THE southern part of Hawaii's Big Island is a place of immense natural diversity – and of immense natural power.
There can't be many places on Earth where road-closure signs warn of extreme danger due to lava flow.
Yes, the Kilauea Crater, right next to the visitor centre in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, is very much active.
From the centre, and quite a few other points along Crater Rim Drive, you can see the steam rising from fissures in what was once a lake of molten rock.
If you're in the area, make sure to visit the park. The facilities, the voluntary guides, the vistas are truly superb. Apart from the centre itself, major points of interest include:
The Thurston Lava Tube, reached by a walk of about 500 metres from Crater Rim Drive through a lush forest of fern trees. The tube itself is a tunnel through which lava flowed to the ocean just a few hundred years ago;
The Thomas A Jaggar Museum offers a fascinating display of the history of volcanology, including clothing and equipment from adventurers who got a bit too close to the action;
Kilauea Iki Overlook provides a tranquil view of a smaller adjoining crater. It's hard to imagine that just 50 years ago this was a seething molten lake with lava spewing 600 metres. You can't view the flow of lava into the sea from within the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but you can if you drive further east to Kalapana and walk about a kilometre or so along fairly rough lava fields to a designated lookout. For maximum effect, you have to do this at night, so make sure to have a good torch and sturdy footwear. It's certainly not a “stroll in the park”.
There's also the option of getting much closer to the action by taking an evening boat cruise from Kailua-Kona.
The southern part of the Big Island doesn't have the resorts that proliferate Kailua-Kona and the Kohala Coast to the north, but it does offer some very charming smaller-scale accommodation.
We stayed for three nights at the extremely comfortable, well equipped, two-apartment South Kona Hideaway, in the coastal village of Captain Cook, set amid a wedge of steep tropical forest between fingers of almost black, yet-to-be-eroded lava.
The deck, overlooking a dense panorama of bouganvilleas, frangipani, palms, jacarandas, African tulips, avocado trees and entwining vines, provides an idyllic setting for breakfast.
And what a breakfast it was – a feature in itself.
South Kona Hideaway's owner, Lou D'Angelo, and his partner in life, Eric Hinshau, “retired” to Big Island, with their charming canine Beauford, after running a bakery/cafe in Santa Barbara, California.
Seattle-born Eric had been visiting Hawaii regularly to indulge his surfing passion and was well aware of its laid-back appeal. Lou, from upstate New York, admits it took a bit of convincing to get him there.
“I thought it would be just another tacky version of Florida,” he said. “But I was sold on my first visit. We immediately started looking for the right place to live and set up a business.
“Luckily we found this.”
While you're in Captain Cook, find the time to visit Mamalohoa Hot Tub Massage, in the nearby village of Kealakekua.
Its owners, Deborah Pines and Lori Sceales, pictured, are also escapees from mainland US. With the help of the late Julie Ellison, an extremely gifted, sensitive landscape architect, they have created their own slice of paradise amid a verdant, manicured garden with several private hot-tub pavilions for a lengthy soak before the pleasures of a hot-stone massage.
The tubs have been crafted from West Australian jarrah, reputedly the finest timber for the purpose.
The massage itself is sheer indulgence, with your body being gently pleasured with smooth, heated stones, with smaller stones being inserted between toes and fingers.
After almost an-hour-and-a-half, you really are ready for the world again.
Good to know ...
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: www.nps.gov/havo/
South Kona Hideaway: www.southkonahideaway.com
Mamalohoa Hot Tub Massage: www.mamalahoa-hottubs.com
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