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Hawai'i: December 2018


The Hawaiian islands were formed by a single undersea magma source. This stationary hotspot is continuing to build islands while the tectonic plate moves northwest. Thus, the oldest Hawaiian islands are in the NW and the most recent one with the active volcanoes is in the SE of the archipelago.

Over the span of 800 years, Polynesians explored and settled on every habitable island in the Pacific.
Polynesia encompasses a huge triangular area that has its apex at the Hawaiian Islands in the North and its base angles at Aotearoa in the West and Rapa Nui in the East.
The first wave of migration to Hawaii was probably out of the Marquesas in 300-600 AD. A second wave of Polynesian migrations took place in 1000-1300 AD from Bora Bora, Raiatea and Tahiti.
Nowadays, less than 10% of the population are native Hawaiian. Asians are the largest ethnic group (40%), mainly Filipino, Japanese and Chinese.

Our first shock when arriving from New Zealand and French Polynesia to Hawaii was the total lack of Polynesian culture here. You only see commercial kitsch like the omnipresent pineapple. By the way, the pineapple is indigenous to South America and was introduced to Hawaii only in the 19th century. Pineapple and sugar cane are symbols of the white colonialism that displaced Hawaiian people from their land and decimated the indigenous population with foreign diseases.

In New Zealand and French Polynesia, Maori and Tahitian are fluently spoken and TV broadcasting in local Polynesian language are normal. In Hawaii the native language, the religion and other cultural expressions are totally absent.

Our second shock when arriving to Hawaii was the temperature. We were used to the French Polynesian summer where the nights are much warmer than the days in Hawaii! For us, it's an abrupt temperature lowering of 10 degrees Celsius ... cool days and cold nights! We have to abandon our summer clothes and start wearing jumpers and, for the first time since very long time, sleep with a couple of woolly blankets! ... brrr!!

Since the 1950's, Honolulu and Waikiki Beach have had the great reputation as the world's favorite tourist destination...

Today, 9 million tourists a year are concentrated in less than 2 square kilometers and in 300 hotels...

We don't want to stay here! We'll spend the next 3 months on Kauai, Hawaii, Maui and Molokai.


Oahu - Kauai

Kaua’i (1360 km and 19 days) 

After 7 long days in a Waikiki hotel, we have finally a home again: a nice 60 m2 apartment with a fully equipped kitchen. Not a given in the US! At last, we can now buy healthy food and cook delicious dinners to forget the unappealing Waikiki restaurants only offering unappetizing fatty stuff.

The oldest and Northernmost Hawaiian Island is graced with a dramatic beauty. Kaua’i is the fourth most-visited Hawaiian island with 1.3 million visitors annually. The island has an amazing scenery and many secluded beaches. Kauai's 90 miles of shoreline has more beaches per mile than any others in the Hawaiian chain but mostly requiring a 4WD to access them. The highest peaks on this mountainous island are Kawaikini, 1598 m, and Mount Wai'ale'ale at 1569 m, one of the wettest spots on earth, with an annual rainfall of 12 m. This high annual rainfall has eroded deep valleys, carved out ridges, canyons, and creates many scenic waterfalls. Over 90% of the island cannot be reached by road … a hiker’s paradise.
Kaua'i has been featured in many movies: Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, Outbreak, Six Days Seven Nights and more.

On day 2, we visit the Koloa Rum Company located within the Kilohana Plantation. Unfortunately, this is not the distillery site but only a shop built for tourists. The Kilohana Plantation is a quite busy place with restaurants, tens of shops and a historic train … after a while in this crowded spot, we find the rum tasting room. First thing, show a valid picture ID and this independently from the obvious biological age … everyone needs to be checked … legal drinking age is 21 years! Regrettably, all rums for tasting are sugar overcharged drinks with fancy flavors: too sweet to be drinkable and nothing to do with a rum. This is a hard blow for real rhum connoisseurs like us. The only “pure” rums produced, a white and 3-years aged rum are not available for tasting. Therefore, we decide to buy a sample bottle of the white rum to have an assessment of the taste. We got the first shock when buying it in the shop … the lady tells us it’s absolutely tasteless and flavorless ...  Indeed, it’s like pure alcohol for disinfection … Nothing to do with the excellent rhums we know from Guadeloupe and Martinique.
After this big disappointment, we try with a craft brewery in Lihue: the Kauai Beer Company. It’s a small location with a relaxed atmosphere, the tanks in the back are smaller-scale … looks good. Unfortunately, the beers (we tasted the American-style IPA and the Porter) don’t match our expectations. After our great discoveries in Aussie and Kiwi lands, we’re really demanding!

On our 3rd day, we take a tour of the island South & West shores, Our 1st stop is at Opaekaa Falls parking. The falls are quite far away and you’re not allowed to walk to the falls. Next stop - another parking, at Wailua Falls. It’s strange to watch waterfalls from a fenced parking slot, but we’re in the US. After the two waterfalls, we drive to the Waimea Canyon, along the HI 552. The Waimea Canyon Lookout has a really gorgeous view, we’re nicely surprised and there is even some sun with its rainbow. We continue until the end of the road at the Pu’u o Kila Lookout. We’re in the mountains here, at 1250 m, and it’s cold (15oCand rainy … the higher lookouts are completely in the fog. We have to return here for our planned hikes … but the weather forecast is rain for the entire next week! Cross fingers for a better outlook.

We drive down by following the HI 550 until Waimea as this road is more scenic and offering good views of the lower Waimea Canyon. Our last stop of the day is at the Spouting Horn Park in Poipu. A blowhole spouting water high in the air accompanied by a suggestive sound.

After two days of uninterrupted rain, finally some sunshine on the leeward side is forecasted in the afternoon. The South shore of Kauai is rated as the best snorkeling area of the island. We drive 26 busy miles to Salt Pond Beach near Hanapepe, listed as a good snorkeling spot with a wide variety of marine life. We start positively despite some black clouds. We see a monk seal basking on the beach. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen seals … since New Zealand in fact. The difference here is that there’s only one single and lonely individual on the beach and the animal is fenced-off for its own protection from the rest of the beach with plenty of bathers around.
The water in the bay is brown-gray and the visibility is maximally 3 m … not really inviting but we splash in. We swim across the 250 m of this small bay, all along the “reef” but there’s absolutely nothing to see. Some brown rocks covered by algae, a couple of small and totally bleached corals and a few reef fishes. What a disappointment! This is the worst snorkeling we ever experienced.

The day after, it’s partly sunny so we try another popular snorkeling place: Lawai Beach. Tens of snorkelers are already there, swimming with their Go-Pro. We give it a try … rocks and rocks and rocks… the visibility gets better the farther out you swim. There are a few coral heads but not very healthy … beginning to disintegrate and decompose. There are some butterflyfish, parrotfish and needlefish and tons of urchins. Again well below our expectations, there’s nothing justifying snorkeling here … the seascape is a desolate moonscape. However, better than our first snorkeling at Salt Pond Beach.

After over a week, the weather is slowly turning to sunshine and we’re ready to start our first hike. We start from the Pu’u Hinahina Lookout Parking and take the Pu’u Hinahina trail to the Halemanu parking and from there the Cliff trail and the Canyon trail until the top of Waipo’o falls. All together, we walk an easy 4.6 km (return) with a small descent of 185 m. The only section demanding some care is the very muddy Pu’u Hinahina trail. From the Cliff trail lookout, we've a wonderful view of the steep and colorful canyon (it’s a side arm of the big Waimea Canyon), which is only exceeded by the view at the no-name lookout near the top of the Waipo’o falls. 

On day 10, the weather forecast announces perfect hiking conditions. We leave Kapaa at 7:30 to begin the Awa’awapuhi Trail at 9:15 with a cloudless blue sky.
We descend 540 m along 4.7 km of an unexciting forest of Ohia and Koa trees. After crossing a plain of 2 m high grass, we suddenly see two steep and deeply eroded valleys in front of us: we’re at the Awa’awapuhi Lookout. The right side of the lookout gives a free view of the Awa’awapuhi Valley but the most spectacular lookout is further left. From this second lookout, we continue to descend along the ridge to admire the junction of the Awa’awapuhi and Nualolo valleys: it’s a breathtaking view, especially because you have to walk on a sharp rocky ridge that is not larger than 60 cm in some places with very deep cliffs on both sides! The last hundred meters are really challenging but you’re rewarded with the vertical look into the junction of the two valleys.
After this stunning view, we decide to take the Nualolo Cliff Trail to link to the Nualolo Trail and the Lolo Vista Point. This lookout is exactly opposite to the Awa’awapuhi Lookout, thus perfect to close the day and having the best light to see deep inside the dramatic Awa’awapuhi and Nualolo Valleys. It’s a 4.9 km walk with an ascend of 415 m and a sharp descend of 310 m. After an endless 2 hours, the Lolo Vista Point is simply fantastic, absolutely the best panorama! You can see straight along the Napali Coast. The view point is totally free of any vegetation for a length of 300 m offering stunning views from many angles and perspectives. Unfortunately, it’s already mid afternoon and the sun is slowly setting down this time of the year. We would like to stay here longer and walk further along the cliffs, but it’s time to return. We have 5.7 km to get to the Nualolo parking and another 3 km along the main road to reach the car at the Awa’awapuhi parking. We have already hiked close to 10 km in 4 hours… The last 2 km are very strenuous and never ending, our first hike has developed to a full scale hike … 6 h and 35 mins, 15.5 km distance and 2057 m of elevation difference! Happily for us, a group of hikers we met during the day was still at the Nualolo parking and offered to drive us to our car 3 km away … this after a cold invigorating Belgian beer! What a wonderful day...

Another wonderful day (Day 12) begins in the mountains of Kokee State Park. With this cloudless weather, we decide to walk along the Pihea Trail and Alaka’i Swamp Trail to the Kilohana Lookout (12.6 km return), an area usually covered by clouds and under constant rainfall. About half of the trail runs on wooden boardwalks that keeps the hiker above the soft and water-soaked bog. Some sections of the wooden boardwalk are rotten and unstable. In-between, you have slippery mud and roots, mud-smothered boulders you have to traverse.
The first kilometer between the Pu’u o Kila Lookout and the Mount Pihea offers numerous views of the Kalalau Valley and the coast 1200 m beneath. After this point, no vistas until the very end of the hike, at the Kilohana Lookout. It’s a very long boring walk through “native” mountain rain forest … trees, shrubs, mosses, lichens and ferns without a view of the surroundings. After 2.5 km from the Pihea Lookout trail, the scenery drastically changes from mountain rainforest to open swampland, you are now in the Alaka'i Swamp. After another 2 km walking on small boardwalks and you finally reach the Kilohana Lookout. It was a very long walk but it’s worth every step: the Kilohana Lookout is an unforgettable experience. We see the Wainiha Valley down to the coast and then up to Hanalei Bay and Princeville! Such a clear view is really rare here. This valley is ending with Mount Wai’ale’ale, one of the most rainy points in the world. Clouds, mist, fog and rainfall are the normal conditions here … we have a hot and cloudless summer day (in winter at 1230 m above sea level). A real treat and a true luck...
After this intensive day, we need a good craft beer. We find a second craft brewery: Kaua’i Island Brewery and Grill in downtown Port Allen. They claim to be the world’s most western brewery … well, there are at least two breweries on Cook Islands more westernmost! We tasted the Captain Cook's IPA, Fonz IPA, Cane Fire Red IPA, Pakara Porter … all the IPA’s are pretty good but porter and stout need some profound reformulation to be drinkable ...

The next day, it’s another beautiful day. Since we’ve completed all our planned hikes in the Waimea Canyon and Kokee State Parks, we try a snorkeling tour in the hope of finding better sea-life than in the spots we already visited here with great disappointment.
We drive to the “insider” location Koloa Landing. It’s considered one of the best spots on Kauai for beginning scuba diving. Indeed about 10 divers are there, trying to enter the water with their heavy gear.
Koloa Landing is an abandoned cement boat ramp and walking down is slippery, the water gets deep quickly. Koloa Landing is praised for its big healthy coral heads, large schools of fish and many green turtles. We saw one turtle in the stream inlet right of the ramp just before getting into the sea. Good sign, we thought. Well, despite 5 days in a row of sunny weather and no rainfall, the visibility is bad, about 3 m. In addition, when swimming near the creek, the mixing of fresh water with salt water creates a blurring distorting the view. We could not find the one and only turtle we saw at the beginning.
The area is covered by rocks and boulders wrapped by algae and sometimes topped by flat plaques of corals. There are a few schools of fish and, as everywhere else here on Kauai, tons of urchins of all sizes. This is so far the best snorkeling spot on Kauai but any waterhole in the rest of the world would offer more to see. The fantastic sealife and pristine seascape of French Polynesia and New Caledonia are in another world, another galaxy compared to these brown rocks and cloudy water. We think we should stop trying to snorkel here: it’s surely not the right place.
Nevertheless, the day had a highlight: in front of The Point, a big condo in Poipu, we see many green turtles feeding and swimming, at least 10 ... A really awesome experience! We have to return here to take pictures.

It’s our last day in Kapaa. We move out from our beautiful apartment to the North, to Princeville. The original idea was that from there we’re nearer to the 18 km long Kalalau Trail, the only way to access the remote and rugged Napali coast. Unfortunately, the Napali Coast State Wilderness Park as well as the connecting highway are closed into mid-2019 due to the April flood damage. Well, we have now 5 days to fill with some activities … a difficult task with no hike and no snorkeling.

The weather here on the windward coast is not very promising. In addition, a 2h boat cruise from Hanalei to the Napali Coast on a small boat with only water to drink costs nearly the double as from Port Allen in a beautiful catamaran with drinks and dinner served! Well, our decision is rapidly taken: we drive all the way around Kauai to reach Port Allen on the leeward coast. On our way, we stop again at The Point in Poipu, to take some pictures of the many green turtles swimming here every day. This time we see “only” 5 turtles at a glance … stunning to see them just below a big condo.

Contrary to Princeville, the leeward coast is sunny. We embark on a 20 m long catamaran for a 4h relaxing cruise along the coast up to the Kalalau Valley. The afternoon light on Na Pali is perfect to see the many hues of green, red and black and the low sun that highlights the many sharp ridge lines making this coastline so picturesque. We also see from the sea, the long exhausting hikes we made in the last week to Pihea, Awa’awapuhi and Nu’alolo. During the cruise, we were able to spot a couple of humpbacks and a small pod of spinner dolphins. We started the day driving from Princeville to Port Allen and then cruising to Kalalau, this is 90% of circling the island! Insane …

One day before our last day in the North, we attempt some snorkeling at Anini Beach, a few kilometers West from Princeville. This is the largest fringing reef in Hawaii but mostly dead! We’re here to see the green turtles. Just 200 m from the shore, we encounter 5 adult turtles and 1 younger one. The visibility is low but acceptable (5 to 6 m) and the water isn’t too cold. As usual nobody seems to see them. There are 5 turtles within 30 m and hardly no one sees them. Most people are not going further in than 20 m from the shore despite being this a reef-protected bay without waves or currents and not deeper than 1.5 m. Too bad for them because it’s an incredible and gentle dance of turtles, all around. On the sea floor, swimming, feeding, breathing and napping. It’s a gorgeous finish of our stay in Kaua’i and the only positive experience in the sea so far.


Please follow us on next page: Hawaii January 2019

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