Huaka‘i Kaho‘olawe Day 3

By Neola Caveny

Another incredibly refreshing sleep. Either the air mattress I insisted on bringing (after all, we’re not backpacking here) or the Advil I was advised to take by our trip physician (mahalo, Dr. Karen) are working, or it might just be the mana of Kaho’olawe. I walk out to the beach alone to see the sunrise (it managed to make it on its own that day), and am greeted with a “WHHOOMPH” sound that I can’t at first place. Straining my eyes in the pre-dawn light, I see several whale spouts less than 50 feet out in Hakioawa bay. Again they give their morning greeting before traveling on around the point. Craig, a kua who is also a KIRC commissioner and sleeps on the beach every night (“not so many centipedes”), tells me that they are a pod of three who regularly hang out in the bay. By then, I am more than ready for the hike “topside”, which is our reward for all the hard work the past two days.

It’s hard to describe what the 28 of us see on our 9 hour excursion (it was supposed to be a half-day hike, but quite a few of us were slower than K, our PKO leader, anticipated—myself being the slowest, thanks to terminal blisters). Almost total desolation, on one level, but so much life, and rebirth, on another. But, above all, there are the incredible views of five of the eight main islands of the Hawaiian chain, including the snow on Mauna Kea. You get a sense of Kaho’olawe as the piko (center) of the islands. And you see the progress that has been made already, measured in a thriving ‘a’ali’i bush in bloom, or ‘ilima or pā’ū-o-Hi’iaka growing across the trail, or more than half the wili wili trees planted at one area looking like they’re going to make it. One of the lessons you learn on Kaho’olawe is to measure and appreciate small victories – but taken all together, they add up to a lot.


The highlight of the hike is the side trip to Puu Moa’ulaiki. At 1477 feet, it is the second highest point on the island, the site of the “Navigator’s Chair” and a lele (altar) used for offerings to Lono during the Makahiki season. To approach this sacred place, we remove our shoes and walk barefoot, in silence, (except for the occasional “ouch” and stifled whimper) for about 1/4 mile over lava rock (all right, maybe it was less than that, but I’m going by what my feet told me). Incredibly, Steve and Antony, the two EODs (Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians) who met us at the top earlier with chilled water, join with us in the barefoot pilgrimage to Pu’u Moa’ulaiki. The view and experience are well worth it. This is where master navigator Nainoa Thompson came to study the stars, wind and currents for the Hōkūle’a’s journey south, and you can see, in a small way, what he must have seen looking out from this place.

Back at camp, after dinner, everyone shares their mana‘o and na’au (thoughts and feelings). Some people are uncomfortable with public speaking and are brief. Some are overcome by emotion and cannot finish. Some are eloquent, such as Dr. Karen’s metaphor of the pöhaku as people – “This one is interesting,” or “This one is heavier than it looks.” Some of the most moving testimony comes from some of the kua who stayed in Hakioawa to move more pohaku and prepare dinner while the rest of us went topside. A group of women had gone further up the streambed and, climbing up the side, found a group of healthy native wili wili trees of at least three generations, with the keiki growing at their roots, that no one had known was there. It is another sign of life, and it is celebrated.

It’s sometime around midnight when everyone finally crawls into their sleeping bags on the beach. No tents tonight—we broke camp before dinner and have everything possible packed, for a quick getaway in the morning, when the Pualele arrives around 6:30. Another night of deep sleep—this time under the stars and the just-past-full moon. The only jarring note is the light spill into the sky from South Maui, which almost blocks out the stars – from Ma’alaea to Mäkena, an almost solid line of lights reminiscent of Miami Beach. And they want to build more…

NEXT – (Day 4)