Thursday, September 27, 2007

Diamond Head

Diamond Head is another one of those places that visitors to Oahu are just supposed to go see. Well, we didn’t. Matt didn’t want to climb the stairs to the observation tower, and I had to admit that my knees probably wouldn’t appreciate doing that. However, I did want to go to Diamond Head and at least see the crater. I figured I could decide when we got there whether or not I wanted to try the climb. Matt didn’t want to pay for parking, though, if we weren’t going to go up on the observation deck. I said I’d pay for parking (as I’d done for several other places). But, no. The day I left, Matt and I went into Waikiki, where I had a lovely view of Diamond Head.

And, courtesy of a telephoto lens, I could even see the people standing on the observation deck.

Matt then agreed to go into the crater, but only up to the guard shack. He refused to go in and park, regardless of who was going to pay for it.

On the way back down from the crater, we stopped at an overlook. The land mass on the far right is the outside wall of Hanauma Bay.

We also stopped at a beach overlook. The spots in the background are surfers, although they didn’t really look like they were getting any good waves.

That was the last bit of ocean I saw on my vacation, other than from the plane window on take-off.

Wahiawa Botanical Garden

The Wahiawa Botanical Garden is less than 10 minutes from Matt’s place. He didn’t even know it was there. I found it because of the big blue signs that said “Botanical Garden -->”. Go figure. Wahiawa is one of the Honolulu Botanical Gardens. There are five different botanical garden sites around Oahu. In the 1920's, the Hawaii Sugar Planters Association leased the land from the State of Hawaii as a site for experimental tree planting. Most of the large trees still growing in Wahiawa date from that decade. The property was transferred to the city and County of Honolulu in 1950 and was opened as a botanical garden in 1957. Wahiawa is a 27 acre garden on a high elevation plateau with a tropical rain forest environment. Most of the garden is actually located within a ravine that is 47 feet deep. I spent a happy two hours meandering through the garden, and could have easily spent another two. Matt stayed home and watched ESPN.

Hiking at Hau’ula

One of the things I wanted to do more of during my vacation was hiking. Unfortunately, I only got to go hiking once, but it was definitely a nice hike. In the Hau’ula Forest Reserve, Matt and I hiked the Hau’ula Loop Trail, which Matt had hiked before. I believe it is rated as a “moderate” hike, which makes sense. The trail is 2.75 miles long, and reaches an elevation of 700 feet, but only after several ups and downs. Part of the trail includes needle-covered switchbacks through ironwood trees and Norfolk and Cook pines. Another part of the trail winds though ironwoods, koa and noni trees. At the highest ridge, there are lovely views into Kaipapau Gulch, as well as towards the coast of the North Shore. Different spots along the trail also offer views of the coast and nearby mountains.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Shark's Cove

Shark’s Cove, part of Pupukea Beach Park, is another great snorkeling area. We went there one afternoon, after horseback riding and walking through the Waimea Audubon Center. Like most of the beaches along the North Shore, finding a parking space is all a matter of luck. Getting to the water also requires some luck – and a bit of skill – as its a pretty rocky descent.

Like Hanauma Bay, there’s a large amount of coral reefs that make a relatively protected area. I understand that during the winter when the waves provide excellent surfing conditions, though, snorkeling in Shark’s Cove is nearly impossible. We managed to find a couple of waterproof cameras at a little store in Hale’Iwa, not too far down the road from Shark’s Cove. Matt got some more pictures of the Thumbfish (they must be everywhere!), and we also got a few good pictures of other fish.

I was also told that Shark’s Cove is one of the best places to see sea turtles during low tide, but we didn’t see any. Probably at least partly due to the fact that we were not there during low tide.

Hanauma Bay

Matt and I went to Hanauma Bay the first two mornings I was there. The first morning, we tried to get there in time for sunrise, but between leaving a bit late and traffic, we didn’t quite make it. The view from the overlook was still spectacular, regardless of the time.

Hanauma is a protected marine life conservation area. The bay floor is actually the crater of an ancient volcano that flooded when the exterior wall collapsed and the ocean rushed in. A large coral reef covers a fair portion of the bay, and extends throughout the cove into deeper water. The bay is perfect for snorkeling, since its protected from big ocean waves. The first trip there, we didn’t have any cameras with us. That turned out to not be a problem, since the water was a bit cloudy.

On the second day, we made it to the park before it opened, ensuring that we would be able to see the sun rise. It was beautiful, just like I expected it to be.

We also had four disposable underwater cameras with us, so we were able to get some pictures of the fish we saw. When I was first looking through the prints from the snorkeling, I noticed that Matt managed to get several pictures of the not-so-elusive Thumbfish. Thankfully, we also got several good pictures of real fish...

Probably the most interesting critter I saw on the island – and other than the wild chickens, I didn’t see many critters – is what I’ve been calling the “squeasel”, something that looks like a cross between a squirrel and a weasel. It looks a lot like a ferret, but I didn’t like the name “squerret”. I need to find out what this really is.


My last morning in Hawaii, we went into Honolulu to do some sightseeing. After the normal hassle of trying to find a place to park at 8:30am on a workday in a city, we managed to get lucky and find an open meter not far from where I wanted to be.

Our first stop was the court house to see the statue of Kamehameha I. He is the chief who united all of the warring Hawaiian Islands into one kingdom at the turn of the 18th century.

Next was the Iolani Palace. The palace is the only official state residence of royalty in the United States, and was the official residence of the Hawaiian Kingdom's last two monarchs - King Kalakaua, who built the Palace in 1882, and his sister and successor, Queen Lili`uokalani. The original structure was built in 1845 by King Kamehameha III. It housed five Hawaiian kings before it was demolished in 1874 and replaced by the larger and more modern palace. After the royal government was overthrown, most of the items inside the palace were removed. Slowly, though, some of the items are finding their way back to the palace. Some of the crown jewels are kept in the galleries below the building, along with clothing and other artifacts. Unfortunately, no photographs are allowed inside the palace or galleries. This little tidbit almost started a riot in my tour group, as several people were upset. Normally, even places that don’t allow flash photos will allow non-flash photos. But not at the Iolani Palace.

On the palace grounds are the barracks, coronation pavilion, and crypt.

Iolani Barracks, originally completed in 1871, was designed by architect Theodore Heuck to house the Royal Guard. This coral block structure contains an open courtyard surrounded by rooms once used by the guards as a mess hall, kitchen, dispensary, berth room, and lockup. Following the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy and the disbanding of the Royal Guard, Iolani Barracks was used at different times as headquarters for the National Guard of Hawaii, temporary shelter for refugees of the 1899 Chinatown fire, a service club, a government office building, and a storage facility. The Barracks was originally located on what are now the grounds of the Hawaii State Capitol. After being dismantled block by block, Iolani Barracks was moved and reconstructed at its present location in 1965.

The Coronation Pavilion was built for the February 12, 1883 coronation of King Kalakaua and Queen Kapi`olani. It was moved from its original site near the King Street steps. The Coronation Pavilion has also been used for the inauguration of the Governors of the State of Hawaii.

In 1825, a royal tomb of white-washed coral block was constructed to house the remains of Kamehameha II and his consort, Queen Kamamalu. Both had died of measles while on a journey to England the year before. For the next forty years, this royal tomb and the land immediately surrounding it became the final resting place for the kings of Hawaii, their consorts, and important chiefs of the kingdom. In 1865, eighteen coffins were removed from this site and transferred in a torchlight procession at night to a new Royal Mausoleum in Nu`uanu Valley. The royal tomb area is marked by a fenced-in mound area out of respect for Hawaiian chiefs who may still be buried there.

The next stop of the morning was the state capitol building, to see the state seal and a statue of Queen Lili`uokalani.

Our final sightseeing stop for the morning was the Kawaiaha’o Chuch, the Westminster Abbey of Hawaii. We couldn’t go in, as a wedding ceremony was occurring and another was either finishing up or getting ready to start, but we did get to wander around the grounds a bit.

The first Christian Church in Hawaii, it was built between 1836 and 1842. Fourteen thousand coral slabs comprise the main structure. These slabs were quarried from under water and transported, and each weighed more than 1,000 pounds. Natives dove 10 to 20 feet to hand-chisel these pieces from the reef, then raised them to the surface, loaded them into canoes, and ferried them to shore. Wood for the interior of the structure was cut from the Ko'olau Mountains.

This is the mausoleum of King Lunalilo, the first elected monarch of Hawaii. He wanted to be buried in the Church cemetery rather than in the Royal Mausoleums.

Nu’uanu Pali Lookout

The Nu’uanu Pali Lookout overlooks the 985 foot cliffs of the Ko’olau Mountain Range. The views are incredible, and the wind can be pretty strong.

The Nu’uanu Pali was the setting for one of the most significant battles in Hawaiian history. In 1795, Kamehameha I and his army invaded Oahu, arriving in a fleet of war canoes at Waikiki Beach. The Oahu warriors were led by Kalanikupule, the chief of Maui and Oahu.

Kamehameha’s army marched to Nu’uanu Valley to face Kalanikupule’s troops. The battle was fierce and bloody. Gradually, Kamehameha’s men gained an advantage, forcing Kalanikupule’s forces to retreat further up the valley. The Oahuans attempted to make a final stand, but Kamehameha’s army was too strong. Thousands of Kalanikupule’s men were pursued and driven over the steep cliffs to their deaths. It’s said that the victory was so complete that not a single Oahu warrior that got into the upper part of the valley escaped alive.

An engineering firm was hired in 1897 to build what is now the Old Pali Road, a winding road used to carry traffic across the mountains. During construction, workers found an estimated 800 human skulls and other human bones at the foot of the cliffs - the century-old remains of Kalanikupule’s slain warriors.

Today, parts of the Old Pali Road is still available to foot traffic. We walked down from the lookout, and every time we turned a corner, it looked like the road ended. But then we’d see that it was really just another corner, with the vegetation covering a large part of the road. We didn’t explore very far, but I did see a couple of people who look like they use the old road as part of their regular exercise.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Punchbowl Crater

The National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific is located in the bowl of Pu’owaina, or Punchbowl Crater. Pu’owaina translates to “Hill of Sacrifice” and its believed that the site was used as an altar where Hawaiians offered sacrifices to their gods. Now, though, more than 44,000 US war veterans and their family members are interred there. The cemetery was dedicated on September 2, 1949. 776 casualties from the attack on Pearl Harbor were among the first to be buried there.

The Honolulu Memorial was erected by the American Battle Monuments Commission in 1964 and dedicated in 1966. It honors the sacrifices and achievement of American Armed Forces in the Pacific during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. On the front of the tower which houses the chapel is a 30-foot female figure known as "Columbia" standing on the symbolized prow of a US Navy carrier with a laurel branch in her left hand and the inscription by President Lincoln "...The Solemn Pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom".

To the left of the cemetery is a memorial pathway that is lined with a variety of memorials from various organizations that honor America’s veterans. The pathway leads to the highest point of the crater’s rim, which provides absolutely wonderful views of Honolulu, Diamond Head, Waikiki, Pearl Harbor, and eastern mountain ranges.

Kukaniloko Birthstone State Monument

Kukaniloko is where Hawaiian royalty gave birth to their children, in order to ensure their high-ranking status. The lava stones were believed to have the power to ease labor pains – although no one knows if the stones were as effective as a good epidural.

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, its very easy to overshoot this site. It’s at an intersection with only a small paved section to indicate the way. There are stones blocking the red clay path, so cars can’t go out to the site. Its only about a quarter of a mile walk, though, from the road to the main cluster of stones.

There are roughly 180 stones, scattered over half an acre. The majority of them are in a grove of eucalyptus and coconut trees, and the entire area is surrounded by pineapple fields. There are two rows of 18 stones leading to the grove, one for each of the 36 chiefs that would witness the birth. And to think, some people stress over which family members to allow at the birth...

In a way, the stones remind me of cairns I’ve seen in Scotland and Mexico (although I don’t think they were called cairns in Mexico. Angel? A little help, please?) Regardless of what they’re called, these areas are sacred for a reason. They always give me a feeling of peace and serenity, and make me feel more connected to the past.