Category Archives: Hawaiian History

Ka’u Desert Trail

A view of the Kamakai'a Hills on the Ka'u Desert Trail, Hawaii
My lunch spot with a view of the Kamakai’a Hills and various kinds and colors of lava.

This week’s Sunday Stills challenge theme is ‘I’d Rather Be…’ See more responses here.

It had been a while since I went hiking, for various reasons, and it’s something I was missing, something I’d rather be doing. So last week, I headed down to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to try the Ka’u Desert Trail. This backcountry trail has been on my list for a long time, but I had never done it before. For one thing, it’s about as far from my house as one can get on the island. For another, it’s directly downwind from Kilauea Volcano, so when the volcano is active and the trade winds are blowing, gasses blow across the length of the trail.

The latest eruption of Kilauea is currently either paused or over, so gas emissions are much reduced, and last week, the trade winds had given way to winds from the southwest. So off I went.

The trailhead is several miles west of the main entrance to the park, with a strip of parking along the highway. The first mile of the hike is also known at the Footprints Trail. It’s a sort of paved path that threads through ohias to a small building that houses footprints left by early Hawaiians in volcanic mud and ash. Alas, I couldn’t identify any footprints in the display. Shortly after the footprints, the path breaks out of the vegetation into open lava fields. This isn’t a tropical Hawaii walk, this a bleak hellscape Hawaii walk. Or is it?

The trail ascends gently to the only junction for miles around, at Mauna Iki. To the left is a trail back towards the heart of the park. The Ka’u Desert Trail heads to the right and into backcountry wilderness. Mauna Iki was the site of an eruption in 1919 and the trail traverses the lava fields from this eruption.

Much of the trail is over pahoehoe lava, which is rounded and much easier to walk on than jagged a’a lava. The trail is marked by cairns and single rocks placed alongside it. It’s pretty easy to follow with just one or two parts where attention has to be paid to make sure one doesn’t stray.

It wasn’t far along this part of the trail that I first encountered blue lava. That’s right, blue lava. Who knew? But not just blue. There’s bronze, pink, red, orange, gold, and who knows what. I’ve seen colorful lava on the Puna Coast Trail, but this was more varied and quite wonderful. In places the trail crossed this colorful lava and I felt bad for walking on it, though as I hiked I could see many more patches of color out in the lava fields. It’s not wise to leave the trail since there are many lava tubes, some with very thin ceilings.

This is an out and back trail and I turned around once I reached the Kamakai’a Hills, after about 5 miles. It’s another 2 or 3 miles to the next junction where there is a small cabin.

Also posted for Jo’s Monday Walk. See more responses here.

Colored lava on the Ka'u Desert Trail, Hawaii
The trail crosses one of the fields of colorful lava.

Salt mine

Not exactly a mine, but this was how early Hawaiian settlers got their salt. Suitably cupped rocks were filled with saltwater. The hot sun evaporated the water leaving behind salt crusts on the rocks. In this instance, the water in the bowls is probably rainwater, hence the lack of any salt residue.

These rocks were at Lapakahi State Historical Park, which contains the remains of an old Hawaiian fishing village.

A traditional sail

A small sailboat off the coast of Hawaii

This little sailboat is a modern rendition of a traditional Hawaiian style. The two hulls are common in various forms in Polynesian culture and the sailing rig features a Hawaiian Peʻa sail, otherwise known as a Crab Claw sail. These sails used to made from the woven leaves of Hala trees.

On this boat, the sail is made from a modern material and it’s speedy progress through the water wasn’t down the the light breeze, but rather an outboard motor, which is also not traditional!

A good walk spoiled

The signature third hole at Mauna Kea Golf Course

There’s an old saying that golf is a good walk spoiled. It’s often attributed to Mark Twain, though that’s probably not accurate. There’s an interesting investigation into the saying’s roots here.

The Mauna Kea Golf Course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in 1964 and its signature hole is the third. From the championship tee, which is where the top photo was taken, this doesn’t look like a hole that has much to do with walking. Swimming looks a more likely activity.

There’s a little marker in this tee box that shows the hole is 272 yards long, but other tees offer shorter options. Next to the tee box is a plaque noting the illustrious golfers who played at the course’s opening. And the bottom photo shows the green that a golfer would use in the unlikely event that their ball reaches it.

I’ve spoken to a couple of people who’ve hit balls from the championship tee, mostly for the pleasure of being able to say they did so. Both hit their ball into the ocean. I’d probably do the same, though there’s also a good chance my shot from there wouldn’t even reach the water!

Posted for Becky’s Squares theme of “Walking” (See more responses here).

The green at the signature third hole at Mauna Kea Golf Course

A new route up Pu’u Wa’a Wa’a

A view of PuuWaaWaa, Hawaii
Williwilli flowers at PuuWaaWaa, Hawaii

Pu’u Wa’a Wa’a is a cinder cone on the slopes of Hualalai volcano. The name means “many-furrowed hill,” and it’s a place I like to walk at least once a year, but it had been a while since I was up there. Usually, I go there in the spring when Jacarandas and other flowers are blooming. I also try to go in the early morning, since the area tends to cloud up during the day and the wonderful views become obscured.

A couple of weeks ago I made a late decision to do the hike again since the weather looked unusually good. I got there around 2pm and it will come as no surprise that I spent the first 15 minutes of the hike taking photos of Williwilli flowers on a tree about 20 feet from where I parked! (More of those in a few days.)

Silk oak flowers at PuuWaaWaa, Hawaii

The trail follows an old road up the hill past Silk Oak trees, at the tail end of their flowering and sporting a deep red hue I hadn’t seen before. Turn around, and there are good views of Maui to be had. The old road peters out near an old blockhouse, now lacking doors and windows, which offers shelter to livestock on the ranch here. Off to one side is an old quarry, which cuts into the side of the hill. Usually there are goats in this area, but I didn’t see any on this day. Farther up is what’s left of Tamaki Corral, which dates back around 100 years.

Not far after the corral, the trail climbs steeply toward the top. This was where I found a change in the trail. Whereas before the trail was an out-and-back up a steep slope to the top, now a loop has been created. I took this new option to the top where, on this remarkably clear late afternoon, I had great views of Maui, Kohala Mountain, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualalai. A new sign at the top welcomes hikers to the nearly 4,000 foot summit, and there’s a survey marker at the top riddled with holes, not from gunfire, but to let the wind blow through. There are also a couple of benches where one can sit a while enjoying the views (weather permitting). The hike is steep in places, but not difficult, though not everyone makes it back alive!

I followed the old trail back down and ran into several sheep, which have the run of the land up here, as the sun dipped behind the ridge.

One other difference I noticed with this afternoon hike was the proliferation of birds. There were large numbers of finches, mostly Saffron Finches flitting about, preparing to roost for the evening. Yellow-fronted Canaries were all over the tree tobacco flowers. I also saw, and heard, several Erckel’s Francolins doing their usual fine job of blending in with the vegetation.

And as I walked back down the hill towards my car, the late afternoon sun still shone, illuminating grasses alongside the trail.

Grasses on PuuWaaWaa, Hawaii

Posted for Jo’s Monday Walk. See more walks here.

EV Nautilus

The NOAA EV Nautilus off the coast of Hawaii
The NOAA EV Nautilus off the coast of Hawaii

I saw this ship off the coast of North Kohala, but couldn’t immediately identify it because it was too far offshore. Luckily, it hung around and a couple of days later I saw it much closer and stopped to take photos.

The ship is the Nautilus and it’s an exploration vessel operated by the Ocean Exploration Trust and was engaged in research, sponsored by the National Geographic Society. They were studying marine mammal vocalization and local shark diversity and abundance around Hawaii.

For more information about the ship, go to https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/technology/vessels/nautilus/nautilus.html. For more information about the research project, go to https://nautiluslive.org/.

The NOAA EV Nautilus off the coast of Hawaii

Signs: Shark sighted

A sign on a beach at Kawaihae, Hawaii

This sign stands behind the little beach below Puʻukoholā Heiau at Kawaihae. Typically, When a shark is sighted, a temporary warning sign is put up, then removed after a few days. This sign is permanent. The reason for this is that beyond this beach is Pelekane Bay and that’s the site of an underwater heiau dedicated to sharks.

This heiau, called Hale o Kapuni, was built by a chief for whom sharks were considered carriers of the spirits of his ancestors. Human sacrifices were carried out on the beach and afterwards, the bodies were believed to have been placed at the heiau for the sharks. Those days are long gone, but the bay and surrounding area is still home to a large population of sharks, hence the sign.

For more information, go to https://www.nps.gov/puhe/index.htm

Flowers for King Kamehameha

The statue of King Kamehameha in Kapaau, Hawaii, is decorated with leis on his birthday
The statue of King Kamehameha in Kapaau, Hawaii, is decorated with leis on his birthday

June 11 was King Kamehameha Day in Hawaii, celebrating the birthday of the king who first united the Hawaiian Islands under one rule. The day is marked by parades and ceremonies in several places, including here in North Kohala, which is where King Kamehameha was born. The past couple of years, the ceremonies didn’t take place because of Covid restrictions, so this year’s event was the first since then.

I was working on the day, but after work I stopped by to see his statue, which was draped in leis during the ceremonies. It seemed like there was even more floral decoration this year than in previous events, making for a colorful spectacle. But even more striking than the color was the wonderful aroma from the profusion of plumeria flowers in the leis.

The leis are left in place for two or three days before they’re removed. Even when I was there on the first day, some of the flowers were starting to wilt.