Hawaii has a lot of contrasts – cities, small towns, forests, grasslands, mountains and deserts – all in a very compact package. I come from Ahualoa on the Big Island and was born in a house that my father built. If not for the trees, then you can see Mauna Kea, the white mountain which has snow most years, and is one of top two places in the world for telescopes.
When I was very young I thought that my island was the whole world. In my mind the snow on the mountain was the start of the Arctic and if I went past the mountain, I would get to polar bears and ice. The concept of four seasons was a fantasy. There was the rainy season and the rest of the year.
Ahualoa doesn’t have a lot of people, and 30 years ago it was a lot more rural. The few fences were for cattle and there was no one to tell you to keep out of anywhere. I think that when fences become for people, then it isn’t truly a rural place any more.
The Changing Face of Hawaii
The economy of the Hamakua coast, in which Ahualoa lies, was based upon sugar when I was a child. The plantation wasn’t doing very well, but it had been a parent of all the towns along that coast. It was a poor economy but a more tightly knit one. The plantation lands were treated as a public space. Today there is a lot more awareness of nature, and a lot more is being done to preserve what is left of the incredible diversity of endemic species. Small sanctuaries of native forests are being protected and expanded. There are a lot more people on the island, and perhaps this is why borders and fences have become more important.
The culture of Hawaii becomes more Americanised, and the aspects of the culture that are maintained are done so with conscious intent. The Hawaiian language is protected and spoken fluently by a very small but growing minority of the population.
However, Pidgin, a creole language mostly based upon English and Hawaiian, but with influences from Japanese, Portuguese, Tagalog and Cantonese is dying out, it has no protected status and was never formalised in any way. It was the language of the plantations and came about so different immigrant groups could communicate. Mostly the changes to Hawaii in my lifetime have been positive ones. But it’s easy to feel some melancholy for what has been lost upon the way.
My favourite beach when I was a child was Beach 69. To get there you needed either a four wheel drive or you had to walk several minutes from the small gravel road that went along that part of the coast. We called it Beach 69 because you left the road at phone pole number 69.
The official name of it is Waialea Bay. The road has since been paved, and a few years ago a parking lot and showers appeared. While it has lead to the beach becoming a lot more popular it’s still often quite empty and has wonderful coral to snorkel in near a large rock in the bay that my family appropriately calls fish island. To get there you proceed down Highway 19 from the direction towards Kona from Waimea and leave the road at the Hapuna beach exit. Then keep driving past Hapuna until you reach the parking lot for Wailea Bay.
Beach 69 is on the South Kohala coast, and my current favourite beach on that coast is one that me and my friends call Little Mau’umae. I haven’t been able to discover its official name, but it is the tiny beach where the Waikoloa stream meets the ocean in the rare instances that it flows that far. Almost every time I’ve been to this beach there hasn’t been anyone else there.
To get there you have a couple options, but the one I like to use is to park at Spencer beach park at the end of the parking lot furthest from the entrance. There is a trail going through some forest and open rock areas right by the water, after several minutes you will find yourself at Mau’umae beach, which is itself rather sparsely visited, but if you want to get to Little Mau’umae then you continue to the end of that beach and look for a trail leading up through some woods, if you follow that past a couple beach houses and more rocks then you come to this wonderful little spot that is very likely to be without a single soul.
The Hamakua coast has a couple beaches that are completely different from the white sand beaches of the Kohala coast. These are black sand beaches in dramatic river valleys, Waipio and Waimanu.
Waipio is relatively simple to get to if you have a four wheel drive vehicle and can brave the very steep, a mostly one-lane road leading into it. Otherwise you will have to hike down this road from the lookout, and back out again, which is a good bit of exercise – to put it mildly.
If you are feeling very ambitious and have a couple days and you can continue on to Waimanu. To get to this valley you walk through the Waipio river and to the end of the beach. There you will see the zig-zag trail leading up the steep face of the valley.
Getting to the top of this valley is the hardest part of the hike, after that you will be hiking along a winding trail through the forest but without a lot of elevation changes until you come to Waimanu, which is the next valley over. If you are in good shape the whole hike will probably take about seven hours one way.