Picture postcard beaches of white sand with turquoise blue water are what so many tourists imagine when Hawaiʻi is mentioned. Add a few coconut palm trees and you have the ideal beach of song and legend.
What surprises many tourists is that this postcard ideal is not the reality of our island. Black rock shorelines are the norm. Once under water you will find the sandy areas are interspersed with coral reef, the rocky shorelines usually supporting extensive coral reef rather than sand.
It is the coral that is the source of the white sand beaches here in Hawaiʻi, ground coral chewed and digested by the many coral eating fish. The pretty triggerfish and parrotfish chew the coral constantly, crushing the coral into a fine grained sand. Our pretty sandy beaches are literally fish shit.
While not exactly rare, there are quite a few, beaches where the sand continues into the water are not the rule along the Kona coastline. Most of the coastline feature black lava shorelines where the water crashes against bare rock. This rocky shoreline accounts for something like 90% or more of the coastline of the Island of Hawaii.
This stands as a stark contrast to other tropical shorelines around the world, where miles upon miles of beach are not uncommon, sand as far as the eye can see. Here on the Big Island the few truly good beaches are treasured and well used parks.
Coconuts are not the usual shoreline tree either, that role belongs to either the kiawe tree or what is locally called ironwood. Both names are not what you would find in the botanical texts. Kiawe is the island name for what the rest of the world calls mesquite or Prosopis pallida, a drought tolerant tree that covers much of the dry leeward shorelines. Likewise the local ironwood is actually the beach she-oak or Casuarina equisetifolia. The rather confusing name ‘ironwood’ is used for over thirty different species around the world.
Another surprise to many is that this island has black sand beaches. In place of ground coral these beaches are ground up lava, often created by the interaction of hot lava and cold water shattering the rock into a deep black sand. There is even a green sand beach, where the sand is in large part made up of the semi-precious gemstone olivine.
Hawaiʻi is the youngest island in the chain, the forces of erosion, coral growth, and hungry fish, have not had enough time to create the long sandy beaches. These beaches become more common as you jump northward from island to island. Oahu or Kauai have extensive beaches along a much large percentage of shoreline. The islands in the northwest Hawaiʻian islands, places like Kure and Midway are pretty much nothing but sandy beach.
We do have beaches, and they are pretty good.
Late last fall I put a new vegetable bed into use. After several years of accumulating compost and shoveling cinder soil I actually have something like real soil in a large enough quantity to call a vegetable garden.
One of the first things planted were sweet potatoes. Deb and I love the local purple sweet potatoes. The Okinawan variety is a favorite through the islands and has become a staple on our table as well, usually purchased from local growers at the farmers market.
Knowing that these are pretty easy to grow I gave it a try. I planted a ten by ten area with half a dozen slips and arranged a soaker hose that runs on the automatic drip system. It was not long before I had green foliage popping up. The potato patch certainly looks healthy enough, the plants thriving in the Waikoloa sunlight. The patch quickly became a heavy tangle of vines with pretty white and purple flowers.
This weekend I finally decided to do a trial run at digging up a plant to see what I have… To my stunned amazement I have not a pile of little tubers, but one giant tuber right underneath the main plant. What the heck is this?
This thing was huge, six inches long and five inches in diameter, weighing several pounds. There was enough in this single tuber for several meals!
Consider the usual Okinawan sweet potato is an inch or two in diameter and four or five inches long. Why is this so different? The starting stock for my potato patch was quite typical, just a few Okinawans I had bought at the farmers market and set aside for planting. I expected to get much the same out of the ground, not this giant.
First word came through a mountain staff mailing list used to let everyone know about safety conditions of the mauna…
Hawaii police dept. requests the public to avoid the Maunakea access road for the next 4 to 6 hours due to a major traffic accident. This accident is below the VIS on the access road. One lane is currently open going down the road.
– Mahalo from the VIS staff
Reading between the lines it is quickly obvious that this was a fatal accident and the police are doing a full investigation, the usual reason for such a long closure. Sure enough a notification soon came through the local emergency services alert system on my phone…
AVOID the Mauna Kea Access Road for the next 4 to 6 hours due to a major traffic accident. The entire roadway above the visitor center is closed while police conduct an investigation. – HPD Notification
A few more details showed up as messages flew back and forth on Facebook, this really is a small island sometimes. Knowing I would be up the next morning I expected to get the details first hand at breakfast.
Several hours without transportation. My vehicle is in the transmission shop for a checkout, have been having some rough shifts. Stranded for the morning without wheels in the old industrial area I had no intention of sitting in the shop’s waiting area for a few hours.
Just up the coast from the old industrial area is a large beach park. Called Old-A’s or Old Airport, it is the site of the original landing strip just north of town. Abandoned when the jet age rendered this airstrip far too small. The area was used for a while as a drag-strip, the old airport was eventually converted to a park. The old terminal building was renovated into a multi-use pavilion. The old runway is still there, now an enormous parking lot that fronts the rocky shoreline along one side and a community garden on the other.