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by Donnie MacGowan

With minor local exceptions, the rocks of the Big Island of Hawaii are made up almost entirely of eruptive volcanic effluent—lava and ash, and sediment derived from eroding and weathering lava and ash. As such, it doesn’t seem a likely place to hunt fossils. After all, the lava pours from the vents on Hawaii’s volcanoes at between 1100° and 1130° C and even the hardened crust on the top of an active flow can be as hot as 600°C. It seems like the advancing lava ought incinerate everything in its path and leave no trace of organic matter behind as fossils.

Palm Frond Fossil in Basalt From 30-Year Old Lava Flow, Kalapana, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Palm Frond Fossil in Basalt From 30-Year Old Lava Flow, Kalapana, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Or would it? Sometimes things in nature don’t always act the way we expect them to.

Lava Mold of a Palm Tree in a 2000 Year Old Flow, Honaunau, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Lava Mold of a Palm Tree in a 2000 Year Old Flow, Honaunau, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

As a child, my mind, when not actually occupied with thoughts of dinosaurs, was chiefly occupied with thoughts of volcanoes or thoughts of fossils. It’s scarcely surprising, then, that I grew up to be a geologist, but when I eventually washed-up on the shores of the Big Island, I thought I’d landed in heaven—five volcanoes, two of them active! But as I explored my new home I found more and more examples of where Hawaii’s volcanoes had preserved fossils of plant and animal life.

To be sure, owing to the extreme temperatures of the lava, these fossils tend to be molds or casts, but they are abundant and fascinating. More delicate fossils are contained in ash deposits, but so far, these have been only marginally explored.

Let’s take a quick tour around the island of Hawaii and look at some of the remarkable, amazing, lava fossils of Hawaii.

Lava Tree State Monument

Lava Tree Mold at Lava Trees State Monument, Big Island, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Lava Tree Mold at Lava Trees State Monument, Big Island, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Let’s start down in Puna District, just a few miles south of Pahoa Town. At Lava Trees State Monument fingers of lava poke vertically at the sky, remnants of a flow that that passed through a wet ohi’a tree forest in 1790. The flowing lava enveloped the wet ohi’a trees, cooling and congealing around them. As the lava flow drained away down nearby cracks, the fingers of cooling lava were left behind. The remnants of the trees were burned and rotted away, so today these stubby towers are hollow.

Towers of Lava Tree Molds at Lava Trees State Monument, Big Island, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Towers of Lava Tree Molds at Lava Trees State Monument, Big Island, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mauna Loa Tree Molds, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

But what happens if the lava doesn’t drain away and leave the fingers behind, but rather cools in place around the trees? An example of this can be found along the Mauna Loa Road, in the part of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park that is north of Highway 11. Here, large acacia koa trees (the same kind of trees that are currently growing around the parking area) were buried 10-30 feet deep in lava erupted by Kilauea some 700-800 years ago.

Tree Molds on Mauna Loa in 700-800 Year Old Basalt, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Tree Molds on Mauna Loa in 700-800 Year Old Basalt, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The wet trees chilled and cooled the lava as it surrounded them and thus they were insulated from the intense heat of the surrounding flow. The cooling was rapid enough to preserve the shape, even the texture of the bark, of the trees, though the trees themselves burned away.

Mauna Loa Tree Molds 2008 small

Kalapana-Waikupanaha

But tree trunks are not the only casts and molds that are preserved in molten lava. Sometimes even quite small items, such as coconuts and fruits are preserved with incredibly finely-detailed impressions. Down in the Kalapana-Waikupanaha area of Puna, up against the eastern border of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the lava surface is between 30 years and 30 minutes old.

Lava Mold of a Coconut in Basalt from a Very Recent Flow Near Kalapana, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Lava Mold of a Coconut in Basalt from a Very Recent Flow Near Kalapana, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Trails leading out to both Kaimu Black Sand Beach and the Waikupanaha Ocean Entry Lava Viewing Area are literally punctuated with preserved palm fronds, pandanus fruit, coconuts and other vegetation debris. The hiker has only to keep his eyes sharp to find hundreds of examples of where the lava has preserved, sometimes in astonishing detail, the forest it flowed through.

Mold of Pandanus Fruit in Basalt from Flow Less Than 10 Years Old, Waikupanaha, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mold of Pandanus Fruit in Basalt from Flow Less Than 10 Years Old, Waikupanaha, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Devastation Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

As I mentioned earlier, however, sometimes other volcanic processes also preserve fossils. Along Devastation Trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are some well-preserved tree molds—some with the dead tree still standing in them—from hot ash and cinder erupted from the Pu’u Pua’i vent on Kilauea Iki in 1959.

Tree Standing in Ashfall from Pu'u Pua'i, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Dead Tree Standing in Future Tree Mold in Ashfall from Pu'u Pua'i, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

This eruption produced fire-fountains some 1900 feet tall, showering the downwind region with hot ash and cinders. Some of the pieces of volcanic material were so hot they welded together after landing, others were so cool the trees they buried didn’t burn. Many trees were completely buried or burned away, but you can still see some, standing above the level of the ground, in what will be tree molds when the trees eventually rot away. There are also numerous examples of already empty tree molds along the trail.

Small Tree Mold Along Devastation Trail, Pu'u Pua'i, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Small Tree Mold Along Devastation Trail, Pu'u Pua'i, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Warrior Footprints Trail, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Not all the fossils, molds and casts we find in ash and cinder deposits are from plants, either. Although the Hawaiian volcanoes have a reputation as being quiet and well-behaved, rarely violent in their eruptions, such is not always the case. There are quite thick and extensive ash deposits indicating episodes of intensely violent eruption. Called “phreatomagmatic“, these eruptions get their power and violence from ground water entering the magma chamber and flashing to steam, blowing ash high into the atmosphere. Many times the ash produced in these eruptions preserves the material it covers in quite fine detail. One such case can be visited along the Ka’u Desert/Warrior Footprints trail in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Mold of Human Footprint in Ash from 1790 Phreatic Eruption of Kilauea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mold of Human Footprint in Ash from 1790 Phreatic Eruption of Kilauea, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

In 1790, a party of warriors was passing by Kilauea on their way to make war on Kamehameha the Great. 400 men, women and children were caught in a giant phreatomagmatic eruption and suffocated where they stood. Another contingent of warriors, coming upon their companions bodies, momentarily thought them merely sleeping until they realized their comrades were all dead. Molds of the footprints left by this second set of warriors are preserved in the ash along the Warrior Footprint Trail; it’s an an eerie hike to see them.

Place of Refuge, Pu’u Honua O Hounaunau

Small Bowl Carved into Surface of Basalt, Pu'u Honua O Honaunau National Historic Park, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Small Bowl Carved into Surface of Basalt, Pu'u Honua O Honaunau National Historic Park, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Sometimes we find things on the surface of lava flows which do not look like any kind of natural lava flow structure, but they are also not an obvious mold, cast or fossil. Some of these features are obvious human artifacts and not fossils at all. Hawaiians would spend days carving out bowl-shaped depressions into the surface of the rock—once made, they could be used for generations. In just such manner, salt pans for evaporating sea water to get salt were constructed. Larger carved depressions were for cooking. Hawaiians would build a fire in these larger depressions until the rock was quite hot. Scooping away the fire and ash, they would add water and food to cook, sometimes continuing to add hot pebbles to keep the water boiling. Although these features are ubiquitous on the Big Island, excellent examples of them can be found all the way along the beach fronting the temple complex at Pu’u Honua O Honaunau over to Two Step Beach on Honaunau Bay.

Tree Branch Fossil Preserved in Extremely Recent Lava Flow, Kaimu, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Tree Branch Fossil Preserved in Extremely Recent Lava Flow, Kaimu, Hawaii: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

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

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

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A warm Kona sunset from Kuemanu Heiau: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A warm Kona sunset from Ku'emanu Heiau: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Do you conjure visions of paradise? Swaying palm trees, radiant beaches, dazzling weather. Exotic hula, sultry nights. Is the aloha spirit calling you to Hawaii Island?

Tour Guide, the world’s first location-aware, GPS-guided audio-visual tours can show you a Hawaii you’ve never even imagined existed, even if you have visited a dozen times; the Big Island is so much more than you have envisioned.

Imagine a journey around the Big Island, starting at the north end where wild, lush, empty; rugged jungles and waterfalls merge into open grasslands. Kohala is where the visitor finds everything from modern five star beach resorts to well preserved archeological sites.

Waialea Beach, Kohala Coast: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Waialea Beach, Kohala Coast: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Then roll southward to where beguiling and up tempo Kona, the visitor hub, has clear water and magical reefs for snorkeling, ancient temples and historic palaces and coffee farms. Brimming with visitor activities, Kona is the perfect tropical escape.

Moning reflections at Hapaiali'i and Ke'eku Heiaus, Kona Coast: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Morning reflections at Hapaiali'i and Ke'eku Heiaus, Kona Coast: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Wrapping to the southern end of the U.S., a tropical savannah reveals provocative mysteries, secret green and black sand beaches and icy mountain heights.

South Point, Hawaii's Famous Green Sand Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

South Point, Hawaii's Famous Green Sand Beach: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Next, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park reaches from hidden beaches to steaming tree-fern jungles to alpine tundra. No where else can you experience the transcendent emotion, witnessing raw lava flowing. Truly irresistible, this is one of the top 5 places in the world you must see!

Lava enters the sea at La'eapukii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Lava enters the sea at La'eapukii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Photo by Donald MacGowan

The jungle covered east side of the island flaunts fragrant flower filled canyons, thousand foot waterfalls and hot springs. Alluring Hilo Town, with museums, botanical gardens, shopping and restaurants, invites exploration.

800-foot waterfall in Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donald MacGowan

800-foot waterfall in Waipi'o Valley: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Forbidding but evocative, the interior of the island contains the largest and tallest mountains in the world, where billion dollar astronomical observatories rise next to thousand year old sacred stone temples.

Hikers on the summit of Mauna Kea looking toward Mauna Loa: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hikers on the summit of Mauna Kea looking toward Mauna Loa: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Enticing and diverse, with perfect year round weather, stunning beaches and a people overflowing with aloha spirit, it’s no wonder that the Big Island of Hawaii is the most seductive and desirable destination in the world.

Lava enters the sea Waikupanaha, Big Island:Photo by Donald MacGowan

Lava enters the sea Waikupanaha, Big Island:Photo by Donald MacGowan

Tour Guide will show you all these special places, the hidden places, the places you never imagined. Come, envision yourself in Hawaii. Explore the unspoiled, the unusual, the unexpected.

If you are serious about coming to know and love our island paradise–not just travel through it–we highly recommend you purchase AND USE Tour Guide Hawaii’s newly released  iPhone/iPod App…it uses GPS, Google Maps with driving directions and has onboard maps and driving directions where cell phone service and internet are not available.  It plays a video presentation with all kinds of information about history, culture, safety and the natural history about all the most fascinating sites on the island, including the whereabouts of all the public restrooms!  The iPhone App gives you detailed, accurate information on where to go, what to bring, what to expect when you get there and what to do next.  Available here, the App will give you much, much more detailed information than this blog post.

Snorkelers at Two-Step Beach, Hounaunau Bay: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Snorkelers at Two-Step Beach, Hounaunau Bay: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Visit www.tourguidehawaii.com for more information on GPS-guide, audio-visual tours of the Big Island.

Part I of this series discuses Snorkeling Gear; Part II of this series covers Snorkeling Technique; Part III covers Snorkeling Etiquette; Part IV discusses Snorkeling Safety and Part V covers Big Island Snorkel Spots.

Waialea Beach in Kohala is the gateway to many small, secluded secret beaches on the Big Island...but why go any farther than this?  It's perfect! Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Waialea Beach in Kohala is the gateway to many small, secluded secret beaches on the Big Island...but why go any farther than this? It's perfect! Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Of all the Hawaiian Islands, because it is the youngest, the Big Island has the fewest and smallest beaches…this leads to crowding during the height of tourist season at some beaches. Because Hawaii is still rural, there are still some wilderness (hike-to-only) beaches; a few of them are among the best on the island.

Many wild beaches may be camped upon but you must apply for a permit from the appropriate agency. Overnight camping on Hawaii beaches is simplified because of the mild climate–usually I take a few quarts of water, a couple sandwiches, my camera, dry clothes for post-snorkeling comfort, a fleece blanket and rice mat to sleep on (a beach towel will suffice) and a small tarp on the off-chance it rains. The key here is that if the weather turns truly ugly, you are rarely more than an hour from your car. You may wish to bring a few extra quarts of water to rinse the salt off after swimming—it’s difficult to sleep comfortably with salty skin.

Two things to bear in mind—although is sometimes doesn’t seem it, Hawaii DOES have tides…camp well back of the beach area. Secondly, beach fires are not only illegal, they are hugely dangerous on most beaches on the west side.

Ke-awa-iki Beach (park off Highway 19 just north of Mile 79; walk along gravel road towards the ocean to a fence and foot trail; about 15 minutes to beach): A little walking over a lava road and a’a rewards you with a beautiful beach many locals don’t know about. This tiny black-sand beach has good snorkeling on the south side, where there is still a pocket of white sand. This unique black and white sand beach was created after the 1859 eruption of Mauna Loa, when lava reached the north end of the beach, where the black sand is today. Further south along the beach, the recent black sand has not had time to thoroughly mix with the pre-existing white sand.

If one continues south there are numerous tide pools to explore.

Hiking north, one comes to Pueo Bay, where freshwater springs make the snorkeling interesting but weird, with large temperature and salinity gradients. If one takes the trail heading inland towards a conspicuous growth of hala trees, one comes to a pair of lovely golden pools. A golden algae gives these pools their distinctive color, but be sure not to damage the growth by walking on it. Finish the trek by hiking back across the a’a…approximately 4 miles, round trip.

Photo by Donald MacGowan

Makalawena Beach on the Big Island is the epitome of Hawaiian white sand beaches...and it's always uncrowded: Photo by Donald MacGowan

Makalawena Beach (turn off Highway 19 south of Mile 90 at Kekahakai State Park; at the end of the road, take obvious trail north over lava field; the trail traverses rough lava and keawe breaks, so shoes are required): Makalawena is the finest swimming and snorkeling beach on the island and the most beautiful beach setting. This beach sports a series of coves, refreshing shade, big sand dunes and a nice freshwater pond to rinse-off in. A great backpacking getaway, do not forget your camera; this hike will be a major highlight of your trip to the Big Island.

The land fronting the beach is owned by Bishop Estate and is slated to be turned into a development of condos and resorts; vigilance and protest on the part of locals and visitors is the only way we can keep this last, wild Kona beach wild.

Pawai Bay (in Kailua Kona, drive to the end of the Old Airport County Beach Park; hike along the ocean to the first, obvious, sandy bay): Spectacular, secluded, secret; Pawai Bay is perhaps the most interesting snorkeling spot on the island. Walk along the sea cliffs and coves about 15-20 minutes north, to the Queen Lilioukalani Children’s Camp at Pawai Bay. Remember, non-Hawaiians are restricted to travel along the tidal zone and only the edge of the shoreline…to venture even a few feet inland is trespassing.

Pawai Bay hosts a choice sandy beach with a small channel leading to open ocean and exciting snorkeling. Many charter snorkel tours bring clients here, but you can visit free. Submerged caverns, arches and caves are filled with fish and coral and pristine water. From the shore, this is not a snorkel adventure for rank beginners.

Swim through the sandy bay to the channel and out to the cliffs. Be wary of surginess and don’t go in when the surf is big. Once in the larger bay, look back toward shore where numerous small channels lead shoreward but dead-end in cliffs; your passage back is the only channel through which you can see sand at the end.

The bay itself lies on Queen Lilioukalani Trust lands. Non-native Hawai’ians are not allowed on the land or to use the facilities. State beach access laws allow you to visit as long as you stay immediately along the shoreline; the beach is patrolled 24/7.

Kealakekua Bay from the Captain Cook Monument. Simply the finest snorkeling.  Ever.  Photo by Donald MacGowan

Kealakekua Bay from the Captain Cook Monument. Simply the finest snorkeling. Ever. Photo by Donald MacGowan

Captain Cook Monument (The trail leaves the Napo’opo’o Road right at telephone pole number 4, just 500 feet below where it drops off Highway 11; parking is tight, but safe): This hike is a fine walk through tall grass, open lava fields and dryland forest, opening onto one of the most pristine ocean beaches in the world. Hiking down to the Monument is great fun—the return is hot, thirsty and strenuous but rewards with panoramic views of the coast. The 2.5-mile hike takes about an hour down, somewhat more to return. The trail runs straight down the left side of a rock wall toward the sea. As the pitch straightens out, keep to the left at the fork and proceed to the beach through the abandoned village. You strike shore several hundred feet northwest of the monument—remember to bear right at the trail junction when returning, or you face a long and unpleasant time wandering the a’a fields.

Snorkeling at the monument is wild and scenic, from shallow tidepools north of the wharf to the steep drop-off under the cliffs. There is a concrete marker in the tidal zone denoting the exact spot Cook fell somewhat north of the actual monument.

Honomalino Beach (turn off Highway 11 just south of mile marker 89, drive through Miloli’i; start hiking between the county park and a yellow church. Keep along the right at forks in the trail, in and out of the surf line, to avoid private property): A true gem of West Hawai’i and rarely crowded, Honomalino Bay is reached by a 20 minute hike from the south end of Miloli’i Beach County Park. Snorkeling is very interesting on the north side in the rocks, when the surf is low. The water, though very clear, is sometimes quite cold due to spring discharge in the sand on the beach.

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mahana Green Sand Beach at South point on the Big Island: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Mahana Green Sand Beach (Turn off Highway 11 to South Point, follow signs to Mahana Boat Launch. Park just above the boat ramp for the 2 1/4 mile hike to the Green Sand Beach): Absolutely unique to Hawai’i, beautiful and strange, are the green sand. The green sand beach at South Point is the best known, largest and most accessible of these. The sand grains here are olivine crystals, washed out of a cinder cone that has been partially breached by the sea.

When you reach the end of the trail, you are a hundred or so feet above the beach on the rim of the remnant of the crater. At the start, there is a tricky spot edging over a 3-foot ledge, but below this the trail is wide and clear One can also easily scramble down middle of the cone, but this can be slippery. Although tricky to spot on the way down, from the beach looking up the way back to the crater rim is easy to follow.

The beach lies in the interior of the cone, and the protected cove makes for a wonderful swimming/snorkeling spot but be wary of currents. Do not go out far, nor in at all in high surf or strong winds. The bizarre color of the water shrieks for color photographs, particularly underwater photographs taken while snorkeling.

For more information about visiting and touring Hawaii in general, and exploring the fabulous snorkeling on the Big Island in particular, visit http://www.tourguidehawaii.com. For information about the author, go here.

Frank’s Big Island Travel Hints: Kona Coast South of Honaunau to Ka’u

Driving south on Hwy 11 there isn’t too much to stop and see for several miles, so enjoy the panoramic views. Soon your Tour Guide will give you information about Ho’okena Beach and Milolii.

Ho’okena is a lovely gray sand beach about 5 miles off the main hwy. This is a nice beach for swimming, snorkeling and picnicking. There are some trails to hike and decent restrooms. Camping is also available by permit only. Your Tour Guide will give more information about trails to hike, camping, and where to get snorkel gear and camping permits.

Driving a few miles further, headed toward the volcano park, is the turn off for Milolii. Again about 5 miles off the main highway, Milolii is one of the last fishing villages in Hawaii. On the way down the views are spectacular, so keep your camera handy. Tour Guide will give you lots of history about this area, so make sure you listen to it on the way. If you are up for a short hike, park at the Miloli’i County Beach Park and hike the shoreline trail to beautiful, secluded, empty Honomalino Bay.

As with anywhere you travel, make sure to lock your vehicle when you leave it and don’t leave valuables in plain sight.

Tour Guide will show many other great places to explore as you continue driving south, including the famous, beautiful and wild South Point, southernmost point in the US. We’ll jump ahead at this point to the southernmost town in the United States, Na’alehu. This quaint plantation town is a throwback to when sugar cane was the main export. Na’alehu boasts being a favorite spot for Mark Twain to rest and enjoy the old Hawaii lifestyle. The Punalu’u Bakery has become famous throughout the state for their sumptuous sweet bread. These are just two great reasons to stop and take in some of the local flavor.

Driving about 10 miles further south, your Tour Guide will recommend the Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, one of the top 44 sites on the Big Island. This beach is not only famous for the jet black sand but also for the Hawaiian Green sea turtles and the Hawksbill sea turtles who reside nearby. Often you can see these magnificent creatures sunning on the black sand and, at certain times of the year, nesting and laying their eggs. All turtles in Hawaii are endangered species so touching them is forbidden and a $20,000 dollar fine is strictly enforced. Get up close for photos but please leave them alone. Tour Guide will give you some of the rich history of this area as well.

Driving south from Punalu’u Black Sand Beach, you will notice the highway begin to ascend toward the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Just after you see the Volcano Park sign, there will be a small parking lot, on the ocean side of the hwy, called the Ka’u Desert Trail Head. A one mile hike on this trail will bring you to the warrior footprints and a petroglyph field. Tour Guide gives the stories and history of this fascinating area.

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

Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The Hamakua Coast, running up the windward side of the Big Island from just north of Hilo to the north tip island at Upolu Point, is one of the most magical, enchanting and memorable parts of the Big Island. To few people take the time to really see the depth and grandeur of the Hamakua District. Once the center of the sugar industry in Hawaii, Honoka’a, and the rest of District comprised of sweeping farm land, torrid jungle canyons and thousand foot lacy waterfalls, sank into pot-plantation era torpor, alowing the decades to simply wash over it. Experiencing a resurgence of energy, population and interest, Hamakua is remaiking itself as a tourist mecca and growing community of entrepreneurs, Eco-friendly industries and boutique agricultural businesses. You owe it to yourself to discover, explore and fall in love with this unique and special part of the Hawaii’s Big Island.

Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive: Located just a few minutes north of Hilo on Highway 19, this “Old Road through Old Hawai’i”, a four-mile-half hour scenic wander, parallels Highway 11 but is removed worlds away from the traffic and hustle along the main road. Rolling along old cane fields, jungle-canopied in places, passing waterfalls and crossing creeks, the Pepe’ekeo Scenic Drive is a special treat for the visitor who may be thinking they waited a century too long to visit Hawai’i. On a sunny day, on a rainy day, it doesn’t matter; this scenic drive is a joy.

A scenic overlook of Onomea Bay, near the head of the trail, reveals the wildly scenic, untamed coastline and canyon mouth, beckons casual hikers to explore Onomea Bay.

Onomea Bay Trail: Only a few miles north of tame and sedate Hilo Bay, Onomea Bay is subject to the full fury and magic of the open Pacific Ocean. Rugged, jagged, majestic, the wickedly sculpted cliffs along the bay belie the easy 15 minute walk down to the beach. Accessible to most walkers of even marginal condition, the trail leads alongside a botanical garden (be sure not to wander through any their gates unless you are a paying customer) and falls forthrightly down to the canon mouth, past a tiny waterfall at the end of the stream and to the beach. A lovely walk and a wildly inspiration place; if you have an extra forty minutes to spare, this walk is well worth the time.

Photograph by Dr. Danald B. MacGowan

Photograph by Dr. Danald B. MacGowan

The fishing here is great but we don’t recommend swimming here due to the currents and rip-tides.

Akaka Falls: There is a reason that Akaka Falls rates as the most visited tourist site on the island of Hawai’i. Simply put, the 420 foot, free falling plunge of clear water down a fern festooned cliff is an amazing and beautiful site. Leaving the parking lot, the loop trail immediately splits. Going left through fern, ginger, impatiens and bamboo, one reaches Akaka Falls in 5-8 minutes of ambling. If you turn right, the trail loops up and down some hills, through a wonderful jungle of flowers, ferns, heliconia, palms and bamboo to 100 foot tall Kahuna Falls in about 15 minutes of walking; Akaka Falls is then reached by following the same path another 5 minutes and 5-8 minutes after that you are back at the parking lot.

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Almost every town in Hawai’i has a “Wainuenue street”. From the Hawai’ian syllables “wai” meaning “fresh water” and “nue” meaning “colorful” or “dancing”, the word “wainuenue” refers to the rainbow seen in waterfalls. If you are lucky, and approach Akaka Falls on a sunny morning when the sun shines into to grotto, you may be blessed with seeing this lovely Hawai’ian icon, the wainuenue.

When visiting Akaka Falls, be sure to save some time to explore the shops, galleries and cafes of Honomu on the way back to the highway; it’s unlike anywhere you’ve ever been before…guaranteed.

Hakalau Beach Park: Oh, wow! Most definitely the tropical paradise you dreamed about visiting, this thick, lush jungle canyon is a stunning remnant of Old Hawai’i, leading along a rushing stream to a narrow canyon festooned with tropical blossoms, vines and palms to a sandy beach where the surf is nothing short of amazing.

Although locals surf and swim unconcernedly here, the visitor is advised to admire the water, but not go in. Not only are the waves, currents and tides lethally treacherous here, but stream mouths and murky water are prime hunting grounds of Hawai’i’s own tiger, Mano, the shark.

There are no services at Hakalau Beach.

Photograph by Donald B. MacGowan

Photograph by Donald B. MacGowan

Kolekole Beach Park: The river you saw magnificently leaping with such glorious abandon off the cliff at Akaka Falls ends its journey to the sea by sluicing down through this Koa-tree filled canyon and smashing into the surf at Kolekole Beach Park. Lawns, picnic facilities, a wild beach, a jungle canyon and a water-fall festooned swimming hole round-out the amenities at Kolekole Park.

This is another beach where the visitor is admonished to swim only when the surf is flat and even then with great caution.

Laupahoehoe Train Museum: Back in the day, built around the turn of the century, various train lines nearly circumnavigated the Big Island, carrying raw cane to refineries and sacks of sugar to quaysides dotted here and there around the island. The coming of a large military presence during the Second World War was marked by an era of road building which more or less obviated the need for the trains. Tracks and trestles were cannibalized for wood and metal in the war effort and slowly the Big Island train industry was groaning to an ignoble halt when the tidal wave of 1946 destroyed much of the remaining track; today the carcass of Big Island railroading is all but pillaged into oblivion.

Here at Laupahoehoe, preserved alongside the one-time loading platform, is the Laupahoehoe Train Museum, stuffed full of interesting artifacts and photos and staffed with enthusiastic, well-informed, fun— and did we mention enthusiastic?—docents. Look for “Old Rusty” outside the museum—a restored engine and caboose.

Laupahoehoe Train Museum and its associated gift shop, featuring many handcrafted gift items made by local artisans, are open daily, from 9 am to 4:30 pm on weekdays, and from 10 am to 2 pm on weekends. Public restrooms are available. Admission is $3.00 per adult and $2.00 for students and seniors.

Laupahoehoe Park: A place of great beauty, of awesome displays of oceanic power and of tragic memories, Laupahoehoe Park stands where 20 children and teachers at the Laupahoehoe School were killed in the tsunami of 1946. Inside the park on a small hill overlooking the jetty is a memorial stone inscribed with the names of those who died in the tsunami. There are restrooms, campgrounds, picnic facilities, pit barbecues and ball fields.

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

The pounding of the raw ocean on the jetty reminds one that not every beach in Hawaii is made for swimming, however the fishing here is excellent.

Kalopa Native Forest State Park and Recreation Area: A small park with numerous hiking trails, Kalopa showcases the upland, tropical forest of the northeastern part of Hawai’i Island. Amenities include picnic tables, tent camping and small, if somewhat ragged, cabins for rent, a wonderful forest ambiance and absolute silence. This a great place to escape the rattle and hum of East Hawai’i.

Honoka’a Town: Built in the era of great plantations and left culturally and economically isolated after the collapse of the sugar industry, until recently Honoka’a and the Hamakua Coast were content to drowse along through the decades. A boom in real estate and a return of vital human energy to the area has made a literal renaissance of the town of Honoka’a. A bustling hub, it boasts numerous wonderful restaurants, gift and boutique shops and the highest density of antique shops on the island. Be sure to stop to explore a little, have a meal or do some shopping in scenic Honoka’a on your way to or from Waipi’o Valley…it’s a fun, happening kind of place. Just remember, it’s a “happening kind of place” in the Hawai’ian sense—which means a little laid back, and always steeped with aloha.

Waipi’o Valley: Waipi’o Valley is arguably the most magical place on the Big Island. The steep canyon walls and verdant fields of the valley floor, the mile long black sand beach and numerous immense waterfalls that line the valley walls all call out to the visitor for exploration.

Always listed among the most beautiful spots in the State of Hawai’i, this valley is as hauntingly lovely as it is difficult to see in its entirety.

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Although the mile-long black sand beach is gorgeous, the forest and jungle canyon floor and walls amazing and the numerous, high-flying waterfalls compelling, it’s a long and steep hike down in, and an equally long, but much more arduous, hike out. The road is windy and dangerous to drive…we don’t recommend it.

Tours down into the valley in vans, on horse drawn wagons and ATVs can be booked in Honoka’a. Over-flights in fixed wing aircraft and helicopters also offer fine venues from which to see this amazing piece of Hawai’i.

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general or touring the Big Island in particular, visit http://tourguidehawaii.com, www.lovingthebigisland.wordpress.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

About the Author: Popular television personality and award-winning independent filmmaker Dr. Donald B. MacGowan originally pursued a career in academics, earning two B.Sc. degrees, a dual M.Sc., and a PhD.; co-authoring over 5.2 million dollars in grants, and publishing more than 200 refereed journal articles, abstracts, etc. Gaining sanity somewhere in that process, he quit the academic rat race and began to live. Donnie is an accomplished, prolific alpinist, having climbed on 5 of the seven continents, putting up more than 150 first ascents on rock, ice and snow, and a dozen first ski descents. He has written, directed and produced short and feature length films on health, travel, mountaineering and life in a touring rock band. Donnie records and tours relentlessly with his Celtic Punk fusion band “Fatal Loins”–although nobody much seems to care for their music. A Hawaii resident since 2000, he quietly and humbly inhabits Kailua Kona, doing environmental good works, surfing the be-jeezis out of the local waves and frenetically producing somewhat bizarre and mildly disturbing programs for local television which have recently been lauded as: “Ignorant”, “Arrogant” and “Totally Insane”. You may say what you wish about him, Donnie does not care. For somewhere underneath those swaying palm trees, in those warm aloha breezes, he is far too busy praying for good surf to hear you…

Deeper into mysterious Puna!

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.

Drive just a few miles further and you come to what used to be the town of Kalapana. Kalapana and Royal Gardens were destroyed in the lava flows during the late1980’s.

What remain are a few homes and businesses where the road now ends. From here one can see the plume of smoke coming from the vent upslope. Sometimes the lava reaches the ocean about 2 miles from this spot.

A short five minute hike will bring you to Kaimu Beach, the newest black sand beach on the island. Tour Guide will give you the rich history of the ancient fishing villages that were here and the touching stories about the palms at Kaimu Beach.

Heading back from Kalapana, you will want to take Highway 130 toward Pahoa. This is your best chance of watching Kilauea erupt. Just a few hundred yards north of Kalapana, is the old turn off to Royal Gardens. This is now the official County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Site. Drive as far as the attendants will allow you, park and walk into where you can safely view the lava flowing into the ocean. Daily updates on the volcano and conditions at site are available at the Hawaii County Lava Viewing Desk, phone number 808.961.8093; more information is here and here.

Farther along the highway to Pahoa, you will see a “scenic turnout” where you can view the Puna Geothermal Vents. Here a company has tapped the natural steam to create electricity from these fumaroles. Tour Guide will show you how, with a short hike off the road, and you can sit in one of these natural sauna vents for some real relaxation.

Now you’re ready to head back to Kona. Take Highway 130 to Highway 11 and go south. 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. Find your hotel in your Tour Guide and get turn-by-turn directions right to the door.


Mauna Ulu, or growing mountain is a tall, sloping, shield-shaped hill formed by numerous eruptions along the rift between 1969 and 1974; Mauna Ulu is best seen by walking a few yards past the road beyond the parking lot to where the end of road is covered in fresh lava flows. At Mauna Ulu, visitors can get an intimate look at both pahoehoe and aa lava flow types. Pahoehoe, the less viscous and generally hotter liquid flow, moves fluidly like a river or glacier, the surface folding and molding, like poured taffy, into a ropy structure. Pahoehoe forms generally flat, fairly smooth, hard surfaces. Aa, on the other hand, is much cooler and has exolved much of its dissolved gas, so it is much more viscous, causing the upper surface to fracture into clinker-like boulders and fragments. Flowing aa sounds and looks like a moving pile of hot glass shards; when it cools, it leaves behind rubbly piles of sharp fragments. Fields of pahoehoe and aa make a landscape that look as if Madame Pele has bulldozed her land to flat surfaces, but left these acres of boulder piles here and there.

Pu’u Huluhulu (shaggy hill) is a 150 foot tall cinder cone formed in pre-contact times between Mauna Ulu and Pauahi Crater. There is a fascinating 3 mile round trip hike from the Mauna Ulu parking lot to the top of Pu’u Huluhulu that is marked by cairns (or ahu). From the vantage point of Pu’u Huluhulu’s summit, one can see Pu’u O’o (hill of the bird) about 5 miles away. From Pu’u Huluhulu are fine views of Mauna Loa, Kilauea, Mauna Kea, the coastline and Pu’u O’o. Pu’u O’o is a spatter cone built by the fire-fountains erupting along Kilauea’s rift zone between 1983 and 1986. Since 1986, the center of eruption has moved about 2 miles further down the rift to a vent called Kupaianaha, or mysterious in Hawaiian. The round trip hike from Mauna Ulu Parking lot to Pu’u Huluhulu and return takes about an hour and a half to two hours.

The hike to the summit of Mauna Ulu is a long, dry, serious hike with some dangers and should only be undertaken by those in good physical condition and experienced at hiking cross-country across broken and hazardous ground.

Written and produced by Donnie MacGowan; videography by Frank Burgess and Donald MacGowan; narrated by Frank Burgess; original musical score written and performed by Donnie MacGowan.

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


The pullout at Halona Kahakai is at very near the crest of the Holei Pali fault escarpment. In Hawaiian, “Pali” means cliff. The viscosity of flowing oceanic tholeiite basalt, the lava that built Kilauea, is such that when it cools, rarely do slopes exceed a 6% grade. Any landform that is much steeper, such as the Holei Pali as seen from Halona Kahakai and the Hilina Pali directly north, generally has to have formed by faulting or erosion. In this case, Holei Pali results from what are called “normal faults”. All of the lava plain spread before you down below the pali has simply broken off the main slope and dropped. There is an amazing amount of throw on these faults, in places, as much as 1400 feet. Although appearing “volcano tough” to the casual observer, the Islands of Hawaii are terribly, terribly fragile constructions and, geologically speaking, don’t last very long.

Stop and take a moment to look down the pali. Generally, the explosion cloud from where the lava is entering the ocean is visible south east from here. Look at the intertwining lava flows marching across the plain below you and imagine what it must have been like to be here, only a few decades ago, when the lava was coursing down this cliff and through the now largely-destroyed Naulu Forest.

Written, filmed and produced by Donnie MacGowan and Frank Burgess, original musical score by Donald B. MacGowan.

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

(editor’s note: The correct pronunciation of this place is “mau LOH uh oh MAH NAH OOH looh”, contrary to the narrator’s pronunciation).

At Mau Loa O Mauna Ulu, flows from Mauna Ulu have crossed and re-crossed the roadway, causing it to need rebuilding a number of times. Notice the shiny glaze of the fresh lava surface, seeming impervious to the forces of nature. Yet nearby, in cracks where seeds lodge and water collects, ferns and lichens have begun to colonize these flows, some as recent as 1974.

After ferns and lichens, ohia and other woody plants come. Here at the Park, one can see the immense role water plays in the revegetation of the volcanic landscape. At Mau Loa O Mauna Ulu, where it is relatively dry, revegetation is slow and may take half a millennium or more to cover a lava flow. Higher up, along Crater Rim Drive, you observe flows as young as a hundred years completely reclaimed by the voracious rain forest where water is abundant.

Between 1969 and 1974 Mauna Ulu erupted almost 760 billion pounds of lava, covering an area of almost 17 square miles in an average depth of 25 feet.

Written and produced by Donnie MacGowan; videography by Frank Burgess and Donnie MacGowan. Narrated by Frank Burgess; original musical score written and performed by Donnie MacGowan.

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


Sulfur Banks, on the crater side of the road, is just one of hundreds of gas seep on the flanks of the summit crater spewing hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and steam. Hematite, native sulfur and gypsum minerals precipitate out of the gas flux streaming through the rocks, making colorful splashes on the outcrops. Children and people with heat or respiratory conditions, or anybody with a weak stomach should be wary of venturing down the road to see this.

Non-sulfurous steam vents, mostly across the road from the crater and at the aptly named Steaming Bluff, result from rainwater percolating down through the ground being boiled by the hot rock beneath and streaming up vents to the surface. There is a short walk to the Steaming Bluff from the Sulfur Banks parking area which comes to a breathtaking view of the crater and more productive steam vents.

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