Thursday, 6 December 2012

More Hawaii - Exploring The Big Island

Continuing our grand journey around Hawaii with Norwegian Cruise Line and Virgin Holidays, aboard the only year-round ship in the region, Pride of America…

Destination Hawaii – Hilo

It’s now absolutely clear Norwegian have a clear and abundant speciality for cruising in these waters, both on board and ashore. After two days in Maui, we head straight for the Big Island, with two successive ports of call to showcase the ‘live’ volcanic heart of the islands.

After Haleakala on Maui, we’re keen to see the world’s most active crater, that of Kilauea and, for that, we need the port of Hilo, which is only some 38 miles away.

After another impressive breakfast at the Lazy J Steakhouse (one of the highly worthwhile perks of the 52 suites onboard), we are encouraged by the early-morning cloud giving way to blue skies. Thanks to the folks at Go Hawaii and their tour partners Roberts Hawaii, we are lined up for the big six-hour excursion to all the key points hereabouts.

The organisation is first class and we are off on the dot of 9.30am in the company of driver/narrator Hank, who quickly proves to be an absolute mine of information and maintains a steady and informative commentary throughout.

It also proves to be a long day, but immensely worthwhile as Hank manages to pack a huge amount into the time available.

Volcanoes National Park is the undoubted and unparalleled highlight, though, as we are able to visit the Jaggar Museum on the edge of this highly active lava field that dates back to the early 1980s. Once again, the main vista is truly awe-inspiring, a crater-within-a-crater scenario of smouldering, fiery ruin.

The extent of the volcanic field here is mind-boggling and the effect of witnessing all the volcanic activity up close and (almost) personal is over-powering. In quick succession we visit the main overlook, a subsidiary crater, the Thurston Lava Tube (an eerie walk-through tunnel that was once filled with red-hot magma) and a lava field from 1984 that is now a barren, other-worldly scene (below).

The presentation of the different sites, plus Hank’s constant narrative, puts everything neatly in place, but it is clear you could spend several days here and still not see everything.

Coming back down from the 4,000ft high National Park, we call in at a famous Orchid Farm and then the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Factory (complete with samples, snacks and extensive gift shop!), where a good range of “Christmas presents” are added to our rapidly-growing swag bag.

The Rainbow Falls are something of a disappointment as the water is simply not flowing at the moment (something about a diversion as part of a new hydro-electric scheme) but that is soon forgotten at the Big Island Candy Co, where a great range of samples (with coffee) lead to even more present-buying! There are some wonderful chocolate-covered delicacies on offer, and we are rapidly approaching the stage where more luggage may well be needed for the journey home.

This evening’s dinner is a special one, as we have been invited to dine with one of the officers at the Liberty Dining Room (one of the two main restaurants, along with the Skyline). We are lucky enough to be on the table with Hotel Director Tony and Computer Systems chief Dave, and the evening’s fare matches the company, with an excellent Swordfish in a chimichurri sauce one of the highlights.

The main show at the Hollywood Theater is ‘Oh What A Night,’ a tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, with a superb rendition of their (extensive) greatest hits by the ship’s four male lead singers in a slick, sharp performance.

But that’s not all the entertainment in store, not by a long chalk. Our course from Hilo to Kona on the other side of the island takes us along the south coast and the active lava field from Kilauea that is still spilling into the sea (and creating more Big Island daily!).

The sail-past at 10pm is announced on the main tannoy and most of the passengers are on deck for the intense view of this Dante-esque vista as the vivid red/orange lava pours out of tubes and other crevices into the immediate cooling effect of the Pacific Ocean. We are several miles away but the constant outpouring of lava is unmistakable – and absolutely riveting.

Captain Nesheim completes one pass on the starboard side then swings around to present the port view, ensuring everyone gets their fill of this unforgettable experience.

Truly, the Hawaiian islands have visual splendours aplenty, and today’s many different views are just off-the-charts spectacular. Together with Norwegian’s obvious expertise in the area, it makes for a powerful cruise combination.

Next up – more about our floating home.