Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Mauna Kea

In spite of some dubious looking weather, set off this morning to see Mauna Kea.  We chose to go through Hilo, then circumnavigate Mauna Kea using the Saddle Road, then to the Parker Ranch, over to the North Shore and back along the coast to Hilo.  There were scattered showers and so-so visibility most of the day but it threatens to be the same for a week, so we took a shot.

Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain in altitude in Hawaii, rising to 13,796 feet above sea-level and is home to some of the world's largest telescopes, including the twin Keck 394" telescopes.  Just for a change of pace, it's lava is grey not black or brown.  The saddle road passes between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa (ie: in the saddle) but both peaks were shrouded in cloud. and visibility was spotty.

In due course, we arrived at the turn-off for the Visitor's Centre and started up the 17% incline to the 9,300-foot level where the centre is located.  Park Rangers suggest you stop there before proceeding to the top, to acclimatize as some people have difficulty with Altitude Sickness in the thin air.  Reg admitted to feeling light-headed and I was already having difficulty catching my breath, so we were glad that we had decided not to go to the top.  Especially since snow was forecast for the top and our car was not equipped with the requisite four-wheel drive.  We collected a few souvenirs and coasted back down to the main road.  Our little rental had struggled mightily in first gear, foot to the floor, 30 miles an hour at the red line, to climb the hill,  burning an 1/8th of a tank to do the 6 miles in the thin air.  We made good time going down though!

In spite of dodgy visibility Reg steered us onto another side road which purported to lead us (single-file) through 12 miles of jagged, barren, desolate, grey lava field to another Mauna Loa lookout-point.  This time we got 6 miles in over the twisty, scary road before visibility collapsed to 50 feet, Paul balked and we turned around.  Mauna Loa just doesn't want us.

Forged ahead to the Northern slopes of Mauna Kea and the town of Waimea which appears to be a "Company Town" for the nearby Parker Ranch, a large beef-cattle concern, specializing in Black Angus cattle.  We found a nice Thai place (Yum-Yum's) in the food court of the Parker Centre Mall, then pressed on to the North Shore and Waipi'o Valley Lookout.  The North Shore is much wetter, greener and very much like a rain forest in areas, with 100' tall trees, ferns, vines and nary a palm to be seen.

Then it was off to the Akaka Waterfall Park and Hilo for some take-out Sushi (amazing meal for two, 16 pieces of Sushi, and tempura veggie sampler and two shrimp tempura) for $19, about 1/3rd what we'd pay at home.  It was prepared in 5 minutes.  We scarfed the hot tempura bits and carried the rest off home for supper.

Roadside flowers in the lava

Life doesn't need much encouragement

On the slopes of Mauna Kea

Visitor's Centre at 9300 feet

"Road" to Mauna Loa lookout

No other word for it, it's bleak country.

Some of Parker's cattle.  Note lush pasture.

Lone bull standing guard.

Angel's Trumpet flowers at Waipi'o

Usual warnings

View of Waipi'o Bay.  No 50' waves today, but you get the idea.

Distant falls

Wild orchid at Akaka

Akaka Falls

Rainforest around Botanical Gardens (which closed at 4PM for some reason)

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