In November 1997 Neil went to Hawaii on business. I went too, so we decided to get there a few days before the conference and have a small vacation.We flew for about 13 hours with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow to San Francisco. There we had a 5 hour wait. We took the opportunity to get out of the airport and caught a local bus to a large shopping mall about 3 miles from the airport. This was better than waiting for the plane in the departure lounge. Our next flight was 5 hours long with United Airlines to Honolulu. We arrived very late at night and stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn on Nimitz drive. Very early the next day we took an Aloha flight to Hilo on the Big Island, Hawaii itself.

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Touring the island

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 hotel

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.

Walking inside Kilauea

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.

Chain of Craters road

Late on the first afternoon, about 90 minutes before dusk, we travelled down "Chain of Craters" road. Here you pass old craters as well as Puu'Oo, which, at the time, was spewing forth lava. Eventually you reach the coast and the road terminates where the lava has flowed over it and set solid. Look back from where you have come and see the huge expanse of land, and cliffs, all formed from lava which has flowed from the volcanoes. In the distance, about 2 Km away, you can see clouds of steam rising from the sea, where the read-hot lava flows into it. Take a torch, you will need it when it gets dark. Once dusk appears, you see lights in the black solidified lava field. As the lava flows, its surface cools and solidifies and the lava then flows uninterrupted within the "lava tube" so formed. Sometimes the ceiling caves in, leaving holes in the crust, and this is where these lights originate from. You are seeing the light from the red-hot lava, through the cave-in, as it flows to the sea. Also at dusk you see the steam clouds glowing red, orange and yellow, as fresh lava causes steam eruptions, as it hits the cool sea. Some people do walk over the lava field to the steam, but this is not advisable. the lava is fragile in places, and you can end up with broken, or very bruised limbs, at the very least. Just walking the hundred yards or so from the end of the road onto the lava field to the vantage point is difficult, and particularly so, going back in the pitch dark, even with a torch.

Helicopter trip

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.


We had one day left at the end of the trip, so we decided to fly back to Honolulu early that morning and check in to an hotel at the far Eastern end of Waikiki Beach. We hired a car and went East to Hanauma Bay to do some snorkelling. This bay is fantastic. The fish swim between your legs as you are paddling. We spent about 4 hours there. We also went to the "blow holes", a bit further along, to see huge spouts of water being produced as the sea rushed into the cave, whose hole in the ceiling causes these. We could see turtles swimming in the sea, and much further out it was possible to make out the whales, as they began their migration to Baja California. On the way back we drove into the crater of Diamond Head, the extinct volcano near our hotel. It then took us about an hour to climb to the top, for a spectacular view of Honolulu, Waikiki and the coast. Take a torch with you as part of the climb goes through old world-war II bunkers, and a tunnel with a spiral staircase, both of which are pitch black. Keep an eye on the time as they close the road into the crater at about 6pm. We flew back to San Francisco the next day, where Neil had another conference, and I spent a day there before catching my flight to the UK (but that's another story).


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.

Sue - December 1997

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