Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Wrath of Hurricane Florence

High resolution view of the eye of Hurricane Florence, courtesy of NASA, taken from the International Space Station on September 12th while it was still out at sea.

My hiking exploits in Hawaii have been on hold as my attention was riveted on Hurricane Florence as it rampaged toward the North Carolina Coast, then stalled and lingered there.  My interest was very personal.  As you've seen from my numerous beach hike/sunrise images, I spend much of my non-travel time right where Florence had its worst impact.  The right front quadrant, where the onshore winds and storm surge are greatest, hit my area square on.

The result was that a big swath of shoreline on Topsail Island, where I own a condo, and where the North Carolina State Trail, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, follows the beach for eight miles, was hit with major dune breaches.  Two of the worst places are shown below.

Helicopter view of the pavilion at Onslow County beach park where the east-bound Mountains-to-Sea Trail route leaves the beach to head northeast toward the Outer Banks

It was a mean storm, and the impact is ongoing even as I write this, yet it could have been much, much worse.  After the NASA image above was taken, the storm began to weaken.  This wasn't forecast, but it was a blessing.  By the time it made landfall at Wrightsville Beach, its wind impact was down.  The eye hit head-on at the fishing pier at Wrightsville beach, where there is an automated weather station, yet the wind gusts recorded there barely got to Hurricane force.  The effect of the eye is the brief, sharp downward spike in wind speeds right in the midst of the strongest gusts.

What is more notable about Florence is that it was battering the area for five days, moving at walking pace.  This caused rainfall totals to reach catastrophic levels.  Here is a Fayetteville Police Department image sequence of the Cape Fear River looking downstream from Person Street, Fayetteville, NC.

And here is the river gauge record for the nearby Northeast Cape Fear River showing that flooding from Florence exceeded all previous records.

I'm not showing tons of photos of the flooding and devastation.  They've saturated the media over the past week (and I was looking at them all).  I'm just posting the highlights here to say that during the storm I was unable to tear myself away from my TV and computer screens during the Florence rampage, with but one exception.

I took a quiet hike into a secret deep rainforest jungle off the 19th century Kaumana Trail at 5000 feet elevation, and just soaked in the peace.  The trail I hiked was an informal track, fairly easy to follow for a mile or so before it faded away.  Here is a GPS Track and a few photos.
The east-west portion of this hike was on the Kaumana Trail, an important Polynesian and early colonial commerce route that has been restored for hiking use.  The north-south portion is the ad-hoc trail, marked with bits of flag tape (see next photo), which plunges deep into a cool high-altitude rain forest.

Now that Florence is gone, I'm still following the reports of those who are returning to the island to assess the damage.  It's a week after the storm and much of my island still expects to have to wait several more days for electricity, water, and sewer service to be restored.

But I'm back out hiking, and will be posting next about another gem of a hike up on the Saddle area between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Three 'M"-beaches. Stunning Hidden Gems of the Kona Coast

This is Makalawena Beach.  It could be on Bermuda, with the pink highlights to this pure coral sand beach.  To get to this world-class undeveloped, secluded oasis you either drive two miles on a rugged track that only 4x4's with maximum clearance can negotiate, then walk half a mile; or you drive 1.2 miles on a rugged, rocky dirt road that 2-wheel drive vehicles can negotiate if you have the guts, and then park and walk a mile.

It's the classic "no pain-no gain" beach.  The reward is *so* worth the effort it takes to get there. 

I'm calling Makalawena our M-1 beach for this report, and it's in the middle of a long hike over remote lava fields and rocky beaches including jagged lava flows, wave-smoothed black lava boulders, and loose white coral rocks.  I even met 'coral man' along the way.

The hike continues past some algae-filled spring-fed lagoons, which the ancient Polynesians tapped for drinking water.

M-2 is Manini'owali Beach.  It has paved road access and the parking area overflows every afternoon.  The first view, below, is taken looking south with the hill called Pu'u Ku'ili poking up in the background.

I climbed that too, and here's the view back toward M-2, with extinct Kohala Volcano, the oldest of the Big Island's five volcanic summits, in the distant background.

Here's another view of the side hill trail on Pu'u Ku'ili, with the neighboring Island of Maui's main summit, Haleakala, looming in the distance.

Here's the view of M-2, this from the other end, with Kohala behind.

It's a nice beach, but too crowded for me.  Nevertheless, it's the beach where angels come to practice playing their harps.

On the way from M-2 to our M-1 paradise, the hike traverses shoreline of the sprawling Kekaha Kai State Park, which has limited development so far, but big plans.  There are other 'beachy' areas with nice views along the way, but these are stone-pebble beaches with strong surf--great views but not great for swimming.

So next we'll move on to M-3.  This is Mahai'ula Beach, accessible at the end of the rugged unimproved 2-wheel drive route.  They're building a nice bath house here, and I assume there are plans to pave the road eventually.

Now, to get from M-3 to M-1 you hike some rugged coastal lava where there isn't much trail in places, though the route is still part of the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail.  One part of the ancient trail had been widened for vehicle 4x4 traffic at one time, though it's now only for foot traffic.  Here's a look at a bit of that, looking south on the approach to the M-3 beach.

In the other direction, this rugged rocky trail runs for 6/10 mile before you emerge at the magnificent secluded Nirvana of Makalawena Beach.  Here is the first view of that beach looking north as you emerge from the lava trail.  In the background you can see Pu'u Ku'ili peeking above the far end of the beach, nestled between Kohola on the horizon at left, and Mauna Kea in a wreath of cloud at right.

And so we've come full circle in our description of this five mile stretch of Big Island shoreline.  Here's an interactive map of the GPS Track for most of this section.  You can zoom in at will to get a close-up of the beaches and rugged lava crossings to reach them.

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My love affair with this coast has only intensified as I continue to hike the Ala Kahakai route south toward Kona.  I only have a few more hikes to go and I'll arrive at Ali'i Drive and the tourist mecca of Kailua-Kona.  Watch for these reports, which will be forthcoming after Tropical Storm Olivia clears the area.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

The Shoreline Trail - More History, more luxury pit stops per mile than any other trail in the world.

Smooth lava stones from the beach set in place hundreds of years ago as stepping stones for barefoot Polynesian travelers.  Mauna Kea is in the background, its summit hidden by cloud.

I continue extending my walk along the continuous Shoreline Trail of western Hawaii Island.  The title of this post says it all.  It passes multiple ultra luxury resorts with shore-side bars and restaurants.  It sends the hiker across countless world class beaches, and it connects these with centuries old footpath past fresh-water ponds, through rugged sun baked lava fields, above precarious high cliffs with sea arches and crashing surf, past exotic pre-historic petroglyphs and foundations of sacred altars and Polynesian fishing villages.

Bottom line:  The Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail surely has the greatest concentration of 'points of interest' of any trail in the world.

This report covers two more short hikes extending the continuous route southward from previous reports.  These hikes took me from Kiholo Bay where Kamehameha I constructed a gigantic fish pond, destroyed by a lava flow in 1859.

through the gated Four Seasons Hualalai Resort, with more than a mile of concrete path along the shoreline past luxury villas, seaside restaurants, and a golf course

to Kikaua Point State Park where the public can lounge on a little shady shoreline patch of lush grass just feet from the surf with panoramic views of the most gorgeous shoreline anywhere.

Along these few miles of coastal trail, I ran across an ancient game-board, called a Papamu, cut in the lava bedrock. 

This 8 x 8 'board' was for playing the game of Konane, kind of like checkers, played using white and black pebbles, and sometimes played as a life-and-death duel in place of warfare.  The loser lost his life.

I also passed a replica carving of the war-god Ku. 

He seems to be the most popular totem for tourist consumption, but Kuka'ilimoku (his full name) was a very complex God.  Beside being 'Ku the supreme one' and 'Ku of the maggot-dropping mouth' and 'Ku the land snatcher', he was also 'Ku the supporter', 'Ku pulling together the earth', and Ku of farming, Ku of the deep forest, and Ku adzing out the canoe, etc.

Other sights along this segment include another excellent sea-arch,

a sun-bleached skull of the ubiquitous feral goat set on the crumbling wall of an ancient dwelling,

and countless little puddles where Ku and his cohorts were naturally manufacturing pure Hawaiian sea salt.

As with all of this amazing trail, the walk was magical.  Never a dull moment.

Then back near home I had a chance to indulge my fascination with specimen trees.

This is one of the most awesome I've seen anywhere.  It is Albizia saman, called simply 'saman' or 'rain tree' or 'monkey pod'.  It is native to the tropical new world, and its spreading habit is even better than the live oak.

It seems to defy gravity

This one is distinctive because it is set in the nicest, best-kept cemetery I've ever seen, the Alae Cemetery north of Hilo, with a wonderful ocean view overlooking Hilo Bay.

Where to next?  Well, I have more of the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail to do.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Back in the Saddle - Third time's the charm

I've discovered that the Pu'u 'O'o Trail, at about 6000 feet elevation, located in the 'saddle' region between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, is my favorite place to hike on the Big Island.  Except for a tendency for unpredictable rain and mist to threaten the area at almost any time, it's just about ideal.  Temperature is perfect for hiking, and the setting varies from stark, barren lava to deep lush rainforest.  In places that change happens in just a few steps - see the headline photo above and note the forest in the near background at left.  So with several variations in between the two extremes, there's very little opportunity for boredom.

After two previous visits to this trail that were hampered by rain and fog, I returned today because the weather was about as clear as it gets.  This meant views of the nearly 14,000 foot summits that this venue straddles, and bright sunshine for viewing everything else.  The ubiquitous blossoms of the ohia tree, for example, practically glow with their particular shade of intense red.  Here's one with Mauna Loa as its backdrop and nothing but lava and smaller ohia trees in between.

Ohia is one of the pioneer species on new lava, and since the big island is continuously being re-surfaced with new lava, it is perfectly adapted.

I got an early start to take full advantage of the sun, before its heating began to stir up clouds; and that meant hiking amid the heavy dew--one source for the moisture that would make those clouds.

Besides the Ohia, the other distinctively Hawaiian pioneer species on lava include Uluhe, the Old World Forked Fern, which behaves more like a climbing vine than a fern,

and a fern that behaves more like a tree--the Hapu'u 'i'i, which can get upwards of 20 feet tall, and whose giant fronds unfurl leaflet-by-leaflet in an amazing choreographed ballet.

On raw lava, these Hawaiian tree ferns take on miniature form

But in the older forest--patches that were spared by the flow of new lava--they reach their full glory.  Here is one shown in the shadow of a massive old tree, which I haven't yet identified.

Clouds did roll in by late morning as the breezes began to stir, though they were benign and shallow and not posing any rain threat.  All they threatened to do was to close down the 'Big Sky' that made views like this so impressive.

Mountain weather is almost universally best before 10AM.  I had captured all my good photos by then and just enjoyed the cool breezes as I strolled back to my car.

Next up - more hiking along the North Kona Coast, as I extend the length of continuous trail I'm discovering there.