Lava Land, the Big Island

Saddle Road, Big Island, vast landscapes of lava

 

Punalu’u Beach, Black sand beach from lava

The Hawaiian Islands are like no other place in the world. While there are many tropical attractions for vacationers including beaches, palm trees, and balmy fragrant air, it is the volcanoes that lend a unique aspect to these picturesque islands.

Lava beach

 

Here in the northern Pacific Ocean, there is a volcanic hotspot where magma from below the surface wells up. Movement over this magma hotspot by the largest tectonic plate on Earth, the Pacific Plate, creates the volcanic activity. This is what created the islands.

 

The eruptions have been occurring for millions of years, and still do to this day.

 

Crab, Big Island

 

All of the Hawaiian Islands show evidence of lava flows, but there is no island more active today with volcanic lava flows than the Big Island. It is on the far east end of the archipelago, and is the youngest island, and therefore has the most activity.

 

All photos posted here are from the Big Island.

 

Big Island, wall made of black lava rocks

 

Evolution of Hawaiian Volcanos

 

Visitors to the Big Island can see steam vents, craters, lava tubes, and vast landscapes of hardened lava.

 

Thurston Lava Tube, Big Island

 

I have visited the Big Island seven times since 1996. What I find most extraordinary is that the land, especially near Kilauea Volcano in Volcanoes National Park, is constantly changing shape due to the volcano activity.

 

Roads we drove on and trails we hiked in the 1990s have been swallowed up by lava flows, gone now.

 

These two photos taken at Kilauea as recently as 2016 reflect a landscape that no longer exists, due to the massive eruption in May of 2018.

 

Close-up, Halema’uma’u Crater at Kilauea Volcano

 

Halema’uma’u Crater, Kilauea overlook in 2016

 

Take a look at this video with shocking aerial footage of the lava flows during the May, 2018 eruption. 2018 Eruption of Kilauea.

 

This photo shows folks watching a Kilauea eruption in 1924.

 

Photo of Kilauea Halema’uma’u Crater in 1924. Big Island, HI.

 

The National Park Service has a website that is constantly updated for people who are planning a visit to the Big Island, supplying information on the most current eruptions, conditions, and road closures.

 

Big Island Hawaii Volcanoes

Big Island Hawaii Volcanoes. Courtesy explore-the-big-island.com.

 

But it’s not just around Kilauea where you see the lava activity. Evidence of lava flows new and old can be seen on the Big Island wherever you go.

 

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park, aka The Place of Refuge, is located on the west coast of the Big Island. Until the early 19th century, this 420 acre (1.7 sq. km.) site was a designated place of refuge for Hawaiians who had broken the law.

 

Walls of this ancient site, built centuries ago, were built with lava rock.

 

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, Place of Refuge, Hawaii

 

Place of Refuge aka Pu’uhonua o Honaunau

 

The place where Captain James Cook was killed on February 14, 1779, shows his monument built on black lava rocks.

 

Cook monument, Kealakekua Bay, HI

 

Residents live around the lava, turtles hunt on it, birds and crabs traverse it.

 

Wherever you venture on the Big Island, black lava tells poignant stories of the numerous eruptions and the people who have embraced this magical, but volatile, land.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

 

Green Sea Turtle on lava, Big Island

 

Geckos and Birds at the Painted Church

There is a humble tourist attraction on Hawaii’s Big Island called the Painted Church. It is one of my favorite Hawaiian spots with its quiet presence and tropical landscape, on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

 

When we visited last month, a house finch and gecko were together in this papaya tree on the church grounds.

 

This bright and exotic gecko lives on three of the Hawaiian Islands. Gold Dust Day Gecko. 

Gold Dust Day Gecko, Hawaii

This is not a pair you usually see together, but it was easy to see why.

House Finch, Hawaii

The house finch had found a lusciously ripe papaya and had used his strong bill to open the fruit. The gecko was taking advantage of the opened fruit, called in the gang.

 

Geckos feed on fruit, nectar, and insects, and you can see the smorgasbord they were enjoying that day.

 

Six Geckos, Hawaii

There are 1,500 species of geckos in the world. This particular species, Phelsuma laticauda laticauda, is diurnal, active during the day. They are native to Northern Madagascar.

 

Papaya Tree, Hawaii

 

Many birds came into the papaya trees that day.

 

Saffron Finch in Papaya Tree, Hawaii

There are always many butterflies and birds visiting the fruit trees and flowering plants at The Painted Church. I have never seen a lot of tourists visit the church–it’s out of the way–and those who do visit go inside the church, stay five minutes, and drive away.

 

It is so named for the interior that is painted with a unique combination of biblical and Hawaiian themes.

Painted Church interior, Hawaii

The church is more formally named St. Benedict’s Catholic Church, built in 1899. Belgian Catholic missionary Father John Velghe painted the frescoes. They still hold regular Sunday services here.

 

The adjacent cemetery shows the black lava that is so prevalent on this volcanic island. Every time I visit, it is dancing with butterflies.

Painted Church cemetery, Hawaii. Pacific Ocean on horizon.

 

This juvenile gecko in the cemetery was the length of my thumb.

Juvenile Gecko, Hawaii

For over a hundred years people and butterflies and birds have been visiting this tranquil spot on the hill. Thousands of people have stood on the lava sidewalk looking out over the Pacific Ocean. I’m glad to be one of them.

 

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

Yellow-billed Cardinal on Papaya Tree, Hawaii

 

Birds of Hawaii

Apapane, native Hawaiian honeycreeper, Big Island

The Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated islands on the planet. Despite being nearly 2,400 miles from the nearest land mass, Hawaii has over 300 species of birds. Here are bird photos, information and resources, and a few of my favorite birding spots in Hawaii.

Hosmer Grove, Haleakala, Maui native forest

Long ago when the archipelago’s volcanoes emerged from ocean waters, they were devoid of plant and animal life. Over the eons, plants and animals have made their way to Hawaii in numerous ways.

 

For birds, some arrived by chance, some were brought here by humans; and the process of dispersal and colonization has continued to this day. Different species have been more successful than others in becoming established populations, based on many factors.

 

In today’s world, there are two notable endemic species, unique to Hawaii: the nene and honeycreepers.

Nene, the Big Island

Nenes are one of the successes of Hawaiian avifauna. Branta sandvicensis, Hawaii’s state bird, is the world’s rarest goose. In 1952 there were only 30 individuals left on the planet; now there are 2,500. This is due to heroic conservation efforts. Wikipedia Nene info. 

 

Some species have never made the long journey to Hawaii, like snakes and hummingbirds. There are no hummingbirds on the Hawaiian Islands. Instead, Hawaii’s nectar feeders are the honeycreepers. With small bodies and bright colors, the honeycreepers flutter enticingly in native forests, eliciting melodious, canary-like songs.

 

I have spent many weeks birding in Hawaii over the course of 20 years; trudged through waist-high grass, forded fast-moving streams, hiked old lava beds and miles of forest, and spent dozens of rain-drenched days searching for the honeycreepers.

 

Amakihi, native Hawaiian honeycreeper, Maui. Photo: Athena Alexander

 

They are an evolutionary marvel. Derived from the same original finch species, honeycreepers evolved into more than 50 unique species or subspecies. Some evolved with bills to fit perfectly into the native Hawaiian flowers, others developed the bill for crushing seeds, others for feeding on small insects.

Honeycreeper Drawings by H. Douglas Pratt, Jr. Key below

 

This kind of specialization has rendered the birds less adaptable, therefore more susceptible, to disease and other maladies. Although there has been a monumental human effort to protect the honeycreepers, this specialized species is literally losing ground.

 

Sadly, avian malaria, habitat loss, non-native predators, and many other factors have threatened the honeycreeper populations, like the I’iwi, highlighted here.

 

Hawaii still has honeycreepers, and I am happy to say I have seen several species in my dogged pursuits.

 

Jet birding the Big Island, binoculars inside jacket

 

Birds that have become established on the islands and continue to breed successfully are what we see most in our lowland island activities. They can be found on residential and resort landscapes, all the local towns and beaches, and the exotic flowering plants throughout the islands.

 

Saffron Finch, Big Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Java Sparrows, Big Island

A few of the commonly found birds, transplants from other parts of the world, include: Common Myna, Japanese White-eye, Northern Cardinal, Red-crested Cardinal, Java Sparrow, Zebra Dove, Pacific Golden Plover, and Cattle Egret.

Myna pair on palm frond, Big Island

 

Yellow-billed Cardinal, Big Island

 

Red-crested Cardinal, Big Island

Spotted Dove, Maui

 

Another species we do not see in Hawaii are gulls. They lack the salt glands necessary for desalinating seawater. But with shoreline surrounding every island, shorebirds and seabirds are easily found. Frigatebirds, shearwaters, red-footed boobies, and tropicbirds are some of my favorites to find on various islands.

Wedge-tailed shearwater chick, Kilauea Point, Kauai — ‘Ua’u Kani

 

Common Moorhen, Oahu — ‘Alae’ula

Wandering Tattler, Oahu — ‘Ulili

Hawaiian Stilt, Oahu — Ae’o

 

Whatever Hawaiian island you have the fortune to be on, there are birds everywhere, and their tropical songs and mystical beauty are enchanting.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

White Rock Pigeon, Pearl Harbor Visitor Center, Oahu

Nene, Kilauea Point, Kauai

 

Kalij Pheasant, Big Island

Resources:

Helpful book for every Hawaiian visitor: Hawaii’s Birds by the Hawaii Audubon Society. In the back it lists Popular Birding Sites on every island.

Some of my favorite birding spots, by island:

Big Island favorites:

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Puʻuhonua o Hōnaunau National Historical Park aka Place of Refuge

Recommended Big Island professional guides:

Visit Hakalau Forest with Jack Jeffrey, or book a day trip with Hawaii Forest & Trail.

Other National Parks on the Big Island.

 

Kauai favorites:

Kilauea Point

Koke’e State Park

Waimea Canyon State Park

Trail info for both above-mentioned parks

Professional bird guide: David Kuhn

Kauai bird expert: Jim Denny

 

I’iwi. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Maui favorites:

Haleakala National Park, especially Hosmer Grove; some of my sweetest I’iwi moments were here.

 

Oahu favorites:

Shorelines of the north coast, including James Campbell NWR

Grounds of Pearl Harbor Visitor Center

 

Additional posts I have written about Hawaii:

Snorkeling and Captain Cook

Nenes of Hawaii

Aloha Big Island

 

Aloha Big Island

Place of Refuge aka Pu’uhonua o Honaunau, my favorite place to snorkel

I have visited all the main Hawaiian Islands at least twice, always with a flutter of joy, but the one I fervently return to, my favorite, is the Big Island.

 

It’s not a typical tropical island, with white sand beaches, sand as fine as sugar. It’s paradise in a raw form, with fiery volcano eruptions, and warm Pacific waves meeting porous lava sprawls.

Kalij Pheasant, Big Island

The Big Island, also known as Hawaii Island, is built from five volcanoes, some of which are still active (see map below). It is the largest and youngest island of the chain. At it’s widest point, it is 93 miles (150 km) across.

 

The volcano activity is literally the foundation of this island. Eruptions have changed the shape of the land, sent residents scampering, closed roads, and claimed lives.

Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, Place of Refuge, Hawaii

 

So what is it about the Big Island that makes it so glorious?

 

The green sea turtles foraging in the lava rocks.

Green Sea Turtle

 

The vibrant tropical fish and colorful coral.

Yellow tangs, Big Island

Pink coral, Big Island

 

Expansive ocean vistas and endless ways to ride the waves.

Big Island

 

Psychedelic  lava patterns with pooled puddles, crabs, and shorebirds.

Lava beach and sea

Crab, Big Island

 

Sitting beneath the rattling palm fronds, steeping in the magic of the black sand beaches.

Punalu’u Beach

 

Flowers and fragrance and geckos.

Hibiscus

 

Hawaiian gecko on our rental car

 

Adventuring inland and up into the mountains to see the native birds and forests.

Apapane, native Hawaiian bird, Big Island

Nene pair, Hawaiian goose, Hawaii’s (threatened) state bird

Jet birding, binoculars inside jacket, pouring rain

 

Sitting quietly in the parks, watching the colorful birds and Hawaiian families, graced by the gentle fragrance of plumeria.

Myna pair on palm frond

Java Sparrow, Hawaii

Red-crested Cardinal on a coconut

 

Driving across the island on Saddle Road, surrounded by miles and miles of lava fields.

Saddle Road, Big Island. Our rental car, left of center.

 

Hiking in the old volcano craters and lava tubes.

Kilauea Iki Crater with hikers on trail

 

Watching Kilauea Volcano smoke and spew.

Close-up, Halema’uma’u Crater at Kilauea Volcano

 

Relaxing on the lanai and watching the sun set.

 

Thanks for joining me on the Big Island…or as they say in Hawaii, Mahalo.

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

Five volcanoes of the Big Island. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Kealakekua Bay, Hawaii

Leaving Kona, our boat is blue in photo center

Here’s a curious place on the west side of Hawaii’s Big Island, called Kealakekua Bay. Not only does it have clear waters teeming with tropical fish amid the coral reef, but it has a powerful history as well. It is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

 

Twelve miles (19 km) south of Kailua-Kona, Kealakekua  Bay can only be accessed by hiking a steep and arduous trail, or by boat.

 

We had signed up for a snorkeling tour in Kona, and were headed for this bay. It was a 45-minute boat ride with about 50 other people. The day was gorgeous and sunny, in the tropics in winter, and it was my birthday.

Cook Monument

As the boat neared land, we could see the Cook Monument on the coastline. The rest of the area was cliffs, rocks, and trees with no man-made structures except for this lonely but stately tall, white obelisk.

 

Being somewhat familiar with the life and death of Captain James Cook, I thought about him as we neared the monument. He had been a brilliant circumnavigator and cartographer, had changed the ways of seafaring with his skills. I was in the same waters that Captain Cook occupied in the late 1770s.

 

Meanwhile, we were all getting ready. Fifty of us in sunglasses and bathing suits, gathering up our gear.

Cook monument

 

A voice on the loudspeaker told us this was where Captain James Cook died in 1779. It was hard to hear what else was said, with the waves and wind and everyone jostling.

 

I found myself breaching two worlds. I was happy and excited, soon we’d be submerged in these dazzling waters. Simultaneously, I was looking at the coastline, imagining Captain Cook and his crew.

 

Capt. Cook’s two ships, HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery. Courtesy Wikipedia

On that fateful day of February 14, 1779, in this very same spot of coast, the native Hawaiians and the British were having a disagreement. Earlier, their visit had been friendly.

 

What transpired were misunderstandings and culture clashes, an elevated skirmish that would last for days.

 

In the skirmish, Captain Cook, Hawaiian chiefs and villagers, and British sailors were killed.

 

1795 painting “The Death of Capt. Cook” by Johann Zoffany. Courtesy Wikipedia

1779 drawing of Kealakekua Bay by John Webber, artist aboard Cook’s ship. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Captain Cook info.

Our boat gears ground to a slow halt, the 21st-century snorkel crew called out orders.

 

Yellow tangs

 

 

Surrounded by bright fish and warm tropical waters, this peaceful bay, it was difficult to imagine a war-like setting here.

 

What does one do with these two scenes of February 14, 1779 and the current day both bobbing about in the birthday brain?

 

Start swimming…there’s so many fish.

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander

The plaque on Cook Monument reads: “In memory of the great circumnavigator, Captain James Cook, R. N., who discovered these islands on the 10th of January, A.D. 1770, and fell near this spot on the 14th of February, A.D. 1779. This monument was erected in November A.D. 1874 by some of his fellow countrymen.”

Capt. James Cook’s voyages. 1st voyage=red, 2nd voyage=green, 3rd voyage=blue. Dotted blue=Cook’s crew after his death. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

 

Hawaii Surfing, Oahu’s Pipeline

Oahu Banzai Pipeline surfer

Oahu Banzai Pipeline surfer

The art of “wave sliding” has been an expression of the Hawaiian people for centuries.

 

Pipeline, Oahu

Pipeline, Oahu

From October to March, the winter storms of the Pacific Ocean deliver large ocean swells (i.e., a series of ocean waves) to the north side of the Hawaiian Islands, perfect for surfing. The North Shore of Oahu is legendary for surfing.

 

About a two-hour drive north of Waikiki is Oahu’s North Shore Banzai Pipeline. It is also known as Ehukai Beach, and attracts the best surfers from around the world. Every December they host “the Super Bowl of Surfing” here, the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing competition.

 

One day last November we visited the Pipeline, strictly to observe, and I came away with a new respect and awe for this beautiful sport.

Pipeline, Oahu

Pipeline, Oahu

Many variables influence the ocean waves: winds, tides, storms, currents, underwater channels and reefs, sand, and freshwater runoff.

 

By looking at the map below, you see that the north shore of Oahu (in red) is wide open to the northern hemisphere. Winter storms move across the Pacific Ocean and hit the first land mass of the Hawaiian Islands.

 

The mixing of the arctic cold air with Hawaii’s warm tropic air forces the warm air to rise rapidly, affecting barometric pressure and increasing ocean surface wind. In essence, the northern hemisphere’s storm energy is transferred into the ocean by the wind. The result: the harder the winds blow, the larger the waves.

 

Bathymetry, or the study of the ocean floor, reveals that under the water at Pipeline is a flat tabletop reef that has several internal caverns. Air bubbles from the caverns, and the shallowness of the reef further contribute to the wave action.

 

Add to that the varying factors of wind, fetch (wind-generated waves), and swell period, and you have the complicated science of surfing.

 

“Mechanics of Pipeline” describes it well, demonstrating geology and the numerous reef wave patterns, and showing satellite images of this unique reef. It also has some of the best surfing photos you’ll ever see.

 

Click here for the link; then click on “Next” at the top of the page for an in-depth surfing lesson.

Surfboards, Pipeline, Oahu

Surfboards, Pipeline, Oahu

 

Wikipedia Banzai Pipeline info here.

Wikipedia History of Surfing here.

 

Pipeline, Oahu surfer

Pipeline, Oahu surfer

That day surfers were smoothly gliding atop the waves, from the wave-break all the way to the shoreline — steady, skilled, excellent.  Those few who were not in the water, were walking on the beach, carrying their surf boards, strategizing their next wave dance.

 

Ehukai Beach (Pipeline), Oahu

Ehukai Beach (Pipeline), Oahu

The Polynesians were seen riding wood planks on ocean waves back in the late 1700s. Surf boards have changed, technology has advanced, and women join the men now; but here’s a Hawaiian marvel that continues, after centuries, to embrace the culture.  Aloha!

 

Photo credit: Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

Oahu (1).jpg

Oahu satellite image. Courtesy Wikipedia.

Map of Hawaii highlighting Oahu.svg

Hawaiian Islands, Oahu in red. Courtesy Wikipedia.

 

Three-time winner of 2016 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, John John Florence. Photo courtesy Triple Crown.

 

 

Two Hawaiian National Parks

Apapane, native Hawaiian bird, Big Island

Apapane, native Hawaiian bird, Big Island

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Haleakala National Park became parks on this day in 1916, signed in by President Wilson.

 

It was a great day when the land surrounding these volcano areas became protected.

 

The State of Hawaii is an archipelago of eight major islands, islets and atolls spanning approximately 1,500 miles (2,400 km) across the Pacific Ocean.  More about Hawaiian Islands here.

 

Lava beach, Honaunau Bay, Big Island

Lava beach, Honaunau Bay, Big Island

The 11th national park in the United States has an interesting history.

 

In 1790 Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii had a violent eruption that killed whole families.  Fifty years later it became a tourist attraction for western visitors, and a string of hotels began popping up on the volcano rim.

 

In 1907 the Territory of Hawaii (it was not yet a state) paid for 50 members of Congress to visit the island volcanoes.  Hoping to get national park status, leaders of the effort  hosted a dinner–cooked over lava steam vents.

 

Lava Tube, Big Island

Lava Tube, Big Island

In the next nine years there were bills drafted, congressional delegations, opposition, and a few failed attempts.  A leading force in the effort, Lorrin Thurston, secured endorsements from environmental enthusiasts including John Muir and former President Theodore Roosevelt.

 

I’iwi, native Hawaiian bird. Photo: Jack Jeffrey. Courtesy pulitzercenter.org

The area eventually became a park on August 1, 1916; they called it Hawaii National Park.  The Park, being on two separate islands, was changed in 1960 to two parks in their present names.

 

Amakihi, native Hawaiian bird, Maui

Amakihi, native Hawaiian bird, Maui

Located on Hawaii (aka The Big Island), is Volcanoes National Park.  It has two active volcanoes:  Kilauea and Mauna Loa.

 

There are lava flows old and new, calderas, steaming vents, lava tubes, and lava tunnels throughout the island.

 

Much of the Big Island (my favorite) is a vast expanse of uninhabitable lava fields resembling a lifeless moonscape.  Lava has been spilling out over the island for centuries and continues to do so every year.

 

Eruptions here are so frequent that the National Park Service website offers frequent lava flow updates.  Volcano activity this week:  click here.

 

Haleakala Crater, Maui

Haleakala Crater, Maui

The other park is on the next biggest island in land area:  Maui.  Haleakala National Park features dormant Haleakala Volcano.  It last erupted between 1480 and 1600 AD.

 

Haleakala means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian.

 

Map of Maui, Haleakala NP highlighted in lime green. Courtesy Wikipedia.

This park has Haleakala Crater at the summit; and surrounding natural pools, waterfalls, and rainforest leading down to the coast.

 

The crater is huge (seven miles [11.25 km] across; 2,600 feet [790 m] deep) with a landscape of cinder cones rich in earth colors.

 

Here’s a Haleakala post I wrote:  here.

 

Fern

Fern

Both National Park websites here:  Hawaii Volcanoes NP and Haleakala NP.

 

Native Hawaii is all about volcanoes, rainforests, lava fields, and mountain tops.  With native plants, birds, wildlife, and volcanic features, there is much to celebrate in these national parks.

 

Hosmer Grove, Haleakala, Maui

Hosmer Grove, Haleakala, Maui. Where I saw my first I’iwi (bird).

Aloha!

 

Photo credit:  Athena Alexander unless otherwise specified

 

Map of Hawaiian Islands, courtesy gohawaii.about.com