A LOSING STREAK OF 4
Just one week prior, Julie booked us a quick weekend trip to the Big Island figuring we’d take advantage of the Super Bowl Weekend. We thought that most of America would be paying attention to the big game and thus things would be less crowded and cheaper.
Anyways, we had arrived at midday yesterday in Kona, which allowed us time to get re-oriented, make bookings for a Hamakua/Kohala Helicopter ride, and treat ourselves to a nice but pricey little sunset dinner at Jameson’s. It was a pretty uneventful day so I very much looked forward to today as we intended to see the waterfalls of the Big Island under better (i.e. wetter) conditions than last year.
We were supposed to be on a Sunshine Helicopter tour, which checked in at 9am. But knowing it’s a fairly far drive (maybe close to an hour) to go from the Sheraton Keauhou Bay to the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel in Waikoloa (where Sunshine Helicopters was located), we had ourselves a quick breakfast of pizza pan crepe to go from U-Top-It! while trying to ignore the unsightly cruise ship (courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Lines or NCL) as we peered out towards the ocean from Ali’i Drive off the Kona Coast. We were already on our way out of Kona by 7:30am.
It was a good thing we got our early start because there was traffic on Hwy 19. We’d eventually get to the Hapuna Beach Resort smack at 9am, but that was when the Sunshine Helicopters rep informed us that the tour was cancelled due to bad weather.
Well, I guess that makes it the third time in a row that a helicopter tour was cancelled (we had 2 last year cancel on us – one for East Maui as well as one on the Big Island). Better safe than sorry, especially when Mother Nature dictates the rules.
The rep offered to reschedule me on an 11:30am flight, but I didn’t want to be held hostage at the resort on a tour that may be going. So I passed on the offer.
Besides, I had hoped to get this tour out of the way so we could spend more time on the windward side of the island, and give another go at checking out Waipi’o Valley.
But with this cancellation, that all changed. And while mulling over what to do for today, Julie suggested that we make some hotel/resort visits around Waikoloa so she could better advise her clients about where on the Big Island to stay at.
Mind as well do it since I knew it must be raining on the windward side given the chopper cancellation.
And so we headed south checking out resorts such as the Fairmont Orchid, Mauna Lani, Hilton Waikoloa Village, and the Waikoloa Beach Marriott. While we did make better use of our down time, it was work and was a far cry from our original intention of this Super Bowl Weekend trip to get better photos of old waterfalls while checking out waterfalls that we haven’t seen before.
While we were at Mauna Lani, we did manage to book a Waipi’o Valley tour with the company Waipi’o on Horseback. Na’alapa Stables didn’t have an opening until Monday, which was obviously too late for us.
Meanwhile, I had a change of heart and decided to try again for a helicopter tour today. We did manage to book a different helicopter tour with Paradise Helicopters for 2pm. But with one cancellation this morning, I was realistic about our chances for this one. Still, it didn’t hurt to try, right?
Julie and I split up at 1:05pm so she could continue touring properties while I was going on the chopper tour. Check-in time was 1:15pm so I was worried about checking in late.
Paradise Helicopters only includes Hamakua/Kohala as part of a circle-island helicopter trip that included fly overs of Madame Pele (i.e. the lavaflows) on the southeast side of Mauna Loa. They don’t have shorter ones just to the Hamakua/Kohala Coasts. But they did fly Bells, which allowed you to open the window for good photos if you happened to have a window seat.
When I went to the Kona Airport as directed when I made the booking, I had some trouble finding Paradise Helicopters because I had previously thought they were Tropical Helicopters. But eventually, I got there and I awaited the tour at about 1:35pm.
The previous tour, which took off at 11:30am was running late so it wasn’t until 2:30pm when we started to hear news of our tour. It was a good sign that the 11:30am tour took off (made me wonder what might have been had I took Sunshine’s 11:30am offer), but that was quickly dampened when the pilot informed us that the weather wasn’t looking good at the moment.
However, he said the radar indicated the rain might let up later possibly around 3pm and would be worth trying again at that time. I was worried about making Julie wait unnecessarily because of these delays plus this upcoming 2-hour flight.
But none of that mattered when 3pm rolled around and we heard that the tour was cancelled (again). So that made this the fourth consecutive cancellation of helicopter tours – a losing streak of 4, if you will. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.
So back I went to the Marriott where Julie waited for me. It was still about 3:45pm when we left Waikoloa and finally headed to Hilo.
We hadn’t taken the Saddle Road on the previous trip last year, but I was aware that the state was improving the road. We didn’t know how far along the work was, and we were kind of curious to see just exactly how narrow and unbanked the road was.
And so we eventually got to the famed highway that passes between Big Island’s two 14,000-ft volcanoes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. The summits of both peaks were shrouded in clouds so we knew rain was waiting for us on the other side of the island.
Initially, the road looked narrow, but had extended paved sections flanking it. Those extended sections looked like they still needed some work, but it wasn’t nearly as narrow as I had expected. Heck, there were heaps of big pickup trucks and SUVs whizzing along this road so our gas-guzzling Dodge Calibur hatchback should handle this without problems.
Eventually we passed through the brown grazing lands of what looked like Parker Ranch property. Then, after passing by a military training base, the terrain really started to turn barren as black and brown hardened lava surrounded us.
There was no hope of catching any glimpses of the 2 volcanic summits on either side of us, but we did notice hints of snow where the clouds didn’t quite sink so low.
It wasn’t long before we started driving through drizzling fog.
As the Saddle Road descended further in elevation, that fog started turning into rain that caused me to crank up the windshield wiper to warp speed.
By this point, the road was almost a full-on two-lane highway except for an extensive 18-mile gravel stretch.
The rain continued to fall harder as we finally entered Hilo Town. Street flooding was already prevalent, but our immediate goal was to find the Inn at Kulaniapia, which I had read previously that it wasn’t easy to find.
It took a little while to find our way around Hilo because we had never come down from the Saddle Road before. Before we knew it, we had passed by the University of Hawai’i, Hilo, which definitely wasn’t the Waianuenue Avenue, which cut through downtown Hilo, that I was familiar with.
Eventually, we found our way back to Waianuenue Ave and then started to follow the email directions to the Inn at Kulaniapia Falls.
It was easy to see why this place wasn’t easy to find because we had to go through some narrow, rather hidden Hilo streets before finally seeing signs leading to our destination.
The rain seemed to fall even heavier as little streams from overflowing storm drains rushed down the sloping, narrow street leading to the private Kulaniapia Falls.
Soon, we entered what looked to be a large grove of Macadamia Nut trees.
We continued to slowly find our way towards the Inn through more large pools of water while trying not to get caught in any newly formed potholes.
The skies continued to get darker as night time was closing in, but darkness came quickly anyways as the menacing rain clouds continued to dump its load. Sudden flashes of lightning interrupted the looming darkness.
I kept trying to tell myself that this rain must be good for waterfalling (in contrast to last year’s drought), but if there ever was a such thing as having way too much rain to go waterfalling, this was it!
It was 5:30pm when we finally arrived at what appeared to be some Japanese-looking pagodas and houses. Apparently, this must be the Inn. We looked at the signboard just before the main residence and saw Julie’s last name on it.
It seemed like getting into our room would be a bit of a self-service affair as the email printout had told us our room was upstairs and unlocked. No one else seemed to be around. Were we the only ones here?
But the rain was really going crazy at this point. Clearly, we were going to get drenched even though it was only a few steps from the canopy in front of the house to the upstairs rooms.
From the stairway, I could kind of see the raging Kulaniapia Falls. The falls were a bit too fat and gushy, and had there been enough light, I’d bet they were probably chocolate brown from all the soil erosion in the flash floods. I kept my fingers crossed that it might calm down tomorrow.
After taking off our shoes in the hallway so we could drop off our luggage in our room, we were hungry for dinner (since we hadn’t eaten a full meal all day except for some shared pizza pan crepe to go at U-Top-It! in Kona early this morning).
At 6:15pm, we headed back down into Hilo Town now engulfed by darkness broken by more flashes of lightning.
By 6:55pm, we were back at the familiar local dive of Cafe 100. Oddly enough, the rain calmed down by this point.
So I ended up having my $5 Super Loco, except Julie wouldn’t let me have neither the gravy nor hamburger patty – thinking this stuff was worse than McDonalds. She had a point as the meal still had two eggs over rice, a Portugese sausage, potato salad, and Spam. She had herself a saimin.
And after our guilt-ridden, artery-clogging dinner, we headed back into the Inn at Kulaniapia. When we arrived, the parking lot all of the sudden was half full. We were quite surprised that we went from being the only ones there to being in a full house. Apparently this place was known by more people than we had previously thought.
After cleaning up and finishing off a lip-cutting pineapple we had bought last night on the Kona side, we went to sleep hoping the rain might let up tomorrow…