Out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean lies the beautiful chain of islands known the world over as Hawaii. It is 2,390 miles from California; 3,850 miles from Japan; 4,900 miles from China; and 5,280 miles from the Philippines. The location of these majestic islands is considered the most isolated population center on the face of the earth. This isolation also defines the uniqueness of nature in terms of animals, flowers, trees, marine life of these islands. This entire splendor of nature that we see now had its beginnings with the volcanoes of the past. During two weeks this past October, my wife Hilkka and I traveled in four of these islands – Big Island (known as Hawaii), Oahu (where the capital city Honolulu is), Maui and Kauai.
I had been to Hawaii once before as I was coming from India via the Pacific to California for graduate school. It was many years ago and I had only visited one island (Oahu) and stayed for three days or so. While flying from Tokyo to Honolulu, as you cross the International Date Line, you gain a day. Growing up in India in my younger days, I was not too aware of the Date Line and I was pleasantly surprised about gaining a day in my arrival to the States. Memories of Waikiki beach and the surfs and the lush tropical sceneries stayed with me and gave the impetus to plan this trip, this time along with Hilkka.
MAP OF THE ISLANDS OF HAWAII(Courtesy: Lonely Planet)
All of the Hawaiian Islands sit on top of the Pacific tectonic plate. World’s continents and oceans are on top of seven to ten major tectonic plates that move very gradually. The Pacific plate which is one among the bigger plates, is very slowly but surely moving and carries the islands along with it. Each island was formed by the erupting volcanoes over the Hotspot on the earth’s crust under the ocean. Over a period of long time, as the pacific tectonic plate moved carrying the island that was formed, at the next eruption over the Hotspot, another island was formed. In case of the major Hawaiian Islands, Kauai is the oldest and the Big Island is the youngest. In the map above, you can see the island chain – starting in the north west, it is Kauai, and then down and to the east, is Oahu, and Maui and at the bottom right is The Big Island (also known as Hawaii). Their geological age follows the same sequence. In the case of the youngest one, the volcanoes are still active and ever so slowly it is adding new land mass. The lava flows from the active volcanoes traverse through the land and flows into the ocean and after the fiery reception by the ocean waters and the erupting fire works as they meet each other, lava mass cools off and new land is formed. Also, under the ocean, volcanoes are creating new islands and there is one currently growing close to the Big Island. In a few thousand years, it will start rising above the ocean.
BIG ISLAND AND THE VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
Visiting the Volcanoes National Park was awesome and it was a surreal experience. A sampling of the pictures from our visit is below.
A volcanic depression is called a crater. A very large crater such as this one at the summit of Kilauea is called a caldera. A caldera has several craters inside of it. Kilauea Caldera measures two miles across and 400 feet deep. In the picture, the dimensions get disguised. There are no other structures around to compare relativity. Current thinking is that the reservoir of hot molten rock that feeds the volcano lies only two miles below, which means it can blow off its top without much warning. A caldera forms by the collapse of the volcano, the explosion of the rocks out of the volcano, and the erosion of the summit by rock and wind. The area around looks like from some other planet, barren from all the fire and lava flow.
FLOWERS AND OTHER OFFERINGS LEFT FOR FAMILY ANCESTORS AND TO THE FIREGOD "PELE"
FOUNTAINS OF FIRE??EXPLANATION OF THE KILAUEA VOLCANO AT THE JAGGER MUSEUM CLOSE TO THE GIANT SIZE CRATER
ANOTHER VIEW OF THE KILAUEA CRATER
BLACK SAND BEACH CREATED OVER THOUSANDS OF YEARS BY THE LAVA FLOW AND POUNDING OF THE WAVES
ANOTHER VIEW OF THE BLACK SAND BEACH
RAIN FOREST AREA IN THE VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK
A WIDE VARIETY OF FLOWERS INCLUDING ORCHIDS ARE PLENTY IN THE VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK AREA.
KONA AREA IN THE BIG ISLAND
From the black sand beach area, we traveled on Route 11 to Kona. Kona is on the opposite side of the island as to Hilo, where we had started our journey in the Big Island. There is only one major highway in the island that is Route 11. Somewhere in the middle of this journey, we were stranded on the road for over four hours. A utility pole that is close to a high voltage transformer station had fallen on the road with power lines sagging on the road. Repairs took a long time and we missed our visit and tour of the Kona coffee plantations and reached our resort hotel, tired and exhausted by 10:00pm or so.
AN EARLY MORNING VIEW
Wow, wake up next morning and what a view from the balcony of our room.
ATLANTIS SUBMARINE TOUR
While in Kona, we took a submarine tour. To take the tour, a boat transports you several miles into the ocean, where the submarine is staged. After transfer from boat to the submarine, the submarine goes down up to a depth of about 120 feet while sweeping a large area. Every one has individual large porthole seating for clear viewing of the marine life. Tour takes about one hour during which we saw exotic fish, colorful sea gardens, coral formations and marine animals.
While we were in Kona, the Iron Man competition (also known as the Ironman World Triathlon Championship) was going on. The actual competition was to take place the following week end. When we were there, training and preparations were in high gear. This competition takes place every year in October in Kona in the Big Island. The race consists of a 2.4 mile ocean swim in the Kona Bay, followed by a 112 mile bike ride across the Hawaiian lava desert, and ending with a 26.2 mile marathon along the Kona coast. Men’s record is a few minutes over 8 hours and that of Women’s is a little over 9 hours.
OAHU ISLAND, WAIKIKIK BEACH AND HONOLULU
Oahu is considered as the heart of Hawaii. About 80% of the population of all Hawaiian Islands lives in this one island. This is where the capital city of Honolulu is. Honolulu is famous the world over for the spectacular Waikiki Beach, where surfing supposedly became a worldwide sport. The famous land mark of Hawaii is Diamond Head crater, which is at one end of the Waikiki beach. The main avenue that runs along the ocean is known as Kalakaua Avenue. On one side of it is the beautiful beach with parks and gardens and on the other side are the hotels, resorts, fine shopping facilities and restaurants representing excellent cuisine from all over the world.
Traveling to Oahu as well as between all of the islands is primarily by air. Cruise lines are another option. There has been an attempt to operate a "Super Ferry" system (that transport passengers and cars) between the islands. This business venture has faced stiff opposition from ecological groups and also from the people of several islands, who fear that the specialty and uniqueness of each island will be heavily disturbed for the worse by this type of traffic. This is a current issue and you may follow the developments in the news. Honolulu is on the international travel path and most of the major airlines fly here. Flying from anywhere would be a minimum of four hours; as I explained in the beginning these islands are far away from everywhere.
SURFING IN WAIKIKI
SURF BOARDS STORED FOR THE NIGHT..(RENTALS AND SELF STORAGE)
SURFING IN WAIKIKI
A VIEW OF DIAMOND HEAD AND PARK FROM OUR BALCONY
VIEW OF WAIKIKI BEACH ACROSS THE STREET
BUNYAN TREE IN WAIKIKI, CLOSE TO WHICH NIGHTLY FREE CONCERTS ARE CONDUCTED
Honolulu has an excellent, well organized travel industry. One can take several half day and or full day trips, covering the major attractions in this island. Some of them are: Pearl Harbor, Pineapple Plantations, North Shore, windward side beaches, Hanuma bay marine life nature preserve and the Polynesian culture center.
USS ARIZONA MEMORIAL MONUMENT
The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by the airforce of Japanese emperor Hirohito on the morning of December 7, 1941 was the key event that committed United States and its army fully into fighting in World War II. On that one surprise attack, over 2,400 Americans were killed and another 1,178 wounded. Three of the eighteen warships were totally damaged including USS Arizona. We took tour of the USS Arizona Memorial which is a solemn and sentimental journey. The monument is built on top of the actual sunken battleship USS Arizona. The oil tank of that ship is on the side and is still very slowly leaking. It is being preserved as is for historic significance. The names of the people who lost their lives on that day and on the ship are all engraved and preserved for families, friends and visitors to pay homage at this place of personal and collective loss. USS Missouri is anchored on the same harbor, not too far from here. It is on the deck of battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Gen. MacArthur, General of the US Army and Commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific theater, took unconditional surrender of the imperial Japanese military on September 2, 1945. This momentous day in history officially ended the Second World War. The two battle ships now placed so close to each other signifies the beginning and the ending of World War II in the Pacific.
SCENIC VIEW FROM PALI LOOK OUT, HONOLULU
This is a favorite stop of visitors to Oahu. The panoramic view of the windward side of the island from this high cliff (Pali) is fabulous. It is always high winds here – hold on to your hats, scarves and everything that is not tied to you. Winds from the ocean get funneled by the mountains and intensify into hurricane speeds. This area played an important role in Hawaiian history. King Kamehameha the Great, who unified Hawaii into a nation, fought the decisive battle here. The opposing warriors were led by the chief of Maui and Oahu. Kamehameha’s army pushed and cornered the opposing army over the Pali hills and in the fierce and bloody ending, they pushed the opposing army over the high cliffs of Pali. The drop from here is steep (over 900 feet) and deep and no chance of survival.
A TRANQUIL BEACH SCENE CLOSE TO THE NORTH SHORE
North shore of Oahu is not far from here. North shore is world famous for monster waves and extremely challenging surfing. This is the area where world class surfers come to show their super skills in challenging and riding the giant waves. It happens during the winter months of December, January, and February. Waves over 60 feet high are not uncommon during those months. Giant waves roll over like super sized barrels. The serene view that we saw in early October is the calm before the storm.
VOLCANIC CLIFFS, DEEP BLUE WATERS AND CRYSTAL CLEAR COVES
This particular site and the beach close by were made famous in the movie "From Here to Eternity". A blow hole in the volcanic rock below shoots regularly columns of saltwater into the sky. In the crystal clear waters in the cove here, we saw large green sea turtles. This is in the south east volcanic coast line that is only 15 to 20 miles from the Waikiki beach. Continuing another few miles on the same road, we come to the world famous Hamuma Bay Marine life nature area.
HANUMA BAY AND MARINE LIFE SANCTUARY
This is a great place to swim, snorkel, scuba dive and see great marine life. The water is fresh, clean and crystal clear and also shallow. The coral reef is spread out widely like many pieces of mat under the shallow water. You probably can see people enjoying scuba diving and snorkeling. The bay was created when one part of the wall of the ancient crater collapsed and sank into the ocean which let the ocean waters to occupy that area forming the coral reef. The sides of the half moon bay are really the other part of the crater wall.
POLYNESIAN CULTURAL CENTER
A trip to Oahu is not complete without a visit to the Polynesian cultural center. This may take about a day, if you would like to appreciate the culture of various Polynesian islands in the Pacific, all in one place in a well organized manner. Of course, this is no substitute or equal to actually visiting those remote islands and studying the people and cultures in their actual locations. But, for a general understanding and appreciation of these wonderful cultures, a leisurely visit to this park is a rich and rewarding experience. The islands represented here are:
Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Hawaii, Fiji, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Marquesas.
It is from Marquesas islands that the first batch of Polynesians traveled on canoes, using their skills of the oceans and navigational techniques such as using the movements of the moon, sun and the swells and wave patterns and studying the migration path of the birds, they landed on the shores of Hawaii. After the Marqueseans, came other islanders such as Tahitians and others. In the 1800s and 1900s, immigrants came to work in Sugar mills and Pineapple plantations. They came from Japan, China, Philippines and other Asian nations. From the West came the Portuguese (they brought their expertise in managing sugar mills), English, Norwegians, Germans and others. Some groups strayed on, intermarried and some groups returned to their native lands. What we see in Hawaii today is a melting pot (not only volcanic melting pot) of the Eastern and the Western cultures.
In the Polynesian village, you would see colorful pageantry of all the islands mentioned above. You get immersed with the lifestyles, habits, entertainment, and hospitality of these cultures. In addition to visiting each one of these villages and attending their unique presentations, we saw a colorful pageantry on the river, known as the "Rainbows of Paradise Canoe Pageant". Below is one picture from that pageantry.
PARADE OF THE ISLANDS OF POLYNESIA
SHOW IN THE SAMOAN VILLAGE
A picture from the presentations in the Samoan village. Here they also showed their skills with coconuts such as breaking it with bare hands, striking fire by rubbing the husks of halves, climbing bare footed coconut tree (this used to be common in the coastal area in Southern India where I come from) and their fire dances etc. Similarly, every village has many exciting presentations and displays.
To cap it all, in the evening at dusk, there is a tremendous, multidimensional, powerful show of Polynesian extravaganza. With a cast of over 100 performers,
dazzling fire dances, waterfalls, heart pounding drums of Tonga, this is a show that
is a perfect finale for a day in Polynesia.
AS THE SUN SETS ON WAIKIKI BEACH
In the next article (which is the concluding part), we will visit the islands of Maui (Kaanapali beach, Sunrise over the edge of Haleakala Crater that is over 1000 feet high) and Kauai (the Garden Isle, a helicopter ride over the famous cliffs of Napali coast and the Grand Canyon of Hawaii). Until then, a warm Hawaiian "Aloha". Aloha is the Hawaiian greeting that says it all – love, hello, good-bye and always welcome.
Author: J. M. Bhandary- USA