Hilo, as you will perceive on the map, lies on the eastern or windward side of the Island of Hawaii. You get there in the little inter-island steamer Kilauea, named after the volcano, and which makes a weekly tour of all the Islands except far-off Kauai, which it visits but once a month. The charge for passage is fifteen dollars from Honolulu to Hilo, and twenty-five dollars for the round trip.
The cabin is small; and as you are likely to have fine weather, you will, even if you are a lady, pass the time more pleasantly on deck, where the steward, a Goa man and the most assiduous and tactful of his trade, will place a mattress and blankets for you. You must expect to suffer somewhat from sea-sickness if you are subject to that ill, for the passage is not unlikely to be rough. On the way you see Lahaina, and a considerable part of the islands of Maui and Hawaii; in fact, you are never out of sight of land.
If you start on Monday evening you will reach Hilo on Wednesday—and "about this time expect rain," as the almanac-makers say. They get about seventeen feet of rain at Hilo during the year; and as they have sometimes several days without any at all, you must look for not only frequent but heavy showers. A Hilo man told me of a curious experiment which was once made there. They knocked the heads out of an oil-cask—so he said—and it rained in at the bung-hole faster than it could run out at the ends. You may disbelieve this story if you please; I tell it as it was told me; but in any case you will do well to provide yourself for Hilo and the volcano journey with stout water-proof clothing.
Hilo, on those days when the sun shines, is one of the prettiest places on the Islands. If you are so fortunate as to enter the bay on a fine day you will see a very tropical landscape—a long, pleasant, curved sweep of beach, on which the surf is breaking, and beyond, white houses nestling among cocoa-nut groves, and bread-fruit, pandanus, and other Southern trees, many of them bearing brilliant flowers; with shops and stores along the beach. Men and boys sporting in the surf, and men and women dashing on horseback over the beach, make up the life of the scene.
Hilo has no hotel; it has not even a carriage; but it has a very agreeable and intelligent population of Americans, and you will find good accommodations at the large house of Mr. Severance, the sheriff of Hawaii. If his house should be full you need not be alarmed, for some one will take you in.
This is the usual and most convenient point of departure for the volcano. Here you hire horses and a guide for the journey. Having gone to Hilo on the steamer, you will do best to return to Honolulu by schooner, which leaves you at liberty to choose your point and time of departure. Hawaii lies to windward of Oahu; and a schooner, which might need four or five days to beat up to Hilo, will run down from any part of Hawaii in twenty-four hours. If you are an energetic traveler, determined to see every thing, and able to endure a good deal of rough riding, you may spend six weeks on Hawaii. In that time you may not only see the active volcano of Kilauea, but may ascend Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, whose immense slopes and lofty and in the winter snow-clad summits show gloriously on a clear day from Hilo; and you may ride from Hilo along the north-eastern coast, through the Hamakua and Kohala districts, ending your journey at Kealakeakua Bay where Captain Cook was killed. There you can take schooner for Honolulu; or if your energies hold out ride through Kau and Puna back to Hilo.
The Hamakua and Hilo coasts you will see from the steamer, which sails close along this bold and picturesque shore on her way to Hilo. This part of the island is but an extension of the vast slope of Mauna Kea; and all the waters which drain from its cloud-laden summit pour into the sea through numerous deep channels, or gorges which they have worn for themselves, and occasionally dash into the ocean from high cliffs, forming water-falls visible from the ship's deck. Of the gorges or cañons, there are seventy-nine in a distance of about thirty miles; many of them are from five to eight hundred feet deep; and as you ride along the coast, you have no sooner emerged from one of these deep pits than you descend by a road seldom easy, and often very steep indeed, into another. The sides of these gorges are lined with masses of the most magnificent ferns, and at their bottoms you find sparkling streams; and as you look up the cañons you see picturesque water-falls. In short, to the lover of bold and strange scenery this ride offers many pleasures; and that its difficulties may not be exaggerated to any one's apprehension, I will mention that during the spring of 1873 an English lady, taking with her only a native woman as guide, made the tour of the whole seventy-nine gulches, and thought herself amply rewarded for her toils by what she saw. As for myself, I must confess that four of these gulches—the four nearest Hilo—satisfied me; these I saw in visiting some sugar-plantations.
If you do not intend such a thorough exploration of Hawaii, but mean only to see the volcano of Kilauea, your pleasantest plan is to ride from Hilo by the direct road to the crater, and return by way of Puna. You will have ridden a trifle over one hundred miles through a very remarkable and in some parts a beautiful country; you will have slept one night in a native house, and will have seen much of Hawaiian life, and enjoyed a tiring but at the same time a very novel journey, and some sights which can not be matched outside of Iceland. To do this, and spend two or three days in pleasant sight-seeing near Hilo, will bring you back to Honolulu in from twelve to fourteen days after you left it.
Your traveling expenses will be sufficiently moderate. At Hilo you pay for board and lodgings eight dollars per week. The charge for horses is ten dollars each for the volcano journey, with a dollar a day for your guide. This guide relieves you of all care of the animals, and is useful in various ways. At the Volcano House the charge for horse and man is five dollars per day, and you pay half-price for your guide. There is a charge of one dollar for a special guide into the crater, which is made in your bill, and you will do well to promise this guide, when you go in, a small gratuity—half a dollar, or, if your party is large, a dollar—if he gives you satisfaction. He will get you specimens, carry a shawl for a lady, and make himself in other ways helpful.
When you get on your horse at Hilo for the volcano, leave behind you all hope of good roads. You are to ride for thirty miles over a lava bed, along a narrow trail as well made as it could be without enormous expense, but so rough, so full of mud-holes filled with broken lava in the first part of the journey, and so entirely composed of naked, jagged, and ragged lava in the remainder, that one wonders how the horses stand it. A canter, except for two or three miles near the Volcano House, is almost out of the question; and though the Hawaiians trot and gallop the whole distance, a stranger will scarcely follow their example.
You should insist, by-the-way, upon having all your horses reshod the day before they leave Hilo; and it is prudent, even then, to take along an extra pair of shoes and a dozen or two horse-nails. The lava is extremely trying to the horse's shoes; and if your horse casts a shoe he will go lame in fifteen minutes, for the jagged lava cuts almost like glass.
Moreover, do not wait for a fine day; it will probably rain at any rate before you reach the Volcano House, and your wisest way is to set out resolutely, rain or shine, on the appointed morning, for the sun may come out two or three hours after you have started in a heavy rain. Each traveler should take his water-proof clothing upon his own saddle—it may be needed at any time—and the pack-mule should carry not only the spare clothing, well covered with India-rubber blankets, but also an abundant lunch to be eaten at the Half-way House.
India-rubber or leather leggings, and a long, sleeveless Mackintosh seemed to me the most comfortable and sufficient guards against weather. Ladies should ride astride; they will be most comfortable thus. There are no steep ascents or abrupt descents on the way. Kilauea is nearly four thousand feet higher than the sea from which you set out; but the rise is so gradual and constant that if the road were good one might gallop a horse the whole distance.
You should set out not later than half-past seven, and make up your mind not to be hurried on the way. There are people who make the distance in six hours, and boast about it; but I accomplished it with a party of ladies and children in ten hours with very little discomfort, and did not envy the six-hour people. There is nothing frightful, or dangerous, or disagreeable about the journey, even to ladies not accustomed to riding; and there is very much that is new, strange, and wonderful to Americans or Europeans. Especially you will be delighted with the great variety and beauty of the ferns, which range from minute and delicate species to the dark and grand fronds of the tree-fern, which rises in the more elevated region to a height of twenty feet, and whose stalk has sometimes a diameter of three or four feet. From a variety of this tree-fern the natives take a substance called pulu, a fine, soft, brown fuzz, used for stuffing pillows and mattresses.
Your guide will probably understand very little English: let him be instructed in your wishes before you set out. The native Hawaiian is the most kind and obliging creature in the world, and you will find your guide ready to do you every needful service. You can get nothing to eat on the road, except perhaps a little sugar-cane; therefore you must provide a sufficient lunch. At the Half-way House, but probably nowhere else, you will get water to drink.
When you reach the Volcano House, I advise you to take a sulphur vapor-bath, refreshing after a tedious ride; and after supper you will sit about a big open fire and recount the few incidents and adventures of the day.
The next day you give to the crater. Unless the night is very foggy you will have gone to sleep with the lurid light of Kilauea in your eyes. Madame Pele, the presiding goddess of the volcano, exhibits fine fire-works at night sometimes, and we saw the lava spurting up in the air above the edge of the smaller and active crater, one night, in a quite lively manner. On a moderately clear night the light from the burning lakes makes a very grand sight; and the bedrooms at the little Volcano House are so placed that you have Madame Pele's fire-works before you all night.
The house stands but a few feet from the edge of the great crater, and you have no tedious preliminary walk, but begin your descent into the pit at once. For this you need stout shoes, light clothing, and, if you have ladies in your party, a heavy shawl for each. The guide takes with him a canteen of water, and also carries the shawls. You should start about nine o'clock, and give the whole day to the crater, returning to dinner at five.
The great crater of Kilauea is nine miles in circumference, and perhaps a thousand feet deep. It is, in fact, a deep pit, bounded on all sides by precipitous rocks. The entrance is effected by a series of steps, and below these by a scramble over lava and rock debris. It is not difficult, but the ascent is tiresome; and it is a prudent precaution, if you have ladies with you, to take a native man for each lady, to assist her over the rougher places, and up the steep ascent. The greater part of the crater was, when I saw it, a mass of dead, though not cold lava; and over this you walk to the farthest extremity of the pit, where you must ascend a tolerably steep hill of lava, which is the bank of the fiery lake. The distance from the Volcano House to the edge of this lake is, by the road you take, three miles.
The goddess Pele, who, according to the Hawaiian mythology, presides over Kilauea, is, as some say all her sex are, variable, changeable, mutable. What I shall tell you about the appearance of the crater and lake is true of that time; it may not have been correct a week later; it was certainly not true of a month before. We climbed into the deep pit, and then stood upon a vast floor of lava, rough, jammed together, broken, jagged, steaming out a hot sulphurous breath at almost every seam, revealing rolls of later lava injections at every deep crack, with caverns and high ridges where the great mass, after cooling, was forced together, and with a steep mountain-side of lava at our left, along the foot of which we clambered.
This floor of lava, which seems likely to be a more or less permanent feature, was, three or four years ago, upon a level with the top of the high ridge, or ledge, whose base you skirt. The main part of the crater was then a floor of lava vaster even than it now is. Suddenly one day, and with a crash which persuaded one or two persons at the Volcano House that the whole planet was flying to pieces, the greater part of this lava floor sank down, or fell down, a depth of about five hundred feet, to the level whereon we now walked. The wonderful tale was plain to us as we examined the details on the spot. It was as though a top-heavy and dried-out pie-crust had fallen in in the middle, leaving a part of the circumference bent down, but clinging at the outside to the dish.
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Notes About Book:
Source: Nordhoff, Charles. Northern California, Oregon, and the Sandwich Islands. Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1875.
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