Wednesday, December 21, 2016

And the travelogue continues: Waimea Canyon, Koke'e, and Napali Coast Wilderness State Parks

Waimea Canyon
Okay. I know the Electoral College behaved more or less exactly as we realists knew they would and maybe I should be doing an "I told you so" post, but I figure that it makes more sense to go to a happy place right now. I'll do the equivalent of telling visitors to sit, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate while ignoring the blizzard about to destroy us all, and oh, by the way, do you mind if I set up the Carousel projector and bore you with more slides from the Hawaiian vacation? Just ignore the Cossacks kicking in
 the door.

Kaua'i isn't a very big island, but it does have a fair amount of variety and an amazing amount of jaw-dropping scenery. The Waimea Canyon is known as the "Grand Canyon of Hawaii." It's not very long (it is a small island), but, wow, it's deep and dramatic. To get to the overlooks, you get to drive up -- and up some more -- and still more up -- a two-lane blacktop road that has more than its fair share of hairpin turns. As you're going up and kind of wishing for some dramamine, the thought may cross your mind that at some point you're going to have to go back down. Try not to think about it. Take my word for it -- the views of Waimea and the leeward side of the island will make the faint hint of car sickness worth it.
There are a number of places where you can pull over to admire the view on the way up (or down) as well as two larger overlooks that come complete with restrooms. The first overlook also includes a food vendor: a fruit stand that also sells some cooked foods like pork dumplings and lumpia with a banana filling. And there were chickens, of course.

The second overlook seems to be more or less at the head of the canyon. It was interesting. It was high enough up on the island that in one direction you could look down the canyon; from another overlook a couple hundred feet away you could see Ni'ihau, aka "The Forbidden Island," an island that is privately owned and was closed to most outsiders for generations. Or maybe I should say theoretically you could see Ni'ihau. Rain over the ocean meant visibility wasn't the greatest. You could something was out there, but you couldn't see it real clearly.

The same family has owned Ni'ihau since 1864. At one point, the owners were so secretive they didn't even allow relatives of the workers on the island to visit. In recent decades, though, the owners have figured out significant revenue can be generated by catering to visitors with fat checkbooks. Among things, a person can go on "safari" to hunt feral pigs and sheep. The cost for a few hours of helping to control what have become nuisance animals on the island? $1750 per person plus $120 for the rental rifle. To be fair, that price includes the opportunity to take both a sheep and a pig, lunch, the services of someone else to do the actual gutting, skinning, etc., and packing everything neatly for shipment to the taxidermist. And when you're hunting on an island that doesn't get much traffic, at least you don't have to worry about some other hunter shooting you instead of a sheep.

But, as usual, I digress. The winding, twisting road continues to climb to Koke'e State Park. This park, like many others in the Islands (and the U.S. in general) was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. It actually still has wooden buildings used by the CCC, which is surprising considering what a major problem termites can be in Hawai'i. No photos of the buildings, though, as it was pouring rain at that point. The weather was pretty typical for what we experienced while we were on Kaua'i:  it would be raining like crazy for about half a mile, then there'd be brilliant sunshine, then more rain, maybe some fog, more sunshine. We kept going on the road to where it eventually ended, an overlook of the Napali coast. A major portion of the north end of Kaua'i is protected as a wilderness park.

I have been told by various people that the Kalalau trail in the Napali wilderness park is one of the most amazing trails on the planet. It is described as "difficult, but worth it." The original trail was another CCC project in the 1930s. From the descriptions I've heard and photos I've seen, I've no doubt it is indeed amazing. It is also not a trail that a person who gets nervous about heights just stepping on to a step stool is likely to ever attempt. Breathtaking vistas aren't particularly enjoyable when you're trying to figure out how to negotiate a trail without having to open your eyes. I have seen the trailhead by Ke'e Beach; I've looked down on the coast from the overlook. That's going to have to do it. I like to hike, but I recognize the limitations imposed by age and spinal stenosis.
I do regret not walking any of the trail, but the portion right by the trailhead was a steep grade up and super slick (it had rained even more than usual for the island with the wettest spot on earth), we didn't have hiking staffs with us, and the grips on the Tevas aren't what they used to be. I wimped out. Life is too short to spend any of it being the reason a SARS team with a stretcher gets called out to carry an idiot  hiker off a mountain.

We hit a few other state parks in our amblings, most of which were fairly small, like Spouting Horn. It's more like a point of interest. Waves force water up through an old lava tube; end result is something that looks kind of like a geyser. It is absolutely amazing how many humans are willing to stop and stare at water and rocks. Spouting Horn is supposedly the second most visited site on the island (the Kilauea lighthouse being number one). Once again, I wonder how "they" know. Granted, the parking lot was full, but even so. . . I find it hard to believe that this particular attraction draws more gawkers than some of the easily accessible waterfalls.

Then again, we didn't bother to go look at any of the waterfalls, not even the one the tourist brochures say was used in the opening scenes of "Fantasy Island." The waterfalls we saw were all by accident, like the ones shown above in Waimea Canyon. Spouting Horn, like the Waimea overlook, had vendors. There's a long, L-shaped pavilion where various purveyors of souvenirs and tchotkes have booths. Some of the stuff was really neat, some was remarkably overpriced, and some was just plain odd. Typical tourist offerings, in other words.
 There were also chickens wandering around, of course, and there were signs up admonishing visitors to not feed either the feral chickens or the feral cats. Only saw one cat in our one week on Kaua'i, but we definitely saw chickens. There were chickens in downtown Waimea wandering around by the Captain Cook memorial (Waimea is where Cook allegedly landed first in the islands before proceeding to another island -- Oahu? -- where, IIRC, he ticked the Hawaiians off enough that they killed him).

And there were chickens at the Fort Eliabeth historic site just across the river from Waimea. The fort was built by the Russians. When you see the plans, you can tell the Russians expected any trouble to arrive on the seaward side. When you see the fort (or what remains of it), it's a little harder to get a sense of what it looked like when built. Lots of jumbled rock walls in what was obviously a strategic location, but without the interpretive signs you'd have trouble telling what had been what.
It was in Waimea, incidentally, that I noticed something I've never seen in any other state in the U.S. We drove past the post office, and all the boxes were on the exterior walls, similar to the ones pictured below. That made me curious so I started looking -- and sure enough. Every post office I saw was set up the same way. The photo below is from Princeville.
There's an overhanging roof to protect the boxes from rain, but other than that they're totally accessible 24 hours a day every day of the year. Fascinating. I know there are social problems in the Islands, but obviously no one worries a whole lot about thieves breaking into mailboxes there.


  1. those are breath taking views.
    travel safe
    the Ol'Buzzard

  2. Love your travelogues and gorgeous photography


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.