Diving in Kaloko-Honokohau and visiting the National Parks of Hawaii

Although I only spent a brief time on the Big Island of Hawaii, I managed to see four dramatic National Park units in just four days!  My journey began at Pu`uhonua O Honaunau National Historical Park on the Kona coast of Hawaii. As I drove to meet Adam Johnson, Integrated Resources Manager/Archeologist at Pu`uhonua O Honaunau, I was shocked at how different the landscape of this region was from the lush, green cliffs of Kalaupapa.  Bizarrely, the highways are surrounded by black volcanic rock, distant smoke, and ultra-fit runners – the Ironman Triathalon occurs in this punishing landscape.

Upon arriving at the park, I began to learn about the powerful history that makes the parks of the Kona coast so special.  Adam and I spent a whole morning walking around Pu`uhonua O Honaunau and he was able to point out incredible facts and artifacts throughout the entire trek. The stone walls of Pu`uhonua O Honaunau were built during a time when the Hawaiian Islands were still engaged in local wars prior to the unification of the islands. Up until the 19th century, defeated warriors and peaceful citizens hoped to enter the boundaries of this “City of Refuge,” which would fully absolve them of any wrongdoing they may have committed and prevent them from any harm.  It was certainly a powerful experience to hear Adam tell me these stories on a peaceful, sunny day while imagining Hawaiian warriors sprinting towards the walls we walked beside!

After an interesting history lesson at the City of Refuge, Adam and I drove up to Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park to do some diving! We had plans to tour the terrestrial features on the following day, so we quickly geared up and began our shore dive.  We scrambled over uneven lava rocks and jumped into crystal clear waters.  The region has a remarkable amount of hard corals – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in a single dive!  We also swam alongside dozens of fish species and saw a giant green sea turtle.

Since the history of Pu`uhonua O Honaunau was so interesting, I was happy to spend the next day learning all about Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park and Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site. The main features at Kaloko revolve around the creative structures that Hawaiians built to survive in this seemingly inhospitable region of the island. Most prominently, an 800 foot stone wall encloses a fish pond that was used to store recently-captured fish – quite an eco-friendly alternative to a refrigerator! The sandy beaches are also lined with a stone fish trap, which effortlessly collects fish as the tide recedes.  Pu`ukohola Heiau National Historic Site was also founded to preserve impressive stone ruins and a captivating history. At this site, a massive war temple was built by Kamehameha the Great, who would eventually unify the Hawaiian Islands. As the story goes, Kamehameha the Great was able to end all wars on the island of Hawaii after building this temple to the gods, then defeating his cousin. Once again, it was a bizarre feeling to learn of such a fierce story on a calm and sunny day on a tropical island, but I was happy to learn of the land’s compelling history. We capped off the day with another shore dive at Kaloko with Adam, myself, and biological science technician Joseph “Joz” Bybee.

In an area with such a rich and recent history, many important artifacts remain undiscovered.  On my final day at the Kona coast parks, we planned to snorkel around the massive fish pond wall at Kaloko in search of undocumented archeological features.  Archeologist Mandy Johnson-Campbell led the search, which took place in shallow waters with strong surges. Despite poor conditions, we managed to mark the GPS coordinates of one potential archaeological feature! After this success, we decided to retreat to land as rising surf and sharp corals persuaded us to return another day.  With this unexpected free time, I spent the day at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. From the ridge of an active volcano, I could see volcanic smoke billowing hundreds of feet into the air! I particularly enjoyed walking through cave-like tubes of hardened lava and warming my hands in natural steam vents from the volcano.

I was reluctant to leave the Big Island after just five days – I felt like I could have spent years exploring its National Park units alone! I’m happy that I’ll be heading to Oahu next, but I know there’s nowhere quite like the Big Island. I owe Adam Johnson a huge thank you for spending two days giving me an insider’s tour of the parks, as well as Joz and Mandy for showing me around Kaloko!


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