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Trekking Tales: Just another day in paradise!

"What shall we do today?"

"What shall we do today?"

Well, yesterday we drove north along Kona coast of the big island of Hawaii, east across the green plateau, until we saw the ocean again. We then swung south because our small rental car loaded with four well-fed Canadians doesn't swim! More spectacular views later, we arrived in Hilo and paid homage to Kamehameha I who had united the Hawaiian Islands. This king met Hawaii's first European visitors: Captain Cook and crew on the Resolution.

We wanted to see a deity: the goddess Pele. The four of us filled the helicopter, leaving just enough space for our young pilot, Danielle. Up we went, first viewing a humpback whale splashing below us. Soon, leaving grove after grove of macadamia nut trees, we could see the steaming vent of Pu'u'O'o, on the side of Mt. Kilauea.

We circled a sharp-sided crater, red-hot lava burbling in several spots within.

"Those huts around the area are for geologists monitoring the activity," she grinned back at John. Movement of the lava is slow but relentless. One house, now a B&B accessible only by helicopter, is all that remains out of 50 such homes. A T-shaped section of paved road beside it goes nowhere. Homes destroyed in another area are being rebuilt in the midst of these extensive black lava fields. No lava could be seen entering the sea but sharp, rocky edges show recent action.

"Let's see if we can find some flowing lava," suggested Danielle. "It changes daily, and even between flights." We were her last trip of the day and the lighting was just right to see small sections of molten lava at the surface moving down towards the ocean we had just left. One red flow was moving so slowly it was already hardening, its top turning black and jagged.

That was yesterday. Tomorrow we'll drive as far north as we can go.

"Visit the galleries," we'd been advised. "For woodworking treasures, don't miss Dunn Gallery." Today I'll take you along with us - whale watching! We leave our comfortable condo, walking past its palm trees, colorful hedges of bougainvillea, hibiscus, other bright tropical flowers and shady trees. These humpbacks winter here.

"Thar she blows!" Cap'n Nick narrates while Cap'n Pat steers our catamaran to within 100 yards (m) of these leviathans of the deep.

"The female is leading," he tells us. We count three suitors behind her. We see curved black backs, huge dripping splayed tails, and spouts on every side of our craft at varying distances. We focus on a calf and its mother.

"It's less than two weeks old," he estimates. "It's unusual for her to let her baby come so close, but she doesn't have to obey Park's rules!" Another whale surfaces nearby.

"Ah, the boyfriend - not the father, he's a protector and possibly a future dad." We stay with them for many magical moments as they circle us time and again. We don't notice two others coming close until suddenly -- "Whoosh" -- right beside us. First one whale breaches, then a second, leaping right out of the water. Their size is awe-inspiring; splashes go high, wide and loud, drowning out our gasps of surprise and admiration. And so goes our morning...

After lunch we drive to a small beach south of Kona and don snorkelling gear.

"It's like swimming in an aquarium!" we enthuse, propelling ourselves past the green turtle munching at water's edge. Wave action sneaks in past the reef and pulls us and other swimmers this way and that. The myriad, multi-coloured fish aren't bothered by that - or by us.

Now, shall we swim laps, soak in the hot tub, or read by the pool? Decisions, decisions....