Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Jan 13th – On the Tourist Trail in Maui

Having experienced the awesome natural wonders of the Big Island yesterday, the extremely touristy atmosphere of Maui comes as a big contrast. From the hordes of tourists thronging Lahaina, to the many T-shirt and souvenir shops on offer, to the gridlock out on the over-crowded road system, you can tell that you're well and truly on the tourist trail here.

But, even a small amount of time on the island lets you see why so many people are attracted to Maui – gorgeous beaches, amazing surfing, whales spouting constantly in its bays (we must have seen 10, just as we were driving back to Lahaina), and some spectacular scenery in its mountainous interior. Plus, there's an extremely well developed and efficient tourist industry set up to operate a myriad of trips to part us tourists from our money.

I did a "Rainforest Hike" Tour that really highlighted the differences between the Big Island and Maui. On the Big Island, there was a real sense of going back to nature, where you were in awe of the raw landscapes on offer; while, here on Maui, we were taken to a private "rainforest", with trails taking you to its well marked attractions. To be fair, the waterfalls, the running streams and the dense foliage we were trekking through were all impressive, but the volume of other pleasure-seeking tourists that we were sharing them with somehow made it seem less inspiring.

Nevertheless, it was a good workout and we all had a fun time. Sadly, the drive back to Lahaina (part of it on the famous Hana Highway), showed us one of the downsides of Maui's ever-increasing popularity – the sheer volume of traffic on the road. As we crawled along the coast road, a 30-minute journey turned into a 70-minute stop-start trip, with only the whales jumping about in the bay for entertainment.

When you've been stuck in a traffic jam, there's only one way of getting the journey out of your system, so we headed to Kimo's Bar, overlooking the water for a sundowner. The sun went down on cue but the clouds rolled in, so sadly we didn't have one of those spectacular orange sunsets that Lahaina is famous for. However, the good company, the laid-back atmosphere, and the cold beer more than made up for the lack of orange glow.

I guess that it's difficult to complain about other tourists when you're a tourist yourself; but for this tourist, Maui's at its best when it concentrates on the simple things in life – its views, its nature, and its chilled out Hawaiian ambience.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Jan 12th – Jon Versus The Volcano in Hilo

After 5 days at sea sailing across the occasionally rocky North Pacific, the Big Island of Hawaii's dramatic volcanic mountains looming into view made for a very welcome sight. And, this volcanic theme was to continue throughout my day.

Because, the Big Island is all about its volcanoes – some of the most spectacular scenery you can find on the planet. And, to fully immerse myself in it, I was taking a hiking tour into the crater at Kilauea, which rather worryingly bills itself as the most active volcano in the world.

So, we drove for about 45 minutes up from Hilo to the Volcanoes National Park to visit Kilauea - at a height of 4,000 feet above sea level, it's dwarfed by the Big Island's other two dormant volcanoes, which both measure over 13,000 feet. But, what Kilauea lacks in height, it more than makes up for in seismic activity, constantly spewing out gases, steam and lava. We saw plenty of gases, but sadly no lava – although, maybe that wasn't a bad thing, as we were venturing right into the heart of one of its craters, the awesome Kilauea Iki.

Looking down at it from the crater's rim, it was hard to believe that we'd be trekking all the way down there and across its desolate lava field. The age of my group ranged from early 40s to mid-80s, but even though it was a fairly strenuous 6-mile long hike, we all coped very well with the heat, the slopes and the rugged conditions under foot. In the 1950s, the crater sprung into life in an incredibly violent eruption that filled up the crater with 400 feet of molten lava. Over the decades, that lava has solidified into the various shapes and patterns that makes up the crater floor – we trekked across rugged plains of loose lava rock, then flat sheets of lava, some of them buckled into the air by the forces of nature below them. Just being inside this awesome crater made you feel very small.

What a great introduction to Hawaii's incredible natural attractions!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

January 6th – Let the World Cruise Begin!

After a wonderful Gala Dinner the night before, as we caught up with so many old friends and hopefully met some new friends, it was time to board the Silver Whisper for our 116-day Odyssey around the world, visiting 62 ports in 25 countries.

It was a pretty cold sail-out, but I went up to the bridge to give a narration as we sailed past Alcatraz and under the Golden Gate – a great send off for what should be a wonderful cruise!