3.26.12 Nature Calls

Pololu 790 xxx
photos by george billard
Hawaii's Big Island was full of impressively lush vistas like this one. For the first part of our stay, we were on a wonderful private ranch at the island's northern tip, near Hawi. Horses, chickens and a sweet dog roamed the property where our group of six inhabited two separate bungalows. Ours had a hot tub and a resident spider (see below). There were avocado, mango, macadamia, guava and papaya trees and an organic vegetable garden. From our high bed we could look out over blooming violet jacarandas and golden-green meadows to the ocean in the distance. It was heavenly.
Spider 1 790 xxx
amazing arachnid
This impressive creature was like a sentry, always hanging around the door to our bungalow. Turns out he's a relatively harmless Argiope Keyserlingi, commonly known as St. Andrew's Cross Spider. He was a great introduction to the many new and interesting flora and fauna we encountered on this trip. In this post, I'm going to share lots of photos of these things. In another, I will tell you about my culinary experiences.
Green 790 xxx
how green was my valley
Our first hike was down into Pololu Valley (the view from the top is seen in the first photo above), one of a series of deep valleys cut into the steep coastal cliffs around the Big Island. The weather reminded me a bit of Iceland, in that your are often moving through different micro-climates—now it's foggy, now it's drizzling, now it's sunny and hot. As you can see, it was fairy-tale green with lots of moss, flowers and fruit-bearing trees.
Pepper 790 xxx
in the pink
On this trek we came across these pink pepperberries (delicious to eat right off the tree), wild almonds (lots of work to extract) and Indian mulberries which, though quite nutritious, emit a forbidding stench (along the lines of Époisses) when ripe.
Volcanic stone 790 xxx
black beauty
At the base of the cliffs is a black sand beach covered with perfectly round and oval volcanic rocks in an intense palette of blacks, greys and deep reds. Again like Iceland, much of the island is covered with lava in varying states and degrees of decomposition.
Turtle face 790 xxx
old soul
On a different beach, we saw this enormous sea turtle looking very mellow and drowsy. There were lots of kids around, and surfers, and nobody paid this fellow much heed. I was mesmerized by his ancient looks, so prehistoric.
Hot pink 790 xxx
positively psychedelic
On our way back from the fabulous farmers market in Hilo, we stopped at the botanical gardens and wound our way through this amazing rain forest full of jaw-dropping exotic plants.
Orchids 790 xxx
these orchids smelled strongly and sweetly of vanilla (which is a kind of orchid)
Mules foot fern 790 xxx
the massive root stock of the mule's foot fern which has the largest fronds of any fern
Fiddlehead 790 xxx
these fiddleheads were enormous, almost a foot in diameter
Fern 790 xxx
the ferns were incredibly impressive and so beautiful
Bat plant 790 xxx
this bat plant is typical of the exotic flora
Ginger 790 xxx
there were tons of different gingers, including this corrugated one
Banana flower 790 xxx
also many palms, including bananas (this flower is edible)
Powderpuff 790 xxx
we were told that this flower blooms only once a year and lasts just 2 days
Spider 2 790 xxx
i spied her
Tons of these spiders were hanging off the eaves of the next house we stayed in. It was a big, 4-bedroom place on the east side of the island, again with a hot tub on the large wraparound porch and sweeping vistas down to the sea. At night, wild pigs rooted around on the lawn for grubs, and the scent of gardenias wafted through the cool air.
Crater 790 xxx
thar she blows
Another outing took us to Volcano National Park, where we hiked down through lush rain forest to this dry lunar terrain encrusted with cracked and buckling lava.
Crater2 790 xxx
this should give you a little perspective on the enormity of the place
Waipio 790 xxx
strangers in paradise
Perhaps my favorite journey was down into Waipi'o Valley, a stunning and pristine valley that was once the permanent residence of early Hawaiian kings. Later, it was populated by many taro farmers, but everything got wiped out by a tsunami in the ‘40s. Several decades later, a few people trickled back in and began farming taro again, but they live off the grid and it's quite rustic and insular. Wild horses roam there, eating the ripe guavas that fall from the trees. It reminded me of a Hawaiian version of a "holler," and the locals are similarly inhospitable.
Waipio 2 790 xxx
road warriors
The valley floor at sea level is almost 2,000 ft below the surrounding terrain, and the road that leads down is so steep that it’s open only to 4-wheel-drive vehicles. It’s the steepest road of its length in the United States and possibly the world. Several large waterfalls fall into the valley to feed the river which flows from the foot of the largest falls at the back of the valley out to the ocean. The shore line is a black sand beach popular with surfers. Our legs wobbled on the way down, and screamed for mercy on the long, arduous hike back up. (Later, we read that, on a bet, Lance Armstrong biked up the hill in 9 minutes.)The Big Island felt like Jurassic Park—an ancient, primal landscape, lush beyond all imagining. A place to be in awe of nature's beauty and power, to feel the salt spray on your face, hear the call of birds and inhale the restorative air, fresh from so much green. It's a trip I highly recommend.


Fantastic journey - where else can you see such amazing contrasts in terrain? Thanks for posting these great photos.
Michael Duffy on July 24, 2012 at 10:25 pm —
Looks like your turtle is a Honu'ea or Pacific Hawksbill Sea Turtle - nice encounter with an endangered animal!
Michael Duffy on July 24, 2012 at 10:35 pm —