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Images of the Kona Coast and the older Hawaiian Volcanoes

Kiholo Bay, north of Kailua-Kona. The Bay is partly filled by an 1859 flow from Mauna Loa that traveled 30 miles! The flank of the essentially extinct volcano Kohala can be seen in the distance.

The next stage of our journey took us from the rainforests of Hilo around the south end of the Big Island, and north to the arid Kona Coast region. The contrast is abrupt! Vast areas of barren lava flows and near desert conditions. The aridity makes for ideal tourist weather, and the Kona Coast is known as the tourist side of the Big Island, with dozens of high-end mega-resorts and condominiums. We were there to see some of the older volcanoes of the big island, including Hualalai and Kohala. Ironically, I don't think we ever actually saw either volcano from the ground, as they were mantled with clouds during our entire visit. We did visit a number of fascinating localities on their flanks, however.

Hilo to Kailua-Kona - the southernmost land in the United States
DSC01770.JPG (220493 bytes)    We weren't quite done with the active volcanoes of Hawaii! Through the generosity of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), we were given a brief tour of the observatory by Scientist-in-charge, Dr. James Kauahikaua. 
DSC01771.JPG (254712 bytes)   The tour gave us another chance to check out the activity at Halemaumau. The day was clear and sunny, and the plume as active as ever.
DSC01778 Pele's Hair.jpg (207889 bytes)   Taking a closer look at the ground around the rim of Kilauea Caldera, we started noticing lots of strands of Pele's Hair. The fibers are actually volcanic glass, stretched thin during the flight out of the volcano. That's what them scientists tell us, anyway...We drove down the southwest flank of Kilauea, a desolate landscape from being in a rainshadow, but also from a constant rain of acid fumes from the erupting volcanoes. The road dropped for 20 miles or so from 4,000 feet to sea level. 
DSC01780 Punalu'u Beach.jpg (272014 bytes)   Hawaiian beaches are different. Us mainlanders are used to white or gray sand beaches composed of quartz and various multicolored minerals, but there is no quartz to speak of on the islands. Beaches are derived from a number of sources, and some are unique. Black sand beaches often result from eruptions like those we had witnessed the last few days, where hot lava explodes upon contact with the ocean water. Unfortunately some eruptions overwhelm and destroy those same beaches, which happened near Kalapana. Punalu'u Beach is one of the nicest remaining black sand beaches on the island. It is also a well known turtle beach, and we saw some cavorting in the waves, but none came ashore while we were there.
DSC01785 Lagoon at Punalu'u.jpg (301249 bytes)   There was a beautiful quiet lagoon or estuary behind the beach. I found myself thinking of...Gilligan's Island of all places. Oh well... Coconuts are not native to the islands, by the way. The ocean currents that would have carried the seeds turn south before reaching Hawai'i. The trees were instead brought by the Polynesians when they colonized the islands.
DSC01791 Hiking to Green Sands.jpg (292641 bytes) After lunch at a delightful bakery in Na'alehu, the southernmost town in the United States, the group split for two different priorities: a hunt for sea turtles at Whittington Beach (there weren't any, but an interesting beach), and a hike to a beach of another color! The trail (actually a 4WD road) was one of the most desolate and lonely looking places I had ever seen. We were near South Point, which is  the imaginatively named southernmost point in the United States, and the constant dry winds keep the region barren of most anything more than grasses.
DSC01800 Coast near South Point.jpg (291548 bytes) This is no surfer's paradise. The wind blows unabated across thousands of miles of open ocean, and waves break fiercely against the black basalt flows. It was hot and dry.
DSC01799 Multiple roads.jpg (269938 bytes) Is that road too bumpy for you? No problem, just make another! The 4wd traffic has made a mess out there.
DSC01803 Ruins near South Point.jpg (257340 bytes) South Point may well have been the first landfall for the original Polynesian colonists of the islands a millenia ago. Some of the oldest archaeological sites are near here. People lived in this forsaken corner of the island, making a living from fishing. Where did they get water? There are some freshwater springs below sea level in the area. Swimmers would carry a gourd into the water and capture the fresh water from the ocean! We passed a number of stone ruins.
DSC01805 cone at green sand beach.jpg (249190 bytes) So where were we headed? To that odd looking cone in the distance. It is a littoral tuff cone, built up by an explosive eruption where lava was in contact with seawater. The magma had begun cooling underground and multitudes of green olivine crystals were present in the exploding lava. Olivine is also known as the gemstone peridot. We were on our way to one of the rarest sights in the world: a green sand beach made of gemstones!
DSC01811 Papalokea green sand beach.jpg (273073 bytes) After hiking over the barren orange soils for two hot miles, the sudden splash of color was startling. Orange soil and black basalts gave way to gray tuff and green sands with bright turquoise water. The beach is called Papalokea, at the end of Mahana Bay. 
DSC01825.JPG (255454 bytes) Don't adjust the settings on your computer. The sand really is green!
DSC01830 Hitchhikers.jpg (247958 bytes) I enjoyed the fascinating beach, but knew I had  a long dry dusty road ahead of me. Being the old instructor, I set out ahead of all the young healthy students, knowing they would probably catch up and pass me on the road. So dry, so didn't help when a 4WD truck passed me in a cloud of dust, with a bunch of lazy hikers riding in the back...hey, wait a minute...where's that zoom button gizmo?
DSC01831.JPG (326883 bytes) I KNOW those people!

Oh well. I am untainted by laziness. I walked all the way back


DSC01834 Barren a'a flows.jpg (286302 bytes) One gains a real appreciation for the size of the Big Island by driving around the south and west margins of Mauna Loa. The road seems endless at times, crossing vast flows of a'a lavas from the sleeping volcano. I left this one in black and white to better show the contrast between flows. The only green thing in the picture was barely green at all.
DSC01836 Roadcut through a'a.jpg (344412 bytes) Across the road there was a very nice cross-section through an a'a flow. The active flows are very crumbly across the top and as the mass moves forward, the crumbly breccia gets folded under the solid mass of lava in the interior.
DSC09862 Garry still talking.jpg (184063 bytes)
  A moral victory of sorts...late in the day after a tough hike, and I'm still talking, and they're still taking notes to a degree!

Susan Hayes took this photo. I didn't take many pictures the rest of the day. The biggest lesson of the next 40 miles of driving is that there are very few gas stations and bathrooms along the highway. It got greener for awhile as we passed through the Kona Coffee district, and in the growing darkness we arrived at our new domicile, the Aston Kona By The Sea. We settled in and another day was done!

Going Back in Time: Human Occupation of the Islands, and the Kohala Volcano
DSC01847 Pu'uhonua O Honaunau.jpg (286519 bytes)    Our goal for the following day was to see and understand something of the human history of the settlement of the Hawaiian Islands, as well as to visit the Big Island's oldest volcano Kohala. We backtracked down the highway from our previous day and paid a visit to Pu'uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park (it's fun to hear their phone greeting). Pu'uhonua O Honaunau was an important temple of refuge: if you broke kapu, by eating some of the king's fish, or stepping in his shadow, or (if you were a man) eating with women, your life was forfeit unless you could elude the king's troops and make your way to a refuge like this one and perform various cleansing rites.
DSC01852.JPG (266634 bytes)   Pu'uhonua O Honaunau is a beautiful place, a lava flow with the sea on three sides. The park service and native Hawaiians have faithfully restored the look of the original complex. This is one of the fish ponds that dot the site. It is a sacred place, as many ali'i (chiefs) were buried nearby, infusing the site with their manu (spirit or strength). It was occupied and used for hundreds of years until about 1820 when the Hawaiians abandoned the kapu system.
DSC01840 Sea turtle.jpg (284936 bytes)   The quiet little bay at the park also was a nice resting area for the Green Sea Turtles, and our group finally got to see a couple of them up close. Leave it to me to show you a picture of a cute basking turtle and ask you to look at the sand instead! The sand is gray, almost white, but once again there is no quartz here. The white particles are bits and pieces of coral reef, either broken up by the surf or chewed up by parrotfish. The shell and coral fragments are composed of calcium carbonate (calcite). The pepper-like black fragments are pieces of basalt. 
DSC01854.JPG (285549 bytes) There was another great bit of geology at the park: the lava flow that everything was built on had destroyed a forest, and as trees fell and were engulfed by lava, they froze the lava before they burned away, forming tree molds. The log in this one is about 4 inches across.
DSC01859 Petroglyphs at Waikoloa.jpg (301089 bytes) Our next stop was one of the most jarring juxtapositions of our interior trip. As noted previously, the Kona Coast is the epicenter of tourism on the island, and scattered along the barren rocky coasts are a series of multi-jillion dollar mega-resorts. We pulled into the resort complex at Waikoloa for lunch and a look at some very expensive condos and golf courses. And in the middle of all of this artificial greenery is a strip of ancient Hawai'i, the Waikoloa Petroglyph Field. Apparently the protection of the thousands of petroglyphs was part of the deal when they built this place.
DSC01860 Waikoloa Petroglyph Sign.jpg (334385 bytes) I'm just being is a sign at the site that explains the 'glyphs. The wallpaper I am using on these Hawaii pages was also photographed here.l[
DSC01863 Kona Coast from Kohala.jpg (207831 bytes) We drove north out of Waikoloa through the town of Waimea and onto the high road over the flanks of Kohala, the oldest volcano on the island. The volcano tops out at just over 5,000 feet, and is covered on one side by dense rainforest, and on the other by rich grasslands. In the early 1800's, cattle were brought to the islands as a gift to King Kamehameha. The Parker family eventually took control of the herds and eventually the ranch grew to 500,000 acres. Today at less than half that size, it is still one of the largest ranches in the United States. Cattle sometimes travel to the mainland on modified 747's. 
DSC01867 Kamehameha statue.jpg (168752 bytes) The road over Kohala topped out at over 3,000 feet, and then dropped back almost to sea level at the old sugar mill villages of Hawi and Kapa'au. The birthplace of King Kamehameha is nearby, and a familiar looking statue of the king sits in front of the courthouse at Kapa'au. It is identical to the one in the middle of Honolulu on Oahu. This is the original! It was lost at sea, and a second statue was commissioned and was successfully delivered. Somewhere, somehow, the original was salvaged, and was ultimately placed at the place where Kamehameha grew up and began planning his unification (i.e. conquest) of the islands.
DSC01887 Pololu Coast.jpg (243412 bytes) The road continued through the rainforest and ended at the rim of Pololu Valley, which offered one of the most beautiful coastal views on the Big Island. There is a geologic story here as well. Deep valleys and high coastal cliffs are not usually a characteristic of large shield volcanoes, but giant shields don't just die and erode away. They have a way of falling apart in spectacular fashion. A few hundred thousand years ago, a massive piece of Kohala simply broke off and slipped into the sea, breaking up and spreading debris for dozens of miles across the deep ocean floor. The slide must have generated an ocean-wide tsunami, and left behind a huge cliff, or scarp that was ultimately modified by river erosion into a series of coastal cliffs and deep valleys.
DSC01888 Pololu Valley.jpg (294741 bytes)   Pololu Valley and the others that line the coast in this region are flat floored and made for marvelous agricultural areas. Thousands of people once lived in these valleys, growing taro and other crops. The flat valley floor developed as the island sank and flooded with sea water. A delta then grew to fill the valley, fed by the rivers that were eroding the cliffs above. Unfortunately the shape of the valleys tends to funnel tsunamis in a particularly damaging fashion, and most were abandoned after the 1946 event.
DSC01893 Sea cliffs at Pololu.jpg (335227 bytes)   The small islands show that waves have also played a significant role in shaping the coastal cliffs. The scarp has retreated hundreds of yards from the original location. What a beautiful place! A trail winds along the cliffs, but was damaged by a relatively severe 6.7 magnitude earthquake in 2006 and is closed. A picture of a landslide at Waipio Valley during the quake can be viewed here.
DSC01874 Danger signs.jpg (343447 bytes) Just how dangerous is it to be a tourist in Hawaii? They seem to have an inordinate number of danger signs everywhere. I hope these signs cover all the bases for hikers headed into Pololu Valley...uh...where's the tsunami warning sign?
DSC01899 Kona Sunset.jpg (182741 bytes)   We got the message and headed back to our safe hotel on the other side of the island. Another day ended!
A Day to Relax....Kinda
  File name Description
DSC01910.JPG (370001 bytes)   Oh, to live the simple life of a finch foraging in the grass at a Hawaiian hotel. Nothing to worry about except for cats, owls, and mongooses. We had reached the halfway point of our trip, and we let the group have a free day. I hope to post a few pictures of their adventures in the Waipio Valley and shopping in Kailua-Kona (hint, hint, send me some, gang), but in the meantime, a few pictures from the window of our accommodations.
DSC01912.JPG (295439 bytes)   I was dealing with some logistical nightmares, and all I can say is that if you have to have a bad day, why not in paradise? The resort was right on the coast; calling it a beach was a stretch as the waves were crashing right into the seawall most of the time. Very little sand was in evidence.
DSC01924.JPG (212606 bytes)    Waves are so soothing, though....
Dsc00040 Waipio framed by vegetation b.jpg (108447 bytes)   Part of the crew made a trip out to Waipio Canyon, which also is part of the massive landslide scarp that produced the cliffs at Pololu Canyon. It lies about 10 miles south, and is similar in origin, though deeper and wider. A few people still live and work in the valley, but at nowhere near the numbers who lived here prior to the tsunamis in 1946 and 1960. I haven't had any submissions from the hikers, so this is a placekeeping photo from a 2002 trip. It is a spectacular place. High waterfalls grace the valley upstream, but getting down there can be a challenge. The paved road drops about 900 feet in a mile. .
DSC01939 View from Bubba Gumps.jpg (208096 bytes)   And so our final day on the Big Island of Hawai'i came to a close. For the fear(less) leader it was a horrible no-good terrible day, but ended with a nice quiet meal at Bubba Gump's in Kailua-Kona. Tomorrow, according to our schedule, we were headed to the next island in the chain, the Valley Isle of Maui....what's that?...but the schedule says we are taking flight 115 to Maui...what?...Kaua'i?....a whole different flight? to explain?, okay, we were taking a flight to Kaua'i the next morning! 
_DSC1268WaipioValley.jpg (614115 bytes) Update: Art was kind enough to send a couple of the Waipio Canyon hike. This is looking down to the beach. Note the people at the bottom center for scale.
_DSC1216WaipioValley2.jpg (683901 bytes) Looking up the valley. Some very high waterfalls are hidden up there, some of the highest on the whole island.
Waipi'o Falls 2b.jpg (121467 bytes) Noel provides a nice view of Waipio Falls, more than 1,000 feet tall.

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