I just returned from my vacation to Hawaii and San Francisco.  It was a delightful trip.  I’ll be posting photos in a week or so, after I’ve had a chance to go through them and clean them up.

I spent a week in Hawaii, renting a condo for a week at the Vista Waikoloa Beach Resort, which I highly recommend doing – it’s cheaper than a resort hotel, quieter, and the suites are large and comfortable.  I went for this option because my friend Phloem has a place in the same building, so this made coordination easy.

Here’s what the view from my lanai looked like.  It’s adjacent to a golf course, hence the green.  If I remember right, that’s Mauna Loa in the background.

The first day in Hawaii I was a bit jet-lagged and didn’t do much except sleep and go for a swim in the pool (first time I’ve been swimming in about 30 years).  At the end of the day my other friend Frink had arrived from Calgary, and we were ready to rock.

The next day we drove into the city of Kailua-Kona to do some eating and shopping.  We had an excellent burrito at Killer Tacos, a place tourists aren’t likely to find because it’s tucked away in a semi-industrial zone.

On the same block is the largest used bookstore I’ve ever been in, with a stock comparable to the sum of the excellent Fair’s Fair chain in Calgary.  Frink and I spent a couple of hours in here and found a few treasures.

That evening we went for a swim in the ocean at a pretty beach near the resort.


The third day was an all-day trip to see the active volcano of Kilauea, on the other side of the Big Island.  On the way, Phloem took us to Tex Drive-In for malasadas.  If you haven’t had these before, you really should.  They’re like a sugar-coated, creme-filled donut made with sweet bread, and served hot.  You have to eat them immediately – don’t even consider warming them up later.  Amazingly delicious.  Possibly the best pastry ever.

The big island of Hawaii has quite an assortment of biomes, the most notable division being between dry and rainy.

The east side of the island looks like this: old lava that has been colonized by low, hardy drought-resistant plants.

The west side is more like this – tropical rainforest.  The division is so marked that in passing through the town of Waimea you literally drive in from arid scrubland on one side and come out in verdant farmland on the other, and it’s not unusual for half the town to get rained on while the other half is in the sun.

We stopped at Akaka Falls to see the tall waterfall and the lush vegetation, including the first time I’ve seen a free-growing banyan tree – huge!

It’s hard to tell from this photo just how much biomass is in this tree.  Here’s a shot of Phloem posing near some of the buttress roots:

I’ll post more photos of the plant life and the waterfall in a few days.

We stopped for lunch in the city of Hilo, but the intended local dining option was closed on Sunday, so we ended up not eating anything notable.

Then it was on to the volcano.

The volcano was kind of sulking when we were there – the active lava floes were not easily accessible and we couldn’t get a direct view of the open lava in the caldera.  But there were still lots of interesting things to see.

For example, this older crater on the edge of the main one.  The scale of these landscapes is something we’re not used to seeing.  Those walls are 40 stories high and very steep.  As an attempt to show the distance to the floor, here’s a visual aid made from a wide-angle and a telephoto shot of the same scene:

Click to view full size.

We also walked through an old lava tube and saw some lava-devastated and recovering landscape – starkly beautiful.  Again, pictures coming soon.

We hung around until after dark so we could at least see the glow of the lava in the caldera lighting up the smoke column:

After that it was a long after-dark drive home, punctuated with some ono grinds at Ken’s House of Pancakes.  This place has an incredible variety of food – check out the menu on the website.  Pancakes seem to be a thing in this area, coming big, thick and numerous.  They were delicious but I barely finished half my plate.


The next day was my first time snorkeling.  It took me some time to get used to the snorkel – at first it kept setting off my gag reflex.  I also had a really hard time overcoming my panic at submerging my face, but using a flotation device helped a lot.  We saw a middling-sized sea turtle and lots of humuhumunukunukuapua’a (I love that name) among other colorful things.  Afterward I had my first shaved ice treat and we had a pretty decent locally-grown burger at Ultimate Burger.


The fifth day was the main event – the 2012 transit of Venus, which is the event that led us to schedule this trip to this place at this particular time.  It was the last chance to watch Venus pass in front of the sun for the next 105 years, and we wanted to do it from up at the Mauna Kea observatory.  Coincidentally, there was also a partial eclipse of the moon the previous night that I didn’t know about.

We spent the first part of the day making our own solar filters so we could photograph the sun without ruining our cameras or eyes, and we watched the first part of the transit from our home base. Then we drove up the mountain to watch the conclusion and do some after-sunset stargazing.  I ended up not going to the summit – we stopped at the visitors’ center which is at 9,000 feet, and I found it very difficult to breathe there – just walking on level ground was cause for rapid panting.  I probably could have survived a brief visit to the actual observatory at 14,000 feet, but it would not have been very pleasant.

More photos later, but here’s one of my pictures of the transit.  The dark spot at lower right is Venus, and I believe the smaller spots near the center are sunspots. Of course other people got much better photos of the event than I did, but I’m thrilled that I was able to get even this much with a mere 200mm lens and hand-made filters.


The final day in Hawaii we mostly rested and reflected, though Phloem did take us for a walk over to the nearby resort hotel to show us what it was like.

It’s beyond belief – three huge buildings joined by a train, with a private lake and beach, and a pool with dolphins in it that you can pay to swim with.  It’s like a condensed microcosm of Hawaii in a way – pretend you were there without ever leaving the hotel.  I’m glad I didn’t stay here.


Next time I’ll post about the two-day San Francisco leg of our trip.  But I do want to note this:

Staring out the airplane window for hours while flying over the Pacific to and from Hawaii, I noticed that there really is an awful lot of water in the ocean.  I never viscerally grasped its scale before.  The same is true for the atmosphere – cruising at 36,000 feet, looking way down on clouds that seem so impressive from the ground, and not being able to distinguish the large waves on the surface from each other really drives home that even though the atmosphere is relatively thin, there is still a huge amount of space in it for things that fly.


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