Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Vava'u, Tonga

Today we did a Holland America excursion, probably our most disappointing one so far. It wasn't off to a good start. We made it ashore on a tender and to the bus early, just to sit and wait in a bus without air conditioning. Luckily it wasn't very hot yet, but it had started to warm up already and was a bit uncomfortable. Finally they had us move to another bus because the first bus wasn't running. Luckily the second bus was newer and had air conditioning. We had to discover that on our own though, as no one mentioned it until finally one of the other passengers on the bus pointed out that there was cool air coming out of vents above the seats. Our tour guide barely spoke English and just read a few notes about the three stops we'd have and how long we'd be at each stop.

Our first stop was a vanilla plantation where we were told how vanilla beans are produced on the island. It's a very manual labor intensive process! First a fig tree is grown to serve as a structure for the vanilla bean vines to grow on and also provide nutrients for the vanilla bean vine. Vanilla beans are actually a type of orchid. The flowers then have to be manually fertilized by a worker using a toothpick within the first few hours of it blooming. So every day someone has to go through and mark those plants which have blooms. Workers then come through and fertilize the plants. In the wild, there is only a 1% chance of a blossom fertilizing itself without human intervention. It was an interesting and informative tour.

Once we were done here we once again ended up sitting in the bus for another 30 minutes, this time waiting for a fourth tour bus to arrive. There were a total of four tour buses, each with around 30 people or so. Initially they had wanted to wait for all of the buses to arrive before starting the presentation, though that would have been a nightmare. It was pretty crowded when they did our presentation even though it was only one or two buses.

After all four tour buses had arrived and everyone had seen the presentation on how vanilla beans are raised, we all headed to a Tongan Kava ceremony. This was preceded by a demonstration of how they cook food in the ground, and followed by a group of dancers. The dancers were much younger and obviously less experienced than the previous two similar dances we'd seen in Samoa and Fiji. The dance was then followed by a craft demonstration.

Our third and final stop was at a "resort." It was a pretty small resort though, especially after four buses showed up. Although billed as a possible snorkeling stop we only saw one person snorkeling. The water looked pretty cloudy that day and the reefs pretty sparse. The stop was only for an hour and so after buying a beer and getting our "assorted fruit plate," one small piece each of pineapple, coconut, and mango, there wasn't a lot of time to snorkel and dry off before the buses would leave. The people on our bus returned to the bus early and the bus driver then went to find the tour guide who was the only person not yet on the bus.

The tour guide had spoken very little, just reading a short blurb about each stop as we arrived, but not even saying what time we should return to the bus. She spent all of the time on the bus texting on her phone and didn't say anything else about what we were passing or where we'd be going. All in all it was a waste of time and Elizabeth said she'd probably have preferred just staying on the ship.

That evening some people dressed up for Halloween. The best costumes were some of those done by the crew.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Vava'u, Tonga photo album.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

We'd booked an excursion through the cruise line but canceled it when some friends we'd met on the ship asked us to come along on their personal tour. Unfortunately their tour guide took ill at the last moment and that tour fell through. That left us on our own, so we started with visits to nearby War Memorial and the Royal Palace of Tonga.

We weren't sure what to do next so we headed to the Friend Cafe and Tourist Center to see what nearby sights were available and if we could book a last minute private tour. The first lady we spoke with said they didn't book tours anymore, but another worker at the cafe said her husband was available to drive us around the island. It turned out to be one of our best private tours!

The tour driver took us first to Abel Tasman's Landing Site, where Abel Tasman, the first European to land in Tonga, landed in 1643. He had been searching for a faster way to reach Chile after sailing around Australia and New Zealand.

Our original tour was supposed to take us to a nearby beach, but that area had been wiped out by a tsunami in January 2022. That's when the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcanic eruption, one of the largest recorded with modern instruments, took place. The subsequent tsunami completely wiped out the peninsula on the island's north west side. Four people were killed by waves up to 49 feet tall washing over that part of the island.

Our next stop was at Tsunami Rock, a very very large boulder. Original mythology told the story that it was the god Maui who threw the rock after becoming annoyed by a crowing rooster. However more recent research indicates that it was ripped from nearby coral reefs and satellite images show a break in the reef opposite this boulder. As a result, the latest, most accepted hypothesis, is that it was tossed ashore by a large tsunami caused by a submarine land slide.

Our next stop was at an even more impressive site, the Mapu'a Vaea Blowholes. If you ever go to Tonga, this is a must see sight. We've seen a few blowholes before, but nothing of this magnitude. It was truly a magnificent sight to behold. We could have spent the entire day there just photographing the changes as the tide rose and ebbed, and as the sun moved across the sky changing the light. Having a tour of just the four of us, all enthusiastic photographers, we ended up spending quite a bit of time at this site, maybe a half hour or more.

Our next stop was at the Captain Cook Memorial, site of where Captain Cook landed on Tonga in 1777. Unfortunately the tall banyan tree which used to be here is no longer present. Overall, the site seemed a bit blah, but then the blow holes were a very tough act to follow.

Our last sightseeing stop was at Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon, also known as the Stonehenge of Tonga. The size and weight of this massive stone structure is impressive.

This was the last stop of our tour. We'd talked about possibly seeing the "fishing pigs," but they only fish at low tide.

All in all our tour guide Paul provided us with an awesome tour and overview of the island of Tongatapu. He ended the tour by finding us some ice cold coconuts which contained sweet coconut juice. Back on our own, after the tour, we stopped by the museum and arts and craft shop at Langafonua Handicraft Centre and Gallery. Next we went back next door to the Friends Cafe to try some of their Pacific Brewery beer. The Coconut Stout I had was excellent!

After being suitably refreshed, Elizabeth and I headed to the Tonga National Museum, a few blocks down the street from Friends Cafe. Be sure to check the description on Google Maps from the museum owner on how to find the museum. It's on the floor above a Yummy Treats store in the Memorial Hall. Make a note of that before leaving wifi, as due to the volcanic eruption, internet service is very difficult to find on the island. Although it's only a single room museum, the quality of the tour guide description of the various items in the museum made it one of our favorite stops of the day. We showed up five minutes before closing time but they were kind enough to let us in and then spend the next 40 minutes taking us through the various items in the exhibition. This is another must see if you're in Nuku'alofa, Tonga. Be sure to ask for the guided tour as you'll learn so much more about Tongan history and culture. It is only open from 10 am to 3 pm on weekdays though and closed on weekends.

Unfortunately, due to thefts of some items in the past, they don't allow photographs of any of the items in the museum. We learned of that after we had taken the one picture above.

We had a wonderful day on the Tonga island of Tongatapu. We were exhausted by the time we returned to the ship and my fitness tracker registered 5.8 miles walking that day. But it was well worth it and the people of Tonga were very friendly and helpful.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Nuku'alofa, Tonga photo album.

Friday, October 27, 2023

Savusavu, Vanua Levi, Fiji

Today we had tenders again, but since we were on a cruise line tour, we didn't have to worry about tender tickets. Our tour was Traditional Fiji: Nukubalavu Village. This was our third village, second in Fiji. In Fiji you always have the traditional Fiji Kava ceremony. We didn't try the kava yesterday on the ship, but had tried it on our first Fijian village tour. It's a bit unsanitary. Kava is made from a relative of the pepper plant and has a mild narcotic effect. Some say it's more a numbing of the mouth, similar to going to the dentist. It's supposed to have a euphoric effect, but I doubt they give us a strong dose and I drank just a little at our first Kava ceremony in Suva three days ago.

This time they only offered kava to the two sets of "chiefs" (a couple from each bus). The Fijian village tour was the best village tour we've gone on so far, out of the three we've been to, one on Samoa and two on Fiji. The ceremony took place outside in a large clearing with a beautiful backdrop of the bay with emerald green water at low tide. Even though there were two tour buses there, it didn't feel cramped. Being outside we didn't have the dark, difficult to see in area such as at the last Fiji village ceremony which felt like we were in a basement. We were also lucky to have a cool breeze blowing in from the ocean.

I heard from someone who overheard someone from the later 1:00 pm tour to the village, that the afternoon version of the tour may have been extremely hot. After our village tour we explored the local town near the tender port and by then it was becoming very hot. We reboarded the ship at 1:30 and it was indeed very hot at the tender port, though that is on the other side of the island from the village.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Vanua Levi, Fiji photo album.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Lautoka, Fiji

Although the stop was in Lautoka Fiji, we did an all day excursion to Tivua Island, one of our favorite stops. It was about a 45 minute boat trip to the island where we spent the day snorkeling. They had a guided tour of the reef, not that long of a swim as it turns out, along the reef from the dock. Elizabeth took another tour for beginners which she actually took into the deep water! I was surprised as she is afraid of the water, and was this time as well, but ended up spending most of her time clinging to the tour guide. He was very helpful and patient with her. We gave him an extra tip for being so helpful to her and, in her words, making this her "best snorkeling trip ever!"

I went snorkeling twice, once when we arrived when it was crowded, and then later after the included lunch, which was more of a feast with chicken, hotdogs, fish plus all the fixings and side dishes. The second time snorkeling was more fun with fewer people and more fish. I think if you go when there are a lot of other snorkelers it scares most of the fish away and you don't really see many fish. Going later when there are fewer people in the water you'll see 10 times as many fish.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Lautoka, Fiji photo album.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Dravuni Island Fiji

Dravuni Island was one of our smallest stops. Being so small we of course had to take a tender to shore. Once ashore we were able to walk 100 to 200 meters along the beach to a place to snorkel. As told on some travel sites, when we reached shore on the tender we turned right and walked toward a rock outcropping. We didn't go all the way to the rock outcropping, which is where most snorkelers were, but far enough to have some decent coral and fish. Overall we had a good day but I was unable to get the underwater camera case for the cell phone to work because the touch buttons didn't work once the camera was submerged. I really wished we had brought our old underwater cameras which work much better and have better white balance for shooting in the water. We were to regret that for the rest of the cruise and as a result have very few underwater photos. Still - we had a good day and I went snorkeling twice.

Elizabeth was in coconut heaven, having found a coconut vendor that gave her a fresh young coconut with super sweet juice. Next she had a slightly more mature coconut with more meat. The vendor cut it in half for her after she'd had the juice so she could scoop out the meat. For her this was one of her most enjoyable days!

I tried the two different local beers that they seem to have everywhere in Fiji - one a golden ale, the other a bitters, almost an IPA, at least the closest thing I've seen to an IPA. Both tasted good though I preferred the bitters one.

In the afternoon the sun seemed more intense and much of our shade from a tree we had found had disappeared. We walked half way back to the tender dock and found some shade under another tree near where some boats were anchored. Unfortunately there wasn't really any coral in that area, which makes sense since it gave the boats easier access to deeper waters. Still it was fun snorkeling, especially without the crowds.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Dravuni Island, Fiji photo album.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Suva, Viti Levu, Fiji

Today we arrived at the port in Suva Fiji. There wasn't much of a welcoming party. The town was actually an easy walk from the port but when we went there later it was so busy and crowded with cars and people that we didn't end up walking very far from the ship. I guess you expect a much more metropolitan experience since Suva is the capital of Fiji. But I think it was our least favorite Fiji stop.

For this stop we had booked a tour with the cruise line. The tour included a brief stop at the Presidential Palace. You couldn't see much of the building itself which was sheltered behind high walls and trees.

The tour name was "Sawani Village", so the main stop was at a Sawani Village which was pretty small and looked fairly poor. The Kava Ceremony took place within what looked like the enclosed basement of a small building. With two or three bus loads of people it was very cramped as well as very dark and hot. The ceremony was then followed by a brief tour of other parts of the village with only a dozen or fewer people per group.

All in all we didn't enjoy this tour nearly as much as our tour two days before in Samoa. That tour also costs only about half of what this one did.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Suva Fiji photo album.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Apia, Upolo, Samoa

Without a booked excursion we had planned to play it by ear after first exploring the town of Apia a bit on foot. However the weather turned pretty bad with pouring rain. We had walked beyond where most of the tour guides were but luckily ran into one more guy who was more of a taxi driver than a tour guide. He did however know the island very well having grown up there and driven quite a few people around the island. Compared to the previous day when we'd seen only a couple of places, for about twice the money, we felt it was a very good deal and we ended up seeing much more of the island than we had expected.

Our first stop was at the beautiful Falefa Falls.

We then had two more stops where I haven't included pictures from: Lemafa Scenic Site where we could see from the mountains to the sea and Sopo'aga Falls Viewpoint which had another beautiful waterfall. You can see some of the pictures from those in the Apia, Upolo, Samoa photo album.

Next we stopped at the To-Sua Ocean Trench. We could have spent the entire day there. It had a changing area and shower and a number of holes in the ground that connected to the ocean via underground tunnels. There were numerous stairways down into the swimming holes and the ocean. If you look closely in the picture below you'll see there's actually a wooden stairway down into the swimming hole.

Next we stopped at the Saletoga Sands Resort & Spa where we bought a light snack and drinks while sitting at a table overlooking the ocean. The resort has some very nice cabins next to the shore. It would have been nice to spend a few days here relaxing, maybe with some trips to the nearby swimming holes at the To-Sua Ocean Trench.

Our next stop on the way back to Apia was at Papapapaitai Falls.

Our last stop was at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral.

Although Samoa is fairly close geographically to American Samoa, by this time we were actually much closer to New Zealand and Australia than the US. Since those are their main trading partners, as well as main source for tourists, Samoa has aligned itself more closely with those nations than the US. For example in September 2009 Samoa changed the side of the road they drive on from being on the right to being on the left. This was to make it less expensive for people to buy used cars from Australia and New Zealand. It also makes it easier for tourists visiting from those countries.

Two years later they changed their timezone as well. Samoa used to be in the same timezone as American Samoa, observing the same days of the week, but changed in 2011 when they skipped Friday December 30 and went right to Saturday December 31, losing one day. This was to align themselves with their largest trading partners, Australia and New Zealand since otherwise it was difficult to deal with businesses that were having their Monday when you were off work on Sunday, or were off work on a Saturday when you were on Friday.

This also meant that we had lost a day while traveling from American Samoa to Samoa. So although it only took one day to travel from American Samoa to Samoa, the date had gone from October 20 to October 22. Unfortunately this also meant we visited Samoa on a Sunday when most of the businesses and many of the tour companies were closed.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Apia, Upolo, Samoa photo album.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Pago Pago American Samoa

We arrived in Pago Pago to a small but enthusiastic group greeters performing native dances and calls. By the way - we learned that the authentic, native way of pronouncing Pago Pago is as if it was spelled "Pongo Pongo", like "Bongo Bongo" but with a "P" instead of "B" at the beginning of each word.

We booked an onboard excursion for Pago Pago: "A Taste of Samoan Village Life." Our first stop on that tour was at the two rocks. The story behind the formation of the two rocks is that it was a farmer and a Princess who fell in love and ran off together. The King cursed them, turning them into stone.

Although I don't have many pictures of it, the main stop on the tour was an authentic Samoan village where they showed us some cooking and dancing demonstrations. They then gave us a variety of local dishes including hot chocolate (cooled to room temperature) and various dishes with coconut milk including taro, chicken and tuna, plus breadfruit (pretty blah) and green banana. The local beer, Vailima - A Taste of Samoa - lager beer was actually pretty good.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Pago Pago, American Samoa photo album.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Monday, October 16, 2023

Tabuaeran Kiribati

Today we were supposed to stop at Tabuaeran Kiribati, aka Fanning Island. For some reason the people who were to provide customs clearance weren't able to make it to the island from Kiritimati, aka Christmas Island, 200 miles away. The Captain tried to get remote clearance, but that was a no-go. From what one of the speakers said, it's possible that even with customs present we may not have been able to go ashore via the tenders in any case because of rough seas.

As a result we ended up doing a scenic cruise of the atoll instead. To tell you the truth, that might have been more enjoyable. We were able to see much more of the atoll that way instead of just a small section of it that we would have otherwise seen. On the scenic cruise we were able to see the rough surf on the outside of the atoll as well as the turquoise blue water inside the atoll. Some of the beaches on the outside of the atoll, especially on the northside, looked very inviting.

Tabuaeran is a ring atoll located near the equator over 1,000 miles south of Hawaii and 500 miles north of Tahiti. The New York Times referred to it as "one of the most remote places on earth." A shot from Fanning Island was the closing shot on the "Gilligan's Island" TV show.

Although it has a huge lagoon we'd been warned to avoid swimming in it due to hygiene issues. There is no indoor plumbing and we'd been warned that there is only a single public toilet on the island, a literal hole in the ground, and it may not even be open. Since the waters on the outside of the atoll are too rough and dangerous to swim in and the ones on the inside are polluted, I have to wonder why one of the activities listed in a handout they gave us was snorkeling.

We're now on our way to Pago Pago in American Samoa. It will take us another three days at sea to get there.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Kiribati Fanning Island photo album.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Honolulu, Oahu Hawaii Day 2

We had a very very busy day on our second day in Oahu! First we woke up at 4:30 am so we could take Lyft to the airport to pick up a rental car by 6:15 am. The reason for such an early start was to make it to Hanauma Bay early before it became too busy. We made it to Hanauma Bay by 6:45 am just as it was opening and waited in line to pay for parking, then waited in line again to get a walk-in entry time ticket, and then waited in line a third time to actually get in. By the time we actually made it to the beach it was close to 8:30, almost two hours after we arrived and four hours after we had woken up.

You can (and probably should) book tickets exactly 2 days in advance - they are free and "sell" out in about 5 minutes. Hawaiian residents don't need them. It did a good job of limiting the number of people there, but I think it brought a lot of people to the beach earlier? Or maybe we were on a beach a bit later than before. Before we had visited Hanauma Bay before they opened which allowed us faster and free entrance. This time we paid $25 each, which is I think much more than it used to be. Then we had to wait in line to go into a waiting area where they introduced us to the do's and don'ts (such as don't sit or walk on the coral - which I saw at least one person joyfully doing later that day).

Hanauma Bay didn't look quite as "alive" as on previous visits. It used to be one of our favorites but may, unfortunately, be over visited. Though the reservation of entrance times, new since we last visited, was a hassle, and it took us over two hours to get in, I can understand why they do that in order to limit the number of people visiting. Hopefully it's enough to help the reef recover.

Next we went to Tantalus Lookout in Puu Ualakaa State Park. Spectacular views of Diamond Head and Waikiki! Couldn't believe we had never gone there before. The parking area was empty so guess we're not the only ones to have missed this beautiful viewpoint. I'm guessing though, that sunset and sunrise may be better times to visit.

We were going to go to the Lyon Arboretum after the Tantalus Lookout, but that also required reservations which weren't available. This looked again to be a case of booking 2 days in advance. By the time we looked both today and tomorrow were booked up.

After lunch we headed over to the other side of the island to see the Byodo-In Temple replica on the eastern or windward side of Oahu, about 30 minutes from Honolulu. It's in the Hawaiian Memorial Park Mortuary, which made it a bit difficult to find. Having recently been in the real Byodo-In Temple in Uji Japan less than six months ago, it was interesting to see the replica. Thankfully the replica was much less crowded though a few tour buses showed up as we were leaving. Very picturesque and worth the visit. The sheer mountain cliffs behind the temple are much more scenic than the Uji Japan version of the temple. Also - they added a so-called "tail," to the temple that houses urns for people's ashes. It wouldn't be a bad place to have your ashes interred, though I prefer that mine be spread out over the ocean.

Our next stop on the way back to Honolulu was at the Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden. I think we could have skipped this one. Very few of the plants are marked, so it's difficult to tell what you're looking at. The lake is fairly picturesque and offers dramatic views of the sheer volcanic cliffs as a backdrop to the lake. Maybe if we hadn't been so tired by this point, having been up since 4:30 am, we might have enjoyed it a bit more.

We made one final stop at Aloha Tower on our way back to return the rental car. Unfortunately the tower was closed due to an event and so we weren't able to see the view from the top of the tower.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Oahu Hawaii Day 2 photo album.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Honolulu, Oahu Hawaii Day 1

We docked early, around 6:30 am, but we weren't in a hurry to get anywhere today. We've been to Oahu a number of times and tomorrow we'll rent a car. So just having a lazy, relaxing morning before taking a bus to Waikiki.

Luckily I was up getting coffee as we pulled into port. There was a beautiful sunrise over Waikiki and Diamond Head which I was able to photograph.

We spent the day at Waikiki just relaxing on the beach. Elizabeth didn't take her usual outrigger canoe ride for a few reasons: the price went up to $35 from $15 or $20 it was before; the waves were pretty small until later in the day; she was just enjoying relaxing on the beach. We rented two lounge chairs and an umbrella. Too late I remembered that I could have brought a couple of small beach umbrellas in the spare luggage back we brought. They might have also come in handy for some of the later stops in small locations - of which there were many.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Oahu Hawaii Day 1 photo album. There's also some picture of a couple of flights of beer taken at Maui Brewing Company and Yardhouse, both in Waikiki.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Kauai Hawaii

We started the day with the best helicopter ride ever! Only downside was having the doors on and as a result reflections in the pictures. There were other helicopters there without doors, albeit smaller helicopters. Note: next time make sure to get ones without doors? Regardless - it was an astounding ride through Kauai areas which are otherwise inaccessible, except maybe to extreme hikers. One of the hiking trails is #8 on Mapquests list of 10 toughest/most dangerous hiking trails.

Stunning waterfalls, lush greenery and sheer mountain cliffs dropping thousands of feet make this the best ever helicopter tour I've ever been on. And we've been on quite a few helicopter tours including some in Alaska and Hawaii.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Kauai Hawaii photo album.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Nā Pali Coast

Originally our cruise had been scheduled to stop in Lahaina Maui. Unfortunately due to the horrendous fire they had, that stop was canceled. As a replacement the captain decided to do a scenic cruise of the Nā Pali Coast, a scenic area on the northern shore of Kauai that is not accessible by road. Due to the time of day the light wasn't the best, but you can see a few more pictures in the photo album.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Nā Pali Coast photo album.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Hilo, Hawaii

After five days at sea we were reaching the big island of Hawaii! I, of course, was up bright and early to catch the sunrise.

For our stop in Hilo Hawaii we rented a car at the airport a short 10 minute drive from the port. It cost us $16 for a taxi to the airport, which I rounded up to $20. We returned from the airport to the ship on Lyft which costs under $13. But if you see someone dropped off by a Lyft driver at the airport you can offer them $10 to take you back to the pier and they might take you up on it. Since they only make about $7 if they drive you via Lyft, they'll make more doing a $10 ride off the books. Even paying for a round trip on taxi or Lyft, it made for a fairly inexpensive tour including $65 for the car rental and $40 or less to and from the airport. For that price we could have taken two more people and shared the expense. Regardless of the low cost, it's usually worth a lot more than the excursions since you can choose your own itinerary and do it at your own pace.

We first drove to the Thurston Lava Tube in Volcano National Park. We'd both been to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park before, but never together. But neither of us had been to the Thurston Lava Tube. It was a pretty interesting experience. It's not very scenic inside, being pretty dark, but the thought of the lava naturally creating a tube high enough to stand up in is a pretty amazing thing.

We next drove to the visitor center. The short ranger talk given at a booth near the entrance to the building was well worth it. He told us a brief history of the volcano including how a section of the Crater Rim Road fell into the caldera in 2018 and where to find the best view of the volcano floor.

Most of the people on the tour bus parked near us missed the best view in the park of the caldera though I'm not sure why. You drive to the end of Crater Rim Road and park in the parking lot there. In front of you is a building now surrounded by a fence. Looking at the building, to the right of it is an observation area. But if you walk around the left of the fenced area instead, there is a path which is a bit longer walk but has a much better view of the floor of the caldera.

We stopped on the way out of the park at another overlook, but the first stop was definitely the best. We were fortunate enough to see some wild orchids though. At home you find orchids only in nurseries and hot houses. It was strange seeing them grow wild in large areas.

If we'd had more time it would have been fun to drive the 20 miles to the sea. But the road looked pretty winding on the map and our time was limited, so we left the park.

Our next stop was the Rainbow Falls, a beautiful waterfall and the most easily accessible waterfall in the area. Since it was cloudy there wasn't a rainbow. I think you need to go in the morning in any case because the sun has to be behind you for a rainbow to appear. Still it was a very scenic view.

Our next stop was at the nearby Liliʻuokalani Gardens a "30-acre park [which] showcases Edo-style gardens, koi ponds & a Japanese teahouse." It's a great location for taking pictures.

We were reaching the end of the day. Although we'd planned to go to the Farmers Market, if for no other reason than to get Elizabeth a coconut, we instead drove out to a couple of beaches which our cruise director had recommended: Richardson Ocean Park and Carlsmith Beach Park. Richardson looked good for some snorkeling and further offshore were surfers. Carlsmith looked good for just wading and cooling off. On our way to those two areas we had seen a number of other beaches and we were wondering why the tour director hadn't recommended any of those.Thinking back on it, those two locations might have been the only two with lifeguard stations. Being a Sunday all of the beaches along the coast there were packed.

We did manage to find a place along the beach road selling coconuts, though it took Elizabeth five minutes or more to find the people selling them and find a coconut that actually had some juice in it and also had some meat in it. Digging the meat out turned out to be another challenge, but where there's a will there's a way. We happened to have a spoon with us and Elizabeth was determined to have her coconut. She made good use of the spoon to dig out quite a bit of the coconut meat.

Fun facts: Although most people would recognize the eight main islands of Hawaii, the state of Hawaii actually consists of 137 islands. This includes 4 islands of the Midway Atoll, which I didn't realize was part of the state of Hawaii.This also includes the 13 islands of the French Frigate Shoals, which I'd never even heard of before. Most of the islands are uninhabited, some are underwater during high tide and a few have eroded away so much that they are now always underwater. The one island of Hawaii contains more land than all of the other islands combined.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Hilo Hawaii photo album.

Monday, October 2, 2023

SFO to San Diego

First day of our 51 day cruise in the South Pacific! Up bright and early for an 8:35 am flight from SFO to San Diego. Which meant we had to arrive at SFO by around 6:35 am, actually closer to 6:00 am given our tendency to arrive early, just in case. Which in turn meant waking up at around 4:00 am to drive to SF and park the car at my condo in San Francisco, then take Lyft to the airport. But we made it! With time to spare of course. Many of the shops were still closed, but it was still fun to look at the names. SFO is a very creative space.

Yes, we made it to the airport on time and then to San Diego on time. But I left my small anti-theft travel bag, the one with my money, passport and other critical travel documents, on the plane! Luckily I noticed it missing when I went to the men's room before exiting through security. Running back to the gate Southwest was very helpful and brought the bag to me right away. The flight attendant had noticed the bag and knew I'd be back for it.

Now safely in San Diego, and with all our luggage intact, we could breathe a sigh of relief. There was a lot of construction going on at the San Diego Airport but they managed to make even the construction barriers look happy.

After a VERY brief ride from the airport on Lyft (2.2 miles) we arrived at the cruise terminal at 11am. The Lyft actually ended up costing about the same as our Uber from the SF Condo to SFO in part due to a $4.45 "service charge" on top of our standard ride fee. Our boarding time was 12:45, though we ended up getting on earlier. The San Diego airport actually had some decent looking places to eat outside the security gate next to baggage claim, more than you normally see at airports. Maybe we should have stayed there for a while and had breakfast? But then, we didn't want to eat at the airport when we'd have all you can eat dining in an hour or two.

Before we knew it we were aboard the ship and eating at the buffet dining room. Now it was Elizabeth's turn to smile as she sampled some of the all you can eat sushi and pizza.

We were soon settled aboard the ship. The cruise started with five days at sea so we had a lot of time to become acquainted with the ship before we arrived for our first stop in Hawaii. The picture below was the sunrise from our fourth day at sea.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the SFO to San Diego photo album.