Hawaii Retrospective

It’s exactly six months since the US presidential elections. It would have been a memorable day for me no matter what, though: while the rest of the world watched Barack Obama inch toward victory, I was watching red molten lava flow into the sea as the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.

I was fortunate enough to be in America for the big occasion – albeit over 4,000 miles from Chicago’s Millennium Park – at the very southern-most point of the country on Big Island, Hawaii. The polls in President Obama’s home state would remain, needlessly, open for three more hours after we tip-toed back in the pitch dark toward the car, arriving just in time to savour his acceptance speech live on radio.

This was a good day. They were mostly good days in Hawaii, really. It wasn’t a destination I’d ever seriously considered until just a few weeks prior. We had two precious weeks of holiday to spend wisely, with California as a starting point. South America was the obvious first choice, although this plan was hampered by long flights (it turns out to be the same distance, and probably easier, to arrive from Europe) and finally scuppered by a complete lack of time to prepare for any vaccinations. Canada was #2 on the list, however, since we mostly wanted to see Toronto and Montreal, Europe again proved a saner theoretical starting point.

Hawaii, the outside candidate, appeared more attractive the more we researched it. Hiking was frequently mentioned on travel websites, as was scuba diving. One of the islands turned out not only had a huge volcano park but to also be famous for its coffee farms. After several holidays spent in major cities, we were both hankering after some serious scenery: after some initial scepticism, it looked  like Hawaii could deliver. Sure, it was rainy season Рbut how could it be any worse than Dublin?

Well, following three weeks of unbroken sunshine in the Bay Area, we arrived to grey, overcast, wet skies in Honolulu.  We had had a mind-bogglingly slow check-in procedure with Hawaiian Airlines at SFO Рslow enough to eliminate any hope of a proper breakfast after an early start with a long flight ahead. Hungry and tired, Honolulu Airport felt like a massive bunker, a determined effort to block natural light with metres of re-inforced concrete and replace it with florescent tubes.

Long after our trip to Hawaii I read “Stephen Fry in America“, companion to the TV series I loosely followed via iPlayer throughout my own USA tour. Stephen completes his American tour in Hawaii and echoes my feelings upon arrival:

What a horrible, what a grotesque, what a shattering disappointment. Of all the unspeakably vile tourist hells I have ever visited, this has to be one of the worst. At least Alicante and the Costa del Sol know what they are: Waikiki seems to be labouring under the delusion that it is still a glamorous and elite paradise. I dare say it once was, but decades of thoughtless hotel construction have destroyed any beauty, charm or individulaity. […] I go to bed cursing myself for the naievty with which I expected anything else.

Like me, however, Stephen quickly warms to Hawaii. There is a wealth of activity in and around Honolulu: the city is actually a fine place to visit itself, too, Waikiki hotels notwithstanding, and we ended up extending our stay for a day. During the two weeks we encounter coral, climb volcanoes, drive through lush green hanging valleys fresh out of “Jurassic Park” and lounge around on black, white and even green sandy beaches. We both end our USA adventure on Hawaii’s Big Island, watching new land form at what feels like the end of the known world and – in our case – listening in the dark to a new world order form on the car radio.

In lieu of an entire book, I thought it might be worthwhile posting – in addition to the photographs I uploaded a few months ago – roughly what we did each day. If you’re ever in the area and have any doubts, here’s what you can pretty easily see in just two weeks:

SUNDAY OCTOBER 26

  • arrival

MONDAY OCTOBER 27

  • attempt diamond head trail
  • waikiki beach

TUESDAY OCTOBER 28

  • pearl harbour

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 29

THURSDAY OCTOBER 30

FRIDAY OCTOBER 31

  • polynesian cultural center (with george!)
  • hallowe’en at waikiki beach

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 1

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 2

  • tour the north-east coast
  • botanic gardens
  • lunch at the roadside hut
  • beach
  • walmart!

MONDAY NOVEMBER 3

TUESDAY NOVEMBER 4

  • hike a volcanic crater
  • lava tubes
  • lava flow watching
  • hear the world change, live on radio

WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 5

  • head for kona
  • black sand beach
  • usa’s most southerly town/restaurant/bakery/everything
  • green sand beach
  • arrive in kona

THURSDAY NOVEMBER 6

  • explore coffee farms south of kona
  • free tangeloes!
  • captain cook monument
  • former royal beach palace
  • painted church

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 7

  • surfing/submarine
  • kona coffee festival parade

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 8

  • fly back to oahu
  • fly back to san francisco

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 9

  • fly home

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