Stood in my trunks, showering on the ocean's edge at sunset, I couldn't help but notice to my left lay three turtles laid out on the jet-black, lava sand beach. Welcome to Hawaii.
This summer, my TrekAmerica Big Island trip gave me the opportunity to experience one of the USA's most far flung outposts, Hawaii - one of the most epic destinations I have ever underestimated!
On day one, we had the opportunity to get buzzed from trying various samples of rich, sumptuous local coffee, after a two hour tour of the local Kona coffee plantation. Riding high from caffeine overload, we held on tight as we crashed through the waves on what can only be described as a rollercoaster Zodiac boat trip out to our chosen snorkelling spot, metres from where Captain Cook died in 1779.
As we swam in the sheltered bay, we enjoyed witnessing a multitude of fish of varying colours, shapes, and sizes, all buzzing between the luminous coral.
Black lava soon became a theme, as just two days later we hiked across a crater of Kilauea Iki in Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park. Having erupted last in 1959, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd been teleported to some far distant planet. By day 4, we had cruised up the side of Mauna Kea. At 4027m above sea level, it stands as Hawaii's tallest peak - and in fact, from its base deep beneath the ocean, it stands as the tallest mountain in the world at over 10,000m high.
The dry volcano environment, high altitude and stable airflow makes Mauna Kea's summit one of the best sites in the world for astronomical observation. We stared in wonder at the sheer volume of stars, whilst our National Park guides pointed out the masses of constellations. The clarity of the Milky Way was one of many highlights!
Having witnessed the Kīlauea Caldera from the viewing point at the Jagger Museum at sunset, a small band of us decided to venture back in the dead of night. During the day, you can witness a spectacular panoramic view of the entire cauldron. In the dark, the deep colours of red hot lava spewing and gurgling are an incredible contrast to the black sky. The current eruption started in January of 1983, and witnessing the ongoing gas eruption of Halema'uma'u crater was truly spectacular.
A short drive from the cute west coast town of Hilo, we enjoyed a hike into the Kaumana Caves. After descending in to darkness, we fumbled our way through the first few hundred metres of a 25 mile long lava tube. Using our recently purchased head torches for navigation, at one point we enjoyed a moment of pure silence and absolute darkness as we stopped, switched everything off and just took our surroundings in.
A drive along the Chain of Craters scenic road certainly highlighted our vulnerability to mother nature, as parts of the road system remain buried by lava from Kīlauea's Puʻu ʻŌʻō vent, which seeped out between 1986 and 2013.
Of course, being on an island, the power of the Pacific Ocean creates an incredible coastline, which we witnessed as we overlooked the Hōlei Sea Arch. Towering out of the water, it stands at around 90ft high, but the powerful waves smashed the rocks so hard, we often got soaked by the unexpected waves climbing to where we stood!
Countless waterfalls, rivers, rainforest landscapes and deserts make Hawaii one of the most varied places I have ever visited. With around eight climate zones on the Big Island alone, preparing for varied weather is essential! The extremities of weather changes led us to be stood in torrential rain one minute, then soaking up 30 degree sunshine just ten minutes later.
With so much under our belt, it was hard to believe we'd only been travelling for a week. Hawaii, you were and are incredible - I'll be back!