Tag Archives: travel

Edinburgh: Friends, pubs, and lots of walking

For the past year, I haven’t updated this little blog with anything of much importance because I haven’t felt like I’ve got anything important to say. Through the labour pains of birthing a monstrous Master’s thesis and the struggles of coming to grips with a new field of study, the imposter syndrome has hit me pretty hard. That being said, I want to  shake things up and get my head back in the writing game – so I’m starting gently with some of the best bits of our recent and soul-renewing trip to Scotland! First up – Edinburgh.

Planning for this trip started last spring, when Jess announced her upcoming nuptials. She’s like a sister to me and I had always wanted to visit the Scotland – so stars aligned and the trip planning began! After some serious research (my second favourite part of taking a vacation), I came up with a fairly intense highland roadtrip itinerary. But first, we spent three days in Edinburgh.

Day 1 involved fatigue (thanks, Aer Lingus), food (at the Dublin Airport, Teuchter’s Landing and BrewDog), and nighttime wanderings around Old Town.

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The time we had the Royal Mile to ourselves at 10pm on a Thursday

Day 2 started with wonderful coffees and catchups with Jess at Willams and Johnson Coffee Co. Then we moseyed up Arthur’s Seat for a stunning, sunny (!) view of Edinburgh. We popped by Dishoom for tasty Indian food and rosewater cocktails with the lovebirds, then struck out on our own for a pub crawl through Old Town and the Grassmarket.

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The view from Arthur’s Seat

Fighting fatigue, Day 3 took us to Toast for breakfast by the Water of Leith, then to the Princes Street Gardens (past a disturbingly loud, mid-morning EDM festival), Dean Village, and New Town. We collapsed at Jess and Murdo’s flat in Leith for some homemade pad thai, scotch, and cat cuddles.

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Along the Water of Leith
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Dean Village; possibly the most charming place on earth

Even though they were fighting an early morning washing machine-related leak, Jess and Murdo graciously drove us downtown to pick up our noble highland roadtrip steed on the morning of Day 4.

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Everyone is terrified about my driving and this is an unflattering photo

After almost side-swiping a Merecedes-Benz and a lot of deep breaths, we bid a temporary farewell to Edinburgh (on the wrong side of the road).

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10 minutes into the roadtrip, I’m still surprised Aaron had time to take this photo in between screams of sheer terror

Up next, I attempt to summarize a huge swath of the western highlands in a single post and spend way too much time trying to decide how many panoramic photos of mountains is reasonable. That’ll be Days 4-6; Loch Lomond, Glencoe, the Isles of Mull and Staffa, Glenfinnan, and Camusdarach Beach. Stay tuned!

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Mount Carleton and the Kedgwick River

The Hawaii Chronicles Pt. V (Or, Getting Laughed At By Locals With 4WD)

Due to the height of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea (the two highest volcano peaks on the Big Island), the island’s weather is drastically different from coast to coast. The east coast receives almost all of the rain, resulting in a lush and very green landscape. The west coast is much drier, and has some of the most stunning beaches in the world. We decided to spend half our time on the wet side and half on the dry, so Day Five was our transit day. Instead of taking the Saddle Road (we had already done that), we took the Hawaii Belt Road to the south. Along the way we stopped at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach – famous for sea turtle viewings.

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Unfortunately, the only wildlife we saw was this goose:

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We also stopped for this stunning and oddly Irish view.

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Just past the village of Na’alehu, the one-lane South Point Rd. took us to – you guessed it – the south point of the island. The point is very windy and dry, which was an impressive contrast to the lushness we had experienced over the past few days.

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At the very end of South Point Rd., there is a slightly sketchy trailhead with a hand-painted sign reading “Green Sand Beach”. The road it points to is outrageous – deep ruts and erosion make it impassable unless you had some sort of four-wheel drive vehicle. Consequently, there are numerous locals who hang out and offer rides to people lazier than us… But honestly, hiking is much better.

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The hike follows the stunning coastline, and the vividness of the colours alone is enough to make you want to explore on foot.

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But of course, there’s the gem at the end – a green sand beach. Seriously.

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Olivine is a gemstone commonly formed during volcanic eruptions. This beach used to be a crater full of a rare pure olivine deposit, until the action of the ocean eroded away one side and deposited a swath of olivine sand on the other.

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The sand is actually green. I couldn’t get over it.

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On our way back, with the excitement wearing off, we noticed how truly dry it was. The dust caught in our noses and the locals laughed by us in their four wheel drive trucks. By the time we got back to the car, our legs looked like this:

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After quick wipe down and a few sips from the trusty cooler, we headed to our accommodations in Kailua-Kona – but not before stopping for some lava field weather viewing:

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When we finally made in to our Airbnb in Kona, we were in for an unpleasant surprise… We had booked several months in advance at a little place on Royal Poinciana Way, with sparkling reviews. However, contrary to the email sent to us by our host just days before, we arrived at a completely dark, locked house. With no cell service, we waited around for about an hour before heading to a payphone (luckily they still have those in Hawaii…). We called our host’s number and spoke to her “friend” who was in Hilo for the week. Confused and upset, all we could absorb from the conversation was the location of a hidden key.

Once inside, we settled into our room. Shortly after showering and eating, a couple of loud and botox-ed Oklahomans showed up. Turns out they weren’t the owners of the house (as they claimed), they were family members of our host. The older of the two talked our ears off for three hours about Oklahoma, her family of pharmacists, and how Trump seemed like a reasonable candidate for president because “he doesn’t owe anyone anything”. We had our Canadian education system compared to Mexico’s and our provinces referred to as “providences”. One of them chastised us for the fact that Canadian gas stations don’t accept American money (I wonder why…). And for the entirety of our stay we could not get away from the words ‘scripture’ and ‘gospel’. At one point I overheard a conversation about speaking in tongues…

On top of the complete disconnect in interests, dispositions, and worldviews between us and our hosts, we did not meet our actual host for the duration of our stay. On Day Seven we were asked to move rooms so that more family members could arrive. On Day Eight the four-bedroom, two bathroom house had 16 people in it – only six of them were paying guests and our host was nowhere to be found. By the time our stay was over, we couldn’t wait to leave. Moral of the story: don’t stay with Jolee if you’re going to Kailua-Kona!

One positive outcome of these unpleasant circumstances was our desire to get away from our accommodations – we were forced to explore as much of Hawaii for as long as possible each day. And, through it all, how can you really be that upset when you’re in Hawaii?


Up next, MANTA RAYS, coffee, palm trees and Aaron’s close encounter with a humuhumnukunukuapua’a.

The Hawaii Chronicles Pt. IV (Or, Baby’s First Turtle)

Fully exhausted and exhilarated, we decided to take Day Four a little easier. Our accommodations happened to be within walking distance of the Kapoho Tidepools. This little-known spot was by far the best snorkelling we experienced during our stay on the Big Island. If you have the chance to visit, do so without hesitation. We were so lucky to be so close to this incredible spot and would return in a heartbeat. Here are a small sample of the millions of photos we took during our four-hour snorkelling session…

A boring human:

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A yellow-tail wrasse:

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A school of convict tangs:

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A shrimpfish:

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Some moorish idols:

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Another boring human surrounded by convict tangs, threadfins and golden butterfly fish:

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The state fish of Hawaii, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (with which Aaron had an aggressive encounter on Day Six):

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And finally, A GREEN SEA TURTLE:

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The diversity of life alone was enough to make these tidepools a worthwhile snorkelling spot! Being that close to schools of wild reef fish was amazing. But the turtle definitely helped… I’ll post snorkelling videos periodically – they really give you a sense of how close we were to this abundance.

Once we had satiated our thirst for sea life, we headed out for some lunch. Our host recommended a scenic route along Pohoiki Rd. She is part of a conservation group that has helped protect the lush mango forest along the sides of this road!

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At the end of the road, there is an old McDonald’s in Pahoa that has been converted into Cafe Aloha Lehua. If you are in this region, stop here for the seared ahi and grab a bowl of the kalua pork. Seriously. They were both DELECTABLE.

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Once fed, we headed out to explore the other side of the lava flow that took out Kalapana in 2000. It was otherworldly.

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What look like squatters are actually the residents of Kalapana, attempting to rebuild. You might wonder why you’d move onto a lava flow after losing your house the year before… But why do people keep building houses on floodplains or in Tornado alley? It’s their home, as strange as it seems. However, this was BY FAR the hottest place we visited on the island. You have to really like heat to live here… Especially when the fresh lava flows past your front yard – which apparently it has been known to do quite regularly.

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Where the flow meets the ocean, a new black sand beach is being formed! It’s beautiful, and we luckily had it to ourselves for about ten minutes.

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Driving back to our accommodations, we stopped to take in some stunning views along the road…

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And off the road!

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We also paused for a dip at the Ahalanui Hot Pond. I don’t have any pictures, but you can imagine it well enough – a hot spring surrounded by the most mellow, out-to-lunch hippies you can think of. There was some kind of vegan pork roast (seriously) happening next to the pond… Nonetheless, it was a spontaneous and relaxing swim!

Once back at the tidepools, we headed out for a sunset snorkel and managed to see another green sea turtle.

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Next episode, GREEN SAND, getting laughed at by locals, and the story of how we were locked out of our Airbnb by Trump supporters (seriously).

The Hawaii Chronicles Pt. III (Or, Will My Calves Ever Forgive Me For That Hike???)

We woke on
Day Three to – you guessed it – rain.

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We decided to take a drive up the east coast, appropriately known as the “rainy side”. Although the weather forced us into our swimwear for reasons other swimming, the drive
itself was beautiful. We took a scenic detour just north of Hilo that demonstrated the true potential of plants. Every turn in the road was followed by a new wall of green.

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Along our scenic detour, we made a pit stop for a mango smoothie at What’s Shakin’ and picked up our weight in tropical fruits from another little fruit stand.

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We made our way to ‘Akaka Falls – which is both a beautiful waterfall and also the home of
the ‘o’opu ‘alamo’o. We first learned about the Hawaiian freshwater goby while watching BBC’s “Life”. The goby is anadromous (like salmon, it spends different parts of it’s life in different aquatic environments), and in order to return to it’s spawning grounds, it must climb ‘Akaka Falls. The Falls are about 422 feet tall, so the climb must be pretty challenging for a tiny fish. We couldn’t get close enough to the waterfall to investigate but we were impressed nonetheless.

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There is a 30 minute loop to the viewing area which I highly recommend – it takes you
through lush rainforest and past other smaller, but equally beautiful waterfalls. Not to mention the enormous vegetation that is EVERYWHERE on this side of the island.

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The philodendrons alone made my houseplants seem like sickly, runty imitations.

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After a quick stop in Honomu Town for coffee, we headed farther up the coast. This is the oldest part of the island, and therefore is the only part that shows any evidence of erosion. The drive was peppered with little valleys, reminding us of the coastal drive in Gaspésie. We drove to the very end of the road at Waipi’o Valley, which is where things got a little bit crazy. The lookout is gorgeous, even in the rain.

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The road into the valley is – to put it mildly – incredibly sketchy. It gains 250 vertical metres in less than a kilometre, at a 25% average grade WITH STEEPER GRADES IN SOME SECTIONS. The average car can’t make it down, never mind coming back up. So, of course, we decided to hike down. It is still being debated as to whether that was a good decision…

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Once we made it to the valley floor, we were greeted by a herd of wild horses!

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We picked our way through the mud to the beach where we spent a total of five minutes before torrential rains made their way in from the ocean.

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We decided to gobble down some fruit (except Aaron dropped his rambutan in the sand…) and head back up. I don’t have any pictures from the hike – we needed all the mental fortitude we possessed in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Drenched and trembling, here is blurry proof that we made it back up and didn’t have to be helicoptered out of the valley:

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We rewarded ourselves with Portuguese malasadas filled with chocolate from Tex Drive-In – another recommendation from Cam at Darwin’s Toad. They were exactly what we needed; the perfect combination of grease and sugar. Thank you Tex, for saving our lives in that moment.

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After deciding we had punished ourselves enough, we drove back through the rainforest and collapsed in our beds.


In the next post there will be TURTLES. Nothing else matters. Except the lava beach, seared ahi and the snorkelling.

The Hawaii Chronicles Pt. II (Or, Don’t Inhale Volcano Farts If You Can Avoid It)

Rested and refreshed, we began Day Two with a trip to the appropriately named Hawaii
Volcanoes National Park.
Before we left rain-drenched Pahoa, we stopped at a little fruit stand manned by adorable people who were likely swindling us. We couldn’t have cared less, since the fruit we ate was unlike anything you could ever find in Canada. Plus, they cut everything up for easy on-the-road consumption! What’s not to love?

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Our first stop in the park was the Halema’uma’u crater. It’s currently active, with a
large lava lake bubbling in its centre. It’s also considered the home of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, so offerings of fruit and flowers are left at various viewpoints around the crater’s rim.

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We then visited the Steam Vents and the Sulphur Banks – both accessible by short, paved
trails through an orchid field, in which I took this slightly impressive and completely accidental close-up of a bee.

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The Steam Vents exhale their fumes directly into the crater and through large sinkholes in the ground around the rim. Turns out that standing directly over one both smells bad and gives you a persistent, nagging cough. These volcano farts are pretty noxious – I’d recommend getting up close once, then retiring to a safe distance. We didn’t take that advice, instead exercising our curiosity and crawling into a couple…

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Across the orchid fields (which are, in fact, invasive), the Sulphur Banks smell even
worse but make up for it with colourful crystal formations. The boardwalk kept us at a safe distance (we can’t be trusted with anything…).

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After fully, yet unknowingly, damaging our upper respiratory systems, we hopped back in the rental for some tasty papaya and sweet, sweet AC. We Canadians are built for winter,
not this tropical heat! We drove along Crater Rim Dr. to the Thurston Lava Tube – an exceedingly popular tourist spot. Lucky for us, the tour buses cleared out as we drove up, so we had the tube to ourselves for a whole twenty minutes!

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Lava tubes are left over geological structures created by lava flowing downhill to the
ocean. The lava on the outside of the flow cools, leaving a tube behind once the hotter, molten lava has flowed away. Walking inside is eerie – it’s quiet, dark, and very wet, but it’s not quite as claustrophobic as a cave.

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Across from the Thurston Lava Tube, you can access the Kilauea Iki trail. Of all our
experiences in the park, this was my favourite. It was recommended to me by Cam
Hudson, the herpa-derpa-tologist behind Darwin’s Toad, and I am forever grateful. The trail takes you across the floor of a recently active crater. The lava has cooled and looks like what the surface of the ocean would look like if it had a “pause” button.

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In the cracks, ‘ohia lehua trees have taken hold, giving the landscape a surreal appearance. It is said that you should never pick an ‘ohia lehua blossom, since you will part Lehua from her lover, ‘Ohia. If they are parted, it will rain with the tears of the separated lovers. Also, it’s the Big Island’s official flower and one of the first plants to colonize lava fields, so leave it alone.

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Once we had burnt off our latest layer of SPF, we reapplied and headed down the Chain of
Craters Road. This is a drive not to be missed! Past massive craters and surprising lava fields, you reach a stunning lookout at the top of the Holei Pali, where you can see all the way to the southern tip of the island. Recent lava flows are darker, and older (>2000 years) flows are lighter and covered in lichen and small shrubs.

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Though it looks like a flat floodplain below the Pali, it’s actually a constant, gentle slope littered with lava flows of various ages.

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Near the end of the road, there is a nondescript trailhead for a short but excruciatingly sunbaked trail to the Pu’u Loa Petroglyphs. We counterintuitively bundled up (to protect the melanin-poor skin, of course) and picked our way across the lava field. The petroglyphs we found were carved into fresh lava by the native Hawaiians to mark births, deaths, and important life events. Small holes were carved by mothers who buried their infants’ umbilical cords there to ensure their child’s connection to the tribe.

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After applying our billionth layer of SPF, we headed down to the Holei Sea Arch and the most recent lava flow laid down between 1983-2000. This flow destroyed the small town of Kalapana and a huge section of the Chain of Craters Road. It ends quite abruptly with a few outhouses and a gravel walking path. We ended up seeing the flow from both sides, and this was the far less interesting one. But the Holei Sea Arch is worth the drive to the ocean’s edge!

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Exhausted, dusty, and sun-addled, we drove to the aptly-named town of Volcano for some grub at Thai Thai Restaurant – I highly recommend the Special Curry. After nourishment, we returned to Halema’uma’u crater for a view of the glowing lava at night. It was worth it. I recommend bringing a jacket since it can get weirdly chilly at night and a tripod for long-exposure shots of the crater. Here is my poor man’s attempt at crater photography:

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Once we had paid our tribute to Pele, we drove through the driving rain of Pahoa to our cozy beds.


Next time – RAIN, lush rainforests, wild horses, and the hardest hike of my entire life.

The Hawaii Chronicles Pt. I (Or, We Spent 10 Hours in the LA Airport)

Hello again! It’s been a while, but I’m back at the writing game. I’m mainly procrastinating from whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing…. But writing is writing, right? It’s practice either way. In any case, I recently had the opportunity to visit the Big Island in Hawaii. Although the travel there and back was absolutely painful, the trip itself was completely worth it.

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Day One was fairly uneventful in terms of beaches/volcanoes/rainforests, since we spent approximately 27 hours on planes, on buses, and in cars. We left Fredericton on a tiny Dash-8 bound for Toronto. After a three-hour layover in YYZ, we boarded what was not yet known as the most comfortable plane of the trip (surprising, since it was operated by Air Canada). Upon arriving in LA at about 11pm local time, we soon realized why LAX repeatedly ranks among the worst airports in the world (down there with airports in China and Russia…). It was dirty, confusing, rude, and smelly – not to mention the sketch-factor of any airport late at night. We made it to our terminal minutes after the ticket desk closed for business (as if people don’t fly at night in the US??).

With a 10-hour layover and four hours of luggage-minding before the desk opened ahead of us, we slunk off to a nicer looking terminal – the United Airlines ticket desk looks like it’s straight out of the golden era of airplane travel (i.e. the 1960s) and hasn’t been renovated since. US Airways provided slightly more seating and brighter lighting, allowing some small comfort – at least I could provide a detailed description of my attacker to the LAPD… I tangled all of my available limbs as far into and around my luggage as possible, and shut my eyes for what felt like thirty seconds of daydreaming (apparently it was more like two hours of drowsy mumbling). I woke up to a large man shouting “check yo’ tickets! If y’all don’t check yo’ tickets, y’all gonna be cryin’”. Until this point, the farthest I had dared venture into the US was New York City. But there it was, in the flesh; a true Compton accent. Being jarred awake is almost better than coffee for that morning rush.

Luckily, the ticket desk was opening for the morning. We dropped off our bags and headed for security – always a friendly and compassionate experience that shows off the kindness and humility America is best known for. We made it through with limited anxiety and headed immediately for bench-naps. Six hours later, we boarded a plane bound for the middle of the Pacific Ocean!

The excitement took over, and it felt like we were on that plane for five years. There’s only so much blue ocean you can stare at before you start to go a little mad. I almost gave into the urge to yell “Land, ho!” when this appeared in my window:

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I was told that the Kona airport doesn’t make a good impression on first-timers, however I beg to disagree. That airport is perfection. It’s built in the middle of a lava field on the dry side of the island. It’s small, so you exit the plane directly onto the tarmac.

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You’re greeted by palm trees and hibiscus bushes and ushered into a completely open-air structure to collect your bags. There are regular shuttles to all your favourite rental car agencies, and everyone is polite and friendly – a state of being I am quite familiar with thanks to my fellow Canadians. We immediately pulled out the SPF and slathered it on like the gingers we are. After a short visit to Alamo, we were off to the races!

We planned to take the Saddle Road to our first stop – Pahoa. But first, we stopped for Killer Tacos in Kailua-Kona as recommended by our exceedingly friendly and probably very rich seat-mate. We also picked up a small cooler which proved to be our most valuable investment on the island (save for the rental car…). I highly recommend spending a few dollars on one so you can zip around without fear of running out of chilled drinks and cooled fruit.

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Finally, we headed out the Saddle Road. Many sources report that this road is in poor and even dangerous condition, however we found it perfectly paved and well marked. Don’t fear the Saddle Road! Most people on the island balked at the thought of us driving three hours to Pahoa after a flight experience like ours, but the Canadian distance-drivers in us made it through without issue. The first part of the drive out of Kailua-Kona offer stunning views of the Kohala region.

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The weather gets dicey between the peaks of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, but a light mist didn’t dampen our spirits. On the other side of the island, we were greeted with what would become our constant companion, rain.

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We passed through Hilo, a slightly rougher and bigger town than Kailua-Kona. It looks like it’s been beaten into submission by the gargantuan rainforest that surrounds it. I have no idea how those people keep their roofs from leaking… Driving into Pahoa, we were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the vegetation. I had never seen split-leaf philodendrons the size of washing machines before! And the palm trees – so many variants in such giant proportions. Our accommodations (care of Airbnb) were in Pahoa – a series of jungle-like subdivisions inhabited mainly by old, hardcore hippies. Jeannie was a wonderful host, and her neon-coloured home served as the perfect home base.

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After a quick, but mandatory, dip in the ocean we cracked a cold one from the Kona Brewing Company and promptly fell fast asleep.


Up next, ACTIVE VOLCANOES, lava field, petroglyphs, and the story of how we experienced first-hand the consequences of inhaling too many volcano farts.