Colorful hot springs, clouds of sulphuric steam rising out of almost every inch of the park, magnificent Bison just strolling around and hissing fumaroles make Yellowstone National Park a very alluring place to visit. Without a doubt, it is one of the most exotic and pristine National Parks in the country and it also happens to be the oldest! During our short long weekend visit, we only managed to cover most of sights on the West and South sections of the park. It was certainly not enough time to take in all the spectacular geothermal features.
In a barrage of thunder and hailstones, we drove up from Salt Lake City, Utah towards West Yellowstone, Montana where we were going to be staying. The landscape throughout the drive was quite mesmerizing. I happen to love rain and thunderstorms, so it was the perfect start to the weekend. As we got closer to Montana, the skies cleared up and the lovely crisp mountain air welcomed us. After checking in at the lodge, we immediately set out to the Old Faithful Inn to witness the dutiful Old Faithful. The park is big, it is also very busy and after parking at the Old Faithful inn, we began to wonder if it all the spots in the park were going to be as busy. The crowd sort of takes away from the charm a little bit, but as you hike deeper into the park, the crowds disappear and all is well again 🙂
The next morning, we started out early morning to make sure we were able to cover as much of the park as possible. The Bisons crossing the roads slowed us down a little bit, and caused a few traffic jams, but no complaints there! Just watching them calmly walk across was a treat. Apparently it is the only park where they have lived continuously since prehistoric times and roam freely, sublimely indifferent to the cars and people. We continued on to the Fountain Paint Pot, where we witnessed 4 hydrothermal features – geysers, hot springs, mud pots, and fumaroles. It was quite fascinating to just stand and observe these features. Boiling mud randomly squirting over the mud pot, creating interesting sounds as the gases bubbled through the clay and a constant stream of Sulphur laden steam, leaving us nearly soaked as we walked off the wooden walkway!
One of the most remarkable sights was that of the Morning Glory Pool. It is about a 3 mile hike from the Old Faithful and the best part is that you get to see a number of other geysers and springs on the way, including the Castle Geyser. By the time we got to the Morning glory, the crowds thinned out and there were only a couple of other people. The gorgeous blue, green water and microbes that give it its characteristic orange-yellow fringe make it one of the most picturesque sights.
Spots such as the Grand Prismatic Spring, which is the largest spring in the US, and the third-largest in the world seem to draw the highest number of visitors in the park. I would recommend visiting the popular spots early in the day and then heading out to the other less popular sights.
Having heard so much about the Grand Teton National Park, we decided to drive through the park on our way back to Salt Lake City. What a gorgeous drive it was! Since the direct road from inside Yellowstone was blocked, we had to take a detour, which turned out to be one of the prettiest drives I have done. Narrow meandering roads and lush green meadows leading us towards the snow capped peaks in the distance. Since this post is primarily about Yellowstone, I will stop right here and just add a few pictures of Grand Teton below :). Would love to go back and explore some more some day.
Yellowstone National Park is home to some of the most visually breathtaking hot springs, geysers and very diverse wildlife. It is one place anyone can fall in love with! On my next trip, I plan to cover Lamar Valley, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone and Mammoth Springs and of course, go back to all the spots we covered on this trip.
From lovely lush Kauai, we headed on to our next destination – Oahu. The island of Oahu is definitely a very popular tourist destination. While we did not see many in Kauai, Oahu and especially Honolulu was flooded with tourists. The island is lot bigger than Kauai but just as beautiful. We were totally spoilt by all the lovely sights and incredible weather throughout the duration of our trip.
Here are top 5 sights not to be missed while visiting the island –
1. Lanikai Beach– After having read innumerable blog posts and articles about this beach, I could think of no better way to start exploring the island. Just a short distance from the busy Kailua Beach is this incredibly lovely beach. Parking can be a bit difficult since the area is primarily residential but a couple of rounds later, we managed to find a spot not too far away. At the end of the alley that led to the beach, we could see the glistening blue water. The blue I had only seen in photos and movies. It seemed unreal and in that moment I found myself feeling extremely fortunate for having seen some of the most magnificent sights over the past couple of days. Overwhelmed and excited, we decided to come back at 4:00 am the next morning to watch the sunrise. The experience wasn’t over yet.
We were the first ones on the beach the next morning. We picked a nice spot overlooking the Mokulua Islands and settled down to witness the grand spectacle. The sunrise was definitely one of the prettiest I have seen. We just sat there, the two of us, listening to the gentle waves and taking it all in. Later that morning, we kayaked out towards the Mokulua islands and spent the afternoon lounging in the sun. The beach is also great for snorkeling and paddle boarding.
2. Laie Point and the shrimp trucks – The drive along the North Shores is a must do in Oahu. The road gently meanders along the coast and the pretty blue water looks so inviting as you drive up the Kamehameha Highway (83) along the Eastern side of the island. Along the way, it passes a succession of small coves and bays and miles of white-sand beaches, some nearly deserted. There are some lovely snorkel spots and as you go further up north, the waves are ideal for surfing!
Oahu Revealed, the popular guide-book by Andrew Doughty gave us some great suggestions on places worth visiting, away from all the tourist traps. That is how we found Laie Point. According to local legend, this peninsula was originally a “Mo’o” or giant lizard. Standing upright ready to kill any intruder. After Kana (a legendary warrior) and his brother had rescued their mother from Moloka’i and had taken her back to Hawaii. Kana set out on a journey to kill all the Mo’o in the islands. In time, he arrived in La’ie where the Mo’o had been killing many people. Kana easily defeated the Mo’o taking its head. He chopped it into five pieces and flung them into the ocean. The pieces of the lizard’s head can still be seen today as five small islands lying off-shore their original names were Kihewamoku, Moluaaniwa, Pulemoku, Malualai and Keauakaluapa’a’a. (Source: “Hawaiian Legends” by William Rice, Bishop Museum Bulletin, Honolulu, HI 1923).
The rock formations are a stunning sight and beautiful to photograph. At Laie Point you can also see what the locals call “the hole in the rock.” Located in the rock island to the far left of the point, a hole can be seen in the middle of the island, which was created after a tsunami hit it in 1946. This is also the point where Mila Kunis and Jason Segel jumped off in ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘. We didn’t see many cliff jumpers the day we were there because it was terribly windy and giant waves were crashing on the rocks! Would love to go back and jump off the cliff on a day when the waves aren’t as intense.
After about an hour of wave watching and some soul-searching at the tip of the cliff, we realized we were famished and we decided to go look for one of the popular shrimp trucks in the area. We chose Giovanni’s based on all the reviews and were not in the least bit disappointed. Hot fresh buttered garlicky shrimp was just what I needed. For non shrimp lovers, there are some other trucks in the area that have other options as well.
3. The spitting caves – On day 3 at the island, we started heading towards Honolulu, our final destination. We decided to drive along the southern coast for more scenic views and so we could stop at the famous Hanauma Bay. As luck would have it, the parking lot was already full by the time we got there so we just had to settle for a view of the bay from one of the lookout points. We had read about the spitting caves just a short distance away, so we decided to go check that out instead. It isn’t very easy to find as the access path is in a residential area and not very well-marked. I am glad we didn’t skip seeing this place because the natural rock formations really make this place stand out. The spitting cave is where the ocean smashes against a few huge rocks and there is a cave where the waves go in and the pressure pushes the water out. Quite an amazing sight and it wasn’t crowded at all.
4. Honolulu – Crowded and bustling like any other tourist city. Downtown Honolulu is literally a mixture of old buildings, new buildings, bars, shops and restaurants. We checked into a hotel right on Waikiki so we wouldn’t have to drive out much on the last 2 days of our vacation. It was nice to just walk around, catch some of the FIFA World cup matches at the local bars and sample some delicious Japanese food.
The day we arrived also happened to be the day of the Pan-Pacific Parade down the Kalakaua Avenue, the main strip next to Waikiki beach. The main street is temporarily closed down to vehicular traffic from Lewers Street to Kaiulani Avenue to accommodate this festive parade. Thousands of participants included colorful performers, taiko drummers, dancers, ethnic cultural groups, and high school marching bands. It was a true feast and we felt lucky to have witnessed it.
The next morning we drove up to Mt. Tantalus (Puu Ualakaa State Park) to get a glimpse of the lovely skyline of Diamond Head and the city of Honolulu. It is a beautiful drive up the hill and the views are just stunning! (Opener photo)
5. Pearl Harbor – What a beautiful memorial! The exhibits are great and the grounds are very well maintained. The atmosphere is somber and everyone so respectful of the site. There are four main exhibits and if you choose to see them all, it will probably take up most of your day. Do make sure to reserve a ticket to see the USS Arizona online a few weeks before your trip. A small number of tickets are also given out each morning. The office opens at 7:00 AM, but an employee recommended arriving at 6:00 AM to get in line. The tickets assign a time to view the film. Directly after, the audience boards a boat to the USS Arizona Memorial. Unfortunately, by the time we got there, they only had late afternoon slots available and we had a flight out that afternoon so had to miss seeing it. We did get tickets to the USS Bowfin, so we did an audio tour of the submarine. The tour was extremely informative and included personal accounts from veterans and residents to bring the story to life. This was very helpful, as I found the amount of information displayed quite overwhelming, especially in the submarine museum. Will definitely go back to visit the USS Arizona and USS Missouri on the next trip.
The trip ended on a very good note and I have just picked up a copy of Hawaii – The Big Island Revealed, to start planning a trip back to the gorgeous islands.
Sometimes a good holiday can be the perfect cure for just about anything. After months of slogging it out, I was feeling rather demotivated and worn out. In desperate need for a break, we decided to head out to Hawaii for one week. After consulting with friends in Hawaii, we decided to visit the islands of Kauai and Oahu based on the amount of time we had and the stuff we wanted to do. The husband and I love being outdoors, driving around, hiking or bumming at the beach and taking in all that nature has to offer!
The first island we visited was Kauai – green, serene and gorgeous! We took the first flight out and six and a half hours later, we landed at Lihue airport. Quaint and rustic, I fell in love with it immediately. We spent three nights at Kapa’a, around 6 miles north of the airport and close enough to pretty much all the places we wanted to visit. We spent the afternoon exploring Kapa’a, did a short drive up north to the sleepy town Kilauea and started planning the rest of our trip.
Here are the top 5 must do’s while in Kauai:
1. Nounou Trail aka The Sleeping Giant Hike – Local legend states that a giant who feasted so much at a party thrown in his honor, laid down for a nap and never awoke. When you see the mountain’s resemblance to a sleeping giant from the nearby town of Kapa’a you can see why the legend persists. This is a nice little hike if you’re in the area, and a great way of sampling some of Kauai’s exotic plant life and bird population. This vantage offers views of the ocean, Wailua River and Mt. Waiʻaleʻale. The trail can be quite slippery, especially after the rains so do bring sturdy footwear.
2. Snorkel at the beaches around Hanalei Bay – The stunning blue water calls out to you as you drive along the coast towards the North Shores and Snorkel Bob made it extremely easy to rent all the snorkeling gear. The calm, gentle water was perfect to dive into and explore the ocean bed. We did spot one big turtle, gently swimming along :). On our next trip to Kauai, we definitely plan to do a couple of boat tours so we can explore some of the sea caves along the Na Pali Coast.
3. Doors off Helicopter Tour – We decided to do a doors off helicopter tour of the island to see some of the best sights from the air, since everyone we spoke to recommended it. I spent the first five minutes after take off trembling in fear and refusing to let go of the seat. But slowly, the views just started getting so amazing that it took my mind off everything else! We got fantastic views of the Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park. The canyon is often referred to as the ‘Grand Canyon’ of Hawaii and rightfully so. It is a sight you definitely do not want to miss. We also saw the Manawaiopuna Falls, more famously known as the Jurassic Falls because it was featured in the movie Jurassic Park. The next main attraction was the famous Na Pali Coast. I don’t think I have ever seen a prettier coastline. I always thought that nothing could ever compete with the Pacific Coast highway but my jaw literally dropped the minute we got closer to the Na Pali coast. You can’t go to Kauai without seeing the Nepali Coast. Breathtakingly beautiful! Our pilot slowly steered inland over Hanalei Bay towards the center of the island and the Weeping Wall, a series of beautiful scenic waterfalls that tumble down the side of 5,184 foot high Mount Waiʻaleʻale. The summit is one of the rainiest spots on earth with a record 683 inches (17,300 mm) in 1982.
Be sure to book this in advance so that you can plan your trip better. We were extremely happy with our tour with Mauna Loa Helicopters. The tour can be a bit pricey but totally worth it. No photographs can do justice to the sights we saw :).
4. Taro Burgers and Shave ice – Never having eaten Taro before, I was extremely curious about it. Crispy on the outside, moist on the inside with textural crunch, the taro burger is a must try. I had never had anything quite like it and it was flavored perfectly. We tried them at a number of places but absolutely loved the ones at Kalapali Beach Hut in Lihue. A tiny shack-like but cute building but on the roof is a cozy two booths and bar style seating with a bit of view of the ocean. Shave ice is an ice-based dessert made by shaving a block of ice and coating it with flavored syrups. The fine texture of the ice absorbs all the syrup and makes one delicious refreshing dessert! Do try some local favorites like Pineapple, Lychee, Papaya and Guava syrups on your shave ice. Nothing beats the heat better!
5. Tree Tunnel and Poipu Beach – Very close to the old town of Koloa is the Maluhia Road Tree Tunnel. Definitely drive towards Poipu via this route. It is a mile long drive flanked by Eucalyptus Trees on either side to form a tunnel. The drive through is pretty amazing, have your camera ready as you drive into Maluhia Road from Highway 50. A short distance away is the Poipu Beach, quite popular with tourists and known to be a great snorkeling spot. We spent an entire afternoon here just lounging on the beach.
I already have a list of things I want to do on our next trip to Kauai, including hiking the The Kalalau Trail – an 11 mile stretch of coast is the original trail used by the Hawaiians who lived in Kalalau Valley and other valleys along the Napali. The trail provides the only land access to the Napali Coast on Kauai. Of course this would require some planning and conditioning but we hope to return to this magnificent island very soon.
Coming up next – Exploring the island of Oahu…