The Traveling Steve's

Blizzard on The Big Island! No power at Volcano House!

I’m writing this offline (no internet at the moment) at the Volcano National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.  It’s Sunday, December 5th, and we’ve been on the Big Island for four days now.  In what is a moment of making lemonade out of lemons, DOS and I are sitting inside the hotel in our rocking chairs overlooking the crater just outside the floor to ceiling windows of the Volcano House Hotel, where we will be staying tonight.

Here is a photo of the back of the hotel taken the next day during a slight break in the weather. Our room was on the 2nd (top) floor on the far right.

  Hawaii is having a freak “blizzard”, and the weather has become increasing treacherous since our drive up from Kona this morning. The power has been on and off, but we’re optimistic that we will have lunch soon, (it’s 12:15pm), and dinner eventually for our 7pm reservations. That is if the power comes back on and stays on; as it keeps flickering on and off.

The visitor center to the Volcano National Park is just across the street, and is closed due to the weather, so we’ve gotten some of the overflow crowd streaming in, although once they found out there is no power here and the restaurants are closed, most of the tourists headed out for who knows where in this weather.

Yes we are here in the middle of a blizzard in Hawaii!  While there is no snow here, apparently there is on the higher mountain elevations, although here at 3,500 feet it is super windy, rainy, and foggy.  No sight of lava from the indoor overlook here, that’s for sure. As we try to make the best of the bad times, Steve (DOS) went outside and under my not so great direction, tried to emulate a weatherman in the rainy and windy conditions outside!

While we’re waiting for the power to come back on and hopefully have lunch and ultimately check-in to the hotel, I’ll use this time to write up our experiences since our last post in Kona. For now, it’s daylight fortunately and we have plenty of light coming in from the huge floor to ceiling windows which overlooks the Crater, and the adjacent “living room” area off the lobby is well lit as well.

Steve (DOS) and I checked out of our Royal Kona Beach Hotel this morning around 8:30am, and drove our rental car up here today in very stormy conditions. We are staying one night at the Volcano House Hotel, which is located inside the Volcano National Park.  It has been raining on and off the last couple days in Kona, but today’s weather is extreme!

DOS taking luggage to car after checking out of the Royal Kona Resort before heading
to Volcano House.

The drive time today from the Royal Kona Hotel took around two and a half hours, although we made a rainy rest stop at the Black Sand Beach along the way.  I was looking forward to seeing that, but it was pouring rain, and definitely not a beach day! 

DOS braved the weather, however and armed with his umbrella went down to the beach to get a couple of photos. The Black Sand Beach would have been a cool place to tour for a while if it wasn’t in the middle of a torrential Kona storm. The beach area and pavilions were closed, but DOS walked over the yellow caution tape to take a couple photos. I took the photo below from the car, and you can barely make out DOS with his umbrella to the left of the ALOHA sign in the first photo.

After stopping at the Black Sand Beach, we drove onward another hour or so and arrived at the Volcano National Park, where our hotel for the night was located.  DOS had stayed at Volcano House years ago, and always had fond memories of the place, but then again he wasn’t here in the middle of the freak Hawaiian blizzard!

DOS went to check in the Volcano House Hotel (more like a nice, quaint, rustic “Hallmark-type” lodge) around 11:15 but we were told we couldn’t check in until 1:30pm due to room availability. As it was such a stormy day, we parked the car and figured we would wait in the lobby and would have lunch when the restaurant opened at noon. Actually we first made a quick drive across the highway to the Kilaueka Volcano Visitor Center, although it was closed due to the severe weather.

We headed right back to the hotel, and in the short ten minutes it took us to drive roundtrip to Visitor Center and back, the power went out in the whole area!  No power in the hotel lobby power, gift shop, restaurant, and (OMG!) even the internet!  No check-in either obviously as everything is so computerized anymore.  So what do you do but wait and admire the ‘view’ from the inside and enclosed overlook area.

We spoke with a few of the other guests who were waiting as well, including a nice woman and her husband visiting from Atlanta.  I heard her talking to the dining room hostess about the dining room temporarily being closed due to the weather, and she said she had grown up in the area, and worked at the Volcano House on-site restaurant as a hostess from 1965 – early 1970’s.  One of the joys of travels is meeting people from all over the world, and this was no exception. Everyone has a story, if you would only inquire and listen!

I didn’t get the friendly lady’s name, but she met her husband in the area there years ago as he worked at the nearby Air Force base.  She had some great stories about the place, and showed me a couple photos of the normal view of the crater, such as when she was visiting family here in June. (December is actually the rainy month on the Big Island, while June is relatively clear.) 

This is what the view of the crater normally looks like from where we were seated
on a clear (non blizzard) day!

DOS and I resigned ourselves to the fact that with this weather, we wouldn’t see the lava or crater this trip, but will come back another time, just not in December! Again, always try to make the most of the moment, and this was our “lemonade” adventure!

Wow – it’s now 12:45pm and the power just came back on!   Not sure it will stay on, but for now at least the kitchen needs a 1/2 hour to get things going again so I’ll type a bit more to pass the time. DOS and I relaxed comfortably in the lounge overlook for a bit, before we were told we could have lunch lunch in the bar/lounge dining room. Once we were seated, I crossed my fingers that the power would stay on after we ordered our pizza and a brewski for me, and a diet soda for DOS!

We fortunately got our pizza ordered and prepared before the power went back off again, this time (though we didn’t know it at the time) for the duration of our overnight stay. I felt bad for the service staff, as they couldn’t serve anyone else with the power out, computers and credit card machines down, etc, and it would normally be a busy lunch-time service for tourists visiting the Volcano National Park. We enjoyed our pizza, not knowing if we would have dinner that evening due to the power outage.

After lunch, DOS checked us into the hotel at Volcano House, although it was done manually by the desk staff, since the power was still out.

Fortunately our electronic room keys worked fine (must be battery operated door locks), although the remote cabins required a hotel staff member to manually open the guest’s door for them due to a different key type, sending the poor desk clerk out in the pouring rain with the guest. As it was still daylight for awhile, we could find our room ok, although it was still a bit dark in the lobby and inside hallways. Our room was in the adjacent building which fortunately was connected a well lit windowed corridor, with the daylight streaming in amongst the floor to ceiling windows.

Our room was on the second floor, and while dark without power, we could see well enough to take a couple photos of the room, but we couldn’t see out the “frosted” windows (on what would have been a great view of the volcano crater had the weather cooperated), as they had to be opened to see out, and that obviously wasn’t an option with the severe weather. Actually the windows didn’t totally close by design, as there was a small gap at the top of the window, perhaps half an inch or so, that allowed air in from the outside. In this case, it was chilly air and rain, and the heater in the room did not work due to lack of power. We closed the curtains so the water wouldn’t blow in on us, but the small window gap made the whistling air to the room quite noisy, especially later when trying to sleep.

As it turns out, the power would remain off for our entire overnight stay. Note to self and others: always keep your electronic devices fully charged! Fortunately most of our phones and iPads were charged, as we really needed our iPhones flashlight feature just to get to the bathroom! We conserved our batteries in our phones and iPads, so we didn’t take any more photos until morning,

The hotel staff did the best they could without power, but eventually even the emergency power went off in the hallways, which made for a pitch black atmosphere in the rooms and halls, lest for a small battery lamp at the front desk. Steve (DOS) went down to the front desk around 5:30pm, (aided by his iPhone flashlight) and enquired about food for dinner, even though the restaurant was obviously closed. To the hotel’s credit, they did provide complimentary basic ham and cheese sandwiches and a bottle of water for the guests, as the dining room and lounge were closed for the duration of our one night stay.

DOS and I had an early night due to the lack of power, and we headed to bed around 6pm for what turned out to be a long and dark night. The wind was intense banging across the windows, but in a way sounded like the Kona surf we had listened to the previous three nights. It was a bit creepy being in the dark for so long, and it didn’t help that our lunch server had told us some spooky stories about the place and it’s haunted history! DOS wouldn’t let me tell ghost stories (or roam the halls making spooky noises!) as we drifted off to sleep! LOL!

In the morning, the power was still off, but we had a bit of daylight streaming in thru the frosted windows panels, although it was still dark and rainy. We at least had enough light to gather up our suitcase and toiletry items, and headed down to the lobby to checkout.

The restaurant was still closed due to no power, and the front desk was manually assisting guests at checkout. (Although we didn’t ask, the hotel refunded our one’s night’s pre-paid stay to our credit card (we found out a couple days later), due to the lack of power and services, even though this was beyond their control obviously. Bravo to the Volcano House Hotel – the staff worked so hard in the midst of very trying circumstances!). We would definitely go back to Volcano House Hotel at another time; this was just a freak act of nature, as we well know, routinely get severe storms at home in the Florida summer months. As the weather was still dismal and we were driving on to Hilo, we decided to wait an hour or two to see if the weather cleared up, as was the forecast. Here are some photos of the next day’s 8am weather as seen from the hotel’s indoor observation area.

The weather continually changed, but now allowed us to see the volcano crater. The fog looked like smoke erupting from the crater!

DOS did go out later in the morning, (bless his kind heart!) driving a few miles to a convenience station outside the park, which fortunately was open, no doubt running on generator power.

DOS bought us back some coffee, blueberry muffins, and yogurt to the obvious envy of other hotel guests and staff! It was still raining vey hard and foggy, but we enjoyed our coffee and muffins, while most of the guests checked out and headed on to their next destination (probably stopping at the convenience store first!)

Unlike the other guests, we stayed at Volcano House until mid-morning, which was a treat for us as the weather cleared up a bit, albeit temporarily. At one point the fog lifted (and the rain temporarily stopped) long enough for us to go outside and take a few photos of the volcano crater, and ever changing clouds and weather patterns.

It was really an amazing site to see; we literally could not see the crater the day before this due to the severe weather. The weather with the rain and fog, actually provided an eerie and awesome backdrop with the volcanic crater behind us. It really was an interesting phenomena, quiet, mystical-looking, and even a spiritual place to be amidst the stormy background.

Before leaving, we also took a few photos of the living room and overlook area where we had spent so much time yesterday in the rocking chairs looking out to the bleak weather.

The living room area, just off the check-in desk featured an old fireplace, that legend has it, is never extinguished. Judging from the piles of firewood next to the fireplace, and the constant replenishment of the flames by hotel staff, it seems logical, or at least makes for a good story! In what did seem a bit eerie for me, I took a photo of the fireplace, but didn’t even notice the intricate portrait carved above the fireplace prior to taking the photo; pretty cool! (Or hot I guess I should say, since it was a fireplace!)

We finally headed out of the Volcano House around 9:30am, and headed towards our next stop, Hilo Hawaii. I mentioned to DOS that Hilo is traditionally on the wet and rainy side of the Big Island, but he said after this, “I don’t know how much more rainy it could get!” We had a decent drive to Hilo, with the weather alternating between foggy, rainy, and occasionally clear, but much better than the previous day’s drive from Kona.

At Hilo, we checked into the Doubletree Hotel a bit early at 11:30am, and had a bit of a wait getting our room, probably because we had reserved a corner suite, and there were only a few of those available. We valet parked the rental car, and admired the big and open air lobby. While we waited to check-in we watched a couple of the large video monitors, which were showing a Hawaiian dancing completion; quite colorful!

We got registered for our room, but as it wasn’t ready yet we headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant. The restaurant overlooked the pool area and grounds, and the windows were rolled up, allowing us nice views while we dined on our pizza.

After lunch, we went back to the lobby and patiently waited for our room to be ready. The Hilo Doubletree Hotel seemed a bit short staffed, and after an hour of waiting, I had a Hawaiian beer from the nearby lobby bar. This turned into three beers before our room was finally ready a bit after 4pm.

When we finally got to our corner suite on the second floor, it was very nice, if only for our one night stay.

We had a nice wrap-around deck which overlooked the rear of the property, including the pool area.

For dinner again ate at the hotel restaurant, which was nice and leisurely. And best of all they had power at the hotel, unlike our previous night!

The next day (Tuesday) the weather had cleared up significantly as seen from these farewell balcony photos at 8am.

We then checked out of the Hilo Doubletree, and left the hotel around 8:30am for a leisurely drive back to the Kona Airport, for our 3pm flight to Maui.

As we had several hours before our flight, (the actual drive to the Kona airport from Hilo, was only around 90 minutes), we took a side-trip to the Mauna Kea National Park. The weather had cleared up mostly by then, but we could still see snow high on the mountains in the distance, so on a whim and because we had extra hours of time, we turned on the road leading up to the Mauna Kea Volcano!

Fortunately there was not much traffic, but it was still quite a ride up to the Visitor Center, which was as far as vehicular traffic was allowed due to the snow and ice atop the mountain. We passed a couple warning signs along the way, and it started to make me wonder if I was safe with my asthma condition! I was/we were, but you can definitely feel the altitude difference in breathing when you get out at the visitor center at 8,200 feet elevation, and believe me, we sure weren’t going to be hiking!

I chatted briefly with one of the park rangers at the visitor center, and they said the road was closed due to the snow and ice, something I could relate to growing up near the Blue Ridge Parkway, which had similar winter road closure conditions.

We could definitely feel the elevation change at 8,200 feet, and I joked on Facebook, that even DOS could find a gift shop at this high altitude! DOS of course made the most of the moment in the tiny gift shop, and we bought a few Christmas ornaments there, and viewed some of the exhibits in the visitor center before heading back down the mountain-top.

No, we didn’t see any invisible cows on our mountainous excursion!

The drive down the volcanic mountain was quicker, and we did run into a bit of rain along the way. Fortunately we had clear weather and viewing on the way up and at the visitor center.

Once we got to the Kona Airport, DOS dropped me off curbside with the luggage, while I waited for him to return the rental car and take the shuttle bus back to the terminal.

Kona is a small airport, and I relaxed a bit on the airport benches while I waited for DOS to return, (even making friend with a pretty and beautiful bird!), which he did within 15 minutes or so.

DOS and I then checked in for our Hawaiian Airlines intra-island flight to Maui, which was aboard a Boeing 717 jet. We knew ahead of time that our luggage was limited to 50 pounds a piece, and even with our First Class seats, we were limited to two bags, and a 20 pound weight limit on our carry-on bags, which they also weighed at check-in.

We still had a couple hours before our flight, so after passing thru security we walked (outside) to the terminal Two gates with our carry-on luggage in tow.

There was a small restaurant (cafe and bar) called Laniakea, which sounded nice, but was actually an over-priced and really poor excuse for an airport cafe. As we wouldn’t have time to eat until dinner when we got to Maui, we had a cold mini pepperoni pizza and Diet Coke. Forget the stand-up Laniakea bar, you had to keep your alcoholic drink inside the building, (and there was a long line for drinks) while you could take your food outside and sit at a table outdoors, which we did.

The self service line at Laniakea was so incredibly slow with only one person working the register, and most of the food (except burgers) was already pre-made, literally you just grab it from the counter, so you think it would be super quick, but not a chance. We weren’t in a rush, but the long line was ridiculously slow, and sit-down waiter/waitress service was not an option. One man was so frustrated with the wait as all he wanted was a Coke, and he went to the head of the line and said “How much is this?” When the clerk said $2.99 he gave them a $5 bill and said keep the change as he wasn’t going to wait 20 minutes just to buy a soda! LOL! After finally paying for the food, DOS and I then had our cold and horrible pizza sitting in the outside seating area while we waited for our flight. The bag of Doritos was good though. LOL again!

While waiting to board our flight, we took a photo of us with an American Boeing 777 in the background; a similar plane which brought us to Kona 4 days ago.

We then boarded our intra-Island Hawaiian Airlines flight to Maui around 2:30pm, which was accessed via the tarmac and a ramp pulled up to the plane.

We were the first to board, and quickly stowed our carry-on luggage in our row two seats on the Boeing 717 seat. Unfortunately on the Hawaiian Airlines 717 configuration, the First Class bins on our A/B side of the plane were reserved for safety and demo equipment, so we had to use the C/D overhead bins, which caused other passengers to have to store their bags back a row or two in Coach. Not terrible, but the airlines (not just Hawaiian, but others) should not remove the forward coat closet on their planes for this reason, in my humble passenger opinion.

The Hawaiian Airlines flight was a short 40 minute flight to Maui, yet the flight attendants still managed to do a quick First Class beverage service. Actually, the Flight Attendant kidded with me when she served me a beer saying: Chug, Chug, Chug! It really wasn’t exaggerated as the flight was so quick, we were landing almost as soon as we took off!

As DOS was seated by the window, he took a couple photos on our approach to Maui. We would later use the windmill photo (3rd photo down) as a reference point as we subsequently drove around the island in the coming days.

Once in Maui, our bags were already waiting for us as the luggage carousel, in what must have been the quickest luggage delivery every for us!

We then took the Maui Airport rental car tram to Avis to get our rental car.

With Avis Preferred, picking up our car was super quick as our car was already pre-assigned and went simply went to the car space where the monitor directed us. We rented a black KIA SUV, which was quite comfortable for our stay in Maui.

Moments later, we were on our way to our accommodations where we were staying for the week; a condo rental partnered with Hyatt Hotels in the upscale Wailea neighborhood.

Welcome to beautiful Maui!

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