Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kitties and Mongoose and Saffron Finches, Oh My!

22 October 2016

We're in Hawaii! On the BIG island, also known as the Big Island, the one named Hawaii. And these are the phone booths at the Kona airport - how gorgeous! Gotta love basic things like phone booths with a Hawaiian flair!

We got tired of the cold and wet in Bellingham. The Pacific NW is beautiful in autumn, with wonderful red orange yellow gold trees standing out brightly in front of the somber green evergreens. The sun shines golden and the lighting softens. Wisps and tufts of fog linger among the trees, clouds refusing to leave the earth.

And then the rains begin. We were slammed with an early storm of heavy rain and high winds. A worse storm was predicted for two days hence. Flights were being cancelled, it was recommended people stay home, and we saw young trees uprooted by the wind.

So we headed to warmer climes. Hawaii. Closer than the Caribbean, and a place we've never been. Plus I found a package deal that included airfare and our hotel. Why not?

We're on the Kona coast, the western coast of the Big Island, on Keauhou Bay. (That's pronounced key-AH-hoo.) We're slowly adjusting to the Hawaiian names of streets as well as towns, mountains, volcanoes, and such. Slowly relaxing as the sunshine warms our chilled bones. And equally slowly exploring our little corner of this big island, which is some 4,000 square miles. (That's four times bigger than Rhode Island, or 25% larger than all of Puerto Rico. A REALLY big island!)

Hawaii is the only US state that once was a kingdom with its own monarchy.  The royalty who ruled over the unified archipelago of Hawaii originated in the Kona region of the big island; prior to that, each island had its own hierarchy of chiefs.  In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed an official apology for the overthrow of the original Hawaiian monarchy.

Roads are named for many of the Hawaiian royals, such as King Kamehameha, or Queen Ka'ahumana.  Not so easy for us visitors, but we're learning our way around.

Our hotel has a collection of stray cats, including a family of four adorable kittens who hang out right below our lanai. We talk to them, they stop and watch us - but when we walk around to that area, they all run away. The strays are a problem across the state, and many hotels, including ours, has a feeding station where they put out food and water on a regular schedule. Part of the purpose of the schedule is that it makes it easier to trap the cats so they can be neutered when they're old enough, then released back on the grounds. The cats also get yearly checkups. (They must have a brave veterinarian - these cats won't let us get anywhere near them!)

Many of the cats seem to live in the complex above-ground roots of some kind of palm tree. We've seen the kittens climbing up and then disappearing into this crazy maze. But then, mongoose come running out periodically. We're not sure if there's a large hollow space in the center, where the mongoose and cats camp out in separate areas, or if they all live amongst the branching roots in self-enclosed apartments. We haven't seen any cat and mongoose fights - which is good because while the cats are bigger, well, mongoose are really feisty animals!

The mongoose are also somewhat friendly, stopping to look up at us when we talk to them, but running away if we get to close. As in the Caribbean, mongoose were brought to the islands to kills the rats which were eating the sugar cane crops. However, rats are nocturnal and mongoose are diurnal (awake in the day), so that didn't work. I suspect the stray cats do a much better job of keeping down the rat population. 

There are also all kinds of unique birds, or at least birds we haven't seen before. One of the prettiest is the saffron finch, which is mostly bright sunny yellow with almost an orange spot on the head. Wings and tail are yellow with darker splotches, but the rest of the bird is almost a fluorescent yellow, they're so vivid!

We also see yellow-billed cardinals, which are black and white birds with bright red heads. And, obviously, a yellow bill. I was surprised to find out that these are cardinals, since I'm so used to the all-red cardinals of North America. They look sort of like zebra birds wearing a red hood!

The flowers are wonderful - multiple colors of bougainvillea bushes, tropical lilies, and all kinds of hibiscus. The grounds at our hotel are really beautiful, with the flowers and palm trees planted in and around outcroppings of igneous rock. The rocks have swirls and whirls where the lava flowed and slowly cooled into solid rock, making crazy van Gogh-like patterns in the rock. 

The island seems to have two really tall volcanoes, Mauna Loa at 13,679 ft above sea level (about 4210 meters), and Mauna Kea at 13,796 ft (4244 m). They both had snow this week!!!! That seems so amazing to me, since we're by the coast where it hovers between 80-90 degrees F (25-30 C). Altitude, right?

We were told today that Mauna Loa takes up about 51% of the island, and that our hotel in the Keauhou Bay area is, technically, on the volcano. The coastal outskirts of the volcano, but still, on the volcano. 

This is also the island with the Kilauea Crater, the super active volcanic lake that often is steaming and bubbling with molten lava. (I think that's pronounced kill-ah-WHEY-ah - but it takes me hearing and repeating it a few times to get it right.) If one is lucky, there's the occasional (or frequent) geyser or plume of lava, spewing some 50 or more feet into the air!!!

Pele is the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes. It is said that she lives in the Kilauea Crater, since that has been the most active volcano here for at least a generation or two. Kilauea is considered a separate volcano from Mauna Loa, although it's really like of a small bump on the side of Mauna Loa. On the map, it looks like Kilauea is more like Mauna Loa's baby, riding on her back.

Kilauea is part of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. There are a few areas south of the crater that have opened up and are "leaking" lava, with new lava flows heading out to sea and actually dripping slowly into the water. Definitely on our itinerary, and of course with the hat!

Not that we've seen any of the volcanoes, they seem to hide in the clouds most of the time.  But lava, we see lava everywhere!  Not live lava though.  Much of the island is covered with lava flows from ancient eruptions, though there have also been more recent eruptions and lava flows. The coastline seems to be mostly black volcanic rock, with little pockets of sandy beaches - perhaps where the lava didn't reach, or maybe the sand washed up into little flat areas. But there are also dramatic cliffs of the igneous rock jutting out into the Pacific.

We rented a car and have driven around a bit. There's one region where there are caves in the lava flow, and information signs about these caves. The plant life is quite grown, hiding the caves, so we haven't walked down to try finding the caves. And there didn't seem to be a trail.

But here's the info about the caves:

"The Ohi'a Cave Historic Preserve

“About 300 years ago, the island of Hawai’i had rival chiefs who led canoe armadas and warrior armies in ebbing and rising tides of fierce battle for control of the island. 

“Hawaiian tradition recounts how the young, the old, and the weak took refuge in caves called ana pe’e kaua, the caves in which to hide from wars. In Kahalu’u, the Ohi’a Cave was one of these. Inside the Cave, entrances were fortified by stones walls, to narrow passageways and make the access difficult and dangerous for intruders. Natural skylights cast light on terraces and platforms where refugees carried on an improvised routine of daily life. 

“The remains of hearths for warmth and light and the debris of ancient meals are all that now show where Hawaiians awaited the outcome of battles that waged on the lava flow above. 

“The Ohi’a Cave was a place for the living, a refuge from the hot Kona sun on the black a-a. It was also a refuge for the dead. Called na wahi hunakele, the places for secreting the bones of the dead, places like Ohi’a Cave were formed by the creative elements of nature and used by Hawaiians to harbor the spirits of their ancestors. They provided a continuity between life and afterlife. Burials throughout the Cave show that this practice continued from prehistoric times well into the 19th century. 

“The rule of kings might change, but the burial rights of families survived on their lands. With this right is connected an inherent love of the land of one’s birth, so that men do not willingly wander from place to place but remain on the land of their ancestors.
     - S. M. Kamakau, Hawaiian Historian, 1869 

“The Ohi'a Cave is a network of lava tubes, joined to the surface by only a few small openings, many that are hardly large enough for a single person to squeeze through. The Cave lies beneath the rugged a-a lava and its openings are hidden by stands of koa haole trees. It runs for almost a mile from near the ocean up into the hills above this spot. Its tunnels and chambers are varied, with some so low that only crawling on your belly would let you pass into other chambers that rise 20 feet high. Within the darkness of this Cave, the Hawaiians of long ago took shelter during times of war and buried their dead in times of peace. 

“The Ohi’a Cave is in the ahupua’a called Kahalu’u. This land stretches from the rocky shoreline up the steep forested slopes of Hualalai volcano. The main village clustered around Kahalu’u Bay, where tradition says ali’I nui, high chiefs, held court since the late 1600s. This was a royal center of temples and chiefly residences. 

“The Cave lies beneath the 700 year old Waha Pele lava flow that marks the boundary between Kahalu’u and neighboring Keauhou. Across this rough a-a flow, Hawaiians built steppingstone trails to ease the difficult traverse. Many of these trails lead to entrances to the Ohi’a Cave, one of the many important places of Kahalu’u. 

“Ohi’a is only one of many traditional names for this Cave. Other names include Noni and Kanupa. The different names my refer to different entrances to the Cave. 

“The Ohi’a Cave Historic Preserve is a legacy of our Hawaiian past. Out of respect for the sensitive burial and habitation remains, cave entrances are closed to visual inspection. Please respect the sacredness of this ‘aina.” 

So we have a lot to do, places to see and things to do.  Visiting the volcanoes and the lava pond.  Some swimming, snorkeling, maybe a little scuba diving.  A boat trip, a drive around the volcano rim, or across the old lava desert.  A visit to a coffee farm, or a chocolate farm, or maybe a pineapple field.  And of course trying various foods like Kona coffee ice cream, Kona chocolate, and local macadamia nuts.  

The scenery and climate is similar to the Virgin Islands.  The culture is totally unique, being part of the Polynesian culture.  We're having fun learning about this and of course participating in as much as we can.

Yeah, we like Hawaii already!

And as always, a few extra large photos.


  1. Have you been to the crater yet? It is amazing! I foolishly did not go and stay over at the lodge which I will do next time because after dark is when you can see the colors of the flames!There's a beautiful rain forest there and a lava tube you can walk through.The island has the highest energy level in the world, and healers from all over the world go to the Big Island to rejuvenate. When I was at the Place of Refuge (which you must visit if you haven't yet) I sat at the water's edge and meditated and I could not believe the feeling I got!

  2. We plan to go to the crater, and stay after sunset to see the glow and hopefully a fountain of lava! Taking Dad's hat with us, of course!

    Not sure I'm feeling any energy - we're mostly relaxing at this point, and enjoying the warm weather.