Leaving Kona

This starts just after the end of our Circle Island Tour mentioned here part 1part 2

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On the way back to our room we checked out the pool area – though I never got to swim in it this area would be a great place to spend some time and the pool was quite warm for Hawaii. I usually find them way too cold.

We took some night shots from the pool area of the Celebrity Millenium leaving, and then some night shots of Kona and the other half showed me his “magic lantern” software which is a hack for Canon cameras. You don’t have to touch the camera to take a night shot – you just wave your hand near the screen and it uses the face proximity sensor to take the shot once you have waved a certain amount. It also can switch the text on the screen to red for astronomy photography.

We headed to Quinns Almost by the Sea for dinner. I chose the deep fried Ono with pineapple slaw, and the other half chose.. a burger, I think. He loves a burger. The photos of this are among the who knows where they vanished to.. 😦

Some more wandering about after dinner, dropping into a shop or few.. then back to the hotel to pack and then for a well earned sleep. Packing was difficult because we had packed very light to begin with but we had purchased some items and we had to make room for them. Plus, we had worn our boots, jeans, and heavy stuff for the flight over from Australia which meant there was not room for them in the luggage. So we left our outfits for tomorrow out which was going to be some quite warm wears for the very warm Kona.

That next morning we were to leave and for some reason I woke up around 4:45 and couldn’t get back to sleep so I took the laptop out onto the balcony for some typing time and wow it was gorgeous out there. The moon was up, then the sun rose, and the whole time the waves were crashing, it was just a lovely spot to be.

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We wandered down to our favourite coffee place to use the free wifi while caffeinating, then to Splashers grill again for another wonderful breakfast. The water glasses were a gorgeous shade of blue. The location is perfect for people watching and on the days a cruise ship is in, watching tenders arrive and offload the cruise people.

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If you are looking for good coffee, Splashers is not the place to find it if you want espresso – they do not offer this. If you are ok with filter coffee (we call it filtered sock coffee, not huge fans of it!) they do supply that for free.

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We found the coffee downstairs at Kona Farm Direct to be the coffee we were looking for and had our coffee downstairs before breakfast soaking up the sun and enjoying the free wifi KFD offers. We ordered juices and water at Splashers instead, plus the KFD wifi does work upstairs in Splashers.

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Both times I chose the Kona omelette with bacon cheese and topped with avocado but the second time I added mushroom, this may have been a step too far.

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On this last visit the other half chose the Ham and Cheese omelette with hash browns.

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On the previous visit he had the Pancake breakfast.

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The bill was extremely reasonable for us who are used to Aussie prices, and as the service was excellent we tipped appropriately.

I would recommend this place for breakfast and seeing some of the other reviews, I wish we had tried it for dinner as well.

Walking down to Splashers there was cloud cover but by the time we sat down the sun had come out and I knew it was going to be a warm walk back to the hotel. We SMS’d my parents and told them to go watch the Konaweb webcam so they could see us. A bit of lack of skill on their part with page loading caused some confusion at first but they did manage to spot us on the webcam and we waved hi.

On the way back we stopped in at a rock and mineral shop I had spotted because I was hoping they might have a piece of that lava rock encased in resin or something. No such luck but I did find some bluestone and an opalite dolphin which spoke to me.

More wandering, an ABC store browse then back to the hotel to check out. The wonderful Diane helped us once again and she remembered us and asked how our tour went. That is so lovely. 🙂 Great work Diane!

We had booked the Roberts shuttle to pick us up and take us to the airport – the shuttle bus was early and we were the only ones on it. So basically we enjoyed a private ride to the airport on a 15 or so seater minibus. And this my friends is where the enjoyment abruptly ended.

First of all we could not use the check in kiosks – possibly because our booking was online from Australia, I was missing a code or barcode on the paperwork. So we had to check in manually, which we waited 20 minutes to do.

There were only two staff checking in, one was for general cattle class and one was for first class and once she was done with her check in we were not invited to be checked in by her, and by this time the other staff member checking in had discovered some sort of issue with something which required all three check in staff to go and gaze at her computer and totally ignore us for at least 10 minutes, until a different staff member came out and checked us in. Pretty poor service right there.

Then, having stood in an open air airport queue for over 20 minutes – having brought no water because you are not allowed to take it through security, we then waited over 40 minutes to proceed through said security. No water, nobody offering anyone any water considering there was a long wait, and no place I could see to get any water – I did not venture out of the queue because we did not want to lose our place.

This was pretty frustrating, I’ll be honest. And all the way along this queue, there were conflicting signs giving different information about what was allowed in and what was not, and what had to be removed and what did not have to be. A poor effort. The security people were nice enough once we got to them, and once past the first checkpoint the process was fairly quick. I have no idea why they needed to see our passports which I had put away as well as our drivers licenses for interisland travel but whatevs. Who knows the whys, it just is.

Once through security we could get some water at last which we demolished pretty quickly. Again Hawaiian showed their talent and skill and the organisation level for their whole operation is mind bogglingly amazing. We were there super early so sat around and no free wifi sadly, we got an SMS from Bigaln2 who was flying into HNL that day letting us know there had been a shooting at LAX and he was now in Salt Lake City and would be delayed, which he was, eventually arriving into HNL around 10pm rather than 5pm. This was probably the only real “mishap” of our trip – all our flights and tours were otherwise on time.

We tried to be the very last people on the plane, a difficult task I will admit when everyone is on Hawaiian time. Sadly we failed and a group of kids heading to camp got on behind us, and that was it. On board, take off, fly for I believe 15-20 minutes and get served some POG – the rest of the time is taxi-ing. Back to the Inter Island terminal, we arranged the Speedi Shuttle while waiting for the luggage to appear, then off to the Ilikai with a full bus load of people. We chatted to the people next to us who were fascinating (as I find most people travelling to or in HNL to be) and were the first drop off.

Next time – Our condo in detail, a surgical shopping strike.

Circle Island Tour @ Big Island – Part 2

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So Volcanoes National Park – we stopped at the Halema’uma’u Crater – was just so-so for me. It seemed like a big hole in the ground with some steam coming out. I wasn’t the hugest fan of this place. They do have webcams on the National Park Service website, if you would like to see more.

The gift shop here was good and Jaggar Museum was interesting. I guess we can say we did it but out of the day this would be my least favorite thing to see. Yes I know, I am supposed to love it. I did not.

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Much more interesting to me and seriously gorgeous were the Thurston Lava Tubes. Wow. Again a lot of textures for us to photograph and much greenery plus the lava tubes. My photos do not do this place justice at all. Sorry! 😦

Just be careful where you step in the lava tubes – there are some big puddles of water you can find yourself standing in as a surprise because you are too busy looking up and around you. Water drips from the ceiling so be aware of that, do not let it surprise you!

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This was my favourite stop of the day. We really took our time here too – the bus driver said no rush, he had to go turn the bus around. Most of our group was well ahead of us but once they got back to the entry place they all ended up taking other paths through the rainforest and by the time we got back to the entry place they were returning to it from the other paths.

A photographer could easily spend half a day just at this location taking shots of trees, ferns, moss, the tubes, etc.

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We made a quick stop at the overlook of Kīlauea Iki and wow, what a view! People were hiking the trail here which goes out across the crater floor which was once a lava lake. You could still see steam rising here.

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Then onto the Punaluʻu Beach which is a black sand beach. One of the things I did like about the Big Island is the constantly changing scenery and the way so many different landscapes have been created by the various volcanoes.

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Punaluʻu Beach was pretty fascinating and we had a long stop here enjoying the scenery and also watching some roaming dogs – peoples, keep your dogs on a leash for their own safety – As we arrived there was a dog running along the road – the owner of this dog we found at the Black Sand Beach however by the time we found the owner the dog had taken off and was not to be seen again, and the owner was really upset. 😦 Especially as I believe the dog was brought in from the mainland to an unfamiliar place on holiday, it was one of those you can carry in a bag type dogs. :((((

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An old lava flow at the Punaluʻu Black Sand Beach.

The last stop was a coffee place called Royal Kona Coffee where we could sample Kona Coffee. They had a good range of coffee and souvenirs and I sampled the peaberry which was awesome but very expensive.

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Coffee beans on a coffee plant at Royal Kona Coffee

I bought some chocolate coated coffee beans and some HI stickers for our cars. We were by this time running quite late – the visitor centre shuts at 5pm but they stayed open for us. We spent a decent chunk of time here too, enough to get some awesome sunset pics here.

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As we drove back along the coast we could see the Celebrity Millenium pulling out of Kona and the sun was going down.I have to say these tours are very well organised. We never felt rushed at all, the driver was great and by the end of the day he felt like ohana (family).

We had a great day, and I could see that this might be a brilliant day trip to do from Oahu if you were willing to caffeine up and try not to fall asleep on the bus during the long day you would have. Sure, there are loads of opportunities to fall asleep but you would be missing out on the gorgeous scenery.

I would recommend this tour especially if you are visiting the Big Island, even if you are hiring a car. Our overall enjoyment level out of 10 was something like 25. 🙂 The tour is not that expensive at just $76 USD per person if you are based on the Big Island. You can read more about the Roberts Hawaii Grand Circle Island Tour here.

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The Celebrity Millennium leaving Kona as the sun sets.

Hulihe’e Palace

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Hulihe’e Palace truly is a gem of Kailua Kona. A stunning building and gorgeous grounds. I wish we had the time for a tour – this would be high on the list of places I would want to visit properly if we returned to The Big Island.

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If you happen to be in Kailua-Kona on the right date, do not miss Wilhelmina’s Tea on the lanai. December 15th is the last date for 2013 according to the website. You do need to make reservations and there is a cost involved but this would be a fantastic experience. You can find out more about those teas and other events held at Hulihe’e palace via the Daughters of Hawai’i website.

If you are visiting Oahu you can visit the Queen Emma Summer Palace which is another site that the Daughters of Hawai’i look after, read more about the Queen Emma Summer Palace here.

Circle Island Tour @ Big Island – Part 1

You can do this tour from Oahu if you want to – Big Island One Day Tour –  it would be a long day, and you fly in and out the same day. It is not cheap but you may find it worthwhile.

This was by far the highlight of our trip to the Big Island. Let me get one argumentative point out of the way up front. Some Destination Advisors on the Trip Advisor forums – especially the Big Island forum – are very anti tours. They say you should hire a car and drive the circle island yourself. That is one opinion.

Me personally, I disagree. There is nothing I love more than a tour bus and in this instance especially so, sitting back and relaxing next to big picture windows, watching the landscapes change, hearing the tour guide talk about the various lava flows and all kinds of interesting things..

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The gorgeous bougainvillaea along the highway

This was a great day out and had we done this in a car I would have absolutely hated it. I would have been stressed out the whole time about the other half driving – was he getting tired, these roads especially later on in the day (from the black sand beach back to Kona) seemed quite scary and curvy to me, and we would have had to drive on the wrong side of the road in the wrong side of the car.

So I am really glad we did the tour instead of hiring the car. I would pick the tour again, anytime, over hiring the car, especially in places I have never been before and in places we would be on the wrong side of the road. Though, I have done tours here at home as well and enjoyed them greatly.

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Parker Ranch Center was the first stop and it really was just a toilet stop but there was the Parker Ranch Store there which seemed to be quite a temporal vortex I could have got stuck in as well as a Starbucks if anyone needed coffee. Dayum, we bought terrible coffee before leaving for the day – that is another post.

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Rainbow Falls was our next stop and it is just a short walk from the bus which makes it extremely convenient for the tour people and those who are not able to walk long distances. There is a hike to the top of the falls if you want to do that – we chose not to because there was a lot to photograph just near the bottom of the falls.

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We like tree, flower, and textures like moss shots and there was a lot of that there. We got stuck in a temporal vortex photographing moss and before we knew it it was bus time again.

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There is also a lot of *danger* here at the Rainbow Falls, as you can see from the signage. 🙂

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It was just incredibly green here.

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Our tour guide Derek was brilliant and hilarious as well as extremely informative. One of the things he told us is that they had changed when the volcano centre was redone was where they take the tours to eat because a Bento at Volcano visitors centre is now something like $19. They take people to eat to Imiloa Astronomy Center because they have great food at very reasonable prices plus a buffet option.

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These astronomy programs sound wonderful!

This is one of the places in Hilo I had most wanted the other half to go to in any case so I was thrilled about this. The food was awesome and they did have big serves for less than $10. I chose the BLT with avocado and it was great.

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The other half had the bacon cheeseburger, which I forgot to photograph. Of course this was not Aussie bacon (which they call Canadian Bacon here) but was still good. The gift shop was interesting and would rank a 6/10 on my gift shop scale. The other half bought a t-shirt which said “I need my space” – so true!

We were also taken to Big Island Candies which was interesting because you could see into the factory and how they make the chocolates, plus sample their wares. We did buy some shortbread cookies which were coated in soft caramel and then dark chocolate – these were amazing. I forgot to take photos, again. Sometimes you just get involved in what you are doing and forget about the camera! 🙂

Coming up in Part 2 – Volcanoes National Park, Thurston Lava Tube and more. 

How NOT to visit Mauna Kea Summit

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A picture from our tour showing an unsuitable car at the summit – 4wd only, people!

Here are some links to posts and news articles about what happened to some probably unsuspecting tourists visiting the summit at Mauna Kea.

Mauna Kea Claims Another

Abandoned Rental Car Removed From Mauna Kea Summit

Mauna Kea tour driver calls for ban of rental cars after accident 

Now, once this driver passed the visitor information centre at 9,000 feet, he had gone up there to the summit without the coverage of his rental car insurance and he also broke his car rental contract which stopped covering him where the paved road stops just past the visitors centre.

So, he had to pay out of pocket –

– to buy a brand new rental car to replace this one

– to have this rental car towed off Mauna Kea

– for loss of income which the rental car company suffered from not being able to hire out this rental car to others

All in all, a very expensive exercise which could have easily been avoided. Not to mention if his wife had not been quick thinking and noticed the car was moving, she could have remained in the vehicle as it rolled down the hill. She could have been very seriously injured, maybe even killed.

While at the summit, I also saw some nutter who had driven a rental convertible sports car up there. Seriously? On what planet were their brains? Not one that can be seen from this planet, no matter how clear the skies. 😦

If you absolutely MUST visit Mauna Kea, I strongly, and highly, recommend you take one of the tour companies rather than try to go on your own. It is expensive ($200 or so per person) but there are many reasons why this is a better plan than doing it yourself.

The tour guides do this on a regular basis, they know what they are doing, they are equipped with oxygen in case it is required. Altitude sickness can happen to you – hypoxia, lack of oxygen at the higher elevation can affect you and if it does, you do *not* want to be driving a vehicle. If you absolutely must do this, it is worth spending the money on the tour.

Do not, whatever you do, think you can drive to the summit in your rental car. You will be voiding your rental contract and your insurance once you go past the Information Centre around 9,000 feet. If anything goes wrong, you will be paying for a new car, and other fees. Pay the money and take the tour if you want to visit the summit. 🙂

Mauna Kea Summit Tour

This is a copy of my Tripadvisor review with some slight changes and extra photos

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Sunset at the Mauna Kea Summit

We went with Hawaii Forest and Trail. As always, let me get the negative out of the way first.

For the love of God, please guides, on future trips when you do the stargazing, make sure the back door of the van or the door curtain can be closed for the comfort of those staying inside the van who are not interested or too cold to spend a lot of time looking at the sky?

There, that is my one peeve with this tour out of the way up front. The tour guides need to be more aware that some people taking the tour are only wanting to visit the summit and have a quick look at the stars and then retreat to a warm place to view them from the van windows – you can see them from inside the van and they are gorgeous.

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Our tour van
Not everyone on the tour wants a lengthy tour of the sky with the laser pointer. It is great that you do it for those who want it, but those of us inside the van would like to be able to stay warm while you do.

Some of us are only there because our much loved other half is really into this stuff and we did not want to spend that much time apart during our holiday. We arrived at HFT at 1:20pm and got dropped back to the hotel about 10:30pm – that is a long time to be separated on holiday, so I went along.

On the night we went there was not a lot of wind but there was just enough to blow an icy cold breeze through the back doors of the van out to the front of the van. If there were a lot of wind I think I would really have struggled to stay warm in the van even with the parka and gloves.

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My legs are not normally this chunky – leggings underneath the jeans, plus big thick knee length socks

Now I did not come unprepared for the cold – I had leggings on under my jeans which was certainly a hot time in Kailua-Kona when we left, very wooly knee length socks, leather boots, and I had over 5 layers on my top half which I added on as we went up the mountain, plus I had a hat to keep my head warmth in (next time I would wear a nice wooly beanie and I highly recommend you all do that) plus the parka and gloves on top of this and yet I was still shivering in spite of all this.

Clearly I am not an alpine person – I come from Australia where most of the time our coldest temps are a lot warmer than the temperature at the summit.

I would still recommend to anyone intending to do this – especially in the colder times of year – that you do not underestimate how cold it is going to get, that you order a parka a couple of sizes larger than you are because the layers are going to add more size to you and make it difficult to zip the parka up – and that you do not turn up to the HFT office for the tour in beach wear and flip flops knowing you are about to go up to the summit because you then have the hassle of having to bring all your warm clothes and get changed, plus everyone there will be looking at you like you is crazy. “Is that what you are going to wear? Seriously?”.

I think I was probably the only person with hidden leggings and if I were to do this again I might even put two layers of leggings under there, one of them being merino thermalwear.

With all of this said, the tour was pretty awesome. Chris and Nate were our tour guides and they were very interesting and knew their stuff. The parts I most liked were in the van on the way there when they were talking to us about the landscape and lava flows and what we could expect to see at the summit, etc.

The part of the tour I loved most was when we stopped at a lava flow to get out and have a closer look at it, which I wrote about in this post – Beauty.. and a curse?

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Cows near the dinner site

The dinner was quite nice, I could smell it in the van on the way up and it tasted just as good as it smelled. It did involve 2x chicken thighs with a tomato and pineapple sauce, which me personally I tend to avoid for the most part being more a fan of the breast and wing, however the more this is served to me the more I like it and thus far it has been served to me twice on this trip.

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The tables all set up for dinner – the tables are there all the time, guides bring the rest of this with them in the van

There was also rice, greens and carrots, corn bread, hot tea with many options (I chose earl grey) and we were all given a bottle of water which was ours to keep and told to keep hydrated.

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Dinner was held at a pretty interesting location photographically, and there are tents you eat inside because the buildings are great for photography and not for going inside of.

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Unfortunately keeping hydrated means toilet stops and there were a few of those which involved my least favourite invention of all time – the port a potty. Team that up with a lot of layers and a parka, and you are in for fun times, NOT.

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You need to be aware of the following before you take this tour – quite a bit of the road up to the summit is not paved and this means a rough trip for a bit there. The van bumps and shakes its way to a paved section higher up which is there to keep dust down for the telescopes. It can be a bit teeth chattering and bone jarring. I found it a lot worse on the way down.

If you have ever experienced vertigo you will probably not want to choose a window seat – and be well aware that the hypoxia – lack of oxygen – you may experience at the higher elevations can cause vertigo to be worse than usual and also you might experience it more than once and the second time will be a doozy. It is said that general aviation pilots do not usually survive a second bout of vertigo when they are hypoxic because the second bout can be extremely disorientating.

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Just before my second vertigo incident – this guy moved even closer to the edge!

Knowing this, once I experienced vertigo the first time on this tour I avoided looking out of the window when there was a drop off, even so I did have a second bout of vertigo at the summit when I was walking around and got too close to the edge and could see how far up we were and there was a sharp drop off and some guy was standing super close to the edge which freaked me out some. I quickly made my way back to the bus and sat down. I recommend if you are with someone and you did experience vertigo on the way up that you stick together in case you get disorientated. They are not lying when they say the second bout of vertigo can be very disorientating, so be very careful.

I experienced night vertigo for the first time and that is just awful. As you are going down it is dark but if you look over the edge you can see brake lights and headlights of other cars. This is one reason why I did not want to get out of the van when we stopped for the stargazing, I was feeling quite dizzy. However I did have to go to the bathroom, the walk there was entirely in the dark though there were motion sensor lights at the Hawaiian Johns. This was not a great time for me given how I was feeling dizzy and disorientated already. Next time I would bring one of those head light thingys that you can switch to red.

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This was taken with a Canon DSLR – the stars are so bright you don’t need fancy equipment to get a shot.

And now the part of the trip I most hated – I already mentioned the leaving the doors open while stargazing, but it began to rain and get cloudy where we were, so the tour guides suggested going up a bit to try and get out of the clouds. This meant a trip from the paved section to the unpaved section again, and then more time with the van door open.

I’m glad everyone got to see more stars but jeebus I was cold and I was not the only one. Can I suggest to the guides in future if you want to do this ask if anyone wants to be let off at the visitors centre where they can stay inside in the warmth with hot chocolate. There was a young kid on the trip, myself, plus two others who would have jumped at the chance and been more than happy with that arrangement.

I don’t remember much of the trip home as I think most of us fell asleep for much of it. The guides dropped everyone back to HFT where they had parked, and then took us and one other passenger back to Kona which was much appreciated.

Nate and Chris were great, overall we had a good time, even if it was quite a cold time.

Coming up tomorrow – how *not* to visit the summit