Tag Archives: Hawaii

Puuhonua o Honaunau OR the Refuge

Did you know that Hawaii has a rich cultural history as well as kick-ass beaches? We visited the National Park Puuhonua o Honaunau (and, yes, I can say this in Hawaiian and I have the straw grasshopper to prove it!) on our last day in Hawaii as a low key thing to do, but it’s a wonderful place to visit. If you get a chance, stay for the ranger talk (it’s free) and it means so much more.

The grounds are fairly large and it is a cultural park, not a play a game of ultimate frisbee park.  There is a rocky beach around the corner from the park, but unfortunately, you can’t access the water from inside the park. If you could, you would be granted refuge. Historical Hawaiian culture and law sounded harsh – which means to me that life on the islands was probably unforgiving before modern conveniences and there was a reason the law had to be harsh. But, you gotta like a culture that allows you an “out” or a “do over”.  If you could reach this place of refuge before they cut off your head, you were given a “do over” – everything forgiven, slate wiped clean.


This was the front area of the Place of Refuge

The foregrounds of the Place of Refugre


The Place of Refuge was on a bay with a beach to the right.

The water approach

The game board still worked!

Modern game on old gameboard

Modern game on old gameboard

They had fish ponds here for the king’s use.  There were still Tilapia in the ponds protecting their nests

Fish ponds

I suppose people running for safety would be happy to see these guys

I suppose people running for safety would be happy to see these guys

The ranger told us that people still felt the spirits of the place and would bring offerings here

The ranger told us that people still felt the spirits of the place and would bring offerings here

Wooden totems


At the top of the world

My Dad loves the stars – the ones up in the sky, not the Hollywood ones. So, on our recent trip to Hawaii, one of the only things he wanted to do was visit the observatories on top of Mauna Kea. To give this some context, this is the man who never, ever, ever expresses a preference for a birthday gift, Christmas gift or any type of gift. The entire family has to guess at what to give him. And that’s a lot of people doing a lot of guessing because we’re a gift-giving family. So everyone is very happy when he says he wants something in particular and me, the person who everyone asks what he wants, is absolutely ecstatic!

Back to the story, we took a trip with Hawaii Forest and Trail that takes you up the mountain, includes dinner, an astronomy tour and brings you back.  The observatories are located over 14000 ft above sea level (really, really, really high if you are wondering).  Which means this is something very few other people have done (despite the number of idiots up at the summit). It is harder to breathe and move around up there and it is cold especially if you aren’t feeling well.  Drink plenty of water and if you are prone to car sickness, take something before you go.

However, it also means the air is crystal clear up there. Be prepared to see some amazing scenery when you’re on the top. Also be prepared to freeze when you use the outhouses (no flush toilets), oh, and the latch on the middle one sticks so make sure there’s someone on the outside to let you back out 🙂

At the very top, it does look like you are floating on clouds.  When the sun started to go down, all the domes opened and started to move.

When the ast ronomers come out to play

When the astronomers come out to play

As the sun went down, we were treated to the reddest sky ever.

The reddest sunset

The reddest sunset

But without vegetation and with everyone bundled up, it looked like a scene out of an alien movie.  There were a lot of people up there, some with other tours some who just drove up. I don’t recommend just driving up as its a long drive and you get out of the car, take a photo and then attempt to make your way back down in the dark. Tours are way more funner.

Some of the observatories at the top

Some of the observatories at the top

On the way up (yes, I know these photos are not chronologically ordered), we were treated to sites such as these and included the area that the US astronauts practiced for the moon landing!!!

The older piles of volcanic rocks show their iron rich content

The older piles of volcanic rocks show their iron rich content

At 10000 feet we had already left all vegetation behind

At 10000 feet we had already left all vegetation behind

There’s more to Hawaii than the beach

There’s chocolate too!!!  Yup, Hawaii has a working chocolate farm www.ohcf.us/.  It’s a small farm but gives tours and grows specific species of chocolate…heck, do you really need extra reasons to visit a chocolate farm???

They process pretty much everything by hand on the farm and the first thing you see is the chocolate – excuse me! the COCOA beans on drying racks in the Hawaiian sun

The smell in the air was pure chocolate

The smell in the air was pure chocolate

They look artistic from a different angle:

Beneath the drying rack

Beneath the drying rack


But we soon leave these behind to look at the actual trees growing row on row. The ground is littered with fallen leaves on purpose. They are dry and crackle when you walk on them and deep. It gives me pause to think what they might be covering up, but the whole place is quite dry and not hiding any nasty surprises like mud or mice.

The Cocoa tree grove with leaves carpetting the ground

The Cocoa tree grove with leaves carpetting the ground


If you’ve never seen cocoa pods on the tree before, they look like something out of an alien movie. The farm grows a couple kinds of cocoa and the colour and striations on the pods can differ. The cocoa flower is amazingly small. There was only one left on the tree.

These were piled in a wheelbarrow waiting to be processed

These were piled in a wheelbarrow waiting to be processed

I had to look hard to find it and then it was really hard to photograph at an awkward angle on a slippery floor

I had to look hard to find it and then it was really hard to photograph at an awkward angle on a slippery floor

Cocoa pods

The tour explains how it goes from these pods to cleaning to drying to a finished product. When the pods were cut open, we can see the seeds which are coated in a milky substance (also sweet) and attached to a fiber (also sweet) which some visitors found irresistable.

Fresh cocoa seeds and visitors

Fresh cocoa seeds and visitors


And the final product








A Travel blog hidden as a Camera review

The nice thing about a camera that you can lose in most women’s purses is that you can carry it everywhere! Not only did I go snorkelling with it, I just went photo happy.

The zoom is really quite serviceable for a pocket camera. 5x zoom gets you just that bit closer.

Far away

The zoom is not bad for such a small camera

The zoom is not bad for such a small camera


However, I don’t JUST take photos of animals.  Tried some photography in more of a dusk setting:

A hibiscus of a different colour

And then went really macro, but this colour was so technicolour that I’m not sure if the camera could handle it:

Technicolour hibiscus


And also tried it out on landscapes. Colour rendering is good here in mixed light and the bright sunshine of the beach without being contrasty. (Does it sound like I know what I’m doing when I use words like “contrasty”?)

Buildings at an abandoned sheep shearing station

Buildings at an abandoned sheep shearing station

Bright, sunshiny day


Lastly, one of the only “action” shots I took in Hawaii and it held up pretty decently:

Along with the butt shots of animals, the requisite "photo from a moving car"

Along with the butt shots of animals, the requisite “photo from a moving car”


So, in conclusion, the Sony DSC-TX30 is a very versatile camera for a wide range of shots.  A lot of what I took is certainly suitable to frame and put on your wall, to gain some “oohs” and “aahs” as a computer wallpaper and to vividly bring your vacation back to life!




Adventures with my new camera (2)

So the true test of my sony DSC-TX30 was to stick it underwater (that is, after all, the second main reason I bought it!).  Took it to Hawaii and went out into the ocean with it and promptly forgot how to turn off the touch screen! Because it is a touch screen, it becomes a little difficult to change the settings when your fingers are wet. The screen is definitely not as responsive with wet fingers and when you want to take a photo underwater one minute and then above water the next, well…..Just leave it on underwater setting and live with it – it’s not bad.

Okaaay, underwater – here are things you need to know. It doesn’t matter about the screen – it’s not like you can see anything in it. This was a true “point and shoot” exercise. Between my snorkelling mask, refraction of the bright (bright!!!) sunshine and less than pristine water and composition went out the window. LUCKILY, the fish didn’t move AS fast as you think.

In this first photo, you can see how cloudy the water is especially close to the surface, yet the camera was still good enough to pick up the fish.

Even in cloudy water


Just to be sure, took some shots of the bottom to make sure the camera was working.

The bottom of the sea


And in the very shallow water (as I was being pushed around by all the waves), you get a decent vacation shot.

Really hoped the fish was in that general direction

Really hoped the fish was in that general direction


Really pleased in quieter waters that it also picked up paler fish



Anonymous White Fish


And lastly, setting it to the underwater mode, and taking the photo in bright sunshine above the water, you still get a reminder of your exotic holiday.

Just as good above water

Just as good above water


Hawaii: Volcanoes

OMG! I totally forgot to finish this post! And seeing Kilauea is really worth a blog! Ok, the science stuff first: Kilauea is one of 5 and half volcanoes on the Big Island of Hawaii. There is a great explanation of them here. In fact, the USGS is the best source of info on Kilauea and gives updates on eruptions and seismic activities here. Kilauea is by far the most active volcano and gives the best showing. In case you are wondering, the “half” volcano is the new baby one just offshore to the south of the Big Island – stick around a few hundred years for its birth!

Now the tourist stuff: check before you go to see what’s open and what isn’t. They sometimes close down driving and hiking paths depending on what the volcano gods are doing. Or, on a plus side, they will also tell you when lava is flowing and you may get lucky and see the night lava flowing into the ocean. Driving up to the visitor’s centre is a lay-by where you can pull over and stick your face in some steam vents (travel tip #76: some facials are free). And in this harsh environment, don’t forget to stop and appreciate the flowers that have fought to survive here.

Steam Vents at Layby

Wild Ochids

However, the visitor’s centre viewing platform is almost always open, but is not always manned. However, if the lava is flowing, not to worry, the busloads of tourists will keep you company. The visitor’s centre itself is great. Really good displays and explanations although the gift shop closes early and was  a little heavy on the books. The really neat part of the centre were the seismographs. If you watched closely, you could see when there was seismic activity and then run out and see the lava lake glow. When I was there, there was loads of seismic activity, but no spewing lava – just a fiery red glow that was mesmerizing to watch. Last tip: it gets cold – bring long trousers or track pants and a sweater.

The cauldren at Kilauea   Lava at Kilauea

Getting close to the hot stuff!

Hawaii: Favourite Fish

Ok, this took much longer to put together than I thought. There’s very little I could think to say about the fish I saw in Hawaii. It would be a pretty boring blog of “really, really, pretty!” or “ooooh, love the colours!”, or “hmmm, reminds me of so and so at work”, etc, etc. So instead, I’ve labelled the fish I have photos of, in latin AND Hawaiian AND English (brownie points for me!) and put my comments in the captions! (you have to click on them to see the comments) All photos courtesy of my uncle who wouldn’t give up his camera even thought it refused to take pictures of fish in motion….. Note that the identification would not be possible without the well worth it purchase of “The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes” by John Hoover. It really was the ultimate and I recommend it if you are even a little bit curious about what you see in the ocean. It is so ultimate that the biologists recommended it to me and the bookstore staff knew it immediately even though I couldn’t remember the title or author!

Kukio where have you been all my life beach?

Picture your perfect beach. Does it include fine white sand (but not so powdery that it gets everywhere)? Is the water clear and calm so you’re not fighting the surf? Are there trees for shade? Is there only a handful of people on it? Are there showers and toilets? Welcome to Kukio.


This beach is actually in the resort attached to the Four Seasons hotel, but it is technically, a public beach. You have to ask for a parking pass at the guard house and there are only a few parking spaces (looked like less than 30). There is then a loooonggg walk through piles of volcanic rock with tantalizing glimpses of water to the actual beach.


Oh, but it’s worth it. I’m not a beach person. This was the first time I went on a vacation specifically to sit on a beach (and my idea of sitting is 30 minutes, an hour tops). But this beach had your postcard palm trees, slender and curving up to the sky. A gentle slope to the water that was dead calm due to a large breaker just offshore. And to make things interesting, there was also a patch of grass (!) and volcanic rocks for contrast.

The 3 terrain beach

The swimming was literally like a swimming pool, it was so calm, but with little fishies. For those looking for something more strenuous, you could swim/snorkel out to an outcropping of rock and swim around it and get a bit of surge. In the morning, it was clearer and the snorkelling wasn’t bad (got really cloudy later though). Off to the side was an even shallower, calmer pool where we found loads of baby fish!

Fish nursery

Conditions were perfect and photography here was easy. And as a terrific bonus, around a bend, closer to the resort, there were turtles!!!  We saw a big one (about a metre, but still a juvenile) and the only way I could take a photo was when the wave came in and it was like a looking glass into the water (otherwise it was too cloudy from the surf). Smaller ones came up onto the beach to sun themselves (unfortunately, their angle to the sun was all wrong! how could they!)

I swear to you that's a turtle

He chose this angle deliberately!

Punalu’u – the Black (as pitch) beach

Travel suggestion #1: keep your guide books even if they are heavy, out of date and you think you will never need them again. Because if I kept mine, I’d be sure that I got the right name of this beach!! I’ve seen black sand beaches before. I’ve even taken some of the sand home (this was way before tourism was rife and we thought about preservation). But I’ve never seen sand that was so black it seemed to suck in the light (sorry about the rain drop on the lens). This sand was truly black and the contrast was incredible.

Green and black

The only thing that saved the pictures was that it was an overcast day (hence the raindrop) and there wasn’t super bright sunlight out. However, the cameras had a really hard time coping with the range of exposures needed. In the images below, one is with the camera’s automatic settings (first photo below) and then I had to underexpose to try and get the true blackness (second photo below)Even with my tan2

Even with my tan


However, we really came for the turtles. They often like to sun themselves on this beach plus the beach itself is just off the road – the most accessible one ever and just 5 minutes from the well known Punalu’u bakery!  Alas! no turtles on this cloudy day, but plenty of the stuff they like to eat:

Turtle food!  To be honest, the beach itself is very beautiful even without turtles and the surf made for great photos! Here comes the wave!

Papakolea – It’s a beach silly (beaches second post)

I can almost guarantee this will be one of the most surreal sites you will ever see. A beach is not supposed to be green! Grass, apples and kermit the frog are suppOlivine crystals in lava rockosed to be green. This wasn’t the first beach we visited (see the list here), but it was one of the most unique. There are actually two – the further one that’s more olive than green and a very tiny patch of sand that is more green than olive. They both owe their distinctive colour to olivine crystals (see good posts here, here and wiki of course)

The larger of the two beaches is a perfect beach shape – gently rounded in a crescent moon shape. But as you approach (everyone pretty much approaches it the same way from the west) you can see the tall cliffs (remnants of the volcano) that have a mix of regular dark rock and I swore I could see that dark rock washing down the side of the cliff onto the beach. That accounts for the much darker olive colour of the sand now as opposed to 10 years ago.

Approach from the west

I suspect that in a very short time, the beach will no longer be green (go now!!!!). The locals are very aware of this and have posted a sign.


There is in fact, another green sand beach around the shoreline in the other direction that our driver said is accessible by boat. (His cousin will be arranging these trips in the near future.)

The beach itself is quite rough and there are no facilities whatsoever here except for some large rocks and a ladder. Travel tip #1 ALWAYS carry kleenex or toilet paper with you – more valuable than duct tape sometimes. Most people come here just to see the beach, not to swim and there is great access for taking photos of waves crashing into rocks


Wait, ladder, did you say? What would you need a ladder for? Well, the thing about this beach and why you often have it all to yourself is that it’s not the easiest place to get to. Until a few years ago, the only way to access it is to walk about 2 miles in…..over sandy, dusty terrain…..in the sun…with no signage. I’m allergic to sun and sand. So, when strange men approached as we parked, I was the one who was open to asking how much for the jeep ride to the beach (really, I would have walked it if there was no other way, but I wouldn’t have been happy about it). Right now, it’s a steal – totally worth it (about $10/person in and out) – go before they raise the prices! Although to be fair, I think most people realise the bargain after they’ve walked it in and don’t want to walk it back out! The walk does not look pleasant on a windy day. The terrain is old cattle grazing pasture and heavily rutted (honest. I consider ruts over 2 feet to be heavy duty ruts) and sandy with no shade or protection from the wind. Travel tip #423 Carry a bandana with you too. It’s multipurpose and fashionable. But James (our driver and guide) grew up there before the last people moved away and knew the land (and ruts) like the back of his hand. The jeep ride was like a roller coaster in slow motion and James was full of local knowledge. This ride showed me what real off-roading was like and why jeeps were jeeps. Travel tip #369 dress appropriately cuz you never know when you have to climb into a jeep.

Now that was just to get to the beach cliff. To get to the beach, you had to scale down the cliff (oh, didn’t I mention that part?) and THAT’s where the ladder comes in handy. Although, anytime someone tells me “that ladder, right there, see that rock, just beyond that” I get a wee bit nervous, but it was a very sturdy ladder (obviously this is civilised tourist country) that got you over the steepest part and the rest was just a bit of scrambling. (see below – not so bad!)


On the way back, James stopped at the small green beach which gave you an idea of what the bigger beach must have looked like glistening in the sun.


This is totally a gem(stone) of a place to visit and highly recommended. Bring lots of water, sturdy shoes and time. Take the jeep ride because that alone was worth the trip.