Way back in the summer of 2018, in the “before time”, we could travel, and hang out in large groups. Remember those days? Ah, innocence. Little did we know…
After we’d spent the first day driving all over the Big Island to see the sights, we decided to stay close to home on Day 2, near the resort area around Waikoloa.
We spent the morning snorkeling in the pool. All four boys had been snorkeling before, but not much, and we wanted to do some refresher training with them before we committed to the ocean. As can be expected of young teenagers, the biggest challenge was getting fit adjusted on masks and other gear. Once that was done, no fear, no problem.
Filled with new confidence, we headed down to the surf! This was a fairly challenging entry and exit, with lots of sharp volcanic rock, shallow water and brisk wave action. Fins went on early to protect against the rock, but the water was shallow and rough enough that crouching and frog-walking was the only way to get out the couple-hundred feet required to actually get swimming. It wasn’t the best or most graceful spot to get in the water, but it was our first intro to Pacific fishes (most of us are far more familiar with the Caribbean), and good practice. The corals here weren’t extravagant or diverse, but they did tend to grow in rows, creating sandy channels about twelve feet deep between walls of coral, and providing plenty of opportunities to dive with purpose, and peer into nooks and crannies.
After lunch, we took a hike through some lava fields, looking for black sand beaches in the vicinity of the nearby Mauna Kea resort. Hiking through lava is an interesting study in geology and weathering. When molten, lava comes in two forms. Aʻā is the rough, chaotic, clumpy lava that creeps along and breaks away in bursts, leaving behind awkward shapes with numerous voids and sharp edges. Pāhoehoe is smooth, flows quickly like a river, and dries into flat, streaked surfaces that resemble stretched asphalt, or black taffy. In Hawai’i, both types are common, and you’ll often find yourself walking across smooth rock and avoiding sharp lumpy mounds.
On the Big Island, new lava almost continually pours down the slopes of Kilauea and flows into the sea. Each flow extends the reach of the previous lava shelf. In fact, the ongoing eruptions during our 2018 visit ultimately added about 875 acres to the island. At first, this shelf is all a barren combination of the two types of rock, but after years of erosion and invasion by grasses and other plants, a layer of black soil can form. Large irregular mounds of lumpy aʻā serve as irregular planters for hardy grasses. Lava that reached the sea is pounded mercilessly by waves that turn it into jet black sand.
Not all Hawai’i’s beaches are black, though. Coral skeletons still deteriorate into pure white sand, helped along by the grazing and grinding of parrotfish. In some places, specific minerals in the lava will lend another tint to the sand – the lava near Papakolea is full of olivine, and the beaches in the area are actually green.
In many places along the coast, you can still see walls and platforms built by people long ago, using both white coral and contrasting black lava. There are ancient foundations, tidal pools fortified with human-placed lava rock to form fish-retention ponds, and platforms that – we were told – served as sites for ceremonial hula! Now, we’re no dancers, but when you’re in Hawai’i, and somebody points this out, and then offers an invitation… well, you give it a try! Several of the boys demonstrated that they were quite flexible, while others among us looked rather… robotic.
Our day ended by taking a shuttle boat out to a large catamaran, the Spirit of Aloha, for a sunset cruise and some tales of local lore. The winds were up, and the sea had a sizeable swell, but the views back toward Mauna Loa, lit in a bit of tropical alpenglow provided a beautiful end to another great day on the Big Island!
Next time – We spend some time snorkeling and sightseeing on the north shore, and go diving with manta rays!
Get Out There!