My list is not in a precise order. Listing a favorite among these is tantamount to selecting which of my children I love the most. I am saving my most precious for number one, but aside from that, these are all equally incredible. I've not made any rules about these sites; some required long hikes, others I drove to. Some are all about the geology, some are about other things.
So what is this place today? It's cold, it's wet, it's made up mostly of waist-deep mud, and basically the last kind of environment that one would ever thinks exists in the state of Hawaii. Where are the palms and sandy beaches?
They are about 4,000 feet and a world away.
|A friendly 'Elepaio in the Alaka'i Swamp|
The native birds of the Hawaiian Islands provide a laboratory for the study of evolution no less significant than Darwin's Galapagos Islands. But the birds are under siege. Numerous invasive bird species came with the humans, along with wild pigs, mongooses, and malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Few birds seen by tourists are actually natives. The natives survive mostly at elevations above 3,000 feet where the mosquitoes can't thrive. Of the original 71 known species of birds on the Hawaiian Islands, 24 are extinct, and 32 are severely endangered. They've lost out to competition, habitat loss, disease, and predation (by the mongooses, which are as common as squirrels in the urban parks on the islands). Mongooses were never introduced on Kaua'i, so the higher parts of the island are the best places to see the rare natives like the 'Elepaio in the picture above (other birds are much rarer, but this was the only one I saw on my hike).
'Ohi'a trees are endemic to the Hawaiian Islands, and are one of the most adaptable trees on the planet, capable of growing on barren lava flows in near-desert conditions at sea level to cold, almost alpine conditions at 8,200 feet. The trees have beautiful red flowers that look like small red fireworks exploding from the branches.
The skies were fickle, though. Hardly ten minutes passed by and the clouds closed in for good. Some of our party arrived a few moments later and never saw a thing. It was okay though. The overlook was icing on the cake for the strange beauty of a hike through one of the strangest worlds I had ever seen.