We woke to sun and snow this morning: the one hoped-for, the other unlooked-for, on the tops of volcanoes Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. They made a bizarre sight with a foreground of coconut palms as we followed yesterday’s path back around the coast again to Hilo. It’s a pretty town, suggestive of Napier, with added banyan trees, but we had no time to explore it. We were meeting Steve of Discover Hawaii Tours, who took us in his mini-bus on a 9-hour ride around the high point of this bit of the Big Island.
There wasn’t quite enough sun for the rainbow to put in an appearance at the Rainbow Falls, and the black sand beach didn’t look its best in the still dull light – but it got better. We drove up the Halema'uma'u Crater road and trailed through the Thurston lava tube (more tunnel than tube – it was big) before having a view over the crater at our lunch stop at the Visitor Centre, where the movie was well worth seeing for footage of eruptions, flowing lava and the blasé scientist scooping molten lava into a bucket, his boot inches from the boiling rock.
We drove down across the lava fields, a vast swathe of black cutting through the vegetation, either shiny black frozen into ropes, wrinkles and cow-pats, or the scratchy shattered rock called a’a – possibly onomatapoeiacally, by barefooted early Hawaiians. Down at the end of the road there are, typically, both dire warnings about safety crossing the lava flow, and instructions on how to do it; and a sea arch which is cheerfully expected to collapse in the not-too-distant future.
After an unashamedly awful dinner at the Kilauea Military Camp (a baked potato from the buffet, served with a pseudo cheese the colour and texture of lava, plus what tasted like boiled mushrooms) where the sign on the shop reads ‘Soldiers, Families, Retirees, Civilians’ – in that order, presumably – we headed back up to the crater for the high point of the tour, The Glow. Steve had built it up in his commentary, and wasn’t at all worried that it might not live up to the hype. Nor did it: the cloud above the hotspot did glow, more and more vibrantly, as the sun disappeared and the night darkened, lit by the three points where the lava was boiling and splashing. Though it was distant, it was dramatic, and a sight to see.
Not that the mother and daughters sitting beside me thought so. Never mind that molten rock from the earth’s core was erupting right in front of them: they were more concerned about not having told Dad to put the trash out, and that the daughter hadn’t kept up with her piano lessons, and the younger one was cold and sleepy, and there weren’t as many stars as they’d been led to believe, and the eruption was smaller, ditto.
Reader, I told them off. And they were subsequently silent.