Hawaii, June 2009

We took a little trip to Hawaii. Just a vacation -- no conference or anything associated with it! We had a week on the large island (sea turtles, cacao, vanilla, manta rays, and volcanos), followed by a day in Honolulu.

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Creatures (Sea Turtle, Manta Rays, Coffee Beans, and a Chamaeleon)

We rented a little house in Puako, a half-hour north of Kona. There were palm trees and a lot of small cottages (and a few big ones). The local store sold Tasty Bites, which was a real score. Here's some trees waving.
Heidi went snorkeling and saw her friend the C-turtle.
They talked about food and fishes, kissed, and moved on.
We went to a little seahorse nursery. The argument is basically that seahorses in home aquariums are bad, since the horses are endangered, and they starve to death in aquaria because they don't know how to eat frozen food. This place (seahorse.com, naturally) claims to be the first in the world to commercially raise the fish.

I don't know about that, but they are certainly successful in commercially giving tours: $35/head for a walk-thru of their (very cool) operation.

They have a hundred or so thousand-gallon plastic blue tanks of horses in various stages of rearing. No taking pictures of the small ones (1 week old, 1 cm long).
They also have (not shown) two leafy sea dragons! These are large -- a foot or two long -- and look like they're covered in seaweed. They have apparently never been bred in captivity before, and are rare and only found in one part Australia. That's what they said. They have a pair here who they claim are getting romantic.
This is a Rock Fish. It looked like a piece of rubber to me. The fish just sat there motionless and stared. They're about a foot long and one of the craziest fish ever. I think that red thing is an actual piece of rubber (not another fish masquerading as one).
Speaking of spending $$, we also paid an absurd amount for a 5-minute boat ride into the bay to see some manta rays. The deal is that manta rays eat krill (little shrimps -- krill is a subset of plankton, which can be plants or animals). Krill like lights and show up there. So various people in Kona have decided to point bright lights at part of the bay, go out at night with their lamps, and watch the manta rays that congregate for the good chow.
There was a real zoo of people there -- 100+ from five dive boats. Maybe a dozen divers were on the bottom at 40', and the rest of us were snorkeling on top. Not really a wilderness experience. Here you can see a few divers and lights.
Nevertheless, it was very very cool. These are massive creatures -- maybe 12' wingspans on the largest ones. One crashed into Heidi and she got a bit of a welt. They must weigh 500 lbs, though it's not like they're poky or anything. Very smooth.

This one here is swimming with its mouth open, gobbling krill. That's their job. They're like flying mouths with crazy wings and a whip tail.

We escaped from the crowd for a bit, as did a few rays (that's me and Heidi on the surface -- Piper is back on the boat drinking hot chocolate). These three shots are stills from video shot there.
Kona is known for its coffee. We walked around at a place called Greenwell Farms, which has been there for 150+ years and dries a lot of beans for other growers. They sit out like this for 3 weeks (cover up in case of rain!).

Are they shade-grown? According to the guy taking us around, "Well, we all call it shade-grown here. The island is very shady, because of all the clouds. It is nearly exactly the same as if it were grown in actual shade, but it is more reliable to use the clouds to make the shade. So yes, it is shade-grown."

Going price for raw beans: $1/lb. Selling price at the front office: $30/lb. (Of course that's deceptive though: besides all the labor, the beans are taken out of their red pods, skinned, dried, etc, losing most of their weight in the process.)
Here's some raw beans growing. The red ones are ready. They're very tough to eat, and taste like tough raw peas -- no coffee flavor at all.
Unrelated news: we also went to visit a vanilla plantation, and a tea plantation, and a cacao farm/factory. And macadamia nuts too. It was a very botanical trip. No saffron -- but certainly it must be grown somewhere on the island too.
Piper found a chamaeleon in one of the orange trees.
What's cool about chamaeleons is that they can change not only their color, but also their shape. They can virtually become another animal. Here, the chamaeleon has changed into an extraordinary chicken (on right).
And here it has become a zebra.

Tide pools, trees, and stars

We did some snorkeling on the beach.
And some standing in driftwood trees near sunset.
Piper looks for sunset tide pool creatures.
I searched the internet, and found that no one has ever taken a photo of a sunset over the beach in Hawaii before. And not one with birds in it, either! So, here is my contribution to the world of photographic innovation.
P and H pack up their beach tools.
I went back in the evening and played with the cool driftwood some more.

Intermission: Shave Ice

We went to Kona for a day. Kona is much more of a tourist town than Hilo. As a result, here we are at the shave ice stand. The size of that thing, by the way, is not exaggerated (for real). It was probably a four-pound cone of shaved ice and syrup, with a scoop of coffee ice cream in the center, all for $6.
Heidi cannot finish it all.

Volcanos National Park (Lava Tubes and a Chopper ride)

We took a two-day field trip to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. I'd been there on a geology trip in grad school a decade earlier. It's still an amazing place. Here's some vents giving off small amounts of steam into the main Kilauea crater, Halemaumau. This is the view from near the lodge.
Some sulphur vents...
... which Piper liked quite a bit.
Oooo! OK, about to head into the Thurston lava tubes.
The first half (0.5 km) is lit, and populated here by bus tourists.
But the second half (also 0.5 km) is not. It's a bring-your-own-headlamp kind of place. So Heidi does.
H and P explore the very cool tube.
Down near the ocean and the active flows, Piper attempts to race me. Three minutes earlier she was complaining about being tired and I was carrying her... until the race aspect came up. In this photo, she is attempting to cheat by interfering with the progress of another racer.
Now she's ahead (or is she?).
She won. First one to the lava. Woo-hoo!
But our further progress is halted!
Final day: we drove to Hilo (half hour from Volcano) and paid a very nice guy named Dylan to fly us around.
Piper surveys the scene from the ground.
Dylan has been flying for about 2000 hours. He learned in San Diego and then flew oil workers to/from platforms in the gulf for a couple years, before moving to Hawaii.

'If I ever win the lottery, I'm gonna buy a helicopter, and paint up a sign advertising free rides, and spend all flying people around Hawaii! This life is so much fun, man...'

Lava is entering the water at two entry points. (The Pu'uo'o crater, the source of it all, is a few km up the hill, below the photo.) This is steam from the lava.
Very very amazing. The chopper was totally a blast.
Occasionally there was fresh lava visible. Here's some trees burning too. Most of the lava travels in long tubes from the crater to the sea, though.
We took a mid-flight intermission to visit one guy's house. He's entirely cut off from the outside world, since he's surrounded by new flows on all sides. Here, Piper is on some lava from last October.
This is Jack, who owns his little lava-surrounded house. He used to be an HVAC tech, but now makes a bit of a living as a tourist attraction.
Back on board: here we're going over the active crater, Pu'uo'o.
You can see a bit of monitoring equipment (seismic, etc.) on the rim. Illegal to land there, but he's taken plenty of people on photo shoots hovering right over it.
And one last trip: walking out to the active flows. Well, at least to within a mile of them. This is outside the National Park boundary, and is run by the county of Hawaii.
Piper walks along the trail.
Someone found a lost leaf-hopper thingy. There are no leaves here, so its otherwise terrific camouflage strikes out here. Instead, we spent quite some time playing with it.
But it was mutually beneficial, as it really took to Piper's carrot.
And then jumped onto my lens.
We arrived an hour before sunset. Many more showed up in the next hour.
Tour group color coding makes for easier group management.
The lava is sometimes visible when it has litle micro-eruptions and explosions entering the water. For us, however, it was not. What we saw was the (cool) red reflection on the steam.


We had a quick 24 hours in Honolulu to visit Mel & Clare (Heidi's uncle & aunt). Clare beats anyone at ping pong while speaking Japanese and crafting pots, Mel writes stories about snorkeling with humpbacks, and they both are recently turned on to astronomy with Messier-110 certificates on their walls. Mel practiced as a doctor for 65 years (!) and their son Wayne takes zen-like underwater B&W photos of skin divers and sleeping sharks.
We paddled around the Hawaii Kai bay a little bit, not keeping up with the Hawaiian canoe racers.
Mysterious creatures lie at the bottom of every body of water...

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Henry Throop

Last modified Thu Jul 2 1:40:46 2009