TAHOE NUGGET #260: HAWAI’I: BIG ISLAND ADVENTURE!
My wife Nora and I recently returned from a “honeymoon” trip to the Gold Coast of Kona, Hawaii — 7 years after our wedding. We had a wonderful time and Nora finally got to swim in a warm ocean and experience the joys of snorkeling. We’re definitely going back to the Big Island next year.
Nearly 3,000 miles of ocean separate California and Hawaii, but by the 1830s, hundreds of contract laborers from Hawaii were a common sight in California, where they worked as able-bodied seamen, fur trappers, agricultural labor, and domestics. Hawaiian chiefs supposedly had divine origins, but commoners known as Kanakas did all the contract work and the royalty took a cut of their wages.
We were able to catch every sunset but one while in Hawaii. The west side of the Big Island is Kona’s sunny Gold Coast. The word Kona means leeward and the region is always warm and receives less than 12 inches of rain a year. It lies in the rain shadow of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, two volcanoes that exceed 13,000 feet.
In September 1838, a California-bound, German-born immigrant named John Sutter had reached the fertile Willamette Valley (Oregon), but was intent on traveling to California. Locals told him to wait until spring before he attempted the rugged journey south to Monterey, the Mexican capital of Alta California. Hostile natives and deep snow in the Siskiyou Mountains were deadly obstacles. Instead, Sutter boarded a ship for the Kingdom of Hawaii, where he met King Kamehameha III.
Nora doesn’t like to camp so we stayed in this local village named Hilton Waikoloa. The hotel and restaurant complex sits on a 10-acre landscape that includes swimming pools and slides, waterfalls, golf course, snorkeling with turtles, swimming with dolphins, boat rides and more. It’s oriented to families with children, but occupancy was low when we were there.
Sutter spent months waiting for a California-bound ship to arrive. He left Hawaii with 8 Kanakas in his employ. It was these Hawaiian natives that helped John Sutter establish a large fort and settlement in the southern Sacramento Valley, which later became the city of Sacramento and eventual capital of the Golden State.
Best known for its cattle ranching and Hawaiian cowboys, there are many wild goats on the Big Island along with wandering mules. Much of the landmass is covered with recent lava flows (since 1850) and the surface texture is tortuously rough. It’s amazing how these animals travel so quickly over the cracked and brittle rock.
The Honu or Green Sea Turtle is one of the oldest animals on earth, the species dating back 200 million years to the age of dinosaurs. Their population is threatened and they are protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The turtles are a common aquatic presence in the snorkeling areas and off shore waters.
Samuel Clemens became the correspondent “Mark Twain” in Virginia City, Nevada Territory in the early 1860s. He later moved to San Francisco to continue his writing career away from the Comstock.
Akaka Falls State Park is located north of Hilo on the wet side of the Big Island where tropical jungles flourish and plunging waterfalls thrill visitors. These falls drop 442 feet.
In 1866, Twain took a steamer to the Sandwich Islands and the letters he wrote during his 4 month stay there are terrific, often funny observations of the local culture and lifestyle. Twain’s 25 letters were published in the Sacramento Union newspaper and were a big hit. They were later published under the title: “Mark Twain’s Letters from Hawaii.”
In this swale of land at 9,000 feet above sea level and just below Mauna Kea’s 13,000 foot summit, dry air meets an atmosphere saturated with moisture pumping up from the Hilo side of the Big Island. On this day, however, the wall of clouds gorged with water vapor could not make its way west due to the strong, desiccating wind that dissipated the surging wall of moisture.
Twain tried surfing and swimming with naked native maidens. Regarding the maidens, he wrote, “At noon today I observed a bevy of nude young native women bathing in the sea, and I went and sat down on their clothes to keep them from being stolen.”
Twain rode a horse to the top of Mauna Kea, the Big Island volcano 13,796 feet above sea level. He also wrote, “The native language is soft and liquid and flexible and in every way efficient and satisfactory–till you get mad; then there you are; there isn’t anything in it to swear with.”
Mark Twain said the coconut palm trees “looked like a feather duster struck by lightning.”
By the time Mark Twain returned to San Francisco he was famous. At the time he wrote, “I returned to California to find myself about the best-known honest man on the Pacific Coast. Thomas Maguire, proprietor of several theaters, said that now was the time to make my fortune—strike while the iron was hot—break into the lecture field!”
I would estimate that I had the pleasure of seeing most of these fish during my snorkeling escapades. Striking colors with an iridescence glow among some species. Courtesy Snorkel Bob’s who rented us our fins and boogie boards.
One of the biggest disappointments of Mark Twain’s life was that he was never able to return to Hawaii, a quest he longed for his whole life. His newfound success and future travels worldwide conspired to deny his dream to revisit. The closest he came was a view while onboard a passing steamer.
Nora playing with fire.
“Hawai’i is the loveliest fleet of islands that lies at anchor in any ocean.” — Mark Twain
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