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Kaloko-Honokohau National Hist. Park
The big island of Hawaii not only has incredible snorkeling and the largest active volcano in the world, but it also preserves important pieces of Hawaiian culture through three national historical parks.
All three parks are on the western side of the island. The first one that we visited was Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park, along the Kona coast.
At the park entrance:
We had seen the visitor’s center when driving from the airport yesterday. The small, recently built structure had looked a bit lonely—and even a bit odd—sitting by itself in a wide expanse of black lava.
To the non-discerning eye, the park may not have appeared very enticing. However, our travels through the U.S. have been enriched immensely by the fascinating things that we have experienced and learned at numerous national parks, monuments, and historical sites managed by our National Park Service. We knew that Kaloko-Honokohau would have some special treats in store for us--and we were right!
Genevieve, on the path to the visitor’s center:
The visitor’s center was called the “House of Welcome” (Hale Ho’okipa):
It consisted of some restrooms (on the right) and a small open area on the left, with an information desk, books, and display items.
There were several rangers to answer questions and to help Genevieve and Sebastian get started on earning Jr. Ranger badges. (Many national parks have Jr. Ranger programs where children can earn a badge by completing various activities within the park—answering questions, solving puzzles, picking up trash, attending ranger talks, and other tasks.)
Genevieve and Sebastian received their booklets and set to work. Here they are with Ranger Lily Souza, whose warmth, openness, and wealth of information made our time here extra-special:
Through Ranger Souza, we learned that the Hawaiian chiefs divided the land into long strips that ran from the sea to the ocean. Each strip (called an ahupua’a) would then belong to one community, and the land would provide everything that the community needed—trees from the mountain area, crops and plants from the lower lands, and fish and many other things from the sea. Since every community had similar lands and resources, there was no squabbling about one group having more than another.
This national park was established to preserve the coastal portions of two ahupua’a—named Kaloko and Honokohau—where hundreds of Hawaiians once lived. However, the land was not just a place to live; it was believed to have spiritual power (mana). The Hawaiian culture follows the deeply rooted practice of "caring for the land."
The community that once lived here used stacked stones to build planters containing small gardens of taro, gourds, and sweet potatoes. Some of those planters had been restored near the visitor's center, and traditional crops were growing inside.
We decided to follow the ½ mile trail to the ocean, to see a traditional fishpond as well as a fishtrap. We were delighted to find that Ranger Souza was also heading that way!
The lava around us consisted of chunky clumps that looked brittle.
It is amazing what can start growing in seemingly barren ground. Check out these ferns!
Ranger Souza explained that these lava fields contain many bodies that have been buried in crevices or under rock mounds. She pointed out a specific rocky area that was a gravesite:
Because of the high number of burial places, the path to the sea curved away to the left instead of proceeding in a straight line. Visitors are also not permitted to leave the trail and climb on the rocks.
This walled area with green trees growing in the center contained a deep well that was dug when this land had been considered for development, prior to the creation of the park.
Continuing on our walk, Genevieve and Sebastian were very engaged by Ranger Souza’s descriptions and stories.
As we got closer to the ocean, we saw more and more plant life. Ranger Souza spent time identifying the plants and explaining how they were traditionally used.
Here she is pointing out the yellow flowers of the ilima plant.
These blooms were (and still are) strung together to make lei.
The bulbous green fruit on the noni tree turns light yellow when ripe.
The fruit was medicine for a number of illnesses, while the bark of the tree made a brown-red dye, and the large leaves were used for wrapping food and also providing relief for sprained muscles.
Ranger Souza allowed us to touch and smell the yellow fruit (it has a foul scent when very ripe):
Walking onward, she showed us a slope of stacked rocks rising above some treetops to our right:
This was not a wall. It was a long slide (holua) that Hawaiians would cover with slick grass for the purpose of racing sleds down the ramp, sometimes laying on their chests and sometimes standing. Here is a view of the face of the holua from the fish pond area:
Before reaching the sea, we crossed through a small forest.
A tangle of trunks and roots:
Looking into the mass of branches next to our path, Ranger Souza showed us the bright green leaves of the coastal sandalwood, growing as a parasite on a mesquite tree:
The coastal sandalwood is native to Hawaii and was thought to be extinct until this batch was found by workers who were clearing the area. The underlying mesquite tree, however, is an invasive plant, not native to Hawaii.
Mixed among the trees and shrubbery were quite a few rock walls, remnants of property boundaries or animal pens built more recently by Hawaiians who lived here before the park was established in 1978.
Although the designation of this area as a national park served to protect and preserve Hawaiian lands and cultural elements, the reality was that the people who were still living here--enjoying the resources of the land and practicing the traditional ways of life—were forced to move from their homes. This removal caused some controversy within the Hawaiian community.
On our lava-rock path, we would occasionally find an uneven surface that was really a series of carved dots.
These carvings are thought to have been used for a game of strategy, similar to checkers. Ranger Souza showed us how stones would be placed on top of the indentations.
Near the edge of the forest was an expanse of lava rock that contained a large number of petroglyphs. The park had constructed an elevated boardwalk through the petroglyph site so that visitors wouldn’t disturb the pictorial carvings.
The boardwalk entrance:
Here are several carvings that have eroded over time:
One set was very clear and contained a carving of a rifle, which was obviously made some time after the Europeans arrived and introduced guns in the late 1700’s.
Finally, we reached Honokohau Bay:
Green sea turtles liked to hang out here, soaking up the sun and eating the green algae that grows on the rocks:
Here is Sebastian, along with two turtles—one resting on the far rocks above his head, and the other nearly submerged under water on the right (with its algae-covered shell looking like a light rock):
We headed to our right, walking along the beach toward Aimakapa fishpond.
The pond was separated from the ocean by a long sand dune. Here are Ranger Souza, Geneveive and I climbing up and over the dune:
Sebastian loved the smooth sand where the dune met the water’s edge:
Aimakapa fishpond once held fish that were raised specifically for the Hawaiian chiefs. Still rich in fish, its marshlands now host a variety of native and migratory wetland birds.
We stopped to rest in the shade of a milo tree. Ranger Souza picked one of the green nuts, and with the flick of her fingernail, revealed the interior liquid that looked just like yellow paint:
We weren’t surprised to learn that it was traditionally used as a dye.
Sebastian took advantage of this rest stop to answer some questions in his Jr. Ranger booklet about what he had seen and discovered so far.
We then started walking back along the beach, in the direction we had come:
Surfers and paddle-boarders were enjoying the waves out in the bay:
At the far end of the beach, we waded across to a sandy area that was part of the Ai’opio fishtrap.
Here is an aerial view of the fishtrap from the National Park Service website:
(Photo credit here.)
The fishtrap had lava rock walls that allowed fish to swim inside a large area during high tide, and then trapped the fish inside when the water level receded.
Over time, with lack of maintenance, the walls had deteriorated and tumbled into the waves, although we could still see the general structure quite clearly.
The park is in the process of restoring the fishtrap and is waiting for funding to proceed with rebuilding the walls.
A traditional longhouse stood near the fishtrap. The smell of the recently thatched roof was divine, and we spent a few moments admiring how the fronds had been woven together.
From here, we retraced our steps back to the visitor’s center.
Upon entering the tree grove area, we passed the naupaka plant, with its unique half-flowers:
A related half-flower plant grows in the mountains. The intriguing flowers from these two plants stirred the imaginations of ancient Hawaiians, who created a story of two lovers who were forbidden to be together, with one being banished to the mountains and the other to the sea.
A movement caught our eye. There, blending in beautifully with the lava rock and dry ground was the golden plover (kolea), which migrates to Hawaii every winter from Alaska.
We made a note to keep an eye out for this bird during our extended travels through Alaska this coming summer!
A swarm of parrots swooped through the trees, chattering loudly. The ones that were solid green were a bit hard to find among all the green leaves:
However, the ones with the red heads stood out:
They seemed to be looking right at us, checking us out!
Here are four together:
These parrots are not native to Hawaii, and the park rangers are watching to ensure that the parrots don’t negatively impact native plants or animals—such as aggressively competing for the food and habitat of Hawaiian birds.
Ranger Souza paused by a kuawa tree to pick some of the long beans so that Genevieve and Sebastian could taste them. Genevieve thought they were quite good!
Back at the Visitor’s Center parking lot, we said “good-bye” to Ranger Souza.
Our journey through the park was greatly enhanced by all of the things that she shared with us, especially her friendship. Mahalo!
One last area of the park that we visited separately was a second fishpond--Kaloko fishpond—reachable by a narrow dirt road from the main highway.
Instead of a large sand dune separating the pond from the sea, Kaloko fishpond had an 800 foot rock wall. Here is an aerial photo from the U.S. Geological Survey:
(Photo credit here.)
The wall is believed to be about 600 years old. It had crumbled over the years from the pounding waves and lack of maintenance.
An exhibit showed what the wall looked like in 1998--a mass of unstacked rocks:
For the past 12 years, skilled masons have worked together to rebuild the wall in the traditional Hawaiian method, without mortar or reshaping the stones. Some have described the building process as “listening to where the stone wants to go.”
Another photo showed what the wall looked like in 2002, with half of the wall reconstructed:
Today, the complete wall stretched all of the way across, and we could walk on a portion. It was blocked off before the opening that allows fish to enter; a sign indicated that the rocks were unstable beyond that point.
The wall is 6 ½ feet high and 40 feet wide, and it felt solid under our feet.
Stretching out into the pond was the restored fish chute:
As we were standing there looking, we saw a flash of silver rise from the pond and quickly disappear again. It was a jumping fish! In fact, there were lots of jumping fish—leaping out and back very quickly. Finally, I captured a leap in action!
On the sea side of the wall, there was a lone surfer trying to catch a good wave:
(This was not a solitary endeavor, however, as his girlfriend was sitting on the rock wall watching and waiting for him.)
Sebastian played along the edge of the beach next to the fishpond area:
We left Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park with a greater understanding of the Hawaiian culture and how the community worked (and still works) together. We will always remember our time with Ranger Souza, as well as the Spirit of Kaloko: "A'ohe hana nui ka alu'ia" (No task is too big when done together by all).
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