The Difference Between Experiencing and Observing

Text by Lauren N. ’19
Photos by Lauren N. ’19 and Lauren Mac. ’19

Stepping off of the plane in Kona was the most refreshing thing that many of us had experienced in a long time. The temperature was in the 70s, palm trees peppered the landscape, and the sun peeked through the clouds as 15 students and three faculty chaperones walked across the tarmac. After a trip to the island’s only Costco and a receipt as long as one might imagine with a house of 10 teenage boys, we found our rooms and fell asleep almost immediately.

As soon as we awoke the next day, we hit the road for Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park in Hilo, setting off into the rainy forest and hiking through the Thurston Lava Tube to reach our final destination: the Kīlauea iki Crater. The crater, made from lava that dates back to the 1959 flow and that grows deeper by 10 centimeters a year, was a sight to see with its many steam vents, mounds of volcanic rock, and ʻōhiʻa lehua plants dotting the barren landscape.

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Soaking wet, we then continued to travel down the coast to the Makaopuhi and Mau Loa o Mauna crater. Observing the vast and beautiful landscape of the coast and lava flows dating to the 1800s was awe-inspiring. We visited the Jaggar Museum and overlooked the Kīlauea Caldera, which, unfortunately, was closed to hiking due to volcanic activity.

The next day we headed to the beach to snorkel in a small and secluded bay. There, we saw many of the fish that we had studied throughout the year. Afterward, we trekked to the other end of Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park for our unique live lava hike. The experience was well worth the 10 miles hike. Being so close to the lava allowed us to take stunningly great photos, while at the same time experiencing the scorching heat of molten rock.

We spent our third day in Hilo, starting at the local, open-air farmers market where we bought a variety of local foods, drinks, Hawaiian shirts, and authentic, handmade trinkets. Then we headed to Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park (site of the 1946 April Fools Day tsunami that killed 160 people) and several other places, such as Waipi’o Valley, Wai’luku River State Park, and Rainbow Falls. Finally, we traveled to the Kaumana Caves, where our caving was cut short because of a collapse a few yards past the cave’s entrance. Our day finished with a dinner of the fusion cuisine that locals enjoy.

The green and black sand beaches were our destination on the fourth day. After driving to the southernmost point of the island, we hiked to Mahana Bay, one of Hawaii’s few green sand beaches. Then we had a bit more leisure time at the black sand beach in Punalu’u, where we saw two sea turtles — our first turtles of the trip.

The fifth day was our earliest morning; we woke up at 2:45 to set out for the sunrise over Mauna Kea. At 13,000 feet above sea level, we could see the island of Maui peeking over the clouds as the sun rose. We watched the landscape while surrounded by the dozens of telescopes planted on the peak for private research.

Two Step is one of Kona’s most popular snorkeling spots, known for its colorful coral and abundant marine life. That’s where we started our sixth day, and where we saw many creatures, such as sea turtles, sea urchins, moray eels, moorish idols, yellow tang, and perhaps the most surprising, a white-tipped reef shark. We had the afternoon to ourselves, before leaving for our night snorkel with manta rays. The rays, which can grow to seven feet in width, glided right over divers’ heads, and the snorkelers watched in awe from the water’s surface.

On our next to last day, we returned to our first snorkeling spot, where we collected data on the amount of fish of certain species in the bay and the quality of the coral. Afterward, we spent the afternoon at Kekaha Kai Beach, where we played football, relaxed in the sun, hiked over lava rocks on the beach, and swam with more sea turtles. We then cleaned ourselves up and headed to Royal Kona Resort luau, where we ate traditional food and learned about Hawaiian history and culture. We all looked especially festive sporting our leis and Hawaiian shirts (and for some of the boys, khaki short shorts).

All too soon, our last day arrived. We spent it touring coffee plantations, touring the town of Kailua-Kona and eating dinner at a local taqueria.

Everything we did in Hawaii felt authentic, the difference between experiencing and observing Hawaiian culture firsthand. Overall, this trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and, if given the chance, every one of us would go back and do it again.