Sunday, January 13, 2013

Day 10 - National Parks and Stargazing!

When it comes to geology and the rocks of the earth, I am very impressed. There really is no better place to study volcanic history and earth stuffs than Hawaii.  As a trained geographer, I spend most of my days thinking about spatial relationships above the rocks. And in Hawaii, I am completely impressed.

Our clothes have finally dried out from the rainy Hilo side and our day today has been one of the most spectacular yet as we engaged in cultural and physical geography across the Big Island.

Stopping at The Painted Church, we visited the St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church. The church got its name for the unique art work throughout the building on the walls and supports. Father Velghe painted the interior of the church at the turn of the 19th Century.

Outside this peaceful place.
The church is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has been restored as of 1983 to 1985.

Then we proceeded to the coast - the wonderful and beautiful ocean coast - to the National Park of Pu'uhonua o Honaunau  (Pu - oo - ho - new - a,  o,  Ho - now - now), which is The Place of Refuge.

Entrance to the National Park
Like the Cities of Refuge in the Old Testament, there were also places of refuge in the native Hawaiian culture. If someone broke a law (kapu) they were faced with a decision - death or go to the refuge. Since death was usually not something someone wished many chose to flee to the place of refuge. Pu'uhonua O Honaunau is the last and only example we have in the islands of such a place for the Hawaiian people.

The kapu system was broken with the death of King Kemehameha as his son Kemehameha II abolished traditional  religious practices in 1819. It is interesting that six months later, missionaries from New England brought the Gospel to the Big Island from the inspiration of Henry Opukahaia, the first Christian Hawaiian who happened to make his way to the northeastern United States. Check out for this fascinating story.

The place of refuge was where you went if you broke the kapu and unlike the Old Testament Cities of Refuge, you could find forgiveness in the Hawaiian system by simply getting to the place and then partcipating in a cleansing ritual. AH! - but the place was very hard to get to indeed!

It was surrounded by royal lands and commoners were not allowed to touch that land or even have their shadow cross the land. The land was ocean locked. Therefore you had to swim for it or go by canoe into the open ocean and make your way there - not an easy prospect.

Chad prepped us on the place of refuge just before we got there

The Royal Grounds - (note the wall in the distance was the boundary to the place of refuge on the ocean
Temple on the Royal grounds overlooking the Two Step snorkeling beach

Island life
The great wall separated the extensive royal grounds from the place of refuge. The wall is 10 feet high and 17 feet thick and has no mortar - just tightly packed basalt rocks - Incredible!

In the map below, you can see the wall in the center of the image. Everything to the west (left) of the wall is refuge locations and everything else was considered Royal grounds.

View Larger Map

Looking at the refuge grounds from the northern part of the refuge
Professor VanHorn
Once we were done there about half our group checked out the snorkeling at the beach to the north (Two Step) and swam with sea turtles. The rest of the group enjoyed some rest and conversation in the visitor center where we met a 2003 Calvin graduate no less, Erin Miller. It was a joy to chat with her and find out how she came to the islands and what she was doing! (She saw our shirts - many of which were Calvin College related shirts).

Well you know where lunch was of course - on the ocean. :)

Drew at lunch by the ocean

Professor Van Kooten enjoying a conversation with two local men who dive off the coast and hunt for fish with spears. The man is showing Gerry a 2lb lobster and some beautiful red fish that live in wall caves in deeper water.

Steven giving an excellent talk on migration of 5000 Puerto Ricans to Hawaii in 1900 to work in the sugar cane plantations. Now they represent almost 2% of the Hawaiian population.
After lunch we drove quite a distance to visit another amazing National Park - Pu'ukohola Heiau  (pronouced Hay - ow ).  On the way for many long stretches of miles was interesting art/graffiti/alters in the lava basalt fields.

People used whiter stones against the basalt to share a message along the road. The cultural landscape went for miles and miles
 Arriving here:

View Larger Map 

We saw the site that shows where King Kemehameha I dedicated his efforts as a warrior to conquer his rivals on all the islands and unite the Hawaiian islands under his rule. Having heard a prophecy from before he was born about a ruler that would unite the islands, the King believed he was that ruler. Defeating Oahu, Maui and Lanai, he began on the construction of this now historical site to build a temple to the Hawaiian warrior god. The soon to be King of all the islands launched his war efforts from this location. Through the use of advances in technology from the English, Kamehameha I united the islands by 1810 through conflict and treaty.

Kemehameha I shown and discussion about how men like John Young were instrumental in bringing victory to unite the islands under one ruler, thus starting an interesting monarchy

A picture of the Heiau (temple) as it would have looked when first built in 1790-1791
Calvin College students at the western wall of the massive temple complex. (No visitors were allowed up to the top because some native Hawaiian still practice religious activity here). The platform is 200 feet long and 80 feet wide with 10 to 20 foot walls

Once we were able to see this National Park, we headed to the top elevations of Mauna Kea - the tallest volcano mountain in Hawaii to watch the sun set and star gaze!

Mauna Kea is a mountain rising to 13,796 feet. This volcano mountain features almost every climate type. From the coastal ocean locales to the mid elevation farming, to the slopes of the peak, we find a change in climate unique in the world. One side is rainy and the other is dry. One has rainforest, the other has desert. And snow does appear at the highest elevations. Just amazing.

It is also the best place on the planet to view the stars. Mauna Kea is nearer to outer space (less atmosphere), clearer to see to outer space (330 days on average of crystal clear nights), and darker than almost any place (ambient light is nearly non-existant with only 150,000 residents on the island and special night street lights that keep extra light off of Mauna Kea. Thus, there are several telescopes that form the Astronomy Precinct.

Heading up the slopes near 9,200 feet

Looking toward the summit of Mauna Kea

Yikes! The clouds are rolling in at our elevation of 9,600 feet

Standing on ground and above the clouds as the sun sets in Hawaii
Surrounded by clouds with a view of Mauna Loa in the distance, the second highest peak on the Big Island. I love this shot!
At 9600 feet with almost everyone - 2 more sick, thus 3 missing this part of our adventure in geology and geography (oh and Professor Jan Van Kooten was attending to one of the ill folk and thus is absent at this moment from the picture)
In the clouds with amazing views
Dan bids the sun aloha for the night
Stargazing in the greatest place on Earth to stargaze is just amazing and a true blessing. The night was perfect and cloud free. At the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy @ 9300 feet, we joined many others to view the beautiful night sky.

None of us had seen so many stars ever in our lives. The dark sky was lit with thousands of stars for us to see. And more than that, we had several very powerful telescopes to see a variety of stars with and helpful volunteers who work at the observatories on the summit shared great enthusiasm and answers.

About 9 different telescopes for us to use!
I saw the sliver of moon craters so CLOSE tonight. I saw the clouds of Jupiter swirling on the planet and 3 of its moons tonight. I also saw the sword of Orion with the middle star actually a nebula. I saw a patchwork of stars that were billions of miles away. I saw shooting stars. I saw satellites moving across the sky. And all of us saw the star gazing program, where a kind volunteer, John, led us through the night sky pointing out different constellations and fascinating facts about several different stars that are in our night sky.  


Number of Miles Hiked Today: 1.8
Number of Miles Hiked in Hawaii: 31.4 miles
Number of Miles on the car: 934 miles
Number of U-Turns: 16
Number of stars seen tonight with just my own eye and no telescope: about 15,000
More on Mauna Kea Observatories here:


  1. Jason & crew, when you get back home and really miss Hawaii and Mauna Kea, check these out daily. I do! It's so much fun when you see snow, or the moon as it goes through its phases. and this is the source:

    Loving your daily reports!