This post was really late in coming for a lot of reasons, with the major one being just how weird life got after February of this year. I wish I lived in an era where history books would refer to as "really boring, nothing happened," but that clearly hasn't been the case. So it's almost September, Christmas items are in Costco, and I'm finally pulling the photos off the camera from last year and what would turn out to be our last real vacation for a very long time.

Sonali and I hadn't been back to Hawaii since our honeymoon on the island of Maui. This time we set off for the Big Island. I've always found the island fascinating in how quickly it changes from dense forest "end-of-the-world" to volcanic hellscape "end-of-the-world." With the Cascades there's more of a gradual transition, so this would be exciting to see for Sonali and Mira.

Before we departed for Hawaii, there was the small matter of Christmas presents. Thankfully Santa has upped his logistics game and delivered early this year. The trip was the real present this year so we assumed that there wouldn't be a lot under the tree. That turned out to be not-so-true.

Mira got in a pretty good haul this year.

After the presents it was time to get head down to the airport for our flight into Kona. Although Seattle is on the west coast it's still a very long flight. Mira, especially, is a pro by now and settled in with her ipad and headphones. I was happy about the ability to drink a Sweetwater which isn't really easy to find out here.

One of the perks of Delta Airlines is they have Atlanta beer.

On landing, we got straight into island time, with a not very lengthy but time-consuming rental car line. Worked out in the end though as all they had left in the class we rented was the 5.0 V8 version of the convertible.

Our toy for the week.

Mira decided the backseat was much better as a personal tent.

Truth be told, having a convertible in Hawaii is a lot better concept than reality. In the 80 mile drive between Kona and Hilo you'll go from blazing sun and the high 80's to the mid 50's and misty with some 70's and downpours mixed in. There's a lot of pulling over to mess with the top and Mustang sidelights don't close all the way without manual intervention. There are a lot of very tight areas as well and the turning radius isn't that great, especially compared to what we have at home. It did do pretty well on curvey roads and there was plenty of space for luggage, both positives. Bottom line, though, was the V8 starting up was the best part of the experience, it's a lot better than the Camero, but we were still happy to give it back. { end mini car review }

The big island has two major cities, Kona and Hilo that are now connected with a recently renovated Saddle Road that cuts between the two major mountains that make up the island. Kona is the more touristy side since the rainshadow makes for better weather, but it barren and doesn't have the tropical feel that screams Hawaii.

On the first day we took a drive across the Saddle Road to Hilo to get the rainforest and poke fix.

Looking over Hilo bay from Liliʻuokalani Park and Gardens.

This park was modeled after Japanese Edo-style gardens.

Even the overgrown side has visible markers of the recent volcanic history of the island.

We got back to Waikoloa in time for Christmas Eve dinner, where one of the few open restaurants was the Kuleana Rum Shack. The restaurant featured rum distilled on the Island mixed into very tasty cocktails. Perhaps not the traditional Christmas spirit but no less festive.

Distilled sugar for mom, pure sugar for Mira.

Enjoying our first cocktails at the Kuleana Rum Shack.

Even in the tropics there are a few of the traditional trappings of Christmas about. After all we were in a resort area with a mall.

The Christmas tree infront of the Queen's plaza.

Sunrise.

Now that we had the way of the land it was time for beach day. Our condo was close to Hapuna Beach State Park, which ended up being very important. One of our bigger challenges with car based vacations is that the girls get car sick. I hoped that the open air would help but it wasn't enough.

Mira thrilled to be at the beach.

The beach was relatively empty in the mornings and on the holiday, no doubt because the locals were still opening presents.

Compared to some other Hawaiian beaches, the waves here were fun but not overwhelming. It was even possible to swim relatively close to shore.

Mira still didn't know how to swim and quickly tired of getting knocked around. She busied herself with the sand instead.

Half buried.

The beach was far busier on subsequent trips.

One afternoon the girls wanted to rest so I took off to explore the north coast of the island. I took Highway 270 to its end at the Pololu Valley Lookout.

Misty and green, the valley has a beginning of the world feel.

The dramatic cliff on the north part of the island.

On the way back I took the high road back to Waimea, treated to the most amazing sunset off the road's western ridge.

Sundown over the Pacific.

What I was most excited about was visiting Volcano National Park. Getting over there required some careful planning as it was a long drive to the other side of Island.

The park is one of the strangest places in the world. A lot of it is lush tropical forest. Then there are parts that are completely barren. Finally down by the sea it's the end of the world bashed by crashing waves that had been traveling unimpeded for thousands of miles.

Hawaii's state bird, the Nene.

We got over a few times. Our first trip centered on the upper part of the park where there were more of the active vents.

On one of the lava flow trails at the top part of the park.

The weather combined with the sulfur smell wasn't sitting too well so we decided to head home and try another day.

Our second trip was on a much better day giving us to explore a few more trails and finally drive down to the shore line.

Mira on one of the more rocky flows.

Sonali and I on the same hill. Hard to believe we just came out of the forest.

This plant looked like a bug.

The drive down the Chain of Craters trail was windy and filled with signs detailing the dates of the individual flows.

Looking out over the lava field to the sea.

That side of the island is incredibly windy, even with our sports car you could feel the effects of the wind. The road ends at the Hōlei Sea Arch which is a natural lava structure carved out of the incessant battering received at the south shore.

Even 40ft from the water there was plenty of sea spray.

The churn of the ocean against the rock.

The road continued beyond a gate. The car was not allowed but pedestrians could take the dead straight road to another vantage point. Between the howling winds, the sounds of the surf, and the emptiness, it felt like something out of an apocalyptic movie.

Somewhere underneath that water is a new Hawaiian Island.