Friday, January 11, 2013

Hawaiʻi Research Adventure: Days 2-3

Day 2: Hilo

Our Hawaiʻi Research Adventure continues. We arrived on Hawaiʻi Island, aka the Big Island, at 7:40 AM on Day 2 of our trip. After renting a small car and throwing our backpacks in the trunk, we hit the road for a morning hike to Akaka Falls

Akaka Falls, north of Hilo

It was a great way to start our first day on Hawaiʻi Island. The drive to the trailhead took us slightly up the eastern slope of Mauna Kea, Hawaiʻi's tallest mountain, and by some accounts (from suboceanic base to snow-capped tip) the tallest mountain in the world, even taller than Mount Everest! 

We followed the water upstream by car to the parking lot, and then by foot hiked up to a 300-foot waterfall and then up further to Akaka Falls, an over 400-foot high fall!

Along the hike we noticed all kinds of exotic plants—and by exotic I simply mean, "we don't see these kinds of things growing in New York, that's for sure!" 

An interesting leaf of a plant, Akaka Falls State Park

Following our hike we returned to the city of Hilo to visit our next stop, a science museum called ʻImiloa, which means roughly "to explore." The museum is dedicated to both the ancient and modern arts of astronomy, from traditional Polynesian celestial navigation to the contemporary science that is conducted atop Mauna Kea by various governments and multinational organizations. The twentieth century dedication of Mauna Kea to the pursuit of knowledge—ʻimiloa—is not without its share of controversy. Hawaiians consider Mauna Kea a sacred place. A dormant volcano, it was once the abode of Pele, a well-known (and much loved by tourists) akua (god). It is also the abode of Poliʻahu, the akua of snow, for Mauna Kea is the only place in the Hawaiian Islands where snow is frequently present. Anyway, some Hawaiians oppose the colonization of Mauna Kea's summit by scientific observatories. This dispute has led the ʻImiloa center to address the cultural and political issues inherent in this debate within their exhibitions and public programming. While we were there we watched a film presentation about Mauna Kea. The film basically tried to argue that today's pursuit of knowledge (ʻimiloa) through modern scientific observation traces its genealogy back to Hawaiian knowledge of, and relationship with, the stars and the mountain. This may just be a convenient way of ignoring Hawaiians' real present-day concerns about Mauna Kea by co-opting their story and heritage, but, I don't really know enough about the situation to judge. Anyway, I commend the museum for at least trying to bridge the divide between past and present, between lay and experts, and between Hawaiians and haole (foreigners). Anyway, the museum was a fascinating place and I learned a lot about Mauna Kea. Also, the planetarium show was very interesting. I especially enjoyed learning the Hawaiian names for the stars. Also, to the museum's credit, there are some good exhibits there on Hawaiian music and Hawaiian language, despite having little relevance to the center's mission to focus on the stars.

Some museum exhibits, in various media, many of which invited user participation, at the ʻImiloa Astronomy Center, Hilo

The ʻImiloa Center is on the University of Hawaiʻi, Hilo campus which seemed like a nice place. Hilo itself is a fine city. It is at least one place on the island where you seemingly don't need a car to get around, and it sits on a beautiful bay. People say the weather in Hilo is horrible, because it is always rainy. But while we were there it was dry and sunny.

Hilo Bay.
Once one of the most important ports in Hawaiʻi (in the nineteenth century it was third in importance to Honolulu and Lahaina), it once saw a lot of trade, especially when the sugar industry picked up in the second half of the nineteenth century. Today it is quiet except for the airplanes that soar overheard in and out of Hilo Airport. 

We grabbed lunch down by Hilo Bay at the Siusan Fish Market. What a deal: for just a handful of dollars you can get a big bowl of poke and rice. My wife got ahi poke and I got marlin poke and tako poke. Yum. (Ahi is tuna; tako is octopus. Ahi is a Hawaiian word; tako is Japanese; marlin is English? I told you Hawaiʻi is a diverse place, didn't I?) :)

Got poke? An amazing lunch in Hilo

After lunch we drove down the coast to the moku (district) of Puna. Our first stop was at Lava Tree State Monument, a "forest" of trees overcome by lava in the year 1790.

Some trees that once stood in the year 1790, now memorialized by once flowing lava, at Lava Tree State Monument

The lava trees were pretty interesting, but so was the live forest around it, too. The sound of the coqui frogs—a non-native invasive species—began to chirp all around us as night descended. 

We kept driving 'til we hit the coast at Pohoiki Bay.

Isaac Hale Beach Park at Pohoiki Bay

We set up our tent and sleeping bags in a field near the beach, and just before sunset we went for a dip in the bay. It was, incidentally, our first time putting our bodies in the water of the Pacific Ocean since arriving in Hawaiʻi nearly 48 hours ago. What a relief to feel the salt in my hair and on my body. I love that feeling.

Pohoiki Bay at dusk

A mother swimming with her child at Pohoiki Bay

Day 3: Kīlauea

Sunrise over our camp at Isaac Hale Beach Park, Pohoiki Bay

Per local recommendations at Isaac Hale, we made sure at the break of dawn to drive a mile down the road along the beach to a natural hot pond. When we got there—it's at Ahalanui Beach Park—we found only a few people in the pond. The tide seemed to be coming in, flushing out the hot pond (which is good, but it also meant bringing in cold water). The pond was not as hot as I expected, but it was pretty nice to swim in early in the morning when the air outside was still cold.

Hot pond at Ahalanui Beach Park, Pohoiki Bay

After our dip, we packed up camp, had some snacks for breakfast (Hawaiian-grown bananas and definitely-not-local energy bars), and hit the road to our next destination, Kīlauea, or as others simply like to say, "the volcano."

When we got to Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park, our first stop was Namakanipaio Campground just a mile or so north of the caldera. Nā makani paio literally means "the contending/conflicting winds." The campground is so named, I guess, because it sits between Kīlauea summit and the slopes of Mauna Loa and receives crosswinds off of the two summits? We didn't find Namakanipaio to be a particularly windy place—certainly not as windy as the rim of Kīlauea itself—but it was pretty cold (mid-50s fahrenheit) and rainy all day. 

After setting up our tent, we began to explore the national park. We first visited the sulphur banks, sites near the rim of Kīlauea where the heat of the underworld seeps through. I couldn't really smell the sulphur, but it was clear from the ground what was going on down there.

Sulphur Banks, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Having written an article about the history of sandalwood extraction in Hawaiʻi, and continuing to work the topic into my dissertation, I was hopeful to find some sandalwood along the trails here. I held such a hope because one of the trails nearby was called the "ʻiliahi trail." ʻIliahi is the Hawaiian term for sandalwood. But as hard as I looked—and smelled—I wasn't sure I found any. (This shows you the problem with being a historian [rather than a botanist] trying to write about trees!)

Not sandalwood? I would have made a horrible trans-Pacific trader in the early nineteenth century!

Thar she blows!
The rim of Kīlauea in the foreground, the Kīlauea Caldera below, and in the distance, the steaming Halemaʻumaʻu Crater.

Kīlauea is an interesting place, because about five hundred years ago it was a big volcanic cone spewing lava. But one day the cone suddenly collapsed—Hawaiian mele (chants) record this occurrence, which is believed to have happened around the late 15th or early 16th centuries—and Kīlauea became a "caldera" (which Wikipedia can explain a lot better than I can!).

Halemaʻumaʻu, the name of the crater within Kīlauea Caldera, incidentally means "house of ferns." I have no idea why it has that name. But I'd be interested to know the story.

Another view into Halemaʻumaʻu Crater, this one from the Jagger Museum at Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

After a crater-side lunch— lovely breathing in those volcanic fumes!—we then headed to the other side of the caldera to explore more sites of interest, starting with the lava tubes.

Inside the Thurston Lava Tube, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

As we continued down Chain of Craters Road, we encountered the remains of recent lava flows, like this one from the 1970s:

1970s-era lava along Chain of Craters Road. Mind you, this was present on both sides of the road as far as the eye could see. Pretty crazy landscape.

We encountered various kinds of lava (all kinds but live, flowing, red-hot lava). We learned the difference between the two main types of lava, pāhoehoe and ʻaʻā. It is hard to describe in words the differences between pāhoehoe and ʻaʻā. Basically, pāhoehoe is fun to walk on; ʻaʻā is not. Pāhoehoe is pretty; ʻaʻā is sublime. Here's a photo showing the differences between the two:

The meeting of two types of lava along Chain of Craters Road. The pāhoehoe is in the foreground: soft and smooth. The ʻaʻā is in the background: hard and rough.

As we continued down Chain of Craters Road, we quickly dropped from circa 4,000 feet to the coast. Before we reached the edge—where lava meets sea—we stopped at a site known as Puʻuloa ("great hill") which contains ancient Hawaiian petroglyphs from the 14th through 17th centuries.

Hawaiian petroglyph, circa 14th-17th centuries, Puʻuloa, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Hawaiian petroglyphs, circa 14th-17th centuries, Puʻuloa, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Hawaiian petroglyphs, circa 14th-17th centuries, Puʻuloa, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Hawaiian petroglyph, circa 14th-17th centuries, Puʻuloa, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

I found the petroglyphs beautiful and fascinating for several reasons. For one thing, they stand as a great reminder that Hawaiian history does not just begin with Captain Cook; rather, there is over a millennium of human history in these islands that predates 1778 CE. It is likewise a reminder that history is not solely bound by textual documentary evidence, but it is manifest in other forms of evidence, including rock art. There is, unfortunately, little that we can see in present-day Hawaiʻi that is representative of life here in the 14th century, or anytime before Captain Cook for that matter, and so the preservation of these petroglyphs is terribly important. Of course, when one visits Puʻuloa, s/he notices the recent lava flows on both sides of this place. It is frankly amazing that Puʻuloa has survived this long. Someday the lava flow might shift direction and cover these petroglyphs, destroying them forever. We can't control that. I'm sure there are amazing Hawaiian historical sites directly beneath today's lava flow. Hawaiʻi Island is an island in flux, still growing. History, too, comes and goes with the passage of time. Hopefully these photographs can help preserve something that I consider deeply important, and that we should all recognize is even more important to the indigenous people of these islands, a people whose history was once ripped away from them and who are still engaged in a struggle to get it back.

From Puʻuloa we continued on to the end of the road, where lava meets the sea:

Holei Sea Arch, Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park

Then we drove all the way back up Chain of Craters Road, 4,000 feet up to Namakanipaio campground. Before collapsing into our sleeping bags in our cold, wet tent at this crossing of the winds, we drove into the town of Volcano for Thai food and locally-brewed Hawaiʻi Island beer!

Hawaiʻi Island beers, Volcano

The next morning we would hit the road again, on our way to the Kona coast of Hawaiʻi. But that story, as eager as I am to tell it, will have to await the next post. 

So for now, mahalo for reading! A hui hou.

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