January 04, 2012
Having lived in various parts of the world that are popular tourist destinations (Florida, Cornwall, English Lake District, southern California), Randall and I have become fairly proficient at balancing the desire to rush to see all the attractions with each set of visitors and not allowing ourselves to get “burned-out” with the most popular places. Now that we were launched into a series of visits from family and friends, we had to resurrect these balancing skills for Hawai‘i. Since Martha had been to Honolulu before, most of our entertainment with her had been focused on the holiday season. By the time she left on January 28th, there were still several things on Shev and Matt’s “to do” list that we had not done recently, if at all.
After dropping Martha off at the airport for her flight to Kona (where she would connect with her original flight back to San Jose), the rest of us visited Chinatown to look around the flourishing markets, see the place where we had got Shev and Matt’s leis, and to enjoy another tasty lunch at the Little Village Noodle House. This was followed by a leisurely stroll around the Foster Botanical Garden, a small arboretum near downtown Honolulu with gardens specializing in orchids, gingers, palms, herbs, and economic plants. There are several botanical gardens around the city, most of which were planted by members of royalty or wealthy merchants who had an interest in collecting plants from around the world. Some, such as the Lyon Arboretum (to which we had driven but not entered with Martha), specialize in tropical rainforest vegetation and are located at the heads of the lush, wet, steep-sided valleys of the Ko‘olau Mountain Range.
Although Randall and I had visited Pearl Harbor before, there was so much to see that we were happy to return with Shev and Matt. Given our aborted trip with Martha, we picked a day when there were no cruise ships in port and we arrived at 7:40 am. Even then, our tickets for the USS Arizona Memorial were not valid until 11 am but this gave us time to look around the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park first. Launched in 1942 and dubbed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger” this submarine saw active service in the Pacific throughout the rest of WWII and has been preserved in immaculate condition. In the midst of a crowd of other visitors and wearing headphones for a very informative audio-tour, Shev, Matt, and I were treated to a fascinating taste of what life might have been like on board such a complex and confined vessel. I was probably about the optimal size for life as a submariner but at a height of 6 ft 4 inches (1.93 m) Matt would have found it pretty uncomfortable.
It was sobering not only to see some of the highly polished torpedoes positioned ready for action but to read the Commander’s memo to his crew, hand-written the day before the USS Bowfin passed through the heavily mined Tsushima Straits on its way to the Japan Sea. Able to run for weeks at the surface using diesel engines, the USS Bowfin could stay submerged running slowly on quiet electrical motors for up to 24 hours. The associated museum took us through the history of submarine design from pedal-powered, one-man, mini-subs to futuristic styles of nuclear submarines which remain on undisclosed missions underwater for months at a time. Outside, one could stand underneath the roof of a conning tower and look across the harbor through the long- and short-range periscopes. I have visited submarine museums before but this one gave by far the best sense of what life must have been like in one during WWII.
The films about the Pearl Harbor attack in the USS Arizona Memorial Visitors’ Center were even better on the second viewing (there is so much to absorb the first time). Out on the Memorial itself we could see more of the sunken ship than on our previous visit because the tide was lower. There was also more oil leaking from the hull, creating larger and more frequent, black “tears of the Arizona”. The reality of the attack was made even more poignant by the presence in the central courtyard of three elderly survivors who were signing books and souvenirs. Even when all of their generation has gone, we must hope that the horrors and sacrifices of WWII are not forgotten.
We spent the last day of 2011 enjoying glorious sunshine and a marvelous hike out to Ka‘ena Point. We had driven up the eastern side of the Wai‘anae Range (remnants of the western of the two volcanoes that created O‘ahu) and then west to the end of the road just beyond the Dillingham Airfield. The walk out to the westernmost point of the island was relatively level, sandwiched between the black rocks, patches of yellow sand, and the bright blue sea of the Kaua‘i Channel, and the steep side of Kuaokala Ridge which peaks at 1,350 ft (412 m) before slicing down to sea level at the acutely pointed headland.
In addition to being a pleasantly scenic walk, the main attractions were the marine wildlife of which we were treated to two out of the three stars. Although there were no Hawaiian monk seals present, we did get to watch humpback whales spouting, breaching, and tail-slapping not far from the shore. Peering excitedly through binoculars, Matt got to see his first whales at sea and we were all delighted by the huge splashes and flashes of white fins as the spectacular cetaceans leapt out of the water. The other “first” for Matt and Shev was seeing Laysan albatrosses flying and nesting. According to a ranger for the Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve there were 61 pairs of albatrosses, with nests scattered throughout the low-shrubby vegetation.
To reach the headland it was necessary to pass through one of two “pest-lock” gate systems (open one door and step into a cage then only open the exit door once the entry door is closed), the only access through a robust mammal-proof fence. The ranger said that the fence had been controversial (presumably because of high cost and slightly military appearance) but it was succeeding in protecting the headland from incursions of mongooses, rats, and mice, all of which were being controlled within the fenced area by poisoned bait-stations. Dogs were also excluded from the reserve and since people had been limited to clearly marked trails, the number of nesting albatrosses and wedge-tailed shearwaters had increased dramatically. It seemed to be a highly satisfactory example of invasive-species management and conservation in action.
Despite the relatively benign walking conditions, Randall suffered a blow-out on one of his 35-year old hiking boots. Luckily, the second person in a truck that he asked was an electrician who gave Randall a roll of electrical tape which, when wound around the boot’s toe, successfully held the flapping sole in place. He subsequently had his precious boots repaired in Honolulu by an Oriental, marathon-running, incomprehensible but efficient shoemaker. Let’s hope they last him another 35 years.
During the walk from Ka‘ena Point back to our rental car, we noticed several gliders being towed overhead and then making slow, elegant, looping descents back to the airport. There were obviously sufficient up-drafts along the face of the Kuaokala Ridge to keep the motor-less planes aloft for quite a long time. We also saw quite a few paragliders being dropped up high and then spending what seemed like most of an hour riding the same up-drafts back and forth across the front of the ridge. Paragliders are parachutes that are designed to stay aloft on up-drafts. Once they have jumped out of the aircraft, the solo or tandem riders sit in a sling-like backpack but can still land comfortably on their feet. The dozen or so people that we watched made it look so relaxing and easy but it must take quite a bit of experience to jump out at a site where there is only a narrow area of flat land or beach upon which to landsafely.
To finish our tour of the area, we stopped in Hale‘iwa to eat roast chicken (cooked on one of many rotating spits on a huge trailer, BBQ pit) and ice-cream (me) or shave ice (Shev), and then drove past the busy Waimea Bay before stopping to admire the Banzai Pipeline. Shev and Matt got a fine view of the North Shore as some good-looking waves were being ridden at the Pipeline but they were not quite as big or consistent as the swell that Randall and I had been lucky enough to witness in November.
As spectacular as our New Year’s Eve had been so far, it was not yet over. At Randall’s suggestion and with Kathy’s generous ticket purchase, the four of us walked from the boat to the Aloha Tower (another item on the visitors’ “to do” list) where we met Kathy and several thousand other people for a New Year’s Eve Block Party. With seven stages of live bands or DJs and with numerous restaurants and temporary bars, the area was crowded but surprisingly not as uncomfortable as one might have expected. Although we were not the oldest people present, we were certainly not in the most typical age-group and, thanks to our sensible shoes for the walk, Shev, Kathy and I were distinctly under-heeled.
Although none of us would make much effort to go to such a crowded, young-persons’ event again, we did eventually find some older-style (e.g., 1980s) music that we liked and sat down to eat spring rolls and delicious garlic-edamame. Kathy had to admit defeat at 11 pm but the rest of us lasted until midnight having been revived by the food and it turned out that we were sitting in an excellent place to watch the impressive firework display set-off from a barge in the middle of Honolulu Harbor. Although we have been rather spoiled by the excellent fireworks every Friday evening at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the New Year’s Eve display downtown was particularly long and impressive, with several styles of rockets that we had never seen before.
The New Year began particularly well for us as we were able to catch a specially-arranged bus back to Waikiki rather than having to walk back again. After our full day with the Ka‘ena Point hike, by 1:15 am we were glad to see the colored lights that we had strung up Tregoning’s fore- and back-stays (and which were now working flawlessly) and know that we were close to bed. Once rested, we spent the middle part of New Year’s Day sailing Tregoning off Waikiki beach and Diamond Head, giving Matt his very first sailing experience, including an opportunity to take the helm.
Having admired Diamond Head from the sea, the next day we drove into the crater with the intent of walking up to the top of the rim at 761 ft (232 m) above sea level. It was a sunny and windless morning which made the 1.6 mile (2.6 km) zig-zag walk 560 ft (171 m) up and down the steep crater side quite a hot ordeal. It had also attracted a huge number of other people on the observed New Year’s holiday so the crater-parking lot was full. Randall nobly left the three of us to make the hike while he took the car back downhill to find a place to wait…while listening to college football bowl-games on the radio.
The crater was formed 300,000 years ago during a single brief eruption that occurred at the underwater, southern end of the Ko‘olau Range. The water and steam broke-down the magma into ash and fine particles which, when blown into the air, cemented together to form tuff rock. The southwestern part of the rim around the broad, 350 acre (142 ha) crater is highest because the prevailing winds were blowing the ash in that direction during the eruption. Although the slopes of the crater have been eroded by wind, rain, and waves since its formation, the coral reef now protects the seaward slopes from the sea. The ancient Hawaiians lit navigational fires along the crater rim to guide canoes along the shoreline. The Hawaiian name, Le‘ahi, may mean “fire headland” reflecting this ancient use of the area and this tradition was continued in 1917 when the existing lighthouse was built on the bluffs above the shore. The common name of Diamond Head was derived from the mistaken identification of calcite crystals found there by Western traders and explorers in the late 1700s. The iconic headland was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1968.
The Federal government purchased Diamond Head in 1904 for military use because the panoramic view, from Koko Head to the east around to the Wai‘anae Range in the west, made it an ideal site for the coastal defense of O‘ahu. Construction of an entry-tunnel into the crater and various gun emplacements all around the rim was started in 1908. Five batteries were eventually built, one underground inside the crate, one on the northern exterior wall, and the others tunneled through the crater walls. A four-level Fire Control Station was constructed at the highest point on the crater rim and it was disguised with rubble embedded into the concrete. Unrelated to forest conflagrations, the Fire Control Station was where observers could triangulate targets at sea and then provide information for aiming guns both in the crater’s batteries and at Fort DeRussy in Waikiki. Despite being thoroughly prepared to defend O‘ahu from attack, no artillery at Diamond Head was ever fire during a war.
Currently, the crater floor is occupied by the small State Monument parking lot, information Center, and “comfort station”, a government facility, and semi-arid, predominantly introduced vegetation. The path to the rim is mostly a dirt trail that was used by mules to haul materials for the construction of the Fire Control Station. The various lookout points and stairs on the trail are remnants of the Station including: a steep flight of 74 steps; a narrow tunnel; another stairway of 99 steep steps leading to the bottom level of the Station; 52 stairs up a spiral staircase to the third level where the path exits through the low slits from which observations were made; and a final 54 metal stairs lead to the summit.
Many of the people around us on the trail and at the top did not look like regular hikers and although most were wearing sensible, sneakers (trainers in the UK), there were a few pairs of slippahs (flip-flops in Hawai‘i), and even some dress shoes and heels. Despite the heat most people seemed to be coping pretty well and it was clear that once they saw the spectacular views from the top it was considered worth the effort. The Ko‘olau Range was clear of clouds and the view over Honolulu was amazing with the coral reefs clearly visible in the turquoise sea. The horizon at sea was unusually hazy and we were a bit surprised not to be able to see Moloka‘i which had been visible during our sail the previous day.
This same haziness was evident later in the day when we visited the Nu‘uanu Pali lookout. We had spent the middle of the day at Kathy’s watching college football bowl-games but before returning to the boat we drove up the Pali highway to the lookout where King Kamehameha I had a decisive victory in his conquest of O‘ahu. Many defending warriors were driven to their deaths over the cliffs at the 1,200 ft (366 m) high pass across the Ko‘olau Range. Unlike normal conditions and our previous visit there with Kathy and Dan, this time there was no wind at all and although very dry, the haze on the surrounding 2,500 to 3,000 ft high peaks (760 – 915 m) created a very attractive misty appearance.
The still, hazy air continued for another couple of days and local discussions quickly turned to the theme of vog (volcanic emissions of sulfur dioxide and other gases combining in sunlight with oxygen and moisture to create a smog-like condition) which was drifting over to O‘ahu from Kilauea on the Big Island. While Randall and I had not suffered any noticeable ill-effects from this, even when frequently surrounded by it in Kailua Kona, it turned out that Matt was rather sensitive resulting in a sore throat and congestion. Apparently this cleared up as soon as he returned home much to everyone in the family’s relief, as we had all hoped to escape the holiday season without any contagious diseases. (Sadly, Heather’s family was not quite so lucky with poor Kaeden and his dad stricken with a nasty stomach ‘flu.)
Matt felt sufficiently afflicted by the vog to decide to miss the snorkeling trip that we had planned for the last day of their visit. Thus, just Shev, Randall, and I set off fairly early on Wednesday morning (Jan 4th) to drive 10 miles (16 km) east of Waikiki to Hanauma Bay (pronounced Ha-now-ma). I had snorkeled in this famous nature reserve several years before but I had been on my own (at least, as alone as you can be with several hundred other snorkelers in the same bay) so I had stayed inside the inner reef and had, frankly, been rather disappointed. With sufficient cloud covering to dull the view down into the almost circular bay from the parking lot, my expectations for the trip were not high but there was supposed to be a huge diversity of fish in the bay so we hoped to show Shev some Hawaiian species in addition to those that she had seen at Waikiki.
The bay is a flooded volcanic crater that has a narrow opening to the sea. Until 1990, 3 million visitors a year, up to 10,000 people per day, had been loving-the-bay-to-death, such that little of the coral between the inner reef and the beach was still alive. A management plan was developed that prohibited damaging practices (such as fishing and feeding fish), limited the daily number of visitors (maximum of 3,000), included complete closure one day a week (Tuesdays), banned most commercial tours, imposed an entrance fee for out-of-state, civilian visitors, and required an educational program for all new visitors. The bay remains popular (although more so with tourists than locals, somewhat to the disappointment of the State government) so the parking lot is frequently full and closed by mid-morning.
After watching the required educational video and walking down the crater slope to the beach, we donned our equipment and entered the surprisingly chilly water. We saw a quite a few interesting fish inside the inner reef including a 5 ft long (1.5 m) white tipped reef shark resting on the sandy bottom under a rock overhang. Shev was curious from a respectful distance while Randall and I marveled that it was the first shark we had actually seen in Hawai‘i despite all the warnings we had heard about the tiger sharks at Honokohau. With Shev boldly following us, we swam out through one of the two marked channels through the reef. In addition to being significantly deeper (20 ft to the bottom rather than 10 ft or 6 rather than 3 m), the most obvious difference outside the reef was the diversity and color of live corals. It was also easier to swim around in the deeper water so we saw many more fish species there. Shev was very excited by all the colorful fish and even Randall and I identified several species that new to us including ladyfish, spectacled parrotfish, blue-lined surgeonfish, cigar wrasse, and the island goatfish (I thought that we had seen this before but it was so obvious here that I now know that my previous sightings were juveniles of the common manybar goatfish…sigh…).
Thus, by the time we had to get out of the water because we were getting too cold, we were all very pleased with what we had seen and were anxious to go in again. The sun did not oblige us by coming out to warm us up so we decided to be satisfied with all that we had seen and Randall and I looked forward to returning on a warmer, sunnier day in the future. We drove back to Ala Wai harbor by continuing on the scenic road around Makapu‘u Point (the easternmost tip of O‘ahu). Along the way we saw the Halona Blow Hole blowing and a couple of hang-gliders riding the up-drafts remarkably close to the lookout area at Makapu‘u Point.
Shev and Matt departed from Honolulu airport later that afternoon having experienced quite a good variety of what O‘ahu had to offer. Although we were sorry to say good-bye, we were all relieved when their boarding passes were in hand as there had been an automatic, temporary block placed on part of their reservations due to their absence from the booked flight from Honolulu to Kona on Christmas Day. Fortunately Shev had patiently persevered on the phone to get the matter resolved before we went to Hanauma Bay but we were all happy when they were finally on their way to Duluth.
Our next guests arrive in Kona in early February so we have a few weeks to get to the Big Island and to work on some more boat projects. Randall had to undertake a fairly complex re-wiring task just before Christmas when Martha’s cabin lights stopped working but otherwise we had been in vacation mode for the last three weeks. Overall we had a spectacular holiday season in Honolulu and, so far, 2012 has started well for us. We hope that the same is true for you and that the year is a good one.
With the next blog posting, I will start a new section “Further Adventures in Hawai‘i 2012” so watch for that entry if you are inclined to sign-up for email notifications about posts in the new section.