We were up early this morning - so early we saw the sun rise from our balcony. Most unusual for us! We also saw our first glimpse of land in almost a week. A strange feeling after seeing nothing but water all the way to the horizon in every direction. It was, of course, the Big Island of Hawaii, with Hilo our destination.
We had a quick breakfast in the Neptune Lounge and watched the ship dock and the gangway go out. We went down in anticipation of the announcement that the ship had cleared the formalities and we were free to disembark. This announcement came as we descended in the elevator which allowed ourselves and several fellow passengers to select the correct deck. We were down the gangway and on the dock in short order and with minimum enquiry found the tour organizer for our group, We slowly gathered and were taken out to a small bus. We had been promised two vans, but the driver explained that one of his vans was having air-conditioning problems and he had rented this bus which would overcome that problem and we would all be together. This seemed agreeable to everyone. There was, however, one big drawback which soon became apparent as we left the dockside and proceeded to our stops - the air-conditioning in this bus did not work either! It became a hot day - and more so as the day progressed.
Our first stop was Richardson Beach. A black sand beach named after a policeman whose house-come-policestation was situated on the beach. We went from there to a Japanese Garden which was most impressive and occupied our attention for quite a while as we explored its plants, water features and various Japanese artefacts. I (Iain) was fortunate to see a mongoose dart across the path and disappear amongst some rocks.
We then drove through Banyan Avenue - a road lined with banyan trees, but, as we did not stop, photos are not available. We went on to Rainbow Falls, an 80 foot drop in a river which is quite spectacular, but, I believe, typical of Hawaiian waterfalls.
From there we headed up into the hills to the Volcano National Park where we saw steam vents and several views of a smouldering volcano. It was so active and emitting sulphurous fumes that one of the roads was closed and we had to back track instead of doing a circular tour. We went to the Thurston Lava Tube which was quite interesting. It is a hollow tube underground set in a rain forest which was caused by the hot lava rushing through and leaving a void behind. According to the guide, Hawaii is riddled with these tubes and construction, particularly of roads, has to be carefully planned and the route tested to ensure it does not disturb one of these tubes. The Thurston one, he claimed, is the only one that has been reliably mapped.
We went from there to an Orchid Farm where, as well as hundreds of types of orchids, many other tropical flowers are grown and were on display. Many of them we recognized from our time in Jamaica. Despite claims to the contrary from most people we have mentioned this to, our first impression of Hawaii is that it is not too different from Jamaica. Safety maybe the one exception, though the guide was telling us that crime is becoming so bad that prisoners are presently sent to the mainland for incarceration and the government is preparing to construct a new jail to accommodate them. Maybe even this aspect of comparison is about to match our experience of the two places.
Our last stop was a macadamia nut processing plant - the nut house, as our guide affectionately referred to it. It was interesting, though I had something to eat which used up some of the time. Christine had brought some edibles with her and consumed them at the Volcano Park. I had a quick run through of the self-guided tour and we bought some of the product.
On our way back to the ship we dropped two ladies at Wal-Mart. We had intended stopping there also, but due to the time, we did not think it worthwhile, and proceeded with the remainder of the group to the ship where we got ready for dinner. As we ate, the ship set sail and we are now following the coastline, as attested to by the lights dimly visible. We listened to the string duo for an hour or so before returning to our room and setting things up for tomorrow when we plan to have a sail on a catamaran at Lahaina, our next port of call.