Saturday, September 29, 2018

Best kept secret on the Big Island's Coastal National Historic Trail

Remote, apparently seldom visited dual blowholes at 19.76653, -156.04914

This is the last report on the longest continuously hike-able section of Hawaii's Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, and the section I recommend as Hawaii's contribution to the nationwide Fifty Trail.  The entire segment is 41.2 miles in length.  Here's an overview map. 

This post only covers the southern 7 or 8 miles of that.  Parts of it pass through an 1801 lava flow, so the historic old Polynesian-built footpath is lost here, but what is there is some well-marked modern trail.

The southern end of the long hike is at Honokohau Harbor, and on the way north through Kaloko-Honokau National Historic Park (before you reach the 1801 lava field) there are some nice beaches with ancient fish traps, restored dwellings, fish ponds, and interesting petroglyphs.

But then you strike out into the lava.  The world-class blowhole shown in the headline is in the middle of this stretch, a mile and a quarter from the nearest public access point, and not often visited.  I could find no photos or information about it, yet when I was there a whole line of spectators were lined up watching it.

These little 'a'ama crabs (Grapsus tenuicrustatus, also known as the thin-shelled black crab, rock crab, or natal lightfoot crab) are so wary and so lightning-quick and nimble that I've been unable to get close enough to get a good photo of them until now.  Here their attention was on the surging surf in the blowhole and not on me.  They're on the flat in the foreground in this shot, which came a second too late for full gush of pressurized water.

The new Kona Airport is also situated in this 1801 lava flow,

As is the Hawaii Ocean Sciences and Technology Park (note the landing airplane near the top of the photo)

In the middle of the lava flow is one tiny little coastal oasis with a few trees and a modern 'shrine'

And at the north end is some more modern coral art.  Behind the art below is the airport control tower and Hualalai Volcano.

So with that, I bid you adieu from

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Pu'u Ahumoa - the Spiral Hike

On the slopes of Mauna Kea, on the dry west side, stands a thousand-foot-high cinder cone with a gently sloped spiral trail to its summit.  It's called Pu'u Ahumoa.

The summit is 7000 feet in elevation.  It is nicely symmetrical, but looks rather ordinary on approach.  But it has turned out to be one of my favorite Big Island Hikes.

Why?  Well, Ahumoa is strategically situated such that on a clear day, one can view five major volcano summits--every volcano on the Big Island except Kilauea, plus Haleakala on the neighboring island of Maui.

Unfortunately, the day I hiked was far from perfectly clear.  Off to the west, in the Saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, a thunderstorm was brewing.

The view of Hualalai was a peek-a-boo view.

The gap between Hualalai and Mauna Loa offers views of a nicely symmetric cinder cone.

Mauna Kea itself was covered by towering clouds, here viewed with Ahumoa's crater in the foreground.

The dry side of the island has been greening up since the deluge of rain brought by Hurricane Lane a couple weeks ago.  So there were plants providing color that normally lie dormant.

The first mile of the access route to Pu'u Ahumoa is part of a 36 mile multi-use trail that circles the flanks of Mauna Kea.  It's an overnight hike that I chose not to do on this trip, in order to fly without checking baggage, and because it's open to vehicles.

Maybe another time.  My focus for this trip is the 175 mile coastal trail, the Ala Kahakai National Historic Trail, which I'm designating as Hawaii's contribution to the Fifty Trail.   My next report, coming soon, covers more of that amazingly diverse route.

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.