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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Last day: Hapuna Beach

After our lava field adventure, we were ready for some quiet time - and as little movement as possible. We decided to go to Hapuna Beach, a bit to the north of Kailua-Kona, where we stayed in the Big Island. We basically did nothing at this beach, which can be a beautiful thing: we swam and floated in the warmest water we experienced in Hawaii - nearly too warm - and just enjoyed our last day in Hawaii.

Big Island: The Lava Fields

Several years ago, we drove to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, went to the end of Chain of Craters Road, and walked on the lava fields, half-hoping to see running red lava. We didn't make it to the lava, but it was a fun trip. But I'd always wanted to go back and see some active geology...

This time, we were better prepared: we brought hiking boots, walking sticks, and several liters of water for each of us. We drove to the lava field at the end of the road, and set out, even though the signs indicated that it was a five mile walk across the lava field to see the "red lava". This lava field is extremely new, with new flows added daily. Much of it is ten years old or less.

Walking on lava is quite a challenge. Imagine the worst parking lot you've ever seen, make the blacktop chunks about 20 times bigger, have it rain beer bottles on it for awhile, and heat them until they all melt, and you'll have an idea of what a lava field looks like. You have to pick your steps very carefully, even without worrying about hot lava itself as there are lots of slippery and slick areas, and occasionally things move without warning when you put your weight on them.

But it is oddly beautiful in a way: the colors are very elemental, and there are lots of hidden rainbows and colors in what seems at first glance to be a uniform field of black. In cracks, you'll see yellows, reds, and greens, and even occasional rich blues, and the pahoehoe has a very cool ropy look. The land is clearly brand-new, with only scattered vegetation, and the only sound you'll hear is the wind and the nearby ocean.

We started walking at about 2:30, and after a couple of hours of steady walking, we started to see steam and smelled brimstone. It was getting near 5:00 PM, in an area where the sun sets by 6:00, but we had brought flashlights, so we pressed on. At about 5:30, we got to an area with lots of steaming and venting, experienced hot blasts from cracks and felt occasional squishiness under our feet. Rock isn't usually squishy, so we decided to watch our step. Unfortunately, we didn't see any "red lava" breakouts, but we figured we were definitely in "serious geology" here. I figured we were standing on active lava tubes with running lava only a few feet under us. At that point, discretion overcame valor, and we decided to turn back, although I carefully looked in some cracks to see if I could see Red.

The walk back was one of the more challenging walks we've ever done. We were already tired, and the sun was setting fast. But as it was getting dark, the darkening world revealed a cliff-face lit up with a vast area of red flows that must have been a mile wide. We could also see the glow from Pu'u O'o in the distance. This view made the strenuous hike worth it. One other thing: the lava was visibly moving and changing as you watched it - flashes would appear, and flows would brighten and darken over time.

But things got even tougher here. By 7:00 PM, it was completely dark, and we started to get rain showers. We broke out the flashlights, and tiptoed our way through the lava, trying to not get completely lost and trying to not break our necks. We did many "crack dances" where we teetered and flailed about on the verge of falling, but managed to avoid falling (except once). Fortunately, the rangers have set up flashing beacons along a "trail" to the parking area, which we followed back, slowly, step by step.

Out here, it is _very_ dark. The only light was the flashlights, the very faint flashes of the beacons, the glow of the lava cliff, and the glow of the lava falling into the sea at the other end of the lava tubes. There are no towns here, and since it was rather cloudy, little starlight and no moonlight.

After two more hours of lava walking, with a few heavy showers soaking us, we finally reached the road, which made a blessed change of "ordinary" walking. We finally got back to the car after 10:00PM, having been on our feet nearly eight hours, and drove back up Chain of Craters Road. The price for the trip: a nasty scrape on my right leg, and a big blister on my left foot. I figured this was a small price for this adventure in Pele's home.

POSTSCRIPT: It turns out that we were among the last people likely to do this walk for awhile. Two hours after we left Kilauea, a magmetic earthquake swarm damaged the road and forced closure of that area of the park. As of this posting, an active eruption is pumping out significant new lava flows in the area.

Maui Day VI: Kapalua Beach

This was our last full day in Maui, so we did some research to see what the best beach would be. Since we wanted to do more snorkeling, we decided on Kapalua Beach. This is a very nice beach for snorkeling or swimming, since it is in a crescent-shaped bay with plenty of coral. My wife did her first serious snorkeling here: it was gentle enough for her to float above the fish happily and watch them do their various fishy activities. There were lots of wonderful fish here, of all sorts of colors and shapes, and one need not have fancy equipment to see them "up close and personal".

Kapalua Beach itself is a bit tricky to find, with its parking lot hidden amongst various timeshares and golf courses, but it's worth a few circles.

Maui Day V: Atlantis and Lahaina

Today, we went to Lahaina, after a short trip on the Atlantis Submarine. The trip was interesting, more for the fact that it is an actual submarine than anything else - we didn't see any sharks or turtles. The Lahaina dive included a trip to a sunken ship that Atlantis bought and sank (with all environmental issues taken care of, we were assured): The Carthaginian. It had been a whaling museum ship that had fallen into extreme disrepair, so Atlantis bought it and sank it to turn it into a reef - and to give sub dives something to look at.

The strategy appears to be working. There were lots of fish around the ship, and the ship itself is getting enough coral crustiness to have a Pirates in the Caribbean Davey Jones's Locker look. Kids were fascinated.

My desire to recreate childhood trips on the Disneyland Submarine Ride satisfied, we strolled around Front Street in Lahaina.

Lahaina itself has a fairly typical beach tourist town look, with zillions of T-shirt and trinket shops, as well as lots of restaurants. I was questing for a good Haleakala T-shirt, but found only one store actually selling one that wasn't referring to the Bike Down The Volcano excursion that is somewhat popular. I'll admit that I'm somewhat of the wrong demographic for T-shirts, but I've always had an odd desire to buy a T-shirt for any natural place where I've walked and thought was cool and interesting.

There is also a fair bit of history in Lahaina, since it was the first capital of the united Hawaiian monarchy under King Kamehameha. The history is more interesting than the T-shirt shops, although we didn't have enough time to do much exploring of this aspect of Lahaina. Doubtless in our next trip, we explore Lahaina more.

Lahaina is also interesting in that parts of it get less than 10 inches of rain per year, or not much more than Las Vegas or Phoenix. The nearby Iao Valley gets well over 100 inches, which shows just how small changes in topography in islands can have massive effects on microclimates.

After our Lahaina visit, we went to Kaanapali Beach.

Maui Day IV: Northern Run

Today, we went to the I'ao Needle, expecting a fairly decent hike. It turns out that there isn't much in the way of serious hikes there, although the walk to the viewing platform is pleasant. The Iao Valley itself is very cool, with a mountainous jungly feeling that reminded me of some parts of southern China.

After visiting the Needle, and walking around the creek in the park, we got onto Route 340 and went around Maui's northwestern side. It was even trickier than the road to Hana, but also beautiful. This part of Maui is quite a bit drier than the Hana area, with lots of grassland and dry forest, as well as deep valleys and sheer cliffs.

One thing that was interesting here was the geology was somewhat different (to my untrained eye) than other parts of Hawaii. There were deep pumice deposits here, which you don't see in many other places in Hawaii, so the nearby volcano must have been more of the exploding ash variety (like the Cascade volcanoes) than the relatively gentle runny variety that you see at Kilauea and other Hawaiian volcanoes like Maui's Haleakala.

We passed around the North, making our slow and winding way, to D. T. Fleming Beach, where we tried our first significant bit of snorkeling. Snorkeling is very cool; you can look at and swim with fish! The other thing is the fish seem to ignore you; they go about their business seemingly undisturbed by your presence. In my experience, this never happens on land...

The surf at DT Fleming is a bit rough for my wife, but she still swam a bit.

Maui Day III: Big Beach...

Today, we went to Big Beach, south of Waimea. Waimea itself has become a hotspot for movie-stars and other Richistanis, and it has an oddly SoCal feeling. The main drag feels like the nicer parts of Pasadena, with a fair bit of Beverly Hills thrown in, with an oddly large number of golf courses - as well as the widest non-highway streets I've seen in Hawaii. Who goes to Hawaii to play golf? Someone must, but I'd rather spend time at the beach...

So, we went to Big Beach and spent the day swimming and recovering from our Haleakala hike yesterday.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Maui Day II: the Glory of Haleakala...

...or What Goes Down Must Come Up - at least if you park at the visitor center trailhead...

Our day started early with a drive up Haleakala. You go up, and up, and up, and zig-zag still upward, and realize that you still have more "up". The plants change from dry tropical to rangeland with scattered pine to chaparral, and finally you get to stone with bits of grass and shrubs here and there. And the world gets further and further away, until you get above the cloud deck.

We finally reached the summit, which truly looks like the Roof of the World. From there, you can see most of Maui, and you can see the Big Island volcanoes as well. Lanai and a bit of Molokai are also clear.

After visiting the summit, we went to the "Crater" overview. The "Crater" is apparently not a volcanic caldera, although it is full of multicolored cinder cones and general volcanic coolness. There are at least a half-dozen big cinder cones in the Crater, and probably many more. If you are a geology nut, you can't possibly go anywhere near Maui without spending a day at the Crater.

We hiked down into the Crater, to the first cinder cone, named Ka Lu'u o ka' O'o. (No clue how to pronounce it - we called it "kay-lew".) After a fairly quick descent, oohing and aahing all the way - and trying to not pay attention to the return trip at 10,000 feet, we had lunch on Kay-lew's rim. Afterwards, I learned that Kay-lew is one of the newest volcanic formations on Maui, being only 900 years old...

The top area of the Crater has virtually no vegetation, and have the blasted look of hard-core vulcanism. Red, yellow, pink, orange, and black rock is everywhere, in streaks and stripes, with stones ranging in size from sand to car-sized boulders. Further down the Crater from the Shifting Sands Trail that we were walking on, you can see the greens that are on the Hana and eastern side of the mountain. The crater floor goes from a volcanic desert to lush tropical uplands in the space of a dozen miles.

In the area of the Crater where we were, the main plant was the Silversword. It was appropriate for such an otherworldly place: the plant looks like something that you'd find on another planet. It's silver, spiky - imagine a great big silver sea urchin - with only a faint greenish twinge, and its flowering stalk looks like some sort of alien pod-thingy that is beautiful in an unearthly way.

Kay-lew is against the western rim of the Crater, and has a nearby field of black sand with scattered boulders. I noticed that one of them had a clearly defined trail running out to it, and wondered if that boulder "walked" in a fashion similar to the Death Valley Sliding Stones. The trail on the sand looked quite similar to the sliding stones in the picture.

OK - now that we're in the Crater, we've had our fun and now have to pay for it by coming out. We had dropped about 1400 feet from the visitor center parking lot, and were at about 9000 feet - and weren't acclimated. We started walking, and had to stop every 30 or 40 feet to catch our breath. But step by step, we made our way back up the trail and out to the visitor center.

But there was one last surprise. In the visitor center parking lot, a Nene and her babies were running about. After a few pix of these guys, we cleaned up and went back down, and down, and down, back to Kihei.

Maui Day I

We're now in Hawaii, staying in Kihei, and had a very nice first day here. We flew from SF to Kona on Friday, and finished the flight with an interesting, if a bit exciting, trip from Kona to Maui on a Cessna commuter plane.

This gave us excellent looks at several islands, and one thing that's interesting is how different volcanic landscapes look from non-volcanic ones. The big Hawaiian Shield volcanoes are particularly interesting in that they're very flat triangles in profile, with very shallow sloping sides that seem to go up forever. Unless you're quite far away, you don't so much see a mountain as much as you see the horizon tilted into the sky, often ending in a bank of clouds at the summit. There are few hills or peaks other than the top of the mountain itself, as these mountains are very young and erosion hasn't yet done much with any of them.

Unless you count carving out deep canyons for streams and small rivers; in the wetter parts of Hawaii, there are plenty of these. Yesterday, we drove to Hana, on the eastern side of Maui. The road there, aptly named Highway 360, since you sometimes feel your car has turned at least that much where making turns, winds along the coast on the northern and eastern skirts of Haleakala. The road, which is truly beautiful although quite tricky and which has an average - and appropriate - speed limit of 20MPH and less in many places - through many microclimates from quite dry to tropical rainforest that gets 400 inches per year, where Hana is.

Hana itself is interesting, in a beautiful environment with rainforests, the mountain looming above like a green cloud, and the bluest sea you'll find anywhere. The beaches are wonderful with black sand, intensely green rainforest, and the deep blue sea right up to the surf. Hana has lots of history, and the odd mix of prosperity and casual approaches to building maintenance that you see in much of rural Hawaii. Since we drove there as a day trip, we didn't have much of a chance to meet locals, but it looks very welcoming and cheerful, without much in the way of tourist kitsch. Next time, we'll try to stay in town overnight since the drive on 360 can't be done in less than three hours, even if it's only about 60 miles from central Maui.

We also went to a big lava tube near Hana. This tube is very interesting if you're into lava tubes (and we like them), and was much bigger and longer than tubes we've visited in California and the Big Island. It has lots of "runnies" that make the walls and ceiling of parts of the tube look like melting chocolate. Also, it has good hand-rails and is well-signed; the proprietor clearly takes pride in his work and knows a thing or two about lava tube geology.

We attempted to drive around the southeast side of Maui, but the road is closed due to an earthquake in 2006, so we returned to Kihei by retracing back through Hana.

More tomorrow...

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