Friday, August 17, 2018
The Green Sand Beach and more Polynesian Footprints
This is a report of my two-day tour of the best hikes on the south end of the Big Island of Hawai'i - the Ka'u District. The obligatory visit was to one of only four green sand beaches in the world.
Papakolea Green Sand Beach is legally reached only by hiking three miles. But the no-drive restrictions are clearly not enforced. I think this has to do with the fact that all the land here is part of a 10,000 acre parcel owned by the Hawaiian Homelands Trust, and that there seems to be a problem of 'buck passing' on these lands. One look at the erosion explains why driving here is not a good idea.
The beach gets its distinctive color from little semi-precious gem stones, olivine, embedded in the lava that erupted in this area.
Here's a wider view of the beach. It is set inside a cinder cone that erupted the olivine-rich lava right at sea level.
Yet the greenest sand is not here. The famous green sand beach has impurities of black sand and white coral sand. I found a coastal area about a mile and a quarter away that didn't have a lot of green sand but what it had was stupendously green, and contrasted starkly with the black lava, the red earth, and the blue sea.
I also visited the famous Punalu'u Black Sand Beach. Meh.
First of all, black sand beaches come by the dozens on the big island. And I've seen many better ones. This one got popularized, but I do not understand why. Most of the shore is actually rock. The sandy swimming area is tiny.
I was really there to visit the best example I've yet seen of the ancient Polynesian trail building art - a centuries-old trail paved with smooth foot-sized stones through jagged 'a'a' lava about a half mile east of the beach
I can't seem to get enough of these old trails. Here's another well-preserved segment.
Nowhere that I know of except the Inca trails in South America, does such an extensive network of ancient footpaths survive to be hiked today.
I also visited the southern-most point on the island, and thus the southern-most point in the United States, and found another great example of ancient Polynesian stone-craft
In between South Point and the Green Sand beach I visited the plastic sand beach.
The southern tip of the island seems to intercept floating plastic debris from all over the tropical Pacific.
Inland I went up to Manuka State Park and hiked their nature trail. It's a two mile trail in a pretty forest, but the area was suffering serious drought. Many of the understory plants were wilting and most everything else was dropping leaves.
I finally did get a photo I've been hoping to get - of one of the most colorful denizens of the island.
He's not a native. This is probably a gold-dust day-gecko, originally from Madagascar.
Finally I went up to the Kahuka Unit of Volcano National Park--the only unit that is currently open to the public--and hiked the only decent trail they have open. This part of the park was recently acquired and was formerly a big cattle ranch. The savanna-like setting is gorgeous, and I've not seen so many huge specimen ohia trees before. But it is an artificial landscape--purely a result of cattle grazing, preventing young trees from growing.
Before Europeans arrived, this area was a thick forest, and I presume that's the way it will eventually become again now that the land is protected.
Although this area is only ten miles from Manuka, it showed no signs of drought, and a few of the Ohia trees were resplendent with bloom.
This has long been my favorite Hawaiian native tree, but the park rangers told me about a new threat - Rapid Ohia Death. The rangers didn't even know what causes it, though the web site in the link points to two related fungus species that humans can spread--apparently via something as innocuous as the dust on the undercarriage of their vehicles.
At this point they don't even know where this fungus came from. But it didn't show up and start killing Ohia until a few years ago.
From what I could tell, healthy trees may not be threatened - at least yet. Let's hope this isn't such a devastating killer like the American Chestnut Blight, Dutch Elm Disease, or Emerald Ash Borer. I couldn't bear to see another great iconic regional tree disappear from the landscape.