Hawaii Cruise on One of the First Returning Ships: What It Was Like

HILO, Hawaii — As Hawaiian Islands cruising is just coming back to life after a two-year pandemic-related hiatus, Tutu Pele is far from dormant.

The legendary Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes has been busy flexing her muscles and cleaning up the Earth where many Hawaiians believe she resides – the famous Kilauea Volcano in the south-central part of the Big Island of Hawaii. .

My late January visit to the summit of Kilauea and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – was one of the highlights of a recent 17-day cruise to the Hawaiian Islands on Holland America Konigsdam.

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Hawaii cruises resumed in January

I was on the first Holland America ship to return to Hawaii since November 2019. Other cruise lines, including Carnival and Princess, also resumed Hawaii cruises in January.

A paddleboarder glides past the Ahuena Heiau Temple, once the residence of Hawaiian King Kamahameha the Great, in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

The cruise, rich in days at sea, began and ended in San Diego. After a stopover at Catalina Island, 22 miles west of mainland California, we were at sea for five days before reaching Honolulu on the island of Oahu. We also visited Maui and spent three days exploring the Big Island of Hawaii, so named because it is larger than all the other Hawaiian islands combined.

We were anchored for two days off Kailua-Kona, on the relatively dry west side of the Big Island, home to most of the island’s resorts.

In Kona, we visited coffee plantations and hiked through a “cloud forest” on the slopes of Hualālai Volcano, 3,000 feet above sea level. We also visited Pu’uhonua National Historical Park o Hōnaunau (Place of Refuge), where ruling chiefs granted absolution to Hawaiian offenders and defeated warriors.

On our last day in Hawaii, the Konigsdam was moored on the more tropical eastern side of the island in Hilo, a gateway to scenic waterfalls and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Hot water vapor continually rises from cracks in the earth at the Wahinekapu Steam Vent on Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Hilo is the rainiest city in the United States, with an average of 211 days of precipitation per year. Fortunately, we had sunny skies, ideal for observing the snow-capped volcano of Mauna Kea. Its peak rises 13,803 feet above sea level, making it the highest point in the state.

The spiritual significance of Kilauea

Visitors to Kilauea’s 4,000-foot-tall summit can see a steady eruption of volcanic gases that have been erupting from its caldera since 1983. The result is an ever-changing landscape of black lava fields, steam vents, tubes underground lava and basalt rock formations. .

Hikers traverse a lava field with unusual rock formations at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii.

For Hawaiians, Kilauea is more than a scenic mountain that glows at night during eruptions. It is a wahi kapu – sacred place – which has deep spiritual significance.

Pele, short for Pelehonuamea, is believed to inhabit Kilauea and its even larger but less active neighbor to the west, Mauna Loa. Hawaiians often refer to the goddess as Tutu – grandmother – as a sign of affection and respect.

If ever there was a volcano that lives up to its name, it would be Kilauea, which means “many stretching” in the Hawaiian language. Hot lava flows from Tutu Pele caused significant property damage to farms and homes as recently as 2018. Another – so far low-key – eruption began last September in Halema’uma’u crater, l volcano’s most active vent.

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Kilauea eruptions: ‘We call it creation’

Kainoa Delacruz, our “Hawaiian Cultural Ambassador” on board, told me that despite Pele’s occasional outbursts, most Hawaiians don’t fear the deity.

Kainoa Delacruz presents a talk on Hawaiian culture in the main theater of Holland America Konigsdam.  Delacruz has been lecturing on cruise ships for 20 years.

“When it bursts, we don’t consider what it does as devastation,” said Delacruz, who has lectured on cruise ships for 20 years. “We are talking about creation. While she burns everything, she really cleans. It’s not considered a negative thing to have her run her lava over everything. We know things will come back even better.

Akaka Falls on the Big Island of Hawaii.  With a height of 442 feet, Akaka is more than twice as tall as Niagara Falls.

I especially enjoyed hiking past alien rock formations through one of Kilauea’s many black lava fields. Along the way, we encountered several nene, also known as Hawaiian geese. The nene is the official state bird of Hawaii.

We also stopped to see the Wahinekapu Steam Vents, where hot water vapor is constantly escaping from cracks in the earth. Hawaiians come to the vents to place leis and other ornaments as offerings to Pelé.

On the ship’s journey to Hilo in Kilauea, we stopped at two waterfalls – Akaka and Rainbow. With a height of 442 feet, Akaka is more than twice as tall as Niagara Falls. Seeing it up close involves an easy half-mile hike on a loop trail.

COVID-19 protocols on our Hawaii cruise

Passengers were required to register before the cruise with the state at https://travel.hawaii.gov and upload proof of vaccination. We were then emailed a QR code to show local authorities when we got off the ship in Hawaii. The state said it is preparing to require travelers to show proof of a COVID-19 booster shot to be considered fully vaccinated under its Safe Travels program.

Additionally, Holland America has required us to produce a negative, medically observed, viral COVID-19 test performed no more than two days prior to departure. We were tested again at the San Diego cruise terminal before boarding. Two days later, after our first stop on Catalina Island, we were tested again on the ship.

Hikers traverse the cloud forest on the slopes of Hualalai Volcano, west of the Big Island of Hawaii.

Masks were to be worn throughout the cruise, except when we were actively eating or drinking, in our own cabins or on outside decks where we could socially distance. We each received several KN95 masks. From what I observed, a large majority of my fellow travelers adhered to the mask rule – even when dancing in one of Konigsdam’s many concert halls.

The 2,650-passenger ship — the largest in Holland America’s fleet — was half full. More than 90% of the passengers on board were Americans.

One downside to being on one of the first cruise ships in Hawaii was that the local tour operators seemed rusty. Some of the excursions I have taken were disorganized and the guides were clearly out of practice – understandable after over two years of having few tourists to sightsee.

But that didn’t spoil the experience of seeing Kilauea and its sister volcanoes in all their grandeur. It has been a tough few years for Hawaii’s tourism industry. Now cruise ships – and tourism dollars – are starting to return. And Pelé, according to Hawaiian legend, continues to regenerate and breathe new life into his environment.

“This current blowout is just an indication that Pelé is playing in the front yard,” Delacruz said. “Everything is fine.”

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Scottsdale’s Dan Fellner is a freelance travel writer. Contact him at dan[email protected] or visit his website at https://global-travel-info.com.

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