Truthfully, it’s been a struggle finding my way back to the keyboard, partly due to the realisation that when I finish typing on this occasion, it will be the final post of our journey. Another reason for the struggle relates to the previous post in which I mentioned our hope that the return of the Patrol to Australia would not see us subjected to the type of behaviour that various other travellers returning vehicles to Australia have spoken of.
It would appear that I’d been somewhat delusional in that thought process for, without doubt, you’d think I was kidding if I were to relay just how badly it went. Being on the receiving end of such unprofessional behaviour and overpriced maritime services at the hands of our fellow Australians left us with a bill of almost $AUD2800 before the vehicle would be released. That’s 3 times the amount we paid clearing the vehicle in Russia and 5 times the amount we paid in the US after shipping in from Europe. Packing the vehicle and shipping it all the way to Perth from the US was a quite reasonable $AUD3400 but with such exorbitant clearing charges added on at the Australian end it does leave quite a sour taste in your mouth. An official complaint to Quarantine about the conduct of the officer concerned and a little vehicle damage from the unnecessary cleaning all made for a wonderful welcome home.
I’m not sure how it will all pan out moving forward, with aspirations of further overland travel still bubbling around the blood stream. The thought of returning a vehicle to Australia again is currently less appealing to me than a dose of dysentery in a Bombay food market!
Ok – so with the negative stuff out of the way, it’s time to take all of our readers with us to the finishing gate!
There was no chance that we’d be making the long transit home to Perth flying right by the beautiful Hawaiian Islands without dropping in for a dose of the Aloha spirit. The “Big Island” was our main focus on this visit with the Kilauea Volcano the dominant draw card.
Arriving late into Kona, we went to collect our pre-booked hire car and, with an unexpected free upgrade, it would seem that fate might actually exist. What better way to end the final stage of our overland journey in a Nissan Patrol than finishing the drive in a Nissan Armada!
Our accommodation for the next few days sat perched on the slopes of a hillside about half an hour south of Kona with panoramic views of the west coast. Beautiful tropical temperatures beckoned us to explore…
From our home base we headed off for about a one-hour downhill hike through wooded terrain interspersed with farmland before we arrived at the idyllic Kealakekua Bay. Its crystal clear turquoise water was made even more inviting by the film of sweat that covered us by the time we got there! The moment we descended below the cool surface of the water and our eyes adjusted, beautiful tropical fish surrounded us!
Really stunning but unfortunately, a few other tourists knew about it as well! Most of them arrive by boat so there is the odd moment of relative peace between boat departures and arrivals but aside from the magnificent snorkelling and frequent visits from spinner dolphins, the other main reason not to miss this spectacular bay is that it’s also the site of Captain James Cook’s demise at the hands of the Hawaiian Islanders in 1779. With Cook’s amazing achievements in his short life, I wonder how different the geographic boundaries that underpin our maps and atlases of today would appear, if not for his death here.
With places of interest that appealed to us marked on our map, we headed off for a lap of the island over the next week.
Stark and gnarly, the harsh black volcanic rock rises from the Pacific Ocean to give both form and life to the island. Where the aqua blue ocean meets the cold remnants of the once flowing lava, gritty beaches have formed through tidal erosion over millennia, ranging in colour from green to black giving the whole place a wonderful vibrancy.
Known for its range of climatic zones, the island contains arid desert regions, tropical rain forest and even alpine tundra. From the balmy warmth at sea level, a couple of hours drive in the car will see you at the 14,000ft peak of Mauna Kea with snow covered peaks and an altitude induced headache if your not careful! One of the only places in the world where you can experience several climatic zones in the same day!
Mt Kilauea Volcano sits on the southeastern side of the island and is stunning. The caldera, which is the cauldron of bubbling molten lava within the rim of the volcano, is about a mile from the Jaggar Museum Observation Centre and it is truly amazing and probably a little humbling. We were lucky that Kilauea had been experiencing a period of heightened activity resulting in an elevated level of lava within the crater, making viewing much easier and particularly spectacular at night.
We’ve all watched documentaries on the power of volcanoes and the forces below the earth’s surface but to witness, first hand, boiling rock forced into the inky night sky as it’s forced out of the planet like water from a hose, really brings home the power contained within the Earth.
From the caldera, the lava makes it’s way through underground fissures and tubes like a network of pipes before eventually, with the help of gravity, finding its way to the ocean and continuing the seemingly never ending task of increasing the size of the island.
Given the lava is always on the move, the best locations to view the lava meeting the ocean are also constantly moving. At the time of our visit, approaching from the east of the current lava field provided the best viewing and with bicycle hire available from just outside the National Park, made the journey from the closest car park to the lava field much less daunting than a long hike in the heat. The western side, within the National Park, only has access via a long extremely hot arduous hike of approximately 12kms but does have some other interesting points of interest en-route.
We hired bikes on the eastern side of the Lava field to make the 5km journey to the latest outbreak of molten rock as the roads are closed to cars.
Another bizarre observation, although I found this one less astounding than the lava, was the strange approach of the National Parks Department. In these days of litigation and the fact that we now have to walk as slow as the slowest person in order to protect us from ourselves, I found myself smirking at the temporary viewing area a little later that evening.
After parking our bikes with the multitude of other volcano visitors, a plastic barrier and a couple of uninformed rangers guided us down the 100metres or so to the ocean where we strained to see an amazing lava hose pipe spewing it’s fiery contents into the sea. Plumes of superheated seawater burst upward as the lava boils the sea on contact before it hardens to form Hawaii’s newest piece of land. It’s quite a way off but the sight is quite astounding and, of course, with the propensity of the lava to breakthrough at any location along the coast, a level of safety must exist.
We had heard there were areas where it was possible to see the lava up close and personal and had packed torches, spare batteries, water and so on in anticipation of a trek in the darkness to observe the glowing magma.
Once back up to the bicycle area, we asked the rangers if and where it was possible to see lava, but their clueless response suggested that we should just aimlessly walk off into the lava field and try our luck! “Just walk that way (a vague swing of the arm covering 90degrees) about 45 minutes and you might find some.” That instruction was the reason I found myself smirking. Fences and rangers with signs restricting everything you do at the initial viewing area but after that you can wander off and fall into the lava if you like! Who knows how these crowd control policies are conceived.
So up the hillside we ventured, backpack on and head torches at the ready. As the daylight waned we headed out across the expanse of freshly hardened lava and generally aimed for some distant people and a string of steam vents. Cutting to the chase, we zigzagged all over the place and at one point were rather concerned that the earth may just open up beneath us as the heat from the molten rock flowing under the surface and hence our feet made the temperature like that of an oven!! Just as we prepared to abandon the venture as hopeless, we spotted a group of people that seemed engaged in something interesting and finally achieved our goal – lava!!
I guess you’d expect it to be hot in such a situation and if I said I could toast a ham and cheese sandwich from 10ft away I wouldn’t be overstating the radiating heat.
Once our appetite for viewing the slowly creeping lava was satiated, darkness had engulfed us completely and it was head torches on as we began the long trek back to our bikes. The moment we illuminated the lava field surface, it was like a metamorphosis had occurred right in front of us. The surface now looked for lack of a better description like it had been dusted with sparkling diamonds. Just amazing and hopefully we have caught the effect with the camera. Truly one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever observed and equally worth seeing!!! We are so glad that we persevered – many others gave up!!
The following day we made for the backbone of The Big Island, snow covered peaks appeared and we achieved our first view of Mauna Kea Summit and it’s collection of international astronomical observatories.
The Onizuka Visitor Centre has been constructed conveniently at an altitude of 9,200ft where visitors are requested to spend half an hour acclimatising before the last few thousand feet are ascended to reach the observatories perched around the summit. The crystal clear cold air, altitude and lack of light pollution make it the ideal location for celestial viewing and you could be forgiven for forgetting you are in the middle of the Hawaiian Islands!
The road to the visitor centre is sealed but beyond it to the summit is 5 miles of steep graded gravel road with quite a few switchbacks and is only suited to true 4WD vehicles with low range. I only mention it, as there are some signs at the visitor centre telling tourists continuing on to the summit to use low gear on the return descent, particularly as nearly all of the cars in the USA are automatics. Of course, a long descent down very steep roads in a high gear using the brakes instead of the gearing to slow the vehicle will see brakes overheat and fail; a photo board on display at the visitor centre depicts the carnage and multiple fatalities that have occurred as a result. As it happened, a Nissan SUV had careered past the visitor centre just the previous day with it’s doomed passengers screaming before leaving the road and sadly killing one of those onboard – how bloody awful.
On our descent from the summit, it was easy to see why Mauna Kea has a reputation for people killing themselves on the drive down. You would have thought it was a rally event give the way many of the thrill seekers were driving. I can only imagine the fatality rate if any of these fools were confronted with a road that was actually challenging.
We had a couple of days up our sleeve before we needed to be back at the airport so after some sightseeing around Hilo, we headed up the east coast and around the north of the island.
It was now time to say goodbye to The Big Island and hello to Oahu and Waikiki Beach for a couple of nights.
Yep it’s kitschy and loaded with tourists, but Waikiki always seems to have a nice atmosphere about it and it was a nice way to organise our thoughts before returning to Australia.
Some weeks later our car arrived home…
Footnote: Although Jen and I set out in the hope of managing at least a year and maybe two years travelling, in the end the clock stopped at 3 years. I’m quite proud of that effort and although I don’t believe it is in any way a competition regarding the length of time spent travelling, for us the duration provided the disconnect that we were in pursuit of and for that I’ll be forever grateful. The old cliché, “time seems to have flown by” certainly comes to mind at the moment however.
It’s not all been silk and roses and this journey has provided us with a few very stressful moments but also so many amazing ones. Every challenge overcome served only to inspire us further and the experiences gained enriched our lives. The people we met are without doubt the highlight.
To our avid readers, thank you for taking the time to come with us, and thank you for being the inspiration I needed to keep my fingers tapping on the keyboard. There were times, as with any journal I suppose, that it can seem quite a chore, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Reading through our blog now, I am amazed at both how much I’ve forgotten and also how vividly I am able to relive the experiences with the aid of our blog. In many ways, I think that I now have more of an appreciation for how it must feel for anyone reading along, for It does feel a little as if I’m following another travellers tales from the road rather than my personal experience.
Jen and I intend keeping the Globatrol website active with the odd update from time to time and South America and Southern Africa are still in our sights for the future but for now…
Cheers and Thank you