As the Big Island came into sight through the airplane window, Courtney and I knew that we were visiting a place wholly different from crowded Oahu. Hilo, the Big Island's biggest and Hawaii's second largest city at 47,000 people, is a quaint, but sleepy town on the island's eastern shore.
Once we picked up our Chevy Cobalt from Avis, we ventured into Hilo town and made the farmer's market our first stop. We were in heaven as the produce was all locally-grown and much cheaper than our neighborhood Safeway. We bought hothouse tomatoes, Japanese (burpless) cucumbers, a giant avocado, mangoes and a huge bag of papayas (this must be peak season as I got 7 for $2!!).
After the market, we explored more of Hilo, then made the 30-mile drive West to Volcano, home of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. The Guest Cottage at the Volcano Rainforest Retreat was heavenly, complete with a cozy, but adequate kitchen and a woodburning stove.
The next few mornings we got up early to hike around the national park. It's tough to describe how odd the terrain was at the bottom of the different caldera, but if I had to sum it up in one word, it would be "otherworldly." I kept commenting to Courtney that it seemed like we were on a different planet - minus the few plants springing up now and then. The scene was terrific - the Alpha and Omega. Some parts of the caldera were completely barren, a wasteland representative of a place where all life ceases to exist. Other areas were hopeful and inspiring as Ohia trees and ferns were springing up, almost unbelievably, in the black volcanic rock - proving the fortitude and perseverance of Mother Nature.
Other highlights were walking through an underground lava tube that was once filled with molten magma and steam vents where the the subterranean heat was close enough to the surface to heat rainwater seeping down, turning it to steam.
Check my facebook.com album for photos from this part of our trip.