Monday, November 8, 2010

Waimea Canyon


There are numerous ways to tour Kauai, but for a bird’s eye view, soaring aloft in a helicopter alongside albatrosses and Nenes (Hawaii’s national bird), and viewing the massive fluted NaPali cliffs and the canyon in miniature from the vault of an endless sky has been described as a spiritual experience.

For those with budgetary constraints, Koke’e State Park, the Waimea Canyon and the Alakei Swamp are easily accessible by car. Just a short drive to the end of the trail, and NaPali’s magnificent cliffs and a turquoise ocean, home to pregnant humpback whales in the spring, are clearly visible from Kalalau Lookout and Pu’u o Kila Lookout.

Dancers performing the hula
Kauai's Kee Beach hula dance school
Near Kee Beach at the foot of the cliffs, the remains of an ancient heiau (hula dance school) draws hula enthusiasts from around the world. They come to honour Laka and to dance on sacred ground.

In times past novice students at this same heiau were closely guarded and compelled to abide by a stringent set of rules. Certain foods were prohibited. Cleanliness was mandatory. Contact with the dead was off limits and sex was forbidden.

A certain danger was also involved. At the culmination of their course, students were required to swim across a lagoon, home to a giant shark. Woe betide any who had broken even one of the taboos. Punishment was death by mauling.

Waimea Canyon, Kauai's 'Jewel in the Crown'
For Kaui’s most impressive vista, Waimea Canyon is undoubtedly the island’s ‘jewel in the crown’. Plunging 1,158 metres at its deepest point and spreading for close to 22 kilometres, Mark Twain’s ‘Grand Canyon of the Pacific’ is a favourite with hikers.

Small in comparison with its cousin in Arizona, the canyon’s earthy tones; emerald fading to pale green, rust, yellow ochre, light to dark chocolate and the saturated rose tints of its volcanic rock buttresses dazzled my eyes. Cliffs and peaks with waterfalls tumbling from unimagineable heights after rain, is a magnificent sight. As I leaned against the safety railing at Pu’u Ka Pele Lookout, I couldn’t help gasping at the glorious manifestation of nature’s majesty.

Polynesian royalty at Waimea Canyon
A Polynesian royal ceremony in progress
Wandering down to an open space away from the Lookout, I came upon a ceremony featuring visiting Polynesian Kings, Queens and Chiefs from the 15 Kingdoms and tribes of the Polynesian Triangle.

Like Birds of Paradise, elaborately and gorgeously attired in colourful apparel, these delegates - in Kauai to attend a conference in the small coastal town of Waimea - looked the epitome of Polynesian royalty. Standing on the sidelines, onlookers watched respectfully silent as the royal participants, led by a Polynesian man, almost naked but clothed elaborately in tattoes from the top of his head to the soles of his feet, offered prayers to their deities.

A Kauai sunset
Late that afternoon as we headed on down to the coast and the Waimea Plantation cottages where we were to spend the night, I couldn’t help thinking of the astronauts. Out there in space among the stars they must have looked down on the island as the last light of day slipped away like a ghost and Kauai welcomed the night.

Posted by Anne Gordon on Monday, 8th November, 2010


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