In the slipstream of the President

President Obama was in Hawaii at the same time as us. Alright, so we didn’t hang out with America’s most famous Hawaiian, but we did visit Hanauma Bay several days after he and his family snorkelled there.

The reef is in shallow water and you can see the marine life easily. It was like watching an underwater circus, with shoals of fish weaving back and forth. The offset is that you have to be very careful about not destroying the coral. There is an information hut with snorkel hire.  It also had several big boards with pictures of sea life so that we could identify the sea slugs and the butterflyfish underwater. Or even the humuhumunukunukuapua’a, the reef triggerfish which is Hawaii’s state fish. Bit of a mouthful.

~ Spotted Cow

 Hanauma BaysnorkellingFish chartView of Koko Crater from Hanauma Bay

All kinds of strange plants

After our aborted attempt, we visited the Koko Crater Botanical Garden on another Honolulu day out. It was delightful and leisurely and it wasn’t as crowded as the trail to the top of the crater. In fact, it wasn’t crowded at all. The botanic garden is stretched out across the crater floor and with the crater heights forming the walls, we felt like we had a Green Kingdom to ourselves.

In the loop walk, we saw all kinds of strange plants – one that looked like a star fish, another that looked like a green spaceship with orange protrusions, bulbous boabs, hairy monster trees, giant odd pods. My favourite was the cactus garden. It had a medusa cactus, big as a van and super spiky, that looked like it was out to get you.  And stalactite cacti, extra thorny, which hung down from tree branches.

I’m making up all the names because there were few signs. Enjoy the pictures. They are a mere subset of what we saw.

~ Spotted Cow

Hairy monster tree plant with tongue spaceship flower star plant cactus Koko Crater Botanical Garden

And when they were up, they were up

Koko Head Crater Trail.  It has to be said, we didn’t intend to walk this trail. It was New Year’s Day in Honolulu and the Koko Crater Botanical Garden was closed.  So, instead of walking around the crater floor, we decided to walk to the top of the crater. It turned out to be a far more strenuous morning than we had planned.

It’s about a 1km walk to the top of the crater on a disused tramline, and it is very steep.  The less fit folk probably enjoy the views on the way up more because you look out to the bay when you need to take a rest. The faster folk power up the steps like mountain goats. There are 1048 steps and the steepest incline is the final stretch toward the top.  It made me think of the Grand Old Duke of York nursery rhyme – “And when they were up, they were up”.  You keep thinking you’re almost at the top, but the stairs seem to stretch forever.

~ Spotted Cow

Koko crater tramline

Koko crater trail views Koko crater trail view

Hawaiian goose

No, not to eat.  Hawaii has a state bird, an endemic goose called the nēnē, which is fighting for survival. If you’re lucky, you’ll run into some of the wild population that live in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. They eat the red berries called ohelo, whose bushes are commonplace in the lava soil.

I think we were too noisy in the park, always chatting to each other along the trails. It has such an affectionate name that we kept saying it. “Where’s the nene? Where’s the nene?” We didn’t see any, even in the places where it was signposted.

We did however, see a nene on the road just outside the national park.  It wasn’t shy at all and posed for pictures obligingly.

~ Spotted Cow

 Taking photo of nene Nene up close ohelo bush

Rainbow State

Hawaii standard issue license plates have a rainbow on them. In the ensuring days of the holiday we saw rainbows regularly – generally out of the car window – whenever the rain and the sun were having a friendly tug-of-war. I wonder if Hawaiians have their own version of a leprechaun with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

My favourite was our Christmas Day rainbow because it took us by surprise on a beautiful but otherwise indiscriminate beach. A little rainbow-ette which popped up every time the waves broke on the rocks. It was a mesmerising little spectacle.

~ Spotted Cow

Hawaii rainbow

Hawaii license plate

Front row seats at the surf

The biggest waves we saw in Hawaii were on Oahu’s North Shore at the Ehukai Beach Park, home of the Banzai Pipeline, supposedly the world’s deadliest wave.  The waves are biggest in the winter. They swell up and roll onto a shallow reef close to the water’s edge.

So, you can grab a coconut, make yourself a front row seat on the beach and watch the surfers do their thing. I held my breath every time one of them disappeared under the waves … until he re-surfaced again. You can feel the power of the surf standing ankle-deep in the water.  It’s difficult to believe that the sea is flat enough for snorkelling in the summer months.

If you’re hungry, stop by one of the string of shrimp shacks on the Kamehameha Highway through Kahuku. We went to Fumi’s. I had salt and pepper shrimp which was spicy and delicious … although it would’ve felt more like an authentic experience if it hadn’t been served in a white polystyrene box.

~ Spotted Cow

Surf Surfer Ehukai Beach Park

Ice cold coconut

Fumi's Shrimp Shack Salt & Pepper Shrimp

Hawaii is smokin’

Hawaii is Geography 101.  The islands were born from volcanoes and continue to grow from volcanic power to this day. We spent a couple of long days at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Big Island where you can get up close and personal with the world’s youngest and most active volcano, Kilauea – her name sounds like Killer Whale and she’s massive. Her latest eruption started in 1983!

It was instant gratification. Our first view of Kilauea’s smoking Halema’uma’u crater was from the Volcano House lookout, across the street from the Visitor Center.  Hawaiians believe that the crater is home to the goddess Pele. She was puffing away serenely into the blue sky. Serenely, by the way, is about 1000°C.

There is a closer viewing from the Jaggar Museum lookout where there are also telescopes for more intimate observations. We returned after dinner to check out the red lava glow.  It looks more dangerous and mysterious at night.

The museum itself is one room packed full of interesting information about volcanoes and the equipment used to measure seismic activity. The youngsters were jumping up and down to test the interactive seismograph. And I learnt more about lava than I knew was possible.

~ Spotted Cow

Kilauea crater from Volcano House

Kilauea crater from Jaggar Museum lava glow volcano through telescope


Hawaiiana. Surf & Hula.

We’ve just come back from Hawaii and found it deliciously exotic.

Two images typify Hawaii of the travel ads – beautiful beaches and hula girls.  Both of these are iconic and we even found their images on boxes of mints.

The ocean is everywhere and the waves were always big. But what we wanted to see were the barrel waves like those in the Hawaii Five-0 intro. We saw them on Oahu’s north shore.  They weren’t the giant 50 footers, but they were impressively awesome enough not to want to get in the water with the surfers. I know it sounds crazy, but we’ve not seen waves like this where we live in Sydney.

On Christmas Eve we went to a luau. It was touristy but so much fun. The girls in their vegetal finery – including coconut cup bikinis – fluttering their hips like brandishing birds of paradise. Buff men in sarongs and leaf anklets. The fire dancers were astounding – no burn marks ! Do they start out practising with full fire suits? The luau finished the evening with the Hawaiian Twelve Days of Christmas.

Numbah 12 Day of Christmas my tutu gave to me : 12 televisions, 11 missionaries, 10 cans of beer, 9 pounds of poi, 8 ukuleles, 7 shrimps a swimming, 6 hula lessons, 5 big fat pigs, 4 flower leis, 3 dried squid, 2 coconuts and one mynah bird in one papaya tree. Were you humming along?

Aloha. We’ll be back with a fair few more Hawaiian postcards. If you don’t want to miss out, make sure you leave your your email address on the front page.

 ~ Spotted Cow

Hula mints

Hawaii wavesHawaii surf