At Hilo airport we hired a car and went to the Rainbow Falls, in Hilo itself. These can be quite spectacular. We then went along the North coast. We saw the very beautiful Onomea Bay and the fantastic Akaka Waterfalls, as we made our way over to the Waipio Lookout. Unfortunately, it was very misty at the lookout, and we could only vaguely make out the canyon, and the beach below. We carried on towards Kona, seeing some rather strange geological formations on the way. But time was marching on, so we cut across the road that runs through the centre of the island between the 2 huge volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. A road splits from this one to go to the summit of Mauna Kea, where many of the astronomical telescopes on Hawaii are situated, but you probably couldn't make it in anything less than a 4-wheel drive, and it is frowned upon, if not forbidden. In fact the road we were on is mentioned in the rental car agreement as one you are not supposed to use. It isn't the best of roads, but I've been on a lot worse. I think they are worried about you getting a puncture, as it can be a little rough in places and the edges are a bit crumbly, so you mostly drive in the middle of the road. Remember to swerve to the right if you meet a car coming the other way, and hope that he isn't British, whose instinct is to swerve left. Eventually we arrived at the Volcano House Hotel, in the Volcano National Park, where we were to stay for 2 nights.
Volcano House is situated right on the rim of Kilauea, a huge active volcano. You walk onto the terrace and can look over the low wall directly into the crater itself. It is awesome. Do not expect cordon-bleu cooking, nor great accommodation, but it is in a spectacular setting, and a table in the restaurant with a view of the volcano as the sun sets, makes up for that. Do not be tempted to stay there for lunch. Tour buses arrive at that time, and the resulting queue stretches out into the car park. There are a couple of nice restaurants in Volcano Village itself, a mile or so away, which are much better, food-wise.
There is a lot to do in the national park and you need to reserve at least 3 days, though about 5 days would be better. Get advice from the park rangers as to what is the situation regarding eruptions and trails. You can drive around the rim of the Kilauea caldera, at one point actually driving through part of the crater itself. You can walk across the crater. Check out the sulphur fumes and steam rising from vents, as well as the strange lava formations, formed as it buckles and strains. Go along Desolation Trail and see what the last eruption did to the trees that lined that walk. Look at the "post holes" formed as the lava flowed slowly around trees, solidified and burned away the wood. Do not be tempted to build cairns of stones. The volcanos are sacred to native Hawaiians and removing, or even rearranging stones and lava is viewed as mildly sacreligeous. I promise you that walking across a crater, and later seeing photos of eruptions and lava flows, from only a few years previous, of where you had been standing, gives you a really wierd feeling.
Many people apparently just fly into Kona, and never venture further afield than the beach outside their hotel. This is sad. Although I made it to Kona, and had a brilliant time snorkeling from one of the boats there, the Big Island, especially the national park, has much more to offer. The Northern part of the island has lush vegetation, and correspondingly more rain. I cannot stress too much how exciting it is to be so close to the volcanoes. It is an opportunity that you should not miss. There are very few places in the world where you can do this, and Hawaii is probably the most accessible. We took an hour's trip with Safari Helicopters and actually flew over the crater of Puu'Oo. You could see the lava flowing out. The helicopter then followed a lava tube, hovering right over the collapsed areas to see the lava rushing underground, eventually we reached the coast, to fly over and through the steam clouds. On the way back we went over various sites where the lava had destroyed some houses, while skirting others. It was the highlight of our trip. A "once in a lifetime" experience.
Neil and I both fell in love with Hawaii. There are few places in the world that are as exciting, are tropical, have no biting insects, poisonous snakes or dangerous animals, where there are no dreadful diseases, and where you do not feel embarrassed by poverty around you, since most of the native populace earn more than you do! Hawaii is just such a place and we are going back there again in a few years' time, for Neil's special birthday (I won't say how many years). This time we are taking Philip and going to Kauai and Maui. I would certainly recommend it.