Today was the first chance we got to see just how big the big island was! The word 'island' tends to convey an idea of smallness - but Hawai'i isn't, or at least the distances aren't. One reason why distances are great can be seen from the map on the left; the major roads only go around the outside of the island itself, due to the interior being either protected areas, dangerous due to active volcanism or undevelopable. Much of today's excursion was to the Western and Southwestern coastal areas.
The long drive South saw us heading up, and into greener but rather less sunny climes. The general atmosphere became less "paradise holiday island" and more "Hey - people actually live and work here!" Many former dwellings and suchlike had been abandoned and seemed to be falling into disrepair as the surrounding tropical rainforest gradually overgrew everything.
The first stop was at the Kona Coffee shop. I have a friend who is a tea and coffee importer, so I brought him a postcard from here. By this time, I felt myself to be something of a conoisseur of the local brew, but here they had everything; Kona chocolate, ice-cream... you name it, they mixed Kona coffee with it! The two main food exports of Hawaii seem to be Coffee and Macadamia Nuts, so I bought some Kona-chocolate coated Macadamia nuts for my son William, who will devour anything!
From here, it was a short journey to the next port of call, Pu'uhonua o Honaunau which is not so much a placename as a chant. POH as I will call it, is sometimes translated "Place of refuge", but this properly refers only to a part of the whole site, as we were informed by the jovial and informative park ranger. I especially liked him; he obviously took great pride in his culture, and delighted in the political incorrectness of the ancient Hawaiians, explaining how the penalty for some (to us) minor transgression was... death!!
On a more personal note, I was pleased to find how much of the traditional culture was still extant and practised, and indeed POH hosts an annual cultural festival. In fact, it had taken place the previous weekend! I had a friend back home in Norwich who had actually come out to Hawai'i a couple of years previously, to live here and learn about traditional Hawaiian healing, though whether she came to the Big Island or not I couldn't remember. But it would be typical to have come halfway around the world, only to run into someone from home!
Like most of this side of the island, the area is dominated by old lava flows, which come right down to the sea at POH, relics of thousand-year-old eruptions of Mauna Loa. Some tree molds are visible as part of the self-guided walking tour of the park. I was also impressed by the Hale o Keawe, watched over by its ki'i. You may notice a resemblance to the Maori Tiki - but the resemblance is not just visual, the word has the same origin; Hawaiian often interchanges t for k and l for r compared with Maori. Just compare the Maori word for New Zealand, Aotearoa where tea = 'white' and roa = 'long'. The two large mountains of Hawai'i are Mauna's Kea and Loa, that is 'white mountain' and 'long mountain'.
Well, we have our place of refuge, but refuge from what? Well, if you had broken a basic law or kapu (compare 'taboo' you see, k for t again!) your life was forfeit. However, if you could make it to the Pu'uhonua, you were on sacred ground where no blood could be shed. Not only that, but if higher powers had thus decreed that you deserved to be safe, you could also be absolved by a priest here. Certainly, if you intend to visit Hawai'i, you will have an interesting time at Pu'uhonua o honaunau, so have a look at their website first.
There were no more special sites to visit today, but we would have an extended stop in the town of Kailua to generally look about, doing what the French call flâner. My first thought of Kailua was that it was a bit like Great Yarmouth, my home town. A seaside resort, nice and straightforward, where people lived and worked. By now we were feeling it was time for a little something, and Noel and I looked at the menus and prices of several eateries. I had to be a bit careful with money (so what's new?) as the taxi fare from the airport had been an unplanned-for extra! There was a good range of restaurants, from the burger-and-fries variety up to how much??.
However, in a little recessed mall just off what we in Britain would call the Sea Front we found one of the best restaurants I have ever been to. It was an Indonesian restaurant whose name I had forgotten, but use of a search engine revealed that it must be Sibu Cafe. The food was very good, not too expensive, well-presented and it was there in considerable amounts. I am now a convert to Satay. The waitress was perfect; naturally polite and with a lovely personality. She returned only occasionally, had natural charm, and was wonderfully free from servespeak of the "have a nice day" variety. To cap it all, the little mall opened Westward, so one could see the Sun setting as the boats returned at the end of a long, but thoroughly enjoyable day. Tomorrow we would be going to Mauna Kea to see the mighty Keck Telescopes...