Biggest Ball of String

Our road trip adventures, quirky roadside attractions, generally in the United States or Canada (and with occasional travel off the mainland into Hawaii, Alaska, Caribbean and Europe – so far)

Lava Trees, Red Road and a Bengal Tiger

on May 15, 2013

As I mentioned in my Introduction to The Big Island blog, we were travelling with friends (Chris and Amanda, and Taylor andPeacock Dad Jaycee (the kids)), and had lots to see and do!

One of the great things about travelling with children is that you get to do things you might not normally do, but have always wanted to do (like: camp at Jellystone Park… or visit the Jelly Belly Factory… or the Jolly Green Giant… or the zoo.)

I have passed the sign for the Pana’ewa Zoo, just outside of Hilo, a bzillion times, and every single time, I consider going, but never have.  YAY!! for 7 and 9 year olds who support that notion!

Peacock mom and babiesWe didn’t really expect much because it’s small, not advertised and free.  (Yes! It’s FREE!! But, it’s funded by donations, so do keep that in mind.)   Expecting “not much”, I took about 20 pictures of the peacock family that met us at the gate – a mommy and 4 or 5 babies meandering around.

However! We were there for hours! The zoo residents include different monkeys (a couple I’ve never even seen in books), different turtles, macaws, nenes and other birds, reptiles,  anteaters (which I can’t remember actually seeing before), some sort of deer (Axis), AND A BENGAL TIGER!!!  (Before you get all excited, we didn’t actually SEE the Bengal Tiger, but we were there in the morning, and his daily feeding time is 3:30, so maybe plan your visit around then…? We meant to go back later, but ran out of time.)
Crowned CraneAxis DeerGiant Anteater

(NOT seeing the Bengal Tiger, though, created HOURS of entertainment as Taylor and Jaycee speculated on its whereabouts.  Part of the speculation inspired the production of a off-Broadway show, in the pool*, of them trying to escape the approach of the on-the-loose Tiger…also, an on-the-loose elephant and an on-the-loose monkey.)Lava Tree

Another great thing is seeing things from kids’ viewpoint. Like: how the Lava Trees at Lava Tree State Monument go from being super interesting pieces of history to monster-creatures that have bugs living inside of them…and how, when you see the pictures they took of the “creatures”, there’s more pictures of them running away from them, than there are of the actual lava tree!

 These Lava Trees were formed in 1790, when Kilauea’s East Rift sent lava, burying Ohi’a** Trees.  The trees (which are filled with water) cooled the lava, but not before the lava burned the trees – they disintegrated into ash, but left behind hollowed-out lava molds, which often include imprints of the bark.

They are giant forms – apparently, the lava buried the Ohi’a Trees up to 11 feet!

Incidentally, this area is one of the best areas for listening to Coqui Frogs.  Coqui Frogs are tiny little tree frogs, originally from Puerto Rico (where they are revered) and accidentally brought to Hawaii (where they are hated.)  However, I love them. Actually love them! I’m not sure what they are hated, but I guess it’s because they aren’t native to Hawaii and that they are loud (really loud – they can reach up to 70-90 decibels, singing out their namesake song “Ko KEE! Ko Kee“).Coqui Frog

Peter and Jaycee and Taylor spent a few evenings out in the yard “hunting” coqui frogs – for photo opps, only, of course.  They are pretty cute little things.  (By the way, this picture shows how small the coquis are – I don’t have a giant hand!)

If you continue down Hwy 132 (Kapoho Road), and then onto Hwy 137 (Kapoho Kalapana Road), you are (as you might guess from the name) on your way to Kalapana, which is where we wanted to go next.

Kapoho Kalapana Road is also known as “Red Road”.  Once upon a time (not that long ago), it was red because the pavement was made from red cinder.  However, as time as gone by and road repairs have been required, it’s now completely black.  If there’s any red left, we missed it.  The first time we went on this road was … I forget – maybe 10 years ago? and at that time, it was still partially red.

Red Road will lead you passed quite a few sites at which to stop, including:

  • Ahalanui Park (the Hot Ponds) –  a free, natural pond, – “natural” inHot Ponds that it’s fed by rain water & ocean water, and heated geothermically.   It does have man-made walls, stairs going in, and life guard attendance.   (One of the life guards this past time we were there was climbing the coconut trees barefoot and bringing down coconuts, which he hacked open with a machete and gave us the yummy coconut milk.)
  • Isaac Hale State Park – this is a beautiful location where surfers and paddle-boarders brave getting thrown directly into a’a lava.   The first time we went was kind of uncomfortable (not very hospitable crowd), but we came back year after year anyway, and now “they’ve paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” (Joni Mitchell) I’m not sure how I feel about that, and I’m really not sure how the locals feel about that, but it’s far more tourist-friendly now.Mackenzie State Park
  • MacKenzie State Park – another beautiful view and a nice picnic place.  The really high cliffs and crashing waves make it impossible to swim… In fact, I get nervous standing too close to the edge.  But the view is amazing and it’s close enough to Red Road to make the stop worthwhile!
  • Kehena Black Sand Beach –  my younger brother took us on our first tour down Red Road, and stopped along the side of the road, so we could walk down to the “best black sand swimming beach on the Island”, he said. He said, “it’s got such an amazing view, you have to bring your camera.”  Along a little wooded path, and down a worn lava rock sort-of-like-a-staircase, suddenly the beach appeared down below. In the meantime,  people kept passing us on the way out, and kind of giving us funny looks.  As we admired the waves crashing in, the rocks jutting out of the sea, I started noticing a man, way down below, scooping water in a bucket and tossing it onto the sand… as he came into focus, I realized why the people were eyeing me carrying my camera, and why my brother was now laughing hysterically – it’s a nude beach.  (Well, technically, “clothing optional”.)  Just so you know.
  • Finally, the end of the road (because a lava flow went over the top): Kalapana and Kaimu Beach Park.

More on Kalapana on Sunday.
….Inside our vrbo
* We stayed at a lovely VRBO right on Kaloli Point. It’s a 2+1 bedroom, 2 bathroom main house with a full kitchen, and patio garden doors which open up the wall to the pool deck. The pool is a salt water pool.   There’s also a detached 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom (with an outdoor lava rock shower) ohana suite (“Ohana” in Hawaiian means “family”, so it’s like a mother-in-law suite).Pool deck


** Ohi’a Trees are very majestic, not very pretty, trees, and endemic to Hawaii.  In fact, the red Lehua blossom is the Official Flower of the Big Island.  They can grow from sea-level up to 9000 feet, in rain forest conditions or on the edge of the volcano.  And, depending upon its conditions, can grow up to 20–25 m (66–82 ft) tall, and lives 100’s and 100’s of years.

Ohi'aLehua Blossom

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One response to “Lava Trees, Red Road and a Bengal Tiger

  1. 4mygypsysoul says:

    An amendment: Apparently, the Zoo is a county facility also funded by property taxes, not just donations. So that’s GREAT!! Thank you, Rich, for clarifying!

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