POLOLU VALLEY, HAWAII — Today was our last day in Hawaii, and we’re going to miss being here. It was such a laid-back, friendly atmosphere, which makes it hard to pack up camp and go somewhere else.

We were debating whether to try the hike to the Waipi’o overlook again or to try something else. Our host in Hilo mentioned the lesser-known Pololu valley, which has better hiking. So we went there, taking the very scenic mountain road Hwy 250 to Hawi and then the last 9 miles to the valley parking lot, which by the time we got there at 10:30 was already full.

The hike down to the valley floor was very steep, but there were good views almost all the way down. Coming back up would not be so easy, though. From the top, the valley looked very lush, but nothing could have prepared us for what lay at the mouth of the valley: A shaded, hilly landscape with no brush, pine needle covered ground  and only open views between the tall trees. Some people camped down there, and it would be a fabulous place to camp: Breeze from the ocean, shade from the trees, beautiful surroundings — Doesn’t get any better than that.

Beth on the Pololu valley floor.

We hiked the width of the valley and up a trail on the other side which Torsten had seen on Google maps. The trail goes to the next valley over and then further beyond that. That part of the trail was in shade and quite muddy. Part of me wondered how we were going to get our boots clean for New Zealand, but the hike was pretty and I left that for later.

At the top, the trail went through another little dip in the landscape and then emerged at a beautiful overlook of the next valley. Since we were short on time to get back to the airport and didn’t want to hike down into another valley only to hike back up, we turned around. Going down the muddy and very slippery trail was treacherous, but we managed without mud prints on our rears.

We expected the ascent to the parking lot to be tough, but didn’t expect it to be quite this tough: Large steps, steep incline and many sand-covered rocks cluttered the trail. Towards the top, we saw a guy who was starting to hike the trail down to the beach in flip-flops.

The entire hike took us about 1hr 40’ and we hopped in the car and started to drive towards Kona and the airport, to catch our 5pm flight to Honolulu. Along the way, we saw a large mountain to the north, one we had noticed earlier from the mountain road. We finally realized that this “mountain” was not part of the big island but was in fact Maui, about 30 miles to the north. Pretty cool! This reminded us of a woman we met on a previous trip to Oahu who said there used to be a ferry between the big island and Maui, but the car rental companies successfully lobbied to have it shut down. What a shame. It’d be cool to explore two islands like that.

Once we got closer to Kona, we passed a number of state parks, and Beth wanted to go swimming one last time, so we went to Hapuna Beach State Park. While Beth was swimming, I repacked our camping gear into the backpack and then the duffle to get ready for our flight. Since it was MLK day, the park was packed, and lots of people were circling the parking lot in search of a spot. By the time Beth came back from swimming, I had the pack all ready and we drove on, to Costco again to refuel: Both the car and ourselves, since we didn’t have any food since our leftover breakfast of fruit, beef jerky, nuts and the last pretzel roll with cheese and salami. We got a tray of four Asian wraps and then headed for the airport.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I hate air travel in the US: lines, taking off of shoes, backscatter scanners, the whole thing just is not conducive to a relaxed travel atmosphere, even in the cutest airport I have ever been through. It’s all outdoors, there are no gangways, the buildings are reminiscent of little Pizza Huts, and you walk onto the plane right on the tarmac — there aren’t even any fences separating the waiting area from the rest of the airport.

The flight took about 40 minutes, but the biggest surprise came after the landing. A group of pre-schoolers returning to Honolulu from a competition on the big island and their chaperones started singing and playing the guitar. It was so unexpected and beautiful and a nice coda to our time on the island. As much as we hate to leave, our next stop on this trip promises to be similarly fun — if not more so. We’ll find out tomorrow, when we fly to Auckland, New Zealand.