After our trip to Alaska in 1993, Hawaii became the last of the states we had not seen. So, to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary we decided to make the trip. Mary Love and Dave Schumaker were with us. We chose to fly across the Pacific and board the USS Constitution in Honolulu for a cruise around the islands, stopping at four of the eight major islands in the group. The tour was set up by the Senior Center of Charlottesville, Virginia.
The State of Hawaii consists of eight islands: Kauai, Niihau, Oahu, Lanai, Molokai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and Hawaii. After a five hour flight from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles and another five hour flight from Los Angeles the pilot announced that the Hawaiian Islands were visible on the horizon and that we would be landing in Honolulu on Oahu in 30 minutes. All eyes strained to catch that first glimpse. What we saw was the huge mountain of Mauna Kea on Hawaii, a dormant volcano rising 13,000 feet above the sea. The base of the mountain is some 20,000 feet beneath the sea, making it over 30,000 feet in total elevation, one of earth's most outstanding features. Circling Honolulu on our descent we spotted the Arizona memorial at Pearl Harbor. Honolulu is a very large city with scores of skyscrapers.
A bus was waiting at the airport to take us directly to the ship, and as we boarded, a rainbow appeared over the gangplank, heralding a colorful sightseeing venture. The temperature under billowing cumulus clouds was 70 F, and did that feel good after the cold winter at home! In the dining room, the chef had laid out an enormous buffet of fancy foods, the first of many good meals.
The ship pulled away from the dock at 2130 hours (9:30pm) on Saturday the 5th of February. It was 2:30am at home, Hawaiian time being five hours behind. There were 784 passengers aboard with a crew of some 300. We hit our first port on Monday morning. All day Sunday was spent wandering aimlessly off the coast of Maui watching the whales and getting oriented to the ship.
A church service was held in the main meeting room with the entertainment director leading. There was no preaching, but the program was meaningful. An Hawaiian lady gave a comparison between Christianity and the old Hawaiian religion. There were many similarities between the two, perhaps explaining why it was so easy for the Hawaiian people to accept Christianity. We were also given an explanation of the meaning of the "Aloha." Not only does it mean "Hello" and "Good-bye," it has a spiritual meaning as well, speaking to a sharing of the breath of life.
The water was an incredible deep blue, and clear. On the leeward side of Maui the water was calm and peaceful. The only other ship around was the Constitution's sister ship, the USS Independence. There were another 800 passengers on that ship following a day behind us.
Dave and I toured the bridge at 1500 hours on Sunday. The first and second mates were there to explain the navigational devices and other features of the ship. The ship was built in 1952. The Constitution and Independence are the only two American flagships operating as cruise liners. Each draws 30 feet of water and has a power plant of 37,000 horsepower. They've been making this cruise since 1980. On Sunday evening the Captain personally greeted everyone and posed for pictures with each of us before dinner.
We pulled into Kuaui at 730 hours on Monday morning and boarded a bus for an all day tour of the island. It was on Kuaui that Captain Cook landed the first white men in 1790. Our driver was an Hawaiian named Steve who talked non- stop about the history of the islands, Kuaui in particular. Royal palms and coconut palms were everywhere.
Kuaui was hit by a disastrous hurricane in 1992, and the damage was still evident. They had winds of 225 mph and a 25 to 30 storm surge that destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses. Eucalyptus trees lined the roads, and we saw fields of sugarcane and coffee trees. Average rainfall on Kuaui is 460 inches per year, and for the last two years it has been near 600 inches. There are very few days without rain. This heavy rainfall makes the vegetation lush. There were lots of flowers blooming: Hibiscus, bougainvilleas, flame vines (they called them firecracker vines), birds-of-paradise, and others with Hawaiian names.
Kuaui is the northernmost and oldest of the islands, all of which were formed by erupting volcanoes. Off Kuaui's coast we saw the island of Niihau, the "forbidden island." Niihau is privately owned by one family, and is reserved for Hawaiians who wish to live without modern conveniences in the primitive ways of their ancestors. No one else is allowed there, even for a visit.
On Kuaui we saw waterfalls, wild canyons, and took a riverboat to the Fern Grotto. This was a cave in the hillside covered by long ferns and considered by the natives to be a religious shrine. When the Christians came, bent on destroying all the old ceremonial places, the Hawaiians hid the grotto. In time it was lost even to them. It was rediscovered in the 1940s by a group of boy scouts and has been a tourist attraction since.
There are no large animals native to the islands. There are very few insects, and no snakes. Chickens that have escaped from farms run wild and unmolested. There are a few wild hogs and goats that descend from domestic herds. Surprisingly, there are no seagulls either, and only a few owls for predators.
Back aboard ship we set sail for Maui, arriving there on Tuesday morning. We rented a car in Kahului and with a "not-so-good" map took off on our own. Maui was once two islands formed by separate volcanoes. The two are now connected by an isthmus. The north end is the smaller mountain, while the southern end consists of the much larger Mount Haleakala, the ancient volcano thought by the Hawaiians to be the home of the sun. We headed north, first into the Iao Valley. This was a tropical rain forest high on the mountain. Vegetation was plush and gave the appearance of being ready to overrun everything in sight. Low and threatening clouds prevented us from seeing too well in the valley. We next started a counter-clockwise route around the northern mountain. The maps showed a twisting gravel road, but we were told that it had recently been paved and was open. In places it was only one lane wide and "twisting" was an understatement. Hairpin curves up the mountainside with no guard rails made for an interesting venture, but the views from the cliffs overlooking the ocean were spectacular. The sea was rough on the north side of the island, and giant waves were breaking up against the rocky cliffs.
On the west side of the northern mountain is the old whaling city of Lahaina. It is now a tourist resort town. We picnicked on the beach while the whales were jumping in the background. After lunch we crossed the isthmus and drove down the west side of Maui to Wailea and beyond to the end of the road. At one time the road went all the way around the south side too, but recent volcanic activity has closed it. Where the rivers of lava came down the mountain is a startling sight. The black lava rock came down in an eruption in 1790, and is still little changed with very little vegetation growing in it. The lava beds are made up of sharp porous rock that is very difficult to walk on. This was quite a contrast from the lush scenery on the north side.
We took a tour bus on Wednesday up to the peak of Mount Haleakala. The temperature at the top (10,000 feet) was in the low 30s, and it was threatening rain. One of the touristy things to do is to ride a van pulling a trailerload of bicycles to the top of the mountain. Then with a guide, the group bicycles down the 38 miles road to the bottom, coasting most of the way. After being sorely tempted to try it, we decided against it. From our bus we watched several of the groups going down, sometimes in heavy rain, and decided we had made the right choice. An old Hawaiian legend tells of how the demigod, Maui, captured the sun by throwing a net over it while it was asleep in the mountain. The sun was released only after agreeing to stay up longer in the summer time to give the people more time to get their work done. The top of the mountain was a forbidden place to the old Hawaiians. Only the royal family could go up there. At the top is a 3,000 foot deep crater with rock colored from brown to black, looking very forbidding. There is no vegetation along the rim at all, and none in the crater. It is now a national park.
The Hawaiian people are well educated, intelligent, friendly, and have a quick smile. Most of them are stout, appearing well fed. They truly had a paradise on the islands until the white man came. Then disease almost wiped them out. The white men brought in Filipinos, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Negroes to work the large plantations. Intermarriage has produced a mixed race now that probably little resembles the original Hawaiians. They are nonetheless very proud of their history and culture.
On Thursday morning we were docked at Hilo, Hawaii. Hawaii is the largest and southernmost of the islands. It is called the Big Island. They were quick to point out that the southern tip of Hawaii is the southernmost point in the United States, not Key West, Florida. The overnight run from Maui to Hawaii was the roughest of the trip. The ship tossed all night. Seasickness pills dispensed by the purser were the salvation of many. The day turned out to be a beautiful one, however. The top of Mauno Kea was covered with snow, clearly visible from the ship.
I took a helicopter ride from the Hilo airport to the Kilauea volcano, which last erupted in 1959. Lava still flows from Kilauea but it is now flowing beneath the solidified surface. In 1983 an eruption occurred from a vent in the lava path, and the vent has been active ever since. This is called the Pu-u O'-o vent. And this is where the helicopter took us. We flew up to the rim and over, so close that the waves of heat from the crater enveloped us. Down inside, the molten lava was spewing out in fiery plumes, and steam was rising all around us. There were six of us in the cabin of the helicopter, and there was a mad scramble trying to get cameras pointed at the crater. The vent is located about a mile from the coastline, and it is an amazing sight to see where the lava flowed through the green forests across subdivision roads toward the sea. There are still beautiful homes in the area, some still occupied, that have been cut off by the rivers of lava. At several places openings in the crust revealed the red hot flow. These were called hot plates, and we were not more than five or six feet above them as we flew along out to the coast. The crust of solidified lava looks like dark swirls of chocolate icing. At the coastline, the lava empties into the water setting off huge clouds of steam, and again the lava spews out in fiery plumes. It was an unforgetable experience, and probably the highlight of the trip for me.
Thursday afternoon we all took a bus tour into Volcanoes National Park and up to the top of Kilauea Volcano. While there was no red hot lava visible, there were many places where steam vented up out of the crater. The road goes all the way around the crater rim. In places the old road is visible where it was overrun by lava flow. It was an eerie place, giving the impression of an alien world. There was also the feeling that a new vent could erupt any minute to swallow us up. The only habitation was a few Nene geese walking about. They were probably there only because of the tourist's inclination to throw them food. The nene goose is the Hawaiian state bird. It looks much like the Canadian geese with different coloring. About halfway down the mountain, we stopped for a walk through a lava tube. When the lava flows down the mountain, the outer edges solidify first forming a tube through which the hotter, still molten lava inside continues to flow. The tube we were in was formed thousands of years ago, and was about 25 miles long. We walked about 200 yards through a section that was about ten feet in diameter. The "floor" was covered by water in many spots, requiring some wading.
The ship passed the hot lava flows from Kilauae about midnight on the way to Kona, a town on the southern coast of Hawaii. Kona was the place where Captain Cook was killed by the Hawaiians when he tried to recover some stolen goods, and a monument there marks his passing. He was actiually buried at sea by his men. At this port we put down anchor about 1,000 yards from shore, and a launch came out to pick up those who wanted to go ashore. There is a church in Kona established in 1820 by the first Christian missionaries to the islands. We took a ride on a glass bottom boat over the coral reef. The bottom of the boat was rigged with seats and glass port holes for viewing. Divers went down to the reef from the boat to feed the fish and dig out various forms of sea urchins and crabs from under the rocks. Then after a walk through the shops along the main street of Kona, we took the launch back to relax for the rest of the day.
During our last night at sea, the ship took us back to Honolulu on the island of Oahu. It was another rough crossing, and we were glad to get back to land. We disembarked and took a bus to the Hawaiian Regent Hotel on Waikiki Beach for a two night stay. Waikiki Beach is a concrete jungle, with more hotels and hi-rise apartments than Miami Beach. To get to the beach from the road required walking down a narrow alley between hotels or going through a hotel lobby. Crowds of people were everywhere, mostly Japanese, with traffic worse than New York City.
We rented a car again, against all advice, to get out of town. The most touted attraction on Oahu was the Polynesian Culture Center on the north end of the island. We drove up there on Saturday afternoon in the rain and paid $50 to get in. Perhaps on a pretty day it would have been worth the admission, but the rain put a damper on everything. We watched a Samoan open a coconut, start a fire with sticks, and climb a coconut tree. There were a few hula dancers around and a movie to watch, but the crowds of Japanese tourists and the rain made the venture disappointing.
As we drove back to Waikiki we found that the surf was up on the northern shore, and the surfers were out in droves. Waves 15 to 20 feet high were giving the surfers a thrill. There are only a few spots along the coastline where it is reasonably safe for swimmers to go out. Other places are too rocky. When those huge breakers hit the rocks it's not likely that anyone could survive it.
Back at the hotel, we found that the luau originally scheduled for outside at the beach had been cancelled due to the weather. Instead we had a formal dinner inside with good Hawaiian music for entertainment.
The sun came out again on Sunday morning, and we headed for Pearl Harbor. Warned that crowds at the Arizona forced waits of up to three hours, we got there when it opened at 7:30am. There was still an hour wait, but that wasn't bad. There was a museum to stroll through and a movie to watch. We were assigned a number (3) and were soon ushered into a theater to watch a movie about that fateful day in December of 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese. After the movie we boarded a Navy launch that took us out to the memorial on the USS Arizona. The Arizona still lies where it was sunk on that other Sunday morning. There were 1,177 men killed on the Arizona, and over 900 are still entombed there. Oil still seeps from the ship and bubbles to the surface to leave a trail of rainbow colored circles on the surface. Many of the visitors threw flowers and leis into the water in memory of the men buried there. After about 15 minutes we boarded another launch to return to the mainland. This shuttling of visitors takes place all day long, seven days a week, year around. One cannot help but wonder what the Japanese on the tour were thinking.
After Pearl Harbor, we drove back through Honolulu to the Punchbowl, a military cemetery inside an ancient volcano crater. Again, the atmosphere was sobering as we looked across the cemetery at some 20,000 graves of men killed in the Pacific War. We stopped by the capitol building and took pictures beside the Liberty Bell, then drove up to Diamond Head, a dormant volcano north of Waikiki. A tunnel through the crater wall allows cars to drive inside, then hiking trails climb to the rim to allow looks out over the ocean. Back in Waikiki, Dave let the rest of us out while he took the car back to Avis. While the girls did some shopping, I went down an alley to the beach and highstepped my way through the sun bathing bodies back to our hotel.
Surfers were in the waves at Waikiki also, but the waves there were puny compared to those on the northern coast. Here the ground has a gentle slope out for a mile or so, so when the surfers catch a wave they can stay up for a long time. I guess that's the appeal of the Waikiki surf.
It rained again all night, and scuzzy clouds filled the air on Monday as we boarded the plane to head home. Reports on TV told of more cold weather, snow and ice back in Washington and Virginia. It seemed unreal to think about cold weather again, but all good things must end. Then comes the question, "Which is fantasy, and which is reality?"
The long journey home was an endurance test. From the time we left the hotel on Waikiki it took twenty-one sleepless hours to get to Chester, Virginia. Then after a visit with John, Barbara and our grandchildren, and an overnight stay we drove another eight hours to get back to our home in north Georgia.
But it was worth it! We have now been in all 50 states.
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