Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Lana'i



On Maui, we signed up for one escorted trip, a Dolphin and Snorkeling cruise to the island of Lana’i. One thing we learned is that to say lanai (la-ni) is to speak of a patio. The name of the island is pronounced la-na-ee. The apostrophe matters.
Tour boat lineup

Our hosts for this trip was the Pacific Whale Foundation, a study group that promotes research paid for in part by the money they make from these tours. We left from the Lahaina harbor on the Ocean Quest at 8:00 after checking in at their office on Lahaina's Front Street. As soon as we were all situated, the crew came around with water in biodegradable cups made from corn. This is one of the small steps they are taking to keep plastic out of the oceans. Even if they do happen to get blown or dropped overboard, they will really disintegrate, not just break down into ever smaller pieces of plastic to be eaten by marine life to their detriment. This was followed by a breakfast place with two pastries and slices of orange and pineapple. 

Our ride to the snorkeling area is theoretically about 45 minutes, but we took  twice that as we searched for and then stopped to observe four different cetaceans. The first of these were humpback whales. A few of the boys have arrived earlier than normal from their summer feeding trip to Alaska. Males do arrive first. Usually whale-watching season begins in mid-December, but this year the tours have already started. This area amongst the islands of Lana’i, Maui, and Kahoolawe will soon be host to tens of thousands of these magnificent creatures who have come to give birth and create more babies for next season. At the highlight of the season, whales can be seen literally on top of one another as they jostle for breeding position. For now, however, seeing any humpbacks requires a bit of luck. Our skipper said that on his whale-watching trip the day before, he’d been skunked. We saw at least six in three different groups. There was no breaching today, but it’s always exciting to see whales.

We had a short look at a few bottlenose dolphins, one of the three species that live in the area. They were quickly left behind as we had a report of some false killer whales closer to our snorkeling area. There are only a couple of hundred of these animals in the entire Hawaiian Islands so to see them would be quite special. This would be first for a couple of the crew members along with all of the passengers. These are a different species from the killer whales we have in the Salish Sea at home, but live a similar lifestyle catching and eating the largest fish in the area. 

They are also highly social in behaviour. One of the experts on board told us about a research scientist  friend of his who had been diving with some of these animals. One of them caught a large Mahimahi and proceeded to present it to the scientist who accepted it with as much grace as he could muster. He returned it when the false killer whale indicated he wanted it back. He then passed it around to the other whales before settling in to make a meal of it. 

We also saw a pod of over 100 spinner dolphins. They are so-named because when they leap out of the water they will often spin two or three times before landing. They were a lot of fun to watch before we left them to head finally to Mahina Bay where we would spend a couple of hours snorkeling. 

With 85 snorkelers, I expected a bottleneck getting off the boat and again once we were in the water. Two other boats of snorkelers added even to the mass of people I expected to be competing with once in the water. None of that happened. We separated ourselves getting in the water as we readied ourselves at different speeds and several on our boat first took advantage of the Snorkeling 101 class offered by the skipper. Then when we got into the water, we spread out easily. Our larger boat anchored a bit further out from shore than the others which meant we had about a 50 yard swim to where we could see the bottom. At that point we were in quite a large area of coral where we could watch the more than 50 species of fish swimming below. We were also lucky enough to see a turtle feeding on the bottom. A few people found one close to the surface to swim with a bit, but we missed that one. The highlights for me were the turtle and several different schools. Seeing those larger groups spending time together added to the excitement of their natural beauty and variety of colorations. 

Once back on the boat, we were served lunch and drinks. Lunch consisted of a potato/macaroni salad and a bean salad along with a choice of hotdog, chicken burger, or veggie burger. A complimentary drink was a nice added touch with additional drinks for only three dollars. We did not see any more animals on our way back across the water to Lahaina, so we just relaxed and enjoyed the sun. The shower and nap when we returned to our condo finished the day nicely.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Haleakala


Maui has a mountain that is taller than Mt. Everest. At only a titch over 10,000 feet it doesn’t reach as high into the sky, but measuring from its base adds another 19,000 feet and just enough to make it slightly taller than Everest. You can drive to the top of Haleakala, something you can’t do at Everest.


Small visitor center at the top
The drive is not difficult, but you do climb the full 10,000 feet negotiating many, many switchbacks. The road is well-maintained and doesn’t include any spots where you feel like you might slip over the edge as you do along many high mountain and seaside roads. As we drove up we remembered several switchbacks in Norway as we climbed or descended in and out of the fjords. The edges of the fjords are much steeper than the gradual sloping sides of Haleakala.



We chose an almost perfect day for our climb. Clouds were minimal with almost no wind. We were treated to some great views of Maui and its neighboring islands of Moloka’i and Lana’i as we climbed. Clouds did obscure the view of the Big Island when we reached the top and were moving through the crater obscuring our crater views somewhat, but we were thankful for the great views we did get.




The drive to the top for us was 65 miles. The first 40 is fairly flat before the climb begins up the mountainside and we begin our first series of switchbacks. This set of switchbacks winds through lush greenery and several probably expensive homes. The road straightens out for a few miles as the landscape changes  above the tree line.




We made our first stop at Hosmer Grove Campground to hike a short nature trail through the last of the forest and we might be able to see a few of Maui’s endemic native birds. There aren’t many places on Maui to see these birds as most of their preferred habitat is difficult to enter even on a day hike. Much of their habitat is totally off-limits. Even with this protection, these birds are in great danger of extinction as so much of their habitat has been lost and the danger from invasive species grows as the climate warms. Rats and mongoose are one problem that doesn’t go away, but the climate threat is that disease-bearing mosquitoes are expanding up the cool mountains as those mountains become warmer.
We managed to see four i’iwi, an Hawaiian Honeycreeper. These beautiful red and black birds have a long curved beak specially designed to reach all the way inside some of the long flowers also endemic to Hawaii. The only other birds we saw on this stop were some House Sparrows which seem to be everywhere and a Pacific Golden Plover seen all over this island. They have come here from Alaska. We stopped here on the way back down the mountain in the afternoon and were luckier as we saw a pair of Nenes, the Hawaiian goose and a Maui Alauahio, a creeper endemic to Maui. 

One of the truly fascinating things about Hawaiian birds is how the one original honeycreepers that did manage to find its way to the middle of the ocean evolved into a wide variety of different honeycreepers as they adapted to the island environments. As they evolved, they filled niches filled by different birds on other continents. One of these, the ‘Akiapola’au, can move its curved upper bill out of the way so its straight lower bill can emulate a woodpecker and drill holes into a tree. The ‘Aki can use its bills this way because the lower bill is attached to the skull via a connecting bone instead of directly like mammal jaws that connect directly to the skull.  Another whose name I don’t remember coevolved with a high mountain plant so specifically that it and the plant are completely co-dependent. The plant requires the bird for pollination and the bird requires the plant for its food. Each has left itself without an alternative. 

After our stop at Hosmer and a visit to the lower visitor center, we continued up the mountain for another another 11 miles of switchbacks. Even without stopping this part of the drive took almost 30 minutes. At the very top of Haleakala is an observation hut offering views of all Maui’s neighboring islands and the crater. Clouds obscured the Big Island and much of the crater, but what we could see was spectacular. Another amazing Hawaiian bird, the Hawaiian Petrel, nests here at the summit by digging out a short tunnel into the lava. These seabirds forage at sea during the day and return at night to feed their chicks. When not burdened by raising children, they fly as far as Alaska on their feeding trips. 

The summit is also home to an observatory and space monitoring equipment. It claims to be the third best site in the world to view the skies. Not sure what the top two are, but a couple of guesses would be the Atacama Desert in Chile and the Australian Outback. They are among several spots on earth that have been designated as dark sky parks by the International Dark-Sky Association. We made a daytime visit to another dark sky park on the South Island of New Zealand. Something more for future visits.




The geologic history of Haleakala is an old one. The mountain is a shield volcano which means the lava pumps up from the earth and flows down the sides of the mountain. Unlike more spectacular volcanoes, there is no violent eruption like we experienced with Mt. St. Helens. The last of the eruptions here was in the 1700s and it has erupted ten times in the last 1000 years, but the mountain has been eroding away over the last several million years creating what is called the crater. At one point the mountain was probably about 15,000 feet above sea level, but since then the top has eroded away leaving the valley behind that looks like a crater. Inside that crater are 14 pu’u of cinder cones, the result of smaller eruptions. The valley crater is huge, as much as 2.5 miles wide and 3000 feet deep. Amazingly, Haleakala has risen almost three inches in recent years. Geologists are not sure, but think that this is a result of current eruptions on the Big Island. As the new lava has added weight to the Big Island it has actually sunk pushing Haleakala upwards. 

We ended our trip to Haleakala with a stop at the first restaurant we saw after leaving the park. It turned out to be a gem with great food overlooking the valley below and a lovely garden filled with a variety of flowers. We timed our stop perfectly to get one of the best window seats where we could linger over our late brunch before finishing the drive back to our condo north of Ka’anapali. 

 

Oahu to Maui



Did you know that when you fly from Oahu to Maui you have to make a choice of airports? We did not and it made for an interesting day as we made the trip between the two islands.


We had arranged to pick up our rental car at Kahului Airport, the only one we were aware of. We arrived at the airport, checked our bags and headed to the gate. Since we were about two hours early, we had plenty of time to relax, or so we thought. But when I looked at the gate information, it did not look right. It said we were going to Kapalua. I checked with Linda and she talked to the gate agent who confirmed that we were flying to airport number 2, over an hour’s drive from airport number 1.


Now what do we do? First, we tried changing car pickup, but Kapalua had no cars available. They may not ever have cars available. Even if they did, the drop off fee would have been large since we were flying home from Kahului. Hiring a taxi would have been an astronomical cost and Uber says they no longer pick up there.


Can we change the flight at this late hour? Linda checked with the gate agent who gave her a phone number. Success for only an $80 change fee. And we are now members of Hawaii Air’s frequent flyer club, not that we will ever amass enough points to matter. Now we have an extra two hours so a drink at the lounge is called for.


Eventually we head to our new gate and board the plane. Then as we are settling in our seats, Linda’s phone rings. Our bags did not manage to make the transfer to the new flight and have arrived at Kapalua. Can we pick them up there? LInda has trouble hearing the directions for picking up our luggage amidst all the bustle as passengers struggle with finding seats and lilfting carry-ons into the bins above. Finally she hears clearly that we must arrive at Kapalua by 6:00 and asks for a text or voice mail to convey the directions.


Since we have no luggage to pick up we are able to get our car quickly and get on the road. Google maps tells us there are backups but we will arrive at 5:55. We hope that this map feature is accurate. It’s only 29 miles, but the trip will take us almost an hour and a half. Sure enough we run into some very slow traffic. We keep checking our projected arrival time. Now it says 5:57. Now it says 5:52. Will we make it?


We finally make it past Lahaina and most of the slow traffic and begin to feel a bit more confident. We arrive at the Kapalua at 5:53. I drop Linda off and she rushes into the airport to find the person who can get us our bags. Hawaii Air had closed a couple of hours earlier, but their neighbor had offered to help us since she had to work until six anyway. We picked up our bags and then drove another half mile to our condo for the week.


No problem!!


It turns out that Kapalua Airport is quite small with only a couple of commercial flights a day. The runway is too short for a commercial jet. Mostly it is used by private pilots and sightseeing flights. And it collected our bags for us.


As an afterthought, as a result of the baggage mistake, we may get the $85 baggage fee returned to us. That would be icing on the cake, but we will not be waiting anxiously on that hope.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Rugged Southern Coast

We ended our time in Norway driving back to Oslo from Stavanger along the southern coast. The weather was a bit harsh, but the scenery still spectacular. These pictures are from Norway's southernmost light house.











Stavanger

Stavanger is the hub of Norway's oil wealth which means it is a different experience. Much more cosmopolitan and fast-paced than other Norwegian cities. They have a tremendous oil museum. We watched a bit of the European finals for beach volleyball as a warmup for the Olympics. The best teams were in a stadium, but there were plenty of games we could watch for free. The weather was great and we ate all of our meals al fresco.















Tunnels, Bridges, Fjords, and Waterfalls

Driving to Bergen from Oslo and then on to Stavanger, we were thrilled by the many waterfalls. Traveling in this part of Norway requires driving through long tunnels some of which are more than ten miles long. And of course there are the bridges. The engineering it took to build this transportation network is breathtaking. Some of the pictures are from a short cruise we took while staying in Stavanger.









We drove across this bridge. It really does exist solely between two tunnels. You exit one tunnel, drive across the bridge, and immediately enter another tunnel on the other side. We were told they build the bridge before finishing the tunnels.






These goats are dropped off her in the spring and picked up again in the fall after they have fattened  up on the little bit of grass available here. As nimble as they are there is no way for them to escape. Tour boats stop by and throw them food to bring them close for passengers to get pictures.