Day #55 - A Lava-licious Day!

Back on the road today, as we planned to head across the island (rather than around it) to revisit the Hawaiian National Park (it's big!) and see a few more sights along the way. 

Today we were travelling with our friend Jose and after picking him up from his hotel we headed for our first destination which was one he suggested - a coffee plantation.

The Big Island is home to over 650 coffee farms which are more than merely commercial enterprises; they are cultural icons, woven into the very fabric of Hawaii's identity. This is evident from the pride they have in their locally grown coffee that you see in all the bars, cafes and restaurants in town. The Kona region, with its volcanic slopes and ideal climate, has long been renowned for its Kona Coffee, a prized variety sought after by coffee connoisseurs worldwide so were told. The farm we visited offered the usual tour and/or sampling of their blends. We skipped the tour in favour of limitless coffee plus some delicious home crafted chocolate infused with local flavours, including of course, coffee. 

After filling up and feeling fully awake, we head out on the road. Our next destination has a link with Day #19 . I know you will remember that on this day, we were in Key West and we visited the southern most point of mainland USA. Well today, we visited its sister point, the southern most point of the whole USA! This was located at Ka Lae, a collection of rugged lava cliffs that meet the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Definitely a place of raw beauty and we are told, historical significance. The area is rich in cultural significance, with ancient Hawaiian sites and petroglyphs scattered among the lava fields. It is believed that Ka Lae was the first landing spot for Polynesian voyagers who arrived in Hawaii around 750 AD. Along the cliff tops are rickety wooden platforms made out of old pallets, doors and other offcuts. At first I thought theses were for brave tourists to stand on for a selfie, so they could get even more south by being off the mainland. However, I quickly realised that that was completely silly - the strength of the winds in this place would blow anyone right off the platform and into the see below in an instant!. The platforms were for cliff jumpers to use for their spectacular dives off the sheer cliffs into the waters below. There were no jumpers today (it was a very windy day)  but you had to have respect for anyone crazy enough to attempt such a feat. Here's a video I found:

There were also a couple of large blow holes in the lava cliffs that were impressive. These are where the sea has undercut into the cliff and created an inland hole into which the waves crash and throw up spray.

Time to hit the road again and this time we were headed for a beach that is made up of green sand. On the way however, a quick detour to see a beach that has black sand!

Black sand beaches are created by lava flows from active volcanoes and there are many examples of them on the island. It's not legal to take sand or rocks from the beaches because the black sand is a limited resource - so we didn't!

When we got to near to the location of the green sand beach (which is created by a common mineral in Big Island lava called olivine, which stays deposited on this beach because it is heavier than the other components of the lava) we ran into an unusual situation. There was a car park area, but several groups of guys with pickup trucks were directing visitors as to where to park and then explaining the beach is a hour's hike from the car park, but they would be happy to take us there in their trucks for £20 a head. Now we didn't have an hour to spare for the hike, but also we didn't want to pay these "bandits" £60 for the three of us. So we did the British thing, turned on our heels and left! Since we didn't get there, here's a picture of what we missed from the internet!

Next up on our tour was a return to the Hawaii National Volcano Park. We showed Jose the steam vents we saw and went back to the main caldera of Kīlauea. Like before, no lava visible, but there was a good show of steam while the sun broke through the cloud and gave us better views than we got the other day - we even got a rather nice rainbow!

We then took the Chain of Craters road - an 18.8 mile long road that has been repeatedly covered in places by lava and has had to be either dug back out or rerouted. Along the way, there are many places to stop a view other craters of this volcano (created by the sinking or collapse of the surface lying above a void or empty chamber, rather than by the eruption of a volcano). 

Another cool stopping off point on the road is the Thurston Lava tube, which like the one we visited before was created by flowing lava that cooled on the outside, but still had molten lava flowing inside. This one is 600 feet long and the solidified drips and waves of once-liquid lava rock show the forces that created the cave. However, it wasn't a varied in its formations and wasn't as grand in scale as Tuesday's one. 
Finally, after a lot what seemed like a lot of driving, we reached the end of the road (literally) and found ourselves at our last destination for the day - Hōlei Sea Arch. This  stark lava rock formation is about 90 high and extends from the steep sea cliffs into the Pacific. Like other sea arches made of limestone or other rocks (think Durdle Door) the formation is beautiful, but temporary, since it has a limited life span. It will eventually crumble into the sea.
The whole area is spectacular since you can see many lava flows (none active) that have flowed down the side of the mountain towards the sea over the years. Newer flows are darker in colour and have less vegetation on them.

It was also cool to take a close look at the cooled lava that in many cases looks like it had just set into these lovely patterns. 
Then it was time to head home. A three hour drive in the dark (and at times rain) back to our hotel, satisfied that we have seen some of the most spectacular sights the island has to offer. We will no doubt see some of them again, but from a whole new perspective - stay tuned!