I’ve been to the Big Island twice now and have yet to visit Volcanoes National Park. The first time was due to the discovery of my avocado allergy—I spent a couple days in bed while SVV and the rest of the crew went there without me (mean)—and this time, there simply wasn’t a free afternoon to drive the two-and-a-half hours each way and then tackle a trek on top of that. But just because I didn’t get to visit an active volcano doesn’t mean I didn’t get down and dirty with the geology of the island anyway.
On our third day in Hawaii, we went to tour the Hualalai Resort, a private community which also houses the Four Seasons and the now shuttered Kona Village Resort, and to get a little bit of cardio. The Hualalai Crater, just across the highway and a bit of a drive up, is located on private property, so the only ones who have access to it (aside from the owners) are those who book a hike through Hualalai. This meant we did not see a soul during our four-hour wander. Well, OK, maybe that’s not entirely true…there were plenty of families of wild goats, domestic cattle and wild donkeys who galloped across the path as we walked.
Even if you know very little about the island, you’ve probably heard tales of the tempestuous Pele. (Funny, up until this trip I always envisioned Pele as a dude—I guess thanks to that other Pele—but this was the first time I’ve ever heard Pele referenced as a “she.” Which is fitting I suppose given that she is the goddess of the island and the one that drives much of Hawaii’s mythology.) Our experience wasn’t any different, as every crater and rock seemed to have her stamp on it (at least, according to our guide Eric).
(Don’t worry. I didn’t take any rocks with me. I ain’t that dumb! I am familiar with Pele’s wrath…that’s something you can hardly visit the islands without hearing.)
Eric knew every last rock and blade of grass, and to be honest, I was overwhelmed with how much information was thrown at us during our trek! So overwhelmed that I didn’t retain much of it—other than tales of the mythical leprechaun-like people who cause all sorts of mischief on the island—so I’m just going to go with “I could tell you more, but then Pele would have to kill me.”
In fact, if you know much about the Big Island, or Hawaii in general, you’ll know that a sense of overall spirituality drives the people and the place. I’ve never been much of a spiritual soul, but I could get on board with the quiet and air of peacefulness that seemed to encase the crater. When we got to the top, we were told to take deep meditative breaths and not to talk. Difficult for me, but I managed!
The entire four-mile walk took around three hours. It would have been much shorter, but there were lava beds and fields of volcanic rock we had to skate over. And if you’ve ever walked on volcanic rock, you know one must tread delicately.
After our climb to the top of the crater, we hiked down to some lava tubes and went as far inside as we could go before I started to feel the onset of claustrophobia. Still, check “spelunking inside lava tubes” off the life list. The lava tubes are used to collect water; SVV was even brave enough to taste it! (I asked him if it tasted of volcano. He said he’d never tasted a volcano before, so it was difficult to compare.)
That’s SVV’s silhouette inside the cave. Here’s what the inside of an actual lava tube looks like (only envision it as darker and more ominous):
I hit my head on the ceiling—twice. I’m sure that surprises exactly no one. This was after I’d already skinned my calf on a volcanic rock, too, but before the stomach virus.
Once we returned to Hualalai Resort, SVV and I headed back to Mauna Lani, grabbed lunch at the Shops, then paid a visit to Mauna Lani Bay Hotel and Bungalows, located in the same resort area as our island home the Orchid, for a spa treatment (me) and a swim (him). I was booked for the Lava Watsu, the spa’s signature treatment, and honestly hadn’t a clue what I was in for. Apparently, our volcano theme from the morning was going to carry over, as I was slated to get a water treatment…inside a lava tube! That’s a lot of lava tubing for one day.
I met my therapist, this older, genteel Frenchman, inside the spa and he led me outdoors and to the back of the property where I removed my robe—calm down, people, I was wearing a swimsuit as you’re required to do—and got in the pool. From there, he strapped a couple floats on my lower legs and floated me on my back.
I was never really given any prior instruction as to what I was getting myself into, or the reasoning behind the therapy, so here’s how the Mauna Lani website describes the process: “Watsu is a passive form of aquatic body work that supports and gently moves you through warm water in graceful, fluid movements. This relaxing, meditative treatment is designed to bring total tranquility to you as your therapist supports, stretches and massages you.”
The full hour was like a choreographed routine—I felt equal parts dancer, equal parts ice skater, as he bent and twisted my limbs over the water. I never knew my body parts could distort in such shapes! I kept my eyes closed the entire time, and at points I was afraid I was going to get motion sick as I’m wont to do (the therapist told me post-treatment that many people do get a bit queasy, but he watches the color of their faces and stops if this looks like it’s going to happen), but for once, my stomach remained calm.
photo courtesy of Mauna Lani
I’ve been back running consistently for two months now and had just completed a 15-miler training run the day before we left for Hawaii, so all this stretching of my legs and back felt really good and was much needed. After I was nice and limber, SVV and I took a stroll around the grounds—they hatch and raise sea turtles right in the property’s ponds, then release them into the sea when deemed “healthy.” So cool. This is a big draw for families, as the kids can take part in the turtle jailbreak each summer on the 4th of July. There were also ponds where rescued sharks slunk around, too. A few years ago, that might have scared me. Now I say: BRING THE SHARKS.
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