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The Hawaii Hotspot

Waikiki Beach

Waikiki Beach by Barry Inouye.

If you come to this article thinking it’s about a great new nightclub, popular restaurant or exciting attraction, unfortunately, you’re not going to find it here.  So what is this other type of Hawaii hotspot all about then?

The Hawaii Hotspot is how the Hawaiian Island Chain was formed over the course of 70 million years.  The Hawaiian Islands have sat over what geologists have theorized as a geologic hotspot where magna from the earth’s core has been pushing upwards, creating volcanic underwater seamounts and islands, such as Hawaii, over millions of years.  But this hotspot not only created the Hawaiian Islands Chain, but many other islands throughout the Pacific.

According to this now widely-accepted theory first advanced in 1963 by Canadian geologist, J. Tuzo Wilson, tectonic forces have been moving the Pacific Ocean geologic plate under in a northwesterly direction over millions of year over this hotspot where the Hawaiian Island Chain is currently located.   As the plate moves over this volcanic hotspot, it has created a chain of undersea seamounts and islands that stretches over 3,600 miles from the Aleutian Trench off the coast of Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula to where Hawaii is today.  This chain of seamounts and islands is called the Hawaiian Ridge-Emperor Seamount Chain.

Originally, the Pacific plate was moving north while the hotspot created a series of volcanic islands and seamounts along the way.  Then 43 million years later, it took a westerly direction to where the Hawaiian Island Chain is located today.  So this is why the Hawaiian Ridge-Emperor Seamount Chain today has a wide “V” shaped configuration as noted in the image below.

Over time, the volcanic islands that were created through this process have been eroded away and now lay thousands of feet below the surface in the form of seamounts.  Because the tectonic plate moved from east to west, the seamounts, islets and islands that lay east are younger than those located west. This explains why the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, lying west of the 8 major Hawaiian Islands, are older and have been reduced, over the course of time by the relentless forces of erosion into very small atolls or small rocky islets that are barely above the ocean surface, further west, all that is left are underwater seamounts.

It also foretells the future of the 8 major Hawaiian Islands, when one day, millions of years into the future, they will ultimately suffer the same fate as the Northwestern Hawaii Islands and will slowly sink back into the Pacific Ocean.  But at the same time, to the east of Hawaiian Islands, a new island is being created over the Hawaii Hotspot.

Southeast off the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, a new Hawaiian island, named Loihi, has been forming over the last 400,000 years.  It is still about 3,000 feet below the ocean.  Scientists believe that this new Hawaiian island will rise above the surface sometime in the next 10,000 to 100,000 years.

Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

Waimea Canyon by Greg Mau.

Waimea Canyon

Dubbed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” Waimea Canyon is a beautifully eroded gorge located on the southwestern part of the island of Kauai. The canyon is a must see for anyone visiting the Garden Isle, which is one of the island’s top attractions. Waimea Canyon is over 10 miles long, over 1 mile at its widest and about 3,000 feet deep. As a basis of comparison, the Grand Canyon in Arizona is over 277 miles long, 10 miles at its widest and over 1 mile deep. But Waimea Canyon still offers some of the same types of scenic vistas and panoramic views of its much larger cousin on the US mainland, albeit on a much smaller scale.

It is said that framed American author Mark Twain was the one who first called Waimea Canyon the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. But others believed he never visited the canyon or even the island of Kauai. But whatever the case, many visitors to the canyon would probably feel that calling it the Grand Canyon of the Pacific would be well-deserved nickname.

As with most canyons, Waimea Canyon was created over millions of years through the constant erosive forces from a river. In the case of Waimea Canyon, its river system was fed from the high amount of rainfall that Kauai receives, most notably from Mt. Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on earth, with more than 400 inches of rain annually. This large volume of rainfalls feeds the Waimea River system which continues to shape the canyon estimated to be over 5 million years old.

But another factor that helped to create Waimea Canyon was volcanic activity. The west and east sides of the canyon were created by two separate lava flows. The east side sank over a million years ago which created a depression which was partially filled by another separate lava flow. But the Waimea River and numerous smaller streams, fed by the relentless rainfall from Mt. Waialeale, have continually eroded and shaped the canyon floor and surrounding landscape since then. Waimea in Hawaiian means red river and it’s an appropriate name as the river’s erosive forces have exposed the reddish hues of the canyon walls over the millennia.

One of the best ways to view majestic Waimea Canyon is to view it from the lookout area at Waimea Canyon State Park near the town of Waimea. Here you can get the same type of views when the canyon was prominently featured in the 1963 movie Donovan’s Reef starring John Wayne. The park and the lookout are open to the public on all days during daylight hours. As with all State Parks in Hawaii, there is no fee for entering the park.

Hawaii’s Exotic Fruits

Hawaii is home to an extremely wide range of exotic fruits. Some of the more well-known ones you already know about probably include: papaya, mango, apple banana, passion fruit and guava. But Hawaii even has exotic fruits that you might have heard of, but have never seen at your grocer or fruit stand back home, like mountain apple, dragon fruit, lychee and star fruit.

But amazingly, there are exotic fruits in Hawaii that even many long-time residents of the Aloha State might have never seen or heard of before, like poha, wi, strawberry guava and loquot. Whatever the case, all of these fruits are truly unique and have a taste you probably have never experienced before. So if you have an opportunity to try them on your next trip to Hawaii, you most certainly should take the opportunity to do so.

Poha – The poha, otherwise known as the cape gooseberry, is low lying shrub that produces a bright orange fruit, or berry, about the size of a cherry tomato. It is related to the tomatillo, but unlike the tomatillo, the poha has a tart and sweet taste making it ideal for fruit salads, preserves and pies. You can also enjoy this berry by simply popping it straight into your mouth. The poha berry is high in phosphorus, vitamins A, B and C as well as healthful bioflavonoids. You can find a number of places in Hawaii that sell delicious poha jams or jellies and are nice gifts to share with your relatives and friends back home.

The poha plant is native to South America but has been grown in places like England as well as in South Africa. Some speculate that the plant got its cape gooseberry name because it grew in the Cape of Good Hope region of South Africa; while others speculate that it got this name because the fruit is “caped” with a translucent leathery-looking covering. It’s been reported that the first poha plant in Hawaii was grown on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1825. Today, a number of farmers grow poha; but you can also find it growing wild in many places throughout the State.

Strawberry Guava – This tree, a relative of the common guava, has been somewhat of a mixed blessing in Hawaii. While the tree bears what some consider nice tasting fruit, it is considered to be one of the most invasive trees ever introduced into in Aloha State. Imported into Hawaii in 1825 from Brazil, it tends to grow in a dense and think manner overcoming all surrounding plant life which makes it difficult to eradicate.

On the other hand, many in Hawaii consider the fruit of strawberry guava tree very tasty, whether it is eaten raw, made into a juice or used in preserves and desserts. Some also consider it as an attractive ornamental species; while others prize its wood for use in smoking meats and fish.

Wi – Pronounced “vee,” the wi tree produces a fruit similar to the mango with some claiming it tastes like a combination of a mango and an apple. In other parts of the word, it is called an ambarella and is said to be native to French Polynesia.

Some say wi is best eaten raw while the fruit still firm and, at this stage, can produce a refreshing juice. As in the case of the mango, the wi fruit can be made into jelly, relishes or used for flavoring sauces, soups and stews. It is reportedly a good source of iron.

Loquot – This tree, which produces clusters of oval shaped fruits, was first cultivated in Asia is said to be one of the most popular fruits in the world as it was grown throughout Asia, the Middle East, India, South America as well as in some parts of Europe. That being the case, it’s somewhat strange that most will never see it in neighborhood grocers in North America. The loquot, which was thought to be introduced into Hawaii by Chinese visitors in the late 1700’s is sometimes referred to as pipa in Chinese or biwa in Japanese and can be found as a backyard plant in a number of Hawaii residences.

Mature loquat fruit is orange in color, sweet in taste, a good source of vitamin A and can be found in a number of farmers markets and outdoor fruit stands in Hawaii. It is also a popular fruit with hotel chefs in Hawaii as a fresh fruit dish as well as an ingredient in various recipes.

The Hawaiian Hoary Bat

Many visitors to Hawaii will find the Aloha State offers many wonderfully unique things that they can see as well as experience. And if they are lucky, they might just be able to see the rare and endangered Hawaiian hoary bat, called ope’ape’a in Hawaiian. Ope’ape’a means half-leaf in Hawaiian and is in reference to the shape of the bat’s body which resembles half of a taro leaf.

This rarely seen animal is Hawaii’s only endemic land mammal, meaning that it is found nowhere else in the world, and is only one of two endemic mammals in the state, the other being the also endangered Hawaiian monk seal. The Hawaiian hoary bat was listed as an endangered species since 1970 and was recently designated as the official State of Hawaii land mammal in 2015.

The ope’ape’a is a sub-specie of the hoary bat found throughout the American continents. But unlike its mainland cousin, relatively little is known about the mysterious Hawaiian hoary bat. Recent DNA sequencing evidence reveals that the Hawaiian hoary bat’s ancestors came from the Pacific coast of North America in two separate waves, 9,000 years apart. The ope’ape’a’s diet consists of insects which they hunt for only during nights and can eat up to 40% of its weight in bugs in a single night. The typical ope’ape’a weighs about half an ounce and has wingspans ranging from 10.5 to 13.5 inches.

Besides being Hawaii’s only endemic land mammal, the ope’ape’a is remarkable in that its ancestors had to fly at least 2,300 miles from North America to get here, perhaps anywhere from 800 to 10,000 years ago. This would make it the known longest migration for any type of bat. Scientists believe the Hawaiian hoary bat’s ancestors would have had the capability of flying such distances, particularly if aided by strong storm winds over the Pacific Ocean.

Fossil records indicate that the ope’ape’a once lived on all of the main Hawaiian Islands, except for Kahoolawe and Niihau. But today, they are mainly seen on Kauai, Maui and on the Big Island of Hawaii. On the Big Island, sightings of the ope’ape’a have decreased along the coasts during the months of January through April, suggesting that they are migrating to the higher elevations on Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa where the bats can enjoy cooler temperatures, which in turn, allows them to lower their metabolic rates while resting. The fact that the ope’ape’a is relatively small in size and because sightings are very rare make these bat very difficult to study. So it is unknown whether the population of the ope’ape’a are increasing or decreasing

The Story of the Hawaiian Cowboys

Many outside of Hawaii are probably unware of Hawaii’s rich cowboy and ranching traditions. Students of history should take note Hawaii had such traditions well before the American West actually had their own, which began later in the mid-1800s. Here is the rich and storied history of the Hawaiian cowboys.

Hawaii’s ranching and cowboy history began in the Waimea area of the Big Island of Hawaii, sometime in in the late 1700 to early 1800 time frame, when British sea captain George Vancouver gave five long horned cattle to the great Hawaiian king, Kamehameha, as a gift. As the cattle were not in good shape after a long sea journey, Kamehameha made it kapu (off-limits) to harm or possess the cattle and allowed them to roam as well as breed freely. But after two decades, the cattle had grown into thundering herds, often causing destruction and terror.

There was an urgent need to get these huge herds of wild cattle under control. Around 1815, King Kamehameha commissioned one of his haole (foreigner) advisors, John Palmer Parker who was a gun owner and good marksman, to shoot the cattle, salt their meat, tan their hides and sell them to passing ships. While Parker shot and killed many cattle, he was wise to keep some of the best ones for his own ranch. Parker later married the granddaughter of King Kamehameha, which later enabled him to acquire huge tracks of land to expand his ranching operations.

It is said that Parker hired Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) in 1832, who were expert horsemen with plenty of cattle ranching experience, to train his Hawaiian ranch workers to become cowboys. Others say that during the same time, King Kamehameha’s successor, Kamehameha III, while on a world tour, was so impressed with the skill of Mexican-Spanish vaqueros that he convinced the King of Spain send a number of them to Hawaii to train his people in ranching and horsemanship.

Perhaps it’s not as important to determine whether it was Parker, Kamehameha III or both who should be credited with bringing the vaqueros to Hawaii. What is probably more important from a historical perspective is that the vaqueros had significant impact on the Hawaiian economy back in the early to mid-1800s and shaped the history of the Waimea area of the Big Island as well as in other areas where there were large ranching operations in Hawaii. In part because of the excellent training provided by the vaqueros, Parker’s cattle business, known as Parker Ranch, flourished and eventually grew to become the largest privately-owned ranch in America.

But the vaqueros had an even longer lasting influence on Hawaii’s culture and arts that is still being felt today. These are traditions associated with the men whom the vaqueros trained and mentored, the Hawaiian cowboy or the paniolo. Under the vaqueros’ stewardship, the paniolos became outstanding horsemen and ranchers, even shocking the world when paniolos from Parker Ranch, including one named Ikua Purdy who was John Parker’s great-grandson, won a world rodeo championship in 1908. Since then these men have been forever commemorated in Hawaiian history as the “Hawaii Roughriders.”

Depending on who you speak to, some refer to the Hawaiian cowboy as the paniola, rather than paniolo. The word paniola is said to come from the so-called Hawaiianization of the word Spanish word Española (someone from Spain). The word was apparently changed to paniolo to match the masculine form of words in Spanish. While most people today use the term paniolo to refer to Hawaiian cowboys, some still prefer paniola as the word paniolo supposedly has some negative connotations.

In addition to mentoring Hawaiian men on horsemanship and ranching, the vaqueros shared their lifestyles and cultures with those whom they worked and lived with, particularly in the areas of music, clothing and traditions. Such traditions were very influential among the paniolos and many were passed onto future generations. Paniolo traditions, that still thrive to this very day, include the slack key style of guitar playing and the wonderful accompanying songs written for this musical style.

Today’s Hawaiian formal dress, still owes much to the influence of 19th century Spanish fashion. As examples, a man’s shirt that fits snugly around the waist and accompanying sash as well as a woman’s puffed sleeves and train of the holoku flowing gown are of Spanish origins. The Aloha State’s rich paniolo heritage is also readily apparent during major Hawaiian events, parades and festivals as in the case of the pa’u riders, who are women on horses ornately dressed in colorful flowing garments with both wearing beautiful leis.

Get to Hawaii to Celebrate Lei Day

Throughout the world, the fist of May is often celebrated for a wide range of purposes. Throughout Europe it was traditionally celebrated as the arrival of spring. But in Hawaii, it has been referred to as Lei Day. Lei Day was an idea conceived by then newspaper writer and poet Don Blanding in 1927 as a celebration of lei making in particular and of Hawaiian culture in general. Leis and the flowers used to make them have always played an important role in Hawaii culture for men as well as for women as a symbol of the islands’ aloha spirit.

But it was Blanding’s fellow newspaper columnist Grace Tower Warren that suggested that Lei Day be celebrated on May 1, which was celebrated in other parts of the world as May Day. It was she who first coined the well-known phrase “May Day is Lei Day.” This phrase became even more popular with the iconic song “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii,” which was composed in 1927 by Ruth and Leonard “Red” Hawk. The first official Lei Day was celebrated in Hawaii in 1929.

According to tradition, each of the major islands is supposed to be represented by a lei made from a certain flower and color. If you are lucky to be in Hawaii during this time of the year, you should take advantage of it by visiting the many colorful lei making events, cultural festivities, school celebrations and pageants which are held throughout the Aloha State.