Magmanamous Meanderings on the Big Island of Hawaii
LAVAMAN, BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII Photo: (c) Russell Johnson
We are walking across the a’a looking for a nene. a’a is Hawaiian for chunky lava.pahoehoe is the smooth swirly stuff. It is almost as if mother nature had stumbled and dropped a giant Bavarian chocolate cake on the big island of Hawaii. The nene is the state bird, kind of a silly goose, supposedly descended from a Canada goose that went far astray. It has claws instead of webbed feet. The nene lives on the slopes of the Kiluhaea volcano. There are signs warning us not to feed them. But I can’t even find one. If you feed them they wander the roads begging for food and consequently become flattened by passing cars.
The nene is an endangered species.perhaps because it isn’t too bright.
AUDIO: THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII
Humans have, however, wreaked environmental havoc on the Hawaiian islands. On the other side of the Big Island, a hotel developer brought in a menagerie of non-native animals — flamingoes and such — to create a Disneyland-style paradise. A friend of mine, who lives on the islands, described it using the call of the Hawaiian barred dove: hellufalot, hellofalot. Long before the hotels and timeshares, settlers brought pigs and cats, and mongooses, or mongeese (I looked it up.you can say it either way). The mongeese were supposed to have killed the rats. But rats go out at night and mongeese are day trippers, so they missed the rats and ate birds instead.
Still, 90 percent of Hawaii’s native flora and fauna is to be found nowhere else on earth. A lot of it is to be found here on the slope of one of the island’s five volcanoes, luxuriating in the rich volcanic soil.
“I have seen Vesuvius since, but it was a mere toy, a child’s volcano, a soup kettle, compared to this…. Here was a yawning pit upon whose floor the armies of Russia could camp, and have room to spare.”
Mark Twain – Roughing It, 1872
There is a bit of hissing and moaning where the lava meets the ocean but no hot lava is to be seen. Some people told me that last night there was quite a glow.and the US Geological Survey says there are a couple of new volcanic vents. Climbing around these lava mounds at the end of the Chain of Craters road is a bit dangerous. They can collapse at any moment. You can get scalded by hot water. You can breathe sickening vapors. There is little likelihood of that, however, if you play by the rules and stick to the paths. There is a bit of excitement in the danger, this smoldering vision of hell brought to you by the National Park Service. It is also, it a stark sort of a way, quite stunning.
There is no danger, however, bin sloshing through a lava tube. The Thurston Lava Tube, a tunnel that once squeezed hot magma like toothpaste is now a cool stroll underneath a fern forest.
I am constantly amazed as to the number of people who like to live around volcanoes. Volcanoes can eruptwith little warning. I wouldn’t be too worried, however, as these volcanoes are the most studied and watched in the world. There are quite a number of places to stay here, going for up to almost $400 a night. My wife and I won one of the expensive suites in a charity auction. It was decent, but not worth $400 a night. They really don’t know how to do luxury here and that is just fine. I would have easily settled for something more rustic. There are accommodations here for $45 and up.
We were expecting the worst.but we found the best. We tried a couple of Hawaiian fish dishes, opakapaka and opah, both were spiced and marinated with such as delights as thai basal and crab curry butter sauce. Yum. The founding chef was a saucier at a 5 star restaurant. The service was eager-to-please, down home Hawaiian.