Typical Hawaiʻi Shoreline

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.

Mauna Kea Beach
The ideal Hawaiian beach represented by Mauna Kea beach on the Kohala Coast.
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.

Old Airport beach
Typical shoreline along the Kona coast, if there is sand, it usually becomes rock and coral at the waterline
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.

A Walk in the Park

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.

Old Airport Beach Park Kona
Looking down the old runway at the Old Kona Airport Recreation Area
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.

Continue reading “A Walk in the Park”

Sea Chair

A wonderful little film and a neat idea. I will not spoil the effect by explaining here. Watch the film!

Sea Chair from Studio Swine on Vimeo.

The film truly highlights the problem of plastic pollution in the ocean. Modern plastics do not decompose readily, but persist in the environment for decades. This is a problem that deserves more attention and should be in the mind of anyone who treasures our seas.

Apparently the biggest problem is not the large pieces of plastic like those used in making the chair, but rather the microplastics. Under the influence of wave and sunlight, plastic slowly breaks down into smaller and smaller bits. These are sand size or smaller granules that have come to pervade the entire ocean. The granules are easily ingested by the smaller creatures of the plankton community, the food on which all ocean life depends.

Walking a Hawaiian beach you see some plastic, even far from the major urban sources of this pollution. Walking the tide-line on any beach or cove reveals small bits of colorful plastic. There is not a lot, but it is always there.

Whittington County Beach Park

A picture postcard perfect setting… Brilliant blue water, waves crashing on black rock, palm trees overhead, the old pier jutting out from shore. Whittington Park is a beautiful stop along the Mamalahoa Highway as you round the south end of the island.

Honu'apo Pier
The old pier at Honu‘apo slowly succumbs to the battering surf
Like Mahukona at the north end of the island, this is an old sugar port. Here the small inter-island steamships loaded cargoes of Ka‘u cattle and sugar bound for Honolulu and shipment to markets across the Pacific. Bulky cargoes are best transported by water, thus these busy little ports were once found across the islands, today only a few ruins remain.

Honu‘apo Pier 1908
Honu‘apo Pier in 1908
Known as Honu‘apo, or turtle cove, the port served area ranchers and plantations until the middle of the twentieth century, when better roads and trucks allowed shipments to the port in Hilo. Numerous ruins remain, seen in the wave battered pier, scattered foundations, and the ruins of a sugar mill across the highway. The pier has been destroyed and rebuilt several times, pounded by winter storms, once blown up by the army to prevent use during a feared Japanese invasion.

A large pond and wetlands sit alongside the mown lawn at the center of the park. Once maintained as a fishpond by ancient Hawaiians it is now a rich marsh. The park encompasses over half a mile of shoreline and over two hundred acres of land. There is plenty to explore along the shore north of the main park. Numerous archeological sites scattered across the low coastal plain testify to the centuries of use, from a large pre-contact village, to the plantation operations of the 19th and 20th centuries.

It is a pretty park with decent facilities. Camping is available here with a permit that can be purchased online. Stop by and enjoy the scenery and have lunch. Much of the time this beautiful park sits empty, the isolation of this coastline exemplified.