Headed off the Beaten Path

I woke up extremely excited this morning - we are finally on our way to Hakalau!  I had checked in last night for our Hawaiian flight, and was raring to go.  I wound my way into the inter island terminal, grabbed a snack, and linked up with Dean Antolini, we made the arrangements for driving, and then we were boarding and on our (slightly delayed) way!

We met up with Grant and Rhiannon at the airport, and then Dean A & I went with Baron Horiuchi to pick up the other four wheel drive vehicle.  I’ll tell you more about Baron in a bit, with help from Dean A’s fabulous preparatory email.

The headquarters building is only a few minutes from the airport, but quite a distance away from our final destination, the forest preserve itself.  We signed our waivers, I turned in a copy of my driver’s license, and then we were off to pick up our fellow travel mates, and head to KTA for grocery shopping.

We had already paired off into meals and preparation teams, so Rhiannon and I headed out to get the lunch meals preparations.  And dark chocolate.  A good amount of it.  We tried to shoot for one hour, and we almost made it.  I’ve heard the Dean is a stickler for being on time, I certainly didn’t want to blow the schedule on my first day of the trip!

Hillary, Lauren, Allie and I were in one truck; Dean A, her son Conrad, Rhiannon and Grant were in the other.  It is certainly quite a drive to get up to the refuge, and we were enjoying chatting, and I was trying to figure out how to bluetooth pair my phone to the car radio.  Hillary was reading the manual, but we couldn’t find it.  Lauren, though, found the USB port, and we were off and cooking with gas, listening to music on our way.

Yes, I’m a geek.

We stopped halfway up Mauna Kea and were treated to a talk by Rhiannon on the local flora.  I wish I had a tape recorder on her as she spoke, I would love to transcribe everything she told us. I fear that is going to be an enormous problem for me on this trip.  I could lug around the iPhone with the record function on, but it just doesn’t seem practical…

It wasn’t too long after our side rest break that we were headed of of Saddle Road and into the park.  We cruised in, enjoying ourselves, and then we went off road.  I put the truck in park, went to four wheel drive, and we headed further into the beauty of the forest.

The first thing we went through were fields and fields of Mauna Kea sliversword plants, otherwise known as ‘ahinahina.  An endangered species, silversword are particularly adapted to little rainfall, harsh weather, a huge ultra-violet impact from the sun and a cindery substrate that holds little water.  One of the most uniquely adapted plants in this alpine zone is the beloved ‘ahinahina or silversword. The leaves are thick and groove-shaped for catching rain. They are covered with a mat of tiny silver hairs that both reflect the heat of the sun and absorb whatever moisture there is from the passing mists.  Some of the magnificent ‘ahinahina on Mauna Kea live up to 50 years before flowering once and dying.  Find out more about ‘ahinahina here.

We traveled along the road - we were the photo car, stopping continuously to get pictures, and going up and down a rocky, roller coaster of a road.  Of course, Dean A must know everyone in the environmental world - we stopped and pulled over as a car approached us and stopped.  It turns out that it was Jack Jeffrey on the road, famous photographer, and occasional bird watching tour guide at Hakalau.  Look him up.

At one point, a small, black feral pig jumped through a wire fence, and ran across the road.  Dean A had stopped just in front of us, and Conrad’s arm was pointing in the brush where it was rooting. We also saw ʻalala (Hawaiian crow) on our way up.  They were huge.  Oh, and tons of nēnē!

A little further down the trail, we stopped again to look at the ugly plant called gorse.  Gorse is a horrible, introduced weed that is slowly (or not so slowly) taking over the hillsides of Mauna Kea.  It is extremely competitive, displaces cultivated and native plants, and alters soil conditions by fixing nitrogen and acidifying the soil. It creates an extreme fire hazard due to its oily, highly flammable foliage and seeds, and abundant dead material. It not only increases the risk of fire, but also produces a hotter fire than most weeds. This fire risk increase threats on the margins of native vegetation. Because of various characteristics of the plant, the soil is often bare between individual gorse plants, which increases erosion on steep slopes where gorse has replaced grasses or forbs. Spiny and mostly unpalatable when mature, gorse reduces pasture quality where it invades rangeland. Gorse understory in forests interferes with cultural operations, increasing pruning and thinning costs, and can interfere with the growth of conifer seedlings. Click the photo to find out more.

We continued on until the sun was starting to set into Micronesian looking clouds, and we finally entered into the refuge where we would be staying for the weekend.

Trés jolie, n’est-ce pas?

When we got to the cabin, I was surprised by how non-camping like it is.  There are 8 bunk beds in the one room, a large communal kitchen with a gas stove (and what appears to be a gas heater), a shower, and a Paloma hot water system.  

While spaghetti dinner was being prepped, Baron held court.  The refuge, he told us, is for the birds.  Never mind the native trees (although without them, the birds would not have returned) that he has helped to cultivate- his life’s passion, it seems - the refuge is for the birds.  He told us about the pig problems on the mountain, particularly as it related to the hapuʻu fern.  The pigs uproot it to get to the base, creating big holes that fill with water.  This in turn attracts mosquitos, and they are encroaching further and further up into the sanctuary.  This is terrible, because the mosquitos bring disease that kills off our already endangered bird species.

After dinner, the Dean started conversation - everybody, tell the most remote place you have ever been.  We shared stories of travel and experiences - what a widely traveled group we are!

Unfortunately, I was the first to fade, and the Dean broke things up before 9 pm.  A number of us went out to look at the stars, but not I.  Oh well.  Tomorrow.