Hawaii – An Island Paradise, Part 3: A Tall Mountain, A Botanical Garden and An Erupting Volcano

This is Part 3 of my 3 part series on the Big Island of Hawaii. You can check out Part 1 (Kona side) here and Part 2 (Waipio Valley & Green Sand Beach) here.

It’s hard to imagine how much we did in just one week on the Big Island of Hawaii. Our friends, Boaz and Truc, really made sure that we got to see the highlights of this island in such a short period of time. The last three sites that we saw were a very tall mountain (Mauna Kea), a gorgeous botanical garden (the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve & Garden), and an erupting volcano (at Volcanoes National Park).

Mauna Kea: The Tallest Mountain in the World?

“Wait…What about Everest?!?” you may ask. It’s true the Everest is considered to be the highest mountain on Earth. And that would be true, IF you were counting from sea level. If you want to start counting from the ocean floor, Mauna Kea rises 33,500 feet (or 10,210 meters) from its underwater base, which makes it the tallest mountain from base to peak. Another reason for visiting Mauna Kea over Everest is that you can actually drive to the summit. You definitely can’t say that about Everest.

Although it’s significantly easier to drive to the summit of Mauna Kea than Everest, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy. First, to make it to the summit, you need a 4WD (seems to be the running theme of this trip) and at least a half tank of gas. Then, you need to stop at the Mauna Kea Visitors Center for at least half an hour to acclimate to the high altitude. Also, children under 13 are not allowed. There are rangers that will stop you on your way up at a checkpoint to make sure that you’ve met all of these requirements. When we were first arrived at the Visitors Center, I noticed some difficulty breathing (though it’s possible that it may have just been some anxiety at the thought that I might have some difficulty breathing 🤦🏻‍♀️). Then, my mom asked me a question about where I had bought something earlier that day, and it took me about 15 seconds to remember the name of the store. The fact that I had difficulty naming a store I had visited hours earlier (it was TJ Maxx) told me that the high altitude was definitely beginning to affect my brain function. Thankfully, those were the only problems I had, and with the eventual acclimation, I had no further physical difficulties.

The slow drive up to Mauna Kea

The drive from the Visitors Center to the summit may seem a short distance, but because vehicles are using 4WD and roads are unpaved and windy, it’s pretty slow going to the top, maybe about another half hour or so. But that’s okay – it gives you more time to appreciate the view as you slowly start to rise above the clouds (if you’re not the one driving, that is 😅).

At long last, we made it to the summit of Mauna Kea (13,803 feet [4,207 meters] above sea level), catching it just in time for a beautiful sunset. The air up there is dry, clear, and free of atmospheric pollution, making it a perfect place for astronomical observation. As a result, there are a total of 13 observatories on Mauna Kea, each funded by as many as 11 different nations.

As much as I would have loved to stay on the summit until nightfall to gaze at the stars, I couldn’t because… it was cold!!!! After being in 85+ degree weather for a week, it was hard for our bodies to adapt to 30 degree weather despite our long-sleeve shirts and heavy coats. So as beautiful as the scenery was, I was happy to get back down to 80 degree weather (never thought I’d hear myself say those words!).

Wrapped up in a thick puffy coat like the Michelin man, and I was still freezing cold! 🥶

Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden: A paradise within the island paradise

One of the things that I enjoyed the most about being in Hawaii was that the plants and flowers were so different than anything that I’d ever seen before. Driving from one sight to another, I couldn’t stop admiring the trees, bushes and other types of vegetation that I’d see in someone’s front yard, or just even randomly on the side of the road. So I was so happy that we were able to visit the Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden, located right outside of Hilo. There were so many different types of flowers and other plants at every turn that I could have easily spent hours there just observing each one. Not much more to say here about the beauty here – I’ll let my pictures tell a thousand words…

Walking through the Botanical Gardens
My first time seeing orchids growing in the wild!
These are called “Torch Gingers”. I’m sure you can see why.
I unofficially called this the “baby back rib plant”.
The artistry of these plants is mind-blowing

Seeing an Erupting Volcano at Volcanoes National Park

If there was one place that I wish I could have spent more time at during my trip, it was at Volcanoes National Park. But alas, there’s only so many hours in the day to do everything. We had originally intended to do a hike in one of the craters, but we got there just at sunset and it wouldn’t really have been prudent to start a hike at that time. Oh well, just something to save for next time. We got a beautiful sunset view over the crater, though!

One mini-hike/walk we could do was the Thurston Lava Tube. Lava tubes are formed by lava flowing underneath the surface. Once this lava stops or gets diverted, it leaves behind an empty cave. The Thurston Lave Tube is over 500 years old, so the lava was long gone, making it safe for visitors (like us) to traverse.

We were fortunate to be able to visit Volcanoes National Park at the time that a volcano was erupting! Kīlauea is the most active of the five volcanoes that form the Big Island. There were many different areas to view this eruption – you can also hike close enough to see some lava flow! Due to time, we picked this one overlook to watch the glow from the volcano – being a volcano newbie, I was happier to be further than closer to an erupting volcano!

Glow and smoke from Kīlauea

Whew! That was our whirlwind trip through the Big Island of Hawaii. I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed myself, and also, how much I really wanted to come back. Mahalo Hawaii, you were wonderful!

Until next time,


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One response to “Hawaii – An Island Paradise, Part 3: A Tall Mountain, A Botanical Garden and An Erupting Volcano

  1. Pingback: 3 (and a half) Hikes in Zion National Park that Aren’t Angels Landing | Je Parle Franglais·

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