Travel Talk

In spite of its generic title, I’ve rather neglected the ‘Now and Then’ element of this space just lately. Instead, I’ve written about recent travel experiences at home and abroad. If apologies are required, consider them humbly offered.

But ‘Now and Then’ came right back into focus when I read accounts of the volcanic eruption on the island of Hawaii – the largest of the eight which make up that well-known archipelago.  

Hawaii The reason is that I have strong memories of staying in a magnificent hotel which was built on the site of a dormant volcano on that very same island. I write ‘dormant’, but the truth of the matter is that one can never be absolutely certain about volcanoes because the little beggars have a habit of playing up when you least expect them to.

Anyway, all those years ago I pitched up – with a film crew in tow – at the Hyatt Regency Waikoloa.  It was one of the most magnificent hostelries I have ever encountered (and, believe me, I have encountered some of the best in the world).

It had been built on the vast bed of lava which, long years ago, had flowed from the Waikoloa volcano. It spread over 35,000 acres with magnificent suites in a handful of tower blocks, apartments for long-stayers, shops and restaurants. There was even a magnificent 18-hole golf course and, when you consider that it, too, had been built on the lava bed you had to admire the effort and ingenuity which went into creating and maintaining it.

From the check in area you had a choice of a tram or a motor boat to convey you to your ‘accommodations’. We chose the motor boat, as it was driven by a very attractive lady. As it ran on rails set on the bed of a specially built waterway, this task did not occupy much of her attention, so she had plenty of opportunity to pose prettily and be gawped at by the male members of our film crew.  

(Nowadays I suspect their conduct, not to mention their comments, would bring down an Amazonian wrath upon their heads, but then was not now.)

The largest of the swimming pools – yes, of course there was more than one –  was so vast that one dared not venture into it without checking the shipping forecast, and the corridors on every level were lined with millions of dollars worth of art.  

Hawaii During the course of our stay we boarded a helicopter (having first taken off the door) in order to film the hotel and its surroundings from the air. And only then did we realise how close it was to the still-active bits of Waikoloa.

Fortunately the bubbling and heaving and spewing up of molten rock was happening on the other side of the volcano, closer to the coast, so the lava flowed into the sea without doing any damage.   

You may imagine, then, how I felt when I heard news, at the beginning of May, that a volcano on that very same island was erupting mightily. And how relieved on learning that it was not Waikoloa but Kilauea, which is several miles away towards the south coast.  

The relief was short-lived when I realised that, although the magnificent hotel of my memory was safe, other buildings, not to mention their inhabitants, were in grave danger. And the horror of their situation was driven home by the television news reports.

Throughout May the news from Hawaii, like the volcano, rumbled on. Kilauea shows no signs of easing up. One can only hope that lives will not be lost and that, eventually, homes will be rebuilt. And, when enough time has passed, the lava can be blasted and bulldozed, roads can be relaid and, who knows, maybe another magnificent hotel will be created.

Kilauea volcano, Hawaii Apart from volcanic activity, the islands of Hawaii have long interested me, because of odd facts about them.   

I am, as those who know me will testify, a collector of odd facts and was, indeed, for some years a member of ‘The Useless Information Society’ which numbered many distinguished (but now, alas, almost all dead) writers in its ranks.

The last king of Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands) was Kalakaua, who had visited Europe, was smitten with Great Britain and nursed hopes of his land becoming part of Victoria’s great Empire. Unfortunately he died in 1891 with his hopes unfulfilled and was succeeded by his sister. Her virtually unpronounceable name was Lili’uakalani (‘Lily’ for short?) and the mess she made of things gave the USA the excuse it needed to take over, which it did by sending in a force of marines from the USS Boston.  

So Hawaii never did become part of the Empire ‘upon which the sun never set’, and the only evidence of King Kalakaua’s dream is the fact that the Union Flag forms one quarter of Hawaii’s state flag to this day.

Though the volcanoes I have written about are located on Hawaii (or Big) island, most of today’s tourists head for the island of Ohau, where Waikiki Beach, Honolulu and Pearl Harbor are located.

Anything unusual there? I hear you ask. (Actually I don’t hear you asking anything of the sort, but this is a device we writer chaps use when we want to change tack and shoehorn in some more interesting but useless information.)

USS Arizona Memorial Well, Pearl Harbor is twinned with Hiroshima – one of the world’s most unusual ‘pairings’, other than that of Paris with Whitwell, in Rutland. And there are now more dead sailors on the USS Arizona than when she was destroyed on 7th December 1941.

How come? (see above). Well, Arizona sank on the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, taking 1,102 men to their deaths. She is now a memorial, and as time took its toll of the survivors, many asked that their ashes be scattered there so they might rejoin their comrades. Sailors from other ships have, over the years, expressed the same wish.

Incidentally, the USS Arizona remains a commissioned vessel, so the US Navy will never have another of that name. For exactly the same reason the Royal Navy will never have another HMS Victory.  

Oh dear, I appear to have strayed somewhat from my thoughts on volcanoes then and now. I suppose I could recount a volcanic adventure during a long ago visit to Iceland, but I think that ought to be saved for another time.

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John Carter

Long-time presenter of TV’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and BBC holiday programmes

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