HERE IN HAWAII – Snow

Mauna KeaHERE IN HAWAII

Snow

The Big Island’s summits are once again wearing their white diadems. The first snow of . . . yes, winter is upon both the “white” and the “long” mountain. Snow comes to Hawaii in a storm, with thunder and lightning; wind and rain. Local TV newscasts originate in Honolulu; they do run video clips of snow-capped Mauna Kea. But their big weather story is what the storm leaves there: a soggy mess of drains overwhelmed, puddles for intersections, and stuff washed out to sea.Though snow on Mauna Loa is a rarer event than snow on Mauna Kea, it often goes under-appreciated. So big and broad is Mauna Loa that, on TV, it doesn’t look like a snow-capped peak; it looks like a snow-capped stadium roof. Better to see it in person; though the only way to make snowballs there is to make a high-altitude hike first.You can get to the snow on Mauna Kea, however, sitting down. A car or truck with four-wheel drive can get you up to where there’s enough to play on. Some winters, there’s even enough to ski on. You still have high altitude to reckon with; and sunburn; but (for a change) it helps to have had experience driving through snow and ice.If you don’t visit the snow, you will at least take delight in seeing what it does to the vistas of our tallest mountains. And you will probably grin every time you see a four-wheel-drive pickup come down from the Saddle, its bed heaped high with snow, to play with back home.

HERE IN HAWAII – Downtown on Black & White Night

Downtown on Black & White Night

 “Things will be great when you’re downtown,” as the song reminds us.  And it’s certainly true of Downtown Hilo.

 The core of the city is easy to walk around in, and always fun for shopping and window-shopping.  It’s essentially bounded by Kam Avenue along the Bayfront and Kinoole St. two blocks mauka; by Waianuenue Ave. on the Hamakua side, and Ponahawai St. on the Waiakea side.

 Many downtown stores stay open late on the first Friday of every month.  But the biggest and brassiest of these first-Fridays is the first Friday in November (Nov. 2, this year), when there is free live music in storefronts and on street corners from 5 in the afternoon to 9 in the evening.

 It’s called “Black & White Night.”  People are encouraged to wear black and/or white clothes – and they do: strolling around in everything from the formal to the ridiculous.  (There’s costume competition, too.)  Parents and children like to go on the Treasure Hunt, collecting “stamps” at various downtown businesses, many of which also offer free snacks.

 But it’s the music that really draws the crowds.  Alice Moon, who originated Black & White Night and continues to produce its events (amoon@bigisland.com), estimates that, last year, nearly 5,000 people came to what she calls “Downtown Hilo’s biggest strolling party.”  Local musicians play jazz, rock, bluegrass . . . you’ll hear something for every taste.  And this year, there will also be an after-hours dance party to a vintage Swing band, from 9 to midnight.

 So . . . come on down!

To drive the old road is to experience a bit of “old Hawaii”

Right up through World War II, there were railroads on the Big Island. Passengers and freight rode up the Hamakua Coast from Hilo, crossing the gulches on high trestle bridges. But only some of those trestles survived the 1946 tsunami, and while the entire railroad was being dismantled, everybody had to use the paved road, which hugged the hills, and forded the gulch streams deeper inland with one-lane bridges. Not surprisingly, it was eventually superseded by the modern, mostly-two-lane Highway 19. Cut straighter, the “Belt Highway” made oxbows of the old road – the “Old Mamālahoa Highway.” And they’re still in use, one-lane bridges and all. Maps show them diverging from main road, mauka and makai: they’re shady lanes, often cool and quiet; and right now, in autumn – pungent, in wild guava season.

The old road starts as Wainaku Street, in Hilo, and a pleasant segment – popular with surfers – descends to Honolii. The best-known stretch is the four-mile “Scenic Drive” from Papaikou to Pepeekeo. The longest mauka segment runs through Ahualoa, from Honokaa to Waimea.

To drive the old road is to experience a bit of “old Hawaii.” It’s certainly worth taking these side-trips on your way to Laupahoehoe, because there you can glimpse an even older Hawaii, now gone . . . at the Train Museum:
 www.thetrainmuseum.com

Here on the Big Island

“It’s really big!”

You hear that a lot, from visitors, especially first-timers. Maybe they’ve cruised the Caribbean islands, most of which are downright tiny by comparison. Or they’ve seen the other Hawaiian islands first – Maui, Oahu, Molokai, Kauai, or Lanai – before coming here to the Island of Hawaii.

In the words of the late naturalist Euell Gibbons, “This one island is considerably larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, and rises to an altitude much higher than New Hampshire and Vermont would be if they were stacked one on top of the other.”

It covers 4,000 square miles – literally twice the area of all the other Hawaiian islands combined. And since it measures 100 miles long by 100 miles wide, you need a full two hours to drive non-stop from one end to the other. But that’s not the best way to see Hawaii. Better to take at least two days, and make a circumnavigation. There’s an airport with rental cars on each side: in Hilo on the east side, and in Kona on the west, which also serves the big resorts that are oases on the black lava fields of South Kohala.

Driving from Hilo, the “classic” visitor route is clockwise: heading first to the volcano – Kilauea has been especially active, lately – and coming up to Kona from the south; spending a night there, and going back to Hilo by way of the ranchlands of Waimea and the lush Hamakua Coast. From Kona or South Kohala, the “classic” drive is typically counter-clockwise, heading south through the coffee fields of Kona and the windswept landscape of Ka’u, to see the volcano. Worthwhile side-trips are to North Kohala, still reminiscent of its “old Hawaii” days, or to rural Waipio Valley. It takes a four-wheel-drive vehicle to cross the island over the Saddle Road, but renting one (and being very careful!) you could visit the astronomy center at 9,000 feet, and even attain the 13,900-foot summit of Mauna Kea, which is often snow-capped in the winter.

The Big Island is therefore practically a continent in miniature, with all but two of the world’s climate zones – sorry, no glaciers or sandy deserts, but everything else from tropical jungle to alpine heights.

That quote from Euell Gibbons, by the way, is from his 1967 book Beachcomber’s Handbook, which has marvelous recipes for local fruit, vegetables and fish, about which I’ll write more in the weeks to come.