Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Vog and other Scenic Events

Diamond Head in the Vog
Out and about in the morning, we were surprised at the amount of fog that was covering the mountains. We were also surprised that our eyes itched and noses burned. It’s not the fog but the vog. Vog is a form of air pollution that results when sunlight hits a mixture of oxygen, moisture, and the effluvia, namely sulfur dioxide, other gases and particles from an erupting volcano. The culprit in this case is Kīlauea on the Island of Hawaiʻi, with the prevailing winds sending vog across to O’hau. We shouldn’t have been too surprised that we would get some interactions since the Hawaiian Islands are continuously formed from volcanic activity at a hotspot. As the Pacific Plate moves to the northwest, the hotspot remains stationary, slowly creating new volcanoes; the only active volcanoes are located around the southern half of the Island of Hawai’i. The newest volcano, Lōʻihi Seamount, is near the south coast.

Since O’ahu is a volcanic island, I was not at all surprised that there is a lava tube located near one of the beaches. A lava tube is a natural channel formed by lava flowing under the
L to R: View from cave mouth, Kaneana Cave
hard crust of a lava flow. This particular site is one the west coast near the end of the road. Although it is large, if you aren’t looking for it, you’ll miss it. It sits at the base of a rock face and is about 100 feet (30 m) high and 450 feet (137 m) deep; it’s across the road from the beach. Kaneana (Maku) Cave is estimated to be around 150,000 years old and once emptied its lava into the ocean. Several legends have sprung from this locale including a creation story with the cave acting as the birthplace of man. Another legend is about a shape shifter who could change from shark to man, with his offspring luring humans into the cave to become lunch. Since we weren’t equipped for spelunking, we chose not to go too far beyond the opening; the main cave branches into some smaller tunnels that do not appear particularly safe.

One of the more scenic places to park and watch the waves is the Hālona Blowhole. When
Top to Bottom: Lava shore, Fisherman and
Blow Hole, Scuba Diver
the tide is coming in, jets of water shoot high into the air reminiscent of a Menthos and Diet Coke experiment. When the tide is out, you’ll see a bit of water vapor coming out of a small hole on the rocky shore; that’s what we saw on our recent visit. This also seemed to be a good time for fishing in the area since there was a whole line of fishing poles accompanied by avid to relaxed tenders. The adjacent Hālona Cove, best known as the site of the love scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in the movie From Here to Eternity, was hosting a group of scuba divers. These hardy souls were trekking down the steep trail with their gear, then wading into rough and rather cold water. I’ll do my diving in the warm, relatively smooth Caribbean waters.

In the beginning, surfing was literally the "Sport of Kings" in Hawai’i with Hawaiian royalty showing off their skills at surf spots around O’ahu. Big wave surfing came into its own at the
Waves hitting the shore
North Shore's Waimea Bay, although the waters were rather tame when we made our way to this area. The big wave season is from November through February with the best men and women surfers in the world flocking to Waimea Bay, Ehukai Beach (Banzai Pipeline), Sunset Beach and Haleiwa Beach. On the weekend we were there the traffic to get to surfing beaches was amazingly heavy with speeds topping out at about 30 miles per hour. I can’t imagine what the traffic and parking are like during the surfing season.  Of course, parking isn’t much easier in the summer when the waters are calm, making Wiamea Bay and North Shore Beach great places for swimming and sun bathing. Even at this time of the year when the wind off of the ocean raises goose bumps, beaches are crowded on the weekends.

Across from Waimea Bay is an area of historic cultural significance, Waimea Valley. The
Top to Bottom: Red bottle brush, Waterfall,
Shrimp plant
valley is an important place in Hawaiian religion with its historical structures including Puʻu o Mahuka Heiau (see Old Time O’ahu). The valley was once used for raising taro, sweet potato, and bananas, along with crops and orchards introduced by Europeans. The botanic gardens at Waimea Valley contain plants from around the world along with Polynesian plants and rare Hawaiian plants, including those native to Lord Howe Island. We were almost overwhelmed by the number and variety of hibiscus, bromeliads, begonias, and heliconia (Bird of Paradise). After wandering about in this peaceful place, we were delighted to see the small waterfall and swimming hole at the end of the valley. We spent some time here watching children and adults cavorting in the water then walked back to the visitor center for a look at their gift shop and to purchase something cold to drink.

With the cliffs of Kualoa Mountains rising up on shore and waves gently lapping its shore, Mokoliʻi (also known as Chinaman's Hat) is lovely islet in Kāneʻohe Bay. Mokoliʻi translates
Mokoli'i and people on a boat
as ‘little lizard’, although there are no lizards native to Hawai’i. The story goes that the goddess Hiʻiaka chopped off the tail of a dragon (or giant lizard) and threw it into the ocean. Europeans called the islet Chinaman's Hat because it looks like an Asian conical hat. While you can wade to the islet at low tide, we only saw folks paddling out in small boats; swimming to and from Mokoli’i can be quite difficult, we were told. There were people up on the peak and evidently there is a small beach on one side of the islet. Locals told us that there are more than a few rats and ants on the islet and that they (the Locals) prefer to picnic at the park across from Mokoliʻi where there are restrooms and you only have to contend with seagulls stealing your food.

One of the most haunted, legend-filled areas on O’ahu is the Nuʻuanu Pali. It is a section of
L to R: Nu'uanu Pali view, Grey cat
windward cliffs in the Koʻolau Mountains at the head of Nuʻuanu Valley. Although Hapuʻu and Ka-lae-hau-ola, goddesses who were guard the passage down the pali, can be placated with offerings, in this area are also hungry ghosts that attack travelers for their food; Pele keeps pork from passing over the mountains by stopping car motors until the pork is removed; and moʻo wahine, the lizard woman, causes unsuspecting males to jump off of the cliffs. Historically, Nuʻuanu Pali was a pass through the Koʻolau mountain range that connects the leeward side of the mountains windward side. It was also the site of the Battle of Nuʻuanu, in which Kamehameha I conquered Oʻahu by defeating Kalanikūpule. Kalanikūpule's soldiers were trapped then driven off the edge of the 1,000 foot cliff. While we didn’t see any ghosts, we did see a very pretty cat and got a great view of the windward side of O’ahu including Kāneʻohe, Kāneʻohe Bay, and Kailua.

David wanted some pineapple ice cream so we had to go to the Dole Plantation. The Dole Food Company was an amalgamation of Castle & Cook (founded by missionaries Samuel
Clockwise from top: Hibiscus, Train, Pineapple fields,
Pineapples, Ice cream
Northrup Castle and Amos Starr Cooke) and the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (founded by James Dole). Dole opened his first pineapple plantation in the central plateau of O’ahu. Other plantations were established throughout the islands, the most notable on the Island of Lanai. Before it became more economical to produce pineapples elsewhere, Lanai was completely converted to a pineapple plantation. Once we rode the train through the plantation and listened to the commentary, we went through the botanical gardens. These gardens don’t contain just pineapple producing bromeliads, but include fruit trees, coffee trees, and ornamental plants. There is a lovely waterfall and pond with benches allowing you to sit and watch the koi – or the other tourists.

If you’re in the mood for a hot, dry climate, you only have to go over to the southeastern side
Top L to R: Yellow flowers, Trees
Bottom L to R: Carolina Jay, Cactus
of the island. Koko Head and Koko Crater are ancient tuff cones and are quite scenic. Within Koko Crater is a botanic garden specializing in cacti and succulents. The Koko Crater Botanical Garden was established in 1958 and is great for Plumeria and Bougainvillea. We were amazed at the number and variety of plants in this garden. There are four regions represented:  Africa, the Americas, Hawai’i, and Madagascar. I recognized many of the Texas natives, the aloes and several of the palm varieties; but other specimens were completely unknown to me. I had a great time in this area, but I was very glad I had plenty of water.

Diamond Head hike is very easy if you’ve spent a lot of time on a Stairmaster; but it is well worth the trip to the top. Diamond Head is yet another tuff cone. Hawaiians called it Lēʻahi
L to R: View from Diamond Head,
Hike up Diamond Head
because its top resembles the shape of a tuna's dorsal fin; however, 19th century British sailors mistook the calcite crystals on the beach for diamonds, so they called it Diamond Head. The first part of the hike is a moderate trail with switchbacks making it relatively easy to ascent. Once you get to the end of the trail there is a 99-step tester that puts you out at a World War II bunker. It’s just a few more steps to the top. Once up on top, and after recovering our breath, we were treated to a great view of the ocean, the entire leeward side of O’ahu, and Waikiki Beach. The trip back down is easy, but once below the rim we missed the cooling winds and hearing the waves.

Not too far from the Aliʻiolani Hale (Capitol area), with many of its buildings dating from
Statue with flower offerings
1901, is the Honolulu’s Chinatown. This area has gone through several cycles of poverty to wealth to poverty. It seems that currently it is on a downswing; we drove by Aala Park where the homeless had pitched tents. As we walked to the market, we passed two police officers trying to talk a rather bruised man into letting them take him to a hospital since he had spent the night apparently unconscious under a tree on the sidewalk. The market square was very much the same as in years past with its crowded shops offering everything from semi-precious stones to t-shirts to religious statues to cooking utensils. It’s always fun to prowl through these shops, looking for unusual gifts; and we did find a few items that made the journey back to Texas with us. The stores flanking the square sell every sort of food item imaginable. Although they no longer have unrefrigerated meat, they do have tanks of fish and shellfish along with the typical vegetables found in Asian cooking. Somewhere, although we couldn’t locate it, someone was cooking a dish that had lots of garlic; if we could have found the place we’d have joined them for a snack. 

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