Author Topic: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind  (Read 4203 times)

Offline Something Fishy

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Okay, it was actually 40 hours, but 36 looks way better in the title. So there.


The company I occasionally consult for was launching a new high-end tripod brand, and last November I flew to the Big Island to shoot the launch commercial. My official pompous title on the shoot was Assistant Director, which in practice meant that I coordinated and planned all shot locations. Due to various time constraints, our goal was to shoot the entire commercial in a single day, with the second morning being reserved for backup and secondary shots. With such a tight time frame and the need for a wide variety of different locations, each shot needed to be pre-planned down to the exact foot, plus we needed to have contingencies for weather, in case we couldn't get a certain permit, and so on.

In addition to coordinating all this, I was in charge of all still photography for the project and on-the-ground logistics.

The rest of the team were two good friends from the company, working as producer and DP. The producer is the one who planned and directed each individual shot based on my locations, and he also shot B-roll, while the DP (basically the video guy) manned the main camera.

The last part of our team was the talent (pompous-speak for "actor"). We needed to find a local to play the part of an adventure photographer, and so great was our joy when a local actor who is actually also an adventure photographer responded to our ad. The fact that he was an actual photographer would make my life waaaay easier on set, as I wouldn't have to constantly be coaching him on how to properly hold a camera, for example. After a couple of Skype conversations Sean was hired, and he turned out to be absolutely perfect for the job.

Full team finally in place, it was time to pack. We were schlepping an inordinate amount of gear - tons of video and photo equipment - mostly in triplicate, for both B-roll and backup, plus the actual product lineup we were filming. Normally these would be packed in Pelican cases and checked as luggage, but being that we essentially had only one day on the ground we couldn't afford even the slightest risk of the bags getting lost. So we shlepped all this as massive, waaay over the limit carry-ons, and thankfully had no issues whatsoever.

For me personally, another goal of this trip was to test out the boots I bought for Antarctica. Although the ship provides boots, they obviously did not have anything to fit my giant clown feet, so I needed to bring my own. After a whole bunch of ordering and returning, I had a pair that would work in theory, but I needed to put it through hell before I was comfortable taking them to Antarctica. This trip, which was going to involve trekking across sharp lava, wading in rivers and beaches, and in general being dragged up and across all kinds of terrain, was a perfect stress test. All good in theory, but they took up most of the space in this full-sized suitcase :P:

Anyways, back to Hawaii. We were booked on United's direct Newark to Honolulu flight, flying up front on an Everyday Award ticket for 180k UA. That's a whole lotta miles, but firstly it was the cheapest F option at the moment, and secondly - little detail here - I wasn't the one paying for it :P.

Between Honolulu and Hilo we were booked into Hawaiian revenue: F for the outbound, and Y+ for the return.

My Hawaiian travels - 3 trips and 5 islands, with the current trip in red:

So, schlepping massively oversized and overweight carry-ons, we finally made it onto the plane. United flies a 764 between Newark and Honolulu in a 2-1-2 configuration. Despite being open to both aisles, the middle seats (row D) is generally considered ideal for a single traveler. Unfortunately all middle seats were taken by the time we booked for the outbound, but I was able to snag 1D for the return. For the outbound I had 1B, which, as a bulkhead, had way larger footwells that the other seats. It should be noted though that while seat 1D is a bulkhead as well, it has the standard, tight footwell.

Seat 1B (and 1A of course):

As mentioned, due to the bulkhead seats had way larger footwells, and as you can see, there's a very convenient spot to keep your bedding when not in use. Overall the flight was exactly as you'd expect on United: meh seat, meh service, and horrendous KSML.

At 9:30am, 45 minutes into an 11-hour flight, the pre-arrival meal was served, naturally:

Who wouldn't want dry chicken breast and stewed vegetables for breakfast?

I had a nibble of the frozen pastry, sent everything back, and ate the sandwich I brought from home.

1:45pm: time for dinner, because reasons:

What's for dinner, you ask, considering that it's early afternoon, and barely 4 hours since the delectable fleishig prepost arrivaldeparture breakfast chicken was served? Why, it's dairy blintzes, of course!

This strawberry and coconut whatchamacallit on the other hand was downright delicious:

Anyway.... got one or two 2-hour naps in, and before you know it we were landing in Hawaii. I counted no less than five separate rainbows during the approach, so we were clearly going places.

HNL was the same mixed bag as always, its old and decrepit halls being offset by the huge open areas that make you feel like you're in Hawaii even before you even leave the airport. But first, business: a short break to wolf down the last of our sandwiches lest the Protectors of the Agriculture take umbrage at the shreds of lettuce and half a cherry tomato concealed within. This contraband safely out of the way, it was off to the long and lonely trek to the interisland terminal, where we passed the Agri inspection with flying colors.

Our steed today:

Long wait in a hot and stuff terminal hallway with no chairs, first onto the plane, and wonder of wonders, not a word about our ginormous carry-ons.

First class on Hawaiian's 717 is your typical North American F - wider, more comfortable seat with livable legroom. Unlike United however, Hawaiian's crew was exceptional and the short, hour-ish flight was mighty lovely.

It didn't hurt that my seatmate was extremely cute and cuddled with me most of the flight:

The views were epic too. Diamond Head on Oahu:

Haleakala Crater and the observatory:

If you look closely you can see a rainbow forming over the Road to Hana just past 'Ohe'o Gulch:

Landed in Hilo in the pouring rain, which, as is the wont in Hawaii, ended as soon as it began. Off to the car rental counter to pick up the Wrangler we specifically reserved, and then to the Grand Naniloa Hotel - which is way more Hawaiian-sounding than its real name, DoubleTree by Hilton. Reception was in the open-air lobby, smelling like warm chocolate chip cookies and surrounded by tropical gardens and the constant chittering of countless tree frogs.

Most of this is camera gear - even the Polar Bear cooler was half full of stuff:

The hotel was pretty much perfect for our needs - the rooms were nice and large, had a decent-enough kitchenette, and freezing cold AC. Our rooms were in the older wing of the hotel, but honestly it was just fine:

We had a delicious dinner of Grand & Essex's travel meals, made a quick Walmart run, spent an hour or so organizing our gear, and then early to bed to prepare for what was scheduled to be an absolutely bonkers day.

Time on the ground in Hawaii so far: 4 hours.

Day 1

Our first shoot was scheduled for sunrise, which was at 6:27. We were up at 4 to prepare the gear, meet with our local actor Sean, and head down to the location. Sean lives only 10 minutes away from our hotel, so that worked out great.

About half an hour north of Hilo lies Laupāhoehoe Point. This lovely lava outcropping is an incredible spot for sunrise, with the wild ocean crashing onto the jagged lava rocks and massive waterfalls cascading down the distant cliffs:

A picture of me taken by one of the other guys:

Absolutely amazing standing there watching the sun rise with no one but the birds and the pounding ocean around, but we didn't have time to dawdle - we still had a ton of ground to cover.

We stopped back in Hilo for a bit, where Dave (the producer) and I davened shachris while our non-Jewish teammate and Sean went to a local restaurant for breakfast and to buy a boxed lunch.

Off to the next stop of the day: the Boiling Pots just beneath Peepee Falls. View of the river from the parking lot:

This view however told us everything we needed to know: the current was too strong to safely do what we needed to do, so we switched to our backup location, 'Akaka Falls.

Quick shot of a lovely red-crested cardinal in the parking lot before we left:

So we get to 'Akaka... only to find that one of our tripods are missing. And not an old tripod that we were using for our own gear, but one of the brand-new, $750 tripods we were shooting the commercial for. We turned the truck upside down, to no avail. It was clear that we had left the tripod behind at one of our previous locations.

Luckily we had multiples as backup and could continue to work, but the missing one still had to be located. We figured that it must have been left at Laupāhoehoe, considering we hadn't unpacked too much gear at Peepee before we deemed the location unsafe. I volunteered to go look for it, as the rest of the crew will be able to continue filming without me for a while.

I arrived back at Laupāhoehoe a bit later, scanning the beach from afar as I was pulling in. And there it was - sticking out above the bushes. It was exactly where we left it - fully set up smack in the middle of the rocks. It hadn't been touched, even though there were lots of people around by this time and this was obviously an expensive - and large (over 6' tall) - piece of equipment. I heaved a sigh of relief, chucked the tripod into the trunk, and sped back to 'Akaka.

There was no cellphone service anywhere around, so I had no idea where the guys were and if they were already done. It was a long and steep path down to the falls, and I was too lazy to hike down only to have to hike back up right away. So I set up the tripod on the roof of the Jeep so it would be visible from far away, and took a nap.

The best view I ended up having from the falls, all the way from the parking lot:

Didn't sleep too long before the guys were back, and soon we were on the way to the lava desert in the middle of the Saddle Road. A mile of so past the Mauna Kea turnoff is an old, closed stretch of the old Saddle Road. We pulled off onto this road and got comfortable:

The lava field is hot, harsh, and unforgiving. The ground is hot to the touch, and sharp as glass. It has a stark beauty of its own though. The only vegetation is on cinder cones poking out of the lava here and there:

This is where we got to test out the Wrangler's capabilities for the first time: why make a U-turn on a boring road, when you can drive on the lava? No problems for the Wrangler - just point it at something and it'll take you across:

Next stop: the tallest mountain on Earth.

Mauna Kea stands only 13,803 feet, but the vast majority of it is underwater. Measured from its base, the mountain is a staggering 33,476 feet tall. On the other hand, Everest is a measly 29,029'. Take that, Himalayas.

Technically, we were already on the mountain, as the Saddle Road climbs some 6000' feet up its flank. But now we were heading up the mountain proper, all the way to the summit.

Being that the mountain is so tall and most people travel there pretty much from sea level, altitude sickness is a real issue. It's therefore not not a good idea to head directly to the summit; rather stop for awhile at the visitor's center at 9200' to acclimatize to the thin air. Since we were planning on doing quite a bit of walking around at the summit, we built two hours of acclimatization into our schedule.

We got bored with the visitor's center pretty quickly, so we crossed the road to the Pu'u Kalepeamoa trailhead, which leads up a smallish cinder cone. The video guy and our model headed up to shoot another scene, while Dave and I stayed behind. I was too lazy to climb, and Dave was showing symptoms of altitude sickness.

Setting up the camera:

Dave giving up on everything and just taking a nap:

The others returned after a bit, Dave picked himself up, and we turned towards the summit. Just above the  visitor's center, rangers had set up a roadblock and were inspecting each car before allowing them up, including checking the fuel levels. We had nothing to worry about, as our Wrangler was in fact the recommended vehicle for this, we had a full tank of ga-

Uh oh. No, we didn't.

We had forgotten to fill up on the way up the mountain. Our fuel indicator was at 1/4, and technically you must have at least half a tank to proceed.

There was no time to head for gas now - it would take 2 hours at least, and we'd miss the only sunset we had in Hawaii. So when the ranger stuck his head in and declared that we didn't have enough gas, we told him that the indicator had just moved from 1/2 to a 1/4 and we're sure we'll be fine. Somehow that worked, and we were waved on.


While the road up to the visitor's center is a regular, easy, properly paved road, second half is everything but. It's dirt-slash-gravel-slash-volcanic ash and quite horrible. The weather was lovely and the road dry, so the going wasn't bad other than the teeth-rattling shaking. Once at the summit itself the road becomes paved once more, so that was nice.

The views up the mountain are simply amazing. It's late afternoon, so the sun is lighting everything up beautifully. You're above the clouds, and below you you have a moonscape of cinder cones, rockes, and ash. You climb higher and higher until finally you're at the summit, and entering the observatory area.

There are thirteen telescopes up here, with more under construction. The most surprising thing for me was that up close, the buildings beneath the telescopes were basically glorified corrugated-metal sheds. Somehow I was expecting something a bit more prestigious-looking, but I suppose form over function wins out here:

Driving, Fishy-style:

Mauna Loa, the Big Island's other giant volcano, is visible above the clouds to the left:

The parking lot here looked like a Jeep dealership:

The weather up her can get pretty nasty, but tonight it was quite lovely - only a little cold and a brisk breeze. On the other had, we were hoping for some snow on the ground, so I suppose you gain some and you lose some.

Group pic - Me, our model Sean, the producer Dave (suffering from altitude sickness and freezing his bottom off), and the DP Kevin:

Now technically, the "summit" we were on is not the actual summit; that's on a little hill around 40 feet higher and a bit off to the side. I had planned on hiking up, but due to the altitude I was ridiculously out of breath. So long as I moved slowly I was able to manage, but if I as much as walked briskly I had to sit down on the ground to catch my breath. So there went that.

13,763' - still 40 feet beneath the summit (indicated by a crosshairs on the map). My personal land altitude record to date:

The sunset itself was kinda meh, with only a few clouds to catch the sun's colors. We did however get the shot we wanted, and so in the infinitely wise words of Borat, GREAT SUCCESS!

Mauna Loa and some of Mauna Kea's cinder cones:

That's the Japanese Subaru Telescope on the right and the Taiwanese Sub-Millimeter Array on the left. You can see Maui behind the Subaru, and, if you squint, the island of Lanai to the left beneath the clouds:

LIke I said, the sunset was underwhelming, but if you turned away from the sun, the summit itself was covered in an array of subtle colors and actually quite lovely:

And a few minutes later:

As soon as the sun went under, the rangers began hustling everyone to get off the mountain as only scientific personnel are allowed to remain after dark. Last pic of the parking lot:

We got into the car and pulled out of the lot... when the fuel warning came on.

The Wrangler drinks like a shikkur. Heading down the mountain we need to be in 4-low, which - of course - is the most fuel-intensive gear. The nearest gas station was 43 miles and over an hour away.

There was no way on Earth that we're making it.

Except... we are at nearly 14,000 feet. The gas station is at sea level. This is gonna be fun.

So I shifted the car into neutral, and down we coasted.

While we were still on the dirt road, I moved into 4-low a whole bunch of times; stuck is better than dead. But once the road flattened out a bit past the visitor's center it was one solid coast in neutral all the way to Hilo, some 35 miles away. The going was great; once on the Saddle Road, the grade and curves were just perfect enough to give us a solid 60-70mph with virtually no braking.

And then we pulled into the first gas station with a giant sigh of relief, filled up till it shpritzed back out at us, and headed for a hot meal and a good solid night's sleep nap.

Time on the ground in Hawaii so far: 28 hours.

Day 2

Once more we were up at zero dark thirty, gathered our gear, met up with Sean, and headed out for our sunrise shoot.

The goal? Waipio Valley.

Waipio is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in Hawaii, if not the world. If you take Kauai's Hanalei Valley, add Maui's Road to Hana and some of Molokini's cliffs, and get rid of every last tourist, you'll have yourself something approaching Waipio.

Towering green cliffs nearly 2000 feet high hem in the valley from three sides, and some of the tallest waterfalls in Hawaii pour down their flanks. On the fourth side the valley opens to the ocean along a lovely black sand beach, with the Wailoa Steam cutting it in half as it flows into the ocean. The valley floor itself is covered in taro fields, a few houses, and just utter and complete beautiful jungle.

The trees are filled with colorful birds, the woods with wild ponies, and there's not a tourist to be seen.

There's a good reason for that last point though (other than it being sunrise and all the tourists were asleep): getting down into the valley is one heckuva situation. Waipio Valley Road is notorious for being - by some calculations - the steepest road in the world. It has grades up to 39%, is one lane only (because of course it it), and has more potholes than the FDR Drive. If you don't have a proper 4x4, it's just not gonna happen. Even if you do, you need to know exactly what you're doing and how to handle 4-Low properly.

And once you're down, you're not out of the woods. The locals are extremely private and resent the tourists, and all but a short stretch of the main road is private property. All this combines to make a nearly tourist-free area. Some people take a special tour down, and few others use their rented Jeeps, but barely anyone ventures past the lookout point at the top of the road.

Here's what the road looks like from the air - this is good perspective of how unbelievably steep it is:

So, naturally, I was going to drive this road. In the dark. Because if you're gonna be crazy, you might as well go all out.

Warning signs at the top:

Off we went. No seatbelts here, and the car doors slightly ajar a la Ice Road Truckers. Cars can go tumbling off the edge here, and being able to bail in an instant can be, you know, kinda useful.

Right away I ran into a strange problem: the road was so steep, that it literally fell away beneath my headlights. I could see the trees in front of me, but not a speck of road. Sean, however, had been down here many times before and kept up a running description of the road to me, warning me of a rock here and a giant pothole there. Between that and the fact that I was doing something like 2mph, I was able to negotiate the road safely. Quite frankly, I was having a ton of fun (let's just say that I didn't necessarily avoid every pothole Sean told me about). The Wrangler was a champ, going over anything and everything in its path.

We hit the bottom of the valley just as it was getting light in the east. The road here hooked a nearly 180-degree turn, became dirt, and headed off to towards the beach. While the road here was flat, it pretty quickly quit being a road at all and turned into a long string of interconnected half-puddles, half-stream, spawn of the devil thing. Again, an absolute blast to drive and I couldn't get enough of it.

We parked under some trees at the top of the beach under the doleful eyes of a group of wild ponies. Got the cameras out, totaled a lens by dropping it into wet volcanic sand, realized we'd left the backup lens at the hotel, jury-rigged a working alternative, and all in all had a blast.

The place was simply stunning. Not a soul around (unless you count the ponies), perfectly silent but for the rushing waves, surrounded by sheer cliffs, waterfalls dropping into the ocean... The sun was just a few minutes away from rising, and it was time to get to work:

Pre-sunrise, where the river meets the sea:

Looking upriver, towards the interior of the valley:

And a few minutes later:

Male and female saffron finches greeting the new day:

Yellow-billed cardinal:

Dave shot this of me as we were wrapping up the shoot:

The sunrise shoot wrapped up, it was into the valley proper. Like I said above, the locals are extremely against any tourists here, and aren't afraid to show it. On the other hand, we weren't here to step on anyone's toes and annoy the locals. We had an ace up or sleeve however: Sean. As local as you can get, partly Hawaiian native, and friendly with many of the residents here. We ran into locals a couple of times and got serious stink eye, until they realized that we were with Sean and then it was all friendly all around.

The government version of a road sign, and the local, slightly saltier version:

A slightly more welcoming sign:

This is Waipio... you're driving along happily under the trees, and then you turn a corner and this scene just suddenly jumps out at you:

It stopped us in our tracks, quite literally. We just stopped in the middle of the road and jumped out for some pictures. That waterfall is Hi'ilawe Waterfall, and drops an astounding 1,450 feet, nearly nine times as tall as Niagara.

By law, you must take at least one crazy selfie on a trip, right?

With Sean at our side, we penetrated far deeper than pretty much any other tourist can. Down here the road doesn't much worry about being, ya know, a road. River in the way? Who cares!

Setting up for the final shot of the trip, in the river:

And a final boots test - and approved for Antarctica!

Couple of black-crowned night herons supervising:

Back across the river:

And another one...

Not sure if you can tell by now, but I was quite enjoying those river crossings ;D:

Heading back up:

Life hack: an empty Polar Bear cooler is perfect for storing your muddy stuff for the return flight - just hose it down when you get home:

And that was that! The end of an insane marathon of a tip. It was back to the hotel to grab our stuff, and then off to the airport.

Total time on the ground in Hawaii: 40 hours.

Flight from Hilo to HNL was in economy+ this time instead of first, so I took the exit over the wing and had a view of absolutely nothing. In any case, I was way too pooped to enjoy any views.

Hawaiian was on time, as usual, HNL was a relic from the 60s, as usual, and the United flight was delayed, as usual:

For the return flight I managed to snag the middle seat:

The meal today was utter trash:

I had the FA warm up my last Grand & Essex meal, which was fantastic.

Turns out that for me, the middle seat was way more comfortable than the aisle seat I had on the inbound. Sure, you have traffic on either side, but being that my giant feet don't fit very well into the tiny footwells, I was able to but the bed in slightly-less-than-lie-flat mode, drop a foot down on either side, and get the longest sleep I've had on a plane to date - a solid six hours. It's worth noting that in the middle seats, the bulkhead has the same tiny footwell as the other seats. The larger footwell advantage is only on the window and aisle seats.

Landed in EWR mostly on time, and that, as they say, was the end of that.

Here's the final commercial:

The end
« Last Edit: November 24, 2019, 11:57:46 AM by Something Fishy »
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Offline ludmila

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #1 on: September 11, 2019, 01:25:23 AM »
Amazing , thank you!!. I have a friend who is a Hawaiian airlines 717 Captain, he loves flying inter island .
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Offline KSMH

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #2 on: September 11, 2019, 01:43:24 AM »
Amazing TR, one of the best on DDF.
Always praying for delayed baggage.

Offline SSLPhD

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2019, 04:56:13 AM »
Nice TR, brings back memories.

We once went down to Waipio in the rain, driver was looking less at the road than up for rock slides.

We've flown to Hawaii many times, never had delays on UA.  HA, OTOH, hour plus delays on the long haul flight.

Offline chff

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2019, 08:49:12 AM »
Great TR!

Offline Yehoshua

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2019, 09:56:02 AM »
Nice quick TR. Thank you for sharing. I'll know exactly what to do now if I need to shoot a commercial in and around TBI.

Offline tzifanya54

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #6 on: September 11, 2019, 10:38:20 AM »
Great TR as always.

Offline shaulyaakov

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #7 on: September 11, 2019, 01:29:40 PM »
Nice 0- would love to go to Waipio one day but would never drive it.

Offline 12HRS

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #8 on: September 11, 2019, 11:04:30 PM »
Every time I read one of your TR I want to buy a picture and put it up on one of my walls but I can never decide on the best picture.

Offline mmgfarb

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #9 on: September 12, 2019, 02:07:45 AM »
Am I the only one who thought the commercial was a little underwhelming after knowing everything that went into making it?
Shots are beatiful though
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Offline PBaruch

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #10 on: September 12, 2019, 03:33:29 PM »
Great TR - makes me want to go back to TBI.

At least there are some quality TR's still being posted in the DDF Trip Report Thread.   :)
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Offline sam28

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #11 on: September 13, 2019, 11:46:43 AM »
Amazing TR and pictures are no words .

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #12 on: September 13, 2019, 12:04:38 PM »
Great TR and stunning pictures!

Which parts would you recommend to a tourist who doesn't have the benefit of a local riding along?

Offline LoLo

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #13 on: September 13, 2019, 12:12:17 PM »
Wow, beautiful TR.

Offline stooges44

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Re: Flying to Hawaii for 36 Hours: Something Fishy's Big Island Whirlwind
« Reply #14 on: September 17, 2019, 11:46:45 AM »
Am I the only one who thought the commercial was a little underwhelming after knowing everything that went into making it?
Shots are beautiful though

+1 and +1

Now think about just what goes into making longer commercials with multiple locations!
If it's not free shipping it's not worth it.