Today we woke up early and drove to Hilo airport to check two things:
- Itai wanted to fly out of Kona instead of Hilo to save the drive back, and
- I wanted to take an air tour to see real lava from above. It turned out
that returning the car in Kona is too expensive, and the air tour company
didn't work that early.
So, we returned to our original plans.
We took Saddle Road, which runs between the two active volcanos on Hawaii island, and went up the summit road of Mauna Kea, the highest mountain on Earth (as measured from its base). I had headaches throught this drive so I spent most of it resting. There was a great deal of fog and rain so we couldn't see much from this road. However, we did reach the visitor center on Mauna Kea summit road, where I saw a film about the astronomical observatories there. We decided not to continue to the summit as it requires a 4x4 vehicle, which we didn't have.
Instead, we continued towards the other side of the island, and up north through another mountain pass towards Pololu, where a got great view of the northern cliffs. We headed back through the (western) coastal highway to Kona airport, where I tried my luck again at getting an air tour. It turns out an air tour was just departing, and I could join it for $200. I immediately took the offer, paid and was all set to board the Cessna Caravan aircraft (FAA reg# N281A) operated by Big Island Air. As I was the only one travelling alone, and no passenger had a pilot license, I got to sit in the co-pilot's seat, so I could monitor all the instruments in flight.
The flight was about 1:45 hours, and took us all around the island. We headed south on the Kona coast and saw coffee and macedemia nut plantations, flown past the south point, catching a great view of past lava flows, and then headed toward the Volcanos National Park. We flew over chain of craters road, past the end of the road signs and the hiking trail, and up to the active lava bench we saw real red lava pouring into the ocean and creating new land. We the flew up to the actual rim of the most active volcano on Earth, and saw real red hot molten lava bubbling inside. It was an amazing view.
The flight was not over yet, we flew around the Hilo side of the island over the subtropical rainforests and waterfalls, and then over the north of the island, up to the same point I've seen from the ground a few hours earlier. We then headed back to Kona airport and landed (safely) on runway 17, right after a Hawaiian airlines jet took off. After a short taxi we were back at Kona airport.
Itai didn't want to go, so in the meanwhile he checked his options for flying from Kona to Kauai instead of back to Honolulu from Hilo. We decided to take a hostel at Kailua-Kona for tonight and have Itai fly to Kauai, while I drive back to Hilo and fly to Honolulu.
So, we went to the hostel recommended by Lonely Planet (Patey's Place), and got a private room for $65 (dorm was full). I stayed in the room to rest due to my headaches, and Itai went to the beach to swim. I'm using the free WiFi internet here to send this message, and then I'm going to sleep/rest.
As always, an approximate map of today's journey is available, and photos will be available later.