Vog Heaven

The Pu'u 'O'o Vent

22-February 2008 to 24-February 2008: Julie had booked an 8am chopper flight with Paradise so we had to get up at 5:30am to ensure we'd check in on time. Knowing that the weather wouldn't be as much of an issue as the last four failed attempts at helicoptering, there was a part of me that couldn't believe that today's tour was actually going to happen. I echoed my sentiments to Julie as we drove towards the heliport at the Kona Airport.

"Don't count your chickens before they hatch," Julie warned.

Julie had booked an 8am chopper flight with Paradise so we had to get up at 5:30am to ensure we'd check in on time. Knowing that the weather wouldn't be as much of an issue as the last four failed attempts at helicoptering, there was a part of me that couldn't believe that today's tour was actually going to happen. I echoed my sentiments to Julie as we drove towards the heliport at the Kona Airport.

"Don't count your chickens before they hatch," Julie warned.

So I didn't say anything regarding the matter thereafter. In fact, once we arrived at Paradise's office, I was quite silent in the 45 minutes between our 7:15am checkin and the 8am flight.

Mauna Kea over the hazy vogBut finally, our pilot Floyd did the usual pre-flight talk and before we knew it, the Bell Jet Ranger took off and we were headed right into the sun over the summit of Hualalai and then towards the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Mauna Kea over the hazy vogThe weather forecast, which I had studied before this last-minute Big Island trip, had called for vog. It was a term that neither Julie nor I were familiar with so I asked Floyd what exactly was vog.

Mauna Kea over the hazy vogI didn't recall exactly what he said, but it was something to the effect that the gases coming out of the active volcanoes can mix with water vapor to create a type of volcano-induced fog. The vog was apparent as we could see haze below both the snow-capped peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.

He also said that the mix of sulfur dioxide and water vapor creates acid rain, which is responsible for the desert climate in the southeastern part of the island just west of the National Park.

The Kilauea CraterConsidering that it had been a long time since neither Julie nor I had seen the summit of Mauna Kea and that we had never seen the summit of Mauna Loa, we'd take light vog any day over menacing rain clouds shrouding the peaks.

Once we got to the National Park area, the next several minutes were spent looking for any redness from lava flows. They weren't easy to spot because the flow at this time was rather slow and poor, and perhaps mostly under lava tubes.

Lava igniting some trees on fireWe did spot a few areas where the lava did set some trees on fire. But it was a rather disappointing show.

Floyd then took us over to the Pu'u O'o Vent where it was still spewing out noxious gases. He couldn't fly us downwind from the vent due to visibility (vog) and the concentration of toxic fumes. So I took what photos I could of the active vent.

The Pu'u O'o VentNext, the tour headed north over the town of Hilo and eventually up the Hamakua Coast. Now, we're finally seeing some waterfalls!

Waterfalls near Hilo as seen from the airAs we continued going north of Hilo, we could see that every gulch had dozens of noticeable waterfalls. In fact, there were countless numbers of them. Some of them I could pick out like Rainbow Falls, Akaka Falls, Kulaniapia Falls, and even Pe'epe'e Falls. But most of them were nameless or there were just way too many to keep track of.

More waterfalls north of HiloEventually, Floyd took us to the mouth of Waipi'o Valley. Unfortunately, we were kind of looking against the sun and the shadows were unkind for photography, but I could tell right away that Waiulili Falls was going and *gasp* Hi'ilawe Falls was actually flowing!

That was the first time I had seen this waterfall go despite several attempts. I was excited about this and this made me really look forward to tomorrow's intended excursion to the Valley of the Kings.

Ocean-bound waterfalls between Waipi'o and Waimanu ValleyHowever, Kaluahine Falls didn't look like it was going, and since it had only been 3 weeks since the record rains that we were stuck within, that must've meant that the falls were nothing short of being ephemeral (and hence not really a legitimate waterfall these days).

Waimanu ValleyNext, Floyd took us into the quiet Waimanu Valley, which was adjacent to the Waipi'o Valley. There were a few tall waterfalls that were hard to capture in a photograph. He then flew us into a bowl area that he called the "keyhole."

The downed WWII bomberAfter that, he flew out of Waimanu Valley (too short for my taste) and flew us over to a downed WWII bomber. Personally, I would've preferred to check out Pololu Valley and the now-inaccessible Kapoloa Falls, but I guess it wasn't really part of the flight path of this tour.

Floyd then took us over some wind farms (encouraging to see some effort is being made a harnessing renewable energy) before trying to do some last-minute whale watching. We spotted a few but as usual, they're not really photographable from high up in the air.

Finally, the tour ended back at the Kona Airport.

It was now around 10am and we decided to do a little grocery shopping along with a quick sushi lunch at Hayashi's before taking advantage of the good weather by heading over to the Hilo side for the afternoon.

By the time we had left Kona, it was 12:30pm and some afternoon clouds started to appear as we looked mauka.

Despite the presence of clouds, we knew they probably weren't going to produce any rain. The Saddle Road was pretty much the same as it was 3 weeks ago. However, the difference was that we could see a lot more along the road than we did before thanks to the good weather.

Back at the Boiling PotsBy 2:35pm, we were at the busy Boiling Pots Car Park. There were many people out and about in bathing suits. I, however, was determined to get a view of Pe'epe'e Falls from the pool right at its base.

Despite the lack of rain for the last three weeks, the Wailuku River was still running high enough that you had to either swim or wade through nearly hip-deep water to get to the other side. Unlike our calamitous crossing near Helele'ike'oha Falls on Maui a while back, this time I was careful not to get the camera nor my wallet wet as I waded across the river.

People frolicking beneath Pe'epe'e FallsFinally, I got to the pool at Pe'epe'e Falls where a group of people had already swum to. To my surprise, there was actually another cascade off to the left that couldn't be seen unless you did the scramble. It kind of reminded me of Wainibau Falls in Taveuni, Fiji, where you had to swim to see the other waterfall. Fortunately, I didn't have to swim to see the hidden cascade by Pe'epe'e Falls, but it was quite a treat nonetheless.

The hidden waterfall by  Pe'epe'e FallsAfter scrambling back to an awaiting Julie, we headed back up to the car park together and arrived at 3:45pm.

People swimming in the Boiling PotsThere was still plenty of daylight left so we thought we mind as well take even more advantage of the good weather by returning to Kulaniapia Falls.

Even though we're staying at the Inn tomorrow night, we took the liberty of going over there and taking what photos we could in the good weather. We had arrived a little after 4pm and returned to the car at 5pm.

Back at Kulaniapia FallsHowever, we met a nice couple from Dallas (named Jane and Philip) who were spending this night at the Inn. We spent a good deal of time chit chatting of traveling lightly and about the good weather.

Path to Kulaniapia FallsAfter leaving Kulaniapia Falls, we took the Saddle Road back to Kona. We arrived at this place called Lulu's at around 7:15pm, and we ended up eating treating ourselves to some ahi tuna and mahimahi.

Julie and I basked in the fact that we got a lot accomplished on this one day that we couldn't do throughout most of the last two trips to the Big Island. I personally was eager about tomorrow's horseback ride in Waipi'o Valley and about the prospect of finally getting to see Hi'ilawe Falls while it's flowing!

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We woke up at 4:30am knowing that we had to get an early start to arrive in Waipi'o Valley in time for me to do a little bit of self-exploration. I had a feeling that the horseback tour wouldn't give us sufficient time to see Waiulili Falls or take photos of Hi'ilawe Falls. So I wanted to get to the valley in time to walk down and back up before the actual horseback tour itself.

So by a little before 5:30am, we were already packed up and checked out of the Outrigger Resort. It wasn't until about 7:30am when we finally arrived in Hilo.

Looking into the sun as we went past the Mauna Kea summit turnoffHowever, the drive on the other side of the saddle (on the windward side) was a bit challenging as I was looking right into the rising sun.

Mauna Kea backing one of the Lower Umauma WaterfallsAfter filling up on some gas, we then proceeded to head north along Hwy 19. We managed to stop by a pair of familiar gulches (one for Umauma Stream and the other for Nanue Stream) for photographs. Actually, the one for Umauma was quite a treat as we got to photograph the stream's lower waterfalls with the summit of Mauna Kea still visible in the background.

Back at Waipi'o ValleyIt was about 9am when we arrived at the rather busy Waipi'o Valley Lookout. Julie wasn't particularly interested in doing the walk so she stayed at the overlook and let me do the physical challenge on my own.

After putting on the mosquito repellant and sunscreen, I quickly made my way down the road (almost letting gravity help me trail run my way down), and made it to the bottom in less than 20 minutes. I then walked towards Hi'ilawe Falls knowing that I'd finally get to see the falls in its normal state.

A flowing Hi'ilawe Falls in shadowOf course when I did get to see the falls, shadows kind of made the photography less than optimal.

I guess something had to rain on my parade.

Nonetheless, I got my shots of the falls and then proceeded to walk towards the black sand beach.

Ocean-bound waterfall just north of Waipi'o Valley's mouthOnce at the beach, I then did the familiar boulder scramble towards both Kaluahine Falls and Waiulili Falls. I also noticed an interesting inaccessible ocean-bound waterfall on the far side of the valley.

The boulder scramble didn't seem as scary as last year's excursion thanks to the relatively low tides, but I was still a little worried about falling rocks and the occassional rogue wave. And even though the weather forecast had said it was low tide at the time I was there (around 10am), the waves were still quite big enough for surfers to hang ten.

When I got to Kaluahine Falls, it was dry, which further confirmed my hunch that this waterfall was no longer legitimate.

Back at Waiulili FallsI then went further down the coast to a view of Waiulili Falls, which was flowing much better than when I saw it last year. I was content to get my distant view not wanting to press my luck with the waves and with the time constraint of having to get back to Julie and checking in for the Na'alapa Stables Tour.

After having my fill of Waiulili Falls, I headed right back up the 25% grade road to the Waipi'o Valley Lookout. Like last year, the climb back up wasn't easy thanks to the steepness of the road.

When the 45-minute thigh burning ascent was over, I was drenching wet with sweat and it was about 11am.

The ranger in the kiosk by the lookout said in that distinct Hawaiian accent, "You went all the way dahwn?"

"Yeah," I said, breathing heavily.

"Wahw!" he said.

With still about 90 minutes to burn, we headed right over to the Waipi'o Valley Artworks building getting there in about 5 minutes. The day was quite hot and we decided to treat ourselves to a little lunch and ice cream while we waited for our tour.

Our lunch consisted of cold sandwiches and a tasty banana bread. We also couldn't resist the passion fruit sorbet and tahitian vanilla ice cream.

The time passed was thoroughly relaxing, but when 12:30pm rolled around, the 4wd van driver showed up and rounded up the tour participants.

His van's air conditioning didn't work so he left the side door open. The Na'alapa Stables was not much further past the Hi'ilawe Stream crossing. From there, the van driver introduced himself as Jay and we were also introduced to the lovely Maile, who was the daughter of the owner of the stables.

Getting assigned to our horseWe then spent the next several minutes being assigned our horses and also learning how to control them. Since neither Julie nor I had ever ridden a horse before, we were a bit nervous.

But once the tour got going (a little after 1pm by this time), the horses ended up being quite easy to ride and there weren't any real drama with them.

Staying in the back of the packNow my camera was too big to fit inside any of the saddle bags, and eventually I just slung it around my neck to take photos. However, taking photos while bobbing up and down on the back of the horse was very nontrivial.

The Shark Man waterfallStill, there were a couple of thinner waterfalls (one of them was some Shark Man waterfall) deep in the valley that I was determined to photograph. I even got my horse to stop so I could take a photo, but that was when Jay told me to not get too far back from the crowd.

Looking further back at Waipi'o ValleyBefore we knew it, the tour promptly ended at around 3pm - just as we really started to feel connected with the horses. But with sore legs, we eventually ate some local fruit, recovered our stuff, and headed back up to the Artworks center.

One last look at Hi'ilawe FallsJay was giving me a hard time trying to photograph Hi'ilawe Falls from the van (as I was trying to take advantage of the late afternoon cloud cover for even lighting on the falls). But he ultimately stopped the van and took photos with my camera before continuing on up the steep 25% road.

There, we regained the car at the art center at 3:15pm and left for Hilo.

The drive back down to Hilo was mostly uneventful. Julie and I discussed how our horses did during the tour. Apparently, she got a competitive one who always wanted to be towards the front. I got a more laid back one who tended to get thirsty.

At 4:15pm, we did manage to stop by the What's Shakin' shack for some fresh fruit smoothies. At $6 a cup, it was very pricey, but it sure hit the spot.

Inside our Harmony RoomFinally at 5pm, we were back at the familiar Inn at Kulaniapia Falls where we checked into our room at the Harmony Pagoda, which seemed like it was newly completed with the hardwood floor and the new furnishings. It seemed much different than the room we stayed at 3 weeks ago in the main building.

More of Kulaniapia Falls under the ideal lighting conditionsTaking advantage of the cloud cover and the remaining daylight, I took some more photos of the falls before getting back up to Julie and the car for some Oceanside Sushi in Hilo Town.

With pretty much everything we wanted to accomplish on this trip, tomorrow and the day after would pretty much be free days. For once, I wouldn't be leaving the Big Island with that sense of still having work to do. I'm sure Julie was quite happy with this state of affairs...

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Given that we had to get up early for each of the last two nights (not counting the usual 5am wake-ups of each day of the work week), we allowed ourselves to sleep in until about 7:30am.

When we awoke, we could look out the window and see something vastly different from our previous stay at the Inn - morning sun! It also didn't take long for us to start feeling the heat of the day as well.

A little after 8am, we went downstairs of the Harmony building for breakfast. It was there that we once again got re-acquainted with the owner Lenny Sutton as well as the lady who works at the nearby on-site Wailani Spa.

I could tell by the way that Lenny introduced himself that he didn't remember us - even after Julie asked him if he remembered us from three weeks ago. More than anything, it's probably more indicative of the quantity of guests Lenny sees at his property or how not-so-memorable we are.

In any case, we got acquainted with a couple from Seattle as well as a lady from Melbourne, Australia. We especially enjoyed our conversation with the Australian lady, which primarily centered around the sugar-rich American foods and obesity. She was especially amused when she learned that I listen to Triple J Radio, which is a non-commercial Australian Rock Station.

"Ha! My kids listen to it," she told me.

After breakfast, Julie and I packed up and loaded up the car. That was when we saw Raquel again, who recognized us (at least someone here remembered us from last time).

Just before 9:30am, we took the opportunity to enjoy the waterfall in the glorious morning light for one last time. It was already hot and there were still a few more mosquitoes around, which got Julie frazzled as she had already gotten several bites on her hands and feet. So despite the heat of the morning, Julie kept her red jacket on to avoid getting bit further.

Parting shots of Kulaniapia FallsSo we hastily took our photos before we returned to the car at 10am and headed out. The agenda for today was to take another look at Volcanoes National Park under the better weather. Last year, it was raining and drizzling during our stay in the park.

We eventually ended up at the visitor center of the National Park at a little after 11am. We thought it was a bit strange that there was no one working at the entry gate at the time. It was even more strange that the nearby Visitor Center was closed. The reason was that there was a high concentration of noxious sulfur dioxide in the air.

Kilauea Crater from the Jagger MuseumI guess the bad air quality under sunny skies is the flip side to visiting the park in depressingly rainy conditions.

In any case, we checked out the rim of the great Kilauea Crater before we headed to the Chain of Craters Road. But we had to go back towards the visitor center before accessing the road from the east because the western loop access was closed due to the bad air quality.

Back at the Holei Sea ArchWhen we got to the end of the road, there were a handful of cars, but nothing like the additional half-mile or so additional hike just to go from the parked car to the actual end of the road.

I guess that's yet another indication that the lava flows could not be seen by foot on this day - much to the disappointment of other tourists who were lured by the flashy advertisements.

"This was not what we signed up for," lamented one elderly lady whom we overheard.

Nonetheless, we came and saw once again the Holei Sea Arch. This time, it was under sunny skies and clear waters. However the waves were still strong and still pounded away at the steep coastline. We didn't entertain any notion of seeing active lava flows so we didn't spend very much time here.

Kilauea Iki dwarfing hikers within the crater itselfAfter leaving the Holei Sea Arch vicinity at around 12:30pm, we visited the rim Kilauea Iki on the way out. The smaller ("iki") crater was interesting in that there were people walking within it. We didn't do it, but they provided nice scale on photographs showing the immensity of the "little" crater.

By about 1:30pm, we had finally left Hawaii Volcanoes NP and swung around the southern part of the island en route to Kona.

Given that it was a free day, Julie (being the coffee drinker) was determined to find the 100% Kona Coffee. We ended up seeking out this hard-to-find German-owned place called the Bay View Farm, which was aptly named for its view. However, it was the referral by the Blue Bible (i.e. the ubiquitous Revealed book) that brought us here.

We arrived a little at around 3:15pm. After getting the sought-after coffee, we managed to weave our way back to the main highway and return to the Outrigger Resort a little before 4pm. This time, they assigned us to the other side of the building, and Julie hated it.

I wasn't nuts about the noise on this side either as we were right above the lobby area, but I figured we ought to just suck it up for the night.

Another Kona SunsetWe ended up spending our last night on the Big Island at some restaurant at the rather beat up Kona Inn. It was clear that this place was more about the location than about the food. Nonetheless, we did get to see a pretty sunset, and it was nice little ending to our little do over of our failed Big Island trip three weeks ago.

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