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by Donald B. MacGowan

Evening Sunshine Glows on Old Kailua Town: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Evening Sunshine Glows on Old Kailua Town: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The town of Kailua Kona is the crown jewel on the island of Hawaii and the beating heart of the Kona Coast. A sleepy fishing village not so long ago, Kailua Kona is now the metropolitan center of West Hawaii’s burgeoning economy and exploding population. Founded by King Umi in the 1500’s, Kailua Kona served as the social, religious and political capital of Hawaii for several hundred years. Deeming it the loveliest spot in all the Hawaiian Islands, King Kamehameha the Great ruled his island empire during the final years of his reign from here.

Exploring the downtown area from the King Kamehameha Beach Resort to the Honl’s Beach on the south provides a couple hours pure enjoyment: easy walking along the incomparable turquoise Kona Coast under the warm, sapphire Hawaii sky, past ancient temples, missionary churches, intriguing and unique shops and wonderful restaurants. It is easy, walking here, to understand how one can be completely seduced by the magic of the Big Island.

Kailua Kona is a town made for walking, so start by parking your car. On the north side of town, abundant for-pay parking is available at the King Kamehameha Beach Hotel. Free parking on this end of town is available at Triangle Parking, between Kuakini Highway and Ali’i Drive. About half-way through town, by the Farmer’s Market and Hale Halawai Park, is a large area of free parking. On the south side of town there is abundant free parking at the Coconut Grove shopping area, and at Honl’s Beach.

Let’s start exploring Kailua Kona on the north and work our way south. The thatched structure surrounded by carved wooden idols across from the pier is ‘Ahu’ena Heiau, an ancient and sacred temple site. A temple (or Heiau) has existed on this spot since at least the first millennium, and as recently as the 15th century was occupied by a temple of human sacrifice (or luakini Heiau) dedicated to the war god Kuka’ilimoku. In 1812, King Kamehameha I ordered the heiau enlarged, rebuilt, rededicated as ‘Ahu’ena Heiau (“hill of fire”), a temple of peace and prosperity dedicated to the fertility god Lono.

Ahu'ena Heiau, Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Ahu'ena Heiau, Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald MacGowan

The current structures seen at ‘Ahu’ena Heiau were re-built in 1975 under the auspices of the Bishop Museum with financial help from the Hotel King Kamehameha and are constructed to 1/3 the original scale. Here, there is a veritable forest of of carved, wooden sacred images in the “Kona Style”, considered the most refined in all Polynesia.  More about Ahu’ena Heiau can be found, here.

Three delightful, but tiny, beaches grace the immediate downtown area; from north to south they are named Kamakahonu, Keakaiakua and Niumalu–many locals do not even know thy have names. The snorkeling from these small beaches is spectacular and strangely uncommon. A beautiful coral garden and vibrant reef fish can be seen snorkeling along the shoreline off ‘Ahu’ena Heiau where fish, turtles and eels are abundant in Kailua Bay.  More about the history of these beaches, the pier and seawall and Old Kailua Village can be found here.

Pao Umi Rock and the Moreton Fig Tree in Kailua's Evening Light: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Pao Umi Rock and the Moreton Fig Tree in Kailua's Evening Light: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Pa’o Umi, a point of rock between the pier and Hulihe’e Palace and mostly buried under Ali’i Drive, is where High Chief Umi is thought to have landed when he moved his court from Waipi’o Valley to Kailua in the 1500’s. Umi consolidated and centralized religious and secular power of Hawai’i Island in Kona and built a number of temples, most notably on the current sites of Ahu’ena Heiau, Moku’aikaua Church and Kona Inn. Umi founded the political landscape which ultimately fostered King Kamehameha’s regime and led to the unification of the Hawai’ian Islands into a single nation.

Across Ali’i Drive from Pa’o Umi is a large Moreton Fig tree that appears in photographs of downtown Kailua since before the turn of the last century; as such, this tree is at least 140 years old.

Mokuaikawa; the First Christian Church in Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Mokuaikawa in Kailua Kona; the First Christian Church in Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

During the winter of 1819 to 1820, Congregationalist missionaries from Boston crossed the Atlantic Ocean enduring 5 months of intense stormy weather while headed for a new life in Hawai’i. In March of 1820, the missionaries sailed into the balmy waters of Kailua Bay and landed at Kamakahonu Rock (eye of the turtle”), the “Plymouth Rock” of Hawai’i, which now supports the Kailua Pier..

Mokuaikaua Church, built under the leadership of missionary Asa Thurston between 1835 and 1837, was specifically aligned so that the prevailing breezes would pass through it, but also so that it presented a strong, stone façade to the south and west, the direction from which strong Kona Winds, large storms and hurricanes come. The 112-foot steeple was for many decades the highest structure in Kailua and served as a navigation landmark both for ships at sea and people on land.

The church is constructed of rough-hewn basalt blocks mortared with lime made from burnt coral and bound with kukui nut oil. The corner stones were taken from a heiau built on the same spot by King Umi in the fifteenth century. The interior beams and woodwork are of koa wood. The joints were painstakingly joined with ohi’a wood pins; this is a magnificent example of the architectural style brought to Hawai’i by the missionaries in the 19th century.

The inside of the church is beautiful, cool and inviting, and visitors are welcome between services and on weekdays between sunrise and sunset; admission is free. There is a fascinating mini-museum, small but informative, which is open daily from sunrise to sunset and free tours are conducted from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3:30 p.m. The Museum features exhibits about Hawai’i, the life of the missionaries and contains a scale model of the Brig Thaddeus. More about Mokuaikawa Church and it’s fascinating history, can be found here .

Hulihe'e Palace, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hulihe'e Palace, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hulihe’e Palace was built by High Chief (later Governor) James Kuakini in 1838 as a home. For many years, the Palace was used by Hawai’ian royalty as an official residence and summer get-away palace, a place of great galas and parties, but was abandoned to ruin in 1914. Since 1928 the Palace has been operated as a museum by the Daughters of Hawai’i. The Palace Gift Store has many fine art items and hard-to-find books on Hawai’iana.

The museum is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There are friendly and knowledgeable docents who give free tours, which last about 45 minutes. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $1 for students; photographing inside the museum is forbidden. The palace sustained considerable damage during the earthquake of 2007 and is currently undergoing renovation.  More about Hulihe’e Palace can be found here.

Kona Inn Shops: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Kona Inn Shops: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Kona Inn is of particular historic significance, as it was the first destination resort to open in West Hawai’i and it ushered in the era of tourism along the Kona Coast. Built on the site of Papa ‘Ula (red flats) where a temple of human sacrifice was built by High Chief Umi, today the Kona Inn features many unique and interesting shops and fine restaurants.

The Inn fronts on a large, palm-shaded lawn that leads to a seawall and the ocean. This area is open to the public and is a really grand place for picnicking, watching whales and dolphin and the fabulous Kona sunsets.

The Kailua Farmer’s Market, open Wednesday through Sunday, lies in the parking lot at the corner of Ali’i Drive and Hualalai Road between the Public Library and Hale Halawai Park. The market offers a wide and intriguing variety of fresh produce, hand-made local arts and crafts, Hawai’iana and other types of souvenirs.

Kailua Famer's Market: Photo by Harvey Bird Watching

Kailua Farmer's Market: Photo by Harvey Bird Watching

The grounds and oceanfront of Hale Halawai Park offer a peaceful, shady place for taking a rest from a busy tour of bustling downtown Kailua, or watching whales and dolphin and the unmatched Kona sunsets. Frequently honu (sea turtles) and boogey boarders can be watched from the seawall. Featuring coconut palms, a neatly manicured lawn, picnic tables and a seawall, the large, Polynesian-style pavilion is used for everything from community gatherings to orchid shows to wedding receptions.

Saint Michael the Arch Angel Catholic Church, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Saint Michael the Arch Angel Catholic Church, Kailua Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Historic St. Michael’s Church was the first Catholic Church in West Hawai’i. The church offers services in English and Spanish throughout the week, but is primarily of historic interest; the burial plots in the cemetery date from 1855. In 1940, during less “ecologically aware” times, resident priest Father Benno Evers had his parishioners gather 2500 coral heads to build the grotto in front of the church, which covers the church’s original well. The seafloor in Kailua Bay has yet to recover from this pillaging of coral heads.

Coconut Grove and Waterfront Row cap the southern end of the Kailua Village shopping district along Ali’i Drive, starting next to the Hale Halawai County Park and ending at the Royal Kona Resort. Newer and more metropolitan that its sister shopping district to the north, Coconut Grove and Waterfront Row have almost everything, from tattoos to souvenirs to Hawai’iana, fine art, musical instruments, sundries, groceries and clothing. The range of cuisines available from restaurants here sweeps from local flavor to Thai, the Hard Rock Cafe to poi crepes to pizza and burgers

Public Queensbath Tidepool: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Public Queensbath Tidepool: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Between the Royal Kona Resort and Hale Kona Kai Resort is a fabulous tide pool that is completely protected from all but the most vicious winter surf. It boasts a moderate population of reef fish and even the occasional turtle! The water sometimes can be a bit murky, but it makes a nice place to take small children or beginning snorkelers. Drive into the entrance for the Royal Kona Resort and continue south past it until you see the blue and white Shoreline Access sign; find a place to park, go down the stairs to the tiny beach and enjoy!

Honl's Beach in Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Honl's Beach in Kailua Kona: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Lovely but compact, Honl’s County Beach Park is a small beach on the southern outskirts of Old Kailua Town. A favorite spot for surfers and boogie boarders it also has very nice snorkeling and is an excellent place to view the sunset and picnic. Remember when going into the water here, there is a fairly strong current to the north, so stay in the shallow reef area close to the beach. Parking is located on both sides of Ali’i Dr., but can be tight here in times of good surf, and crossing Ali’i Dr. drive can be a bit dangerous at certain times of the day. A new bathroom with showers and running water has recently been constructed on the mauka—uphill–side of the road.

Monk Seal on Honl's Beach at Sunset: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Monk Seal on Honl's Beach at Sunset: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

For details on a scenic drive through the Keauhou Historic District south of Kailua Kona on Ali’i drive, please go here.  To get details on visiting and snorkeling Kailua Kona’s famous Kahalu’u beach, where all the turtles are, please go here. For detailed information on a scenic drive through Up County Kona, please go here.  Information about the ancient villages, temple ruins, amazing beaches and fabulous hiking trails of Koloko Honokohau National Historic Park just north of Kailua Kona, please go here.

To see the new iPhone/iPod Touch App, please visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com/iphone.html. The best of Tour Guide Hawaii’s free content about traveling to, and exploring, the Big island, can be found here.

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and on touring the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

For independent reviews of our product, written by some of our legions of satisfied customers, please check this out.
All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.  All rights reserved.
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The recently restored Hapaiali’i Heiau (Temple for Elevating Chiefs), a heiau associated with ceremonies involving changes in rank of Ali’i, lies on the grounds of the Keauhou Ohana Beach Resort, across the narrow tidal inlet from Ke’eku Heiau. Until recently, the temple appeared to be noting more than a disorganized pile of rocks in a tangle of mangrove and keawe.  Not much is known about this Heiau and oral traditions in the area are contradictory; some local stories hold that it predates Ke’eku Heiau; other family traditions maintain it was built around 1812 by Kamehameha the Great.  During restoration, carbon dating of material recovered indicated that the Heaiu may have been erected, or substantially rebuilt, between 1411 and 1465.  According to cultural kahuna overseeing the reconstruction it took thousands of commoners about 10 years to build the original temple.

The Ruins of Hapaiali'i Heaiu in Spring 2006, Before Reconstruction; Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Ruins of Hapaiali'i Heaiu in Spring 2006, Before Reconstruction; Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The temple was reconstructed by using survey maps made of the area in 1906 and 1952 and currently measures 100 feet by 150 feet.  Completely surrounded by the sea at high tide and constructed entirely by dry-stack masonry, this reconstruction reminds us of the engineering sophistication of the Hawai’ians and the grandeur and beauty of the temples they erected.

Hapaiali'i Heiau During Reconstruction; note Ke'eku Heiau in Background: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hapaiali'i Heiau During Reconstruction; note Ke'eku Heiau in Background: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

During the restoration project, funded by Kamehameha Schools, it was discovered that Hapaiali’i Heiau also served as a solar calendar.  On the winter solstice, from a vantage point directly behind the temples center stone, the sun sets directly off the southwest corner of the heiau; at the vernal equinox, the sun sets directly along the centerline of the temple and at summer  solstice, it sets off the northwest corner.  If you are visiting Hawaii during any of these seasons it is worth the trip to Hapaiali’i Heiau to see how well this ancient astronomical observatory still serves its function.  More information about the Keauhou Historic District can be found by visiting the Keauhou Kahalu’u Heritage Center at the Keauhou Shopping Center, open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Vog Tinged Sunset around Winter Solstice at the Reconstructed Hapaiali'i Heiau: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Vog Tinged Sunset around Winter Solstice at the Reconstructed Hapaiali'i Heiau: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

From Kahalu’u Beach, walk onto the Keauhou Ohana Beach Resort property through the gateway in the fence between them and follow the asphalt path to the pool deck, through the lobby of the resort and join the paved path that runs along the end of the Resort driveway. From the Resort parking lot, walk up the drive to the paved path that runs along the end of the driveway. Following along this path, one passes Punawai Spring first, then, where the path runs around the end of the tennis courts the homesite of the Mo’o Twins. Continuing on the path until it ends at a large tidal pool, the Hapaiali’i Heiau is immediately between you and the ocean.  Across the tidal pool is the equally fascinating Ke’eku Heiau and the nearly deserted Makole’a black sand beach.  Take a moment to stroll south and seaward over the tidal flats from Ke’eku Heiau and search out the large and fascinating petroglyph field at low tide (more information here). Remember that these are holy religious sites to modern native Hawai’ians; to not trespass, walk or climb on the temple proper; take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints.

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general, and exploring the ancient temples of the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

Video written and produced by Donald B. MacGowan; all media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan, all rights reserved.

Let’s Go to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park!

About a two hour straight drive from Kona, going south, brings you to the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. If you have a Golden Eagle Pass your entrance is free. If not, it is only $10.00 per carload to enter the park. The rangers at the gate will give you detailed maps of the area.

Super tip: Your receipt will give you free access to the National Park for seven days.

My first suggestion is to go to the Kilauea Visitors Center and the Jagger Museum. This will give you a nice overview of the park and rangers are there to answer questions. This spot also looks over the majestic Halemaumau CraterTour Guide will get you to the park and lead you to more than 50 sites. It is also possible that our state bird, the Nene Goose, will be huddled in the parking lots. They are protected as an endangered species, so be careful when parking nearby.

Another great place to visit is the Volcano Art Center. It may seem a strange, but the Volcano Art Center boasts one of the best collections of art in the whole state. World renowned artist in various media are on display as well as theatrical and musical performances.

There is only one restaurant in the park proper, and that is the Volcano House. Built as a lodge in the mid 1800’s, the Volcano House has hosted dignitaries, politicians, sports heroes and movie stars from all over the world. This grand edifice sits right on the lip of Halemaumau Crater and the views from her restaurant are stunning. Tour Guide will give a complete history of how it came to be. The food is good and the prices are reasonable. Bicycle rentals are also available near the lodge.

Crater Rim Drive is a great driving introduction to the park. It encircles the Halemaumau Crater and, for only an 11 mile drive, passes through several dramatic climate zones. You will encounter arid desert, grass savannah, and into tropical rainforest; this loop can easily be done in forty minutes. However, you will want to take more time to appreciate the beauty and majesty of one nature’s most awesome wonders. Tour Guide will suggest short to medium hikes and bicycle trails as well as over 50 historic and geologic sites to visit within the park.

If you are up for some hiking, Tour Guide will lead you to the trail for Waldron Ledge Overlook. This short hike is through the Ohia and fern jungles, shaded most of the way, and can be done on bicycle as well. From this vantage point one can see the active vent, Kilauea Iki, and breathtaking views of the coast.

Along the Crater Rim Drive you will also see many steam vents and the Sulfur Banks. This is where water seeps into crevices and meets the molten magma about a half mile below the surface, is super heated, and returns to the surface as steam. These vents are often accompanied by a “rotten egg” smell common where sulfur is rising with the steam, turning the ground around the vents hues of yellow, green and white.

For more information on visiting Hawaii and the Big Island in general, and touring Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in particular, please visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

Reprinted from here.

Steam Erupting from Halema’uma’u Crater on Kilauea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Unless you’ve been sitting in a lava cave (the way we sometimes do) you should be well aware that this Sunday is the beginning of the annual Merrie Monarch festival—the world’s premier event for watching and learning about the Hawaiian hula.

The hula kahiko, or ancient hula form, is always the crowd favorite on Friday night. The kahiko is one expression of the mo`olelo, or stories, of Hawaiian culture. Of course, a popular theme of hula performed during the Merrie Monarch involves stories of Pele, the Hawaiian deity of the volcano.

The hula of Pele uses rhythmic rising, falling, swaying, and flowing, accompanied by the oli, or chant, and beats of instruments to portray the likeness and action of Pele and the volcano as one inseparable entity. So it may be of little surprise to you that the rhythmic nature of the hula and chants describing the volcano would accurately portray of the bursting forth, and diminishing of such things like lava flows and explosions. But have you ever wondered if the rhythms of the hula have any relation to detailed scientific observations made at the volcano? The answer may be surprising to you; the connections go deeper than you think, and certainly deeper than we’re aware of.

Much of the behavior of Kīlauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes are rhythmic in nature. The sounds, earthquakes, and ground swelling of these volcanoes, have all been found to follow rhythmic patterns.

Perhaps the most obvious rhythm of the volcano is the very sound the volcano makes. Anyone who has had the privilege of being near a lava vent can attest to the rhythmic sounds of gas and lava gushing from vents. This is the `uhi `uha sound in the hula chants that results from gases and gas-charged magma rushing through vents, or conduits, in the volcano. Much like a pahu drum, the size of the chamber controls the depth of the sound. These sounds actually extend well beyond the range of human hearing into a realm called the “infrasound”. Geologists record and study the depth and breadth of these infrasonic beats to model the internal structure vents and conduits.

The shaking of the volcano also occurs with rhythmic frequency. In the current episode of eruptive activity at Kīlauea, something called episodic tremor has been frequently observed. Episodic tremor is a pattern of seismic activity, or shaking of the volcano, that occurs at semi-regular intervals. Patterns of seismic activity like this have been seen at Mount St. Helens where they were called “drum beat” seismicity. Episodic tremor at Kīlauea can be seen on seismic recorders as triangular-shaped bursts periodically placed—an imprinting reminiscent of a kapa-cloth pattern. A current interpretation is that episodic tremor is caused by the repeated rising and falling of the lava surface underground.

In addition to shaking, the volcano’s entire body also sways, or deforms, in rhythmic ways. The ground surface of Kīlauea regularly rises and falls in cycles called deflation-inflation (DI) events. These events are linked to pulses of magma and gas which rise regularly under the summit of Kīlauea in the region of Halema`uma`u. An interesting consequence of magma migration is a coordinated dance of the ground surface at the summit and east rift zone of Kīlauea. As a pulse of magma rises up under Halema`uma`u, the summit of Kīlauea expands, rising upward. As this magma makes its way down the east rift the ground beneath Pu`u `Ō `ō begins to rise too. The dancers complete their turn over the course of a day or so.

The above descriptions only scratch the surface of many deeper rhythmic relationships that exist. So as you watch and hear the hula of Merrie Monarch this year, we encourage you enjoy the mo`olelo `o Pele and hula—both its sheer beauty and, also, its remarkable accuracy in describing the essence of volcanoes.

Activity update

The Waikupanaha and Kupapa`u ocean entries remain active. Surface flows inland from Kupapa`u, which began late last week following a deflation-inflation (DI) event at Kīlauea’s summit, remain active along the eastern boundary of the National Park.

At Kīlauea’s summit, the vent within Halema`uma`u Crater continues to emit elevated amounts of sulfur dioxide gas, resulting in high concentrations of sulfur dioxide downwind. Though not directly observed, vent noises suggest that lava is still present within the vent about 100 m (110 yds) below the floor of Halema`uma`u crater.

Visit our Web site (http://hvo.wr.usgs.gov) for detailed Kīlauea and Mauna Loa activity updates, recent volcano photos, recent earthquakes, and more; call (808) 967-8862 for a Kīlauea summary; email questions to askHVO@usgs.gov. skip past bottom navigational bar

To see Tour Guide Hawaii video of Kilaeua eruptions go here and here.

For moreinformation on visiting Hawaii in general and touring the Hawaiin volcnoes in particular, plese also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

By Donnie MacGowan

Here in the Department of Research and Eternal Spring Break at the Galactic Headquarters of Tour Guide Hawaii, we have been waiting for a break in the Spring Monsoon on the east side of the island so we could run around Puna, visit, film and photograph all our favorite places and then spend a (relatively) dry evening watching the pyrotechnics as Madam Pele marches into the sea at the lava ocean entry at Waikupanaha.

The Men of Tour Guide At Work: Photo by Donald MacGowan

The Men of Tour Guide At Work: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Well, as wet as Puna and Hilo are, we could have waited an eternity, so we decided to just pack everybody up and hit the highway. We tore down the west side of the island, past South Point, Punalu’u and the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, making our first stop (for coffee) at Pahoa, the cultural and mercantile center of Puna.

Pahoa is the Commercial and Cultural Center of Puna: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Pahoa is the Commercial and Cultural Center of Puna: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

From Pahoa, we drove sedately down through the magnificent Tree Tunnels on Hwy 132 to Lava Trees State Monument.

The beautiful Tree Tunneled Roads of Puna: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The beautiful Tree Tunneled Roads of Puna: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Here, a long-ago lava flow swept through a wet ohi’a tree forest. The wet, cold trees chilled the lava, which coated the trees.

Lava Trees at Lava Trees State Monument: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Lava Trees at Lava Trees State Monument: Photo by Donald MacGowan

As the lava drained away downhill and through numerous cracks in the earth, the lava coating the trees cooled, leaving these basalt towers with hollow insides…the lava trees have casts of the ohi’a, bark and all, in their middles…an amazing place!

Lava Trees Cast: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lava Trees Cast: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

We took highway 137, named the Kapoho-Kalapana Road–I imagine this is the only road in America–perhaps the world–that is named for two towns destroyed by the same volcano.

Kapoho Kalapana Road Sign: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kapoho Kalapana Road Sign: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Driving through the jungles and beaches of Puna we came to Ahalanui Hot Pond. This man-made pool was first constructed to retain the refreshing waters of a cold spring.

Ahalanui Hot Pond: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Ahalanui Hot Pond: Photo by Donald MacGowan

During eruptions in the early 1960s, however, the plumbing on Kilauea changed and the spring became hot…and the pool became even more refreshing. Continuing on we stopped in at Isaac Hale Beach Park, which has recently had a complete makeover and is now one of Hawaii County’s first rate facilities.

Isaac Hale County Beach Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Isaac Hale County Beach Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Once run down, decrepit and populated by social undesirables, it’s now a vibrant, safe and enjoyable place to have a picnic, snorkel and just enjoy exploring where jungle meets ocean.

Isaac Hale Park Hot Spring: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Isaac Hale Park Hot Spring: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Next stop was McKenzie State Park, a real rustic gem with not much going on but miles of hiking trails, a copse of beautiful ironwood trees and some amazing, huge boulders hurled 60 feet up the sea cliffs by tsunamis past.

McKenzie State Park Tsunami-Tossed Boulders: Photos by Donnie MacGowan

McKenzie State Park Tsunami-Tossed Boulders: Photos by Donnie MacGowan

Makes you think twice about camping here!

The next part of Puna we drove through along Highway 137 is undergoing intense development–once a land of rolling jungle punctuated with lava flows and crossed by red cinder roads, civilization is finally finding Puna–too bad. Of course, Madame Pele decrees that any human settlement on this part of Hawaii Island is an “at will tenancy”–at her will–and she may reclaim the land as wild lava at any time.

Modern Carved Pohaku Iki in Puna: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Modern Carved Pohaku Iki in Puna: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

We came into what’s left of Kalapana and hiked out to the new black sand beach at Kaimu. There is an amazing story of love and rebirth centered around this tiny village which I have previously told elsewhere, but it’s a moving and gorgeous spot.

Kaimu Black Sand Beach in Winter: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Kaimu Black Sand Beach in Winter: Photo by Donald MacGowan

After getting our toes wet in the ocean at Kaimu, we turned north towards the Hawaii County Lava Viewing platform near what used to be Waikupanaha. We parked and hiked in to await dusk and see the eruptions (see video here).

Littoral Explosions as Lava Enteres the Ocean Near Royal Gardens: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Littoral Explosions as Lava Enteres the Ocean Near Royal Gardens: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Then, with full on dark enveloping us, we packed the car, adjusted the mirrors, and sat back for the 3 1/2 hour drive back to Kailua Kona…we timed it perfectly to arrive in time to have coffee and ice cream at Lava Java and to watch the evening surf pound against the seawall in Old Kailua Town and told ourselves, in the local pidgin, the same thing residents of Kona tell eachother at least twice a day…”Hey, lucky we live Hawaii, eh?”

Sunset from Lava Java in Kailua Kona: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Sunset from Lava Java in Kailua Kona: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For more information on touring Hawaii in general and the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan; all rights reserved.

This post has been updated and expanded here.

Feeling hemmed in by the spring drizzle in Kona, the Men of Tour Guide decided to take a much needed break and drive from Kailua Kona across The Saddle Road, up to the summit of Mauna Kea and down into Hilo.

Hualalai Volcano and Pu'uanahulu on the Big Island: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Hualalai Volcano and Pu'uanahulu on the Big Island: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Driving out of Kailua Town on Highway 190, we passed Pu’unanhulu on the backside of  Hualalai Volcano, continuing to the junction with Highway 200, The Saddle Road, famed in song, legend and fable.

Looking Back Toward Kohala Mountain from Saddle Road: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Looking Back Toward Kohala Mountain from Saddle Road: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Saddle Road has a nasty reputation, which is only partly deserved.  Having been rebuilt from Hilo-side up over the saddle, there are only a dozen or so miles of rough, single lane roadway remaining.

Stopping at The Saddle, we decided to hike up Pu’u Huluhulu, the Shaggy Hill, a wildlife preserve on a prominent kipuka, or living island between lava flows.

Mauna Kea from Kipuka Huluhulu: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Mauna Kea from Kipuka Huluhulu: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Kipuka Huluhulu offers superb views of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, as well as fabulous bird watching and a grand nature trail through a lot of native flora.

Vanishingly Rare Silver Sword Plant on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Vanishingly Rare Silver Sword Plant on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Taking John Burns Way from The Saddle up to the summit of Mauna Kea, we stopped at the Visitor’s Information Station for a rest stop, to acclimatize and to photograph some Silver Sword plants; one of the rarest plants on earth, Silver Swords grow only on Mauna Loa, Mauna Kea and Haleakala.

From the Visitor’s Information Station we made our way up to the summit road.  This road, too, has an only partially-earned nasty reputation.  True, the road is mostly graded rock (it gets graded 3 times a week); true, it’s steep and narrow with NO shoulders and scary drop-offs; and, true, the weather can turn in a heartbeat from warm and sunny to full-on blizzard white-out.

The Men of Tour Guide Hard at Work on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Men of Tour Guide Hard at Work on Mauna Kea: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

However, anybody who has experience driving on dirt roads in the mountains and drives cautiously is apt to be just fine…afterall, it’s not the roughness of the road that keeps people from the summit, it’s the lack of air at altitude that kills the car. If you are in doubt about the drive, the Rangers at the Information Station can help you decide if you should drive up or not.

Hikers on Mauna Kea Summit Looking at Mauna Loa Summit: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hikers on Mauna Kea Summit Looking at Mauna Loa Summit: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The summit of Mauna Kea is one of my favorite places in all of Hawaii.  I’ve been here at all times of the day and night, in all kinds of weather; I have stood at the summit and seen the North Star and the Southern Cross in the same sky on the same night; I have skied and snowboarded from the summit and hiked to the top from sea level.  I’ve ridden my mountain bike up and ridden my Honda Ruckus scooter from Kailua Town up.

Mauna Kea Summit Temple: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Mauna Kea Summit Temple: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

I love this mountain.  In September of 2006, Sean O’Neil, a paraplegic, rolled his wheelchair to the summit all the way from sea level in Hilo. All I could think when I heard he’d made the summit was “There is a real adventurer with the heart of a lion…”.

Rolling our own way back down the John Burns Way to The Saddle Road, we discovered the spring monsoon was still in full swing as we headed east towards Hilo Town.  Of course it was raining on Hilo Side! Stopping in the foothills just west of Hilo, we spent some time exploring around Kaumana Caves, a lava tube that extends for 25 miles, formed in the 1881 eruption of Mauna Loa.

Frank Descends Into Kaumana Cave: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Frank Descends Into Kaumana Cave: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Entrance is gained at Kaumana Cave County Park by a concrete staircase descending into a skylight.  The adventurer is immediately faced with a question: explore the uphill portion or the downhill portion?  Whichever route you take, be sure to have 3 sources of light, a hard hats (knee pads are nice, too) and be prepared for wet and slippery rocks. If you’re not intent on exploring deeply, a walk into the portions where sunlight penetrates is still pretty amazing.

Looking Out Kaumana Cave: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Looking Out Kaumana Cave: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Continuing on into Hilo, we spent some time at Rainbow Falls, which, because of the recent rain, was swollen and immense.

Rain-Swollen Rainbow Falls: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Rain-Swollen Rainbow Falls: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

I explored the river a bit above and upstream of the falls and found an incredible tract of wild urban jungle (if that is not actually a contradiction in terms, it’s at least a brilliant name for a rock band…) and lots more smaller falls, continuing on up the river.

THe Jungle Behind Rainbow Falls: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Jungle Behind Rainbow Falls: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

There is a trail along portions of this.

It was getting late as we explored downtown Hilo so we gassed the car and decided to drive home through Waimea.

Hualalai Sunset from Highway 190, Big Island, Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Hualalai Sunset from Highway 190, Big Island, Hawaii: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Kailua Kona Sunset from the Pier: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Sunset over Thurston Mansion from the Kailua Pier: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

We blazed along laughing at our day’s adventure under an increasingly amazing sunset, arriving back in Kailua Town just in time to catch a meal of Kona Dogs and raspberry smoothies at Cousin’s in the Kona Inn Shops.  Best raspberry smoothies on the island, I’m telling ya!

For more information on touring the Hawaii in general and the Big Island in particular, please also visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

All media copyright 2009 by Donald B. MacGowan.  All rights reserved.

Melancholy, lonely, desolate; this beach cut into the fresh scar of an a’a flow marks the place where the Hawai’ian gods died at the battle of Kuamo’o. In 1819, the year before the Christian missionaries arrived in Hawai’i, forces loyal to Kamehameha II and Queen Ka’ahumanu fought to overturn the kapu system and the pagan Hawai’ian religion in favor of Christianity. Kahuna Kekuaokalani led the last supporters of the old ways and the old gods and fought a desperate battle here to preserve their ancient way of life, and lost. Their graves, numbering in the several hundreds despite the official-looking marker at the site, are under the numerous, large stone altars erected by the victors over the very spots the warriors fell.

A walk along the dirt road that bisects the battlefield is ineffably sad and a little creepy. However, the road soon climbs into dryland forest along the lava ocean cliffs and provides some memorable hiking and sunset views.

Kuamo’o Battlefield is located at the very end of Ali’i Drive, somewhat appropriately. No facilities.

For more information on exploring the Big Island of Hawaii in general, and the ancient villages and temples of Kona in particular, visit: www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

Produced by Donnie MacGowan. Written, directed and filmed by Donnie MacGowan.  Original musical score by Donald B. MacGowan.  All media copyright 2008 by Donald B. MacGowan; all rights reserved.

A place of both dramatic historic events and unparalleled scenery, beautiful and now peaceful Kealakekua Bay (Pathway of the Gods) opens beneath steep, beetling cliffs on the ancient surfing beach along the shoreline of Napo’opo’o Village. The site of arguably the most important event in the history of Polynesia, home to pods of frolicking dolphins, hosting the greatest density of hammerhead sharks anywhere in the Pacific Ocean and providing some truly breathtaking snorkeling, Kealekekua Bay is one of the most truly magical spots in the State of Hawai’i.

Across the bay from Napo’opo’o stands the solitary white obelisk that marks the lonely Captain Cook Monument rising among the ruins of Ka’awaloa Village. High along the cliff walls can be seen numerous burial caves of the iwi (bones) of Ali’i, and in the late afternoon light, a greyish streak is visible on the northwest wall. Local legend has it that a canon-ball fired by Cook to impress the Hawai’ians left this streak as it smeared and bounced along the cliff. Close in along the beach, historic Hikiau (Moving Current) Heiau stands through the ages, witness to the tsunami of enormous changes that swept through Hawai’i with the coming of Cook and the Europeans, which began right here at Kealekekua Bay.

Perhaps the most sought-after snorkeling area in Hawai’i, visitors frequently kayak from Napo’opo’o to the monument to enjoy the Class Triple-A waters and abundant sea life. However, the monument is also accessible by hiking a trail down from the highway; this hike takes 4-6 hours round trip and drinking water is not available anywhere along the journey.

Written, filmed, directed and produced by Donald B. MacGowan.

For more information on visiting and exploring the Big Island of Hawaii, visit: www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

Written and produced by Donald B. MacGowan; all media copyright 2009, Donald B. MacGowan; all rights reserved.


This post has been expanded and updated, here.

by Donnie MacGowan

It’s springtime on the Big Island which means monsoon season here in Kona.

A Spring Monsoon Cloudburst in Kailua Kona (it dropped 2.6 inches of rain in 72 minutes, then we returned to brilliant blue sky and sun) : Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Spring Monsoon Cloudburst in Kailua Kona (it dropped 2.6 inches of rain in 72 minutes, then we returned to brilliant blue sky and sun) : Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Remembering that Kona Side of Hawaii is basically arid to semi-arid, “monsoon” simply means that rather than our usual brilliant weather of sapphire skies and tropical sun, we get a few days of grey skies and drizzle and a tropical cloudburst or two–nothing like the folks over on Hilo Side have to contend with.  But during the monsoon when we get a couple sunny days, we like to break out of the office, hit the road and see our favorite places.

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay and Captain Cook Monument from Napo'opo'o: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

This time, we decided to take a ride down the Kona Coast and into Ka’u. Our first stop was at picturesque Napo’opo’o, where the Kealakekua State Historic Monument, Hikiau Heiau and the Captain Cook Monument are.

The Captain James Cook Monument at Ka'awaloa Village in Kealakekua: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The Captain James Cook Monument at Ka'awaloa Village in Kealakekua: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

As well as immensely important historically (this is where Cook first met the Hawaiians, as well as the place where he died), dolphin, whales and some of the best snorkeling in the Pacific are here.

Next, we drove along the shoreline, past ancient battlefields, tiny beaches, awesome sea arches and historic churches to the National Historic Monument at Pu’u Honua O Hounaunau, the Place of Refuge.

Sacred Iki nd Hale Keawe at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau, Big Island: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Sacred Iki and Hale Keawe at Pu'u Honua O Hounaunau, Big Island: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

This ancient site is enormously important historically and culturally and is very sacred to the native Hawaiians. Adjacent to the Monument is Two Step Beach which, like Kealakekua Bay, hosts unbelievably wonderful snorkeling. In addition to the great Ali’i of Hawaii, James Cook, Mark Twain and Robert Louis Stevenson spent time here.

Two Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay--Some of the Best Snorkeling in the Pacific: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Two Step Beach at Hounaunau Bay--Some of the Best Snorkeling in the Pacific: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Driving South through the coffee country of Kona Mauka, we decided to drive down to Ho’okena Beach and do some snorkeling.

Ho'okena Beach In The Morning: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Ho'okena Beach In The Morning: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Recent changes to the beach include more parking, a kayak and snorkel gear rental and snack shop as well as full time caretaker and security…the camping may be a bit more regulated these days, but the beach is much cleaner and safer–it is a joy to visit again after it got so run-down a few years back.

Morning Campers at Ho'okena Beach Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Morning Campers at Ho'okena Beach Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Driving through Kona macadamia nut country across the old lava flows from Mauna Loa, we decided to check out the town of Miloli’i and hike into Honomalino Beach.

An Idyllic Morning at Miloli'i: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

An Idyllic Morning at Miloli'i: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Miloli’i calls itself the “Last Fishing Village in Hawaii” and is a tight-knit enclave of native Hawaiians. The town is beautiful, if obviously impoverished, and the locals, if treated with respect, are friendly and engaging. Be wary…they can also be a bit frisky, so leave no valuables in your car when you hike out to Honomalino Beach, about 20 minutes south along the spectacular coastline.

A Small House on Honomalino Beach: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Small House on Honomalino Beach: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

From Miloli’i, our wanderlust drew us down to South Point–the southern most point in the United States, and a region of deep mystery, spirituality and fascination. Near the Ka Lae Heiau, one of the most sacred in all Polynesia, we found some rare (perhaps modern) kite petroglyphs in the Queen’s Pond.

Kite Petroglyphs at South Point...Are These Modern? : Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Kite Petroglyphs at South Point...Are These Modern? : Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Crossing the tip of South Point, we drove to the Kaulana Boat Ramp and hiked into Mahana Beach–South Point’s famed Green Sand Beach.

Bathers at Mahana Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donad B. MacGowan

Bathers at Mahana Green Sand Beach at South Point, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

It’s always a treat to visit and a fascinating experience–beautiful, secluded, mysterious.

Mahana Green Sand Beach in the Afternoon: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mahana Green Sand Beach in the Afternoon: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

We drove back to the Highway past the Ka Lae Wind Farm, then down through Waiohinu and Na’alehu. Waiohinu is where Mark Twain stayed as he wrote his “Letters From Hawaii”, and the monkey pod tree he sat under is still by the roadside.

Coastline of Ka'u from near Na'alehu, Big Island: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Coastline of Ka'u from near Na'alehu, Big Island: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Finally, we wound up at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach to visit the amazing sea turtles and watch the sunset.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Ambles Off into the Punalu'u Sunset: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle Ambles Off into the Punalu'u Sunset: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Returning to Kailua Kona in the waning light, we arrived back in town just in time for seafood buffet dinner at the King Kamehameha Beach Resort. Could there be a more perfect day?

Kailua Kona in the Evening Light from Kailua Harbour: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Kailua Kona in the Evening Light from Kailua Harbour: Photo by Donald MacGowan

For more information on touring Hawaii in general and the Big Island in particular, please visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

Copyright 2009 Donald B. MacGowan.  All photos copyright 2009 Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.


Exploring Mysterious Puna…

For your next day of driving, let’s go south on Highway 11 headed for the Puna District. Leave early and expect to get back just after dark because this area is furthest from Kona and contains some of the most beautiful, yet hidden, wonders on the Big Island. It is from Puna that, currently, the only up-close viewing of flowing lava is possible. You may want to pack a cooler for this day trip.

As you’re passing through Kainaliu, just south of Kona, a quick stop at Kona Joe’s Coffee Plantation, for some great Kona Coffee, will jump start your day. See their ad in the sponsors section in your Tour Guide. If you are driving straight to Puna, plan on about 3½ hrs drive time to get to the first sights in this discussion. If you have missed any sights that you wanted to see on the southern route, refer to Frank’s Travel Hints #1 and #2 and catch them on the way…just don’t forget to allow for extra time.

Along the way you will pass Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This is a fascinating place and not to be missed, but we will reserve it for a full day later.

The first turn is about 20 minutes past the park entrance at the town of Kea’au. Look for the stop light on the highway and the Highway 130 sign. The Kea’au Shopping Center has some great places to eat, like Paradise Bar and Grill, and is a good restroom break.

The first stop, in the Puna district, is the town of Pahoa. You will think you have just stepped back into the Wild West as Pahoa has a unique atmosphere like nowhere else on the island. Cute shops, and a great farmer’s market on Sundays, lends to picture taking and shopping. Tour Guide will suggest that parking is easiest at the Community Pool just a block from downtown, and there are public restrooms here.

Continue driving further into Puna on Highway 132 through the lovely tree tunnels to a magical stop at Lava Trees State Park. This gorgeous rainforest park is filled with birds and tropical plants and flowers. What makes this park so intriguing is the lava trees. Tour Guide will tell you how old lava flows surrounded the trees, leaving spires of hardened lava, giving it an eerie look. There are trails for hiking and bird watching is spectacular. This is also a good place for a restroom break as it will be a good while before the next restrooms are available. Highway 132 leads you to Highway 137, the Kapoho-Kalapana Road–the only road in America that is named for two towns buried by a volcano.

Turning toward Kapoho on Highway 137, the next stop is the Kapoho Tide Pools where you can experience great shoreline shell collecting and fantastic snorkeling amongst vibrant corals and tropical fish in protected tidepools. Though hard to find on your own, Tour Guide again knows the way to this secluded sanctuary and ancient village. Port-a-potties and showers are the only facilities here.

Just a few miles down Highway 137 is Ahalanui Hot Pond. This tropical park is centered around a hot spring that mixes with ocean water to create one of the most relaxing and soul recharging oases anywhere. Tour Guide gives you the history of what this area meant to the ancient Hawaiians. Picnicking, hiking, swimming and “expert only” surfing are some of the things to do here. There are restrooms, showers and water available also.

As you continue along the coast road, you will next encounter McKenzie State Park. Here the Ironwood trees create an unusual ambience of a pine tree forest. The sheer cliffs and majesty of the ocean beg for photographing. Swimming would be near impossible here, but the hiking is spectacular. Tour Guide will give more information about this other- worldly park. A permit is required for camping and the facilities are a bit run down.

Not far away is Kahena Beach. This beautiful black sand beach involves a bit of a scamper to get down the cliff, but is well worth the effort. Tour Guide will give you the easiest path to take. You may notice that this beach is “clothing optional”, thus it’s popularity. Swimming here is good, but currents can be strong if you get too far from shore.

Highway 137 used to become the Chain of Craters Road in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, but it has been cut by several miles of intervening lava flows. Today, it ultimately ends at Highway 130, the road back to Kea’au and the Hawaii Belt Highway. At the intersections of Highways 137 and 130 are the remnants of the town of Kalapana, buried in the 1960 eruption of Kilauea. Tour Guide will tell you all about the eruption, the heroic recovery efforts, and lead you on a brief hike to Kaimu Black Sand Beach, the newest beach on the Island of Hawaii. From the end of the road you can frequently see the both the eruption cloud over Pu’u O’o Vent and the steam plume where lava is entering the ocean, both several miles distant. At night, the glow from streams of lava pouring down the pali can sometimes be seen from here. Although hiking to the lava can be an experience to cherish, it is dangerous and hard work. The best, and most consistent, viewing is by taking an air tour, such as Big Island Air or Paradise Helicopter Tours.

Heading back from Kalapana, you will want to take Highway 130 toward Pahoa and Kea’au, you pass the famous “Painted Church”. Tour Guide can tell you the history of this fascinating place. Just a little farther north is the intersection of Highway 130 with the road to Royal Gardens Estates, which currently leads to the Hawaii County-maintained lava viewing area. Call the Lava Hotline at 808.961.8093 for current eruption updates, lava viewing information and times of road openings and closures. As you continue towards Kea’au you will pass the Steam Rooms–a field of steam vents in small craters where locals go to take steam baths. Tour Guide has information on finding these craters and how to safely enjoy the wonders of natural, volcanic steam baths.

Upon returning to the Hawaii Belt Highway at Kea’au, one can proceed in either direction back to Kona, north through Hilo, a bit shorter and faster, or west through Hawaii Volcanoes National Park which, though longer, is much more scenic. If time permits, you may want to stop in Volcano Village, just off the highway, for some food, gasoline, shopping or maybe even some wine tasting. This may be the last gasoline available until you get back to Kona as it is many times hard to find an open gas station in the rural part of Hawaii Island after dark. Find your hotel in your Tour Guide and get turn-by-turn directions right to the door.

For more information on visiting Hawaii in general and touring the Big Island in particular, please visit www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.