in Iceland) and if there’s one piece of advice I can give you (well, two.  I’m going to give you two) – 1) bring motion-sickness tablets.  It can get choppy out on the water, and you’ll be thankful to have them.  2) You’re most likely not going to see a whale leaping out of water, or the tail of a humpback.  Most likely you’ll only see the back of the whale as it surfaces.  If you think that sounds anti-climatic, it might be best to save your money.

On this whale watching trip, we ended up seeing a mama fin whale with her baby (it was one big baby), as well as a dolphin as we were coming back to shore. We spent close to an hour and a half watching the fin whales, they would breach, then go under, breach again.  I didn’t try to take any photos – it’s next to impossible to get a good shot, and you never know where they are going to breach.  I’d rather enjoy just watching them than stress myself out trying to get a photo.

Coming back to shore, we saw a beautiful rainbow over the coast of the island, which was unfortunate, as half the people on the boat couldn’t enjoy it. They were suffering from sea sickness (again, bring those motion sickness tables!) and were either lying down, or had their heads between their knees.

Our last few days we spent in Furnas, a town about 45 minutes away from Ponta Delgada (when the traffic is light).  Our hotel ordered a cab for us, and we took the southern route to Furnas, which cost about 45€, We were staying at Furnas Boutique Hotel and Spa, which from the photos looked faaaancy.  (It turns out that the place is very laid-back and chill, so we were comfortable in our jeans, hiking shoes and tshirts.)  We loved this place – the room was incredible, and even though we overlooked the restaurant and patio, we couldn’t hear any noise.  The room came with enough lights, which adjustable light, to give yourself a little light show (in fact, we did, trying to figure out which switch controlled which light, and how to get everything to turn off).  The hotel has two pools – an indoor pool, which is heated, and an outdoor pool, which is fresh, cool water.

We decided to do the hike around Lago de Furnas, a roughly 10km walk, round trip, from the town.  The first part of the walk is on a road, a winding road with no path alongside.  It felt a little unsafe at times – not quite dangerous, but often we questioned whether a driver would see us as they rounded curves.  Eventually we turned off that somewhat busy road to a quieter one that went along the lake.  We were given free entrance (I assume hikers get in for free, cars need to pay), and we stopped to check out the hot springs, where locals (and local restaurants) make Cozido – a local dish, where different types of meat and root vegetables are put in a pot, then lowered into a hole dug in the ground.  They cook for about 7 hours before being ready to serve.

The walk around the lake itself was very relaxing – it was a smooth gravel path, very even and very flat.  While the walk is 10km, it is not strenuous.  It is also shaded for the first half, but then becomes more open. Hats, sunscreen and water are definite musts for the hike, as well as comfortable shoes.  (Hiking boots not needed)

Halfway around the lake, we came to a small hill just off the trail.  We climbed the steps up, and found a large swing hanging from a tree.  Across from the tree was a lovely view of the lake, so we decided to take a moment and enjoy the solitude.  (In fact, at this point we had only run into two other people)  It was very quiet and relaxing, and a great place to take a rest.  The tires on the tree are to protect it from being damaged if it is hit by the swing.

After that the trail became more open, and eventually turned into a road (although we didn’t see any vehicles).  We passed a old church that had fallen into ruin (although it was still beautiful and picturesque) and started to notice more people, as there is a parking lot not far from this end of the trail. In fact, it’s possible to get a taxi to take you here and to walk back in the opposite direction, if the idea of walking 10km seems daunting.

As we rounded the lake, a sign pointed us up a steep hill (along a road, again) to a lookout over Furnas.  This part of the hike was strenuous – it was a steep grade, although it was partially shaded so at least we weren’t out in the direct sunlight.  We paused several times, before making it to the turn off for the lookout, which was a short walk off the road. The view was incredible, so we paused to soak it all in (and catch our breath), before heading down.  The down was just as steep as the up, but with the added insult of having loose gravel and leaves strewn over the cobblestone.  We took it slow, not wanting a fall to ruin our trip.

View of Furnas from the lookout

Our last full day on the island, we took a taxi (10€, one direction) to Faial de Terra, to hike to Salto do Prego waterfall.  We arranged with the taxi driver (who thankfully spoke English), to pick us up in 3 hours.  If you choose to do this hike from Furnas (or Povoação) you can ask your hotel to make the arrangements with your taxi driver as well.

This hike, while a lot shorter at 4.5km, is a lot more strenuous. The hike follows a true hiking path, and is steep and, at the time anyway, muddy.  There are rocks and roots to be careful of, as the trail winds its way along the stream, and through groves of olive trees.  We climbed slowly, with periods of steep ascent, before hitting the junction with the trail to the waterfall.
We were the only people there when we arrived around 11 a.m. We tested the water and it was cooooold.  We decided to don our swimsuits anyway, to at least splash in the pool around the waterfall, and to explore the stream in the opposite direction.

We quickly became accustomed to the water, and spent nearly an hour wading around the rocks and exploring the area, before decided that we should get dressed and continue on – we wanted to have enough time to explore Sanguinho, an abandoned village along the trail.  After putting our clothes back on, we climbed up, and explored the area around the top of the water (there’s a small lookout up there, as well as a trail that continues on.)

Just as we had started back, we ran into a German couple who were heading to the waterfall.  In fact, on our way back, we started to run into more and more people.  We had had excellent timing, arriving early and having the place to ourselves.

Sanguinho, the abandoned town, had some houses in complete ruins while others were merely overgrown with vegetation.  The most astounding part was that it had been abandoned after it had been wired for electricity – there were numerous street lamps along the cobblestone road. Several of the houses had been repaired and renovated, and we saw many tents – some Googling after we got home, and I found out that there was an  ‘Ecovillage Design Education’ group based there.

Our final day (half-day really), we took a taxi back to Ponta Delgada, this time via the northern route, and only 35€.  We had lunch and got a few remaining souvenirs, before heading to the tourism office, were we had arranged for the Aerobus to pick us up – at 5€ each, roundtrip, it’s a great deal.  A big plus for people who end their trip elsewhere on the island, the Aerobus will pick you up at non-hotel locations in the city.  We chose the tourism office because it was easy to find.

Scaling up Cliff Mountain

Order in ranking:  44

Finally, after months and months, I was back in the Adirondacks with my climbing compatriot, for an attempt on Cliff mountain, and if we had time Redfield.

Now, we’re both currently a little out of shape.  There have been a few years where we’ve swiftly ascended mountains, like the year we did the Dix Range, but this is not one of those years.  This is one of those schlep yourself up the mountain years.

So we stayed at the Hoot Owl B&B in nearby Newcomb (our go-to accommodations for hikes at Upper Works) and headed out bright early for a 7:15 a.m. start.  The going towards Flowed Lands is very quick – the trail, while not ‘flat’ is even – i.e. there are a few rolling ups and downs, but the trail isn’t covered in rocks, boulders, logs, branches, etc.  (This is actually great on the way out when you’re tired – you can just put one foot in front of the other and not have to worry about tripping over a root that is hiding in plain sight.) We made fairly good time, hitting the monument at Calamity Pond around 9:41 a.m., where we took some photos and chatted with a couple who were hiking in for an overnight stay.  From the monument, it was a short walk, about 20 minutes, to Flowed Lands, where we stopped again to soak in the beauty, have a snack, and rest our feet.  We thought this would be a great destination for a hike in and of itself – it was very quiet and peaceful, and other than the couple that had met at the monument, we didn’t see anyone else until we were ready to leave.

Someone jumped on the bridge.

From there, the trail started to get a bit rougher, with rocks and branches waiting to trip us up.  We walked around the Flowed Lands, and towards Colden Dam, a first for us.  After 15 minutes, we came to the junction with the Uphill Trail.  The name is not misleading, the trail at this point was a bit steeper, and with a lot more rocks impeding a quick pace (for us.)  We stopped by the suspension bridge (closed due to a cable giving way, and hanging precariously over the river) before continuing on, coming to the trail junction between Cliff and Redfield about 4 and a half hours after starting.  At this point, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to do with peaks, so we decided to hike the harder one – Cliff.

Only a little mud on this hike

We started up the trail, immediately encountering mud.  But, having done the Couchie bog the year before, we just powered through – we knew our boots were water-proof.  We quickly hit the first of the cliffs for which Cliff gets its name.

The cliffs weren’t too difficult, providing easy foot holds and hand holds, and were easy to scramble up, at least in the beginning.  The higher we climbed, the harder the cliffs became.  Near the beginning our of 46er journey, Steph and I climbed the cliffs of Saddleback, and after that, these cliffs were easy-peasy.  A few spots where you had to hold on with your fingertips, monkey swing around trees, and boost yourself up over ledges, but nothing that I would classify as scary (and I’m terrified of heights.)  Of course, takes this with a grain of salt – YMMV (your mileage may vary).

We finally summited Cliff at 1:46, six and a half hours after starting our hike.  We had our traditional swing of whiskey (from a metal flask, no glass for us), some lunch, and took some photos, before heading back down.  The cliffs were just as hairy going down as they were up, although we both decided to butt slide where we could, lowering our centre of gravity and reducing falls.

We made good time out, taking some time to relax on Colden Dam and chat with other hikers, enjoying the late afternoon sun, and the view of the mountains. We finally got up and continued hiking, hitting the parking lot at 7:59. A long day, but a restful one.  We had decided to enjoy our hike, and enjoy the Adirondacks, rather than race to get to the summit and back.

Total climbing time: 12 hours 44 minutes
Left parking lot at: 7:15, returned at 7:59
Summitted Cliff at 1:46

Big Island Hawaii

I’ve been a little remiss in keeping up with my travels this summer.  A combination of a broken keyboard, lots of trips and what felt like no time.  Plus I’m lazy, so there’s also that.

But now I have a new computer, a long weekend, and nowhere to go!

Back in June, we flew to Hawaii with WestJet, which was easy, inexpensive (relatively speaking), and only involved one layover in Vancouver.  Seeing as our layover was 10 hours long, we decided to head into the city.

The sky train is really quick and easy – there are automated kiosks to buy tickets, and the train seems to run fairly frequently.  We were in downtown Vancouver in about 20 minutes.  From there we wandered around, eventually sitting down to  lunch at a spot along the harbour, watching the float planes land and take off.  We’d been up since about 5 a.m. our time, so we decided to stay where we were, enjoy a pint and a book, before heading back to the airport for our flight to Kona.

We landed close to midnight, and thankfully had no checked luggage, so we breezed through the airport and caught the shuttle to Enterprise Car Rentals, where we’d booked a car.  Their website says that they close around 10 p.m, however a little research and Google-Fu found that the car rental agencies at the Kona airport will remain open until all cars have been picked up – meaning if you’re on a later flight, you don’t have to worry about getting your car.  And for Canadians travelling to Hawaii, your Canadian license is all that is required to rent the car (well, and a valid credit card.) No International License needed.

I’d caution against going with Enterprise – we had rude service (ok, it was midnight, and the guy probably just wanted to go home to bed, but still), and no one walked around the car with us to note damage.  Thankfully we did, and found a massive dent on the front fender.  So that delayed us by about 15 minutes, as we had to go back in, get a card to mark the damage on, and then drop it off inside again.

The Big Island is dark at night.  I’m used to country driving, so the absence of all light wasn’t bothersome to me, until….we say headlights in our lane.  WTF? We’re thinking.  Well, it turns out there was a bit of a brush fire on our side of the road, and several cars had pulled over to try and tamp it out. The west side of the island is incredibly dry, and fires can get raging fast, so brush fires are definitely not a good thing.

After a 20 minute drive, we arrived at our vacation condo rental at Fairway Villas by Outrigger. We had been given the gate code, and the parking spot number, which was right out front the condo.  We had a bottom unit (great for me, as I was going to run a half-marathon in two days, and knew I wouldn’t want to tackle a bunch of stairs after the race.)

View of King Shops from the condo

The condo we had was very well-equipped.  A full kitchen, with every appliance we’d need (including dish washer and dish soap), a rice cooker, slow cooker, coffee pot, toaster, a full knife set and full pots and pans set.  The freezer included an ice pack, we found a lunch bag…this place was well set up to do a self-catering trip to Hawaii.

We had a washer and dryer (with laundry detergent), which made my day – I wouldn’t have to trek around my sweaty race clothes!  The living room had a TV, the bedroom had a TV, the toilet was separate from the rest of the bathroom, which also included a walk-in closet (complete with pool noodle, beach umbrella and snorkelling gear), a tub and a shower.  The condo also had a good wifi signal, and a small lanai that looked over the golf course, small pond, and across to the Kings Shops.

The next day we headed over to Waikoloa for some groceries, and explored the area around our condo – the next day I had my race, so I didn’t want to be too tired, or too sunburned!,

Race day warm up

Race day dawned early – the half-marathon was starting at 6 a.m., so I was up at 4:30, to allow for breakfast, getting ready, and some digestion (who wants to run on a full stomach?).  We had intentionally booked a place that was close to the start line, so it was a short walk over 15 minutes before the start.  It wasn’t as busy as some races I’ve seen (Ottawa race weekend routinely sells out the half-marathon and 10k) but there was a fair number of people.  We started the race a few minutes late, but who cares about a few minutes when you know you’re going to be running for a couple of hours?

7 a.m. and already broiling

The course was hot almost immediately.  Thankfully the race organizers had water stations set up nearly ever kilometre (it helped that the course looped around a bit, so we passed each water station at least twice).  The hardest section was the 8km or so on the highway – no shade, and sun pounding off the asphalt.  But I kept chugging along because what else was I going to do?

The half-way turn-around spot was the most welcome sight I had ever seen (to be eclipsed 10 km later when I saw the finish line).  I had a bit of a spring in my step as I headed back along the highway, past all the cars and people staring at us, as if in shock that someone would voluntarily run in Hawaii in June.  (I now understand that look.)

2 hours and 28 minutes after starting, I hit the finish line, and took my noodle-y legs for a walk around, to make sure I didn’t start cramping.  The BF had slept in, and had gotten to the finish line a half hour before I crossed over.  He had a few snacks for me, more water, and probably would have hugged me if I hadn’t been so sweaty.  We waited around for a few minutes, so I could get my time print-out, then headed back to the condo, so I could shower, eat lunch, and then relax in the infinity pool.

Hapuna beach

In the afternoon (remember, the race started at 6 a.m!), we headed to the beach – taking the umbrella and ice pack from the freezer, along with some snacks and water.  We drove up the coast to Hapuna beach, where we sat, read our books, swam and enjoyed some beach time.

The next day we headed to the east side of the island.  We had been planning on staying at a guest house just outside of Hilo, and while the house was beautiful (and clean), the room we were to stay in was incredibly stuffy, with no breeze coming in the window.  We opted instead to drive back to the west side, and stay in Kona proper.  On the way back, we stopped in at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, along the scenic Mamalahoa highway.

Seeing as I was still a little stiff-legged, we paid the $5 fee to have a golf cart take us down the steep ramp to the gardens, where we wandered around, looking at the birds, flowers, and crashing waves along the coast.  It was fairly cool under all the trees, which was a nice change from the heat on the west.  We spent about an hour wandering around, before heading back over to Kona via the Saddle road.

In Kona we stayed at the Kona Seaside Hotel.  The exterior looks a little dated, but on the inside it was fresh, new and clean.  Our room had a mini bar-fridge, thankfully empty of any drinks or food, so we stored what was left of our self-catering food, before heading down to Splasher’s, the restaurant/bar that the front staff had recommended.  There was live music playing when we sat down, but not too loud to discourage conversation (or reading, which as you may have gathered, is something we enjoy.)  We had a good meal, good drinks, and appreciated the breeze coming in through the open sides of the restaurant.  We found out after the fact that the Kona Seaside Hotel has a half-day rate, so if you fly out late at night, you’ll at least have a place to rest and relax until your flight.

snorkelling at Kona beach

The following day we headed to the “beach”, a small sandy area about The Kona Boys had a hut set up, renting out SUP boards, kayaks, snorkelling gear, and beach umbrellas.  We opted to go for a full-day rental of the snorkelling gear (only about $12), and a beach umbrella.  The great thing about this beach was that there were plenty of fish on the rocks and coral about five feet off shore.  They were completely unconcerned with the kids splashing around mere feet away.  The gear we rented was great – the goggles kept the water out, the flippers fitted perfectly, we had no complaints.  Our second day there we rented SUP boards, our first time trying them out.  It was later in the day when we did, and the waves were quickly getting to be a bit much for us amateurs, so after a half hour we returned them.  If you’re planning to try it, I would recommend a morning rental – the water is really calm for the first part of the day, and would probably be much more enjoyable.
a half block from the hotel.

We had reservations at a guest house in Volcano, Volcano Guest House, so we packed up, headed back over the Saddle road, and had a brief stop in Hilo to do a 45-minute helicopter tour of the active volcano.  Sadly, there was too much rain to see the volcano, although we did still get a 30-minute tour of the coastal areas, before heading back.  We were a little disappointed not to see the volcano, but enjoyed the tour anyway.  From there, we drove down to Volcano, easily finding the guest house.

view from our room, Twin II

The guest house was exactly our kind of spot.  Quiet, and surrounded by nature, we had a private mini-apartment to ourselves – small kitchen with a table, a living room with two twin beds, and a bedroom with a queen bed.  The breakfast lanai (enclosed) also had a hot tub, which we unfortunately didn’t have time to appreciate.  The owners were very friendly, as was their dog, who came to greet us one evening when we were sitting outside.  The guest house is also  very ecologically friendly, composting and recycling most items.  Breakfasts were a serve yourself style, with cereal, fruit, oatmeal, breads, and eggs.  Lots of options, and great coffee!

For most other meals, we ended up at the Lava Rock Cafe, a short 5 minute drive from the guest house.  The Lava Rock Cafe is very low-key, serving your regular fare of burgers, salads, soups and sandwiches, cooked well but nothing fancy.  The staff is fantastic, very welcoming and friendly.  In fact, I ended up getting a few recommendations for new author’s to read from one server!

Thurston Lava Tube

 

Holei Sea Arch

We spent our last full day in Hawaii at Volcano National Park, which is definitely, in my opinion, a must see and do.  We started off by touring the Thurston Lava Tube, which was (at least to me) interesting.  The tube is lit, so you’re not bumbling around in the dark trying to walk through it.  It was a little uneven, but nothing that should cause most people problems.  From there, we started driving down the Chain of Craters road, stopping every now and then to do a short hike (such as the Devastation Trail), or to view the lava rocks, flows and craters that line the road.  At the end of the road, we spent some time watching the waves crash into the sea arch, before unpacking our lunch at one of the picnic tables.  (As a side note, there is also a small canteen, and bathrooms – not porta potties!! – there as well.)  We spoke briefly with a park ranger, before packing back up and heading back up the road a little bit, to stop off at the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs.

The petroglyphs are a short hike (1.5 km) from the road, across lava flows.  It’s hard to pick out the trail, but there are the occasional cairns to help you find your way.  When we visited, there were enough people coming and going that we either followed them, or walked towards them.  The petroglyphs are surrounded by a raised wooden boardwalk, preserving the petroglyphs from tourists.  There are signs that explain the meaning behind the petroglyphs as you walk around the boardwalk, and a few benches for people to rest.  I would highly recommend bringing a hat, sunscreen and lots of water – the sun and heat can quickly become overwhelming.  The hike itself is probably about 45 minutes, depending on your speed, and age.  If you have little ones with you, be prepared to pick them up.  The ground is definitely uneven, and not particularly suitable to a stroller (although I don’t have kids, and don’t use strollers, so maybe it is and I’m talking nonsense.)

Petroglyph in the Volcano National Park

After that, it was back up the Chain of Craters road, stopping off at various places that we had skipped on our way down. We headed out the next day, back to Kona.  Our flight wasn’t until midnight, so we had reserved a room at the Seaside Hotel for the day. We hit up the beach again, enjoying one last day of snorkelling, before showering, packing up, and returning the car to the airport.

Alas, our flight was slightly delayed, and the Kona airport doesn’t really have much to do, and the restaurant there closed at 9 p.m., leaving at least a plane load of us lounging around in the waiting area.  Thankfully a small convenience store was still open, so we could at least snack of chips and read magazines, and there’s a water fountain for people who have water bottles with them.