Kailua-Kona

Kailua-Kona is one of the two main settlements on the big island of Hawaii, the other being Hilo on the other side of the island.

I arrived in Kailua-Kona after a short drive from Kona airport. The airport is interesting, both because the terminal building has no walls, and because it is built on a lava flow from the 19th century.

I was pretty tired the afternoon I arrived, but managed to have a wall around town, and managed to source some beer.

The next morning I went on a submarine ride. The submarine doesn't dock in Kona, so I was shuttled there on a boat, which then docked with the submarine.

Submarine docking

The submarine went down to a depth of about 30m, and visited two shipwrecks. The first was a second world war landing craft. The craft had been fitted up to give shark diving tours, but they had forgot to fix the bilge pump—an error. The second ship wreck was a boat, whose owner had started a fire to smoke out the termites—also an error.

There were an impressive number of fish, and they were all quite colourful. The resident shark didn't show his face. The guide said it was probably scared off by an exceptionally large ulua that we saw. They are the real top predator in the reef. Interestingly the coral reef was quite patchy, as it only grows where there is exposed lava rock.

Wreck

Next I went to Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park. There I walked across an old lava flow to get to the beach. On the flow were some hawaiian stone carvings, where pictures have been etched into the rock. Interestingly these are post-contact pictures, so one of them depicts a gun.

At the beach I hoped to see some turtles, but the tide was in, so there wasn't really much beach for them to be on. Once I had spotted one in the water and knew what to look for, however, I saw quite a lot of turtles.

lava flow

Turtle

In the afternoon and evening, I went on a tour up Mauna Kea. It was an 8 hour tour, and I didn't get back until 11pm, but it was well worth it.

Mauna Kea is the tallest volcano in the world, currently dormant having last erupted 4000 years ago. If measured from its base on the sea floor, it stands at 10000m, making it the tallest mountain on earth. It's summit stands 4200m above sea level.

I was picked up in a 4WD van from Kailua-Kona, and taken first to the visitors centre, at 2800m. We stayed there for about an hour, both to have dinner, and to acclimatise to the altitude. I felt pretty terrible at that altitude. It feels a bit like being hungover. By the time we continued our ascent I was feeling slightly better, and at the summit I felt bad, but not terrible. At least at the summit there is plenty to distract you from the headache.

At 4200m the clouds are over a kilometre below, and looked like a strange white sea. The summit is dotted with different telescopes, taking advantage of the lack of atmospheric interference.

Telescope

Three of the islands four other volcanoes also breached the cloud, and appeared as islands in the white sea. Kīlauea, the youngest and most active of the 5, is not yet tall enough.

We watched the sun set below the clouds, and then descended to just above the visitors centre for some stargazing.

sunset

The summit is only good for computer stargazing, as unfortunately eyes need oxygen to see well. None of the telescopes at the summit have eyepieces.

The level we descended to, which on the way up had been terrible for breathing, was now a welcome relief.

The guide took a reasonably large telescope from the back of the van, and showed the group lots of interesting things.

Before the telescope was even set up, we saw the Hubble telescope fly over. We then looked at Jupiter, as it would soon set. As it was so low, it wasn't that clear, but all 4 of the galilean moons were visible—two on each side. Next we looked at a globular cluster, a mini-galaxy of a million stars that has been swallowed by the milky way.

We also looked at a double star, the surface of the moon, and mars—though the current weather on mars means you can't really see any features of the surface. There were also at least 3 shooting stars during the hour we were there.

Most impressive was Saturn, it's rings angled perfectly towards the earth.

It has definitely been my most varied day altitude-wise: from -30m to 4200m in a single day. Next I drive to the town of Volcano, near Kīlauea's main caldera.