Historic Hawaii

Hawaii is known for beach vacations, surfing, leis, and mai-tais. There is a lot of interesting history here, too, and we had a chance to explore some of it during our visit.

We started just down the hill from our house, at the birthplace of King Kamehameha (Kamehameha l or the Great). It’s the banner photo for this post. We didn’t realize how close it was at first, because the access road to visit the site is a lumpy 4WD track that parallels the runway of the tiny Opolu Airport and then runs along the shore until it ends near the site. What remains of Kamehameha’s birthplace are low walls of lava that outline a large compound with a few generous sized interior rooms that was the family home, originally finished with thatched roofs. There would have been easy access for fishing from the shore or boats, even chances to go surfing.

Very near by is the Mo’okini heiau (hey-ow), a ceremonial center that was the focus of large gatherings and offerings. There are many heiau around Hawaii, ranging in size from a single large rock on a stone platform, to huge enclosures. Mo’okini is distinctive as one of the oldest and largest heiau on Hawaii. It was also a luakini heiau, a place used for animal and human sacrifice. An associated tale recounts that the heiau was built of stone passed hand to hand across eleven miles from the source to the Mo’okini site. The structure is an enormous rectangle made of stacked dry stone that is roughly 250 ft x 120 ft in size. The walls are ten feet thick at the base.

Exterior of Mo’okini heiau
Entering the Mo’okini heaiu

It is still possible to walk into the Mo’okini enclosure and get a sense of how imposing it would have been to participate in a ceremony there. Some visitors leave offerings of flowers, fruit, braided leaves, rocks, crystals, and shells.

The story goes that due to intergroup conflicts, Kamehameha was moved from his childhood home to a more remote location in the Waipio Valley and grew up there, safe from family enemies. Captain Cook arrived just as the future King Kamehameha I was building his chiefdom, and provided examples of European warfare. Kamehameha hired European advisers, and began to use cannons, guns, and even had a 40 ton ship of his own built in Honolulu in 1796. Battles were fought among chiefs on Hawaii and after defeating his rivals to become King, Kamehameha I expanded his ambitions to the other islands, succeeding in uniting all of the Hawaiian Islands by 1804. This historic first made Hawaii a political power, as it was an important way station for whaling ships during the first half of the 19th century, and a port for trading ships heading from Asia to the west coast of North and South America.

Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site

Kamehameha didn’t turn his back on tradition, using Mo’okini and also constructing another very large heiau at Pu’ukohola that was the site of battles as well as offerings. Though we were able to enter the Mo’okini heiau, Pu’ukohola was closed to visitors. There is a tall rack just down the hill from the entrance that is intended to hold offerings. As at Mo’okini, there were flowers and braids of greenery resting on the offering stand. Below Pu’ukohola is Mailekini heiau, a somewhat older structure that was turned into a fort by Kamehameha, lined with cannons that he purchased from traders when he realized that European armament was the way to stay dominant over the islands.

Pu’ukohola heiau on the hilltop, viewed from Mailekini heiau, near the shore

It may look like all of Hawaii is covered in heiau, but there were many villages along the shore. Land was allotted in narrow strips (ahupua’a) from the coast far up onto the sides of the volcanoes to give each family group a bit of each kind of land and the resources of each area, like fishing territory along the coast, farmland, forest for wood and thatch, areas with lava rock for construction, or fine grained stone and obsidian for tools. We visited the Lapakahi State Historic Park to see a village site. This area was occupied until about 1920 when the water table dropped so low they ran out of water.

A village of stone houses, now lacking their thatch roofs, with one fully reconstructed house in the distance. Lapakahi State Historic Park

In addition to the fortress-like heiau, and coastal villages, Hawaii has a number of places where people went to create petroglyphs, pecking and scratching shapes onto relatively flat surfaces of lava. We visited the Puako petroglyphs, an extensive area of shapes that are both familiar (men, women) and also abstract.

Puako Petroglyphs

No one is sure why these images were created, and petroglyphs are found in a number of different places around the island of Hawaii and on the other islands. Whatever the purpose, they are very durable, and great food for thought on a walk. It can be hot out on the fields of lava, and there’s lots of advice to take water with you. It’s an interesting walk through the trees to the site, and the variety of shapes is intriguing. It’s impossible to tell how long ago each of these was made.

From long before the days of King Kamehameha right up to the present, Hawaii has a rich history, unique to these islands, that is worth thinking about. People lived in an area so far from where their ancestors started out that they created new stories to describe their origins. They constructed a way of life that served them well for a long time, and many of their descendants are still part of today’s Hawaii.

Snorkeling with Manta Rays

I’ve talked about beaches and snorkeling, the volcano, the botanical garden, and other activities we enjoyed. We owe some of the fun to the suggestions and planning by our visitors. Lyra’s research found Kona Style, a company that offers a sunset boat ride followed by watching manta rays feed in the dark.

The opening photo is sunset at the start of our boat ride. Above is just after sunset and before dark as we were arriving at Manta Bay.

Manta Rays (Internet photo)

We met at the company’s base in Kona, where we were entertained by the young man supervising check-in. He told interesting stories about Kona and the manta rays, explaining that in one particular bay where manta rays are known to feed, tour operators are allowed to shine lights into the water to attract plankton that in turn attract the rays. Manta rays are mature when they are 9-12 feet across, and weigh 800-1500 lbs. (The very largest are over 23 feet across and weigh over 2500 lb.) Overfishing is the greatest threat to the survival of these giant creatures. In recent years, the financial benefit of tourism has been recognized as greater than the benefit of killing mantas

We were a good example of manta ray tourism. Once onboard the boat at around 5:45 pm, we enjoyed the sunset on the ride to Manta Bay (30-40 minutes). Mai-tais and beer were available, and music played. It was a festive atmosphere. We arrived at the mooring just as it became dark. One particular feature of this tour is that Kona Style’s catamaran has an ingenious set of stairs that make it easy to get into the water, valuable for those of us in the creakier age bracket.

There were other boats around and we could hear the shrieks of other visitors as manta rays drifted into their lighted area and swooped upside down, flashing their white bellies as they scooped up plankton. Mantas are filter feeders and have a large central opening where they collect plankton from the water. It gives them a menacing look, but they are not interested in people. We were warned not to let any object dangle from a wrist. Should a strap get hooked on a manta’s mouth, they would pull it (and the attached person!) until the strap broke. Yikes!

After almost an hour in the water floating from the handrail around a block of lights, we’d seen a half dozen mantas, needle fish, and a few gurnard that looked like tiny wind-up toys. We’d also had a look at some of the larger pieces of plankton, tiny wiggly underwater creatures. I was content to go back on the boat. My arms were tired from holding them over my head on the rail and looking down at the sea creatures.

I wore my own wetsuit under the wetsuit jackets handed out on board, I was just starting to get cold when our time was up. Though we hadn’t noticed, it had rained while we were in the water, and most of our gear had gotten wet. I huddled under my damp towel until I was drip-dried enough to change. We cruised home chatting about what we’d seen, sipping tea, hot chocolate, or more beer and mai-tais. It was no longer raining, so the ride was pleasant. We had a great time, and I recommend Kona Style to anyone interested in the experience.

Things to think about when planning to snorkel with manta rays:

Timing: 5-9 pm from meeting at the tour company office to ending up there. You might want to eat something beforehand or bring snacks.

Cost: About $125 per person

Speaking of food: Water is provided, and tea, hot chocolate (not terribly hot water, though) on the way back. Beer and mai-tais are available to purchase. Do you get seasick? Some of the people who had cocktails on the way out spent the trip back throwing up over the rail.

You do not need to know how to snorkel: In fact, you are not given flippers because you must stay still and hold onto the float. Snorkeling around on your own isn’t allowed. You’re given a pool noodle to put under your legs. It works very well, though your arms get tired. (Try holding your arms over your head for 40 minutes straight. Even if you are lying down, it’s a challenge.)

Energetic Music: A party vibe is promoted by the music played during the cruise both directions. If you are not a fan of party music you won’t enjoy it that much. Just close your eyes and think of manta rays.

Who is on the trip: Those of us in the vicinity of age 70 were about double the age of most participants. It’s definitely something for 30-somethings who can afford the booking and enjoy snorkeling. (I definitely enjoy snorkeling, but I was a bit older than the typical passenger.) That being said, the crew was good with everyone.

Speaking of the crew: There was a boat captain and three crew members, two of whom were in the water with us, one at each end of the float. When it seemed like we weren’t seeing many mantas, they pushed the float around to try and get a better position. The people in the water worked Hard, and the captain kept his eye on their movements, the float’s position, the boat’s position in relation to the other five or so boats in the area, and communicated well with his crew in and out of the water. They were all quite skilled, hard working, and good at what they were doing.

A Saturday in Hilo

There is a Saturday market in Hilo that we decided to visit. It was a long drive, almost two hours, and we decided to include a stop at the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in the same area.

The Farmer’s Market in runs seven days a week. The booths are more permanently installed than other farmers markets. and more unkempt from the wear and tear of daily use. One section contains fruit and vegetable sellers, while the others have clothing, jewelry, wood objects, and other items. It’s a sizeable market for a small city, but not on the scale of Pike Place in Seattle, for example.

From the Farmers Market, we took a brief drive around the lovely Liliuokalani Gardens. It was a hot day, and we decided against a walk. We also realized that we could spend much more time in Hilo. The Wailoa River State Recreation Area is in the center of town and includes a large fish pond. There are lots of places to walk once you’ve had a stroll around the Liliuokalani Gardens. We contemplated changing our plans to have lunch in a cafe overlooking the shore and staying in the area, but we had planned on a stop at the Botanical Garden, so we tore ourselves away.

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden with our visiting friend Peggy

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden is one couple’s vision of how a coastal garden could be created. Between 1977 and 2017, Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse developed a 17 acre parcel into the garden today. It is a private enterprise, now run by their children, and seems to be thoughtfully run. We were impressed by how well-kept the trails are. A steep boardwalk at the start of the walk is manageable, and themed loops take visitors past groups of orchid plants, anthurium, and out to a waterfall by the coast. I felt a twinge of disappointment to find the large Bird House was empty, but the fact that the non-native birds have been transferred to a sanctuary is probably for the best. Macaws are pretty, but they are native to South America, not Hawaii. They are best left in the wild in the first place.

There were flowers and intriguing plants everywhere. We walked the entire trail in a couple of hours and enjoyed it thoroughly. The tall canopy of palms and rain forest plants created dappled shade that kept us cool as we strolled. We carried our own water and snacks (there’s no cafe), and stopped now and then to enjoy the surroundings. We were glad we’d chosen the garden over the city.

Windward (East) Kohala, Hawaii

Just east of us lies a turning point in the landscape. Beyond it, the weather is wetter, the hillsides greener, and the coast is shaped differently. We set out to explore as much of the shore as we could, and immediately ran into high, steep cliffs. There are some tiny patches of beach and rocks at the base of some cliffs that can only be reached by boat. We went to Keokea Beach Park where local people built a breakwater pool for swimming and snorkeling. Typical for Hawaii, there isn’t much in the way of beach, but restrooms and picnic tables that make it a good spot to spend a day.

The Pololu and Waipio Valleys angle across the top of the island, each huge and lightly occupied. It is possible to walk down to the beach at the mouth of each valley, though many more people visit the overlook than make the hike.

The main road dead ends at the Pololu overlook, only a few miles from our house. King Kamehameha was born in a family compound just over the hill from our house, and spent his youth along the coast, including the Polulu and Waipio Valleys. We are living in his former stomping grounds.

The trail to the beach from the Pololu overlook is steep and rocky. Jonathan decided to make the trip armed with his walking stick, a wise idea as the trail was not only steep but much longer than we thought. Far down the trail we met a woman who had decided not to continue. It was just too much of a hike.

The views were fantastic. Finally at the bottom, we found a sandy beach, driftwood, and rocks. It’s not safe to swim, so we walked along the black sand. A number of other visitors had made the trip, everyone strolling the beach, sipping their water bottles, or sitting on a log.

The walk back up the hill from Pololu Beach got a bit long toward the end. Jonathan took a head start so that he and his stick could take their time, and ended up back at the car first. Lyra walked with me. I began to tire after a while and she insisted on taking my backpack while I sat on a rock. We got all ready to keep going, and found we were about 50 feet from the end of the trail and the parking lot, just around the next curve. I guess it wasn’t so bad after all. Here are a few more photos of the beach and the valley.

Having successfully visited the Pololu Valley, we debated visiting the Waipio Valley further east. The road from the overlook to the beach is described as perilously steep and narrow, only suitable for 4 WD vehicles. Going with a tour is recommended, unless you are game for walking down. Our young folk decided to get an early start one day and hiked to the bottom.

In a separate (large) car, we drove to the Waipio overlook to get a feel for the area. The road down the hill is very steep indeed, and narrow, with shallow pull-outs that indicate passing can be trouble. However, Jonathan has many years experience on unpaved, 4-WD only backroads of central Arizona, the canyons of NE Arizona, the forest roads of the Pajarito Plateau in New Mexico, and generally wild areas. He thought we’d be fine, so we tipped over the edge and drove down. We were extremely fortunate in not meeting anyone coming toward us on the way down.

What we didn’t realize is that the road to the beach makes a sharp turn just at the base of the escarpment, so we drove to the very end of the road up into the valley, and looked at the waterfall (trail to the base of the falls currently closed). We turned back and discovered the beach turnoff and drove out to the shore, surprised at the number of vehicles and the size of the parking area. Who should we see on the road but our children just as they were leaving the beach to hike back up the hill. We persuaded them to stay a while longer and ride up with us (lol).

Away from the beach, the Waipio Valley is home to a number of farms growing taro and other crops. The hills are deep green and unmarked by houses, quiet and imposing. Considering the awful drive to get in and out, the valley is quite isolated. Only tourists spoil the tranquility. Our group interrupted the peace and quiet, but it was a lovely visit…..

We watched a group of horses at the edge of the stream test the waters and then wade upstream to a small island to graze. When is the last time you saw horses roaming on their own? They wanted nothing to do with the beach or the tourists.

I was a bit surprised to find families that had driven down the incredibly steep and narrow road for a day at the beach. They unloaded lawn chairs, towels, umbrellas, picnic boxes and settled in for a stay. I think most visitors are like us, in the valley for an adventure, not planning to stay very long. The drive back up took a bit longer, and we had to pass a few other vehicles v-e-r-y slowly.

The drive from Hawi to Honokaa, the turn-off for the Waipio Valley takes an hour. There are other shore access points marked along the highway with small blue and white signs, but we don’t want to spend that much time in the car to visit a tiny rocky beach when there are many similar places near us. There was one exception. We drove most of the way to Hilo (90 minutes) to visit Honoli’i Beach Park, the one place in Hawaii that is known to be a source of beach glass. I had to see what I could find.

Honoli’i Beach Park. That’s our picnic table below the palm tree.
Jonathan admires the finds

It was a long drive, but we went with all our visitors so everyone could try their hand at collecting beach glass. We took a picnic and found a table in the shade, a good home base. Everyone found glass, in lots of colors, though mostly small pieces.The surf is rough, so swimming isn’t recommended, even though there are lots of surfers. The river that enters the ocean at this site pools behind a sand bar, creating a safe swimming hole. On the drive toward Hilo, we passed over a number of streams with rushing waterfalls heading to the sea.

Waterfall in the Umauma Valley

It took about three weeks to get all these visits into our plans, and I am thoroughly pleased with the range of places we’ve been able to visit and the wonders we’ve seen.

Hawaii’s West Kohala coast

Hawaii has lots of shore but not much beach. If you recall that the island is made of volcanoes, you can understand why sand is uncommon. It has to wash in from somewhere else, or form from the waves grinding up rock–a slow process. Usually a “beach” is rocky shore with a place to swim and snorkel. Some marked spots along the shore have parking areas, some have restrooms and picnic tables, and a few have patches of sand.

We are located at the northern tip of the Big Island in the center of the Kohala region. The west side of the island (leeward) is dry, and the east (windward) side gets most of the rain. In this post, I am going north to south along the west side of the island as I talk about our visits. There are so many places to stop and look at the shore that in almost a month, we haven’t gotten as far south as Kona. All the stops I mention here are in Kohala.

The beach at the end of Old Coast Guard Rd. is the closest to our house.

Old Coast Guard beach is all rocks.

There are similar rocky places along the coast marked “Shore Access.” Some, like Old Coast Guard beach, are merely a place where it is possible to clamber over rocks into the water. At Kapa’a Beach park, the next stop to the south, it’s not too difficult to get over the rocks and into the water, but slippery to get out.

At Mahukona Beach Park, the shore is rocky. This park has a large concrete slab and a ladder into the water; it’s my favorite snorkeling. There are lots of fish of different types and sizes. Amanda and Jim spotted an octopus and watched it change color from the dark of the rocks to the pale tan of the sand.

This is me snorkeling at Mahukona Beach Park
Partially devoured, but still big, shave ice.

There is a gap of several miles to Spencer Beach. We spent a day on the sand at Spencer Beach, snorkeling along the section of reef just offshore. We didn’t get to walking the path through the adjacent Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic site (traditional Hawaiian monuments from the era of King Kamehameha) until another day. Fortunately, just north of the beach is Kawaihae and the tiny strip mall with Anuenue Shave Ice and Ice Cream. It’s a tiny window with excellent ice cream (chocolate macnut anyone?), and shave ice of myriad flavors and colors. You can get a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the center of your shave ice, and a snowcap of sweetened condensed milk on top. It’s a huge shot of sugar–there are no small sizes.

In the resort area of Waikoloa we tried for a parking spot in the public access area for Mauna Kea beach. Mauna Kea is a sprawling resort, some say the best along this part of the coast. Though the resort is required to provide public access, it is allowed to limit the number of cars that can park, and a guard turns away visitors when no spaces are left. Perhaps we’ll try another day. Hapuna Beach Park is nearby and has a sandy beach along with rocks.

Still in the resort area, we found 49 Black Sand Beach, where the parking was free and the snorkeling was excellent. Amanda found us a sea turtle to watch as it browsed along the bottom, hanging on to coral with one flipper and pushing its head in among the formations to nibble on green things.

49 Black Sand Beach is the southernmost we’ve visited for swimming and snorkeling, on the day Amanda and Jim were leaving. We stopped at Snorkel Bob’s Mauna Lani store to return their rented gear, and got poke bowls for lunch from the Foodland opposite.

School of yellow tang, Kealakokua Bay, Hawaii (Wikimedia photo)

There are even more “beaches” all along the west coast of the Big Island, and we could spend a lot longer than a month visiting them. For now, we’re pretty happy to find a beach with good snorkeling an eight minute drive from our house. The photo at the top of this post shows a large group of yellow tang (fish) just under the surface at Mahukona Beach Park. The internet photo here shows yellow tang fish with an underwater camera.

Around the Volcano: Kilauea

Volcanoes National Park is on the must-see list of every visitor to the Big Island, though since early 2021, there has been no red lava to be seen, not even a red glow after dark. Still, everyone wants to see a massive volcano. Our visit was a big expedition because we are staying at the opposite end of the island. It would be difficult to find a place farther from the park than Hawi.

Everyone knew it would be a long ride. We drove the Saddle Road that cuts across the Big Island, where vast tracts of dry ranchland turn into vast areas of green grassland as the climate shifts from the dry leeward side of the island where we are located to the wetter windward side.

At the Visitors Center we confirmed our route along the edge of the crater, starting at the overlook of Kilauea, then on to the new overlook at the Halema’uma’u crater. We saw the white tailed tropicbirds that live inside the Kilauea crater soaring across a background of black lava. It is difficult to comprehend the size of the volcano. Only the now-abandoned museum sitting on the edge of a cliff that was once many yards from the edge shows how unexpected were the effects of the 2018 eruption, despite the fact that the volcano had been active constantly since 1983. The past year is unusual in having NO red lava for visitors to observe.

The steam vents were the most entertaining part of the day once I determined that the steam comes from rainwater and not volcanic vents. That is, the steam doesn’t contain sulfuric acid, as volcanic vapors do. When Jonathan decided to stand in the steam I could stay calm.

Down the path from the steam vents, sulfur-bearing steam condenses on the hillside, creating sulfur crystals. This is steam to be avoided! A tiny whiff gives you the sulfur/rotten egg smell that we humans recoil from. A larger breath can damage your lungs because of the acid content. The sulfur crystals are bright yellow and on rare occasions have tempted people to step off the path toward them. The results are horrible, as the ground appears solid, but is just a crust over steaming acid. It’s a deceptive landscape.

A giant cave, the Thurston lava tube, is another popular stop, and often short of parking spaces. We visited in the mid-afternoon and found parking. The walk down to the mouth of the tube is steep, but manageable. The section of this lava tube that is open for visitors is not long, but turns just enough that you cannot see the exit when you enter, making your first steps a bit eerie. The tube is very dark, illuminated by some lights along the walls during the day. The park is open 24 hours a day, but after 5 pm visitors must bring their own flashlights to see inside the lava tube.

It’s a bit like walking down a dark hallway or subway passage. A veil of roots hangs in the dark overhead. These threadlike strings have made their way through the lava from the surface. Much of the inner surface of the lava tube is covered with small bumps of mineral that has accumulated from water that seeps through the rock. Technically stalactites, hanging from the ceiling, what I saw looked more like goose bumps of whitish rock and less like the long hanging crystalline deposits I imagine from the word “stalactite.”

Once out the far side of the tube and back up the stairs to the parking lot, we had spent all the time we had available. There is lots more to see at Volcanoes National Park. Not far from the lava tube is the start of Devastation Trail, an easy walk through a desolate lava landscape. Just beyond that trailhead is the start of Chain of Craters Road, that heads toward the coast, passing a number of different volcanic formations. Toward the far end of the road is an area of petroglyphs that would be worth a visit. Sampling these stops would take an additional half day, and there are many other trails and hikes around the crater.

Outside the park there is more to see. Another hour of driving gets you to the town of Pahoa, where you can drive through Leilani Estates, a housing development that was partially destroyed by lava from Kileaua in 2018. I have read that the community rapidly tired of “disaster tourism,” visitors who came to gawk, parked haphazardly and climbed on the lava that was clearly labeled off-limits. Still, it’s a dose of reality to see that even today, no one can stop Mother Nature. (I looked at Leilani Estates on Google Earth. You can see the path of the lava right into the neighborhood.)

We had a good visit. I enjoyed the Volcano Art Gallery by the Visitor’s Center, where many local artists are represented. The Visitors Center has useful information, all outdoors at the present. The drive home was a long one, and we were grateful to have a swimming pool to fall into at the end of the day. I’m not entirely sure what attracts us to a big, dark, distant, rocky hole, but we were there. I’d only go again if there was really red lava visible. But then, I’d complain about the traffic.

Volcano Visitors!

Shopping & eating come first

We arrived at our new house in Hawi, at the north end of the Big Island (Hawaii, the island, not to be confused with Hawaii, the entire state). Hawi is best known as the finish line in the Hawaii Ironman competition, which has been postponed from October 2021 to March 2022, based on current Covid conditions. All of Hawaii is suffering from a high caseload, primarily from infection of unvaccinated individuals. Visitors are welcome if they are vaccinated or can show a recent negative Covid test. Everyone wears masks indoors and at crowded outdoor venues like the farmers market.

Garden fruit

Not surprising for us, the farmers market was our first stop on Saturday, the day after we arrived. The market is small here, with booths alternating spaces rather than side by side. One very nice thing about this market was the freshness of the locally grown items for sale. We bought a pineapple, a couple of passionfruit, and a few other items. Jonathan picked out a length of ginger root that was fresh and pinkish, easy to peel. Usually, the outside of ginger is papery and brown and has to be carved off. We plan to return to the farmers market for more to make crystallized ginger.

Our bananas

Bananas grow in many people’s backyard and are stubbier than the Cavendish, grocery store variety. They taste the same. We found a stalk of bananas hung up by our host and ripening. Every day we trim off a few more to eat and keep in the refrigerator. Trees in the orchard behind our house give us limes, oranges, and mangos. We may even get a drinking coconut or two. Jonathan finds this heavenly. (The banner photo at the start of this post shows our orchard.)

A visit to Costco, where everyone in Hawaii shops, was next. Having done his homework on the price of macadamia nuts, Jonathan stocked up. We don’t usually have a membership, and the immensity of Costco was daunting, but we managed to fill a shopping cart.

Hale I’a fish market

On the way home, we stopped at the fish market using directions from Amanda’s list, seconded by our host. You’d drive right past it without directions. It is virtually unmarked, and when we pulled in, we had that “Are we in the right place?” moment. The tiny shop presently serves one customer at a time, so we were glad the parking lot was not full. It took me a couple of visits to find their sign and figure out the name of the place (Hale I’a). On subsequent drives past, we noticed there was usually a socially distanced line coming down the steps, especially around mid-day. We bought opah-opah, a kind of snapper. We ate it sauteed, with shishito peppers that evening. At the same time, we selected a poke bowl to share for lunch. These are really delicious, and health food! (Poke bowl: Your choice of freshly cooked white or brown rice topped with your choice of poke–cubes of raw tuna or other fish, marinated in soy sauce, hot chili, wasabi, ginger or some combination. Fresh as sushi, and delicious). It was enough for lunch a second day.

With a kitchen full of ingredients, I started baking. Maybe I am fending off nerves while we await our family visitors, but I had a lot of energy to try things. First came the macadamia biscotti. If I had crystallized ginger to add, they would be even better. Next, I needed a breakfast bite, and oatmeal/macadamia/ginger scones seemed just right. I used some grated fresh ginger along with powdered ginger. The result is just the thing with my morning cup of (what else) Kona coffee.

Butter mochi

Last, but not least, I read about mochi, the Hawaiian treat made with glutinous sweet rice flour. I found a box in about the fourth store I looked in and used a simple recipe for butter mochi. “Regular” mochi have a sweet layer wrapped around a filling, most often red bean paste. Not having been raised in a family where red bean paste is a treat, I went for the unfilled butter mochi, using coconut milk and adding a handful of dried coconut that floated to the top and made a toasty, coconutty flavored crusty top.

Mochi aren’t for everyone, as the recipe yields a soft, slightly rubbery substance that looks a bit like a blondie and tastes like sweet Cream of Wheat. I can see making them with stronger coconut flavor, ginger, chocolate or even peanut butter. I can also imagine that they might not all disappear from a buffet table in the Midwest. Mochi may be a Hawaiian treat best eaten in Hawaii.

Next stop in Hawaii is the great outdoors.

Getting to the Big Island, 2021

It’s a short taxi ride to the SFO airport from the El Rancho Inn, but a bit farther to get on the plane to Hawaii in this age of Covid. When we made our plans to visit Hawaii, Covid was abating in the US, and our Moderna vaccinations were believed to keep us from serious illness. That’s still the case, but infection rates are soaring among people who have held back from getting vaccinated. Since some of those people travel, airlines are becoming sensitive to an individual’s vaccination status. The state of Hawaii sees a lot of coming and going, and has instituted requirements for visitors to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test.  

After a smooth check-in for our direct flight on United, we went to the Hawaii Pre-Screening area, gate F15-16. We showed our age at the pre-screening stop. Our goal was a wristband that would let us pass the Covid screening upon arrival in Kona. We had our vaccine cards and our IDs, and we had filled out the information as required on travel.hawaii.gov—all we needed was the QR code that they send passengers on the day of their flight. We hadn’t received our codes. To try and find them, we had to go to the website via our phones (we usually do this on a laptop) and log in. Who remembers their password? I sat near a very patient gate agent resetting my password to travel.hawaii.gov and misspelling my email address several times in the process. As the minutes ticked by and our boarding time approached, I finally logged in to a page, but saw no code. In desperation, I passed my phone to the agent who clicked a few more options and found it. After scanning the holy grail of QR, she passed my phone back to me, suggesting I save a screenshot of the code. I had to look up how to take a screenshot, as I mostly save them accidentally. However, Success! Our wristbands attached, we headed for our nearby gate, noticing that the line for pre-screening was now much, much longer than when we arrived. Our pre-screening worked, if not smoothly, and we arrived at our gate with a few minutes before the start of boarding.

View of Maui as we descended to land in Kona, Hawaii

I have only flown through Honolulu on one trip, but that was enough. Our direct flight from San Francisco to Kona was an easy five hours in the air. With three hours of time change between the west coat and Hawaii, we arrived only two hours after we took off. Our wristbands allowed us to go straight to baggage claim. Jonathan’s bag was just about the last item off the plane, but it appeared, and we caught a shuttle to the car rental area and picked up our gigantic Chevy Tahoe. It will hold all our visitors in the coming weeks.

An hour later we were at the Kohala Grown Market getting a few items for dinner and breakfast. Our host advised us to stop in before getting to the house, because all the stores close at 6 pm and we could get stranded without supplies. It was good advice, as we pulled in to the store at 5:45 pm. Shortly thereafter, we met our hosts Tom and Samarra, got a tour of the basics and settled down to have a bite to eat after an extended day.

The house is large and comfortable, with a view of the ocean in the distance across pastures of young animals. We’re on the dry side of the island, full of cattle ranches.

We went out by the pool to look at the stars, and even on a partially cloudy evening, the view was remarkable.

The house has lots of recliners in the TV room, a long lap pool, and an orchard with mango, lime, orange, and avocado trees. It’s going to be a good month.

It’s windy this week, which keeps the humidity at bay. With all the screen doors open, we’re comfortable, and can hear the doves and sand grouse calling in the morning. Aloha!

Bainbridge Island, WA to San Francisco

We set out for a new spot, this time the Big Island of Hawaii. We took three days to drive from Bainbridge Island, WA to San Francisco. The first day was full of tree-covered hills and interspersed with valleys of browned grass. We admired the feats of engineering that put a highway along this coast, carving huge roadcuts and constructing bridges across the Willamette, the Rogue, and other rivers. I chatted with my sister Paula as we passed through her home turf in Portland, and we ended Day 1 in Eugene, OR.

I managed a dip in the hotel’s tiny pool, and we got takeout dinner from The Taste of India on Villard St., a return visit. We enjoyed our food from this restaurant so much on our drive north a month ago, that we decided we wanted a second helping. It was as delicious as the previous visit.

Smoke from forest fires southern OR and northern CA

We got an early start on the stretch from Eugene, OR to Eureka, CA. The drive was another day of hills and valleys, curves and dips, as we wound our way down the coast, thorugh a light haze of smoke from forest fires. We picnicked beside the beach south of Crescent City, CA, then entered Redwood Country, passing the Mystery Trees attraction with it’s statue of Paul Bunyan towering alongside the road. We admired the redwoods but didn’t stop at any of the named groves. We’ve visited a few, and wanted to reach Eureka. The Red Lion Inn is ordinary, but not too far from where Amanda and Jim live, and that was our destination.

With barbecue from the Humboldt Smokehouse, we went over for a visit. They were our final stop before the airport, and we off-loaded more boxes of things that we can live without, that Lily and Neil will collect when they drive from California to Illinois next month. After figuring out where to put the not entirely welcome boxes, we settled down to pet the dogs, have dinner and watch some LA Dodgers baseball. It was a relaxing evening.

Jitterbean is our morning coffee spot in Eureka, but they don’t serve food, so we made one last detour before leaving Eureka to Ramone’s Bakery and Café. We’re shifting our morning loyalties to Ramone’s now, as their croissant was the best we’ve eaten in a long time. Driving around the downtown area, I realized that we spent a month in Eureka last October when most businesses were closed. I appear to have missed out on a lot of interesting shopping, antique shops, and the Many Hands gallery. Now it would be fun to spend another month in Eureka, looking at all the places we missed during lockdown.

Near the San Francisco airport (Harvey Milk International Airport), the El Rancho Inn (Millbrae, CA) is a sprawling motel with a special twist—they offer a parking package. We can leave the car for a week for each night we stay, or 2 weeks for a night at each end of our travels. In this way, we can leave our Prius to be picked up by Lily and Neil on Sept. 20. They will take it on their California travels and then back to the Midwest. We will collect our boxes from them next month. We were happy to have a quiet evening of last minute rearranging. Tomorrow Hawaii!

In Search of the Shore

From the activities I described in my previous post, you might think Bainbridge Island is one big village full of performance spaces. Not at all. What has surprised us most is how heavily forested the island is. Where I think there will be grassy space, even near the beach, tall trees and undergrowth thick with ferns crowd right down to the shore. The topography is irregular, with lots of challenging hills for the ever-present cyclists. Many roads make unexpected turns to go around a few deep inlets that pull the shore into the woods. As much as we enjoy walking in the woods and the trails in the Bloedel Reserve, it is the shore that captivates us. We set out to see as much of the island’s edge as we could. Ah, but there’s the rub!

1: Most of Bainbridge Island’s shore is private, fenced, and posted. There are often few or no parking spaces near the very small number of shore access points, and we just cannot walk a long way anymore. To see the island best, you need lots of friends with beachfront homes.

During our infusion of culture, we learned our way up and down the island, but the time soon came when we wanted to visit a beach beyond the spot just down the hill from our house. I’ve been swimming there a few times. The shore is shallow and muddy when the tide is out, and ankle deep at high tide, but I can wade out and swim. The water doesn’t seem as cold as in Monterey, though I usually wear my wetsuit. There is a map of Bainbridge Island that shows other shore access points, and I decided we should visit all of them and see whether there are other access points unmarked on the map.

As we visited places marked “shore access,” we found there are some beaches with parking spaces for visitors, but most places that have signs indicating “shore access,” follow this immediately with No Parking signs. Occasionally, there is a sign noting where to park, up to a half mile from the access point. For us this is problematic. If we walked from the legal parking area to the shore, it would be time to turn back. Often, we couldn’t tell what the shore would be like without visiting. We parked illegally (though briefly) to walk down one path with a shore access marker. The narrow passage was bordered by No Trespassing signs. Though there were stairs to the shore at the end, the water’s edge was choked with seaweed. Maybe it’s nicer at low tide. We found this more than once. Access is carefully controlled by those whose houses face the shore.

A few shore access points in parks (Fay Bainbridge Park is the banner image for this post) have nice beaches, pebbly, sandy, and piled with driftwood and sea shells. On our walks, we’ve found people on Bainbridge to be friendly and enjoyable. We’ve chatted about their pets, beachcombing, and life on the island. We’ve been invited to see a nearby garden, or studio. Why then is it difficult to get to the shore in more than a very few places, as though visitors were not wanted? I believe this shows the conflict between landowners and visitors. Washington is not California, Oregon, Connecticut, or other states where the shore up to the high tide line is considered a public trust. In a number of places, the space between the high tide line and the nearest vegetation, the dry sand beach, allows right of common use as well.

Federal law indicates that the shore cannot be owned below the high tide mark, but individual states, like Washington, can interpret whether shore frontage must be shared. Most of Bainbridge Island’s waterfront is privately owned and the state does not demand that access be maintained as occurs elsewhere. We saw a home built so that the shoreside corner was well under water at high tide, preventing anyone on foot from passing. Some stretches of shore can be accessed by watercraft, there are some public beaches, and the “shore access” points, but most of the island’s shore is carefully posted and kept unavailable to visitors because the owners have never had to live with a shared shore. Having just moved here from California, it’s been a difficult adjustment.

2: Who Cares? We are not the usual kind of visitor to this island.

Having commented on the difficulty of trying to circumnavigate Bainbridge Island on foot, it seems only fair to ask why anyone would want to do that. Other visitors don’t complain about shore access. Notice I don’t say beach access because most of the shore is pebbly or rocky, with some sandy areas where people go clamming.

We had good outings looking for and walking on the island’s shore, and in a few places we were able to do some beachcombing. There is a lot of driftwood, and seashells in many spots. If you needed a soap dish or a small plate, you could go hunting for sea-washed oyster shells. We saw examples up to eight inches long. There was some beach glass, and we saw some sea creatures, like the occasional seal or sea lion swimming by.

Why fuss about shore access when we spent a full month exploring and did not run out of places to visit? (We even occasionally went off the island.) Personally, I believe that shore access should be free to all, and not at the nearest landowner’s pleasure. Landowners should not be required to construct trails and bridges, or to make cliffs accessible. Nor should landowners be liable for twisted ankles or other accidents that might occur on the waterside margin of their land no matter how steep, but if a patch of shore is walkable, anyone should be allowed to walk or beachcomb. I don’t own any waterfront property, and I could be accused of wanting something for nothing, but I believe we should all be taught from an early age to respect and share the amazing resource that is the space between land and sea.

3: Other natural pleasures of Bainbridge Island

August was a month of nature. There were a few seagull species we hadn’t seen before, and a lot of familiar birds on the bird feeder at the house. This is a region where black-capped chickadees and chestnut-backed chickadees are present in equal numbers. They squabbled with each other and the red-chested nuthatches for domination of the feeder. Birds on a feeder are an embodiment of “the smaller the stakes, the more bitter the battle.”

In our backyard, we had a wild rabbit and a black rabbit that could have originally been a pet. Regular squirrels and tiny Douglas squirrels came out to take peanuts off the porch railing and wave their tails frantically.

We have explored a bit beyond the island, but at one point we looked at visiting a park an hour’s drive away and realized that it would take us to a place directly opposite the shore we’ve visited on Bainbridge. Why go when you can stay?

Visiting Port Townsend made a lovely day. We started with the trail to the “glass beach”, but we weren’t up to walking three miles each way. The beach was good for a long walk and yielded a few pieces of beach glass. Our stop at the old water tower with its fire bell still in place gave a view over the downtown area. There are lots of stores and restaurants waiting for visitors.

When my sister Paula and her partner Wayne were with us, we made the journey to Dungeness Spit, a wonderful long walk along the shore. Again, we didn’t make the trip to the lighthouse, said to be five or size miles each way, and enjoyed the gorgeous day. Our bonus was finding Salty Girls for lunch in nearby Sequim (pronounced “Squim”). Steamed clams and a crab melt really hit the spot, and none of us envied Jonathan the drive home. When she was a graduate student at the University of Washington, Paula thought she might retire to Sequim. I can see her point.

Dungeness Spit

Last but not least, we took a day trip to Marrowstone Island, a narrow island that is relatively small in terms of Puget Sound. From the Ft. Flagler park we looked across to the cliffs of Whidby Island, and strolled the shore. On the way to Marrowstone is Indian Island, but it cannot be explored despite the intriguing name. The entire island is a naval facility that stores ordnance, and is fenced and razor-wired to an impressive extent. The waters of Puget Sound off Marrowstone are busy with commercial sea traffic moving in and out of the port of Seattle. We saw container ships, tankers, a dredge piled high with sand towed by a tugboat at the end of the longest tow line I’ve ever seen. On the margins of the sea lanes, sailboats and motor craft cruised up and down. The shore is dotted with fishermen, a couple of whom showed off the salmon they’d caught. It was a lively day.

What with all the walking, beachcombing, clam-eating, wine-tasting, and bird-watching, the month flew by. Tomorrow we embark in our trusty Prius for points south (Eugene, OR; Eureka, CA; San Francisco, CA) and points west (Kona, HI). I’ll see you there.

Below are a few photos that don’t fit neatly into any category other than Bainbridge Island and environs.

Clockwise from upper left: plants at the Bloedel Reserve; the “Sea Glass Quilt” sidewalk art in downtown Winslow; Pickleball was invented by a group of Bainbridge Island residents; a rustic bus shelter; a frog sitting on a ferry–I don’t know why; a vintage auto bumper in the woods near Gazzam Lake.

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