Kauai may be one of the smallest of the popular Hawaiian islands but it is the oldest and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful.
The first in a chain of volcanic islands destined to emerge over millennia, it has for centuries drawn to its shores Polynesian adventurers, settlers from every continent searching for a better life, missionaries intent upon conversion, and in their multitudes tourists and travelers in pursuit of the ultimate destination. One of the latter, I was lured by the island’s stunning natural grandeur and the culture of a people who had courageously set out from the Marquesas long long ago in a quest for a land unknown.
|Nathan Aweau, Songwriter and performer|
Alakei is the world’s highest swamp at an elevation of 1,599 metres. Mist is more-or-less a constant in this mysterious environment. It drifts over moss-covered rocks and trees and clings like a ghostly cloud along the edges of a wooden boardwalk where violets and lush tropical ferns grow in rampant splendour.
Each year this strange but fascinating place almost disappears under a deluge of hundreds of inches of rain. In 1871 Hawaii’s Queen Emma was not daunted by Alakei’s inhospitable terrain. The Queen and her entourage including 100 hula dancers undertook to cross the swamp en route to the other side of the island. Today’s boardwalk was still a project of the future and the royal party undoubtedly sank up to their knees in the cloying red mud.
In Koke’e and the Waimea Canyon, rainbows, dense swirling mists, gentle rain showers and brilliant sunshine are the norm, but reaching those deliciously cool 60-degree temperatures in the mountains involves negotiating a road with potholes large enough to swallow a prize winning pumpkin.
In Koke’e’s vast rainforest (home to the hoary bat, Kauai’s only native land mammal) foreign tree species including redwoods and Japanese sugi cedars, mingle with native plants. Other foreign imports include dogs, chickens, rats and most importantly pigs brought in by Polynesians when they colonized the island. Wild boar from Europe have interbred with local pigs producing a vigorous strain and together with mule deer and black-tailed deer the local hunters are assured of lively sport.
Although birds are prolific on Kauai, many native birds, including the ‘o’o ‘a’a, are now extinct. In the past Hawaiians applied a sticky substance to tree branches, then, with offerings of fruit tempted the birds to alight. Once captured, a small number of yellow feathers from the ‘o’o ‘a’a and the red feathers of the ‘i’wi and ‘apapane were plucked from the captive birds and used for making cloaks for festive occasions. After parting with their feathers, the birds were released. The red feathered ‘i’wi and ‘apapane can still be seen in the rainforest.
Local Kauaians frequently visit the rainforest because of its connections with Laka the Goddess of hula. It is here that they collect the greenery of the mokihana and maile plants for making fragrant leis as decoration for two of the most sacred hula altars in Polynesia.
Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 8th November, 2010