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By Donnie MacGowan

Lava from Kilauea Volcano flows into the ocean at one of three ocean entries along the Puna Coastline near the former village of Kalapana: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lava from Kilauea Volcano flows into the ocean at one of three ocean entries along the Puna Coastline near the former village of Kalapana: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Lava continues to to gush unabated from Kilauea Volcano on the big Island of Hawaii through the former village of Kalapana into the Pacific Ocean, yielding one of the volcano’s best spectacles of the last ten years.  That’s the good news.

This is about all you can see from the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area, August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

This is about all you can see from the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area, August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The bad news is you cannot see any of it from the County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Area.  This is not the County’s fault; the entire area is not only private property, but also highly unstable and ferociously dangerous.

For obvious reasons, trespassing on private property is not an option, here.  Further, Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi has promised the residents whose homes are in danger of being engulfed that he will not turn their personal tragedy into a public spectacle by opening up the area to casual tourism.

My PhD is in geology and I have spent years wandering the lava flows here and on other volcanoes around the world; I find that I really cannot recommend that folks casually stroll about this area without a basic understanding of some of the hazards. The extreme danger results from several factors. The active lava flow, especially in the vicinity of the County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Area where it is most accessible, is currently surrounded by an enormous area (perhaps 20 or more square miles) of what is called “dim lava”.  This is lava that, mostly still liquid and incredibly hot, has more or less “ponded”, or virtually stopped moving, and has developed about a foot or so crust on top of the still liquid lava.  As such it appears deceptively safe to walk on but actually it is exceptionally dangerous to cross.  Nobody would be foolish enough to walk on lava that is obviously still liquid, but many are tempted to cross the solid-appearing dim lava.  This is extremely, shall we say, stupid; dim lava is highly unstable, subject to rapid changes bringing great masses of liquid rock to the surface and is very, very dangerous.  During daylight hours it is difficult to tell the dim lava from flows that have been solid and cold for years, but one misstep can take you through a thin spot in the crust and into 2000 degree liquid.  The glow from the liquid rock can frequently be seen through cracks in the surface at night, giving you warning that you are on extremely dangerous ground.  Although at times people seem to navigate dim lava safely, it would not be wise for me to advise anyone to venture out onto it.

Dim lava in the light of camera flash: note that you can see no glow at all, erroneously leading you to suspect that, although it's warm, these rocks are safe to walk on: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

Dim lava in the light of camera flash: note that you can see no glow at all, erroneously leading you to suspect that, although it's warm, these rocks are safe to walk on: Photo by Donald B. MacGowan

The same dim lava in the dark: note the glow indicating the presence of dangerous, liquid lava mere inches below the ground surface: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The same dim lava in the dark: note the glow indicating the presence of dangerous, liquid lava mere inches below the ground surface: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Additionally, lava is much more viscous than water and flows a bit differently…sometimes, not all the liquid lava is below you.  When scouring a route past the dim lava last week, we were wandering between two lava “hillocks” on long-cooled rock, when we noticed that, ten feet above our heads, was the tell-tale glow of dim lava that had infiltrated the hillocks and could, at any moment, break out and spread over the ground we were walking on.  A very, very dangerous situation and one we immediately remedied by beating a hasty, safe retreat.  No one wins an argument with flowing lava.

A forest fire burns hungrily where the lava stream is burning through the thick jungle kipuka: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A forest fire burns hungrily where the lava stream is burning through the thick jungle kipuka: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The second prevalent hazard are the forest fires burning where the lava flows through jungle, especially surrounding the lava ocean entries, the most spectacular part of the flow and the place most people are trying to get to.  The danger from the fires is obvious, but what is not obvious is the fact that methane gas, extremely explosive, accumulates ahead of the flow under the ground surface in forested areas.  Every so often (and without warning), there will be a large methane explosion (in and of itself highly dangerous) that can blow enormous chunks of fiery-red hot liquid lava and solid rock thousands of feet.

Littoral Explosion at Waikupanaha, County of Hawaii Lava Viewing Area, October, 2009: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Another hazard is the littoral explosions.  Littoral explosions occur when hot, liquid lava meets the cold ocean water, mostly where lava tubes empty under the ocean.  Littoral explosions can hurl hot solid and molten liquid material hundreds of meters and are best given about half kilometer leeway. These hazardous explosions were once common at the Waikupanaha Lava Viewing Area, but there are currently no explosions occurring in the Kalapana Lava Viewing Area.  Just because littoral explosions are not occurring today, however, does not mean they could not start again instantly.

Plume and Waterspout at Waikupanaha Ocean Entry, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Plume and Waterspout at Waikupanaha Ocean Entry, Puna Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Finally, although not common, it is worth bearing in mind that the extremes of temperature of the mixing air, rock and water, the amount of particulate matter and vapor injected into the atmosphere and other weirdly perturbed variables around the ocean entries can cause bizarre weather phenomena, such as waterspouts and highly localized lightning.

Your best bet is to heed the advice of the County of Hawaii Public Safety professionals: do not cross private property, stay off of the dim lava and stay away from where the lava streams cut through burning jungle.  You put your life, and those of any foolish enough to assist you when you get in trouble, at extreme risk.

A large lava stream flows over a falls, Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

A large lava stream flows over a falls, Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

So…is it possible to see the lava flow without paying a boat captain or pilot to take you safely to the shores’ edge?  In a word, yes.  One can hike along the shoreline from the end of the road at Kalapana (by the new Kaimu Beach), but is is extremely difficult and very, very dangerous. A complete discussion of hiking to see the lava can be found here and here. The route follows the coast on razor sharp basalt, rough, broken and unforgiving, and there is no trail.  The way is at least 5 miles long in each direction of hard, hard hiking and includes about a mile of rank bush-whacking through very, very dense jungle that is not only easy to get lost in, but is on fire in some places.

Lava flows in the rain, Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Lava flows in the rain, Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

It is frequently quite rainy and, since the best viewing is at dawn or dusk, you are likely thinking about going at least one way in the dark.  Traveling this risky route in the dark and/or rain greatly magnifies the dangers.  Much of the way is jammed in a couple feet between a 60 foot cliff with unforgiving open ocean underneath and the dense jungle pressing you on the other side.  When it is dark or misty or raining, or when you are tired or not paying close enough attention, this is very hazardous.

A Lava Ribbon Flows Into the Ocean, Near Kalapana, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Lava Ribbon Flows Into the Ocean, Near Kalapana, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hard and dangerous.

Honestly, I do not recommend you go at all.  Night after night of hiking in to see the lava, of all the people who set off from Kalapana around when we did, and the many, many we met returning, most turned around after only 3 or so miles of hard hiking over the lava.  Some turned around when they got hemmed in by the dim lava, not knowing to cut through the jungle to the shore; more got lost and wandered for hours in the jungle before turning around.  Many had been told by local residents that the walk was “only 20 minutes or so” and so set off in sandals, or with children, without water or rain gear. Be aware, the hike is, at minimum, two difficult hours in duration each way (due to the difficulty of the terrain), there is no marked trail or path and the rock is like razors if you slip on it.

Lava stream about to enter the ocean, Kalapana Hawaii, August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Lava stream about to enter the ocean, Kalapana Hawaii, August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Do not even attempt to hike along the shore to the flows unless you are in extremely good physical shape, confident of both your route-finding and cross country hiking abilities, you are equipped for rain, cuts and bruises, have plenty of water to drink and food.

Strange things seen at the lava flow...Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

Strange things seen at the lava flow...Kalapana Hawaii August 2010: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track. Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.
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.


All media copyright 2010 by Donald B. MacGowan. All rights reserved.
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by Donald B. MacGowan

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Welcome to Honoka'a: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track.  Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

There are lots of intersting stores in Downtown Honoka'a, Hamakua Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hononka'a has an fascinating downtown shopping area, Hamakua Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A bustling hub, it boasts numerous wonderful restaurants, gift and boutique shops and the highest density of antique shops on the island. Honoka’a, located between Hilo and Waimea on Highway 19, is also the gateway both to the Kalopa State Recreation Area and Waipi’o Valley.  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, just outside Honoka'a Town on the Hamakua Coast Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Waipi'o Valley, just outside Honoka'a Town on the Hamakua Coast Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Driving out of Honoka’a, remnants of old sugar mills, fields and feral cane can still be seen. When Captain Cook came to the Islands in 1778, only wild sugar cane was growing. In 1834 the first successful sugar plantation company marked the beginning of Hawaii’s love affair with raising sugar. Sugar production provided the Hawaiian Islands with an economic foundation, allowing a cosmopolitan society to flourish.

Waipi'o Valley, just outside Honoka'a Town on the Hamakua Coast Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hamakua sugar cane gwoing wild just outside Honoka'a, Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

At the time of Statehood, one out of every twelve people employed in Hawaii was in the sugar industry, the agricultural workers were the highest paid in the world. However, unable to compete in the global sugar market, the Hawaiian sugar industry declined in the 1980s and the last plantation closed at Pahala in 1992.

Waipi'o Valley, just outside Honoka'a Town on the Hamakua Coast Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Downtown Honoka'a, Hamakua Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Though the business is gone, what is left are the people who once worked the fields and mills. The melding of the rich cultures of Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Portuguese, and others is what gives today’s unique Hawaii lifestyle its flavor.

Waipi'o Valley, just outside Honoka'a Town on the Hamakua Coast Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Honoka'a's characterisitic Western-style false-front storefronts in the downtown shopping area, Hamakua Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Visitors will notice the distinctly “Western” tone in the architecture of many of the buildings in Honoka’a, the Western style of dress of many residents and the ubiquitous cowboy hats. Although ranching and rodeo may seem a bit of a mixed metaphor when thinking about Hawaii, the cattle business in Hawaii is older than anywhere in the other Western United States and is an integral part of the history, and the rebirth of Honoka’a.

Waipi'o Valley, just outside Honoka'a Town on the Hamakua Coast Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

A Jackson's Chameleon explores downtown Honoka'a: Photo by Donnie MacaGowan

More about the sugar and ranching industries in Hawaii can be found here and here.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

At the Mouth of Waipi'o Valley, just outside Honoka'a Town on the Hamakua Coast, Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Everett Maynard explores Honoka'a, Hamakua Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand. Interactive maps, GPS and WiFi enabled, dozens of videos…available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

There are also numerous, fun shops with a more touristy feel in Honoka'a as well, Hamakua Coast Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

by Donald B. MacGowan

At Ho'okena Beach, Kona Hawaii: Graphic from Photo by Donnie MacGowan

There are many wondrous, enigmatic and fascinating attractions on the Big Island of Hawaii, some better known than others, many out of the way and generally off the beaten track.  Tour Guide Hawaii has produced an encyclopedic collection of the most up-to-date information, presented as short GPS-cued videos, in an app downloadable to iPhone and iPod Touch that covers the entire Big Island, highlighting the popular and the uncrowded, the famous and the secluded, the adventurous and the relaxing.

Ho’okena Beach County Park at Kauhako Bay

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Looking south at Ho'okena Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Brilliant snorkeling, decent boogie boarding, passable shell collecting and wonderful camping—it’s a wonder Ho’okena Beach is not more popular with visitors. Nestled alongside the ruins of Ho’okena Village at Kauhako Bay, this beach is a wonderful place to spend a morning or a weekend.

To reach Ho’okena Beach Park, take the turnoff between mile markers 101 and 102 just south of the town of Ho’okena. The narrow road drops steeply to the beach affording magnificent views of the Kona Coast, especially at sunset. Once you reach the bottom stay left through the minuscule village to the beach park, hemmed between lush tropical vegetation and soft warm sands, under majestic cliffs and swaying palm trees—truly a vision of paradise.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Patient parent at Ho'okena Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donald B MacGowan

The once-thriving Ho’okena Village, which in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the main rival to Kailua Kona for steamer traffic, was a major transshipment point for beef, sugar and mail, and once was host to author Robert Louis Stevenson. Ho’okena’s glory is now all but forgotten, a victim of ravaging of tsunamis, storms, earthquakes and the quiet passing of time. Today, the small cluster of dwellings at the beach, the stumpy remnant footings of Kupa Wharf and the ruins the village are all that remain.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Ho'okena boogie boarding and Big Smiles, Ho'okena Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Frequented by dolphin, stuffed full of pelagic and reef fish and turtles and boasting crystal clear, warm and calm waters, Ho’okena is a must-see beach and reef complex for avid snorkelers and divers as well as sea kayakers. During the winter months, female Humpback whales and their babies frequent the waters off this bay.

Folks generally snorkel in two main areas at Ho’okena. The first is easy and obvious to find; simply follow the tongue of sand, straight out from the left-hand side of the beach. This provides the easiest entry and safest snorkeling; lots of fascinating underwater topography, beautiful coral heads and abundant colorful fish are seen here and north towards the old pier in fairly shallow water. The underwater visibility in this spot can be less than ideal (although still great), but water clarity improves if you move south to the second area, to the far left of the beach.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Discovery! Ho'okena Beach, Kona Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

To go there, enter the bay as above, but swim out south (left) of the beach past the rocky finger jutting out in to the water; here you will find some tremendously colorful and intensely beautiful little reefs. A small patch of coral to be sure, but the vivid colors are some of the most stunning you will see in shallow water. The gradient to the beach is steep and the bottom drops once you enter the water; snorkelers should be aware that they will find themselves in deep water rather quickly. Be wary when swimming very far out from shore, there are strong currents out in Kauhako Bay; do not go in if the surf is high…remember there is no lifeguard.

There is no shortage of exploration to do onshore, either. The many trails leading back from the beach lead to copses of tropical trees, abandoned Hawai’ian villages, strange, twisted lava forms and springs. Eventually most trails lead south to a few small, sandy beaches where ocean current conditions make shell collecting possible. In about a mile, you reach Kalahiki Beach, across Limukoko Point, a place of quiet spirituality and incredible beauty, though poor snorkeling.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Yoga on the beach, Ho'okena Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

You can also get here by hiking about 400 yards back above the beach along the road you drove in on, then south about a mile over the hills and through cow fields, down a little cliff and to Kalahiki Beach—it is very much worthwhile.

Bushwhacking inland through dense foliage brings one quickly to the ruins of Kalahiki Village and the famous, four-tiered heiau. Remember that these places are sacred to the Hawai’ians; if you go, go with respect for the Hawai’ians and malama aina in your heart. Do not litter, don’t disturb stone walls and platforms, do not take anything you didn’t bring with you, and take out everything you did bring in, when you leave.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Ho'okena Beach on a semi-cloudy day is still a hazard for sunburn, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Hiking north from the beach park along the lava bench, through small pockets of sand, you will pass the ruins of an old Catholic church. Abandoned after sustaining heavy damage in the late 1800s, it was reestablished up mauka between Honaunau and Captain Cook; you may know it as the “Painted Church”.   More ruins of Old Ho’okena Village lie overgrown in the jungle. After the church comes Kealia Beach, where, due to the cliffs, swimming is difficult but the snorkeling and near-shore scuba diving are excellent. Kealia Beach is also reachable by public road.

Hookena Beach on a semi-cloudy day is still a hazard for sunburn, Kona Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan.jpg

Camping on Ho'okena Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

Although a County Park, camping at Ho’okena is handled through a private/public partnership with KUPA Ho’okena; reservations for camping can be made online (http://hookena.org/camping.html) or over the phone (808.328-7321). Same day reservations may be available on a first-come/first served basis, but advanced reservations are highly recommended—camping here is becoming ever more popular. Although there has been conflict in the past (sometimes quite violent) between locals and visitors, the park has become much safer since administration was taken over by KUPA Ho’okena. KUPA Ho’okena also rents, on-site, camping gear, masks/fins/snorkels and kayaks and has a snack stand.

Wonderful beach camping, new showers and restrooms, picnic tables and abundant fresh water make this county park a gem worth seeking out.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Outrigger fishing canoes rest at Ho'okena Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Looking for waves, Ho'okena Beach, Kona Hawaii: Photo by Donnie MacGowan

For independent reviews of our product, written by some of our legions of satisfied customers, please check this out.

New at iTunes: Hawaii Dream Vacation iPhone/iPod Touch App Puts the Magic of Hawaii in the Palm of Your Hand, available at iTunes or www.tourguidehawaii.com.

Hard at Play, Ho'okena Beach, Kona Hawaii Photo by Donnie MacGowan

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