Category Archives: Travel

Hibiscus and the Ghosts of Hawaii Past

hibiscus-mdThe other day, I was scrolling absently through the abstracts in a recent issue of Pacific Science, when a paper by Hiroshi Kudoh made me do a double-take. Its subject was the typically modest question of modern evolutionary biology: how to explain the loss of seed buoyancy in Hibiscus glaber, a species of hibiscus found in the subtropical Ogasawara Islands, a Japanese owned archipelago about 1,000 kilometers south of Tokyo. The paper compares H. glaber with H. tiliaceus, its pan-tropic progenitor, and finds that the air spaces in the seeds of H. glaber are smaller than those in the seeds of H. tiliaceus. Kudoh et al. attribute this to a shift in habitat as H. glaber moved inland. Presumably, seed buoyancy becomes less valuable the farther a plant gets from the sea.

But it wasn’t the paper’s science that got my attention. It was the title of the paper: “Loss of Seed Buoyancy in Hibiscus glaber on the Oceanic Bonin Islands.”

The Bonin Islands–another name for the Ogasawara Islands–share a largely forgotten connection with Hawaii, one that has fascinated me since I chanced upon fragmentary memoir of the lonely archipelago. Here it is, in brief:

Although the Bonin Islands are well served with the basic necessities of life–abundant fish, arable soil, reliable sources of water–they were situated far from traditional sailing routes in the Pacific. Consequently, even though they were claimed at various times by Spanish, English and American explorers, and apparently visited by a Japanese expeditionary force as early as 1670, the islands had no permanent inhabitants until well into the 19th Century–just the occasional shipwrecked sailor anxiously awaiting rescue. The word “bonin,” in fact, is an archaic version of “bunin”, meaning “no people,” or “uninhabited.”

That changed in 1830, when a group of colonists arrived by sloop from Honolulu. Honolulu was already common port of call for whalers, and apparently,there was quite a bit of talk among the sailors and merchants about the “newly discovered islands” ever since the uninhabited archipelago was claimed by the British explorer Captain Beechey three years earlier. With the support of the British Consul to Hawaii,  a group of Western adventurers, included two Americans, a Dane, and a man variously listed as Italian or Croatian, set sail for Bonin in early May, arriving a month later. Most accounts of the Bonin Islands add, almost as an afterthought, that these Westerners were accompanied by as many as 25 Native Hawaiians, or Kanaka, including seven women. These 30 to 35 settlers, (accounts vary as to the exact number), along with an assortment of castaways and beachcombers who joined them over the next two or three decades, became the progenitors of what ethnologists call the Bonin Islanders. Their story is an interesting one.

Much of what we know about the settlers and their heirs comes from The History of the Bonin Islanders, an account by Lionel Cholmondelely, the Anglican chaplain to the British Embassy in Tokyo, who visited the islands sixteen times between 1894 and 1922. According to Cholmondeley, the longtime leader of the Bonin colony was a former American sailor named Nathaniel Savory. Savory, who, despite his nationality, spent most of his early life working on British ships, apparent became stranded in Honolulu, in 1829, after being injured in a shipboard accident. While recovering from surgery, he joined in with a group of Westerners that were trying to get the British consul to support an expedition to the newly discovered islands. Surprisingly, the Consul agreed–maybe because of Bonin’s strategic location close to the then mysterious country of Japan–and helped provide for and provision a ship.

Once they arrived, there were conflicts between the colonists. The ostensible leader of the group, Matteo Mazzaro, the Italian (or Croat) fought with Savory. There were arguments about property and leadership and personal conflicts as well. Nevertheless, Mazzaro remained the titular leader of the colony for several years. But when Mazzaro died in 1848, Savory married his widow, and became the undisputed leader of the Islanders until his death in 1874 at the age of 80. Much of the history of the island is tied up in his interactions with the ships that visited the port, especially the incursions by pirates and marauding crews of some whalers. There also continued to be conflict among the islanders themselves.

But the biggest challenge for the original Bonin Islanders and their descendants came with the arrival of Japanese colonists, beginning with a failed expedition in 1861, and followed by a more successful waves of settlers starting in 1875. Japan’s claim on the islands was tenuous, but dated back more than 200 years. Nevertheless, their proximity made them much more likely colonizers than Spain or England, both of which may have had prior claim to the islands. In time, the growing number of Japanese settlers would swamp the small population of Bonin Islanders. Eventually, the Bonin Islands were subsumed into the Japanese Empire (despite a visit from Commodore Perry, who even bought a stretch of land along the harbor to help insure American title) and the Islanders were made citizens of Japan.Gradually, they intermarried with the Japanese population, and, bit by bit, the culture and language of the Bonin Islanders changed. But it’s fascinating to reflect on the little we now know about it.

First, in this polyglot group of early settlers, Native Hawaiians predominated. As a consequence, the Bonin Islander culture seems to have had a distinctly Hawaiian flavor, including a taste for lei and a kind of local version of hula. Maybe more interesting is the lingua franca of the Islands, a kind of English dominated pidgin that shared a lot of the features of Hawaiian pidgin. That may also be partly because of the predominance of the descendants of Savory, who, like the early missionaries in Hawaii, was a New Englander. Finally, it’s intriguing to find that the Hawaii connection didn’t end with Bonin’s colonization. There seems to have been a steady (well, as steady as the Age of Sail allowed) correspondence between the two archipelagos. In fact, Mazzaro made at least two separate trips back to Honolulu to try to secure more support from the English Consul, and at least two more Native Hawaiians made the trip to Bonin. Savory also maintained contact with some of the merchants in Hawaii. (He also kept of a lengthy and fascinating correspondence with his relatives in New England.)

The tail end of the Bonin story is also fascinating. Bonin would play an important role in WWII. At the outset of the war, the Japanese removed all the Bonin Islanders back to Japan and fortified the Islands as a supply base. In fact, the larger geographic entity, the Ogasawara Islands, include the famous Iwo Jima. When George Bush was shot down as a Navy pilot, it was within sight of Chichi-jima, the largest of the Bonin Islands, which was also the site of one of the most notorious Japanese prisoner of war camps. War crimes trials, after the war, led to the hanging of several Japanese officers on Chichi-jima.

Amazingly, though, many of the Bonin Islanders were rounded up after the war and returned to Bonin, which, like many Pacific Islands post WWII, fell under the administration of the U.S. Navy. This was a kind of hey-day for the Bonin Islanders, who, for the first time in nearly a century, once again predominated in the local population. It was a time of interest, among ethnographers and linguists, in their unique heritage. But it wouldn’t last.

In 1963, without consulting the Bonin Islanders, the Navy restored ownership of the archipelago to Japan. Not surprisingly, many of the former inhabitants and their children began to return. Quickly, the population of ethnic Japanese once again overwhelmed that of the Bonin Islanders, and, over the ensuing five decades, the unique island language and culture has begun to vanish. Travelers say you can still find a few of the old-timers who, despite the dilutions of intermarriage and the dominance of Japanese culture, still maintain a bit of their peculiar, and ever so slightly Hawaiian, heritage. Just not for much longer.

 

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Waimea Redux

Courtesy Audobon Society

Gary Gill has big plans for the future of Waimea valley. He just doesn’t know exactly what they are yet. It’s not surprising. As executive director of Hiipaka, the nonprofit created by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to manage the park, he just took charge of the valley on Feb. 1. It’s been a mad rush to get basic systems in place. “Up to now, we haven’t had time to look at long-term planning,” he says.

That’s not to say Gill doesn’t have a vision. The 1,875-acre park will continue popular programs, like its botanical gardens, but he expects a stronger focus on native Hawaiian culture.

“This is a place for local people to come,” says the former city councilman.

“We’d like to see a lot more cultural programs: hula and weaving and Hawaiian language. Over time, we hope to make the valley a living puuhonua (sanctuary).”

Gill believes visitors will also be drawn to authentic Hawaiian culture. That’s an important consideration, because the valley has operated at a loss in recent years. OHA plans to spend millions of dollars to take care of the park’s long-deferred maintenance, but, ultimately, Waimea should be self-sustaining, he says.

“We’ll probably be increasing the business staff,” Gill says. “We have an existing gift shop, which we’ll be redefining, and refocusing on native Hawaiian goods. We’ll also be reopening the Proud Peacock [restaurant] and concentrating on improving facility rental space.”

Butch Helemano is the kahu of Puu o Mahuka, the largest heiau on Oahu, which sits on the bluff overlooking Waimea. “Some people don’t want to see any entertainment in the
valley, but I believe the tour buses belong there,” he says. “You have to have respect for the culture, but it’s possible to have these programs without bastardizing Hawaiian culture. We just need real practitioners.”

Gill knows that, for any of his plans to succeed, he’ll need the support of community members like Helemano. “Everyone loves Waimea,” he says, “and everyone has a stake in it. But if you want people to come, the first thing you have to do is invite them.”

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State Parks for Rent?

As the state moves toward public/private partnerships, Malaekahana will serve as a test.
DENNIS HOLLIER

Malaekahana, a park in transition

The cabins at Malaekahana state Recreation Area in La‘ie are in shambles. The roofs sag, the galvanized plumbing is crumbling and the siding is peeling away. Built in the 1930s, many of the buildings look like they’re one good storm away from demolition.

But changes are in store for Malaekahana. Two years ago, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) requested private bids to redevelop and manage the park. Now, DLNR is considering a plan that will gut the existing infrastructure at Malaekahana and replace it with new cabins, roads, sewage treatment and a high-tech, off-the-grid electrical system.

Malaekahana Partners, a company affiliated with the nonprofit that currently manages the Kahuku section of the park, will redevelop all of Malaekahana in exchange for a long-term lease. It’s part of DLNR’s strategy to create public/ private partnerships, and may serve as the model for similar programs at other state parks. And it’s making the neighbors nervous.

Much of their concern revolves around Craig Chapman, one of the principals of Malaekahana Partners. He’s managed the park for 12 years, but if you ask him about his status in the community, he’ll tell you, “I’m the haole hotel guy from Vegas.”

“I’m not a spiritual man,” says Chapman, “but if you listen to her [the park], she’ll tell you what she wants.” Chapman thinks she wants to be an eco-resort. He envisions a variety of community and educational activities at the park. And with the new cabins, he believes he can attract both kama‘aina and international visitors.

For the past 12 years, Chapman has operated under a year-to-year lease. Without a long-term lease, he has been unable to raise funds to fix the cabins and other problems in the park. So, when DLNR asked for proposals for Malaekahana, Chapman saw his opportunity. He assembled a group of local partners, persuaded a Canadian friend to finance the project and put together a proposal for DLNR. His was the only qualified bid.

Some have reacted skeptically. DeeDee Letts, a member of the Ko‘olauloa Neighborhood Board, points out that Chapman has been fined for improperly disposing of trash at the park. She’s also concerned that Chapman’s proposal promises more than he can deliver; in particular, that the capabilities of his sewage treatment system are overstated. Chapman counters that the fine was for a single incident many years ago, and that the type of sewage treatment system he’s installing is now required in state parks.

As a part of the approval process for his proposal, DLNR requested that Chapman make presentations to the neighborhood board and local community associations. Dan Quinn, DLNR’s administrator of state parks explains, “This is something we want to do properly. There’s a diversity of opinion about this project.” As for community concerns, DLNR has created a community board that will periodically review activities at the park. Even if DLNR approves his plan, Chapman still has to do an environmental impact statement, obtain permits and negotiate a lease.

Quinn remains confident that this is a good model for other state parks. He says DLNR will continue to expand these public/private partnerships, which range from Adopt-a-Park programs to master leases like the one proposed at Malaekahana. He suggests Hapuna on the Big Island may be a good candidate. But he’s quick to add, “We’d like to get through the process on this one first.”

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Kailua Memories

A look back at some of Kailua’s most evocative places.

BY DENNIS HOLLIER

Some of the images featured in this article will be in a forthcoming book on Kailua, published by the Kailua Historical Society. Special thanks to Barbara Pope Book Design.


The view from Alala point towards Lanikai, circa late 1920s or 1930s.

PHOTO COURTESY OF HAWAII STATE ARCHIVES

 

PHOTO COURTESY OF ERLING HEDEMANN, JR.

 

The junction of Oneawa and Kailua Road has long been the physical center of Kailua town. For a generation, though, the Kailua Theater was probably its cultural center. A caption on the back of this photograph, taken the late 1930s, indicates that movie tickets cost 12 cents. Kailua Theater was owned by John Magoon, who also owned the Kaneohe Theater. Erling Hedemann, who grew up in Kailua, remembers that you had to have a mosquito punk (repellant) under your seat at Kaneohe Theater, “but Kailua Theater was high class.”

Across the street, roughly where McKenna Ford stands today, the old Kanetake Garage presided over the town’s inbound traffic for decades. Well into the 1950s, dairy cows grazed in the field out back. Arby’s and the Firestone store have replaced the theater. But the careful observer will note a familiar triangular median in the roadway. The iconic banyans? They’re visible in the old photo; barely visible against the white of the movie house, you can make out the first sapling against the white of the movie house.

 

PHOTO BY HEATHER TITUS

 

Jean’s Bakery

 

 

A couple of months ago, a reader wrote in to the local paper asking if anyone knew the recipe for Boston cream pie from the old Jean’s Bakery. The memory of desserts is a persistent one. Jean’s Bakery (seen here in December, 1955) was a Kailua institution, but it’s been closed for more than 30 years. In a photograph dated 1951, the bakery staff stand behind a gleaming counter in the original store in the back of the old Piggly Wiggly store on Oneawa. In 1955, George Abe, the owner, bought the lot across the street on Uluniu. He built his home in the back and a new bakery and soda fountain in front. There, the Abe family continued to sell cakes and pies and fountain drinks for nearly another 20 years.

Kailua Town

PHOTO COURTESY OF ERLING HEDDEMANN, JR.

For nearly four decades, the Kailua Tavern, on the corner of Oneawa and Kuulei, served as the town’s only real night spot. According to longtime Kailua resident Erling Hedemann, “People came to the tavern all the way from Honolulu. They say that scurrilous cowboys tied their horses out front—and I include my scurrilous brother in that group.” Despite the cowboys, there was a genteel side to Kailua Tavern, too, which also had a restaurant and a dance floor. Alberta Hussey, once the vocalist with the Gigi Royce Orchestra at the Royal Hawaiian, sang at the Kailua Tavern with the Audino and Allen Band after World War II started. By then, the tavern was known as the Coconut Grove Inn.

 

Kalapawai Market

In 1941, Hussey lived with a cousin on Kalaeloa Road and remembers walking barefoot to work along Kailua’s sandy roads, carrying her shoes in her hands. “On breaks,” she says nostalgically, “I used to go across to the Harada Store and have a half a cantaloupe and a vanilla ice cream.”

PHOTO COURTESY OF ERLING HEDEMANN, JR.

Kalapawai Market has catered to the residents of Lanikai and along Kailua Beach for more than 70 years. The original owner, Richard Wong, knew what his customers needed, and developed strong loyalties among them. When Maurice Sullivan built the first Foodland nearby, some residents were excited to finally have a real supermarket in the neighborhood. Others, though, were alarmed. Peggy Bredesen, whose family has lived on the ridge above Lanikai since 1931, notes that they could see the great domed structure over the treetops. “It was the biggest eyesore,” she says. More importantly, they were concerned that the new supermarket spelled the end of their old friends at Kalapawai.

But you should never underestimate the power of customer loyalty. Ironically, although Sullivan went on to create a Foodland empire, at this location it faltered. The Kalapawai Market, under the new ownership of Don Dymond, flourishes still.

 

Matsuda Store

PHOTO COURTESY OF HAWAII STATE ARCHIVES

In the 1930s, when downtown Kailua was still mostly watermelon patches, the area’s population center was farther up Kailua Road, among the taro fields and rice paddies of Maunawili. During this era, the Matsuda Store, near the Waimanalo junction on the old Pali Road, served as the Kailua store. Area farmers visited for everything from gasoline for their cars to feed for their livestock. Even after the Matsuda Store closed, the building—now a part of Kaneohe Ranch—remained stand-ing alongside a dead-end fragment of the old Pali Road behind Castle Hospital.

Martin Knotts, whose Diamond K Ranch still runs about 60 head of cattle along the fringes of Kawainui Marsh, lived in the old house for its last 20 years. “In June of 2000, I finally had it torn down,” he says, “because the termites were in there so bad, and I couldn’t get a long-term lease.” Today, though the state now owns the land, Knotts still lives in a trailer right behind the foundations of the old Matsuda Store. Only a small concrete plinth, a remnant of the old gas pumps, gives any clue to the store’s former location.

Nishikawa Fruit Stand

The row of churches along Kailua Road has an air of permanence. It’s the nature of churches. But, for most of its history, this section of Kailua was agricultural. Around the 1920s, Issei farmers began to grow fruit and vegetables and chickens in farms along Kailua Road. Their children, because their English was better, sold the produce from popular roadside fruit stands.

The most successful of these was the Kailua Fruit Stand, owned by the Nishikawa family, which stood about where the First Presbyterian Church is today. Kinji Nishikawa and his wife, Some, grew avocados, papayas, grapefruit and vegetables. Sandy Kimura, their granddaughter, says famous people, like Duke Kahanamoku, used to come from town to visit the fruit stand. “John Burns came every Sunday, before he was governor,” she says. But, around 1959, the Nishikawa lease expired; and, after 25 years serving Kailua, most of the farm was bulldozed to make way for development. According to Kimura, though, you can still find a few of the old Nishikawa fruit trees strewn through the Kukanono neighborhood.

Amii Kahikina, whose Amii World Travel Agency on Oneawa occupies a plot of land that’s been in the family for nearly 70 years, remembers that Boston cream pie. “It was like sponge cake with powdered sugar on it instead of ganache.” Today, the old building has had an addition at the front, and houses a new “old institution”: the Chinese Garden restaurant. But the square outline of Jean’s Bakery is still discernible in the L-shaped building, and old-timers passing by on Uluniu sometimes still find themselves craving that Boston cream pie.

Dennis Hollier grew up in Enchanted Lake and writes frequently for HONOLULU Magazine.

 

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At Work on the Bay

DENNIS HOLLIER, PHOTOGRAPHY BY KARIN KOVALSKY

Captain of the Nissei

The Nisei

It’s still well before dawn, and the crew of the Nisei sit quietly in their skiff, killing time. Bowed by the weight of the tide, 150 feet of fine-gauge net stretches from the stern to shore, its end tended by a crewman on the jetty. Another 150 feet is still stashed in the deep belly of the skiff and serves as a lounge for the crew there. Now and then, the captain, Hiroshige Uehara, nervously shines a flashlight on the water to see how the catch is going. The rest of the crew, mostly Okinawans like the captain, pull the hoods of their slickers over their heads against the drizzle. We’re waiting for the nehu to come in.

These tiny fish are the last commercial fishery on Kaneohe Bay. They school in great numbers there, and, for generations, aku boats have come to catch them for bait. Aku fishermen need millions of nehu. Instead of dragging nets like bottom fishermen, or using baited hooks like longliners, traditional aku fishermen hook skipjack using long poles and barbless hooks. To get the fish to bite, they chum the waters with swarms of live bait. Without the nehu of Kaneohe Bay, the old way of aku fishing would die. But the old way is a hard one. Once, dozens of aku boats set their nets in these shallows; the pier at Heeia Kea Boat Harbor was homeport for more than 20 of them. Now, only two aku boats are left: the Nisei and the old wood sampan, Kula Kai.

Like many fishermen, the Okinawan crew of the Nisei are a taciturn bunch. Although they’ve worked in Hawaii for decades, they speak English haltingly and are shy to use it. David Soto, the Nisei’s engineer, the only local in the crew, acts as a spokesman. He points out that the crew is experienced. “The youngest man on this boat is 52,” he says, “and that’s me.” He jokes about working with Okinawans, but he’s been with the Nisei since it was launched 13 years ago, following Uehara from his previous boat. Most of the crew have fished together for years. Soto makes an excellent guide. Out in the skiff, the only noise is the soft baritone of Soto’s voice as he explains nehu fishing to me. Then, the captain shines his light on the net one last time and nods to the crew. He turns to me and smiles. “Plenty fish,” he says.

It takes all hands to pull in a haul of nehu. We start by heading to the jetty to collect the crewman there, veering the rest of the net as we go. Once the circle of the net is closed, the captain kills the engine again, and Soto pulls on a scuba tank and slips overboard. He’s the penner; underwater, he uses his body to pen the edges of the net up against the side of the skiff so none of the fish can escape through the gap there. At the stern, the captain paces the haul, pulling in the head rope of the net float by float. Eisho, the captain’s brother, stands behind him, helping haul on the head rope, pausing every so often to organize the long net as it comes into the boat. In the center of the skiff, the brothers Hiromasa and Tetsushi Tamashiro grab for the belly of the net, shaking the nehu back into the water as they pull. They’re helped by Quentin Gohier, an old Hawaiian man from the Heeia docks who sometimes volunteers for these nehu runs.

Slowly, the pile of net under their feet grows as the circle diminishes. The nehu seethe inside. There are millions of them—so many that the weight of them begins to sink the net. Silvery swarms flush over the tops of the floats. Many more leap over the net to open water. Outside the net, schools of papio stir up the surface in a frenzy over the escaping baitfish. To keep the net from sinking, the crew stick the ends of stout bamboo poles under the float rope, cantilevering the net over the gunwale. The weight of the nehu bends the poles. When most of the net is aboard, the crew pull in the foot rope, which closes the bottom of the net, making a bag of fish about the same size as the 26-foot skiff. Soto surfaces out of the roiling turmoil of nehu and scampers back aboard.

There are eight live bait wells built into the aft deck of the Nisei. Each is about 10 feet deep by six feet wide. Sometimes, it takes two or three days’ work to fill them. This haul, though, is astonishing. The skiff pulls alongside the Nisei, penning the net between the two boats, and some of the crew jump aboard. Once on deck, they hand down large stainless steel buckets one by one, and the crew in the skiff use dip nets to fill them with bait. Then, the buckets are handed back aboard and emptied into the bait wells. Now and then, a crewman reaches into the seething net to grab an akule or a papio that’s been accidentally caught with the nehu and flings it back out into the Bay. The nehu are bounty enough.

The waters of Kaneohe Bay used to provide a livelihood for many of those who lived along its shores. Dozens of fishponds once fattened moi and mullet. At low tide, limu pickers waded in the shallows. Fishermen poked in the holes of the fringing reef for hee and lobster. They plied their nets across the tide for akule, aweoweo and amaama. On old maps, you can still see the names of shore-side families jutting out into the bay as if their kuleana stretched to the bounty of the reef. But the fisheries of Kaneohe Bay have collapsed. Pollution and overfishing and silting have taken the profit out of fishing, and the Nisei and the Kula Kai are the only commercial boats that still venture into the bay.

The Coral Queen

Tour boats dominate the commerce of the bay. Most sail from the pier in Heeia Kea, where a ragtag fleet of catamarans and trimarans shuttle tourists out to the reefs. Although most of these boats have a utilitarian look, there’s a surprising charm to them. Some of them have spindly masts and booms, meant to give the impression they’re Polynesian sailing canoes. Others have had their spars removed, and they seem to squat on the water. But all of them are motorboats, and are slab-sided, garishly painted and ungainly. Nevertheless, when they’re nosed up to the sandbar on a sunny morning or moored haphazardly along the fringing reef in the dark just before a storm, or tied at the docks in the glassy waters of a Kona breeze, they still convey a sense of nostalgia for old times, and are beautiful.

Five companies operate commercial boats at Heeia, but the two largest, KBOS and Tropical Ocean Sports, account for most of the tourist trade. Between them, they manage more than a dozen vessels and employ nearly 50 people, including captains, mates, deckhands, tour guides, dive masters and hostesses. In all, the tour boats of the bay provide the livelihood for perhaps 100 men and women.

Among the tour boats, the Coral Queen, a plywood, glass-bottom trimaran, is the oldest. It has been ferrying passengers out to the reefs for more than 35 years. Today, the Coral Queen belongs to Tropical Ocean Sports. With a bright blue paint job, it matches the company’s larger boats. Unlike those others, though, the Coral Queen doesn’t cater to the tourist trade. Mike Nolan, the main captain of the Coral Queen, says, “Most of our business is local. We do a lot of preschool groups like UH Labs and Kamaaina Kids. We do a lot of ‘Make a Wish,’ too.” Over the years, thousands of Hawaii’s children have gotten their first glimpse of Kaneohe Bay’s reefs through the stout glass boxes in her main cabin.

Nolan has worked on many of the tour boats in Hawaii, and has spent most of the last 15 years on the bay. One of the biggest changes he’s seen has been in the way the state regulates the tour boats. In the old days, tour operators ran Jet-Skis and ski boats and dive platforms willy-nilly on the bay. But residents complained, and now, the Department of Land and Natural Resources restricts each tour operator to discrete zones called Ocean Recreation Management Areas, or ORMAs. “Some companies,” Nolan explains, “offer highly active tours, like Jet-Skis and banana boats.” These companies have to buy permits for their own ORMA. Other operations offer snorkeling or kayaks, but no motorized rides. These companies have their own ORMAs too, and much of the bay is divided into territories by tour boat companies.

The Coral Queen is the only glass-bottom boat on the Bay. It harkens back to an old tradition: The Coral Gardens, another glass-bottom boat, was the first tour boat on Kaneohe Bay. In the early 1900s, it took passengers out to ogle the reefs off Mokapu—reefs since dredged to make the runways for the Marine base. This bit of nostalgia, along with a kind of squat charm, made the Coral Queen attractive to me, so one afternoon, I joined in as it took a group from a Manoa elementary school out for a cruise.

The Coral Queen normally operates with a crew of three. On this day, Ty Fu, the young relief captain, is at the helm. Marvin Engoing, a large, doughy man with a wispy beard and a ponytail, is the crew. Rhonda Stewart, an enthusiastic woman who’s worked on the boat for many years, is the education director and is in charge of the children.

Once the teachers have the school group hustled below, Engoing slips the dock lines and Fu quietly spins the Coral Queen off the pier and heads out into the bay. Stewart begins to regale the children with stories about the natural history of Kaneohe Bay.

There’s a broad shelf at the forward end of the pilot house where an ad hoc nature center has accumulated: the shells of three different kinds of conch; a cowrie shell; a desiccated slipper lobster; an assortment of corals; the splayed shells of pearl oysters; corroded and coral-encrusted 50-mm bullet casings; the jaw of a hammerhead shark. In the main cabin, six glass-bottom boxes stand like cabinetry. The children peer through them, watching the coral rubble sweep past as we motor off.

Once we reach the reef patches off Coconut Island, Fu kills the engine and lets the boat drift slowly in six or seven feet of water. While the children crowd around the viewing boxes in the main cabin and marvel at the coral below, up on deck Engoing breaks up loaves of stale bread to throw over the side. Schools of yellow tang and striped angelfish swarm to the chum, drawing oohs and ahs from the children. Then Engoing, as the newest member of the crew, prepares a surprise. “Good thing I brought towel,” he says. “I gotta swim under the boat.” Stewart keeps the kids distracted below while he dons a mask and slips quietly overboard. There’s a burst of laughter from the children as he drifts into view under the Coral Queen. Floating past on his back, he waves to them, his ponytail undulating like limu.

For many of these children, this is their first time on a boat. “Despite being an island state,” Stewart says, “Hawaii has the lowest incidence of boat ownership in the country.” It speaks to a lost relationship—a sad lack of connection between the students and the sea that surrounds them. Passing Coconut Island on the way back to the dock, Stewart gets the teachers to lead the children in the Gilligan’s Island theme song. The teachers sing enthusiastically. None of the children seem to know the words.

Makani Olu

Science and education provide the livelihood for many of those who still work on the bay. Perhaps the best example is the sail-training program on the schooner Makani Olu. Matt Claybaugh, the director of the Marimed Foundation, which owns the Makani Olu, has an abiding belief in the healing power of the sea. Through a program called Holopono, Marimed attempts to rehabilitate at-risk kids, taking them directly from the courts or juvenile detention and putting them to work aboard the Makani Olu. “It’s the gift of a change in perspective,” Claybaugh says. Claybaugh views the Makani Olu as a wilderness program. He knows the sea can be hard, and the stress can sometimes break down the tough reserve of the kids in the program. “That’s the counseling moment,” Claybaugh says. “You need to be akamai to that. Otherwise, you’re just sailing.”

The Makani Olu is a 96-foot, three-masted, staysail schooner. Like all schooners, it takes a rat’s nest of lines to manage the sails. When the Holopono program takes groups of kids to sea, they have to literally learn the ropes. They go on five-day, round-trip cruises to the Neighbor Islands, where they usually also participate in community projects. At sea, the kids work the ship, standing watches and taking turns at the helm. Even so, it takes a professional crew of five to sail the Makani Olu: a captain, a mate and three hands—surely the last professional sailors on the bay.

The pilot house contains a mini natural history museum for young students to explore.
After a recent charter trip for an Elderhostel group, I volunteered to help move the boat from Aloha Tower back to the bay. The crew is new, and I’m eager to see them at work. When I arrive at the dock, I find a full complement of five crewmen aboard. Jon Michienzi, the captain, sailed with the Makani Olu several years ago. He and the first mate, Ben Hopkins, have recently arrived from the tall ship Amistad. The other crewmen also seem to be experienced. But my main impression is how young they all are. Even so, we pull away from the dock without incident and set out to sea. Michienzi predicts a six-hour passage.

The trip turns out to be more boisterous than expected. The trades gather strength as we leave Honolulu Harbor, and by the time we make Koko Head, they’re blowing hard on the nose. Even motor-sailing, our progress is slow. At first, the ride is exhilarating. But we have to tack far out into the Molokai Channel, and the swells build and become confused. Many of the passengers become seasick. In the cabin, loose gear flies from one side to the other. The young crew becomes more subdued as the passage turns into real work. This is sailing in Hawaii. Even after we finally round Makapuu and begin the downhill run along the windward coast, everyone is obviously looking forward to the end of the trip.

Darkness sets in as we reach Kaneohe Bay. The trip from Honolulu Harbor was a long slog, but most of the real work is still ahead. In the failing light, we wrestle down the sails, furl them on their booms and get their covers on them. By the time we reach the Makani Olu’s mooring, we need the spotlight to find the buoy. The wind is still strong and it takes several passes before the crew manages to grab the mooring line with the boathook—only to find the lines are tangled and we blow off again. Finally, a couple crewmen launch the ship’s tender and manage to untangle the lines and get one aboard. The Makani Olu is moored. In the end, the passage from Aloha Tower takes 12 hours.

After shuttling ashore in the inflatable with the other passengers, I stand in the shallows and watch Hopkins head back through the dark to the Makani Olu. No doubt, the captain wants to discuss the mooring troubles with the crew. But I’m struck once again with the miracle that, against all odds, young people still go to sea. The idea makes me smile. Boats and the wind and snarled lines will always give sailors trouble. But, if an old schooner like the Makani Olu can still make a go of it, perhaps there’s still hope for those who make a living on Kaneohe Bay.

Freelance writer Dennis Hollier grew up in Enchanted Lake. His last piece for HONOLULU, in our July issue, was on a downtown barber school.

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Getting Your Hands Dirty

Far back in Oahu’s Makiki Valley, where the stream chuckles through the lush grounds of the Hawaii Nature Center, Ena Sroat kneels and gently hefts a hibiscus sapling into a shallow hole.
“This is a kokio [hibiscus],” she says, using her fingers to shovel soil around its roots. “When it blooms, it has brilliant orange flowers.”

By now, the small group of visitors listening to Sroat knows that the kokio is an endangered native plant, one that’s become almost impossible to find in the wild. Adding it to the center’s patchwork of native gardens is their small contribution to the survival of this rare species. Solemnly, they douse the little plant with water from their Dasani bottles.

Sroat is one of the guides and owners of Hina Adventure Tours, and this stop is the last on a tour called Ancient Waikiki and Sacred Valley Exploration. Like all the tours offered by the young eco-tourism company, this one is built out of the intricate stories, legends and natural history associated with a very particular place the royal sites of Waikiki and the inshore valleys that supported them.

“We want to show visitors why Waikiki was so beloved by the Hawaiians,” Sroat says.

The tour includes a short hike down Kalakaua Avenue, a stop at Tantalus Lookout for spectacular views and an exclusive tour of the Manoa Cultural Center. But for clients, it’s the quiet planting ceremony at the Nature Center that sets this tour apart. This simple act tourists giving back to the community they visit makes the tour a part of the growing field of voluntourism.

Sroat and her partner, Uluwehi Hopkins, have based their voluntourism program on their unusually close relationships with several of Oahu’s cultural and environmental organizations.

“That’s really why we started this company,” says Hopkins. “To help these kinds of groups succeed.”

For clients, the charms of voluntourism are obvious: They get the satisfaction of doing good work and the opportunity to interact with locals. But Sroat is quick to point out that community groups are also excited about the tours.

“They’re very open to tourism done with respect,” she says.

Hina Adventure Tours works with organizations like Hui Malama o Lokahi, a group that cares for sacred sites on Oahu’s windward side; Pae Pae o Heeia, the caretaker organization for an historic fishpond; Kaala Farms, a cultural education center for Hawaiian youth; and the Nature Center, which manages natural sites on three islands.

Hina Adventure Tours offers several different levels of voluntourism. The least demanding is the brief visit to the Nature Center, perfect for clients who just want to know their visit has had a positive impact. It’s also the easiest to schedule, since it runs more or less like a regular tour. Their most popular voluntourism offering is the Hoolaulima Community Service Project and Sacred Sites Tour, when clients work side by side with members of Hui Malama o Lokahi. Afterward, they have a potluck lunch with the work group before heading down to the beach for a swim.

With enough advance notice, Hina Adventure Tours can arrange work trips with any of their community partners. Each has its own charm. The Hawaii Nature Center, for example, manages a couple of wetlands on Oahu.

“That’s good for bird-lovers,” says Hopkins.

At Pae Pae o Heeia, clients join local volunteers in rebuilding the lava stone walls and removing invasive plants in a 1,000-year old fishpond. As an option, the staff will take visitors out into the pond on a small boat to fish for moi (threadfin), then cook it up for lunch.

For corporations and community service groups, Hina Adventure Tours can arrange more traditional voluntourism opportunities. These programs often a week or longer blend real community service with a series of tours and cultural activities. This kind of voluntourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry, and the women of Hina Adventure Tours see it as the future.

“That’s the direction we want to grow,” says Sroat. “I believe there are a lot of people out there who want to reach out that way.”

For Hopkins, the commitment of this new kind of tourist is inspiring.

“They have no investment in this place,” she says, “and yet they work so hard.”

Obviously, local communities benefit from all the dedication. But the payoff voluntourism offers clients is equally clear.

As Sroat points out: “They can actually touch Hawaii as it was in ancient times.”

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Bishop takes Night

After hours, Bishop Museum comes to life.

It’s a typical evening at Moonlight Mele, the Bishop Museum’s annual summer concert series. The crowd is sprawled down a slope of lawn, staking out territory with blankets, woven mats and low beach chairs. There’s a festive atmosphere as they share teriyaki beef and Longboard Ale purchased from the vendors around the perimeter. But when Hawaiian musician John Cruz begins to strum the opening chords of his theme song, a calm comes over the crowd and they quietly sing along.

For the growing number of clients who seek an authentic experience during their visit to Hawaii, Moonlight Mele is an excellent opportunity to experience the local lifestyle. In fact, despite its focus on the past, the Bishop Museum provides a surprisingly valuable window on contemporary Hawaiian culture, especially after hours. In the daylight, of course, the Honolulu-based museum is one of the state’s most important visitor attractions. But its nighttime activities — cultural lectures, films and special events — are decidedly local. Collectively, they give travel agents unexpected opportunities to tailor their clients’ trips to their particular interests, while helping their clients mingle with likeminded residents.

Bishop Museum has dubbed 2008 The Year of the Hula, so as part of its Traditions of the Pacific series, it’s running a series of fascinating seldom-seen films that celebrate the role of hula in Hawaiian culture. During informal seminars and presentations, Traditions of the Pacific also encourages clients to hobnob with cultural practitioners and learn about the essence of Hawaii.

Since the museum is one of the world’s premier natural history institutions, clients of a more scientific bent can attend fascinating public lectures given by informed scholars. Sometimes, the lectures tie into current exhibits; for instance, the upcoming Whale Talks correspond to the Whales-Wonders of the World exhibit that runs through Sept. 21. Other lectures look at subjects like the coral reefs of Hawaii and the world’s largest sharks.

For clients traveling with children, the Bishop Museum offers a variety of family-focused events that are an important part of living in Hawaii. Take Treat Street, an elaborate celebration of Halloween that has become a local tradition. Family Sunday, an event that precedes the opening of any major exhibit, is a festival of local food and entertainment as well as an opportunity to preview exhibits.

But it’s the Moonlight Mele concerts that offer clients their easiest access to local culture. Inevitably, they come away with the same mix of nostalgia and conviviality that, for years, has drawn islanders to a night at the Bishop Museum.

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Preserving Culture

The old Hawaiian lady smiled wistfully as Mr. Young tonged her order of wet li hing mango out of a massive jar. When he put them on the scale, the scarlet slices glistened in the afternoon light.

“Every time I come here,” the lady said in a strong pidgin accent, “it’s like I goin’ back to old-time Hawaii.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by customers a thousand times a day in the old store. But, if a visit to this Oahu institution, known simply as the Crack Seed Store, is a dose of nostalgia for locals, for visitors it’s a charming glimpse into the real Hawaii.

Crack seed, fruit preserved in a concoction of sugar, salt, licorice, star anise and li hing, a tart red powder made from the pits of plums, was brought to Hawaii by Chinese immigrants more than 100 years ago. Ancient Chinese warriors are said to have carried crack seed under the saddle of their horses. But despite its immigrant past, the crack seed store is thoroughly Hawaiian.

Pre-packaged crack seed can be found in almost any supermarket on Oahu, but if clients are eager for an authentic crack seed experience, encourage them to visit Mr. Young’s pleasantly grubby shop in the old neighborhood of Kaimuki. Inside, hundreds of great apothecary jars line the shelves, each filled with a different variety of crack seed: rock salt plum, candied ginger, li hing mango, sweet sour lemon. The atmosphere is like an old-fashioned candy store, a place where grandparents and children both feel at home.
When your clients are ready to order, Mr. Young shuffles out from behind his battered counter and scoops the sticky morsels into little plastic bags. The sheer number of options can be daunting, and even old hands often walk out with four or five varieties.

A more modern version of the crack seed store can be found among the luxury outlets at Honolulu’s Ala Moana Shopping Center. The Crack Seed Center is a bright, clean shop with an enormous selection of traditional fruits, crackers and dried seafood. Its central location makes it tremendously popular with locals, and a squadron of young women in red smocks are quick to offer their help.

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Making Waves

Up Tantalus Drive


Story by Dennis Hollier
Photos by Charles E. Freeman

High up Tantalus Drive, on a ridge overlooking the Honolulu skyline, Don Mussell practices the occult art of radio. As the broadcast engineer for Hawai‘i Public Radio, Mussell installs and maintains all its equipment. Today he’s come up the mountain to check on HPR’s new powerhouse: the KIPO FM 89.3 translator. This station—a radio tower bristling with antennas and a small cinderblock building to house the electronics that go with them—is essentially a powerful booster capturing the KIPO signal from HPR’s Honolulu studio and relaying that signal throughout O‘ahu and far out over the Pacific to translators on Maui and the Big Island.

Hawai‘i, with its mountain ranges and its vast distances between islands, is an inhospitable place for radio. The Tantalus translator, designed and built by Mussell, is the linchpin in HPR’s ambitious scheme to extend its two broadcast streams—KHPR for classical music and KIPO for jazz and public affairs—to every part of the state. In almost every other market of similar size, public radio has forsaken one of these streams; HPR clings to both religiously. And if this is its creed, Don Mussell is its high priest.

Radio, Mussell says, is mysterious. From his point of view, the atmosphere is a pulsing matrix of radio waves both invisible and substantial, vibrating at various frequencies and wavelengths. “Microwaves are about this long,” Mussell says, holding his hands a few inches apart, “but FM is about ten feet, TV is about forty-five feet and AM can be miles long.” He pauses for a moment while I envision all these radio signals vibrating over the ridges and valleys of the Ko‘olau. This tissue of energy is no abstraction for Mussell, and understanding its ebb and flow is the key to figuring out how and where to build facilities like the Tantalus translator.

“That’s the way this magical stuff works,” Mussell says. “The layers of complexity are pretty astounding.”

But if the physics of radio is arcane, its bureaucracy is even more inscrutable. Here, too, HRP depends on Mussell. General manager Michael Titterton explains that for many years the FCC imposed a freeze on new public radio licenses. About six years ago this became a serious, potentially insurmountable impediment to HPR’s ambition to bring public radio to the entire state. “Then, just at the right moment, Don Mussell showed up,” Titterton says. Besides being a technical wiz, Mussell, as it turns out, is also a master navigator of the Byzantine world of FCC regulation. “Don has almost a Renaissance approach to radio,” Titterton says, “in part because he’s good engineer, in part because he’s a good strategist and in part because he has the patience to go through all the FCC hoops.”

At first glance the taciturn Mussell doesn’t seem like a “get it done” kind of guy, let alone the type you’d find shinnying up radio towers in a stiff breeze in the dead of night. He’s a slight man with a delicate build and wry, twinkly eyes. At the station he shuffles around in old, worn slippers, khakis rolled up to his ankles and a faded flannel shirt. He’s contemplative, and like most engineers, his conversation is laconic and laced with jargon. When he speaks he has an ironic, vaguely elfin expression and the kind of composure that makes him seem more like a college professor than a man of action. Even so, if you’re one of HPR’s many devoted fans, you owe a debt of gratitude to Mussell. If you’ve ever tuned in for Morning Edition on your commute from Hale‘iwa, listened to All Things Considered over lunch in Lahaina or sipped a beer in Kealakekua to the syncopated rhythms of Jazz with Don Gordon, it’s largely because of Mussell’s technical skills.

Mussell came to Hawai‘i in 1997 after nearly thirty years as a broadcast engineer on the Mainland to build KKCR, Kaua‘i’s public access station. While he was working on KKCR, he took other assignments on the Mainland. “I was going back and forth, back and forth,” Mussell says. “Then, one day I was sitting there in the KKCR station when Michael Titterton came in. ‘Who are you?’ he said. And I said, ‘I guess I’m the engineer.’ Well, there’s a real shortage of engineers here, so he said, ‘Do you have a card?’” It wasn’t long afterward that Mussell found himself in the vanguard of HPR’s expansion.

That expansion, of course, has depended on the contributions of a lot of people—not least on the vision and commitment of executives like Titterton. But at heart the changes have been technological. As an engineer, Mussell is a jack-of-all-trades. “I think I’ve built about forty radio stations,” he says. “So I do everything.” A quick tour of the studio gives a sense of his eclecticism. The equipment racks, for example, are crammed with gear. Electronic monitors track the power output, the signal and even the temperature of the mountaintop translators. Tuners receive feeds from National Public Radio, untold hours of Fresh Air and Prairie Home Companion. Other devices allow HPR to stream content on the web and monitor how many people are listening. Still another machine allows HPR to talk to other stations around the world. Mussell is responsible for all this equipment. “I selected and installed the wire, I punched it all up, I installed the electronics, made all the connections,” he says. “I even picked the furniture.”

Still, most of Mussell’s work is in the field. FM radio is line-of-sight; mountains and the curvature of the Earth can block its signal. Consequently, HPR relies upon a network of translator stations—boosters, essentially—to ferry its signals around the state. “There are seven in all,” Mussell says. “Three on O‘ahu; on Maui we have one; and on the Big Island we have three.” Much of Mussell’s time is spent visiting and servicing these translators. One of his most important achievements has been the construction of the new KIPO translator up on Tantalus. This location, peeking over the substantial barricades of the Ko‘olau range, gives HPR direct coverage of most of O‘ahu and offers line-of-sight access to the translator on Maui. “On a clear day,” Mussell says, “you can actually see the top of Haleakala.”

This is part of what makes the Tantalus translator the future of HPR. The translator, completed in 2008, seems like a modest structure: a standard tall radio tower for the antenna and a small, windowless building perched on a tiny ridge-top plot of land carved from a bamboo jungle. But there’s more to it than meets the eye. “This tower is designed to withstand 140-mile-per-hour winds,” Mussell points out. “The foundation goes down thirty feet.” And the electronics inside are no less astonishing: The coaxial cable that connects the actual transmitter to the antenna is made of one-inch copper pipe threaded through four-inch copper pipe, a stout configuration that can handle about sixty kilowatts—enough juice to power a whole neighborhood.

Such power, Mussell says, is another part of the mystery of radio. The Tantalus translator operates at twenty-nine kilowatts. But by using the right antenna, Mussell can focus that power to over four hundred kilowatts—or higher. “We could boost that to a thousand kilowatts if we wanted.” Of course, that much energy might raise public concerns about the health effects of high-power electromagnetic fields. The Pu‘u ‘Öhi‘a Trail, a spur trail of the popular Makiki trail system, passes close by the Tantalus translator. “We have to minimize the energy on the ground for hikers,” he says. “Down on the ground, it’s just a small percentage of the federal limit on public exposure.” Up on the tower, though, it’s more intense—up to 340 percent.

All this makes the Tantalus translator HPR’s most sophisticated facility, and it’s the reason even residents of distant Hilo can now tune in to KIPO after suffering decades of public radio silence. While Mussell’s pleased to play a critical if behind-the-scenes role in the thriving world of Hawai‘i community radio, it’s really the magic that’s kept him interested. He’s fond of paraphrasing Einstein: “Wire telegraphy is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York, and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Radio operates exactly the same way: You send the signals here, they receive them there. The only difference,” Mussell says, “is that there is no cat.”

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Hybrid Beauty

An anthurium called "Moana Loa"

story by Dennis Hollier
photo by Linda Ching

“Nasty plant.”

That’s what my mother used to call the anthurium. With its long, jutting spadix, the nickname is probably inevitable. And it’s likely that this jaunty, priapic charm — along with brilliant colors, gorgeous, heart-shaped leaves and exceptional vase life — makes the anthurium the king of Hawai‘i’s cut-flower trade, bringing $5 million to 6 million into the state annually. With that much money at stake, there’s incentive to develop new varieties.

This year, for example, a Hawai‘i anthurium called Mauna Loa earned a red ribbon from the Society of American Florists. An obake—a variety of anthurium with white, green-edged spathes — Mauna Loa is one of several award-winning flowers submitted by Green Point Nurseries, a prominent Big Island grower.

Although most of Hawai‘i’s commercial growers, like Green Point, are on the Big Island, the center of the anthurium world is on O‘ahu, at the Magoon Greenhouse complex of UH Manoa’s College of Tropical Agriculture. Teresita Amore (could an anthurium grower have a better last name?) manages the anthurium program. Strolling through the rows of flowers, she pauses at a table of striking plants—promising crosses between various different anthuriums. “These are potential new varieties,” she says. They’ve been selected for qualities like color, size, yield and vase life. The Mauna Loa turns out to be exceptional in this respect, looking fresh as the day it was cut for forty to sixty days. It’ll also yield six flowers a year—high for an obake—and it’s disease resistant. “We also look at general aesthetics,” Amore says. After all, an award-winning flower should be, above anything else, beautiful.

The work of creating a new flower doesn’t end here. Promising new varieties are cloned and shipped to growers on the Big Island for testing. Growers play a critical role in the process. They and their customers ultimately decide whether a new variety is a winner. That takes a long time—sometimes more than ten years, Amore says.

But it’s time well spent. Since 2004, six UH-created anthurium varieties have earned ribbons. The university has even patented a couple of varieties, including the popular scarlet beauty, Tropic Fire. All this has made Hawai‘i an important player in the anthurium world, challenging the traditional hot spots, Holland and Mauritius. Indeed, the sassy plants born in the Magoon greenhouse are now found in flower arrangements across North America and Japan.

Maybe they’re not so nasty after all.

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