June 02, 2003
Travel Diary Day 2.1: Kauai

18.46 Hawaii-Aleutian Time
After breakfast I decided to check out Waimea Canyon, a deep fissure on the west side of the island, and Kokee State Park that encompasses the alpine hinterland south of the Na Pali Coast. You take 50, which is the main highway that curves around the coastal margin of the Kauai like a belt that's a little too small and that the island can't quite cinch closed (the Northwest region is too rugged to finish the circle). So taking a left out of Poipu, you proceed west through valleys of sugar cane and rust-red dirt and small towns such as Lawai (no more than a crossroads), Kalaheo (a Portugese community), Eleele, dilapidated Hanepepe, and finally Waimea, the scene of Hawaii's first contact with the West. In 1778, Captain James Cook, Britain's renowned explorer, looking for the Northwest Passage in the Resolution and Discovery (Britons are good at naming ships aren't they?), sighted first Oahu and then Kauai. The next day, off of Kauai, Captain Cooke met the natives for the first time as two canoes came alongside and recognized that they were of Polynesian origin, calling them children of Tahiti. When he came ashore a few days later at the mouth of the Waimea river, the entire village prostrated themselves before him. The rest is history (including Cook's return to Hawaii the next year, this time the Big Island, where in a scuffle over a ships boat, the most illustrious mariner in history met his ignoble demise).

After Waimea, I turned north on 552 (mile marker 26), a road that winds precipitously up a spine parallel to Waimea Canyon (supposedly christened by Mark Twain as the "Grand Canyon of Hawaii"). There are several lookouts along this road pictured below:

I continued on, and turned left at the trailhead for Awa'awapuhi Trail (mile marker 17). A Hawaiian family, 3 generations-worth, was pickniking in the back of a pickup truck (pickups are ubiquitous here with the Nissan Frontier and Dodge Ram appearing to be the most popular choices). I smiled at them, but they didn't seem to inclined to converse, so I packed my backpack, set my camera around my neck and headed into the forest.

Like the tropical forests I've seen in Belize and Guatemala or even St. John, the air is redolent of a fecund odor almost like shitake mushrooms. In other ways this trail was reminiscent of the places I just mentioned, a dense canopy, moist air, squadrons of gnats whirling like dervishes. The vegetation looks familiar, though one distinguishing feature is a fern that climbs up trees and leaves strata of previous generations, now grey, dessicated skeletons, on which the younger green ferns grow.

Awa'awapuhi trail descends about five stair-stepped ridges what I would guess to be 2000 feet. Easy going on the way out. Unfortunately, the sky was mostly overcast with an occasional shaft of sunlight illuminating the trail:

Hiking down, I thought about how I have a hard time with nature photographs. Having just reviewed some pictures of San Antonio, I think I feel more comfortable with shooting man-made things, especially architecture. With nature, I'm usually at a loss for a creative angle on a shot. Then today, the light was particularly uncooperative--flat, flat, flat. Besides, I have only a third of my rechargeable left!

An hour later, after being surprised by two red-combed cocks rasping at me territorially, I emerged to the vista below. This is the Awa'awapuhi Valley of the Na Pali Coast with Banyan root-like formations of stratified volcanic rock plunging 2500 feet to the Awa'awapuhi River. According to Hawaiian legend, the valley was formed by an eel slithering its way to the sea. Addendum 2 June 2003: I should consider myself fortunate because several tourists have killed themselves shooting this spot by leaning a bit too far over the precipice. I wonder if there are any full batteries for a Finepix 4900 down there.

While coming out on the trail was painless, going back and climbing up those couple thousand feet in 3.25 miles was a gluteus-thrashing experience. I now understood why the outdoorsy couple I passed near the trailhead had that look of flushed determination. The way back isn't benign for anyone.

With a mile behind me, a mist descended on the trail, pricking my skin with its cool droplets. By mile 2.5 back, it was a fine drizzle. And by the time I was back in my car, carving turns back to 50, it was a downpour.

Such a geographically precipitous place has more weather going on at one time than the entire East Coast. By the time I actually hit 50, it was dry as a bone. In Waimea, I decided to stop at a grocery store to stock up on snacks (shrimp chips, Hawaiian potato chips, Gatorade, and water) and picked up lunch at the Waimea Bakery. Alas, they had just run out of sweet Hawaiian bread for their shredded pork, lettuce and tomato sandwich, so I had to settle for a tortilla wrapping.

Sipping on a can of guava nectar, I wheeled my way back to Poipu in my Dodge Sebring, where I am now, knackered. I'm not sure I'm good for anything else today.

I did schedule a 14 mile sea kayak trip on the Na Pali Coast for Tuesday. And surfing Wednesday. But I have to think of something for tomorrow.

Posted by erich at June 02, 2003 12:42 AM
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