Well, I don’t even know where to start. This island was absolutely incredible — some of the most striking terrain, and amazing flora and fauna I have ever seen. I guess I’ll start from the beginning.
It started off pretty touch and go. The departure from Albuquerque was delayed by over an hour, and we weren’t sure we’d make the connecting flight in Phoenix to Hawaii. Luckily we did. When we got there, it was raining and the first thing I saw was a rooster.
The island of Kauai has a large population of feral chickens. There isn’t a solid consensus on where they came from, but there are two main theories. The first theory is that in the late 1800s and early 1900s the chickens were brought over by sugar cane plantation workers for both food and cockfighting. The second theory is that a large chicken farm was destroyed in 1992 by Hurricane Iniki, and many chickens escaped then. For what it’s worth, I noticed a very distinct phenotype like the one pictured. The majority of the roosters looked like that. I didn’t get a picture of a hen but here is a picture I found online. Their genetics seem way too stable to be farm chickens that have only been wild on the island for 18 years. There were some different phenotypes that could have come from a chicken farm, but I think they have evolved over more like 100 years than 18.
Well, enough about chickens. We didn’t do anything to amazing the first day, but I got a nice evening picture of the view out the back porch
The next day, I surfed, my mom snorkeled, and we drove around a bit, and then the following day we went up to the North Shore. The first stop was Wailua Falls.
Wailua Falls is in the central part of the island, where there is more rainfall than just about anywhere in the world. It is muddy, hot, buggy and humid. That particular region is also in locked in a battle with an incredibly destructive invasive tree called Miconia calvescens. It has caused an ecological disaster on the Island of Tahiti, covering nearly 70% of the island’s forests. There is a massive effort to prevent this invasive and highly destructive plant from doing the same thing to Hawaii. Read all about its destruction of the Tahitian rainforests here and see pictures of it here.
Further north there was a wildlife refuge, and beyond that, a taro plantation. This taro plantation is where we first saw Hawaii’s state bird — the Nēnē, or Hawaiian goose, and I am guilty of criminal tresspassing as a result of getting this picture.
This goose is a distant relative of the Canada goose. It is about 3/4 the size and is not as good a flyer. It has adapted to being more of an island-dwelling bird. The webs of its feet have shrunk, so that its toes are more suited to walking on rocks. By the 1950s the Nēnē had nearly been hunted to exctintion, with only about 50 remaining in the world. This bird breeds extremely well in captivity, though, and it is now only listed as vulnerable. It is still the rarest goose in the world, though. For the rest of the day I surfed in Hanalei bay. I wasn’t paying attention and left my nice sunglasses on my head when I paddled out. A huge wave hit me and I never saw them again.
The following day I went for a walk and took some macros, but only one came out decent.
The next day I took all to myself. I needed a day to relax, so I just chilled until about 2 in the afternoon. This is when I decided to take a little hike along the south shore. It is a very rocky, very treacherous hike, and my destination was Allerton Beach in Lawai bay.
I took this picture about halfway through the hike. It was pretty intense, but nothing compared to what I’d be doing in a few days.
I don’t know what this little mollusk is, but it sure looks cool!
This was my destination. The picture didn’t come out great, but it’s an awesome beach.
The second half of the trip
The next day we returned to the north shore. The first stop was Kilauea Point. There is a lighthouse that I really wanted to get an HDR of, but it was being renovated and was covered in scaffolding. The main attraction of Kilauea Point, however is that it is home to many spectacular birds. There were tons more of the Hawaiian Geese, and well as Laysan albatross, great frigatebirds, and red-footed boobies — I tried really hard to get a good albatross pic and failed miserably.
The great frigatebird has a wingspan of up to 9 feet. This one is a female.
Here is a red footed booby in flight. Their name is derived from the Spanish word bubi which loosely translates to “dunce.”
Here’s a close up of a Hawaiian goose. You can kind of see its toes.
There was a lot of other cool stuff out there, and if whoever is reading this would be so kind as to mail me this lens I’d gladly go back out and get you some nice whale pictures! :D
The next stop was Limahuli National Tropical Botanic Garden. This place was COOL! It was about a 1.5 mile long nature loop. Originally built on the restored ruins of an ancient terrace garden built for growing taro, it now ehxibits some of the rarest plants in the world.
Here is an HDR photo I did of the terrace garden. It’s not visible in this picture, but there is a stream and system of waterfalls and ponds running through the terraces, since taro is an aquatic plant.
This red hibiscus is the largest I have ever seen. The flower was about a foot in diameter!
The Napali Coast
The next day we took a guided catamaran tour of the Napali Coast. Even though there was a certain cheese factor in doing something so touristy, it was undeniably awesome. Plus, there was unlimited free beer!
A pod of bottlenose dolphins came swimming up along the boat. I wonder why they do that? Anyway, they swim really fast and are tricky to shoot! We saw humpback whales too, but the zoom on my lens wasn’t good enough to get a clear shot.
These are called spinner dolphins because they like to spin in the air when they jump. They are much smaller and more common than bottlenose dolphins.
This picture did not come out well because of the bad lighting and the mist, but this is the Napali coast.
An Amazing and Rewarding Trial
I’m going to apologize in advance for the lack of photos. This was not a leisurely hike. Remember the very first picture in my post? That is what I hiked down, and then about 3 miles upstream. To complicate matters, I took a wrong turn about a mile into the hike down, and ended up bushwhacking all the way down to the valley floor — about 2000 vertical feet! I had a pack that weighed about 50 pounds and the WRONG shoes. By the time I took this picture there was already a quarter sized blister on the blade of my right foot.
This was about 100 yards at about a 45 degree pitch. I took this picture when I got to the bottom.
I took this about halfway down — still a long way to go!
This is the last picture I took on my Waimeia excursion. These giant agaves were everywhere once I got to the valley floor. They were extremely hard to navigate through. At least they weren’t too spiny!
Once I got to the valley floor I hiked upstream for about 3 miles. I had lost so much time by getting lost that I only had about 1.5 hours of sunlight left. I took one more wrong turn, and that turned out to be the best mistake I’ve ever made on a solo backpacking trip. I walked up to this cabin, and 4 people were there — hunters that had rode in on horseback from the town of Waimeia. This was Christmas Eve. I asked them for directions, and they said that I had taken yet another wrong turn, and they invited me to camp with them for the night. They were very dedicated conservationists — an older couple in their late 50s and what appeared to be their adopted children, both about my age. That night me and the adopted daughter got lit on boxed wine, while the older folks provided me with some freshly cooked (and killed) wild Hawaiian goat meat. It was by far the most interesting Christmas Eve I’ve ever had, and it will probably be the most interesting one ever. I slept well in my little 2 person backpacking tent that night. I had no pillow and no mat — only a sleeping bag. I slept so well that I managed to sleep until 9AM the next morning. My impromptu hosts fed me once more, I used my water purifier to refill my Camelback once more, and I set back out. My feet were killing me, as the only thing I had handy to disinfect the cuts and blisters with was my insect repellent. I prayed that I hadn’t caught leptospirosis from walking through mud puddles with open wounds on my feet. As worn out as my body was, I somehow made it out of that canyon and back to the condo, where I had the best hot shower and cold beer of my entire life! Merry Christmas me!
The next day I rested most of the day, and toured one last botanic garden.
Banana trees are very unusual plants. They’re not even trees, but herbs — giant herbs. Their inflorescence is even more interesting. It grows out of a large purple meristem called a “heart,” and every time the meristematic tissue in the heart grows, the internodes stretch enough to allow the flowers to develop, which turn into bananas. Every banana tree is monocarpic, which means it blooms once and then dies.
Heliconias produce very unusual flowers, and are distantly related to bananas.
This is a wild orchid, growing directly out of the side of a palm tree.
The white hibiscus is an extremely rare native plant.
Later that night, I took the last photo I would take on this trip, and it’s fitting that it is a sunset over the ocean.
I know that this has been a horrendously long post, but I thank you wholeheartedly for taking the time to read this. If any of these photos really speak to you and you’d like to buy a large print and a hand-built (by me) frame, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org