Just by looking out the rental car window, one can marvel at the diverse landscapes on any side of the island. Why is that? Well, there are 13 microclimates on this planet, and the Big Island happens to host 11 of them. That's 11 completely diverse ecosystems, making this island any visitor's science lesson. Today my family ventured out on Palani Rd and drove for about 7 miles up the mountain, despite the "No Outlet" sign. We knew that we were driving straight into a foggy haze. As our van crept higher and higher, we noticed the lush vegetation (mango trees at first, but then mostly fern). As a matter of fact, there were some precious estates tucked up here. The air felt great: the fog was refreshing and it was like stepping out of a shower (not like any San Francisco fog blast). Pretty soon we couldn't see in front of us. We also noticed some birds frolicking on the side of the road; according to our guidebook, they were renegade peacocks. So, we finally reached a dead end. The funny thing is that we were all afraid to get out of the car: the hill was so steep and we were worried that the emergency brake would let us down! But anyway, we crept out. On a good day, we might have spotted some views of volcanoes. But not today. So we stayed up there, took pictures, enjoyed yet another diverse ecosystem of the island and headed back down. (Might I add that my mom refused to sit in the car as my dad declined down the hill-- we walked halfway down!).
We got back on the road and drove north, toward Waimea. However, we didn't end up going there (don't ask me why-- navigation troubles, perhaps?) and drove 30 miles across a desert scene. Lava that had spewed in the 1800's remained, of course, and the land was dry and mostly black. So you can imagine that the drive was uneventful.
Once we entered ‘Anaeho’omalu Bay 45 minutes later, all was forgiven. This bay, known simply as A Bay, was a pristine spot for windsurfing, parasailing and snorkeling. We were here for the latter. However, the water looked rough and uninviting, and the strong ocean breeze actually made me feel, well, too cold to jump right in. Yet a few minutes later, we spotted two light green discs washing up onto the shore. Once they poked their heads out of the water, we finally realized that they were green sea turtles, just a couple feet away from us! That convinced me. I slid on the flippers and swam right in there. And I did actually see more sea turtles! Even with a snorkel (which allows you to breathe underwater), the sight was breathtaking. I was swimming right next to an incredibly special animal. And if I thought one sea cucumber and three fish was exciting, boy, oh boy—there were at least seven different types of fish alone, with sea urchin and sea anemone hitched onto the coral reef. I was enjoying myself immensely, and the only panic I felt was having to surface and tread water. At one point, if I had simply floated unmoving, the strong current would have pushed me right into the feeding, oblivious sea turtle! Also, I was so afraid of touching the living coral with my flippers, damaging Mother Nature’s tedious and remarkable work.
Donkey Balls at Surfin’ Ass
Why would anyone enter such a profound store like this? Well, turns out that these balls are seriously ono, or delicious. Yup, with at least ten varieties, these chocolate covered macadamia nuts are famous on the Big Island. We stepped in and were offered a free sample of these bodacious nuts, dipped 50 times in chocolate, and licked our fingers afterward. They were good! And expensive. At $11 for four ping pong-sized candies, we decided we had to sneak out without buying anything. But we enjoyed reading all the different donkey ball delicacies, such as Spiky Balls (with pineapple), Dirty Balls (rolled in cocoa powder), and Balls of Fire (rolled in some kind of spice).
The Painted Church
Heading south, we turned off the highway to visit the Painted Church, also known as the St. Benedict’s Catholic Church. The view of Kealakekua Bay is amazing and the church grounds are quaint. The doors to the chapel, built in 1842, are wide open. Inside, religious scenes adorn the walls and ceilings, painted by one devoted Father John Velge more than 150 years ago. Mass services are still held here each Sunday, and quite frankly, it seems likes churchgoers are in for a treat coming here. It’s definitely a great place to peak in, regardless of your beliefs.
Pu’uhonua o Honaunau Historic National Park (Place of Refuge)
After leaving this sanctuary, I wondered out loud, “If I became a park ranger, could I choose this park to work in?” because of its serenity and awe. Back in the 16th century, when the strict kapu system forbid the upper and lower social classes from even crossing shadows, violators faced one dreary death sentence. Oftentimes, if the offense was severe enough, an entire family could be wiped out by club, strangulation, fire or spear. Yet the gods gave everyone one chance of escaping such a cruel practice: if the lawbreakers could make it to predesignated sites known as Places of Refuge, then all was forgiven and they could move on with their lives. Here at Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, where the coconut trees reflect on the calm waters and lava-made tide pools scatter the shore, it doesn’t sound like a bad tradeoff at all! I found this place significantly serene and calming, and with my guidebook in tow, I was transported to a sacred site where once fear-stricken people lived free of worry; where palm huts, carved wooden idols and an impressive Great Wall still stand today. I felt fortunate that the National Park Service posted signs claiming that this was a sacred site, therefore banning any swimming, snorkeling or sunbathing. This site was too special for that.