After our early, early morning biking down Halekala, we had been up and adventuring for 12 hours and it was still only lunch time. Creative measures were needed to get back to a normal sleep cycle, so we fought the urge to sleep the afternoon away.

Instead, we had lunch and explored the town of Lahaina, where we lounged under an enormous banyan tree to the sounds of ukulele-playing street performers.

Banyan in Lahaina

But lounging doesn’t fight away the sleep. We had to get moving, so we pulled out the maps and discovered Nokulele, a blowhole not too far away. We had no way of knowing, but the conditions happened to be perfect. The onshore winds were howling, pushing waves hard up against the coast. We arrived at the parking lot to find a lot of other people with the same idea, all making their way down the web of social trails that descended two-hundred vertical feet over a quarter mile to the coast.

Nokulele is visible from the top of the hill near the parking lot (this was taken with a powerful zoom), but much more impressive if you make the journey down to the water.

A surf-driven blowhole, contrary to popular belief, is NOT just a hole in the rock that redirects incoming waves into an upward direction. Though waves are capable of creating some mighty, spraying splashes over rocks when they crest just right, it doesn’t take long to notice that a blowhole has got some extra oomph behind it. What’s really going on here is more complex, and it requires that in addition to a narrow vent hole and a channel that that opens to the ocean and can catch incoming waves, there must be a chamber connected to the system in which air can be trapped. When the tide is just right, and the wind is driving waves hard and at just the right frequency, incoming waves trap the air, and the water compresses the air like squeezing a balloon. Just like in a balloon, the harder you squeeze, the more that air wants to get out – and that’s what it does, as soon as the water sloshes enough to open a vent to the landward outlet. When allowed to escape, all that compressed air rushes out with a whoosh and a roar, carrying a lot of water and vapor with it. The result is a spout to rival many geysers – though the water here isn’t boiling. (Check the video linked here – the phenomenon is really hard to appreciate through still pictures).

Surf along a beautiful coast

The force associated with a blowhole is easy to underestimate. It is certainly not the sort of thing you want to stand right next to, or peer into. So we gave it some healthy respect and stood back from the spout. The boys climbed a nearby rock, only to get drenched by a plane-old crashing wave (much to the disappointment of my brother, who was standing nearby with an exposed, and now wet, DSLR camera).

Nokulele alternately roared, spit, and sputtered. Its behavior is totally dependent on the waves entering the seaside cave, below us and out of sight. Sometimes, water would just flow in and out, and the needed compression didn’t happen. But when the waves aligned, and the air chamber was dry, Nokulele bellowed out a brief warning before firing a hundred gallons of sea water forty feet into the air.

(Seriously, only the video does this justice!)

Mission acomplished, we still eventually gave in to fatigue and had an early dinner, and an early bedtime. Tomorrow would be another early day, at least for some of us. We had a scuba date with a shipwreck, sharks, eels, and oh, so many turtles. To be continued!

Get Out There


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