Foster Travel Publishing
Island of Hawaii

Beyond the Beaches, the Culture of Hawaii

May 22, 2014 by · 1 Comment 


Hawaii Culture – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

Many of the visitors to Hawaii unabashedly seek beaches and sun, especially the winter traveler escaping the wind-chill factor. But a portion of visitors also want further enticements, asking: what do The Islands offer beyond beaches and sun? Where can I learn of the historic story of Hawaii? What are the special experiences of nature available here?

The answers begin as your plane touches down at Honolulu International Airport and the magic of the eight major Islands in the Hawaiian group infuses your sensibility. First of all, you have just made a long voyage, fully five-and-a-half hours from the U.S. West Coast or perhaps more if you came from Asia. After traversing long stretches of ocean, the islands suddenly appear (if you have a daylight flight), as improbable as they must have seemed to the first Polynesians who sailed and paddled their canoes from the South Seas to this site about A.D. 750. From out of nowhere you alight into a fully realized dream, Hawaii.

Soon you begin observing the people in this airport. The most striking aspect of the people is that their racial origins are diverse and are primarily from the Orient and South Pacific. Some main groups were Polynesians, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. The ethnic groups that make up Hawaii are so different from the North American experience that the place is truly exotic, a foreign country, yet English-speaking. The history of Hawaii, an inquiring visitor soon learns, leans culturally toward the Pacific Basin, unlike the U.S. story leaning toward Europe. The people of Hawaii flourished without benefit of any Indo-European contact or religious trappings until the 18th century. They developed their own severe and superstitious, but understandable, religious system, the kapu system, that required death for slight infringements. Like Christianity with its confessional, the kapu system provided a few sacred places where forgiveness was possible.

The natural setting is equally novel. When you enter the airport, a lei may be put around your neck. Leis are sometimes made of vanda orchids, a flower that can be eaten, or of plumeria. The perfume of the lei and the warm tropical air of Hawaii immediately bathe a visitor. A range of bright flowers can be seen everywhere, starting with bougainvillea or hibiscus, the state flower, giving a technicolor aura to Hawaii. Brightly floral aloha shirts, which appear so ostentatious on the Mainland, seem immediately appropriate here. Tropical plants grow luxuriously in the warm, bright sun and moist air.

Another stimulus awakening the desire to look beyond the beaches and sun in Hawaii is the Hawaiian language. The language is so rich in liquid vowels that a face needs to smile to speak. Originating in Polynesia, the language is musical and sensuous, absent of gutterals and spitting consonants, soothing a visitor’s ear. Many of the meanings of words come from the beauty of nature and the joy of life. Not only does a word sound beautiful, but when you inquire about its meaning, you are liable to hear that it means something like “a bouquet of rainbows.” The classic greeting of Hawaii, which is aloha, translates roughly as “I recognize in you the breath of life.” Could a more evocative or metaphysically profound salutation be imagined? Honolulu, Waikiki, Hawaii, Oahu, Hanauma–just say the words and try to avoid the hypnotic softness. The Polynesian Hawaiians had no written language before the Europeans arrived in the 18th century (the Europeans and Americans controlled later migration of the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Filipinos in the 19th and 20th centuries.) In earlier Hawaii, with its emphasis on a spoken language, elders enjoyed a special role because in their minds and speech the collective culture of the people survived and passed from generation to generation.

When you begin to look for Hawaii beyond beaches and sun, there is also an air of illusion about the place. The economy is supported mainly by unseen resources decided upon far away, namely military expenditures and tourism. Agriculture or fishing on the islands is actually miniscule compared to government spending. The military controls 25 percent of the land mass on Oahu, the island where Honolulu is located. Because Hawaii occupies a strategic position, its future is secure, though the basis of its security is dependent on the distant military providers. As long as inexpensive gasoline or other fuel is available, Hawaii as a tourism destination also looks promising. However, if fuel sources became unavailable or costly, the entire tourism economy would collapse overnight.

To discover Hawaii beyond the beaches, we’ll concentrate on the two most promising sites. First we’ll go to the Island of Oahu and its metropolis, Honolulu, the capital of modern Hawaii. Then we’ll proceed to The Big Island of Hawaii, the royal capital before the period of European dominance.

Island of Oahu: Discovering Honolulu

Upon arrival, step back to ponder how this paradise arose. The best place to seek answers is at the Bishop Museum, which devotes itself to the origin of the Hawaiian people. The Bishop Museum is in the western part of the city at 1525 Bernice Street.

The Bishop Museum building has a tropical and exotic feel, with three levels built around a large courtyard. The first level displays the origins of the Hawaiian people. Feathered capes and helmets are some of the historic artifacts of greatest interest here. The historic kings of Hawaii were a colorful lot. On the second level, which portrays the age of whaling and missionaries, artifacts of the natives contrast with the Christian and European temperament. A necklace of human teeth, wooden swords with shark-tooth blades, and bark cloth garments are some of the ethnic items on display. On the third floor, the many cultures of modern Hawaii are presented, including the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean migrations. A whale skeleton shows the massive size of these behemoths.

After the Bishop Museum, proceed toward the downtown and Iolani Palace, a royal residence from the monarchical days of Hawaii. The house, west of Waikiki beach, was built in 1882 by King David Kalakaua and served as the royal residence until the demise of the monarchy in 1893, when Sanford P. Dole, of pineapple fame, guided events surrounding the formation of a Republic of Hawaii. While imprisoned here in 1894, celebrated Queen Liliuokalani wrote several Hawaiian songs that are still popular today. Guided tours take you through this Hawaiian adaptation of Victorian architecture, where Hawaiian woods, such as koa and ohia, were fashioned into hardwood elegance. In the throne room you can see feathered capes favored by the royalty. Iolani Palace is at King and Richards Streets.

Across the street from the palace is a large statue of the legendary King Kamehameha I, in front of the Judiciary Building. On June 11, King Kamehameha Day, flower leis clothe the statue to this man, who united the Islands by 1795 after subduing rival kings on his native Island of Hawaii and then conquering the other islands.

A short walk away from the statue, along the waterfront, you come to the Hawaii Maritime Center. The Aloha Tower and Maritime Museum, at Pier 8, offer a view of the harbor and city from an observation deck. Hawaii’s importance, historically and today, depends on its safe harbor in the long Pacific waterway. Adjacent to the tower is the historic ship, the Falls of Clyde, a surviving fully-rigged four-masted sailing ship. The Falls of Clyde was built in 1878 and carried sugar between Hawaii and San Francisco.

Berthed next to the Falls of Clyde is the Hokulea, a square-rigged replica of ancient ships that the Polynesians used to navigate in these waters when they discovered Hawaii. The Hokulea has engaged in a longterm re-creation of the voyages of discovery, an epic undertaking that included volunteers re-living the voyages without benefit of modern navigation instruments.

The other area to visit is east of town at Kapiolani Park. At this multi-use open area people fly kites or practice their tai chi exercises. One of the special pleasures here is the renovated Waikiki Aquarium, 2777 Kalakaua Avenue, which has more than 300 species of Pacific marine fish. At the Aquarium you will learn of the ancient fish ponds that were so important for raising food fish in the region. The Hawaiians had learned to dry salt from the sea, create nets and lashings from coconut fibers, cultivate certain seaweeds as vegetables, and make effective weapons with shark teeth.

Within Hawaii, interest is strong in preserving the native culture. At the Kamehameha School in Honolulu, you must have some Hawaiian blood to matriculate. As part of the curriculum, you learn Hawaiian language and lore.

All considered, Honolulu is the best initial place at which to discover Hawaii beyond the beaches and sun. The next most promising venue would be The Big Island, former royal residence of Hawaii. The Big Island is a 40-minute commuter flight southeast from Honolulu. Fly into the airport at Hilo.

Island of Hawaii: Discovering Hilo

In the Hilo region you will learn most about Hawaii by visiting the Lyman Museum, Akaka Falls Park, Nani Mau Gardens, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Come prepared with rain gear to enjoy Hilo. The lush tropical vegetation that makes the area so inviting flourishes because an average of 137 inches of rain falls here each year.

Lyman Mission House and Museum is a major attraction and historical interpreter for the Island of Hawaii. The galvanized iron roof of the house suggests the typical structures in which missionary families lived as they brought western culture and Christianity to the region in the 19th century. The Lyman property is at 276 Haili Street in Hilo.

David Belden Lyman and his wife built this house in 1839 with the financing assistance of the American Board of Foreign Missionaries. The Lymans raised a large family of eight children. Their role was cultural and agricultural as well as religious. Farming skills and carpentry were as crucial for survival as the proper theological passions. With the coming of the missionaries, some Hawaiian traditions changed. For example, the men of Hawaii did the cooking before the missionary period. The staple food was taro root, made into poi. If you have a chance to sample poi in Hawaii, you will appreciate it as a bland sustainer of life, perhaps destined to oblivion when competing with tastier foods of choice.

The Lyman Museum and House is organized to present a panorama of Hawaiian life. The human pageant of Hawaii is the saga of Polynesians, Orientals, and Portuguese fashioning a mixed-race culture of today. The tools and baskets of the Polynesians are impressive, including their fish hooks, fishing lures for catching the sea’s bounty, and large wooden bowls for food storage. Tapa bark was pounded to make clothing and bed coverings. Feather standards became the mark of the aristocracy. The religious beliefs, known as the kapu system, dictated death for offenses that would seem to us as trivial, such as glancing up from a prostrate position as the royalty passed by. All of the material world was infused with a supernatural force or spirit, the mana of the object.

The museum also salutes the man who might be called the greatest adventurer of all time, Captain James Cook. Cook made three world-circling voyages between 1768-1780, losing his life on the Island of Hawaii in a scuffle with natives. He brought the existence of Hawaii to the attention of Europe by making the first contact here on January 20, 1778, naming the Islands after his patron, the Earl of Sandwich. Cook’s worthy title is that of The Great Circumnavigator.

Displays in the museum chart the modern contributors to the Hawaii ethnic mix.

The Chinese first came in 1852 as contract laborers, bringing their three major religions, all of which developed from teachings in the 6th century B.C. Buddhism emphasized that life was a continual round of cares, joys, and pains. Taoism counseled that one should flow with the inevitable and move with events. Confucianism stressed obedience and orderly social virtues.

The Japanese came to Hawaii starting in 1868, as farmers. Europeans were too expensive, so the planters, who needed a labor force, looked to Japan. In 1885, and later, large contract labor teams came from Japan.

The Portuguese came after the Japanese. Planters, meaning the landowners, still seeking inexpensive European workers, found them in the people of Madeira and the Azores. In 1878 the first shiploads came, bringing their braginhas, the forerunners of the ukulele, which became a symbol of Hawaiian music.

Koreans arrived after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 cut off Japanese emigrants. In 1903 the planters contracted with the first Korean migrants.

Filipinos were the last to arrive. The 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement cut off further Japanese migration, which opened the way for the first Filipinos.

All of these ethnic groups blend in the city of Hilo today in the attractive visages of the people. Hawaii, as a state, is a kind of microcosm of the world at large, a working United Nations, showing the possibilities of a social and economic democracy.

North from Hilo, Akaka Falls State Park offers both appealing waterfalls and an introduction to a tropical rainforest. The larger of two waterfalls in the park drops 442 feet into Kolekole Stream. The park amounts to 65 acres of dimly-lit undergrowth and fecund trails. Akaka Falls is 13.5 miles north of Hilo on Highway 19, with a clearly marked turnoff west into the foothills. The road approaching the falls provides lovely views of snow-capped Mauna Kea, the 13,796-foot peak that is the highest point in Hawaii.

The side road north (Highway 240) takes you to the Waipio Valley overlook, one of the loveliest views on the Island. Stretching right to left before you is the blue ocean, the dark sand beach with its white surf, and the fertile green valley. Jeep shuttles can take you on a guided trip down the steep road into Waipio Valley.

South from Hilo, the Nani Mau Gardens are an extraordinary display of Hawaiian and Polynesian flora. The name of the garden translates to mean “forever beautiful,” which aptly names this landscape of 225 types of flowering plants, 100 species of fruit trees, and over 2,300 orchids, one of the world’s largest collections. Here you can see good examples of the Vanda Orchid (named after Miss Joaquin Vanda), which is so prominent in the leis of Hawaii. Blooming in this garden is sequential, so there is always something colorful in flower. Many visitors mistakenly assume that everything in Hawaii is always in bloom, which is not true. However, you are likely to find unusual flowers in bloom at any time here, such as the Red Bombax (Ellipticum). Many kinds of hibiscus and bougainvillea flourish here. One common practice at Nani Mau is to plant a tree when a famous visitor arrives. The past social history of the Nani Mau Garden can be read on the plaques associated with trees planted by dignitaries. The Nani Mau Gardens are 3.5 miles south on Highway 11, at 421 Makalika Street, with signs clearly marking it.

West from Hilo some 30 miles is the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, domain of Pele. Pele is the goddess of fire, daughter of Haumea the Earth Mother and Wakea the Sky Father. Pele lives inside the two volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Kilauea on the Island of Hawaii. Pele is the melter of rocks, the builder of mountains, the eater of forests, the burner of lands. Within Pele are the paradoxical roles of creator and destroyer.

One attractive element in Pele’s domain at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the Jaggar Museum, located on the north rim of the Kilauea Caldera. The Museum honors Thomas A. Jaggar, a professor who founded the volcano observatory here in 1912. One of the special pleasures of the Jaggar Museum is a video of the eruptions that have occurred here within the video-making era.

The volcanoes of Hawaii differ from volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The Hawaii volcanoes, it is said, are laid back and calm, like the people. An eruption amounts to an outflowing of lava. By contrast, the Cascade chain of volcanoes, such as Mt. St. Helens, have explosive natures. Size of the lava flows in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park simply stuns the imagination. Various flows, which scientists can pinpoint as to year of origin, spew over hundreds of square miles of landscape, causing a rough, newly-created appearance.

The Park honors the two most-observed volcanoes on earth, Mauna Kea and Kilauea.

Mauna Kea is the taller of the two volcanoes and is said by some to be the world’s largest volcano. If you consider it as rising from the ocean floor, the mountain is fully 31,700 feet high. You can drive toward the summit of Mauna Kea on the Mauna Kea Strip Road and get spectacular views at the road’s end, a shelter at 6,662 feet. The hike to the summit is an arduous one, however, because of the altitude, plus potential for sun, wind, and frost exposure. If you are in Hawaii and have heard that either volcano is erupting, you can call locally for recorded reports (ask locally for the number).

Mauna Kea’s various eruptions in recent decades, including a 22-day performance in 1984, are part of the video record available for viewing in the Jaggar Museum. So massive were the outflows of lava in a 1950 eruption, for example, that the volume of material is said to be capable of paving a four-lane highway 4.5 times around the earth. During the 19th century the volcano erupted on the average every 3.8 years.

Kilauea is the little sister volcano, at 4,090 feet, but Kilauea is as active as Mauna Kea. Certain pyrotechnic performances, including curtains of lava spewing out, have made Kilauea a marvel to behold. These recorded performances are all available for viewing at the Museum. The caldera of Kilauea is a shallow pan about 2.5 miles across. The central part of the pan is called Halemaumau or “The Fire Pit.” Major eruptions occurred in 1952 and in 1955. During the 1955 eruption the village of Pahoa, outside the park, was buried and curtains of lava shot forth for 88 days. It is easy to imagine why the ancient Hawaiians paid such attentive homage to their fire god, Pele.

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is easy to visit. The Jaggar Museum and the Kilauea Visitor Center can orient you. The volcanoes are sometimes called “drive-in” volcanoes because you can circle Kilauea in your car and peer into the caldera.

Big Island of Hawaii: Discovering the Kona-Kohala Coast

The final area to explore in our search for Hawaii culture beyond the sun and beaches is the west side of the Island of Hawaii, the Kona-Kohala Coast.

Royalty has a way of choosing the best places to live. On the Island of Hawaii, King Kamehameha and the generations of dominant kings left no doubt about their judgment on the choicest real estate. They favored the sunny west side of the island, the Kona and Kohala region coasts. Their abodes remain important historic shrines today.

At three main stops along this coast you can encounter the royal story of Hawaii.

*The City of Refuge, or Pu’Uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park. The visitor who can pronounce and spell the name of this historic park correctly should win a free trip to Hawaii. The Anglicized title, City of Refuge, tells the story of this most important historic site in all of Hawaii. Established in the 15th century at the time of the death of Keawe, ancestor of King Kamehameha I, this site was a main expression of the severe kapu system of religion. Kapus were various taboos that could require death as atonement. Taboos were numerous because there were many gods who could be angry. Volcanic eruptions or tsunamis, those devastating seismic waves that destroyed coastal habitations, were taken as evidence of the gods’ anger. If the gods were angry, who had made them angry? Let that person be discovered and properly punished.

As in Christianity, with its confessional, the severe kapu system allowed for the prospect of forgiveness. If a transgressor in the kapu system could somehow reach the City of Refuge without being killed, the transgressor would be safe at this sanctuary. Atonement and purification rituals, as determined by the priests, might take a period of time, and starvation was a risk, but no punitive deaths were allowed here. Once absolved, the transgressor could leave the City of Refuge and return to his or her home village without fear of retribution. Refugees in time of war could also find safe haven here.

King Kamehameha II destroyed the kapu system by openly flaunting it in the 1830s. His sacrilegious act amounted to dining with women, formerly a taboo. When he did this and the volcano did not erupt or other untoward events occur, the force of the kapu system was called into question and collapsed.

At the site you can see recreated, carved effigies of the gods, a heiau or stone-walled sacred area, and such minor aspects of daily life as a Hawaiian checker game. Today, craftsmen at the site build canoes in the traditional manner and display arts of early Hawaii, especially wood carving.

*Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site in Kawaihae. This heiau, another sacred walled place, was dedicated in 1791 with 11 human sacrifices by Kamehameha I, who went on to conquer the Island and subsequently all of the Islands of Hawaii. Kamehameha believed a prophet’s pronouncement that if he built this heiau and sacrificed here to his war god, victory over all the other chiefs on all the islands was assured. The human sacrifices to his war god, Kukailimoku, are a special tale. The story of the visiting rival chief, Keoua Kuahuula, and his warriors, who turned out to be the sacrifices, is a poignant matter, partly because it appears that they perceived their role and did not resist. This site is important to the people of Hawaii because they consider it the birthplace of the modern Hawaiian kingdom and state. A festival called Establishment Day occurs here each August, emphasizing hula skills, lei making, and the Hawaiian language. The heiau is off limits, partly in deference to its religious importance and partly because of the danger to visitors scrambling around on mortarless lava rock. The appearance of this heiau on a hill, the simplicity of the gathered lava rock in this grassy setting, marking what was a sacred place to earlier humans, is a moving experience. Originally there were thatch houses on the heiau, but tropical decay has claimed them.

At the site, closer to the sea, there is also an older and smaller heiau, Mailekini Heiau, built by the ruler who preceded Kamehameha.

*The Hulilee Palace State Monument and the Ahuena Heiau in Kailua. These sites were the epitome of the favored residences for Hawaiian royalty.

The Ahuena Heiau, appropriately within the grounds of the present Hotel King Kamehameha, saw dramatic changes in Hawaiian life. This is where Kamehameha’s son, Liholiho, by eating with women, broke the kapu system. The heiau area was called Kamakahonu or “eye of the turtle.” Today you can see at the site a replica of the final residence of King Kamehameha and temples for worship. From this building the unifier of the Hawaiian Islands managed his affairs from 1813-1819. This site was also one of the first landing places for missionaries from New England. In the lobby of the hotel you’ll see a large selection of photos from early Hawaii.

The Hulihee Palace, a short walk from the heiau along the waterfront, was the summer residence of Hawaiian royalty in the 19th century. The structure was built in 1838 by Governor Kuakini, who was Hawaii’s first governor after consolidation of the islands. The structure houses an extraordinary collection of quality Hawaiana, such as a dining room table made from one piece of koa wood, and an elaborate set of portraits of Hawaiian royalty. Other important historic treasures at the palace include fishing stones, tapa cloth garments and fabrics, sandals, drums made of coconut palms, kukuinut necklaces, coconut wood dishes, and sandalwood artifacts formerly exported.

Across the street from Hulihee Palace is the first Christian church in Hawaii, dating from 1836. The church is rich in ohia and koa wood. In the back you can see a replica of the ship Thaddeus that brought the first missionaries here, in 1820.

Hawaii’s beaches and sun are compelling reasons to visit The Islands. Added pleasures of history and nature, including the full panorama of Hawaiian culture, can enhance the journey for actual travelers or armchair voyagers.

***

Hawaii: If You Go

For further information, contact the Hawaii Convention & Visitors Bureau at http://www.gohawaii.com.

Island of Hawaii

The Kona Kohala Coast on the Big Island of Hawaii

May 18, 2014 by · 1 Comment 


Kona Kohala Coast Big Island Hawaii – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

Royalty has a way of choosing the best places to live. On the Big Island of Hawaii, King Kamehameha and the generations of dominant kings left no doubt about their judgment on the choicest site. They favored the sunny west side of the island, the Kona and Kohala region coasts. Their abodes remain important historic shrines today.

In recent years, the builders of great international resorts have come to the same conclusion as the royalty of old. Although you don’t quite need a royal bank account to enjoy them, there are several multi-star, world-class resorts on the west side of the Big Island, as the Island of Hawaii is often called.

This is the land of royalty, where you can see the historic trappings of past kings. This is also the place to treat yourself most royally today.

Getting To and Around the Kona Kohala Coast

Direct air flights to Kona from the mainland are possible. Within the Islands, commuter airlines serve Kona. Kona is a 40-minute commuter flight from Honolulu. The air flights between Honolulu and Kona resemble bus trips or commuter train trips more than airline flights.

Once in Kona, you may want to rent a car at the airport unless you plan to enjoy a vacation focused at one of the resorts or see the islands through van tour operators, of which there are several. When planning excursions around the Island of Hawaii, keep in mind that the roads are low-speed, with plenty of twists and turns. Considering this, plus the pleasure of stopping to look at sites, allow plenty of time for your explorations. One of the pleasures of driving around the Big Island is that there are no billboards to deface the landscape.

The striking physical feature of the landscape, as you drive from the Kona airport, are the lava flows. The scope of the lava flows is difficult to imagine until you have seen them. You pass mile after mile of moonscape–chunky, broken, black lava that oozed down the mountains at the various times of eruption. Hawaiian shield volcano eruptions are not explosive like Alaska eruptions or the Mt. St. Helens eruption in Washington State in 1981. The Hawaiian volcanoes roll out their lava, which then flows slowly down the mountains.

When departing from Kona for your return flight home, be sure to allow plenty of airport time for check in. The direct flights to the mainland require careful agricultural inspection of all luggage to ensure that no pests are taken home on fruits, vegetables, or flowers.

History of the Kona Kohala Coast

At five main stops along this coast you can encounter the royal story of Hawaii. They are arranged here in their historic order as the story unfolds. However, if you make a trip to see them, traveling north to south, for efficient use of your time, see them in this order (2, 3, 5, 4, 1):

1. The City of Refuge, or Pu’Uhonua O Honaunau National Historic Park. The visitor who can pronounce and spell the name of this historic park correctly should win a free trip to Hawaii. The Anglicized title, City of Refuge, tells the story of this most important historic site in all of Hawaii. Established in the 15th century at the time of the death of Keawe, great grandfather of King Kamehameha I, this site was a main expression of the severe kapu system of religion. Kapus were various taboos that could require death as atonement. Taboos were numerous because there were many gods who could be angry. Volcanic eruptions or tsunamis, those devastating seismic waves that destroyed coastal habitations, were taken as evidence of the gods’ anger. If the gods were angry, who had made them angry? Let that person be discovered and properly punished. A typical transgression, which seems slight from our distant point of view, was a failure to fall prostrate and shield ones eyes after an announcer with a conch shell blew the warning signal that a chief was passing through the territory. The Hawaiians were an intensely spiritual people who believed that a mana or spirit existed in everything. As in Christianity, with its confessional, the severe kapu system allowed for the prospect of forgiveness. If a transgressor in the kapu system could somehow reach the City of Refuge without being killed, the transgressor would be safe at this sanctuary. Atonement and purification rituals, as determined by the priests, might take a period of time, and starvation was a risk, but no punitive deaths were allowed here. Once absolved, the transgressor could leave the City of Refuge and return to his or her home village without fear of retribution. Refugees in time of war could also find safe haven here.

King Kamehameha II destroyed the kapu system by openly flaunting it in the 1830s. His sacrilegious act amounted to dining with women, formerly a taboo. When he did this and the volcano did not erupt or other untoward events occur, the force of the kapu system was called into question and collapsed.

At the site you can see recreated, carved effigies of the gods, a heiau or stone-walled sacred area, and such minor aspects of daily life as an Hawaiian checker game. Craftsmen at the site build canoes in the traditional manner and display arts of early Hawaii, especially wood carving.

2. Puukohola Heiau National Historic Site in Kawaihae. This heiau, another sacred walled place, was dedicated in 1791 with 11 human sacrifices by Kamehameha I, who went on to conquer the Island and subsequently all of the Islands of Hawaii. Kamehameha believed a prophet’s pronouncement that if he built this heiau and sacrificed here to his war god, victory over all the other chiefs on all the islands was assured. The human sacrifices to his war god, Kukailimoku, are a special tale. The story of the visiting rival chief, Keoua Kuahuula, and his warriors, who turned out to be the sacrifices, is a poignant tale, partly because it appears that they perceived their role and did not resist. This site is important to the people of Hawaii because they consider it the birthplace of the modern Hawaiian kingdom and state. A festival called Establishment Day occurs here each August, emphasizing hula skills, lei making, and the Hawaiian language. The heiau is off-limits, partly in deference to its religious importance and partly because of the danger to visitors scrambling around on mortarless lava rock. The appearance of this heiau on a hill, and the simplicity of the gathered lava rock in this grassy setting, marking what was a sacred place to earlier humans, is a moving experience. Originally there were thatch houses on the heiau, but tropical decay has claimed them.

At the site, closer to the sea, there is also an older and smaller heiau, Mailekini Heiau, built by the ruler who preceded Kamehameha.

3. The Puako Petroglyphs. These petroglyphs in the small town of Puako are the extant records of a people with no other written comments. Inquire locally in the town where the scarcely-marked trail takes you a quarter mile into the brush to the petroglyph site. You emerge into a clearing of reddish, relatively smooth rock. On these rocks the petroglyph figures have been scraped, as figures of men and animals. Some of the petroglyphs have been worn or defaced, but others remain in good condition and are now well documented for posterity. It is not known exactly when they were made or by whom.

4. Captain Cook Monument. The Captain Cook Monument is a small white obelisk visible from across a bay and accessible by excursion boat. Go to the small town of Napoopoo and drive north along the waterfront to a swimmable beach at road’s end, called Napoopoo Beach. From here you can view the lone monument in the distance. The important matter to realize is that The Great Circumnavigator, Captain James Cook, made three heroic round-the-world sailing trips between 1768-1780. In the process of these voyages he discovered Hawaii and set in motion the forces that brought an end to the era of Hawaiian royalty. On the last of these trips, in a minor fracas with the natives over a stolen small boat, Cook lost his life. Ironically, Cook died at exactly the site where he had read for one of his deceased seamen the first Christian burial service in Hawaii.

5. The Hulihee Palace State Monument and the Ahuena Heiau in Kailua. These sites were the epitome of the favored residences for Hawaiian royalty.

The Ahuena Heiau, appropriately within the grounds of the present Hotel King Kamehameha, saw dramatic changes in Hawaiian life. This is where Kamehameha’s son, Liholiho, by eating with women, broke the kapu system, as mentioned earlier. The heiau area was called Kamakahonu or “eye of the turtle.” Today you can see at the site a replica of the final residence of King Kamehameha and temples for worship. From this building the unifier of the Hawaiian Islands managed his affairs from 1813-1819. This site was also one of the first landing places for missionaries from New England.

The Hulihee Palace, a short walk from the heiau along the waterfront, was the summer residence of Hawaiian royalty in the 19th century. The structure was built in 1838 by Governor Kuakini, who was Hawaii’s first governor after consolidation of the islands. The structure houses an extraordinary collection of quality Hawaiiana, such as a dining room table made from one piece of koa wood, and the most complete set of portraits of Hawaiian royalty.

(For a thorough look at the best museums of Hawaii, start with the Bishop Museum in Honolulu to learn of the Polynesian migration, proceed to the Lyman Museum in Hilo to discover the diverse 19th century additions, from Portuguese to Koreans, then conclude with this Hulihee Palace and a look at the life of Hawaiian royalty.)

Some important historic treasures at the palace include fishing stones, tapa cloth garments and fabrics, sandals, drums made of coconut palms, kukui nut necklaces, coconut wood dishes, and the sandalwood artifacts formerly exported.

Across the street from Hulihee Palace is the first Christian church in Hawaii, dating from 1836. The church is rich in ohia and koa wood. In the back you can see a replica of the ship Thaddeus that brought the first missionaries here, in 1820.

Main Attractions of the Kona Kohala Coast

As if parallel to the royal historic shrines, main attractions along this coast are the palaces built for modern travelers who favor the royal style.

Of the multi-star resorts, the Mauna Lani Hotel and Hilton Waikoloa are notable.

The Mauna Lani has been carved out of the lava rock landscape and positioned next to an attractive swimming beach. When you walk into your room at Mauna Lani, you are likely to find a copy of Architectural Digest waiting for you, with either an article or ad about the resort. There is a safe for valuables in your room. Your room has a complete bar and the resort could be said to have a complete everything, including its own snorkeling reefs right offshore. This is one of the great resorts, and price reflects quality. Other signatures of Mauna Lani are a golf course amidst the lava rock, with roughs that are indeed rough, and a striking atrium lobby several stories high.

The grounds were once the food fish ponds of Hawaiian royalty. Some of the ponds, historically, were fed by freshwater streams and others were replenished with saltwater. Many species of fish were raised here, historically, including mullet, awa or milkfish, papio or jack, kaku or barracuda, puhi or eels, and shrimp. Several of these ocean-level ponds, which are adjacent to the resort, have been restored and are maintained as part of the historic effort. Seawater ponds located in the resort are filled with an abundance of tropical fish, some of which are quite large. You don’t even need to snorkel here to see the sea’s bounty.

Hilton Waikoloa is a fantasy resort city, in a class by itself. With its 2,400 rooms and 1,800 employees, it is one of the largest employers on The Big Island. So vast is this resort, over a mile long, that a special tram rail system and a boat system, with its own canals, provide transportation for the guests. You can take a “Heart of the House” tour that will show you the mile-long underground city, with its own road, where all the mundane work of running the resort occurs, including a dry cleaning shop that maintains over 300 types of employee uniforms, as a starter. The swimming pools, waterfalls, and water slides are numerous. A special Dolphin Encounter on the property allows children, teens, and adults to get up close to bottle-nose dolphins, touching them, swimming with them, learning how protection of dolphins becomes a metaphor for protecting the whole environment. Hilton Waikoloa is a destination resort in every sense of the word. The average traveler comes for multiples days and families can turn children loose on the property. There are numerous restaurants, from fine-dining Japanese cuisine to a themed nightly buffet, such as Mexican or Italian. Catamaran sailing trips, with excellent snorkeling in the clear waters, show colorful coral and a variety of fish.

Other resorts in the royal class are the Kona Village Resort and the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel.

Kona Village Resort is a setting of detached thatch-roof cottages. Forget your coat and tie if you plan to stay here. This South Seas village is an idyllic resorts.

The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel has a golf country club feel to it, with an ample crescent-shaped beach. Dignified and stately, with a dress code for dinner, the Mauna Kea has been a showplace for Lawrence Rockefeller’s collection of Asian and Pacific art, such as bronze temple toys from India. For a visit, consider its buffet lunch, with reservations advised.

At these royal resorts you can anticipate golf, tennis, horseback riding, snorkeling, swimming, and sailing, plus dramatic sunsets, since they all face west. Weekly luaus acquaint you with the pleasures of Hawaiian feasting.

Aside from these royal destination resorts and the royal historic sites, there are several more pleasures of travel here.

Kona coffee is one of the delights of Hawaii. Kona is the only area in the U.S. where coffee beans are grown commercially. The Royal Kona Coffee Museum in the small town of Captain Cook is an excellent stop while traversing this stretch of the Hawaiian coast. At the museum you can taste Kona coffee and sample the other main delicacy of the Island, macadamia nuts. Today the two types of trees are often interplanted. The road to the Coffee Museum passes many of these plantings. At the Museum you can see, in the ancient machinery and in visual displays, how coffee has been raised here.

The town of Kailua, location of the mentioned royal sites (Ahuena Heiau and Hulihee Palace), is a pleasant place to walk, eat, and shop. The walk includes the long waterfront seawall, where you can see a pageant of humanity, from beach boys riding the surf to retired Filipino men playing checkers. The town has appealing small restaurants. Shops carry a full variety of Hawaiian garments and crafts. The main street of Kailua is appropriately named the Alii Drive, alii being the Hawaiian word for royalty. The gardens of the town are a rainbow of bougainvillea. Kailua contains many moderately-priced lodgings for travelers. Catamaran trips for seaborne views of the island are popular here.

A submarine, the Atlantis, can take you out for an hour-long dive in the coral, dropping down to 100 feet below the surface, showing you some of the 450 species of fish found in Hawaii waters, 150 of which are endemic. On a typical dive you might see moorish idol, blue-line snapper, blue ulua, and bluefin trevally fish. One insight readily apparent, as you watch fish nibbling off the coral, is that the parrot fish, eating the coral (an animal), excretes the coral’s spiny skeleton as fine white sand. Therefore, when looking at the beaches of Hawaii, a traveler can thank the waves breaking up black volcanic soil to make black sand beaches and parrot fish processing coral for white sand beaches.

Nearby Trips from the Kona Kohala Coast

The inland trip from the coast to Waimea is a recommended nearby trip.

At Waimea the Imiola Church is one of the landmark structures from the early missionary days. Like so many Hawaiian words, Imola suggests both beauty and longing, and is translated as “seeking life.” This yellow-painted church has a lovely detailed interior of koa wood, including koa wood chandeliers.

The major entity that developed and controls the area is the Parker Ranch, which is noted for its beef. The Parker Ranch Broiler, at a shopping center in Waimea, serves the local steaks. Across from the Broiler, in an improbable location at the shopping center, is the Parker Ranch Museum, which tells the story of the area in its displays and in a film.

The ranching tradition started here in 1793 when explorer George Vancouver landed a bull and cow for King Kamehameha I. In 1794 more cattle were brought in by ship. The driving force behind the later development was John Parker (1790-1868), who came out from Massachusetts in 1809 with theological passion and Yankee entrepreneurial skill. Parker became a friend of the King, who needed a competent person to tame the cattle, which multiplied and ran wild, out of control. The King also wanted Hawaii to develop more self-sufficiency and more export products. The one Hawaii trade item then in demand, sandalwood, appreciated for its fragrance, was harvested wantonly until the supply of trees was exhausted. Parker married the widow of a local chief, or alii, which strengthened his social role in the community.

The Museum is interesting because of the variety of its ranching artifacts in this exotic setting. A hundred-year-old saddle might be commonplace at other sites in the West, but here it is the saddle of a paniolo, the Hawaiian breed of cowboy, who may claim a half-dozen ethnic roots and a name like Irving Chin. Paniolos gather each July 4 for a Hawaiian cowboy rodeo. The Parker Ranch covers about 250,000 acres and runs 70,000 head of cattle. About 11 million pounds of beef are exported from the island each year, sold primarily in Honolulu. In modern ranching, helicopters have replaced horses for seeding and fertilizing the grazing land.

The Kamuela Museum in Waimea is also an interesting stop when you drive through the area. The museum houses an eclectic collection, but if you know what Hawaiian artifacts to look for, there are rewards. Here you can see a canoe buster, one of the 60-pound rocks that Kamehameha used in attacks on the canoes of opposing aristocrats. There is also a rare temple idol from a heiau, one of the sacred walled enclosures. Most of the temple idols were ordered destroyed in the 19th century, but this one and a few others survived. Details of common Hawaiian life are intriguing here, such as the beating sticks, with designs in the wood, that were used to lend ornamentation to tapa bark when the bark was processed. Preserved also are some of the early coconut senna fish nets of Hawaii.

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Kona Kohala, Island of Hawaii: If You Go

For further information, see the Kohala area tourism websites at http://kohalacoastresorts.com and http://www.gohawaii.com/big-island.

Island of Hawaii

Hello, Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii

May 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 


Hilo on the Big Island of Hawaii – Images by Lee Foster

by Lee Foster

Hibiscus bushes line the runway as you land at the Hilo airport. The care with which they are tended suggests the skilled hand of a Japanese gardener. In fact, the Japanese influence, in farming and fishing, is a strong element of the Hilo experience.

Because of the heavier rain forest presence in Hilo, in contrast with the sunny Kona Kohala coast, Hilo has not attracted major builders of new resorts. Hilo is more of an authentic working town than a resort development. The 43,000 residents go about their business quite independent of the occasional tourist.

Getting To and Around Hilo

Hilo is a 40-minute commuter flight from Honolulu. The air flights between Honolulu and Hilo resemble bus trips or commuter train trips more than airline flights. Commuter flights can also take you between Kona and Hilo.

Once in Hilo, you may want to rent a car at the airport unless you plan a particularly sedentary vacation or have a tour operator in mind. When looking at maps and planning excursions around the island, keep in mind that the roads are low-speed roads with plenty of twists and turns. Considering this, plus the pleasure of stopping to look at sites, allow plenty of time for excursion trips. One of the pleasures of driving around the Big Island of Hawaii is that there are no billboards to deface the landscape. The drive around the Big Island of Hawaii can absorb several days of exploring time, partly because the island is indeed The Big Island, a nickname earned because it is twice the size of all the other islands combined.

Hilo offers several pleasant hotels. Come prepared with rain gear to enjoy Hilo. The lush tropical vegetation, which makes the area so inviting, flourishes because an average of 137 inches of rain falls here each year.

History of Hilo

The Lyman Mission House and Museum is a major attraction and historical interpreter for the Island of Hawaii. A galvanized iron roof on the house suggests the typical structures in which missionary families lived as they brought western culture and Christianity to the region in the 19th century. The Lyman property is at 276 Haili Street in Hilo.

David Belden Lyman and his wife built this house in 1839 with the financing of the American Board of Foreign Missionaries. The Lymans raised a large family of eight children. Their role was cultural and agricultural as well as religious. Planting skills and carpentry were as crucial for survival as the proper theological passions. With the coming of the missionaries, some Hawaiian traditions changed. For example, the men of Hawaii did the cooking before the missionary period. The staple food was taro root, made into poi. If you have a chance to sample poi in Hawaii, you will appreciate it as a bland sustainer of life destined to oblivion when competing with tastier foods of choice.

The Lyman Museum and House is organized to present a panorama of Hawaiian life. In the house you can see the re-created daily life of the Island, 1840-1880, as explained by a guide. In the museum, the basement level houses a changing exhibit on some cultural matter. The main floor emphasizes the human history of the Island. The top floor concerns the natural history, with emphasis on the volcanology, geology, and mineralogy of the area. For most visitors, a tour of the house and the main floor of the museum is the main matter of interest.

The human pageant of Hawaii is the saga of Polynesians, Orientals, Portuguese, and other Europeans fashioning a mixed-race culture of today. The tools and baskets of the Polynesians are impressive, including their fish hooks, fishing lures for catching the sea’s bounty, and large wooden bowls for food storage. Tapa bark was pounded to make clothing and bed coverings. Feather standards became the mark of the aristocracy. The religious beliefs, known as the kapu system, dictated death for offenses that would seem to us trivial, such as glancing up from a prostrate position as the royalty passed by. All of the material world was infused with a supernatural force or spirit, the mana of the object.

The museum salutes the man who might be called the greatest adventurer of all time, Captain James Cook. Cook made three world-circling voyages between 1768-1780, losing his life on the Big Island of Hawaii in a scuffle with natives. He brought the existence of Hawaii to the attention of Europe by making the first contact here on January 20, 1778, naming the Islands after his patron, the Earl of Sandwich. Cook’s worthy title is that of The Great Circumnavigator.

Displays in the museum chart the modern contributors to the Hawaii ethnic mix.

The Chinese first came in 1852 as contract laborers, bringing their three major religions, all of which developed from teachings in the 6th century B.C. Buddhism emphasized that life was a continual round of cares, joys, and pains. Taoism counseled that one should flow with the inevitable and move with events. Confucianism stressed obedience and orderly social virtues.

The Japanese came to Hawaii starting in 1868, as farmers. Europeans laborers were too expensive, so the planters looked to Japan. In 1885 and later, large contract labor teams came from Japan.

The Portuguese came after the Japanese. Planters, meaning the landowners, still seeking inexpensive European workers, found them in the people of Madeira and the Azores. In 1878 the first shiploads came, bringing their braginhas, the forerunners of the ukulele, which became a symbol of Hawaiian music.

Koreans arrived after the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 cut off Japanese immigrants. In 1903 the planters contracted with the first Korean migrants.

Filipinos were the last to arrive. The 1907 Gentleman’s Agreement cut off further Japanese migration, which opened the way for the first Filipinos.

All of these ethnic groups blend in the city of Hilo today in the visages of the people. Hawaii, as a state, is a microcosm of the world at large, a working United Nations, showing the possibilities of a social and economy democracy, with a people far more diverse in their ethnic heritage than any other state in the U.S.

Main Attractions of Hilo

Hilo is a pleasant town around which to stroll. The town suffered devastating losses in 1946 and again in 1960 when tsunamis, huge tidal waves of seismic origin, wiped out the downtown. When the town was rebuilt, a large park and roadway were situated between the buildings and the shoreline to absorb future seismic waves, which reached up to 15 feet in height.

Downtown Hilo is an engaging place to browse, friendly and small scale. On Keawe Street and the neighboring streets you might find a Japanese restaurant, a coffee shop, and an art store selling pottery. Nothing is pretentious in Hilo. Hilo is a quiet town absorbed in its local affairs. Good small restaurants may be Japanese, Chinese, or Korean.

Nearby Trips from Hilo

Trips north along the coast and southeast to and beyond the Volcanoes National Park are appealing drives in the Hilo region. Seeing the landscape is a major rationale for travel here. (Volcanoes National Park is discussed in detail in a separate article “Hawaii’s Island of Hawaii: Volcanoes National Park.”)

North from Hilo, Akaka Falls State Park offers both appealing waterfalls and an introduction to a tropical rainforest. The larger of two waterfalls in the park drops 442 feet into Kolekole Stream. The park amounts to 65 acres of dimly-lit undergrowth and fecund trails. Akaka Falls is 13.5 miles north of Hilo on Highway 19, with a clearly-marked turnoff west into the foothills. The road approaching the falls provides lovely views of snow-capped Mauna Kea, the 13,796-foot peak that is the highest point in Hawaii.

The drive north from Akaka to Honokaa presents several seascapes, more views of Mauna Kea, many fields of sugar cane, and small towns that invite a look around. At Honokaa you can visit a macadamia nut factory and sample these delicious nuts. There is also a sugar cane refinery. The Honokaa Hotel is a good stop for a meal or cup of Kona coffee. Altogether, the small town has a pleasant backwater feel of tin-roof Hawaii.

The side road north (Highway 240) takes you to the Waipio Valley overlook, one of the loveliest views on the island. Stretching right to left before you is the blue ocean, the dark sand beach with its white surf, and the fertile green valley. Jeep shuttles can take you on a guided trip down the steep road into Waipio Valley for a tour.

South from Hilo, the Nani Mau Gardens are an extraordinary display of Hawaiian and Polynesian flora. The name of the garden translates to mean “forever beautiful,” which aptly names this landscape of 225 types of flowering plants, 100 species of fruit trees, and over 2,300 orchids, one of the world’s largest collections. Here you can see good examples of the Vanda Orchid, named after Miss Joaquin Vanda, which is so prominent in the leis of Hawaii. Blooming in this garden is sequential, so there is always color. Many visitors mistakenly assume that everything in Hawaii is always in bloom, which is not true. However, you are likely to find unusual flowers at any time here, such as the Red Bombax (Ellipticum). Many kinds of hibiscus and bougainvillea flourish here. One common practice at Nani Mau is to plant a tree when a famous or interested visitor arrives. The past social history of the Nani Mau Garden can be read on the plaques associated with trees planted by dignitaries. The Nani Mau Gardens are 3.5 miles south on Highway 11, at 421 Makalika Street, with signs clearly marking it.

Near Nani Mau, four miles south of Hilo, is another macadamia nut factory. A tour of the plant, followed by the sample tasting, is instructive. The nuts are expensive and labor intensive to cultivate. Trees don’t produce until five years old and reach full producing maturity at 15 years. the brand Mauna Loa is one of the large entities in the business, with 10,000 acres and an estimated million trees. Conditions on the Island of Hawaii are ideal for this type of tree, which enjoys the 100-130 inches of rain in a well-drained soil, an all-year growing season, moderate tropical climate, and ample sun. An interesting aspect of the local production is that all pest insects are controlled by biological methods, insuring that the nuts are insecticide-free. When harvested, the nuts have an extremely hard shell, which needs 300 pounds of pressure to crack. The hulls are burned on the site to fire the steam generators that produce electricity, making the plant 90 percent self-sufficient for power.

The macadamia nut is a crisp, rich delicacy with a mild taste. The nut meat seems to melt on the tongue after the nut is crunched. Several kinds of macadamia nut products are made here, ranging from the pure nut to chocolate-covered nuts.

Further south, you reach the Pahoa geothermal fields, where subterranean heat creates steam to turn turbines and generate electricity. The Pahoa field came online in 1981 with a well 6,450 feet deep. The 358-degree temperature at the bottom will produce an estimated 500,000 kilowatts for the next 100 years.

From Pahoa, drive east along Highway 132 and then southeast on the coast along Highway 137. You pass Kapoho, a village that was entirely eliminated by a lava flow. Where there is sand, it will be black along the beaches. The unusual black sand is wave-worn volcanic rock reduced to sand.

Volcanic flows can cross the road in the region, rendering Visitor Centers and black sand beaches inaccessible. For an extensive write-up on the National Park, see the article “Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Steams on the Big Island of Hawaii.”

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Hilo: If You Go

For further information, contact the Hawaiian Visitors Bureau at http://www.gohawaii.com/big-island.

Island of Hawaii

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park Steams on the Big Island of Hawaii

May 14, 2014 by · 2 Comments 


Hawaii Volcanoes on Big Island – Images by Lee Foster

By Lee Foster

The domain of Pele amounts to an enduring attraction on the Big Island of Hawaii. Pele is the goddess of fire, daughter of Haumea the Earth Mother and Wakea the Sky Father, who lives inside the two volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. Pele is the melter of rocks, the builder of mountains, the eater of forests, the burner of lands. Within Pele are the paradoxical roles of creator and destroyer.

An appealing introduction to Pele’s domain at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is the Jaggar Museum, on the north rim of the Kilauea Caldera. The Museum opened in 1987 to coincide with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Diamond Jubilee, the 75th anniversary of their volcanic observing, mapping, and surveying contribution to American life. The Museum honors Thomas A. Jaggar, a professor from MIT who founded the volcano observatory here in 1912.

The Museum enriches the discovery of Pele’s geologic domain for the average traveler. As you enter the Museum, a painting by famous Hawaiian artist Herb Kane greets you. The painting, showing ancient Polynesians in a canoe approaching Hawaii, suggests the theme of discovery. Then the traveler goes forward, in the Museum, to make his or her own discoveries in the world of geological science and historic culture.

The Jaggar Museum is housed in the earlier geological observatory building, which was replaced by a new facility. About $5 million was spent in this interpretive effort and transition. Travelers see six working seismographs chart the internal activity of the two live volcanoes. If eruptions are imminent or occurring, the traveler gets ongoing predictions or briefings.

One special pleasure of the Jaggar Museum is a video of eruptions that have occurred here within the video-making era. Video gives you a fairly complete picture of the eruptive history of the two volcanoes, Mauna Loa and Kilauea. You will likely experience the volcanoes smoking and smoldering, but not erupting.

Pele is now better known in all her fiery power to many visitors who could only imagine her eruptions before the Museum existed. The quality of the exhibits makes the Museum a showpiece of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The volcanoes of Hawaii differ from volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The Hawaii volcanoes, it is said, are laid back and calm, like the people. An eruption amounts to an outflowing of lava. By contrast, the Cascade chain of volcanoes, such as Mt. St. Helens, and the recently active Alaska volcanoes, have explosive natures. Size of the lava flows in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park simply stuns the imagination. Various flows, which scientists can pinpoint as to year of origin, spew over hundreds of square miles of landscape, causing a rough, newly-created appearance.

Getting To and Around Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Highway 11 to Volcanoes National Park passes extensive sugar cane plantings. You can enter the 344-square-mile park either on this direct route or by driving Highway 13 to the coast. The Park offers both a coastal and a highland aspect, with a road climbing through the terrain from one area to the other.

The gateway to the Park is Hilo (See the separate article: “Hawaii’s Island of Hawaii: The Hilo Region.”) Some visitors also stay in Kona-Kohala. (See the separate article: “Hawaii’s Island of Hawaii: The Kona-Kohala Coast.”)

Hilo is a 40-minute commuter flight from Honolulu. The air flights between Honolulu and Hilo resemble bus trips or commuter train trips more than airline flights. Commuter flights can also take you between Kona and Hilo.

Once in Hilo, you may want to rent a car at the airport unless you plan a particularly sedentary vacation or have a tour company organized. When looking at maps and planning excursions to the Park and around the island, keep in mind that the roads are low-speed roads with plenty of twists and turns. Considering this, plus the pleasure of stopping to look at sites, allow plenty of time for excursion trips. One of the pleasures of driving around the Big Island, as the Island of Hawaii is called, is that there are no billboards to deface the landscape.

History of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

The history of interest here is the natural history covering two of the most observed volcanoes on earth, Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

Mauna Loa is the taller of the two volcanoes and is said to be the world’s largest volcano. If you consider it as rising from the ocean floor, the mountain is fully 31,700 feet high. You can drive toward the summit of Mauna Loa on the Mauna Loa Strip Road and get spectacular views at the road’s end, a shelter at 6,662 feet. The hike to the summit is an arduous one, however, because of the altitude, plus potential for sun, wind, and frost exposure. If you are in Hawaii and have heard that either volcano is erupting, you can call a park service number or check the website for details.

Mauna Loa’s various eruptions in recent decades, including a 22-day performance in 1984, are part of the video-tape record that you are able to see in the Jaggar Museum. So massive were the outflows of lava in a 1950 eruption, for example, that the volume of material is said to be capable of paving a four-lane highway 4.5 times around the earth. During the 19th century the volcano erupted on the average every 3.8 years.

Kilauea is the little sister volcano, at 4,090 feet, but Kilauea is as active as Mauna Loa. Certain pyrotechnic performances, including curtains of lava spewing out, have made Kilauea a marvel to behold. These recorded performances are all available for viewing at the Museum. The caldera of Kilauea is a shallow pan about 2.5 miles across. The central part of the pan is called Halemaumau or “The Fire Pit.” Major recent eruptions occurred in 1952 and in 1955. During that eruption the village of Pahoa, outside the park, was buried and curtains of lava shot forth for 88 days. Further eruptions in 1969, 1983, and 1985 assure visitors that the area is indeed volcanically alive. It is easy to imagine why the ancient Hawaiians paid such attentive homage to their fire god Pele, who is said to reside in the volcanoes.

Main Attractions of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Make the Kilauea Visitor Center your first stop at Volcanoes National Park after the 30-mile drive from Hilo. There are many nuances about the Park disclosed here. For example, it is said that 95 percent of the life forms in the Park were unique to the Hawaiian islands when man first arrived. It is believed that the coconut palm was either deliberately introduced here by the Polynesians or else floated here by itself. Also, most of the orchids of Hawaii are introduced. There are only three native species of orchids on this Big Island of Hawaii, which is sometimes called The Orchid Island. Other orchids have been imported. As could be anticipated, with the extensive logging, grazing, and agriculture on the Island of Hawaii, many of the original life forms have been destroyed. Regrettably, 25 species of birds are now known to be extinct on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Adjacent to the Kilauea Visitor Center is the Volcano Art Center, a restored wooden house where local arts and crafts from the Big Island are displayed.

After the Kilauea Visitor Center, begin to explore the Park by driving to selected places and by hiking. The volcanoes are sometimes called “drive-in” volcanoes because you can circle Kilauea in your car and peer into the caldera.

One fascinating hike is at Bird Park, a kipuka or island of soil and vegetation surrounded by more recent lava flows. Because fresh lava has not inundated this particular area for hundreds of years, the vegetation is a mature tropical rain forest favorable to many species of birds. Bird Park offers an appealing mile walk through a lush environment. The jungles of Hawaii are also devoid of the mammals and reptiles that lurk dangerously in other jungle areas of the world. This absence of hazard is one aspect of Hawaii approximating a paradise. In Bird Park you can see phenomena such as tree molds, where lava wrapped around a living tree, killing the tree, which then rotted out to leave a hole where the trunk displaced the lava. Some of these tree trunk holes go down 30-50 feet, which indicates the height of the lava flow.

Then drive around the Kilauea Caldera on the 11-mile clockwise drive, Crater Rim Road, peering into the simmering volcano at selected overlooks. The Jaggar Museum is on the north side of the caldera. You get a good view of the caldera from Uwekahuna Bluff. The Kau Desert is a moonscape on the west side of the caldera that reminds a traveler forcefully how diverse the climate can be in only a few miles distance. Little rain falls in the Kau Desert, but Hilo is a tropical rain forest environment and Waimea on the north slope of the mountains is an upland cattle-grazing terrain. When you hike past the crater along the Halemaumau Trail, you will be surrounded by smoke and a sulfurous smell. You can make extensive hikes through the volcanic area, aided by maps available at the Kilauea Visitor Center or the Jaggar Museum.

One of the most instructive walks, on the caldera lip, is the Devastation Trail, where an ohia and tree-fern forest was burned in a lava and pumice barrage. Under the proper light, Devastation Trail presents a surreal aura.

Seeing the elemental force of the volcanoes can thrust a traveler’s mind back to the early Hawaii era, as the islands were “discovered.” King Kamehameha was born on and conquered this island first. He lived in a world where kukui nuts provided an oil for lamps. The nuts were strung into attractive necklaces. Shells were used as trumpets. Because there was no written language, the elders carried the accumulated wisdom of the people in their memories. The Hawaiians ate bananas, breadfruit, taro, sweet potato, gourds, sugarcane, and ti. They were clever fishermen, taking shells and forming them into lures, to which bone hooks were attached, enabling them to catch fish and octopus. For fine fiber string they used the olona plant. For rougher lashings they braided senna, coconut tree fiber. They clothed themselves and made their blankets from tapa cloth.

They respected the volcanic fire god and other gods and had a system of kapus to enforce, lest the god be irritated. To incur the wrath of the god was the great fear, so a series of taboos were created, with human execution required. Volcanic eruption was taken as a sign that the gods were angry. Who had offended them? Illness was a sign that you had offended the gods. The gods were everywhere, as is evident from one of the refrains in a recorded ancient Hawaiian song, which said, “Can the gods all be counted? The gods cannot be counted.”

The first arrivals on this Big Island of Hawaii are thought to have been Polynesians, who sailed the incredible 2400-mile voyage here, perhaps about the year 750 A.D. (though dates are debated), in long outrigger canoes. This southernmost Island in the Hawaii chain was probably their first landing point. They would have needed to bring all of their food plants and domestic animals with them because the Island of Hawaii, while offering a hospitable climate and fresh water, provided few food plants or food animals on land. Fortunately, the sea bounty probably saved them from starvation. About 1200-1400 A.D. a second wave of conquering newcomers may have arrived from Tahiti.

The population of the Big Island divided into political sectors, somewhat parallel to the political scene today. Kohala in the north, Kona in the west, Hamakua in the east, Hilo and Puna in the southeast, and Kau in the south were among the established areas.

Nearby Trips from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Nearby trips toward Hilo are discussed in the article “Hawaii’s Island of Hawaii: The Hilo Region.” All of those nearby trips are east of the volcanoes.

West of the volcanoes, an interesting drive can be made to South Point, an appealing and rustic area. Before leaving the Park, the road passes a point of interest where you can hike to see a poignant sign, the hurried footprints of warriors on an ancient footpath. These warriors were running along the trail in 1790 to escape an eruption of the mountain that probably killed them. This 1790 eruption and one in 1924 were the two times the volcanoes have produced cataclysmic steam and gas explosions rather than relatively gentle outflows. The marks in the cinders of the warrior footprints, some preserved today under a glass protector, tell the story. The Footprint Trail, as the poorly-signed trail is called, is a 1.6 mile walk that you should allow about 1.5 hours to make. The terrain is harsh, with little rain and some sulfuric fumes.

The road southwest from the volcano, the Hawaii Belt Road, crosses a wild upland area of tangled brush. This landscape gives way to cattle grazing uplands, then to macadamia nut orchards and small towns. After the town of Puu Haao, the road turns south and is called South Point Road. This is a farming and then cattle grazing land of high terraces above the ocean. Fences in the area are made of lava stone.

At one point you pass a high-tech reminder of modern Hawaii, wind turbines of the Kamaoa Wind Farm. The total output of the Wind Farm is 200,000 kilowatts or enough electricity for 3,000 families in this climate. The area has been tested and found to possess moderate winds in the steady amounts needed for successful wind turbine investment. This site is thought to be one of the best potential wind-generating places on the Island.

At the end of South Point Road you are at the southernmost edge of the U.S. Drive as far as you can and prepare to walk the final half mile to the edge of the land mass. Where you park there are several long winches going down to the sea for fishing vessels to unload their catch. A small marker alerts you, before you make the final walk, that this is the Kalalea Kapu Heiau, a National Historic Site. At the end of the walk you will find the small heiau, made from chunks of black volcanic rock. In this relatively primitive setting, as you gaze at the walled sacred structure, so important to the ancient Hawaiians, you can savor a private empathy with these humans. This heiau, located in a rustic setting, without any interpretation, approximates what the area must have looked like in earlier times. A visit to this heiau offers a special experience, especially at sundown, when you witness the waves, sun, and sky as many generations of Hawaiians have done.

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Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: If You Go

For further information, contact the Hawaiian Visitors Bureau at http://www.gohawaii.com/big-island.

See also the Park Service official website at http://www.nps.gov/havo.

Foster Travel Publishing