Kahuku Unit

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has been growing. A few years back the park service purchased much of the old Kahuku Ranch and a couple years ago opened this new unit to the public. Like the main area of the park the Kahuku unit is also a product of the eruptions that shape the island, yet with a totally different character.

An old stone wall and gate at Kahuku
An old stone wall and gate at Kahuku

There is an extensive trail system through the new unit, the old ranch roads converted to walking trails. In addition to the ranching history a visitor can explore the volcanic landscape

On our recent visit we walked one of the easiest trails in the park, the Palm Trail. This two mile loop trail starts near the visitor station and crosses both recent lava flows and rich forested kipukas. Along the way passing relics of ranch history, fences, gates, and an enigmatic diamond D carved into the rock.

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Volcano Nights

With my folks on island it was time for another volcano run. We executed a plan I have used a few times before… Booking a night or two in Kilauea Military Camp right on the caldera rim. Two nights this time.

A lava lake in Kilauea Caldera
A lava lake in Kilauea Caldera

The drive from Hilo was wet, heavy rain much of the way. The park was much the same as we ran from the car to the visitor center in another downpour.

Photographic conditions were just bad, high winds had a constant blowing mist over the caldera. I never set up the little telescope this time, not wanting to subject it to the damp abuse it stayed safely in the case. Instead I simply used a long telephoto on the camera, something I could tuck into my jacket when the mist swept over.

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A Walk in the Park

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park reopened to the public at the end of September. Reshaped by the eruptions the park has substantially changed since I was last there back in February. It was well past time I got myself out to the park to see the changes, it had been open almost two months!

Julian examines a lava mushroom near the 1969 fissure on the Mauna Ulu trail
I had resolved to go over the long holiday weekend. An additional idea occurred to me, if I was going, why not kidnap my young nephews along for the trip. We would leave the gals to whatever they will do, and go have an adventure.

Off we go.

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Where can you fly a drone in Hawaii?

For a new drone pilot, learning the rules can be a bit daunting.

Hawaiʻi is a state that is incredibly attractive to a drone pilot. The scenery, from reefs and beaches, to the soaring volcanoes, just begs to be flown over and photographed from the air.

Flying the DJI Mavic Air in the saddle at the base of Mauna Kea
Flying the DJI Mavic Air in the saddle at the base of Mauna Kea

I am determined to fly responsibly, that means going through all of the various rules. The rules are not simple! They are a patchwork of regulations from federal, state, and local authorities. How do you make sense of it all?

Below is the results of my research on the subject. More than a few hours of reading state and federal websites. The process of writing this post was in itself a means of educating myself. Hopefully others will find this useful. If you know of anything I have missed, drop me a line to let me know.

This post is focused on the Island of Hawaii, home for me. But much of what is discussed here applies to all of the islands.

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Walking Old-A

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.

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Walking the 1871 Trail

A few hours free in Kealakekua… What to do. Drive down the Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau National Historic Park? Why not? Have camera will travel.

My goal was not to visit the sanctuary itself, I have been here several times. Instead, my plan was to walk the 1871 trail south along the shore, something I had never had a chance to do. I did start at the sanctuary, passing through and shooting a few photos of Kiʻ i before heading south.

1871 Trail
The 1871 Trail proceeds south from Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau
This historic trail proceeds south from the visitor center, cutting across the point and then along the shoreline. The trail connected villages and religious centers along the coast. North of the park the trail has become the modern route 160, crossing over the coastal plain to Kealakekua Bay. In satellite shots you can follow the trail along long sections of the Kona Coast. Along the Kohala Coast the King’s Trail was built in a similar fashion and serves the same purpose.

The trail is what was called a two-horse trail, wide enough for two horses to pass with room to spare, about eight feet wide. A curb of stone runs along both sides, while the roadbed between is cleared of rock and sometimes filled with sand or gravel to level the worst pits. In places the trial is built up to cross low areas with substantial stonework. The result reminded me in many ways of Roman roads in Europe, built to a similar pattern and cutting straight across the landscape.

On both side of the trail there are numerous remains of the ancient settlements. Stone walls and raised platforms reveal what was once a thriving settlement along the shoreline. There is the foundation of John Ahu’s house, complete with a cistern and an old grave. The remains of the ʻŌmaʻo Heiau, a hōlua slide and more are alongside the trail as you proceed. Ask at the visitor center desk for a guide to the various points of interest along the trail.

Kiʻilae Bay
A cove of blue water beneath the sea cliffs of Kiʻilae Bay
About a quarter mile south of the visitor center the trail reaches the shoreline and runs along the top of the sea cliffs. The view is stunningly beautiful… small coves of crystal blue water lie at the bottom of the rugged cliffs. The coral reef is clearly visible, even from fifty feet above you can make out fish feeding amongst the coral heads. Here and there the bright yellow of small schools of tangs add color to the blues and greens. Next time here I need to remember to bring some snorkeling gear.

About halfway the trail is built against a small sea cliff. A large stone ramp was constructed to allow travelers to ascend the cliff. The amount of stonework serves to highlight how much work went into building this coastal access trail.

The south boundary of the park is a mere 0.8 mile along the trail, an easy stroll. Perhaps add a couple points of difficulty for the rough, rocky nature of the trail. It takes about half an hour to reach the abandoned fishing village. From there the trail continues south, out of the park. It becomes substantially overgrown, the path reduced to a cut through the brush with the occasional branch to push aside. I proceeded a bit further, but became rather annoyed with the amount of spider web I was accumulating.

As I sit amongst the abandoned stone walls of Kiʻilae Village it is interesting to imagine what the scene would have looked like a well over century ago in the 1870’s. A thriving settlement with travelers coming and going along the trail. Fishermen carrying their catch home, village women doing the chores and shopping, the tasks of life that never really change. Perhaps a royal procession going north to the temples at Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau. The period was an interesting one, when western ways were mixing with the ancient patterns of life in the islands.

If you have some time while visiting Puʻuhonua O Hōnaunau, take an hour and walk the old trail. The scenery alone makes it worthwhile, with a bit of history thrown in.