The day began somewhat impromptu as I earwigged two people discussing a trip down to the south of the island. Marie had wound up with a soccer mom people carrier as the hire company had no compact cars left. Jason was island hopping from Ouahu for the weekend. He was lucky enough to have family working at island air. I cheekily cadged a lift and was so grateful for what turned out to be an epic day. The first stop was south of Captain Cook, down to Two Steps beach. This sheltered little snorkelling area had no beach exactly but a myriad of rock pools set in the lava. it was clearly very popular and good place to try out my snorkelling gear. It was baking hot and the water was refreshing. And my $20 snorkel fit perfectly.
I couldn’t believe what I saw in there. I don’t have a go pro – so I will have to borrow these pictures to show you what I saw. There was a ledge to slide off into the water and the fish were in massive shoals too many to count and so many varieties. It was truly hypnotic and enthralling. After a very short time it had become so ridiculously hot sitting on the lava and we had such a big agenda, we made a move to find coffee. Unfortunately Two Steps coffee shop was closed Sunday.
We drove round the coast looking for the Green Sands beach. It was quite a way, winding at elevation around the coast, with not single open refreshment establishment in sight, and we stopping at every scenic point to admire the magnificent vistas. Usually vast lava fields, brown and black and at various ages and stage of regeneration, stretching down to the coast from the lush interior. Eventually we found the road down to Green Sands. This was extraordinary because we dropped down from the verdant heights onto a long and winding single track through a sort of anomalous prairie land with cattle. On the way down we stopped at a coffee farm, thinking to get coffee ( well it was just me really), only to find it was a roadside shop selling coffee, macadamia nuts, chocolate and all sorts of products combining these. The amount of samples she gave us made a good lunch and I tasted for the first time the delicious and compelling flavour of fresh macadamia nuts. All the while there was a parched and throat searing heat. Further down and incredulously was a serious coffee shop truly in the middle of nowhere, (though it was really an orchid farm) – so like a lot of enterprises on the island, doubling up on income sources.
In due course, we wound down through the sparse cattle in flat land to the Green Sands car park. You can go no further here unless you have a dedicated off road vehicle. The hike to Green Sands is 2 hours, over savannah like terrain riven but deep off road tracks and bomb holes – not to be attempted without at least 3 litres of water in the heat of the day. In the car park were local family businesses offering a shuttle service to the Sands, looking anything but legal and far from H & S aware. Jason checked it out – $20 dollars a person – we were aghast. But what choice had we if we were still to see the volcano. So with trepidation we coughed up. What followed was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. I don’t know what possessed me, maybe the mountain biker/climber outdoor person did, but I decided to jump in the back of the what I can only describe as a large white monster truck with only a rail in the back. There were two or three other girls who screamed all the way in both thrill and terror. Forget Alton Towers and every ride you’ve ever been on ( well none in my case) and think extreme body abuse. We were thrown about like popcorn in the back as we negotiated forty five degree berms, cliffs and obstacles at speed. I finally understand off-roading, though I don’t think a land rover over houndkirk quite comes close. The Green Sands beach was the most extraordinary landscape, with its olive peridot volcanic glass and strangely sculpted headland, but the ride there and back kind of topped it. After an hour and return journey where I did manage to catch some footage, we could hardly come down. But knowing there was a drive ahead, we set off . The local family shuttle business must be raking it in at that rate, but it was definitely a trip highlight.
Another hour or so drive bought us to Volcano National park, a mere $25 between us. Proving to be an expensive day but in many days priceless. We went into the first entrance we came to really – even though fellow hostellers had said go to the lava flow, it was two against one and it would have meant another 19 mile drive. So we settled on the Kilauea crater rim. I felt a hint of disappointment when we drove up to ‘the crater’ and saw only plumes of steam coming out of a grey quarry like expanse.
To be fair there were steam vents all around us and you could feel it on your chest and also if you put your hand over the vent, you could certainly feel the intense heat. It’s all a bit unreal as tourists loom out of the fumes. But this is not Niagara – with billions of visitors daily – this is an island that’s quite a long way in the middle of the Pacific and the volcano itself is a mere ninety six miles from Kona. You’re not going to get the Niagara hordes. We went back to the car and drove the few extra minutes to the viewing centre – and then everything changed – particularly the disappointment bit. At first there was just a bowl like glow in the greyness of everything, more like a crucible or a few embers. Within a few minutes another area had become active and all was getting a little more visible. A patient wait at the telescope revealed a churning, spitting, boiling fury of molten lava and sprays of fiery ash. Pretty unreal to see. More people arrived for the vigil of encroaching darkness, and a couple of hours passed by with all three of us completely transfixed. Against the night sky, the lava and heat illuminate the gases and you get a real sense you are watching land being born, this island being born. And all the miles and miles of lava flows, some clinker and chiming, some brown and like turned earth, some whiskery with new growth and some architectural. It all makes sense . It was a long drive home – two hours – thanks too Marie for all the driving and a day not easily forgotten!