Oh, a most excellent day! It started out by Debbie waking up at 3:45 am, for no apparent reason. We got up early, and were ready to leave for our planned day around Pahala and Na'alehu by 5:15 am. We actually started on the way down there, knowing we'd get to the good birding before sunrise, when I had a brilliant idea: let's go see the lava erupting in Halemaumau!
It was still dark when we pulled into the Jaggar Museum parking lot. We could see an orange glow in the sky from our truck, so we knew there was at least the possibility that we'd actually see erupting lava. When we walked up to the fence of the observing area, we could see (naked eye) splashes and fountains. In our binoculars it was like seeing one of those National Geographic videos of bubbling lava. I've seen something this once before, from my perch on the crater rim of Pu'u O'o some twenty years ago. Debbie had never seen it. We watched until the sky started to lighten. Humbling and beautiful, it was.
Then we continued down to just south of Pahala, where we started the birding part of our day. You can see the track of our entire day if you're interested in the gory details, or in doing it yourself. We wandered all over the slopes of Mauna Loa west of Pahala. Sometimes we were on paved roads, sometimes on dirt roads, sometimes on very rugged four-wheel roads.
We had one serious four-wheeling event, when we needed to cross a gully carved out of the lava by an intermittent stream. This gully was about 60' wide, perhaps 10' deep, and extremely rough on the bottom. I had to get out and walk the gully to find a route that we could take that wouldn't cause us to scrape the bottom. That route was an "S" shape, with a very tight turn on the second curve. I took it very slowly, and we made it just fine – but I'd bet we came within an inch of bottoming. :)
Our route took us through many radically different floras: macadamia orchards, coffee orchards, farmed eucalyptus (for paper pulp), pastures, and natural forests. Our altitude ranged from sea level to almost 3,000'. The scenery was beautiful, and so varied that the only way to understand it would be to see the photos (below).
The birding was fantastic, not so much for variety as for frequency of viewing opportunities. We had many sightings of common amakihi, red billed leiothrix, yellow-fronted canaries, Japanese white eyes, and mynas, plus we saw an io (Hawai'ian hawk) whirling in a thermal. We reveled in the almost non-stop bird viewing, even if many of them weren't natives.
After all this hard birding, we were ready for a meal by the time we ended up in Na'alehu. We stopped again at Hana Hou, and once again had a great meal with friendly service. We both chose the roast pork this time (and this was my first meal of this trip with an entree of something other than seafood!), and it was as good as we'd anticipated. I had gravy on mine, and it was especially good: full of roast pork taste and neither greasy nor salty. This time we had room for dessert, and Debbie had a (huge!) slice of coconut cream pie while I had a slab of liliko'i (passion fruit) bar. Both were excellent.
The table next to ours had a mom, pop, and teen-aged girl, all Japanese. The girl walked over to our table, very tentatively, got my attention (while looking terrified) and asked me if I was American. I said yes, and then asked her why she thought I might not be. Answer: my hat. I've been wearing an Australian bush hat while over here, to protect my head (my family is prone to skin cancers, and I'm not taking chances). She hadn't seen any such hat in Hawai'i, so thought I might be a foreigner too. She was so embarrassed to be asking! But apparently her desire to know overcame her fear. :) I talked with her for a few minutes, trying to put her at ease, and I think I finally did. I'm still not sure why the idea that we might be foreigners was interesting to her.
After we finished eating, we retraced about half our day's drive and did some more birding. Along the way I discovered a wasp on my window, which I shooed out of the car after I opened the window. A few minutes later, Debbie discovered one on her window, which prompted a 400 decibel scream, followed by much frantic motion. I'm sure my hearing will recover someday...
The photos from this part of day:
So off we went on this walk, which was beautiful – and we also had some fantastic bird watching. We had lengthy and close views of two apapane and one red-billed leiothrix, plus good sightings of an oma'o, common amakihi, and a northern cardinal. Very nice, that walk was!
Then to top it all off, on the way home we saw a brilliant rainbow. Seriously!
A most excellent day, indeed.