It’s me and my rental car against the forces of nature. In the course of the morning I endured wind, sand and blazing heat. I ascended the side of a volcano and was blitzed by pounding rain near the top. Now, on the way back down, I pull over at a viewpoint and forget the most basic natural force of all: gravity.
I get out, slam the door and walk across to a fence guarding the rim of the immense Waimea Canyon. I hear crunching gravel behind me. Odd. There’s nobody else here. I turn to witness the alarming sight of my car rolling down the mountain. I’d left the parking brake off.
By good fortune, the wheels point toward the road rather than in the direction of the 3,000-foot drop into the canyon. Nonetheless, I sprint to catch the runaway vehicle and sling myself into the front seat. I jam it to a halt just as an oncoming car appears ahead. I face a flash of lights and a horn blast. A small price to pay for a potentially catastrophic mistake.
This Chevy Impala is just the latest of a succession of rental cars during my island-hopping tour of Hawai’i. While other vacationers settle by the hotel pool or lounge on the beach, I am keen to see as much as I can of these incredible islands, and for that I need wheels.
I tried to match my rental choices to the particular requirements of each island. On the Big Island, I chose an SUV, all the better for looking across the stark lava fields and negotiating the cinder tracks on the upper slopes of the great volcano, Mauna Kea. On Maui, I went for a convertible — the perfect mode of transport for the sunny drive along the coast to Lahaina with the radio on, the wind ruffling my hair and humpback whales breaching offshore. I opted for a compact Chevy Aveo in Oahu, ideal for fitting into parking spaces in Honolulu and Waikiki.
The choice for Kauai posed a challenge. The island features a bit of everything. The clincher was the knowledge the island’s summit is one of the wettest places on Earth. Definitely not convertible country. The roads are good, so an SUV was not essential. And I didn’t plan to spend much time in the towns.
So it is me and the Chevy Impala. Having rescued it from gravity’s pull, I reverse it back to the viewpoint, apply the brake and for additional security place a volcanic rock beneath one of the front tires.
Now I can fully appreciate the raw landscape. This is the beginning of Hawai’i’s geological end. The canyon formed when the main volcanic dome collapsed, compounded by the eroding effects of water and wind. The process continues unabated. Over the coming millennia, the highlands will wash away, reducing Kauai to a ring of small islands around a lagoon.
The narratives of geology unfold over vast timescales impossible to grasp from a human perspective. But the scenic results are breathtaking. On the descent, I often pull over, restrain the car and take in the stunning view from new angles.
Back on the flat coast road, I realize a police car is suddenly tailing me. I measure my speed, check my seat belt and meticulously obey every road sign. Eventually he overtakes me and continues on his way.
A traffic cop is one force of nature I don’t intend to mess with.
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