We went to Hawaii with very little notice or planning
Little did I know that a hurricane was approaching
We stayed at a remote location on the Big Island, closest to the approaching storm
The house we stayed in was beautiful and spacious and perfect, except we didn’t have enough information about it before we left. The website said it had no amenities, which meant even no sheets and no towels, no dishes or coffeemaker. I knew it didn’t have a phone and mobile service would probably not work. I packed for an impending hurricane and power outage, and brought flashlights, a small radio (battery operated), shelf-stable protein snacks, and yes, towels. We didn’t need them.
I got a phone call after we landed, late at night, several hours away, and was told the house had everything, including an emergency kit. I was happy to buy coffee in Hilo, but surprised to find out it was pretty much like a small town and we got there just before the grocery store closed and they were out of milk! I scrounged around and found a quart of organic milk for $9. Apparently the milk shipment only comes in once a week.
Luckily, Hurricane Guillermo turned into a tropical storm before it hit us
The power never did go out. The storms never got too bad. However, a lot of the beaches closed and there were flash flood alerts and really high surf and a lot of heavy rain at times. It stayed warm. It felt really tropical. Hawaii was kind of like the United States, and also kind of like a foreign country, what with the running out of food/milk and not having cell phone coverage and also being surprised at the great distance between gas stations or stores or restaurants sometimes. We had to plan ahead before going home in the evening, to ensure we had everything we needed and had communicated or reserved everything with the outside world.
We got to see volcanoes of many shapes and sizes
Some volcanoes had graphic descriptions of their shapes and sizes
We walked through a lava tube
It was humid and warm and it smelled, most of the time, like ginger flowers or salt spray. People hitch-hiked all over the place and waved or gestured with the “shaka” or “hang loose” sign. Mile signs were changed by adding an “S” in front to make them “Smile” markers. At the car rental place, I apologized for taking a moment longer to change our rental car to a 4WD, and everyone around said, “No problem, you’re on Hawaii time now.” We saw a lot of people smoking joints in cars. It took me a few days, but I got over feeling uncomfortable walking into restaurants in my swimming suit.
Only picture with three kids in Hawaiian clothes – on the edge of a crater
What did we do? What didn’t we do! We didn’t go to any museums. We didn’t go fishing (at least for real). We didn’t go to a luau. We did not take a lava boat tour or a submarine or go horseback riding or go on an ATV tour.
Kapoho Tide Pools
We did go snorkeling at the Kapoho Tide Pools, which are a series of interconnected pools sheltered from the surf and volcanically heated. I had not thought this could be possible with three children who are not independent in the water and who don’t sit quietly on the shore upon request, but we did it. It was tricky. Claire refused to put a mask on entirely but enjoyed looking at the colorful fish from the surface. Soren thought it was incredible. And Ronin went out on a long journey with Justin and came back with exciting tales of things he’d seen. I managed to take both Claire and Soren around the edges of the big pool while they clung on to boogie boards, and it wasn’t too scary for any of us.
Akaka Falls State Park
We went to Akaka Falls on one of our first days. Soren had gotten a minor scrape and was being very upset and demanding a bandaid for an invisible wound, in between shrieks. It was difficult to enjoy the scenery, and we couldn’t even get out of the car and walk around with him making that kind of a fuss. I finally told him that some Hawaiians believe that if you have a good heart and a quiet mind, you can ask the waterfall to grant you a wish, and it may come true. Justin scoffed a little bit at my encouragement of “magical thinking,” but Soren quieted down and walked along the paths and gasped at his first sight of the stunning waterfall. Then he whispered, “Waterfall, Waterfall, give me a bandaid.” He spun around, and his face turned stony, and said his wish wasn’t granted. I suggested maybe he wasn’t quiet enough, or maybe the spirits of the waterfall didn’t grant every wish, or maybe it just wasn’t true. I heard him whisper it again, and we walked up the path. A few steps later, there was a bandaid, right there in the middle of the path.
Claire among the trees near Rainbow Falls
Of course, after that Soren got so excited that he couldn’t get the bandaid on properly and it got all wrinkled up and he was upset again, so he had to ask for a new bandaid and some help from me in applying it at the next viewpoint. And then when we were at Rainbow Falls, he was reminiscing about it and scrambled down the road and slid down a patch of wet asphalt and scraped up his leg and arm and bled all over the place. That waterfall gave him a bandaid and a bit of first aid while we recuperated with some juice and frozen treats. I guess gifts from waterfalls are not always as good as they might seem.
Some days we got back late at night, past bedtime, past dinnertime. I’d hurriedly bought supplies for half a week of food in Hawaii when we first got in, but we didn’t go through it because we weren’t home very much. We drove around the island a lot, and our house was at the far end, near Pahoa, in an area where the road had been blocked off by a lava flow years before. The driveway was covered with tiny Coqui frogs, which croaked loudly and melodically (“Co-KEE”) through the night and which could be occasionally captured by the kids. They named the various frogs Coqui and Croaky and similar appellations. We thought they were adorable, but I found out they are considered an invasive species and tend to be bad for property values.
Coqui frogs surrounded our house
I really enjoyed spending the little bits of time we had at the house. The lanai was large, and opening up all the doors created a lovely breeze through the whole upstairs.
We also had resident geckos. Also adorable. They skittered around on the walls and behind the flower vases and in and out of the cupboards. Soren in particular loved to watch them.
One of my favorite geckos
The kids writing thank-you notes on postcards at our Hawaii house
The waves from the storm were mesmerizing. It was fun to go to the beach and just watch them, or drive by the coast and stare at the pounding surf.
The waves got intense
Even the sheltered beach parks became flooded with the storm. I didn’t see any surfers in the water. Our kids, however, skipped right from walking on the sand, to examining tidepools, to “What? How did I start swimming with my clothes on?” They are not strong swimmers yet. Soren has finally acknowledged that he doesn’t know how to swim, which is a step in the right direction from leaping off a diving board without a plan. Soren walked backwards in the water until he lost his footing and got carried out a little ways, and Justin had to be his lifeguard.
We went snorkeling on the Kona side of the island and that was much calmer and warmer. We saw sea turtles close up, eating their lunch and waving and turning. Claire finally got convinced to try on a snorkel in the shallow water, where she could just put her hands in the sand and look in the water but not have to worry about floating or swimming, and she loved it. I started pointing at fish and soon she was zipping after them, one after another. Before too long, she was swimming around and realized she could swim after all. She just needed to be distracted from all of her other thoughts and just enjoy it.
The fanciest restaurant we went to let us wear towels
After an entire day of driving and swimming and being in the sun the whole time, we were getting chilled and hungry and tired, and I was unhappy that Claire and Soren and I hadn’t been able to avoid getting sunburned. We wanted dinner and the house was hours away. We found a beach restaurant that let us eat at the tables on the sand with bare feet and swimming suits, and it ended up being the nicest dinner we had the entire time we were there. We had appetizers, desserts, fancy drinks with umbrellas, and entrees that could compete in any large city.
Everyone loved snorkeling so much, we tried to go on a third day, and it wasn’t quite as good. I tried to find a snorkeling spot on the Hilo side of the island so we wouldn’t spend four hours in the car again and have the entire day committed. Based on reviews, we went to Leleiwi Park, which ended up being colder than expected and without the prolific sea life that we found in the lava heated pools in Kapoho. Justin and I each took a turn exploring while the children shivered and refused to do much else, and we finally gave up and went to find a restaurant that served people in swimsuits again. They are not too hard to find.
Could it be? Really?
One of Justin’s co-workers recommended a helicopter ride. She said it was well worth it, and since we couldn’t see any lava from the ground, we thought it might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Justin has been on a helicopter before. I have not. My only connection with helicopters is seeing my dad coming in on one when I was a little kid, from a forest fire lookout, with a dislocated kneecap, and the rare patient coming in on a helicopter back when I lived in Wyoming. We made the reservation for the same day and they were shocked when they called me back. That is what no internet and no phone service gets us. We got a time for later on that afternoon, so we found some spots in Hilo to explore.
We went to the largest Edo-style gardens outside of Japan, a park donated by the last reigning queen of Hawaii, Queen Liliʻuokalani. The gardens were huge and magnificent, with ponds where Soren tried to fish for ghost shrimp and where Claire was startled by schools of tiny fish all jumping out of the water at once. The air was hot and muggy, and little bugs surrounded our legs and wouldn’t leave us alone. We walked across the bridge to Coconut Island, and when it seemed that everyone would end up in the water no matter what, we drove out to the airport.
Getting into the helicopter
A field of slow moving lava and burning trees
It was pretty amazing seeing everything from the air, especially since it was focused in the area where our rental house was. The pilot discussed how the lava from Kīlauea has been encroaching on the town of Pahoa and destabilizing the economy. I thought it was really nice how he brought the point of view of the people affected by it, and the enduring difficulties into our thoughts, as we watched the incredible power and destructive force and beauty of the volcano. We then swept away and zoomed over some waterfalls. All of this was accompanied by a soothing musical soundtrack, which drowned out the whap-whap-whap of the blades of the helicopter and made it seem somewhat like a documentary that we were taking part in. We could use a microphone to communicate, though, and Soren grabbed it in his excitement and spoke, “GARBLE **** GARBLE LAVA ***** MAGMA ***** GARBLE LAVA TUBES,” which made most everyone jump and Justin reply gently.
View of waterfalls from above
It was hard to explain how magical it was. We had been coloring in a book called Splendid Cities, and the page we spent the most time coloring while we were in Hawaii looked a lot like the towns and airports and farms we were flying over, except without so much glitter and bright colors.
I started out getting these types of coloring books for the kids. One day they had a friend over and they were all coloring on the same two-page spread, each choosing some little part to do, and having a lot of animated discussion about it. I helped by filling in the more boring parts. Since then, I have found it to be really enjoyable. It is easy to do by one’s self, or with company. I tell the kids they can color on a page I’m working on, and they can use whatever colors they want, just try not to scribble. When we’re coloring, conversation flows more effortlessly. Justin and I will go to the table and each take out a coloring book if we need to have an involved discussion that might otherwise have us second-guessing micro-expressions or getting impatient at long pauses.
A page from Splendid Cities that the kids and I have been coloring
Since we started coloring in these “adult” coloring books, the market has really exploded, and there are so many more books and pens available than when we first started doing it. They call them adult just because they are intricate and detailed, not because they have content that is inappropriate for kids, and also for marketing purposes so adults won’t feel silly buying them and coloring in them. I probably wouldn’t have started doing it if I hadn’t joined in on the group coloring session the kids were having, but I’m glad I did. Here is an article about the phenomenon from The New York Times.
One afternoon on our way back to our house, we took the scenic route back and stopped at Lava Tree State Monument. These tall lava trees formed in the lava flow of 1790, when lava cooled and solidified around the trunks of trees before the peak part of the flow drained away. The hollow tree mold is in the middle of the lava trees (where the trunk was burned away or turned to charcoal).
I think I mentioned zip lines in passing, but didn’t really describe the experience. It was good to find a place that would allow us to bring kids as young and small as ours, and especially Soren. Some had age restrictions, and some had weight restrictions. They said that Soren and Ronin would need to go tandem, each with a guide, for all of the zip lines, because they just weren’t heavy enough. Claire was a little bigger, but I thought she might be more nervous about the whole experience. She was asking about what would happen if she didn’t make it across. Soren jumped right up and volunteered to go first at the first line. Surprisingly, there was no one with him, but he zipped right on over without a problem. Ronin went second, Claire went third. They all loved it.
In between the zip lines there were amazing botanic gardens and breathtaking views. We saw a couple of wild pigs. We got to taste ginger flowers and smell wild sarsaparilla. There was one other family with us on this expedition, and they let our eager children go first every time, saying they weren’t in any rush and didn’t mind hanging back. I had my phone with me and it automatically made me a little movie of the day which turned out to be better than anything I could cobble together in a rush.
Claire’s worst fear came to pass. You can see a bit of it in the above video. On one of the longest lines, over a ravine filled with trees and blooms, Claire zoomed across, then slowed, then rolled back toward the middle of the line and stayed there. We shouted at her to just wait and someone would come to get her. The guide at the far side retrieved her, hand over hand, but it seemed to take a long time. By the time we got to her, we didn’t know how she would be feeling. We asked if everyone was jealous because she got so much more time enjoying the great view. She laughed and said she was enjoying the view the whole time she was stuck out there.
Ronin at the Waipi’o Valley overlook
On our last day, we took the long way home. Our flight was scheduled after 9 PM, so we drove to some of the areas we hadn’t seen yet. We went up the Hilo side, past some of the waterfalls and beach parks we’d already visited. We looked down into the Waipi’o Valley, which has the steepest road of its length in the US, with an average 25% grade. Rental cars are not allowed, by contract. It was very alluring to Justin, who looked at the road a couple of times and thought it looked fine. There were several spots on the map which were marked as prohibited for rental cars, actually, and it made those areas just more intriguing.
Claire at the Waipi’o Valley overlook
We turned around and drove onward, since I wanted to be in the general area of the airport with some time to spare. The vegetation changed enormously as we drove over the hills and crossed over grassland. It became much drier, and the wind picked up.
Kona side of Big Island
We pulled over to let the kids have a rest stop and to admire the helicopters flying around. We saw they were carrying what appeared to be large balls or balloons, and realized they were flying back and forth right over us and dipping into the ocean and then dropping water on wildfires that were burning right next to us.
Helicopter dropping water on a fire
We only got splashed a little bit. The fires were mostly in a couple of different areas on the opposite side of the road, but it was still smoldering on our side as well. We watched the helicopters for a while, and then I again pressed onward.
So of course we got to the Kona area early, but too late to do anything specific. We returned the car, checked in, and had an overnight flight that resulted in little to no sleep for many of us. The kids were supposed to start camp the next morning, but we all decided that would not be the best way to introduce them to it.
This has taken me a long time to write. I want to go back and see if I made any major errors, but at this point all I want to do is turn off the computer and go to bed. I still need to tell you about our trip to Wyoming, and the trip to Wisconsin. I’ll just leave you with this.