Day 5 – Return to the Kohala Coast

A panoramic view of Mahai’ula Beach by the historic fishing camp

Driving can get tiresome day after day, so we opted to return to Anaeho’omalu Bay (locally known as A-Bay) rather than explore further south as we’d originally planned. First, we stopped to take a look at the world-class Hapuna beach. The stretch of white sand was extraordinarily beautiful but crowded, so we didn’t stay long. We opted instead for a hike at the less accessible Makalawena Beach, which draws fewer people. Continuing south, we made a couple stops before going to the beach. First was the Malama Trail to the Puako Petroglyph Park near the Mauna Lani Resort. The trail leads to an 800-year-old Native Hawaiian site with thousands of petroglyphs (kii pohaku, meaning “image stone”), mainly of warriors and other human forms. On the way, we saw a vivid red house finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) and his mate, a pair of tiny buff colored birds with dark backs, and lots of little red-eyed mongooses (Herpestes javanicus) that scampered around the lava rocks like squirrels. After this, we visited the Queens Market near A-Bay, an outdoor mall where we met a friendly lady at Malibu shirts who sold us a new hoodie with a vintage pattern of the Hawai’i Surf Club for Joseph and a tee shirt featuring humu humu nuku nuku a pua’a, the Hawaiian state fish, also known as the reef triggerfish (Rhinecanthus rectangulus). On the way out, I spotted a wild goat with a jet black coat posing on a small tower of rock in a lava field near the highway.

The drive out to Mahai’ula Beach was passable but a little rough. It’s not far, but the road crawls over lava rock. Plenty of sedans make their way in, though. Inexplicably, a couple of short stretches of tarmac had been laid down over the lava in the middle of the route, and these came complete with speed bumps and traffic signs warning us to keep the speed down! Mahai’ula Beach is in Kekaha State Park, which also includes beautiful shorebirds, anchialine pools, a historic fishing camp, and our destination, Makalawena Beach. Several young women were working at the anchialine pools, probably part of a restoration effort to return native Hawaiian red shrimp (‘opae’ula, Halocaridina rubra) to the area. Anchialine pools are landlocked freshwater pools with an underground connection to the ocean. These particular pools were flooded with sand from the 2011 tsunami in Japan that damaged the Fukashima Daiichi nuclear power plant and killed thousands of people. The fishing camp at Kekaha State Park has never been accessible by road. It was built in 1880 by a fisherman named John Kaelemakule as his home, and it’s now a state-owned historic landmark. Reaching Makalawena Beach requires a mile-long hike over a jagged, black aa trail. It’s worth it. The hiker is rewarded with white sand dunes, acres of beach morning glory (Convolvulus cneorum), and a gorgeous beach without big crowds. Though the water was choppy, I ventured in, getting a good soak in the surprisingly chilly waters of the South Pacific.

Rather than try an unknown restaurant that may or may not be good, we decided to revisit the Lava Lava Beach Club for dinner. After waiting in line just to talk to the hostess, we were told the wait for a table would be two and a half hours. There are a lot worse places to be than the beach club’s waiting area, with a large green lawn, a vintage Volkswagen bus turned mini bar, and a cheesy, flashing, lighted “Aloha” sign. I enjoyed a Mai Tai while watching the sunset while Joseph enjoyed a nice red wine. The wait turned out to be only an hour and a quarter before we were seated outside listening to live music and I was enjoying ahi with saffron jasmine rice and etouffe sauce, fresh vegetables, and another Big Swell IPA. Joseph had a signature sizzling shrimp dish and an IPA. The music was provided by a young woman who sang and played the guitar, giving us exceptional, bluesy takes on some of my favorite rock songs. Unfortunately, we didn’t get her name. While enjoying dinner, some of the resident wild cats started prowling around in search of ear scratches and handouts. One warmed up to Joseph while another shy kitty hunched up on a surfboard stacked along the fence, watching everything with wary feline eyes.

Day 4 – Easter on the Kohala Coast

Panoramic view at Anaeho’omalu Bay

Easter breakfast was macadamia nut cookies, fruit, and coffee. I “McGyvered” a coffee maker out of a sawed-off United Airlines water bottle and paper towels. It worked tolerably well until I found a portable coffee cone at a Starbuck’s later in the trip, which was obviously better. Besides, the water bottle shrunk a bit with each pour, so its days were numbered anyway.

We’d booked a whale watching trip online with Hawaii Nautical, so we drove west from Waimea to Anaeho’omalu Bay (locally known as A-Bay) and waited as instructed by an orange sign, taking in the sights. At various times, depending on the cloud cover, we could see six different volcanoes from A-Bay: the active Mauna Loa and Kilauea, dormant Hualalai, Haleakala, and Mauna Kea, and the extinct Kohala. Haleakala peeks above the ocean from the Island of Maui, and Hualalai looks like a classic cinder cone sprouting from the flanks of Mauna Loa. The tour boat was operated by two women: the captain had been touring for just over 20 years, the same time I’ve been doing contract work for the Department of Energy. There were no humpback whales, not surprising because it was the end of their mating season in Hawai’i. I learned that two thirds of the world’s humpbacks come to Hawai’i (the others go to Baja California), and that dolphins and porpoises tend to avoid this coast until all the whales leave. So, no spinner dolphin or porpoise sightings either, but it was a great boat ride, and we did get to see a bunch of honu (Hawaiian sea turtles [Chelonia mydas])! The water was a gorgeous, turquoise-blue near the shore and deep sapphire beyond. It was a sparkly, sunny day and the sea was choppy with plenty of small white caps. There was a lot of refreshing ocean spray in my face coming back. Joseph had the bulk of it going out, so it was only fair.

The “Lava Lava Beach Club” has a name that is so cliche that we almost didn’t try it, but there was a line forming out front when we returned from our boat ride, and that usually means something.  I’m glad we took the chance because it was a classy, breezy, socially distanced pub with excellent food and local brews on tap. I tried the Maui Big Swell IPA, and Joseph had the Kona Kua Bay IPA. Our server, Wyatt, brought ahi poke for me and fish tacos for Joseph. We also ordered beer-battered onion rings to share. Magnificent!

After lunch, we visited nearby Puako Beach, recommended by our whale tour guide. Here, we saw urchins, anemones (all closed up), and various shorebirds. It was not crowded, and while Joseph soaked up some sun, I walked the length of the beach, finding treasure in the form of a large sea turtle doing acrobatic swimming maneuvers beneath the waves. Growing along the beach were Naupaka shrubs with their beautiful little half-flowers.

North of Puako Beach is a National Historic Site called Pu’ukohola Heiau, where the first king of Hawai’i, Kamehameha I (Kamehameha the Great), oversaw the careful building of a temple, or heiau, which helped Kamehameha unify the Hawaiian Islands into one nation. Pu’ukohola means “hill of the whales,” as they can be seen from the hill when in season. Kamehameha’s heiau is high on the hill and about 200 years old. It’s built above Mailekini Heiau, 300 years older. The audio tour (which you can access via your cell phone) advises that as outsiders or commoners, we would have been executed for coming so close to these sacred sites. There is an underwater heiau (Hale o Kapuni Heiau) in the bay below where human sacrifices were once offered to the shark gods. Evidently, sharks still like to come to Pelekane Bay. We looked for their fins for a while, but alas, we saw none.

The journey back to Waimea first took us north to the end of Highway 270, where we tried to hike down to a cove from the Pololu Valley lookout. However, it was raining, and the trail was slick and steep, so we didn’t get far. It was an amazing place, though, with tall, dark cliffs plunging straight to the shoreline and mist settling in over deep rainforests above.  The drive back to Waimea wound through magical country where little black and white cattle grazed on steep, impossibly green, grassy slopes, surrounded by flocks of white cattle egrets and the occasional, enormous prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica). Near the town of Hawi were native, wiliwili trees (Erythrina sandwicensis) that look like they came out of a science fiction landscape. I spotted a white tern (Gygis alba) flying along the north coast. They’re the cutest little birds. Look one up. You’ll see what I mean.