Me: Go to the Mauna Lea observatory. Do a doors-off helicopter tour of a volcano.
Cathy: Night snorkeling with manta rays. Beaches.
Everything else was variable. If we saw something cool, we'd do it. Other than that, we'd take it easy.
Day one was something like that. The east coast of the Big Island has been hit with a lot of rain recently, courtesy of a tropical depression that won't go away. The east coast is always the rainy side, but even by their standards, Hilo was getting a lot wetter than normal. So after taking care of some errands as we settled in, we asked a few people what to do, given that staying in Hilo in the pouring rain didn't sound like fun.
Their suggestions - Hit Akaka Falls, which is about 10 miles north of Hilo, and swing by the botanical gardens. Which is just what we did. And it was just what the doctor ordered for a first day in Hawaii when we were still half out of our minds with jetlag. The falls are in the vicinity of 400 feet tall, so they're fairly impressive. And the admission is $1 per person. So there's nothing wrong with that.
The botanical gardens were a bit more expensive, but they were fine. A lot of interesting plants and the story behind these gardens - a married couple bought the land, cleaned it up and transformed it - is pretty interesting. The one thing I did wonder about is the Hawaiians are very sensitive about invasive species. You see it a lot as you travel the island. How they're trying to remove some plants that are causing damage to native species.
Those botanical gardens had a lot of non-native plants. I'm curious how locals feel about the place.
Day 2 only had one goal - the Mauna Lea Observatory. I loved astronomy when I was a kid. Alas, I'd already resigned myself to not seeing the actual telescopes. They rest at the top of the mountain, which is 14,000 feet. They strongly recommend not doing it anything other than a guided tour or a 4x4 because of road conditions and how steep the drive is. I didn't feel like blowing $400 on a guided tour and we couldn't afford a 4x4 for the entire time we're on the Big Island. Plus, with Cathy's asthma I thought it would be a risk going that high up.
But getting to the visitor's center at 10,000 feet, and checking out the stars from telescopes set up at the center still sounded like lots of fun.
However, we had rain in Hilo again. So we decided to get to the observatory, normally a 45 minute drive, the long way round. We headed north again, this time to Honoka'a and then to the Waipi'o Valley lookout. It was a nice, scenic drive, had a great lunch at Gramma's Kitchen in Honoka'a and the lookout was fine, although the view is a little restrictive. Most of the land is the valley is privately owned and they apparently don't take kindly to tourists.
From there we looped around the north of the island, exiting rainforest and into cattle pastures in the blink of an eye. And then we began the climb to the observatory. Where it was foggy. And the people at the center were blunt in their assessment - don't get your hopes up.
(They also related with somewhat...enthusastic...glee stories about what happens when you take inappropriate vehicles to the summit and then come down. Stories of break failing and people diving out of cars screaming. They might have been exaggerating. Then again, maybe they weren't. Either way, we weren't driving to the top.)
Honestly, we might have left. It was around 3:30, the weather looked bad and the chances of a cool sunset or stars were slim. So while I was moping around the gift shop and trying to procastinate on making a decision, Cathy started chatting with a couple of Aussie women also lingering about, hoping for the best.
I have the bad habit of procastinating. Sometimes it pays off. Nat and Sarah were a blast. Both were funny, well-travelled (teachers, of course) and massive geeks. We basically killed a few hours talking about Dr. Who, Firefly, Veronica Mars, Divergent and other geek topics.
We were enjoying it so much we almost missed the fact that the clouds had broken up and there was a sunset about to happen. A quick scramble up a hill (always fun at 10,000 feet) and we got a great sunset. It even stayed clear long enough to see Mars through a telescope. Then the clouds came back. And sadly, they were leaving the next day, beginning their trip back to Adelaide.
Not perfect, but hey, sometimes the fun is in the unexpected. I might, someday, have just had another memory of "oh yeah, that time I went to an observatory." Now I have that and a few hours of laughing and geeking out with Aussie women near the top of Hawaii. And that works just fine with me...