best view of Kilauea Iki Crater, which erupted in
November 1959, is from Crater Rim Drive, Volcano
National Park, near Hilo, Big Island, Hawaii.
Hawaii — You wouldn’t think that a mellow town such as
Hilo, a Hawaiian-style community — and the rainiest
place in Hawaii — could brag on much in the way of
passion and betrayal. But that’s what the movie
director, the one I bumped into at a film festival party,
said he wanted.
about a story set in a small town where everyone has a
secret," he said, handing me a glass of wine.
"Set it in Hawaii, since you’re going there. But no
guidebook stuff. I want a red-hot drama, a battle of the
emotions, a tale of anger, jealousy, guilt. A story that’ll
tear at your gut. Add a natural disaster and a has-been
actor and I’ll read it."
writing was the last thing on my mind as I listened to him
talk. But I was taking my kids to Volcanoes National Park,
on Hawaii’s Big Island, where molten lava has been
engulfing homes, torching forests and mesmerizing
onlookers since 1983. Would that be red-hot enough for Mr.
Director (who asked that I not use his name)?
weather in Hilo, the driest in a decade, according to the
television, was sunny all day, every day. A good sign,
indeed. But more important was ensuring that our
long-planned family trip would be a sizzler, engaging and
entertaining little minds.
that end I booked a Volcano Discovery tour and a zip line
day with Kapohokine Adventures, a Hilo-based outfitter
recommended by a friend.
won’t be sorry," he raved. "The guides are
exceptional. They know everything that’s ever happened.
They kept our teenagers enthralled all day."
it happens, Hilo is close to both the ocean and the
volcanoes — killer surfing and Kilauea hot spots — so
we stayed in town at the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel overlooking
Hilo Bay. It was here, in A.D. 1100, that the first wave
of Polynesian voyagers reached the island, settling near
the Wailuku River.
was the village center then and it still is, comfortably
old-fashioned with its rustic last-century store fronts,
narrow streets, curious galleries, mom-and-pop shops,
first-rate restaurants and the occasional newcomer,
including Kapohokine Adventures.
most zip lines, Kopohokine’s is built on open land past
a macadamia nut orchard, on a long downward slope next to
the Hilo Forest Reserve. As expected, aerial views of
gorges and waterfalls are guaranteed. But this is no
ordinary zip line.
with not one but two cables on each of the eight segments,
it’s a fly-away built for two. Lovers can soar in
tandem; mothers and daughters buddy up; sportsmen play the
links game, racing each other down the lines.
you ride the first four links before noon, the second four
later, and take a lunch break midway for a barbecue or
sandwiches. If you’re interested, an introduction to
Hawaiian culture and a cooling swim in a waterfall pool is
available, a bonus activity pioneered by co-owner Gary
tours began when we noticed that cruise passengers needed
someone to pick them up at the dock and show them the real
Hilo," said Marrow. "We started with one van and
when that wasn’t enough we bought another one. Now we
have 10 new vans and 90 full- and part-time employees.
Finally we bought the land and decided to build the zip
was at this moment that I recognized the makings of a
Hollywood-style drama. Not that Marrow, who resembles
Leonardo DiCaprio, is a "has-been actor"
exactly, but sort of. Before moving to Hawaii he dabbled
in film, eventually nailing a job as a stand-in for
DiCaprio in the film "Titanic."
took a year to make the movie, enough time to get to know
Leo and the cast pretty well and to see how movie-making
works," he said. "I spent a lot of time
shivering in that giant water tank they used for the ocean
scenes, but they paid pretty well. I looked for another
gig after it ended, but then we decided to come out
there was more drama to come on our Volcano Discovery
tour, scheduled for the next day with Kapohokine guide
Rich Berner. An amateur geologist and National Park
volunteer, Berner is also a lettuce farmer, intrepid
historian, Hilo resident and a relentless encyclopedia.
Ten minutes into the tour, I knew we’d struck gold.
along the coast, we looked at lava-damaged houses, though
nearby telephone poles, wrapped in metal sheets, survived.
So did the quaint Star of the Sea Painted Church, a
cultural icon built in 1928, saved when a band of heroes
scrambled to move it away from the advancing lava in 1990.
the once-sandy beach at Kalapana, now a lava sheet to the
ocean, Berner pointed out thousands of palm fronds pushing
up through the cracks, a testament to indomitable life,
re-greening the Big Island as it always does.
at the Hilo Bay waterfront, we watched the surf crashing
on the breakwater as Berner talked about Hilo’s worst
two natural disasters, tsunamis that roared across the bay
in 1946 and in 1960. The first tsunami swept ashore with
45-foot-high waves that engulfed the town, killing 161
people and destroying whole blocks of buildings. The
second tsunami, partially slowed by a newly built
breakwater, flooded parks, streets and shops and despite
an advance warning system, killed another 60 residents.
to Volcanoes National Park we drove around the Kilauea
Caldera on the Crater Rim Road, stopping at view points on
the way to the Thurston Lava Tube, a classic example of
lava geology. The tube, 12 feet in diameter and about 100
yards long, is dimly lit, enough to feel spooky when you’re
could walk through the thing in 10 minutes. But Berner
lingered, showing us colored minerals that had leached
from the inside wall and how a tube was formed when the
lava flow’s exterior edge cooled and hardened but the
boiling hot center stayed liquid enough to flow out and
lunch, we hiked the four-mile loop trail into Kailauea Iki
crater, hard rock now but a fiery fountain when it erupted
in 1959. Walking along the crater floor was safe but
strange, knowing that hot magma was deep underneath.
darkness fell, we lagged, thinking of dinner. But Berner
wouldn’t quit until we’d seen the science exhibits in
the Jagger Museum and found the sweet spot on the rim
where everyone gathers to watch the smoke and steam rise
from the boiling lava in Halema’uma’u Crater.
the story of Hilo’s least known drama, "Bloody
Monday," was still to come. After the first Christian
missionaries converted the Hawaiians, they educated the
few who didn’t die of measles, married them and raised
families, amassed huge sugar cane plantations and imported
Chinese and Japanese to work the fields. Then things went
Aug. 1, 1938, a peaceful march led by dock and warehouse
workers demanding fair wages turned violent. As tensions
rose, 70 police wielding clubs, fire hoses and guns
attacked the demonstrators, wounding 50 people.
Hawaiians everywhere were shocked. But with World War II
looming, Bloody Monday was forgotten. Will a fiery drama
save this piece of history? With the right writer (not
me), it might. We’ll need Leonardo DiCaprio playing the
handsome but greedy plantation owner, Gary Marrow as the
stand-in, Gina Rodriquez (from "Jane the
Virgin") as the winsome Hawaiian girl and Rich Berner
checking facts. And filmed in Hilo, of course.
Kapohokine Adventures tours, prices and itineraries, see
www.kapohokine.com. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit
the office in Hilo at 224 Kamehameha Ave, #106 until
August 2016, and when they move to the Hilton Hotel on
Banyan Drive. Or call (808)964-1000. For more about Hilo
and Hawaii, go to www.gohawaii.com/hilo.
the Hilo Hawaiian Hotel, see www.castleresorts.com/hilo.