Saturday, March 5, 2011

We had to do a shave ice

Storms struck Kauai last night with some flash flooding closing the single-lane bridge to Hanalei and the North Shore.  I was woken at 2am by wind lashing the coconut palms and the air sucking in and out through the open windows.

It was still warm.

Today, the sky was still overcast and there were occasional showers but since it is our last full day here we had to go to the beach again and again.  We snorkeled, fought off ravenous wrasse, boogie-boarded (and I hit a rock) and swam in the pool and hot-tubbed.

And we had real shave ice.

Frost at the Lighthouse Bird Sanctuary
posing as a frigate-bird (which we saw) 3/3/11

Wren as a DUDE posing with Ganesha
in front of our house

Wren, hiding

Frost as a Hawaiian prince

Wren, hot-tubbing AGAIN

Shave ice in Koloa

Today, Frost and Wren became sunburned for the first time on our trip.  It was the rainy day and we weren't taking the usual precautions.  Morale?  Sun comes through the clouds in Kauai.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Big guns and bananas

Hawaii has lots of tropical fruit and lots of big guns aimed at the sky.   When we took the tour up the Na Pali our guide pointed out the army base and mentioned that at times the coast is closed down while they do "practices" with "submarines" and that they have big cables under the sea bed to listen for incoming enemy vessels.

The same afternoon we were at Poipu Beach and a penetrating siren went off.  All the tourists kept sitting on their towels in the sun, wondering whether a tsunami was coming.  Natasha went over to the lifeguard tower and asked them what it meant - they told her to look in the front of the Hawaii phone book but that the siren was going off as a test but could mean:  tsunami, missile launch or hurricane..  Natasha raised her eyebrows a few times about the missile launch / missile attack.  We are confused about the missiles but I learned all about tsunami evacuation plans from the phone book.

The Tsunami Evacuation plan for our area, from the phone book.
 And from the beach warnings:

Ke'e beach warnings.  The Dangers of an adventurous life?
There was a lot of rain today and a constant heavy rain is now falling.  It is so heavy that Frost says he can't go to sleep because it is too noisy - but its still warm and very restful to the rest of us.

We had some thunderstorms just a short while ago and I see that parts of Kauai are under flash flood warning until tomorrow morning.   Just before dark Mum, Natasha and I went down to Brenneckes to boogie board.  The sea was warm despite the rain and we enjoyed catching the waves up the beach and getting all sandy.  Although it may still be gloomy tomorrow, we are planning on swimming and hanging around in the hot tub.

More thunder and flickering.  The rain is lashing the leaves of the ornamental ginger.

I almost ended this post without the reference to bananas!

We drove up the North Shore today and visited some fruit stands and had a huge breakfast at Tutu Soup Hale along the way.   While we stopped at Banana Joes, my favorite picture is of this small fruit stand near Kapa'a where I bought 8 guavas for $2.  The woman selling them said she grew them in her yard.  Wren decided he likes guavas, longans (eyeball fruit) and rambutans.  I like them too but am not so fond of soursop.

The fruit stand at Kapa'a near Tutu Soup Hale.

We had an Anniversary, really!

Since our excuse for coming to Kauai was our 10th Wedding Anniversary, Josh complained that I was quick to write about swamps and endangered birds but slow to document our anniversary dinner at the Hyatt.  He is probably right.  I should pay more attention to him and less to local fauna but its hard!  Joshua is not a tropical species while the birds and fish are so.... uh oh.  See, I digress again...

On Sunday, we went out to dinner (alone) at Tidepools restaurant at the Hyatt.  It is a beautiful restaurant, located over a glassy pond filled with ravenous koi and looking out over Hyatt gardens landscaped with lush palms and flickering tiki torches.

Hyatt Tiki torches in the evening

Since our house is close to the Hyatt, we had no reservations about double-cocktailing and enjoyed the typical fruit and rum and cosmo-concoctions while we looked over the menu.  It seems that vegetarians do not eat out in Kauai so I made a concession to sushi and ordered the Ahi with Hawaiian hearts of palm, beets, shiso and white soy-yuzu-habanero sauce.   Yes!  I am ashamed but it was tasty - but most delightful was the habenero infused dip.

Josh enjoyed his corn, vanilla and Dungeness crab chowder as well
as his macademia nut crusted mahi-mahi with rice wrapped in taro leaf.

Somewhere through my Tofu "Hiryozu" - sesame somen noodles, grilled asparagus, tomato ginger relish and Tokyo sauce - I thought I might drop one little somen noodle into the pond to feed a single lonely koi who was waiting below the table.

He splashed and gulped it down and immediately koi from all over the pond rushed to our tableside.  We looked away and pretended it was someone else.  I mean, even though its not the kind of place to feature DO NOT FEED THE FISH signs all over, it was kind of implicit that you not toss your dinner into the koi pond.

The ravenous Koi ravenning for noodles

The Vegetarian Option.  Tasty bot not sublime
I am once again being rushed off the computer - this is Hawaii after all - and urged to "GO NOW Go there" by Wren.  We are leaving for a day trip up the North Shore with a stop in Kapa'a for breakfast.

LEaving in misty rain and forced to go and look at a dead cane toad on the road.  I hope to update this more later.... embellish embellish.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Birdwatching the Alakai Swamp

Ever since I lived in South Africa, I have had an interest in birds.   Today, we went on a beautiful and exciting birding walk in the high Alakai Swamp area of Kauai, led by a local bird photographer and expert, Jim Denny.

The birds we hoped to see were the famous forest passerines, endemic to the island.   Jim is the author of a number of books on Hawaiian birds, his most recent being A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Hawaii (2010).  As he writes in the introduction:
Serious birders often include Hawai'i in their list of "must-go" places because these Islands are home to a wonderful assortment of brids, some of which can be seen nowhere else.  .... The most sought-after species, of course, are Hawaii'is endemic forest birds."
 These forest birds are sought after indeed.  They require seeking, most existing only at high altitudes where invasive species have yet to destroy native forests and invading species such as feral pigs and mosquitoes have yet to decimate bird populations.

The Alakai Swamp is the last outpost for many of Kauai's endemic forest birds so we met up with Jim at the Koke'e Museum parking lot at 8am for a walk in the woods.  We were very lucky with the weather - pale clouds misted the high peak Waialeale - the wettest place on earth - but lower down on the old caldera the forests were sunny and green.  Despite the sun, signs of wetness were abundant:  ferns and moss, mud dried footprints, slippery planks, dense green slopes plunging into valleys wreathed with moss and damp.

At first we didn't see many birds but learned from Jim about local plants and some of their uses.  Further into the swamp the vegetation changed and there were increasing numbers of Ohia trees with red flowers reminiscent of banksias.

Ohia trees against the far forest canopy

We followed the boardwalk to the intersection with the Pihea trail and the path to the lookout down to Hanalei Bay.  Instead of following that route, we retraced the path to the left towards Koke'e and saw an abundance of endemic birds:

Kaua'i Elepaio
Kaua'i Amakihi
Akeke'e  (Endangered)

I'iwi by Jim Denny

Japanese white-eye
Hwamei - Melodious Laughingthrush
White-rumped Shama
Red Junglefowl
Erckels Francolin
White-tailed tropic-bird

The most brilliant and exciting bird was undoubtably the I'iwi but the Akeke'e was probably the rarest.  Before I sleep, let me leave you with some pictures from the walk.  On the walk home we passed many other hikers with binoculars who had hoped to see and identify some of the birds we had found with Jim's help.  I would highly recommend him for a walk like this, without his keen eye and experience in the area we would have not had half the 'luck' we enjoyed today.

Natasha, Shannon and Mum off the Pihea Trail

Me, with the introduced and invasive ginger

First snack, second snack, Snickers... they all blur when you're outdoors
(Natasha, Jim and I on the trail)

The moss and ferns abound
Mum, happy to be seeing birds

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Vents and blowholes

This evening Mum and I took the kids on a short walk from Mau haulepu Beach over the headland to the final cove along the trail.  The cliffs are lithified sand eroded by the waves into sharp outlines and crags.  The beach was deserted by strewn with driftwood and a surprising amount of small plastic pieces.

Up on the cliff path I was startled by a loud grumbling woosh.  It was a vent hole!   With each wave a noisy burst of air blew sand and noise out through the crack in the sand.  We all placed our hands over it and felt the surge of wind.  It sounded like an animal.

Spouting horn, a blowhole a few miles from our house.

Later, the kids threw old coconuts off the cliff into the sea and watched them bob away in the big swells.

On the way home we met two local fishermen carrying long bamboo poles and cool-boxes on their backpacks.   I asked them what fish they were after and they explained they were hand pole-fishing for lobster which come out onto the rocky shelves below the cliffs at night. 

Coming back to the car, we passed a cordoned section of beach where an endangered Monk Seal was sleeping on the beach.  The kids crept up and watched it from behind the signed off area.  Frost wanted a picture but we didn't have a camera.

Na Pali by boat, with whales, in winter

We've been snorkeling and swimming daily but yesterday we went on a big outing up the Na Pali Coast.   The Na Pali is a famous coastline in Kauai which is inaccessible by car.  Part of the coast can be seen by hiking the 11 mile Kalalau trail from the North of the island.  By all accounts it is an exposed and fairly hard hike with great climbs and descents and is not recommended in times of rain.  Many come in by helicopters which duck into the nearly sheer valleys facing the sea.

Mum and I spent a lot of time considering the various tour options.  According to the group we eventually chose, there are 12 operators who take groups into the Na Pali.  There are many variations in the offerings.  Some have larger boats, some go in rubber ducks, some start at the North, some at Port Allen and some at Waimea.  We chose Liko Kauai  Cruises because they allowed kids of 4 years of age and had good reviews elsewhere.

They did not disappoint.

Wetting our feet at the bow
We started off at Waimea at 8am for our check-in with Mary.  Then they sent us off to the small-boat harbor a short drive away.   Most guides say that while the Na Pali coast is calm in summer, it is often unsuitable for winter cruises because of high surf and dangerous conditions.  It was calm enough on Sunday but by Monday, a swell had come through raising surf heights on the NNW side of the island.  As we turned the corner from the leeward side of the island we faced a strong wind and swell.   I was not happy.

Frost and Wren were very excited as the catamaran rose up the faces of huge swells and then launched up to catch a bit of air at the front and fell dramatically.   This was very exciting for a child but for someone who gets seasick and has nightmares about large waves and sinking at sea, it was ... ahem.... alarming.

I was thankful for the Bonine (anti-emetic) I had taken the night before but concerned and worried enough that the staff on the boat asked me if I was okay.  I told them I dislike large waves.

Later, we pulled in close to the cliffs.  They are truly remarkable and I began to enjoy myself.  The swells were less intense close to shore, although the streaming breaking waves from behind gave me pause.  I was distracted by the turtles, the 1500 ft cliffs, the hidden valleys and the signs of the ancient Hawaiian pathways carved into the cliff so they could travel between valleys which were not joined in any way but through their opening to the sea.

Apparently, the verdant valleys were safe haven for these civilizations who lived in fear of invasion and attack.  The proximity of sea and fresh water (many waterfalls plunging straight into the ocean) was impressive.

View down the Napali Coast to the South

The shore break at the end of the Kalalau Trail. 

Narrow plunging valleys crowd to the coast. 

On the return journey we enjoyed sandwiches, chips and softdrinks.  Wren and Frost did very well on the 5 hour trip, neither having any motion sickness medication but not showing signs of illness.  I am pleased that they have Josh's genetic inheritance in this regard.   We pulled close to shore and saw 6 green sea turtles and then swung out to sea and saw many whales breaching, blowing and splashing their tails.  We also followed some spinner dolphins - and saw them jump and spin.  Closer to home we anchored off a reef and snorkeled (although there were very few fish).

I was glad to be on dry land again but it was an adventure and I would recommend this view of the Na Pali Coast - or a helicopter trip if you are that way inclined.  We saw many helicopters overhead while we were out on the water near the coast itself.

Boys watching spinner dolphins

Humpback whales

Me, being happy to realize we will not die at sea.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

"Mommy, I was hit by a turtle"

Wren woke at 6.45am, Seattle time.  Unfortunately, that was 4.45am in Kauai.   The roosters had been crowing for a while but it was a lovely tepid black night.   I brought Wren into our bed and showed him that it was still night and he could sleep in our bed.  He lay there, kicking me and stealing our sheets.  After a while he said that it was like a flower with ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR-FIVE petals.  I didn't know what he was talking about until I realized that his eyes had been open and staring up at the big wooden ceiling fan which did, indeed, look like a flower.

I said "SHSHSHSHSHS" loudly but he couldn't.  So we got up.

A few hours later, as the shadows retreated and the first sun struck the coast, we arrived at Poipu Beach Park armed with our boogie boards and snorkels.

The snorkeling was fabulous.  I saw (and identified) eleven species of reef fish, including the famous humuhumunukunukuapuaa — also known as the rectangular triggerfish - the Hawaiian State Fish.

Frost and Wren eat icecreams in Honolulu airport

Wren 'climbs' a coconut palm at Poipu Beach Park.  Shortly
after I took the picture he plunged to the ground
and hit his head on the park table.  The long shadows are the early light.

Run, rooster, run!  Wren chases a chicken with his
chicken bazooka.  The roosters are EVERYWHERE. 
Josh has been making "why did the chicken cross the road" jokes
which are funny because they are so topical.
 After Frost, Mum and I had snorkeled for a long time we walked to the next beach, a small cove called Brennekes.  There, Josh and Frost entered the water to boogie board.  Poipu beach park has three swimming areas (a tiny Baby Beach protected by a rock wall, a snorkeling cove and another beach over the headland where there was some surf.  Brennekes was almost empty with a few boogie boarders risking the larger dumping surf.  Josh and Frost caught some waves and Frost was dumped by an equal number.  Thankfully he enjoyed it.

After a while, Mum entered the water to give him some advice on catching waves and going UNDER large breaking surf rather than simply getting slammed by it.  While we watched the guys in the water, we saw a number of sperm whales moving along the coast.  A large group of people were set up along the raised shoreline looking out to see and it was easy to spot whales by their spouting.   I saw another breaching and diving with the binoculars.  They really are huge and amazing.

Frost had his own sealife experience while boogie boarding with Granny.  Mum starting waving and gesticulating at me that there was a seal in the water right in front of them.  Turns out, it was a huge sea turtle.  Frost, Granny and the turtle were swimming together when a large wave came and caught Frost and the turtle and dumped them together.  Frost was wearing goggles and saw the turtle underwater.  It was swept into the wave with him and hit into him as they were dumped.  He said its shell was very hard and hurt his foot for a while.

When they both came up in front of Mum she said the turtle's shell was covered in sand from the churning in the shallows.

Frost rushed out the water and told me that he had been "hit by a turtle and really touched it!"

Later, I told him there was a $100,000 fine for touching or interfering with a turtle!  He was alarmed.  I don't think he was at risk of a fine.  Really, the wave interfered with both of them.

The large toad is burping in the dark again and the dishwasher is burbling the dishes which we used for the grilled fish, tofu and eggplant curry we had for dinner.

After our morning swim and some breakfast we went on a drive to Waimea.  Driving along the 'highway' is a slow process.  Even short mainland distances (25 miles) take an hour due to the variable speed limits and endless road works.  We spent a while at the Waimea fair, narrowly missing enrolling Frost in a junior ice-cream eating contest.  Both boys enjoyed their first shave ice.

This evening we had another swim boogie / snorkel and I saw even more fish including some large unicornfish.

We are all a bit sun-pinked and vow to avoid driving further than Spouting Horn tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow is our 10th wedding anniversary and we hope to have dinner at a Grand Hyatt restaurant.


We have made it to Kauai!   It was a long flight from Seattle - 5.5 of Wriggling Wren and ipad.   Hawaiian airlines was adequate.   There were lots of Aloha's and mahalos but no free consigned luggage or in seat entertainment.  Even headsets to listen to the distant TV screening were $5, portable DVD players, $15.  We did receive a quiche and muffin for lunch and Josh and I did the Jack Sprat

Being a veteran of trans-Atlantic flights, I was woefully underprepared for this 'small hop' into the Pacific and suffered the grumpification of Wren as a result.

Even so, we were complimented on both legs on our lovely and well-behaved child.  Huh!  The flying public has such a phobia of young-airborne kids that their standards are through the floor.

Now, Kauai is great.

We saw over 20 chickens just driving to our house from the airport.  The house is stunning.  Remarkable.  We are thrilled by the heat and the flora - its just like Durban!   Trees tangle with vines, sugar cane and cacti fill in any gaps in the landscape and huge blossoming spathonios color the green hills.

"Is that a hill or a mountain?" Frost asked, as the road cut through a deep valley.

"Its a hill in Hawaii but it would be a mountain in England." answered Josh, remembering the diminutive Mount Snowdon from a long ago trip involving no children, a hot pie and beer beneath that illustrious non-peak.

Driving from the airport in our rented SUV Chevy Traverse (which is exciting the kids more than Kauai, so far) we oo'ed and ah'ed at the chickens and ignored the 9 mile long traffic jam due to construction on the main road out of Lihue.  Mum and Natasha had already arrived and drunk a $25 gin-and tonic pair at the Hyatt, which is a short walk away.  

We all fell asleep by 9.30pm Hawaii time and I slept well till 3.30am when I rooster, disturbed in his rest, started crowing into the humid night.

Later, we were woken through the night by the belching honk of a vast frog which has set up home in the ornamental pond outside our bedroom window. 

At 5am I heard a little "I have a sore tummy.  Is it morning yet?" from Wren, sleeping on the tatami mat by our bed.  Frost woke an hour later.

Frost is very into the ADVENTURE side of tourism.  Before breakfast he says "can we go through the mile long tunnel to the North Coast.?"  Can we go on a Helicopter ride?  Can we go in a microlight?   Did you know there is a ZIPline!"

Argh!  I am thinking of beach and hiking on misty volcanic slopes.

Now, it is still dark but its time for pancakes before the beach.  The dawn chorus heralds the day.