Hawaii Forest and Trail. The bus was okay, though not quite "luxury". The food (dished out at an old farm half way up) was basic and edible but not fancy nor with a scenic view in any way. The cost was painful! At $200 per person (I think that did include taxes) we could just as easily have hired a four wheel drive vehicle for the day...if we'd had the nerve to drive the thing at altitude, over snow...so instead we paid a total of $400 for being big scaredy cats. In fairness, we rarely do the bus tour thing, and I was looking forward to being looked after. The excellent driver/tour guide however saved the day. He was really well informed and enthusiastic about sharing that information.
We left Kona at 1pm and drove up and up and up. We stopped a few times for photo ops - each stop the view trumping the last, each stop forcing us to dig into our rucksac for another layer of clothes! We trawled through the climate zones, comparing visas to others we'd seen on our travels elsewhere on the planet. It's a running joke amongst some of my travel friends that everywhere looks, "Just like Donegal." To wit I posted a shot of Hawaii and one of Donegal on a friends facebook page asking him to choose which was Hawaii and he got it wrong!
Manu Kea plays host to all sorts of nerdy wonders.
There is the Really Long Baseline Array. A system of ten radio telescopes that has the sharpest vision of any telescope on earth. Apparently it is has such good resolution that you could read a newspaper in Los Angeles if you were standing in New York...though why you'd want to is beyond me...haven't these guys heard of the internet?
The silver sword fern grows on Manu Kea's high altitude slopes, so endangered now that there are high tech fences deployed to protect it from grazing sheep. Okay, so the fences are aren't as high tech as the toys the physics dudes have, but for biologists, well they're the bomb!
While in Kona, we stayed at King Kamehameha's Kona Beach hotel. It was the perfect spot, right on the beach, right in the town. They served breakfast right by the beach. I was in heaven. I wanted somewhere that I could go for a quite swim every morning without us having to get in the car and drive somewhere. From our room we could see the evening lu'au. We didn't get a chance to go to one so it was kind of nice to watch from our balcony.
On this occasion we booked a tour with Fair Winds for an afternoon of snorkeling at the Captain Cook monument - where Captain Cook met his demise during a tussle over a stolen boat.
Eleven years ago I participated in a Dolphin and Whale project in South Africa. Well, those guys came out in force! On our way back to Kona, we were delighted to be joined by a pod of spinner dolphins. They seemed to greet us joyously and raced the twin hulls of the catamaran, lining up in the slip stream and jostling for prime position reminding me of kayakers playing on a wave. They even angled their bodies to look up at us hanging over the rail looking dawn at them.I could swear they made eye contact with me. They embodied such zest for life, such fun and freedom that we all shared it for the twenty minutes or so that they traveled with us. Even though I'd sworn not to indulge in those "swim with dolphin" tours on the grounds that they are not that healthy for the dolphins (having cringed at accounts of damaged dorsal fins and dolphins too exhausted to hunt) and could even be risky for us (imagine frolicking with a wild pack of wolves on land) had the boat stopped I'd have been the first one in with them.