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.

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Exposure..

Once you learn how to use your camera, you can get much better photos. The photos you see below are raw from the camera, the only thing I did was resize them so they were not 6.8mb each. 🙂

I truly wish we had done our photography tour with Alex from Oahu Photography Tours much earlier in our trip. I now call time Pre-Alex, and After-Alex.

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Above you see the last photo I took Pre-Alex. The next photo below is After-Alex. These photos were taken one minute apart.

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You see how the colours pop out? How the sky is suddenly filled with clouds catching the light? How the lights in the sky now reflect in the ocean? How the rocks are darker and more moody? All Alex did was show me how to change a couple of settings in the camera – most importantly, how to change the exposure to -2.

For the rest of the trip, whenever I took a photo, I would be all “Oh MAN” because my photos always came out looking even better than what I was seeing with my own eyes.

I don’t have an expensive camera. This is just a little point and shoot Panasonic Lumix, less than $300. It does not matter what kind of camera you have, you can get better photos by knowing how to use it. 🙂 And one of the best places in the world to learn to take photos better than you currently do is the extremely photogenic Hawaii.

If you get the chance to take any of the tours Alex offers not only will you have a great time but you will learn how to take even better photos, and you will learn some true nuggets of photography wisdom.

You will probably get tired of us talking about this tour and showing you our pics but we had such a great time – following rainbows, chasing waterfalls, finding turtles.

Booking Spree

Let me give you a potentially useful tip. 🙂

When you are planning your holiday, as you find things you want to do and you work out which provider you want to book with.. it is better to make the booking once you have decided than to leave it all to the “last minute”.

I just did a booking spree – booked 3 tours and one airport transfer. This sounds like such an easy thing to do, right?

Ok, one of the tours was 100% easy. Oahu Photography Tours has long been on my want to do list, ever since I read MrsCombs post about it (which you can read here and you can see some of MrsCombs photos here). So it was simply a matter of deciding which of the three tours we wanted to do. We chose the complete tour.

The Big Island tours are another story.

First up, let me talk about our decision not to rent a car on the Big Island. We would be driving an unfamiliar car on the wrong side of the road, and on our second day we would be driving it up to the summit of Mauna Kea which is over 13,000 feet above sea level.

I have never been more than 2,000 feet above sea level, apart from on a flight where the cabin is pressurised so you are not affected by the altitude and lack of oxygen. I am a bit worried about how I will be affected by the altitude but to be honest am somewhat more worried about the other half.

My understanding is that roughly one car each week is rescued from Mauna Kea for one reason or another. Here is a post from one of the Big Island bloggers who works at the summit with one such example. That prompted this letter to county officials.

We would much rather take a tour where someone else who is used to the altitude and the roads etc can worry about the driving. So that was a big part of the decision. Plus most rental cars cannot be taken to the summit at all.

We are only there for 3 nights and we would like to take a Circle Island tour – again where we can sit back, relax, look out the windows while someone else worries about the driving.

All of these are choices we made for our own holiday, I am not saying they are better than the other options available, I am saying these are the things *we* wanted to do. To each their own. 🙂

First up we had the Mauna Kea Summit Tour. I had narrowed these down to between Hawaii Forest and Trail, and Mauna Kea Summit Tours. We took a look at the reviews for these tours and chose Hawaii Forest and Trail.

Price wise there is not a lot of difference, there is not much difference in the tours themselves, the major difference is in the dinner provided and either of these tours had an option which would suit.  So we spent a while trying to pick between the two. I remember I made the decision a few months ago but I couldn’t remember which one I picked to book!

By this time I was starting to get a headache.. then it was time to book our Hawaii Circle Island Tour for the Big Island. After much debate, we chose Roberts for the tour, and I booked the airport transfers at the same time.

I’m now looking at possible options for a morning snorkel tour before we leave the Big Island.

Our holiday is getting closer, I am getting pretty excited. 🙂 The itinerary had to change around a little to fit the Oahu tour in.