In mid-April, we said farewell to New Zealand after three outstanding months. You can read about our Kiwi experiences in our three blogs about visiting the islands.
On our way home, we arranged to make a three-week stop in Hawai’i to visit our friends Katherine and Dwight and learn a little bit about the 50th state before heading back home to the mainland.
Our Hawaiian Interlude
I (Bob) am probably a bit of an outlier in the sense that Hawai’i has never been on my list of places to visit. I enjoy snorkeling, but beaches generally are not my thing. I’ve seen amazing pictures of wild Hawaiian landscapes, but I expected they’d be pretty commercialized, and that we’d be gawking at them cheek to jowl among hordes of tourists. It was a wonderful surprise to find so many laid-back places and such a friendly vibe. We both loved it! Coming to the islands from New Zealand was an added bonus, since Hawaiians were the first people to arrive in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Katherine and Dwight live on the island of Hawai’i—aka “The Big Island.” I was puzzled by this nickname until we spent two weeks there. It is indeed big—about the size of Connecticut and the largest island in the US. In Polynesia, only New Zealand’s North and South Islands are larger. Its highest mountain, the volcano Mauna Kea, reaches almost 14,000 feet above sea level—more than twice as high as Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the US east of the Mississippi River.
We were also surprised by the diversity of the landscape. Driving from the Kona airport to Katherine and Dwight’s house on the northwest (dry) side, extensive brownie-like barren lava fields gradually transition into a semi-arid landscape. In vivid contrast, the east side of the island is wet, lush, and tropical. Positioned between these extremes are the volcanoes Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. For the first time in 35 years there are no active surface flows of lava on the Big Island, but we did visit a shiny new black sand beach created by last year’s huge eruption. We did a lot of excellent snorkeling, thanks to expert guidance and gear from Dwight and Katherine.
We now know that there are hundreds of islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago stretching over 1,500 miles, but only six are accessible to the average tourist. In addition to the Big Island, we decided to visit Kaua’i. It didn’t take too much arm-twisting to lure our friend Bill in Maine to join us for several days, which was great fun (thanks Bill!).
With Bill, we did an unforgettable “doors off” helicopter tour together, a great way to see the island’s wild remote landscape. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to fulfill our dreams of hiking or paddling the NāPali Coast. The Kalalau Trail is still closed due to landslides from last year, and rough seas canceled our attempts to view the coast from a kayak or zodiac. But we did several great hikes in Waimea Canyon and KōKe’e State Park, including to vantage points overlooking the NāPali Coast. Wow! Wow! Wow! This is some of the most beautiful landscape in the world!
Switching gears, we went from Hawai’i to a whirlwind week in Bethesda with Dylan and Stephanie (now engaged!) and a few close friends. We then headed northeast to visit friends and family as the first stage of a seven-week journey across Canada and the US to Oregon, where we’ll be living from July to November.
If you’ve never driven north in the spring, I highly recommend it. Bethesda in early May was awash in flowers and lush leafy trees, and summer seemed to be just around the corner. As we made our way north, the temperatures dropped, and we felt like we were going back in time. There were fewer flowers, and the leaves on the trees were smaller and a lighter shade of green. By the time we reached Montreal, spring had barely arrived, and many trees were still bare or just recently beginning to bud. Only the long days—daylight before 5am and lasting until nearly 10pm—suggest that the vernal equinox is approaching.
One reason for choosing a Canadian driving route was the opportunity to do a paddle trip along the way in Georgian Bay, Ontario—something Lorrie has wanted to do for over 15 years. A lobe off northern Lake Huron, Georgian Bay is a truly unique landscape with 30,000 pink granite islands and windswept pines. It was a harsh winter and dreary spring in this part of the world. Locals talked of 8-13 feet of snow, with the bay still covered in ice just a few weeks ago. The week before we arrived was very cold and rainy, and we thought maybe we had made a mistake. Most kayakers come in July and August, when the weather—and water—are warmer. We camped and paddled some 20 miles among the islets on the southern side of Philip Edward Island over four days and experienced a range of weather conditions—including a half day of rain during which we huddled under our tarp.
But really the weather held out quite well for us. We enjoyed the loons, the stars, the solitude, the sunsets, the evening campfires, and the quiet days of paddling. We tried our hands at fishing each day (we were told the pike will snap at anything shiny this time of year), but were miserable failures.
Kayaking on Georgian Bay was everything we hoped for. Next time we’ll try September when the water is still warm but the summer crowds are gone.
Our Oregon Trail
We’re now following our own kind of very meandering Oregon Trail. We crossed back into the US this week at Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, where giant freighters transit locks that connect Lake Huron and Lake Superior. We’re exploring Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, then we’ll pass through Minneapolis/St. Paul; the Badlands; Boulder, Colorado; and Albuquerque before finally landing in Ashland, Oregon on July 9. We’ll be mostly visiting friends and family, but there’ll be some national park visiting along the way, so we might drop a blog about that.
In Ashland, we’re trying on the idea of “settling down out west.” It’s a smallish town (29,000 people), with lots of interesting things going on and good access to outdoor adventure. We’ll see how we like being in one place and getting involved in the local community. We’ve got plenty of room for visitors, so give us a shout if you’d like to join us for some Oregon fun.