Category Archives: Hawaii

The Big Island is Amazing

Back when Seven and I lived on Oahu we were much too broke to go touring around so we never visited any of the other Hawaiian Islands. This time we thought we should do better, and we decided to go to the Big Island because our friends Ann and Joel — with whom we have for several years spent a week in August on Cuttyhunk Island in Buzzard’s Bay (a little closer to home) — have family on the Big Island they were planning to visit. So we thought we’d catch up with them there for the very last leg of our long voyage.

My reasons for choosing the Big Island had therefore little to do with what I thought I might learn there (though, of course, every island is interesting to me) with the consequence that I was quite unprepared and absolutely amazed by what I saw.  Like, for instance, these fantastic petroglyphs!

Not all of which may be terribly old. Apparently the site is still used (or was recently) by Hawaiians who, like many Polynesians, bury a new baby’s pito (or umbilicus) somewhere special to ensure a long and good life. Some of these markings have to do with that practice (the circles and divets, particularly), and I have no way of knowing which are recent and which might be old. Still the turtles and figures and even, I thought, a stylized canoe, were all extremely cool.

But the Big Island is amazing for so many reasons, not least because it is a window on an earlier geological stage of many of the islands we’ve been visiting. As I found myself saying over and over: This is what all the islands must have looked like when they were young. All the other high islands I’ve seen are remnants of volcanoes, shards of the cone or the crater’s edge worn down by millions of years of wind and rain. But what’s amazing about the Hawaiian chain is, of course, that it includes an island that is still in the process of being formed!

I have to report that we did not quite make it to where the hot lava is flowing into the sea, but it hardly mattered since there are distinct and obviously comparatively recent lava flows everywhere you look: A’a lava — the sharp, broken kind that is supposedly called a’a because that’s the sound you make when you walk on it (I wonder if this is etymologically correct, it is what everybody tells you…):

aa lava

and pahoehoe lava, which is smooth and sometimes  almost shiny:

Here is a photo of yours truly sitting at the edge of what I think was the 1992 flow in the National Park that reached the ocean and cut off the road.

me and the lava

We also paid a visit to the volcano goddess Pele’s home: the Kilauea crater, which was emitting large clouds of poisonous gas and steam (which were blowing away from us fortunately)….

kilauea

…and glowing magnificently red and orange at night!

kilauea at night

There were also more marae (or heiau as they are called here). This is the one at Kealakekua Bay, where Captain Cook’s career came to an abrupt and unexpected end:

heiau at Kealakekua Bay

Cook was killed by Hawaiians who had mysteriously welcomed him not long before. (Note to those who are interested: for a fascinating debate on the meaning of these events see Marshall Sahlins v. Gananath Obeysekere; other interesting writers on the subject are the anthropologists Nicholas Thomas and Anne Salmond and, for sheer elegance of storytelling and prose, the British historian Glynn Williams.)

But, for me, the absolute high point, and indeed one of the most moving moments of this entire trip, was the glimpse I got of the Hokule’a, the first Polynesian voyaging canoe to have been built in perhaps 800 years and a vessel I have been reading about for years. It would be hard to overstate the significance of this canoe; it was the one that sailed from Hawai’i to Tahiti on the first attempt to re-enact the ancient voyages and thereby demonstrate experimentally how it might have been done.

Hokule'a

Here she is being towed out of the harbor,

hokulea

and here is another canoe called the Makali’i which was tied up nearby:

makali'i

We were particularly pleased to see this one because Makali’i — in its Maori form as Matariki — is Dani’s middle name; it’s a widespread Polynesian name for the Pleiades. Hokule’a, incidentally, is Arcturus, Hawai’i’s zenith star.

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Filed under adventure, Big Island, expedition, Family, Hawaii, Pacific Islands, Polynesia, travel

Back in the USA: Hawai’i

It’s not easy getting from one Pacific Island to another: it seems you always have to go somewhere else first. Getting from the Marquesas to the Tuamotus (which is just the next archipelago over) requires a 3-hour flight back to Tahiti and then a 1.5-hour flight back in direction you just came from to Rangiroa. Likewise, Tahiti to Tonga requires that you fly way south to New Zealand and then back north to the latitude you just left (only a bit further west). It’s all about hubs, apparently. Plus, we are being told that fewer and fewer airlines are flying the Pacific’s less common routes; though I don’t think anyone flew Tahiti-Tonga even in the good old days.

Leaving Vanuatu was another case in point. Our next port of call was Hawai’i but we couldn’t go straight there, so we stopped for a night in Nadi, Fiji. For the uninitiated, one of the peculiarities of the Fijian language is an unindicated nasal: thus “Nadi” is actually “Nandi” — “d” should be sounded as if it were “nd” and “b” as if it were “mb.”

Here we are boarding our plane in Port Vila…

leaving Vanuatu

And after this there appears to be a gap in the photographic record (all we did in Fiji was eat and sleep; no, I lie, Seven watched a game of rugby on the television in the bar) until we were confronted — rather shockingly after the places we have  been — with this:

Honolulu

What can I say?  Waikiki and Honolulu in all its glory. The kids were very excited to be returning to America, though I think Seven and I had a little bit of a feeling that the end of the journey was upon us — no more foreign currency, no more curious food. Though, to be fair, there were still some dramatic new sights ahead of us on the Big Island.

Honolulu is another one of those places that, for us, signals “return” rather than “discovery.” It was wonderful to see some of our old friends — dating back not just 12 but nearly 20 years to the time when I was a post-doc at the East West Center.  The irony of our stay, however, was that despite having lived here for a whole year (it’s not that big a place) plus the fact that Seven worked as a — wait for it — AAA dispatcher, we got lost every single time we set out in our rental car. We couldn’t find the road to the old house where we used to live; we couldn’t find the shopping center; we couldn’t find the street we wanted in Makiki; we couldn’t find the entrance ramp onto Highway 1; we couldn’t, in the end even find the rental car agency! We did find everything eventually, but we sure drove around in circles a lot.

Part of the problem I think was that we were staying in Waikiki, a part of town we had never been very familiar with (being, you know, kama aina) and also one that is filled with one-way streets. We stayed in a tiny condo with a great view at the Ewa end of Waikiki, here is what it looked like from the lanai:

view from lanai

That roof to the right is some kind of Army Museum that we did not manage to visit, despite the alluring helicopter that was parked outside:

army museum

We also made an abortive attempt to see the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, arriving just after the last tour had left. We did get the kids to the North Shore for shave ice (which they said was not as good as it was cracked up to be; though we later found excellent shave ice in Kona) and Seven and I made several trips to the International Market for bead bracelets…

market place

to which I have become addicted….better than vodka I suppose….

One night we attended an entertaining dinner hosted by a friend who works at at UH Press. I think my favorite moment came when, after describing with much comic exaggeration how the University of Hawai’i had declined to hire me back in the 90s, I discovered that almost everyone else at the table was a faculty member in the department in question. We also had an extremely kind invitation to meet various members of the Thompson ohana (no relation to me unless extremely distantly), whose generosity was rivaled only by that of our Tongan friends, and saw some old friends (NZers) who have three girls just about the same ages as our boys. Dani and Matiu were so shy they practically had to be dragged out of the car; mercifully there was a pool table, so no need to make conversation…)

I think what they enjoyed most though was the absolutely wild wind at the top of the Pali — which is the razor sharp ridge at the top of the pass from the leeward (Waikiki) side of Oahu to the windward (Kailua-Kaneohe) — it was like being inside a wind tunnel, as you can perhaps tell from the hair:

pali

And, finally, here they are in another characteristic posture: poor things, we had the only decent bed and they were relegated to couch cushions on the floor…

dani and matiu sleeping

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Filed under adventure, Family, Hawaii, Oceania, Pacific Islands, South Pacific, travel, Uncategorized