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Hawaii Vacation December 13, 2022

Last week, Sweetie and I visited Hawaii for our first substantial vacation in twelve years! We came back with sunburns, souvenirs, and 3450 photos and video clips. As tempting as it is to share all of them—because every photo taken in Hawaii is stunning, especially with a shiny new Sony A6400—I've selected only the important highlights below.

Sunday, December 4: Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head State Park

Though we were scheduled to arrive in Oahu at noon on Saturday and spend the afternoon on the beach, with airport delays we reached our hotel late in the evening. Fortunately the time difference worked in our favor, so I woke up early the next morning and rushed down to the water to capture the sunrise. When stepping through the front doors I braced myself for cold wind, but I was shocked to get a face full of warm, humid air instead.

Waikiki Beach
Waikiki Beach

After a breakfast of pastries and pineapples, we walked two miles to the Diamond Head state park. On the way we discovered something no one mentions about Hawaii: there are chickens everywhere! Not domesticated chickens kept for eggs and meat, but unusually small wild ones walking around in public like pigeons. We found a hen foraging with her fluffy yellow chicks right along the sidewalk.

Wild Chicken and Chicks

The climb up the Diamond Head crater was hot and sweaty, but it rewarded us with amazing views of the island. The water off the cost of Oahu is the purest, brightest turquoise I've ever seen in nature.

Diamond Head Top View
Diamond Head, Tamara

In the afternoon we took a ride on a submarine operated by Atlantis Adventures. Sadly photos from a submarine don't turn out well. The tour guide explained the water above filters out the color red, so everything looks like a muted, shadowy blue. Nature videographers make their footage look vibrant by adding artificial light, the cheaters. But the boat ride out to the sub was very photogenic, with rainbows appearing over Waikiki as we sailed back in.

Tamara entering the submarine
Tamara in the submarine
Tamara on the boat
Rainbow over Waikiki Hotels and Diamond Head

We closed out the day with a swim. We didn't bring the camera, but Sweetie took some impressive pictures of the sunset on his phone.

Tamara wading into the ocean
Waikiki sunset

Monday, December 5: Circle Island Tour and Polynesian Cultural Center

We caught a Roberts Hawaii tour bus at 7 on Monday for an all-day adventure to the other side of the island. The driver narrated as he took us up the east coast, then north through the center with stops at scenic overlooks.

Oahu Beach from Tour Bus
Blowhole Scenic Area
Circle Tour Scenic Stop
Circle Tour Scenic Stop

According to the driver, there are so many interesting-looking chickens like this guy wandering around because a few decades ago, hurricanes destroyed most of Oahu's coops and launched the birds hither and yon.

Wild Rooster

The bus made an obligatory stop at the Dole plantation—a popular attraction with tasty ice cream, but which I couldn't fully enjoy knowing who the Doles were and the unsavory things they did to native and Asian immigrant peoples in the late 1800s. I did enjoy seeing this tiny blue-eyed kitty in the bushes, though.

Small Siamese cat in the bushes

The bus dropped us off at the Polynesian Cultural Center at lunchtime. The overpriced food trucks were forgettable, but I was impressed by the hibiscus bushes in full bloom in December. All of my flowering perennials died back in October, and I won't see them again until next July.

Hibiscus at Polynesian Cultural Center

The Polynesian Cultural Center is run by the Church of Latter Day Saints, which I didn't know when booking the tickets. Most of the staff are BYU students who came from Fiji, Tonga, Aotearoa, and other countries to study. A man-made river runs through the center of the park, surrounded by the "islands" where the staff put on shows and lead educational activities.

Polynesian Cultural Center

At the islands we learned how to make coconut oil, twirl a fire baton, spin poi balls and play Maori stick games. Here's me attempting to follow along in a brief Tahitian dance lesson.

Polynesian Cultural Center Tahitian Dance Lesson

The day ended with a luau and big finale dance show. Thanks to a surprise tropical storm we we looked like drowned rats at the luau, and no recording was allowed at the show. However, I can show you this delicious alcohol-free pina colada served in a hollowed-out pineapple with an orchid on a toothpick on top. We got to keep the wooden straws!

Pineapple drink

Tuesday, December 6: Zipline and Horseback Ride

Sweetie convinced me to sign up for a zipline and horseback ride package, which were also on the North Shore near the Polynesian Cultural Center. We had to catch a Honolulu city bus at 6 am to get there by 8:30, which was a little stressful, but I was impressed they have a regular and reliable bus line that covers the whole island like that. Over here in Central Oregon, you need to own a car just to obtain groceries.

Riding the ziplines was terrifying at first, but after a few rides I trusted the hardware enough to let go with one hand. Then two.

CLIMB Works Zipline
CLIMB Works Zipline, Upside Down

After hamburgers we caught the bus to the Gunstock Ranch, where we enjoyed a pleasant slow walk up a scenic hill on a pair of very well-behaved horses. I learned quickly to just let mine do whatever he wanted to do, with only a gentle lift of the reins now and again when he got distracted by delicious green grass.

Gunstock Ranch Horseback Ride

Wednesday, December 7: Iolani Palace and Ala Moana Center

In the morning we visited the Iolani Palace, home of the last monarchs of Hawaii. It's similar to other large Victorian houses I've seen, like the Pittock mansion in Portland and the Newport Mansions in Rhode Island, since the king was trying to impress the same European aristocrats that the Vanderbilts were. (A fan of monarchies, I am not. I got myself on the volunteer tour guide's Problem Child list by asking loudly where the money for those amazing jewels and golden servingware came from.)

Golden servingware
Diamond butterfly brooch

1800s tax dollars at work.

After an unexciting jaunt to the laundromat, we went to the Ala Moana Center for a late lunch of fancy Korean corn dogs and bubble teas. As I said in the beginning, this post documents the most important highlights of the trip.

Tamara eating Korean corn dogs

Thursday, December 8: Daniel K. Inouye Highway

We flew to the Big Island on Thursday morning and rented a car, then immediately used it to attempt to see lava from the erupting Mauna Loa volcano. Unluckily for us, the lava flow from the last active fissure had basically ended the day before we arrived, and the feds don't want anyone to get close enough to see anything. We could barely see faint steam from the eruption by driving very slowly past the viewing area. You'll have to click to the full image to see the wisps at the peak.

Mauna Loa Erupting

We did find a pretty scenic pull-off along the highway, though, with trees and groundcovers growing stubbornly through the lava rock. We learned later at the Volcanoes National Park that the tree with succulent-like leaves and red flowers is an Ohi'a, and the flowers are called leihua.

Daniel K. Inouye Highway, Scenic Area
Daniel K. Inouye Highway, Scenic Area with Ohi'a Tree

Friday, December 9: Volcanoes National Park

We stayed for two nights at the Volcano Village Lodge, which has two-person cabins in the rainforest. When I saw the phrase "in the rainforest" in reviews, I imagined they meant some tropical trees and ferns grow around the edge of the property. No, they meant in the rainforest.

Volcano Village Lodge, Hale Kilauea

Volcano Village Lodge Pond

This is Gino, the Lodge's resident cat. He likes to sit in the parking lot and greet the guests.


Despite its looks, this rainforest gets cold in December. A tree took out a power line on our first evening there, so between 5 and 9 pm we huddled under the bed covers with flashlights, no internet, and no running water. But as soon as we had the magic of electricity again, the cabin was cozy and luxurious compared to our basic 19th-floor hotel room in Honolulu.

On Oahu, we thought we'd over-packed for the trip. With nights so warm women strolled around the shops in bikini tops and breezy coverups, what were we going to do with our heavy jeans and fleece jackets? But at the high elevations of the Big Island, visitors to the Volcanoes National Park were shivering in their puffy hooded coats. At the overlook for Kilauea, which has been low-key erupting continuously since 1983, the freezing winds were strong enough to knock over a small child.

Kilauea Overlook
Sweetie at Kilauea Overlook
Tamara at Kilauea Overlook

After coming back down, standing directly in the hot steam heated by the lava below was sooo nice.

Steam Vents

We followed the Kilauea Iki trail down to the crust of the lava lake, which formed during a massive eruption in the 1950s. The little white and pink flowers growing in the rocky wasteland are bamboo orchids, and more Ohi'a trees are doing their best to establish there too.

Sweetie on Kilauea Iki trail
Bamboo Orchids on Kilauea lava lake
Kilaea lava lake
Tamara on Kilauea lava lake

After climbing back up the other side of the crater, the path leads to the Thurston Lava Tube, then back to the Visitor Center with views back down. The whole loop was about 6 miles for us, and would have been shorter if we'd known to park further east.

Thurston Lava Tube
Kilauea Iki trail overlook
Kilauea Iki trail, crater overlook

Saturday, December 10: More Volcanoes and Black & Green Sand Beaches

We went back to the park in the morning to take some quick snaps of sights we'd missed the day before: the Devastation Trail and the Sulphur Banks. Sweetie was disappointed the "Devastation" has recovered so well since the '50s, there's only a brief stretch that still looks dead. The sulphur banks look cool, but we needed to wear N95s because of the unhealthy gases.

Devastation Trail
Steam at Sulpher Banks
Sulpher Banks mineral deposits

Then we drove south to the Black Sand Beach, which was as advertised.

Tamara at Black Sand Beach
Sweetie at Black Sand Beach
Black Sand Beach
Black sand

Ten or so sea turtles were sunning and bathing on the shore, protected from harassment by a barrier. The distance was no problem for our shiny new camera, though.

Turtles on Black Sand Beach
Sea Turtle at Black Sand Beach

One of the employees at the Lodge recommended we visit the Green Sand Beach as well. So the plan was to make a quick stop to see it, then head up to Kailua-Kona for a dinner reservation before flying home. What the employee didn't mention is the beach is two miles away from the parking lot as the crow flies, along an extremely rocky, windy, challenging non-path. We were determined to see that sand, so we cancelled the reservation and forged ahead. And we made it!

Sweetie at Green Sand Beach

The sand isn't "green" like you'd imagine from the name, but we couldn't come up with a better name for it. It's green-tinted brown, but what's interesting about it is the sparkle rather than the color. When the sunlight hits it, it looks like ground-up pyrite.

Glittering sand

Since this was our last beach before leaving, I ran around like a little kid and tried to take cool pictures, but the seawater splashed the lens.

Tamara at Green Sand Beach
Ocean at Green Sand Beach, with splashed lens

Then it was time to leave to catch our plane. Hawaii is a windy, windy island. Green sand got in our eyes, our hair, all over our arms and legs. I found some hiding in my ears a day later.

Ascent from Green Sand Beach
Walking back from Green Sand Beach

Monday, December 12: Home at last!

We flew from Kona to Seattle at 10 pm on Saturday, but a snowstorm in Oregon foiled our final flight. We finally made it back to home, sweet home the next morning. Now, back to our regularly scheduled winter.

Snow-covered home in Oregon


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