Auckland, NZ to Hilo, HI, USA

One option we had to get our boxed bikes on the airplane was to ride to the airport, get boxes from Air New Zealand, and pack them there. It takes me forever to pack the bikes, but our 10pm flight would allow all day for that. And maybe the cost of being at the airport all day is lower than the cost of finding transport sufficiently-large for our bikes, our bags, and us. Except, New Zealand has a company called SuperShuttle, and each of their shared-ride vans comes with an attached trailer for carrying bikes (and surboards, etc.)! Easy online booking showed that for a mere US$45, I could have a relaxed packing process at the townhouse, and Rett wouldn’t have sit for hours at the airport watching me work. And the boxes from Air New Zealand would have cost us US$30 on their own (vs. the free used boxes we got from the bike shop), so the choice was obvious.

A knock at the door had us scrambling: “oh shit, our driver is way early!” But no, it was just the owner of the AirBNB, stopping by for some maintenance and then a nice chat. But soon after, the shuttle driver also arrived! He admitted he was early, because he didn’t know if he could make it up the long drive and be able to turn around in the dark, so he gave us plenty of time to get everything together. We lugged our pile down to the curb together, and found that the little trailer was surprisingly spacious and had no problem fitting the boxed bikes and all of our bags inside, and then the 12(?) passenger van had no problem fitting us inside, since we were the only passengers on this run.

I violated New Zealand’s no-tipping policy by giving the driver our last $5 note, and Rett dropped her dollar coin in a charity bin set out explicitly for the purpose of remaining-cash disposal. It was super-windy as we pushed our heavily-laden (free) luggage carts to the departure terminal, so biking would not have been fun (not that we would have been doing the ride this late anyway!)

My boxed bike came it at exactly the 50lb. (23kg) limit, so that was super-lucky (we didn’t have a scale at the townhouse to check the weights). So once again by consolidating three panniers each into Ikea “Frakta” bags, we were considered to have two normal checked “bags” each (one bag + one bike). Then we each had two bags as “carry ons” and “personal items”.

At security, we could leave liquids and computers in our bags, and only Rett had to take off her shoes (because they were “too high”, I believe). I had removed our two folding bike locks from my frame (otherwise it would have been 5lbs. over the limit!) and put them in my carry-on, so that bag got flagged for inspection as it usually does. I take comfort in the fact that security officers have no idea what the strange metal objects in my bag are, because it also means that they provide some security-via-obscurity against bike thieves as well. I also don’t feel bad about occupying their time and attention, since they seem reasonably-interested to see something new, as opposed to the three doofuses ahead of me in the secondary-inspection line who all had full-size drink bottles in their bags?!

It was fun to notice things on our return to the airport that we hadn’t fully understood last time. Like the concourse coffee shop that’s modeled after a classic 1960s Kiwi camper (they’re uniquely squat and wide with huge windows, and we’ve seen hundreds of them sitting semi-permanently in holiday parks). Or the bird in the entertaining pre-flight video that we now recognize as the once-thought-extinct takahe.

For the 13 hour flight from LAX to Auckland, we paid $500 extra for a “SkyCouch”, giving three seats for the two for us to share. On the shorter 8.5 hour flight from Auckland to Honolulu, we did nearly as well for free, by picking a row in the 3-wide column that only had two seats. It had tons of legroom, with space to straighten alongside the pair in front of us. It was the 2nd-to-last row in the 787, but who cares, that just made it even easier for us to get up and use the bathrooms that were right behind us!
Whoa, that’s Hawaii! (and clearly not New Zealand.) Apparently just being a “volcanic island in the Pacific” doesn’t mean that they all look the same!

The morning warmth as we exited the terminal to get on a shuttle bus immediately told us we weren’t in New Zealand’s autumn anymore! At customs, Rett (rightly!) mentioned an uneaten persimmon still in her bag, so the customs officer sent us to the fruit expert who made us toss it, but otherwise our return to US soil was relaxed and uneventful. Our bike boxes arrived in good shape, though one of our Ikea bags had a rip in the seam. Luckily we had plenty of time for our flight to the Big Island, so I was able to get out the sewing kit and stitch it back together.

Hawaiian Airlines’ app had encouraged me to pay in advance for our checked baggage, and since most airlines just treat bikes as additional checked bags these days, I had just done two bags for each of us. But when we got to the head of the line to drop them off, the clerk was none too pleased with us, saying that they needed to be checked as bicycles. Despite her displeasure, she went running all over the terminal trying to figure out how to amend their status (and in her mind, charge us extra). We would have preferred to get out of the line growing ever-larger behind us, and solve the issue with the customer service desk, but she was committed to abandoning her post to deal with us. In the end she essentially just let them through as-is, while huffily stating “you’ll need to pay the extra for them on the way back!”, implying that she was doing a huge favor for us. Haha, joke’s on you, we aren’t coming back on Hawaiian! Meanwhile, I had re-checked online, and it’s possible we actually deserved a refund, as long as the “bikes are $25 on inter-island flights” statement doesn’t mean “bikes are $25 on top of the normal bag fee”. But whatever!

We’d long thought of stopping in Hawaii (checking off State #50!) on our way back to the mainland from New Zealand, but the bit that made it really fall into place was the offer we got nearly a year ago from Bob & Paloma, met in Yellowstone, to come stay with them. They generously maintained their offer, despite the fact that they were also flying into Hawaii today, coming from Seattle of all places (though mostly from an Alaskan cruise). We arranged our flight from Honolulu to Hilo (on the Big Island) to match theirs, so soon found ourselves sitting down to an airport pizza lunch (good American pizza!) with a couple of cool people we recognized, but honestly barely knew.

The short flight was on a delightfully old-school and spartan Boeing 717 (the left seat column is two-wide for its entire length! We were served fruit drinks in those little foil-topped plastic cups like schoolchildren!) We picked up our luggage in Hilo airport’s “we don’t even need walls” indoor/outdoor baggage claim area (bikes still good, a new rip in an Ikea bag), and then Bob and Paloma’s house-sitter arrived with their big old pickup truck to haul all of our bags together back to their place. We met their three dogs, cat, and gecko, and got set up in their awesome guest house, elevated to let the amazing cooling trade winds flow through.

Even after their equally-long day, our hosts still made a wonderful dinner, including an appetizer tartare of ahi tuna picked up from a highway-side vendor on the way to their place. And we finally got to know more about these people whose place we would be staying in for the next several days!

Day 2

The problem with an 8.5 hour “short” flight vs. a 13 hour long-haul is that there is very little time for sleep. Yes, it’s nice that Air New Zealand includes two proper meals in economy class, but dinner is served around 11pm, and breakfast about 5 hours later, so…yeah, today was mostly a rest-and-recovery day. I also got the bikes back together, working in Bob’s shop.

Our room at Bob & Paloma’s home.
The view east from the huge covered deck outside our room. The ocean is visible maybe a mile away, and 500 feet down the volcanic slope.
The view west, uphill to the often-cloud-shrouded Mauna Kea.
Geckos are frequent visitors, more proof that we’re not in New Zealand anymore.
This guy was very interested in my banana peel.

Day 3

We made an excursion on the bikes to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. It’s almost due east of Bob and Paloma’s place down the volcanic slope, but it’s on the winding Old Highway, which only rises up to meet the new highway intermittently, so we made a loop that combined the two highways. The new highway has wide, smooth shoulders, but almost every driver still moved over to give us extra space as they passed, and when the shoulders disappeared for narrow bridges, they had no problem waiting until they could pass safely. It was a striking and much-appreciated difference from New Zealand driving culture.

At the connection to the old highway, we stopped for lunch at the Onomea Country Market on Paloma’s recommendation (they have a high-end chef slumming it this small settlement), and somehow I felt a bit of  cultural nervousness like I had just arrived in a foreign country. Apparently being away from your native county for seven months is enough to make it feel “foreign” upon return! (though of course Hawaii is a rather “exotic” part of the US too.)

The old highway was then a magical jungle road, finally revealing that the “jungle” atmosphere we felt in New Zealand’s temperate forests was mainly due to our unfamiliarity with true tropical rain forests. Green things can apparently get much wilder, denser, and Jurassic-looking than New Zealand’s tree ferns!

Rett riding Old Mamalahoa Highway north of Hilo.
On this wet side of the island, every bridge presents a river with its water in some sort of tumbling, falling form.

The Botanical Garden then took that native jungle and amped it up into fantastical Technicolor wonder. We rarely pay money ($30/person in this case) for outdoor entertainment (except for National Parks and similar), but this one felt totally worth it. It’s not a place for academic study (most of the plants were imports from foreign tropical locations, and it was just created by some guy who decided to clear out his land and plant cool-ass shit), but I preferred the more-populist approach.

A flower, or a purple face ready to devour your fingers?
Another plant-as-animal, this one part of the dragon family.
Tropical plant.
The “garden” is essentially modified native forest, so the backdrop was spectacular.
One of those huge fin-rooted tropical trees.
The steep path descending through the garden eventually brought us to the ocean, a substantial bonus feature!
Crabs were scuttling all over these rocks, though they were really difficult to see until they moved (there are two partially-visible ones in the photo in addition to the obvious one).
Rett raising the power of the sea.
Twin Rocks, in Onomea Bay, of course has a Hawaiian legend attached.
These flowers seemed to glow with their own internal light source.
We were presented with a million flavors of these things.
Version #770,319.
A tumbling waterfall is an additional attraction, that was only discovered when the landowner macheted his way through the dense overgrowth covering the property when he arrived.
Non-green colors everywhere.
A pretty Christmas ornament.

Day 4

This day we rode south into the town of Hilo (paralleling the coast), and then west (perpendicular to the coast). Whenever you leave the water on this island that is essentially a giant volcano, you go up. Usually very up. Here we climbed 800 feet in 3.3 miles (a relatively-easy 4.5% grade, especially unloaded), to the Boiling Pots and then back down a bit to Rainbow Falls, both features of the Wailuku River.

Days without rain are rare on the east side of the island, so our normal strategy of “it’s going to rain? Let’s take the day off” would leave us motionless in Hilo for a month. Thus we were disappointed that the sky stayed dry during yesterday’s ride, robbing us of the opportunity to “practice” getting wet on a no-risk day ride.

Well today we got our practice. And it wasn’t too bad. From a light drizzle to rain heavy enough to soak down our clothes, it didn’t do too much to curtail our sightseeing. Though I’m glad that the rain had mostly stopped by the time we headed home, and we didn’t need to “practice” getting chilled by that 800 foot downhill.

At the falls we saw some of our first sunburnt-red roly-poly Hawaiian Tourists, revealing what a privilege it has been to be introduced to Hawaii by locals, and sheltered from the outsiders for nearly a week!

Many falls on the Wailuku River, upstream from the Boiling Pots.
Rainbow Falls. Rett wanted to see it in the morning when the sun angle creates a rainbow in the spray, but with the unpredictable sunshine, that was a tough order. Still a cool waterfall with a huge cave behind it.
We had seen that the Rainbow Falls park was “partially closed” due to tree maintenance. We didn’t expect it to be maintenance of this giant banyan!
Closeup showing the “maintenance worker” high in the branch-web of the banyan.
On the way back north out of Hilo we took more segments of the Old Mamalahoa Highway, which again made for an incredible minimal-traffic ride through jungle gulches and waterfalls. (#FindRett!)

Day 5

It’s hard to leave the comfort and ease of Bob & Paloma’s, where we’ve fallen into a pattern of doing our own thing and then meeting in the main house (or a restaurant) for dinner. But tomorrow is finally time to head out on our own. So we borrowed Bob’s old truck (not his fancy new F-150 Lighting!) to do a supply run to Target. During our day rides, I twice made a turn where I saw a car heading straight for me, and cried “Shit! This isn’t New Zealand, I’m on the wrong side of the road!” But I didn’t even come close to screwing up when driving the truck, presumably (and thankfully!) because I never drove in New Zealand, so those brain pathways were never at risk for any rerouting.



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