March 3, 2017 by Rokman61
It seems like nearly everybody I know has been to Hawaii at least once. I had personally visited the Big Island briefly many years ago, and both of our children had made short visits, but Norma had never been. So when ‘AirMiles’ announced that our accumulated miles would expire if not used, it was decided that Hawaii would be a suitable destination.
Hawaii is well-known as an excellent destination for ‘R&R’ – relaxing, hanging out at the beach and pools, sunbathing, swimming, snorkelling, golfing, dining, and sightseeing. Our visit did not quite go that way – it was more an expedition of exploration and discovery. Norma’s comment was that it wasn’t so much a ‘holiday’ as it was ‘business’. I would describe it as an epic adventure.
Our first week was spent on Hawaii itself (Big Island), with our two offspring mostly planning and running the show. Unfortunately (for them) Lisa and David had jobs to attend to at home, so had to leave, whilst Norma and I moved on for a visit to Maui. This blog comprises 3 parts: Part 1 presents some of what we experienced on the Big Island, Part 2 is all about volcanoes, and Part 3 will cover our last week on Maui.
PART 1 – Exploring the Big Island
Instead of describing a chronologic travelogue, I randomly present some images and comments on subjects that struck me as representing the very essence of Hawaii. The decision of which photos to present here was mine, but I have drawn freely from images taken by all four of us.
Hawaii being in the tropical zone, the islands are covered with vegetation of stunning variety and beauty. Most of the lowland plants are not native, having been imported by immigrants going back as far as the original Polynesians who first arrived about fifteen hundred years ago.
I’ll start with the trees. Palms are ubiquitous, stately, and wonderful.
Some varieties provide useful products, coconuts being available everywhere. I regretted that they are not included in my list of favourite foods.
A very different conspicuous tree that is often seen in background vistas are these tall, slim conifers.
The locals refer to them as ‘Norfolk Island Pines’, but actually most of them are a closely related species, the Caledonian or Cook Island Pine.
Remnants of the native forest endure at the higher elevations.
The dominant tree is the Ohi’o, which produces useful wood and lovely blossoms. Here is a young O’hio sporting a single blossom.
Interesting factoid: We were told that enormous old Ohi’o trees growing in the lowlands were tall and straight, and were logged for shipment to the American West mainland for use as sleepers (ties) on the then new transcontinental railroads.
The City of Hilo has a famous collection of Banyan Trees. These are members of the fig family, which start out by parasitizing some other tree, eventually smothering its host, and growing to stupendous size by adding a labyrinth of aerial roots.
Botanically speaking, perhaps most noticeable are the flowers, which come in an amazing variety and colours – and we were not even there in prime season!
Bougainvillea are almost everywhere, lighting up the gardens and even lining the roadways.
Here are a few more that you may be familiar with.
Others are less familiar and their names are unknown to me. Some are downright unusual or even weird in appearance.
Many and varied. Most of us think of sandy shores, just right for swimming, walking, or just hanging out.
Hawaii is also noted for this unusual variant – beaches of jet black sand. More about these in Part 2.
Many other sections of coast are not so much ‘beaches’ as rocky shorelines, where surf often crashes dramatically over rugged outcrops.
Or pounds against cliffs, as here at South Point, which happens to be the southernmost bit of land in the USA.
These dramatic panoramas were taken by David with his phone camera. (Click for expanded view).
Interestingly, David remarked how there are virtually no rivers on the west side of the Island. On the rainy east side it is a different story, and waterfalls are a significant attraction. This one is Rainbow Falls near Hilo. Recent heavy rains meant that it was in full thunder when we visited.
Hawaii is not a major destination for serious birders. The avifauna is limited, and all the birds seen around the populated coastal areas are of introduced species. A host of wonderful native endemic songbirds were present in times past, but many are now extinct, others extirpated, and most of the rest live only in the high elevation forests, and even there most are difficult to find.
Here are a few of the very common ones: all are introduced but that does not mean that they lack beauty.
If one had to pick the most conspicuous, the Common Myna would be an appropriate choice.
Two species of small doves are also among the most common, and both are subtly attractive.
This one is a native bird, very commonly seen on beaches, lawns, and golf courses in winter. Amazingly, the little guy flies thousands of miles each year to and from its nesting grounds near the Arctic Coast.
Below is a native endemic bird, very similar to our own Coot, but considered a separate species.
This one is the official State bird, the Hawaiian Goose or Nene. Unlike other ‘normal’ geese, this bird lives on dry rocky terrain, not near water. It was on the brink of extinction until saved by a captive breeding program which has managed to rebuild the populations.
Every egg and individual bird is accounted for, and every bird is decorated with numbered leg bands. Wild birds . . . but intensely managed.
Other introduced fauna
The Small Asian Mongoose was introduced to control rats, and that turned out to be a very bad idea, as it has helped decimate the native birds instead. They are often seen scooting along and across the roads, and this is one that didn’t make it.
Hawaii has no native reptiles, but this pretty little guy has adapted well. I believe its common name is Gold-dust Gecko.
Here is cute little critter with an interesting story. Onomatopoeically-named for its call, the Cochi Frog is similar to and closely related to our own native tree frog, the Pacific Chorus Frog. An uninvited hitchhiker from Puerto Rico, it somehow managed to get a foothold in the wet jungles of eastern Hawaii. Here it has proliferated such that it is now three times more numerous than it is in its native range, and a cause for environmental concern. Although seldom seen and diminutive in size (it would fit neatly on a 25-cent coin) it has an astonishingly loud voice, which it blasts out incessantly from dusk to dawn, to the annoyance of residents and tourists alike.
What the Hawaiian Islands lack in land-based bird and animal diversity they more than make up with fishes! The kids went snorkelling in some shallow pools, and I was astonished by the variety of what they saw, and the photographs they were able to obtain of corals and colourful fish.
These pretty little Rock Crabs manage to cling onto boulders that are constantly buffeted by heavy surf. After each wave they are observed to be slightly displaced. The purple things are Intertidal Urchins.
The most famous sea-creatures in Hawaii are the turtles and whales (the latter which will be featured in Part 3). I had thought that sea turtles spent their lives on the open ocean, coming to land only to lay eggs. Not so the Green Sea Turtles, which frequent the shoreline habitat, grazing on algae. So we were surprised to find them lying on the beach amid humans soaking up the sun.
The first one we saw, on a busy beach, looked to be dead or at least not well. Nope – it was just chilling out, and paid no attention to approaching humans.
The white granules making up the beach are pieces of coral; the dark ones are volcanic rock.
We saw quite a few turtles.
Here’s one ‘on the rocks’.
A close-up view attests to its utter indifference.
Perhaps you noticed that all the turtles face right. One wonders if those on the other side of the equator face left?
And then . . . one makes a mad dash for the water! Click here to watch.
Being close to the equator, the sun in Hawaii sets relatively early, and drops almost straight down. Being on islands, it is often seen setting into the sea. Sunset watching is almost a sport for tourists, and we got to see several fine ones.
The original Hawaiians were Polynesians who populated the islands more than a thousand years ago. They still represent a significant portion of the populace, and words from their language are firmly embedded in the social fabric of modern Hawaii. Most place names for example are Hawaiian, and some are real tongue-twisting doozies. This results in the Islands having a very interesting and unique character, but I confess that most of those names just don’t stick in my brain. Try this one for yourself.
The Hawaiians were/are skilled woodworkers, as illustrated by these powerful carved totems.
More than half of the Big Island consists of a single giant volcano, Mauna Loa. A number of historic eruptions have left vast areas of barren lava rock along parts of the Kona Coast. In this aerial view a roadbed threads its way through one such desolate expanse. (More on volcanos presented in Part 2).
Tourism, tourism, and tourism are three of the main industries. Facilities are most concentrated along the famous Kailua-Kona Coast, on the west side of the Island.
In this aerial view you see a continuous sweep of big resorts and clusters of condos, sandwiched between the beaches in front and the golf courses behind. Such completely managed terrain alternates with stretches of barren land as in the preceding photo. Quite a contrast.
No lack of ‘Tourist Attractions’ here!
We rented a condo in Kailua-Kona for several days. Although it was on the relatively modest end of the scale, it was not lacking in comfort and facilities. A view from our balcony.
A closer look at part of the meticulously maintained gardens.
Aside from tourism, the Big Island also has some significant agricultural industry. Sugar production was once very important but ceased many years ago. Cattle and Macadamia nuts are worth mention, and Kona Coffee is somewhat famous (at least if judged by the price they ask for it, currently $40/lb US).
A small picturesque coffee plantation on the lower slopes of Mauna Loa.
And the sun sets on Part 1.
Part 2 next, featuring ‘Gios versus the Volcano’.