Day 1: We took a few pond-hopper planes from our bright sunny home of Waimea on the Hawai`i Island to the much rainier town of Waimea on Kaua`i. We rented vans when we landed and took the twisting, turning, carsick-inducing road up Waimea Canyon to the former CCC camp–called Koke’e camp–up in the mountains. The phone signal was lacking, the bunks were 12 to a room and the moa ranged aplenty. Between lectures, Ping-Pong matches and cold showers we considered slingshotting a few moa for dinner. The plans were quickly dashed when we heard the local saying; “if you boil a Kaua‘i chicken and lava rock for and hour, the lava rock will turn out easier to chew”.
Day 2: We made our way back down the winding road to Kaoneloa beach where Steve’s lecture was rudely interrupted by one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. There we were – trying to learn about sand dune deposits, strike and dip and indicators of paleowind direction – when not one but two Hawaiian monk seals, aka ʻIlio-holo-i-ka-uaua, had the gall to surf up and lay on the beach just a few hundred feet from us. These two monk seals, two of the total of 38 that live on Kaua‘i, then lay there within picture range for the next half hour. We did eventually get around to measuring the strike and dip of the fossilized sand dunes before half of our `ohana left to gather some more days’ worth of provisions that they had previously neglected to buy (Oops).
Day 3: We moved through the forest near Koke’e in an orchestrated massacre of the highly invasive Kahili ginger. Final death count: 17050. Also managed to spot Steve Perlman, which is just about on par with seeing a Hawaiian monk seal. Steve is practically the god of endangered plant species. He’s the guy who rappels down cliffs with a paintbrush coated in pollen to keep the incredibly rare species of flowers that grow there off the extinction list.
Day 4: Incredible hike along Waimea Canyon accompanied by a Steve lecture: the canyons on Kaua‘i were formed by rivers, but Waimea canyon was also helped along by a fault. Here we also collected soil from three different layers and tested them for pH, Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium. After that we returned to the forest where we eradicated the Kahili ginger and measured trees in a forest plot. This was particularly troublesome because lots of the plants in the area look the same or similar. I saw Eric and Christina running around with Kumu Alex and an armful of plant and tree books trying to establish some common identification for plants so that we at least remained consistent between plots. I learned two things, if you’re going to mess up at least be consistent and if you don’t know what a plant is its probably a Pilo. To wrap up the night we got assigned our Hawaiian spirit animals by the particularly sassy Eleanor, Kumu Alex’s daughter. I am personally still a bit prickly about my spirit animal being the porcupine fish while Ellie’s is, by no coincidence I’m sure, the spinner dolphin.
Day 5: We started out on a high note and by that I mean the whistle a tire makes when it rapidly loses air. No worries though, between the combined brains and brawn of Eric, Nate and Nick we managed to get Kumu Alex on the line and she and Steve came and fixed it. General crisis averted, we made our way to Makauwahi cave reserve where we met Billy, our guide, and the tortoises. Each baby tortoise had its own distinct shell pattern but had to be coaxed out of its shell with a wriggling finger before it would show its tiny face. We then got to sift through sediment from the cave which preserved bunches of fossils from many now extinct species. We found a myriad of fish bits, shells both whole and fragmented, sea urchins’ mouths and spines but the highlight was definitely a talon belonging to a now extinct native Hawaiian long-legged owl. Sad to think that this owl might have been alive until a couple centuries ago.
Day 6: We woke up to the sight of a second popped tire, presumably punctured the day before by Nate and left to slowly deflate overnight. This time around we were much more competent about changing it and were able to continue on our way to the Iliau forest in short order. The Iliau is a member of silversword alliance but we all think it’s the Dr. Seuss plant. We spent the rest of our break day on Polihale beach where some of us splashed around in Queen Emma’s bathtub, a protected area of an otherwise rough beach expanse that offers a magnificent view of Kaua‘i’s northeastern cliffs.
Day 7: We walked the Pihea trail and the Alaka’i swamp trail to eventually make our way to the Alaka’i swamp. From the trail we were able to enjoy the spectacular view of the Na Pali coast, with its steep cliffs and red soil. Here we saw plants that we had never seen before, some of which are extremely rare. Kumu Alex showed us two types of flowers that co-evolved with a bird: the flowers both had a “bonker” (stigma) that would bop the bird on its head and transfer pollen, so that the bird could pollinate the next flower. Growing in the mud we also saw numerous Mikinalo, a little carnivorous plant that lives in the area. The swamp itself is one of the wettest places on earth, with up to 500 inches of rain a year; fortunately we encountered surprisingly good weather. On our way back we did a communal small forest plot and at the end of the day we got into a (contained) mud fight because if you didn’t get dirty you didn’t have fun!
And then on to Maui!