VACATION IN HAWAII—THE BIG ISLAND

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Amanda, our daughter-in-law, arranged all the steps for our first trip to Hawaii on the internet, in consultation with us. 11 Dec 02 we flew to San Francisco then stayed overnight at our son’s home in Atherton, CA and 12 Dec Lotus and I with Alan, Amanda and our 2 grandchildren, Aliana (3 years old) and Brice (9months) got into a stretch limousine and went to the airport for a flight to the Big Island, Hawaii.

We landed at Kona on the western side where they get around 9 inches of rain a year. The eastern side, on the other hand, can get up to 300 inches a year in a few places—the most anywhere in the USA! Lava, long cooled of course, was evident on each side of the airport runway, and, indeed, nearly everywhere we looked. We rented a van for the 6 of us and drove 23 miles north of Kona Airport to Puako to check in the "Beach Banyan house" we rented. Beach views from this house: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

We had a great time there with the children, sunning in beach chairs in the grassy back yard under the coconut trees, playing in a patch of white coral sand, and climbing over the black lava rock to the tide poools.   Another day later we saw humpback whales far out in the bright blue ocean and sea turtles resting for the night in one large tide pool.  One drawback of the house was that when Aliana happily went up and down the stairs, Brice rapidly crawled after her, and we had a hard time racing him to the top or bottom of the stairs to block his way. 

That first evening we drove a bit inland up to the Parker Ranch and Grill (Picture 1, 2, 3, 4) in Weimea to eat and then to buy groceries.

Next morning early Alan, Lotus and I went to King’s Shops to be picked up by HFT Rainforest outfit for a birding trip with a few other birders. We drove inland with birds being pointed out all along the way. Most birds we saw on the way were introduced. We saw especially the yellow mynah with white wing patches evident in flight; wild turkey (displaying tom and 3 hens), and a native day-hunting owl swooping back and forth. Skylarks and two of the three introduced species of francolins were seen.

We passed a Military section and were in the "saddle" between Mauna Kea (1, 2) the highest peak in the Pacific at 13,796 feet, and Mauna Loa the biggest mountain in the world if you count below sea level.

Various years of lava flow were pointed out to us. The older lava was colored brownish, while the more recent was black. Two forms of lava pahoehoe (smooth) and A-A (rough-sharp) are the major distinguishable types. Which type of lava occurs seems to depend on temperature and on % of silica content. Both types can occur in the same eruption.

We left the main inland highway 19 and took a rough road over gray lichen-covered lava into a private ranch (with beehives even) owned by a cousin of our competent naturalist leader Rob Pacheco.

We parked by a native relict forest, which was bypassed by lava flows for a few decades or even centuries. It had trails of a sort with muck between the lava "boulders". Various plants were pointed out to us, expecially the Ohia tree, Metrosideros polymorpha, which is a pioneer tree on cooled lava flows, and the Koa tree, Acacia koa, a favorite of the iiwi, an endangered native bird. The iiwi was seen several times. It has black wings with a brilliant red body and curved yellow bill. Another native red bird seen was the apapane.

We were given effective hiker’s "spats" to protect our trousers and socks and a walking stick to maintain balance in the forest, but I managed to fall twice from stepping on 8 inch deep muck which was indistinguishable from a safe spot. With two replaced knees, Lotus negotiated the morning hike, but elected to stay near the van in the afternoon to watch for iiwi at the edge of the forest. Many tree ferns, probably Cibotium splendens, were evident.

We had a lunch with a good variety of drinks. Then we noticed a tiny animal moving in and out of a bush (at least 3 times) right near the van. It resembled a mouse, but, in retrospect, I think it was a shrew with a ¾ inch tail and lead or dark agouti color. It did not "run" but sort of sniffed at a half run with hesitations. Lotus thought it might be a young inexperienced mouse with a half grown tail. Shrews are not known in the Islands!

14 Dec 02 All of us went back to the airport to the Island Hoppers Air Tours. Our pilot, Joe Gaillagos, was a trainer of other pilots. His Cessna 207 airplane (1, 2, 3)  held 6. We flew 2 1/2 hours counter-clockwise around the island (Photo 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9). We saw Kealakekua Bay where Cook was the first European explorer to find the islands. Coffee and Macadamia nut plantations were evident from the air. Lava flows of various ages were notable. Before Hilo on the east coast we saw the 20-year continuous lava flow that has reached the sea and puts up a continuous steam plume hundreds of feet high. The plane circled the offshoot of Kilauea volcano , called the Pu'u O'o Cinder Cone (1, 2, 3, 4), which is the present source of the lava, while we took photographs and videos. Several splatter cones were noted most evident on western side of the island.

At the Northwest corner of the island we saw the deep valleys (1, 2) in the steep bluffs on the oldest part of the island, and several waterfalls (1, 2, 3),  some plunging directly into the ocean. Returning in the van we saw two sandgrouse on airport road. Generally, we saw mouning doves and pearlneck doves on telephone wires. Zebra doves were more often noted on the ground, common in the airport waiting area.

15 Dec 02 In the afternoon and into the evening Alan and Amanda took the HFT (Hawaii Forest and Trail) trip up Mauna Kea to the astronomical observatories (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). The tourist guest scope showed them Saturn and other night sky views. I didn’t go to such a high altitude because of my lung condition. Amanda arranged for a motherly baby sitter, Sheila, who brought toys for Aliana and Brice. Sheila assisted on three days.

16 Dec 02 Alan, Amanda and I drove 45 miles from Puako north to a HFT mule station on the coast. We received directions from our leaders, Wally Ching and Kalei Carvalho about using the saddle horn, leaning back on our mounts when descending a steep incline, or leaning forward to ascend an incline; and we put on protective helmets. Starting at about 160 feet altitude, we rode the mules to about 1,600 feet. (More mule pictures: 1, 2, 3, 4). On the way we saw cattle and the "guava" pastures that the cattle "produce" by eating the guavas, Psidium guajava, and scattering seeds. The grass fields often were waist high from guava seed growth. We crossed streams, saw waterfalls, valleys and the shell ginger planted as fences for the cattle. My camera battery went out about this time and I missed a few shots. Back at the station we got free drinks and fruits.

17 Dec 02 Alan drove all of us on highway 19 to the east coast at Honoka’a where Dr. P. Quentin Tomich and his wife Caroline live. Lotus had phoned and arranged for us to visit him. We had known Quentin in the Zoology department of UCD (University of California at Davis) while we lived in Davis and had read his co-authored book "A Herd of Mule Deer". He had gone to Hawaii to study roof rats and stayed. By now he had written a book on "Mammals of Hawaii", 1986 Second Edition which we bought later in Hilo.

Quentin showed us his house and academic records--- presented us with some Kiawe honey, some Macadamia nuts from his Kalope Homestead Farm (labeled with his name and his daughter Marcia Rose and David Rose), and showed us Kalopa State Park which he was prominent in establishing in 1975 and still volunteering work in its preservation and development.

Quentin gave Lotus a beautiful orchid raceme, and also donated several of his articles out of the many he had written for the "Hamakua Times" newspaper. After a picnic Quentin provided in the Kalopa State Park he showed us an Ohia tree in which a native hawk, ‘io, nested almost every year.

We drove on to Honomu, a few miles north of Hilo, where Amanda had arranged to rent a house. The house was large enough for 20 people.   It had been remodeled from a store and was not as well appointed as the first house.  Aliana wanted to go back to the beach house and started crying until we found a  hot tub (1, 2, 3, 4) on the rear deck, behind the new living room.  Two very large Banyan trees were across the street at a town Park. The house included not only TV as did the others, but an E-mail machine from which I sent a very few e-mails. Outside were various tropical plants:  1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Photos of several beautiful flower arrangements were mostly ruined by x-rays, but one came through of a blooming ginger plant.

Next day (18th) we shopped in Hilo. When we entered Hilo Hatties they gave us a lei of small shells and a free drink of fruit punch. Late that afternoon and again the next day we visited beautiful Nani Mau Gardens (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).   There were many flowers (1, 2, 3), orchids (1, 2), fruit trees including cacao (chocolate), and other tropical plants (1, 2, 3) in very well kept beds.  Some were labeled, but we learned most on a tram ride with a guide, Sharon Matsumoto.  Part of the gardens were bordered with Cook pine, Araucaria columnaris, incorrectly called Norfolk island pine. We had lunch at Nani Mau Gardens and some of the patrons were much taken by Brice.

Next day (19th) we drove a few miles to Akaka falls (1, 2, 3, 4). There was an excellent circle trail to the falls by which we saw Cecropia trees, Cecropia obtusifolia (here called trumpet tree) and other new plants including very tall Ginger Plants (30 feet). A strange blooming vine, called cup-of-gold [Solandra maxima], showed high in the trees. Akaka falls was impressive. Named after a Hawaian ruler, the myth includes a wife and two lovers with smaller falls of their own.

Two visitors to the falls were native amiable Hawaiians. So I asked for their photo. One was excessively tattooed in their custom and had the area code 808 in 3 inch high numbers on the back of his neck.

On the 20th Alan and family had to fly back to California from the Hilo airport. Now, instead of Alan, I had to drive the van, which was not as difficult as I expected, although it did drive more like a truck as Alan said.

Lotus and I then visited the " Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden" with 2,000 species of flowers (1, 2, 3), plants, (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11) and palms. Labeling was well done. The valley path entrance was downhill a very long way. It took us 30 minutes to reach the near sea level floor because we stopped frequently to note and photograph the interesting plants. Then various paths kept us entranced with new species. This garden continued to the ocean shore (1, 2, 3, 4).

Next day Lotus and I drove by Volcano (to which we would return next day) to Pahala Plantation Cottages in Pahala  where Amanda had arranged for us to stay. Our "Ohia" cottage was one of the former homes of the supervisors of the plantation.  In the living room was a Hawaiian statue (? Tiki-Ku representing strength and courage) just as in the Botanical Gardens by the ocean. Mynas, zebra doves and house sparrows were again evident about the cottage. At night, Pahala had plenty of Christmas light decorations on its houses just like home.

Next day we drove back to the Kilauea Visitor Center. It was a small museum itself, including videos playing constantly of the land and volcanoes .  We learned of an easy trail to another relict forest nearby to be lead by a Park Ranger. The ranger, Ruth Levin, plus 3 neophytes (or assistant rangers) did show us more habitat, a lava tube entrance and a "grandfather" Ohia tree of great diameter that was dying, but still putting out a few pale green leaves. Ruth’s comments were broader and more instructive than most—an excellent guide.  She used specific plants and animals to illustrate broader principals such as evolution of species and ecosystems, and dependence of particular species on individual food species. On the return drive clouds closed in over the lava field.

The following day we drove the caldera rim road around Kilauea volcano which has been active for the last 20 years. The Jaggar museum associated with an official volcano study station is very good with excellent descriptions and explanations of the volcano and volcanoes in general. Seven drums of seismographs were in use showing different stations seismic activity at different stations. The rift zone with lava entering the sea drained the higher caldera which is 2 miles wide so that it sank 300 feet.

24 Dec 02 we packed to drive back to Kona airport. An assistant for the cottages who helped us pack gave us a strange warning-- that "many tourists disappeared driving from Pahala to Kona so drive carefully". Some of the curves which should have had guard rails lacked them, so I suppose that was the danger. The only incident was that near Kona the traffic slowed us to a pace of 3 miles in 10 minutes for a time. We turned in the van and flew back to San Francisco. Alan met us and drove us to Atherton for Christmas Eve with visions of lush tropical gardens, sun-drenched beaches, and macadamia nuts in our heads instead of visions of sugarplums. (Twas the Night Before Christmas).

And on Christmas we flew home on a B777 20 feet wide.

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Some Hawaiian words from a place mat in a restaurant:

anuenue = rainbow
ao         = cloud
honu     =  turtle
hoku     = star
ilio        = dog
koholį  = whale
manu    = bird
nalu      = wave
na pua  = flowers
niu        = coconut
po        = night
ua         = rain