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Hawai`i is "The Big Island"

As many of you know, the island of Hawai`i is known locally as "The Big Island" — because the island is so big — as big as the state of Connecticut. And many folks are confused by this island having the same name as the state. Of course, that is historical — as you'll recall King Kamehameha united the islands under his rule and used the name of of his home island as the name of his entire kingdom — the Kingdom of Hawai`i.

And being the origin of the Hawai`ian Kingdom, the Big Island has a lot of history. One such spot is a long drive to the north end of the island plus a bumpy ride on a dirt road plus a modest hike up the hill to Mo`okini Heiau.

The heiau is huge — one of the largest in the islands — as befitting the heiau of King Kamehameha the Great — some 125 by 250 feet (38 by 76 meters). It was one of the most sacred sites in the kingdom and was used for human sacrifice.

The place has a feel to it — nothing here but the heiau, with the wind blowing ferociously and overlooking the rough water in the strait between Hawai`i and Maui. Some people report encounters with spirits of those sacrificed here — my visit was peaceful, perhaps because I was Hawai`ian in a previous life.

More history, or is it art? A bit south of the heiau are the petroglyphs at Puako. My guidebook directed me into the neighborhood and said to look for a well-marked trail at the road's end. I could not find a trail of any kind, much less "well-marked". Fortunately, there is a nice little beach park here so all was not lost — more beach photographs.

As I was doing my job, I encountered a surfer coming out of the water and I asked her if she knew where the petroglyphs were. She did and gave me directions to follow the shoreline path to a second beach park where there were signs there to further direct me. Her directions were right on and I found the petroglyphs. It turns out that someone seems to have built a house in the way of the old "well-marked" path so I could not have gotten there from my original starting point. Further, the Mauna Lani resort has built parking and upgraded beach access for residents — and they are now the keepers of the petroglyphs — good for them!

And what a marvelous set of petroglyphs it is. For long-time readers of LAHP, you will recall that I previously wrote about the petroglyphs in South Mountain Park very near my home in Phoenix. It turns out that there is a marked difference between the two types. The Native American petroglyphs are made by scraping the outer oxidized layers of rock so the lower layers can show through. The Hawai`ian petroglyphs were actually carved into the rock. You can notice in this photo that the grooves have filled with small leaves which really accents the shape of the figures.

As for the subject matter, it could be a circus act (although usually the biggest guy is on the bottom), a genealogy chart (like all the "begats" in the Bible) or a basketball team with one ringer (the big guy). Seriously, the experts seem to disagree about the meaning of the images. Some suggest they marked boundaries between the territories of two chiefs. Others suggest they are religious in nature. And still others think simply in terms of art. To me the purpose does not matter, the petroglyphs simply connect me to the ancient inhabitants of this awesome place.

I find it fascinating how different cultures dealt with crime and punishment. And when we think of ancient Hawai`i, we think "paradise" — so what kind of crime would anyone commit? Well, it turns out that there were criminal acts that we would not consider serious but which could be capital offenses under the ancient Hawai`ian "kapu" system — such as stepping on the shadow of the king.

And if you committed such an offense, there were no professional attorneys to come to your defense — so you took off running, swimming, paddling toward the nearest place of refuge. If you could make it to such a place, the priests would forgive your sins and you could rejoin Hawai`ian society.

One such place (commonly called "The City of Refuge" because the name is so hard to pronounce) has been preserved — Pu`uhonua O Honaunau — as a national park. Honaunau Bay is a sheltered cove with readily available drinking water and naturally became a favorite spot for the ali`i (royal chiefs). A carved wooden pole warned commoners that the landing spot was for ali`i only. Of course, if you violated this kapu, you only had a short sprint to safety and forgiveness.

The reconstructed Hale o Keawe heiau houses the bones of the ali`i which is important because they possess great mana (power). It was the mana of the ali`i that made this place sacred and thus the City of Refuge.

The tikis shown here are carved here by craftsmen who have learned from their elders — a time-honored tradition passed from generation to generation. Other craftsman carve dugout canoes. Both tikis and canoes have to be replaced from time to time as the wood decays through exposure to sun and salt air. You can note in the photo here that some of the tikis are gray with weathering and others are brown as evidence that they were carved more recently.

I loved the grouping of these six tikis and did not notice until I got home that my photo makes them look like a singing group — the Tiki Six. I hope the Hawai`ian gods will forgive me this little joke — and that I don't have to paddle, swim and run back to the City of Refuge (it's a long way from here).

Not only is there much Hawai`ian history here, there is a lot of geology here. The Big Island is dominated by the volcanoes. When you drive along any of the main roads, you'll come across a lava field that looks like freshly plowed soil — like they were preparing to plant a crop or build a housing complex. But a sign indicates that it was the lava flow from 1875! You may notice a few struggling plants that have somehow gained a toehold (not even a foothold) in the cracks in the lava. Older lava flows have more flora and eventually begin to look like normal land covered with grass and shrubs and trees.

And the island is still growing — Kilauea is still erupting, although I was told that the flow to the sea is not very great right now so I did not visit Madame Pele (goddess of the volcano). Too bad because the molten lava glows red-hot and produces some spectacular nighttime photos as well as wonderful plumes of steam where the lava hits the much cooler ocean.

In a few spots, Mother Nature has ground up the lava and produced black sand. How many of you have ever walked on a black sand beach? It is weird because we are so used to white sand beaches and it's almost like Mother Nature has used her own version of Photoshop to change its color — but it's real!

The sand is not as fine as most white sand beaches and makes kind of a crunching sound when you walk on it. However, the black sand makes a beautiful contrast against the greens and blues of the Pacific.

And if you think a black sand beach is weird, what would you think of a green sand beach. Now I know that some of you are going to accuse me of using Photoshop to bring you this photo. Not true. In fact, I had to drive all the way to South Point (the southern-most spot in the United States) then hike two and one half miles (four kilometers) in one of the windiest areas I have ever experienced (they even have power generation windmills at South Point because of the wind). Photoshop would have been a lot less work.

The green sand is actually ground up olivine which is a mineral produced by the volcanos. This beach is actually at the base of a large outcropping of olivine and the winds have deposited it onto the beach where the waves break it into finer bits.

The photo was taken from the top of the hill — I confess that I was not about to risk my 61-year old body following a 20-something local kid down the very steep hill here.

Before we leave the beach, I have to mention that I saw more sea turtles on this trip than I have ever seen in all my travels to Hawai`i. There are two kinds found here — the Green Sea Turtle and the nearly extinct Hawksbill Sea Turtle. I believe this one is a Greenie.

But you complain that it is not very green. Well, I am told that the name came about because the meat is green. Both species are protected so I cannot confirm that from personal experience.

This turtle was slowly making its way up the black sand beach to rest after a hard day of swimming and eating algae (and probably avoiding snokelers too). This was a rare and special moment for me.

On Oahu and Maui, I have favorite condos that I stay at. However, since I have not visited the Big Island and Kauai as often, I had to look harder for accomodations. As you would expect, the hotels and condos are quite expensive — $300 a night is considered a good rate by some (not me).

On a previous trip to the Big Island I stayed at Hale Maluhia Country Inn (House of Peace), a Bed & Breakfast just outside Kailua-Kona. The elevation is about 1000 feet (305 meters) above sea level so it is a cooler, more comfortable setting — especially on those hot summer days. And I have returned — obviously, I enjoyed my first stay here.

The B&B is owned by Ken and Sue Smith (although they are in the market to sell so they can retire full-time). Ken built the entire sprawling estate, a bit at a time, to house his formerly growing family. Now the kids are gone and the Smiths share their homestead with lucky guests like me. They were wonderful hosts and made my stay on the Big Island most enjoyable.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com