Posted on November 6th, 2010

By Shelton A. Gunaratne©2010Professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead

    Exit Fullerton

My mother and I left California on the last Friday of January 1984. It was the last day of my Fullerton Year.


I handed all my grade sheets to Admissions and Records at Fullerton College and said goodbye to many colleagues and friends over the preceding two days.


Larry Taylor, my exchange partner, had returned from Australia Wednesday and paid me a surprise visit Friday morning. I returned the keys to his beloved Volvo. He refunded me the money I spent on car repairs.


Ebrahim Unwallah, a resident at Wellesley Court, took me out for Friday lunch at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Later, we had tea at his condo, where mother joined us.

About 4 p.m., Unwallah took us to the airport bus service terminal at Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, where we said our goodbyes. Mother and I arrived at the                             L.A. International Airport about 6.50 p.m.


Although mother and I were both returning to Australia, we had two different travel schedules. I went with mother to Terminal 6, where she boarded the Continental Airlines flight to Sydney. After disembarking in Sydney, she would connect with a domestic flight to Rockhampton.


Thereafter, I took the shuttle to Terminal 2 to board the Air New Zealand flight to Hawaii, where I planned to explore the “Big Island” for the next three days.


When I disembarked in Honolulu, it was past 11 p.m. Hawaii time. I met mother again at the Honolulu Airport, where I said goodbye to her.


I had informed a Sri Lankan colleague of mine living in Honolulu about my arrival. His absence at the airport sent me the implicit message that he was too busy to meet with me although he had once visited me in Sri Lanka to ask for a favor.  I decided to rough out the wee hours of Saturday morning at the Honolulu Airport until my 6 o’clock flight to Hilo. I put my luggage in a rented locker and caught some sleep on a lounge chair.

When I toured the “Big Island,” the largest island in the state of Hawaii, for four days at the end of January1984, the state’s population was 30 percent lower than its current estimate of 1.2 million.  The “Big Island,” however, has only a population of 150,000 in contrast to the smaller Oahu island’s 877,000.

But the “Big Island” can be a joy for those who tend to be nature lovers and        epicureans.

The epicureans converge on the western Kohala Coast to enjoy the luxury of hotels such as the classic Mauna Kea.

Nature lovers can explore some of the earth’s most prodigious volcanic formations or seek the peace of the magnificent Waipio Valley.

“You can see Hilo in less than a day,” a Californian told me just before I flew into the Hawaiian archipelago.

At the time of my visit, some 35,300 people inhabited Hilo, the big city in the “Big Island.”  [Hilo’s population was 40,759 at 2000 census.]

The flight from Honolulu to Hilo (370 km) took about 40 minutes. The “Big Island” is almost twice the [land] size of all the other islands [in the archipelago] combined.

The most efficient and cheapest way to explore t he island is by car.

Perhaps the best way to get acquainted with the “Big Island” is to spend the first day sightseeing in Hilo.

Exploring Hilo

That’s what I did. After landing at Hilo airport on a Saturday (28 Jan.) early morning, I stopped at Philips’ U-Drive and rented a Toyota compact, which I used as a storage for my baggage, as well as a temporary shelter for myself, as I explored the island with the help of a map. I first headed three miles northwest to the Uncle Billy’s Hilo Bay Hotel (at 87 Banyan Drive), where I had booked accommodation so I could do my ablutions and rest for a while. But the receptionist was reluctant to let me in that early. A heated exchange of words resulted in my favor.

A good starting point is the 20-ha Lili’uokalani Park and Gardens (300 Wai Nani Way, Hilo) with its Japanese Garden and the bridge to Coconut Island. It’s on Banyan Drive overlooking Hilo Bay. The gardens contain the Waihonu Pond, as well as bridges, koi ponds, pagodas, statues, and a Japanese teahouse.

After eating breakfast at the hotel, I decided to explore the city right away despite the continual rain.  And Lili’uokalani was just to the southwest of my hotel. There, I crossed the bridge to Moku Ola (Coconut Island), a popular picnic spot that provides spectacular views of Hilo Bay front, downtown Hilo and the rest of Hilo Bay. The massive breakwater protecting Hilo Bay lies to the east.

Next, I stopped at Lyman Museum and Mission (at 276 Haili St.). An associate of the Smithsonian Institution since 2002, the museum has extensive displays on Hawaiian culture.  It “is renowned for its collection of shells and minerals, including a specimen of orlymanite, named for Orlando Hammond Lyman (1903″”…”1986), the museum’s founder and great grandson of David and Sarah Lyman” (Wikipedia). The Lyman family built the mission house in 1838. In 1978, it received recognition as a national historic site. (The current general admission to the museum is $10, which includes a conducted tour of the galleries. In 1984, I paid $3.50 for admission.)

Next, the nearby Hilo Public Library (300 Waianuenue Ave.) attracted my attention. The 2,000 “”…”lb. Naha Stone, which the Hawaiian King Kamehameha I (ca. 1758 “”…” May 8, 1819) supposedly lifted at the age of 14, rests in front of the library.

Then, off I went to see the Kaumana Caves, actually a large lava tube formed during the 1881 eruption of Mauna Loa. I drove further north to see the Boiling Pots, a series of small falls and pools on the 26-mile Wailuku River, the longest river in Hawaii. About a mile to the east, I stopped at the 80-ft. Rainbow (Waianuenue) Falls, which cascades over a natural lava cave, the mythological home to Hawaiian goddess Hina, the mother of Maui. Concealed by the mist of the falls, she beat and dried her kapa in the sun each day.

My next stop was the magnificent 20-acre Nani Mau (“Forever Beautiful”) Gardens (421Makalika St.), which claim to “contain more than 2,000 plant varieties, with approximately 225 types of flowering plants, including 100 species of fruit trees; and over 2,300 orchids. Major garden features include an anthurium grove, Japanese-style bell tower (built from 20,000 boards without nails or screws), botanical museum, butterfly house, European garden, fruit orchard, ginger garden, hibiscus garden, Japanese gardens, orchid display, palms and coconut trees, and water garden” (Wikipedia).

Before returning the hotel, I tarried for a while at the main campus of the University of Hawaii Hilo (200 W. Kawili St,)



 Figure 1: Day 1 Tour of Hilo. A=Hilo Airport; B=Uncle Billy’s; C= Lili’uokalani Park & Gardens; D=Lyman Museum & Mission; E=Public Library; F=Kaumana Caves; G=Boiling Pots; H=Rainbow Falls; I=Nani Mau Gardens; J=University of Hawaii @ Hilo

Day 2: Tour of Volcanoes National Park

I spent the whole day, in spite of the inclement weather, exploring the 330,000-acre (134,760-hectare) Hawaii Volcano National Park on the southwestern part of the “Big Island.” Established as a national park in 1916, it offered two of the world’s most active volcanoes: Kilauea  (4,096 ft.) to the east; and Mauna Loa (13,679 ft.) to the west.

Lava flows from the 1983-present eruption at Kilauea volcano have overrun more than 200 structures, including the Wahaula Heiau and Visitor Center, which succumbed in June 1989, just five years after my visit.  However, flowing at an average rate of 800-1,300 gallons (3,000-4,920 liters) per second from vents on the east rift zone, the lava has added more than 500 acres (200 hectares) of new land to the island.

In the morning, I drove 24 miles southeast from my hotel in Hilo to see the Lava Tree State Monument (in the Nanawale Forest Reserve), which preserves lava molds of the tree trunks formed in 1790 when a lava flow swept through the area. Driving five miles further east toward the coast, I reached the Kapoho Cone (in the Puna District), which I readily climbed to observe the destruction wrought on Kapoho by the 1960 Kilauea eruption, which “swallowed” the town on 28 Jan.

Driving south and west on the Kapoho-Kalapana Road (a 19-mile stretch), I stopped at the Isaac Hale Park and MacKenzie State Park along the southern coast to absorb the scenery. I treated myself to a Hawaiian lunch at Kaimu before I proceeded to Kalapana, where the Kaimu-Chain of Craters Road served as the southeastern entry point to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park via the Wahaula Heiau (Temple of the Red Mouth) and Visitor Center. The 1990 Kilauea lava flow from the Kupaianaha vent destroyed and partly buried both Kaimu and Kalapana. Now, they lie buried beneath more than 50 feet of lava.

Chain of Craters Road is a 23-mile winding paved road through the East Rift Zone and coastal area. The road has paths and road offshoots that allow access to various volcanic views such as pit craters, active and dormant lava flows, plumes from lava tubes and various geographic sites that can be accessed by trails from the road. It follows a line of pit craters and descends 3,700 feet in 23 miles and ends where a 2003 lava flow crossed the road.  The Kaimu-Chain of Craters link road that I drove on in 1984 might be buried under the lava flow spewed out by the Kilauea shield volcano. I have fond memories of driving on the Chain of Craters stopping at narrow places to read signs explaining various lava formations. I also stopped to see several pit craters along the way.


Figure 2: The 10-mile Crater Rim Drive circles the Kilauea Caldera. The 23-mile Chain of Craters Road joins it from the southeast. 1=Kilauea Visitor Center; 2= Steam Vents, Steaming Buffs and Sulfur Banks; 3=Kilauea Overlook; 4=Jaggar Museum; 5=Southwest Rift Zone; 6=Halemaumau Crater; 7=Devastation Trail; 8=Keanakakoi Crater; 9=Puu Puai Overlook; 10=Thurston Lava Tube; 11=Kilauea Iki Overlook.

(Source: National Park Service)

 The 10-mile (16 km) paved Crater Rim Drive circles the Kilauea Caldera, starting from the Visitor Center, where I viewed a 10-minute documentary on the surrounding volcanoes. I took the short paved road, off the Crater Rim Drive, to get a close look at the Kilauea Iki Crater, the origin of the 1995 eruption that closed the Chain of Craters Road.  I drove through the Tree Fern Fungi to see the Thurston Lava Tube. After a stopover at the Volcano House, I went to see the Tree Molds on the Mauna Loa Road. Thereafter, I walked on the mile-long trail in the Kipuka Puaulu (Bird Park).

Despite the heavy rain, I stopped at the Volcano Observatory to look at the Kilauea Caldera. I also stopped to have a closer look at the Halemaumau Crater. But because of torrential rain, I could not complete the walk on the Devastation Trail. What gave me the greatest excitement was the steam rising from the Halemaumau Fire Pit, the principal vent of Kilauea Caldera and the legendary home of Pele, the goddess of fire.

I left the Volcanoes National Park about 6 p.m. I was soaking wet when I returned to Uncle Billy’s in Hilo to rest and sleep.

[The Straits Times (Singapore) published the original version of this story on 13 July 1985 under the headline “Hawaii in four days.”]

(To be continued)


Picture1: The Kilauea Shield Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (2007)

(Photo by Quinn Dombrowski. Wikimedia Commons.)


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