Sea Turtles, Hawaiian culture and volcanoes

Hawaii Travel Blog

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We had a busy day today, full of amazing highlights.

First we started the morning with a sunrise walk along the beach. We had hopes of seeing a Green Turtle, as we had heard they often rested on the beach during sunrise, and had just about given up when we came across a runner on the beach who lead us to a cove where he often sees them, and sure enough we found a beautiful Green Turtle resting halfway up the beach. We watched as it slowly lumbered down the beach, awkward until the first wave gave it space to swim, and then it flew off into the ocean.

On our walk back to the hotel we noticed a small cove where Green Turtles kept on sticking their heads up out of the water. We came back a few hours later for snorkelling and were delighted to discover that the cove was full of Green Turtles, swimming around and peeling off algae from the underwater rocks with their beaks.
Just metres off-shore we bumped into our first, and then we constantly saw one or more turtles gliding around with skill, completely ignoring our clumsy efforts.

In the early afternoon we took the chance to see some original Hawaiian artefacts. The hotel is built around an ancient series of fish ponds, which are volcanic tidal pools that were highly prized by the Hawaiian tribes, who built fish gates around them to trap and store fish. A short walk away was another type of artefact, this one a series of petroglyphs carved into the volcanic rock. In a small preserve surrounded by golf course is the Waikoloa Petroglyph field. The field was once the border between the Kingdoms of Kohala and Kona, and as a special zone it received attention from generations of Hawaiians, carving the field with sigals which we do not now understand.
While we walked to the petroglyph field, an energetic and talkative lady joined us, and proceeded to babble at us for the next half an hour. One amusing part was when she was telling us that when she went to a church service a few days ago the minister was telling her not to take any volcanic stones with her when she left the island, because she would be cursed by the fire goddess Pele, and everyone who took a stone ended up sending it back with a $20 note to end the curse. She swallowed this whole and was now telling everyone about it (the myth was actually started relatively recently by Narou Tovley, a ranger at the park). It is interesting how a lot of people are just generally superstitious rather than specifically religious, and just absorb the local superstitions even if they are completely incompatible with their stated religion, such as astrology or polynesian curses with Christianity.


We had planned to spend the evening up at the observatory, but the vog (volcanic fog) was heavy so the trip was cancelled. Instead we made a last minute booking on a tour of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. We drove from Kona on our side of the island to Hilo on the east side. With the prevailing winds being NE to ENE (70%), the east side of the island gets a lot more rain, and the island rapidly shifted from lava desert to tropical rainforest. The pioneer plant on the lava fields is the ‘ōhi‘a lehua tree, which is endemic to Hawai'i and is able to secrete acidic compounds from its roots to break down the lava into soil. It is the first to grow on new lava fields and paves the way for its replacement by secondary plants.
The mythology behind the ‘ōhi‘a lehua tree is that the fire goddess Pele once saw the handsome prince ʻŌhiʻa and desired him, but he rebuffed her proposal as he was in love with Lehua. In retaliation she transformed him into a tree, and the other gods, seeing the grief of Lehua, took pity on Lehua and turned her into a flower and placed her on the tree. Plucking a flower from the tree thus represents seperating these two lovers once again, and causes the sky to rain with the tears of separated lovers.

In the park at Hilo we saw the Nēnē, the endangered Hawaiian goose which was nearly eradicated by hunting and the introduction of cats and mongooses, and is one of the classic success stories of reintroduction after captive breeding.


From Hilo we drove south to Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park. We visited the Thurston lava tube, which was created by a stream of fast lava cooling on the outside (where it is exposed to air) to form the barrel, but with the hot core flowing out to create a tube. The lava tube was set in a beautiful rainforest, full of colourful birds and vibrant green ferns. There is a myth about the ferns and the lava, another one which involves the fire goddess Pele. The god Kamapua'a, who took the form of a warthog (pigs were introduced to Hawai'i with the first wave of polynesian colonisers) or a fern. He was attracted to Pele but she spurned her, and in revenge he took to taunting her at the top of the mountain until she lost her temper and chased him (in pig form) down to the sea. At the last minute he would turn into a fern and hide from her, and she would fall into the sea to cool her temper.
View from Blue Hawaiian Helicopters over the Big Island. Edited by Lydia.


We also saw the sulphur vents steaming up from the side of the road, and looked out over Kilasea Caldera. The wide core of the volcano has been silent for the last few weeks, so we did not see any lava plumes, but we heard the deep groaning of the earth and the venting of steam and sulphur.
sylviandavid says:
We really liked the petroglyphics ..... So happy to see someone else does too.... good telling of the Hawaiian stories...
Posted on: Jan 31, 2009
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View from Blue Hawaiian Helicopte…