What Hawaii Means for Us - Grampies Go Hawaiian - CycleBlaze

September 20, 2014

What Hawaii Means for Us

"Biking on the Big Island is rarely considered by tourists, and commonly thought of as 'something only those crazy triathlon types would do'. However, it can be very rewarding to rent a bike during the day and cruise around town and along the shore, or to head into the rainforest on your mountain bike."

This is about the most effusive comment the Hawaii tourism site lovebigisland.com could come up with when describing Hawaii as a cycling destination. However, we know different. Yes, like in the rest of America more or less, the car is King in Hawaii and there is little bicycle culture. The place also has some plain and ugly communities, some poverty, some blatant tourist overrun sections, and some gated, private, much too costly enclaves. However this is all overshadowed by Hawaii's amazing, incredible, mind boggling ecological and geological makeup.

To begin, Hawaii in this blog means the Big Island of Hawaii. There are of course other Hawaiian islands, with the whole archipelago actually having hundreds. There are eight that are said to be the main ones (by Wikipedia). Outside of the Big Island, these are (coming down from the north) Niʻihau, Kauaʻi, Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, Lānaʻi, Kahoʻolawe, and Maui . Of these, Oahu holds the capital, Honolulu, and about 3/4 of the total population. In area, though, the Big Island is as big as all the other islands combined.

Here is the layout:

The main Hawaiian islands
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The islands were formed by volcanic action, starting in the north. Each is essentially the tip of one or more volcanoes extending from the sea floor. As the most southerly, the Big Island is volcanically the most active. The island is comprised of five volcanoes, with again the most southerly being the most active. Ecologically, the five volcanoes begin to define the regions of the island. Here they are:

The five volcanoes of the Big Island define five broad ecological regions.
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Now this is where the magic begins. The prevailing winds are basically from the northeast. As happens everywhere, when ocean winds encounter mountains there is rain on the windward side and possibly even desert on the leeward side. With these five volcanoes packed onto a relatively small island, the complex interaction incredibly produces just about every environment you can name. So, on the northeast it is jungly, and zillions of streams come down to the ocean from the flanks of Mauna Kea. In the Kohala region it is ranch country, by Hualalai - temperate coffee growing uplands (where the famous Kona coffee comes from), and in the southeast by Mauna Loa/ Kilauea there is desert. (Yes, as you will read later, this Grampie collapsed one time from dehydration in a desert in Hawaii!?). All this in something that you can cross in a car in under two hours!

As if this were not enough, the volcanoes have one more thing on the go: Kilauea, on the flank of Mauna Loa, is active. It has been routinely pouring lava into the sea, and in so doing creating more land, in the way the whole chain was created in the past. Kilauea/Mauna Loa is the focus of the Volcano National Park, a geological wonderland.

The volcano is not just a tourist entertainment or geology classroom, though. In 1990 it wiped out the town of Kalapana. Coming as tourists a few years later, we were surprised to see road signs indicating the turn for Kalapana, realizing as we did that there was no longer such a place. This year, we had by yesterday almost made reservations for a place to stay in Pahoa. Local news tells us though that by the time we get there Pahoa may no longer exist! (Read more about that later.)

For a better idea of just how complex this island is, have a look at "Franko's Hawaii Guide Map".

Mountains/volcanoes, jungle and ranchland, beaches and tourist towns - this place has it all.
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So here we sit, planning to have a go at Hawaii by bike, starting in November. It's not the first time we have planned it. Two years ago we almost did it, but ended up slogging down the US west coast. Last year we stumbled across the Southern Tier. Each time difficulties about getting to and cycling Hawaii turned us off. This time, we have already bought our tickets, so we're doing it! Watch for coming sections to learn what those difficulties were, and how we have solved them, or not! Then eventually, come with us and see what cycling this island actually turns out to be like!

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