Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Big Island in the wild


To celebrate the completion of an epic year Dreadknot and I decided to fly over to the Big Island of Hawaii from Oahu and have a three day camping and day hiking adventure.




It's always a fantastic experience flying over the chain of islands which forms Hawaii. If you sit on the right side of the plane you can look out of the window and see Molokai, Maui and the impressive peak of Mauna Kea as you descend to land in Hilo on the east side of  the island of Hawaii, otherwise known as the Big Island.

Hilo is a picturesque seaside town on the lush, windward side of the island. It's lush for a reason, it rains a lot here. Arriving here one gets a feeling of going back in time to "old Hawaii", with its quaint buildings in the town center, framed by the often snow capped Mauna Kea in the distance and the tsunami vulnerable Hilo Bay forming the ocean access point. 

Somewhere over the Rainbow:
Our quest for today was to see as many waterfalls as possible. We started in Hilo and wound our way to the Hamakua Coast and then on to the Kohala Mountains and Waipio Valley.

Rainbow Falls aka Wai'anuenue Falls: This was our first destination.

 The walk consisted of a 0.75 mile stroll including a viewing point and then along a little muddy trail past a beautiful big Banyan tree upstream from the falls followed by boulder hopping which took us alongside the cascade of water from the top of the waterfall. 

What an invigorating experience! We were at this vantage point at precisely the right time of day (between 10:00am and midday when the angle of the sun is perfect) and were able to enjoy seeing a rainbow above the waterfall's 80ft drop over a large lava cave into the pool below along the Wailuku River.

According to Hawaiian mythology, the goddess Hina lived in this cave which seems quite an elementally charged place to call home. 

With no time to waste we drove up along the Hamakua Coast to reach our next waterfall experience.

Enroute we took the scenic detour past Onomea Bay, passing over numerous streams and smaller waterfalls as we snaked along, admiring the beautiful black sand beach and bay lined with lush tropical jungle foliage. A 600ft hike down to sea level takes you along a trail to Onomea Stream. Apparently this bay used to be a busy port during the early heyday of the sugarcane industry which does not exist anymore.

Akaka Falls State Park is about 11 miles north of Hilo and just outside of the old-world town of Honomu. The park contains a well maintained paved walkway which circles around in about a 0.5 mile trail and allows you to walk through the lush jungle which includes beautiful orchids, ferns, bamboo groves and Banyan trees, while enjoying the sights of the magnificent Akaka Falls as it plummets 442ft into a gorge. Kahuna Falls (100ft) lies a little further in the distance.

 If you don't want to pay the $5 parking fee, park outside the gates along the road.
I've come across two different legends surrounding Akaka Falls. One was of a chief named Akaka who plummeted to his death over the falls after running away from his angry wife when she found out he was having an affair with two maidens, Lehua and Maile. The word "Akaka" means notch or cleft.

A long drive followed to the windward side of the Kohala mountains on the northeast shore of the island. After passing through the charming town of Honokaa, we arrived at Waipio Valley lookout. What a breathtaking vantage point! Ahead lay the valley which was once home to King Kamehameha with a black sand beach way down in the distance against the striking panoramic vista of plummeting cliffs and the wild Pacific Ocean.

The hike down into Waipio Valley is along an extremely steep, paved but rutted road which can only be accessed in a four wheel drive vehicle or on foot and is very slippery when wet.

We were lured into this sacred place with the hope of seeing Hi'ilawe Falls and the 1450ft torrent of water falling from its heights. It was already fairly late in the afternoon by the time we reached the lush, verdant valley floor and continued left along the road towards the waterfall. After rounding a bend we were greeted with the spectacular sight of Hi'ilawe Falls in the distance. As we continued on we passed by a few homesteads and a "coconut weather station". 

Upon reaching the river we were unsure of which way to go to reach the falls. There were signs up saying that the trail was closed and that you would be trespassing if you attempted to hike there. After striking up a conversation with two locals parked beside the river we decided to walk a short way along the river bank. They told us that it was really too late in the day to make it to the falls and back before dark and we did not have our headlamps with us. We heard woeful tales about how hikers had been drowned or injured walking this trail in the dark. 

Once we had gone a little way along the river bank we could see how close the trail was to people's homes and cut it right through an ancient burial site in the woods. Through the branches emerged a glimpse of Hi'ilawe beckoning. We did not continue as it felt wrong to be trespassing, as well as the fact that it would be dark within a couple of hours. A joint decision was made that we would be back in the future and get permission to hike here. I'd also like to mention that the Hawaiian song, Hi'ilawe recorded by Gabby Pahinui in 1947 and Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and John Cruz more recently,  is one of my favorites.

Back up from half a steep climb and a short hitch up the hill, we made our way to our designated campsite for the night all the way down in the south of Puna at Isaac Hale Beach Park, approximately a 45 mile drive. We had acquired a camping permit online and arrived in the dark to set up our awesome Big Agnes Flycreek UL3. I had been sponsored by Big Agnes for our hiking adventure across northern Spain. 

It rained overnight and the air was chilly but we remained warm, dry and cosy in our cocoon. I must add that the camp facilities were minimal, only consisting of toilets, a sink and cold outdoor shower but the grounds are pretty and right beside the ocean.
The sound of car tyres scrunching the gravel car park and car headlights flickering through the tent awoke us at around 4:00am. Upon inspection we saw tourists boarding a huge boat in the car park via a ladder. They were about to be towed to the boat ramp all nicely seated in the boat and sail away in the dark in order to observe the lava flowing into the ocean a little way down the coast before sunrise.

After a morning of property hunting, an exploration drive followed and we wound our way along Government Beach Road, through old lava fields and into the thick of a lush tropical jungle near Hawaiian Beaches, where we stumbled upon a beautiful work of art " Moonwalker", displayed in Papio Ocean Park. 

During our flight over from Oahu while "talking story" with some other passengers we learned that there was a beach just north of Hilo nicknamed "glass beach" where one can apparently pick up a fair amount of sea glass off the black sand beach. We guessed that it may be Honolii Beach, which is also a popular surf break, but after speaking with a couple of super friendly lifeguards we discovered that it was actually the next beach up. However they suggested we look along the small section of sand beneath the bridge, which we did, and were subsequently rewarded with many glistening pieces of multi-colored ocean smoothed glass.

That evening, we too decided that it would be awesome to see Madam Pele, goddess of the volcano at work and set off down Hwy 130 to the gravel road entrance to the now lava covered Kalapana Gardens which leads into Volcanoes National Park. The turn was just before the village of Kalapana which had been destroyed and partly buried by a lava flow in the 80's.

Starting out at dusk we hiked the 8.5 miles round trip journey to the lava viewing area on the blackened lava cliffs. As we walked along we were amazed out how resilient people were, reclaiming the land that had been over taken by the lava flow in Kalapana Gardens in 2010. They had literally rebuilt their houses on top of the hardened black lava. 

As we went along, hundreds of people were cycling towards us, leaving the lava viewing site in the dark. A string of headlamps were streaming along the the track, and the bicycle rental operations at the start of the trail were obviously doing a booming business. The beautiful Hawaiian song " Holei, a song for Kalapana" played over and over on my mind as the chilly night wind whipped around us in the dark, with the huge plume of billowing smoke lit up red at its base showing us our destination.


A roped off section allowed us to clamber over the lava rock and visualize the elemental power of Mother Earth as molten lava spewed forth. Upon meeting the raging ocean, it lit up the waves and sent smoke and steam into the air above it.
What we didn't know then, was that this area we were standing on would break off in two days time, causing this 26 acre lava delta to go smashing into the ocean below, even causing a small tsunami to occur.
Such are the exhilarating tales from life on the islands.

Once we returned to our campsite, it only took a few minutes for us to pop our tent up again and we slept peacefully through another night of rain. Again we were awoken early by the boat people. With no time to waste we packed up camp as soon as dawn broke and ventured upcountry along Hwy 11 to the village of Volcano to seek out some breakfast. We couldn't have chosen a better venue and enjoyed a sumptuous feast beside a log fire in the early morning mist at Kilauea Lodge.
The journey continued along Hwy 11, through the huge tracts of open land as we descended steadily down the flanks of Mauna Loa. Our destination for the day was Punaluu Black Sand Beach and South Point, the most southerly tip of Hawaii and the USA.

I discovered the meaning of Punaluu during this trip.
It comes from the words "diving (lu'u) " and "spring (puna)". Ancient Hawaiians had a tradition of diving to the bottom of the bay with upside down containers and filling them with the fresh water bubbling through the sand from springs. On arriving at This gorgeous beach I could clearly see how it got its name.


Adjacent to the incredible black sand beach and the stark contrast of the rolling white foam caused by waves breaking on its shore, was a magnificent fresh water pond filled with flowering water lilies. 
Behind the pond and over a rickety bridge lay the remains of a resort, now lying in ruin and being taken back by the jungle. From what I could gather the resort development was abandoned due to local opposition. I fully understand why there was opposition.This area is an ancient sacred place for Hawaiians, it has a Heiau complex (temple) stretching for miles along the shoreline. One of the heiau's, Lanipau was almost completely destroyed by the development of the golf course here. A great example of the power of people uniting to protect cultural heritage sites.

Fortunately part of the Heiau complex often referred to as Punalu'u Nui is still intact. 


We walked up the heiau path to experience being in this spiritual place and could most certainly feel the "mana" (energy). From here we could see the ancient trail "Ala Kahakai "extending into the distance. This trail was important as it linked coastal communities and legend says that the god Lono walked along this lava rock trail from North Kohala to the southernmost tip of the island and then windward through the Ka'u region to Puna, (in other words it was a very long walk).


Watching cliff jumpers at South Point and taking in the beauty of this most southerly tip of the Hawaiian island chain was a wonderful way to end our adventure and we'll definitely be back for more.

If you'd like to read stories about my running adventures and walk along the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada in book form, I would be delighted if you purchased my book " Dream it. See it. Be it. ", available in person, on Amazon or via my website www.heatherhowells.com.

Mahalo for joining me on this adventure.


Monday, August 1, 2016

El Camino del Norte Video Blog


Join us on our epic and fun 925km hike across northern Spain on the 1000 year old pilgrim trail along el Camino del Norte to Santiago de Compostela and then el Camino Finisterre to the far west coast at "the end of the world". We started in the town of Irun on the French/Spanish border and walked through Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, "wild camping" the majority of the way. Our average distance was 20 miles/32 km per day and we completed the journey in 28 days. We hope this documentary done on a hand held Go Pro will give you some idea of these incredible areas and help any future hikers or armchair hikers with a little bit of insight on what to expect. Please feel free to comment. Enjoy the 2 hour video blog with us in one sitting or in sections. Aloha from Dreadknot and Two Feathers
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGG4MN62tss

Friday, June 10, 2016

To the End of The World: Camino de Finisterra

Day 26-28:
We left Santiago around midday and set off on the Camino de Finisterra, the only Camino that goes away from Santiago. By embarking on this second journey we will be able to say that we have walked the entire length of Spain non-stop with unbroken footsteps and no rest days.

For anyone who is thinking of walking any of the Caminos, I highly recommend completing your journey with this route which is 90km in length and very enjoyable, taking one through some very quaint villages, across rivers and past many cafe bars with names starting with an "O" prefix, just like in Ireland.
The Galicians are from Gaelic ancestry and bagpipes are their pride instrument, making their traditional songs sound similar to Irish and Scottish music.

Our first proper Albergue experience, where we stayed in bunk bed dormitories was in Negreira. I felt ill, went to bed early and slept like a log, whereas poor Josh was kept awake all night by the other hikers in the dorm snoring loudly. We were so glad that this had not been our experience the entire way and that we had camped most of the time in our awesome tent!


I figured out that the tight waist belt on my backpack aka "The Purple Monster" was causing my ailments. My abdominal organs felt compressed by the constant compression from the belt and weight of the pack, mile upon mile, day after day. After readjusting the backpack to sit lower on my hips, I started feeling a bit better with less pain and nausea.

Wild flowers line the trail everywhere and in this particular stretch Foxglove is in abundance as are roses in people's gardens as we passed by.

The Galician horreos ( grain drying houses) are present in practically all the yards of the homes we passed and walking through the four different provinces has been an interesting study in these unique little huts which differ in shape and style in each area.
As noted before, the Camino really seems to add greatly to the economy of the small villages it goes along throughout Spain. The Spanish people have done an outstanding job of keeping the different "ways" very well marked and providing affordable accommodation for peregrinos. We are in awe!

A village we went through that was particularly pretty and well presented was Olveiroa and we would have liked to have stayed but we pressed on to get better mileage for the day, stopping at O Logoso to eat pizza as a drizzle started early evening.
We left there around 8:00pm and everyone there (other peregrinos and the locals) were concerned about our wellbeing as it was late in the evening, raining and there were no accommodations for the next 25km. Once they heard we had a tent and were planning on camping, they all thought we were super hardcore!

We reached the split in the road after a village called Hospital were we met a group of walkers heading in the opposite direction who warned us that there was nothing but wilderness ahead for many kilometers. We thanked them for their warning and again informed them that we would be fine as we had a tent. 

An ancient way-marker along the way had messages, mementos, photos of lost love ones and stacking stones upon it's base. I placed a stone on it in honor of my lost brother.


By this time the rain had stopped and we enjoyed a fantastic walk until just after 9:00pm when we came to a church seemingly in the middle of nowhere, Sanctuary of A Nosa Senora das Neves (Our Lady of the Snow). On the side was a picnic area with tables and a lovely place to camp under a canopy of trees. This was going to be it! The last place we would camp along our journey. It was absolutely perfect and just as we zipped the tent closed, it started raining. It couldn't have been better timed!

There was an outdoor alter along the wall of the church where people had placed handwritten messages, prayers and wishes. I left my message there too, hoping for peace and harmony.

Further along the trail we came to the Hermitage of San Pedro Matir with it's miraculous healing water fountain where we both splashed some water on ourselves....we'll see what happens!

Soon the Atlantic Ocean came into view from the top of the hill and we became very excited about the prospect of reaching the "end of the world" so early in the day but it was a cruel joke because we soon found out that what we thought was Finisterra was actually the town of Cee. We still had 15 km to walk before we reached our destination of the lighthouse located on the far side and uphill from Finisterra ( also known as Fisterra).


"This Camino route pre-dates Christianity, as pagans would head to Fisterra on the Costa da Morte (Coast of Death) where they believed the sun died and the worlds of the dead and the living became closer. Prayers would be said and offerings would be made to please the gods. Fisterra is also believed to be the place of Ara Solis, a magical place and altar dedicated to the dying sun." (Wikipedia)


Fortunately it was a picturesque walk through a few more coastal villages.


Finally, after what seemed to be a never ending trail we reached Finisterra and the lighthouse, the place where in Roman times it was also believed the world ended. It was named from the Latin words " finis terrae", meaning " end of the earth".



What a great relief and feeling of accomplishment.
 It had taken 28 days to walk across the entire length of Spain without a day of rest and with unbroken footsteps.


Back down the hill we walked to the Peregrino office to get our certificate for completing our second Camino. 

Now that our journey was complete we decided to go back to Santiago de Compostela and experience more of this amazing city that is obviously a huge energy center on the planet.

After a three hour bus drive from Finisterra and another one hour inner city bus ride we finally found a place to stay at 10:00 pm. The entire city was practically fully booked and we got very lucky finding last minute accommodation so late in the day.

I would like to send out my heartfelt thanks to the country of Spain for providing us with a fantastic experience. We learned so much and thankfully I kept this blog going or much of it would have been a blur.
Thank you to our family and friends who kept in touch and cheered us on. 
A huge thank you to Big Agnes outdoor gear company who sponsored me with our fantastic Flycreek UL3 tent, my "mother of comfort" sleeping mat and sleeping bag system which was exactly that and my awesome, comfortable jacket which kept me warm. I highly recommend their products all of which are top quality, durable and lightweight.
Muchas Gracias y adios.