Day #53 - Waterfalls, Lava Tubes and Volcanoes

We started the day early. It was the first day to drive around the island roday. So 6am start. We decided to try out the hotel buffet breakfast as we needed some good fuelling. The Marriott did a great breakfast, with personal omelette chef and a variety of continental and cooked meats it was lovely. Our view from our table of the  ocean and the ancient kings grass hut home whilst sipping on guava juice was lovely. I opted for the omelette made in front of me, Spencer loved the pastries and fresh fruit.

We set off on a clockwise tour of the island. Trying to stick to the coast road where possible. We started by driving past the incredible resort of Waikoloa resort where the stunning Hilton is. We drove to Keokoa Beach Park to start. Big surf and volcano rock greeted us, with a lone surfer. This was the most outback part of Hawaii so habitation was slightly tired old looking timber buildings and luscious vegetation everywhere. The north side of the island is lush and tropical compared to the south. 
From here we drove across Pu'u'O'Umi Natural Area Reserve which was very windy and high, which has a Swiss feel to it. Grassland, trees and cows were dotted around these majestic highlands. 
From here we took the Hawaii Belt Road from Waimea to Hilo. This route takes you along the coast highway along the edge of Moana Kea. It's tropical, with waterfalls and forests along the way. Tall rainbow eucalyptus forest flank the highway. Our first stop Akaka Falls. We were greeted by bird song, frog song and crickets chirping in a humid tropical rainforest with every flower and plant you might find in a hot house. The 30 minute walk took us past a monstrous banyan tree, wild hibiscus and flowers I've never seen before. 
The falls are so high we were in awe and had no idea what we would find. These majestic falls are 442ft tall and seem to drop to a bottomless pit. 
We next decided to see Hilo. Hawai'i's other main town after Kona. We walked along the seafront downtown area but didn't get the same historic cute feel Kona has. But we were hungry and I spotted a Mexican restaurant. It's my favourite food so a must every time I see one. This was so good, big portions of enchiladas, quesadilla and nachos. As you can see in this photo it's hand off - all mine! :) 
Next stop Rainbow Falls. These were close by, free and in some ways more beautiful. A shorter waterfall flowing over a natural cave and lagoon.
I decided to see a lava tube and spotted The Caverns of Fire on the map so we took a 30 minute drive to this location. Little did I know it was a private booking adventure. However the guide was kind and let us take a private tour of the lava tube. With hard hats, gloves and torches we descended in to a very large cavern carved out by lava. We were greeted by bioluminescent bacteria all over the cave in a multitude of colours. So magnificent. Accompanying them pure silver metallic rocks, stallectites and all sorts of formations. We walked about 900 feet deep into the lava tube, some places narrowing and having to duck down. The guide giving us information about every part of the cave. This took the best part of an hour and a half and we really felt like we experienced a unique experience.
Did you know the Hawaian alphabet has only 13 letters? Also the Hawaian flag features the British flag?! 

It was 4pm and with a couple of daylight hours left we decided to visit Kilauea crater as its still active. Only a month ago it was spewing out 30 meter plumes of lava. Sadly it was not active and only smoldering this week. But still exciting to see. With steam vents all over, we knew we had to come back and do Volcano National Park properly another day.

The drive back to Kona took us along the southern rim of the island bug it was dark so we couldn't see the views so added this to our next day out driving. 

My friend Jose was also in Kona so we had dinner in his 
hotel - The Royal Kona Resort. This is a beautiful hotel with water gardens and columned restaurant.

It was A long day so we managed to get to bed early and looked forward to the next day, a day of relaxation.