Huaka‘i Kaho‘olawe

(Voyage to Kaho’olawe)
By Neola Caveny 

Day 1 – Thursday AM

On February 28, 13 intrepid souls under the auspices of the Maui Sierra Club began a four-day adventure unlike anything that any of us had ever experienced (other than the 2 that had been on a previous access) – one of the monthly service trips to Kaho‘olawe organized by the Protect Kaho‘olawe ‘Ohana. For a history of the island and information on the PKO, I recommend their excellent Website, This article is being written from a purely personal perspective, as a journal of an extraordinary experience.

As a middle-aged ex-back-packer with a bad back and not in the best of physical condition (yes, I’m an SC hike leader, but you don’t see me on those 5-mile lava hikes, do you?), I had anticipated volunteering for kitchen duty as an alternative to active service when I heard that the particular work we would be doing was moving and stacking several tons of rocks in preparation for the construction of retaining walls at a later date. But, I show up at 6:30 AM (no mean feat in itself, from Huelo) on Thursday at Mākena Landing with an open mind and a back brace in my allotted two double-bagged trash bags of “ukana” (PKO for luggage). We form a line in the water and begin passing the bags and buckets out to the Pualele, a 33-foot fishing boat that comes within 50 feet of the shore. That’s the first lesson in laulima, or many hands working together, that becomes our way of life throughout the trip. We swim the rest of the way to the boat.


The water is calm and we have a smooth crossing marked by many welcoming spoutings and breachings from our winter whale visitors. The PKO Zodiac meets us off Hakioawa Bay, our home for the next four days, and we chant a request to land. Our group’s rendition wouldn’t have won any awards at the Merrie Monarch Festival, but the response is given, and Kaho‘olawe accepts us. We thank our Captain, Uncle Bobby, for the whale watch tour as we slide into the Zodiac. A minute later, we’re back in the water passing ukana in to shore.

After setting up camp, the pū (conch shell), which orders our lives for the whole time that we are on the island, calls us to the meeting/dining/kitchen area—a clearing under tarps, with picnic tables–for the first of many circles, holding hands, with one person offering the pule (prayer) concentrating our 48 individual energies towards a common goal. There are about a dozen kua (literally “backbone”– PKO volunteers) and another 20 folks from other islands and as far off as Germany, in addition to our Maui group.

One thing of which you can be assured when you’re with the PKO – you will eat well! These folks have been used to accommodating as many as 100 people on these accesses, for many years, and have meals, as well as everything else, really organized. Even the eight of us who were vegetarians had been well provided for, as promised. As hard as you work, don’t expect to lose weight on Kaho‘olawe!

NEXT – (Day 1 pm)