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October 30, 2009

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Punalu’u Outing 10/23

Punalu’u Outing guided and posting authored by Martha Bouchard.

Punalu’u is an area steeped in cultural significance, just minutes from Pacific Quest; some people even claim it may be the real site of the first Polynesian arrival to the island (most often thought to be Ka Lae, South Point). This area is the perfect backdrop in which to explore cultural and environmental issues, while having some fun in the blacksand, rolling surf and Hawaiian sun. On the short drive to Punalu’u we spoke about the recent history of the ahupua’a in which we live: sugar cane, macadamia nuts, unfinished resorts and tourism.

When we arrived we found turtles already basking on the dark, warm sand. Students asked about the one house just adjacent to the beach, that seems to be within the beach park. This provided the perfect opportunity to explain that Punalu’u had for many years been a much larger community, this house was the last of many that had been here, and that “the beach” we were presently walking on was actually the old county road (complete with powerlines and telephone poles if you look up) that had been closed to extend the life of the beach and its tourism potential. Sand blown and pushed up the coastline due to natural processes of erosion, now covers the road that had originally provided access to the coastal community. Without the decision to close the road and let nature take its course this area would look quite different than today.

At the far end of the beach there is a great place to swim, under tall palms and next to an estuary dotted with lily pads and graced with ducks and geese. Diving into the water we got a little surprise. A large sea turtle whom we had not noticed due to the dark rocks and rolling waves, was swimming in our presence. While startling for some students to see a turtle swimming amidst our group, once it turned to swim out to see we were able to really appreciate the special moment. After our swim we taught each other about the Honu, the Pacific Green Sea Turtle. The group divided into three groups. One group created a life-like sculpture of the honu, complete with its unique body parts. Another group drew sand pictures of the five factors most effecting the turtle population and the third came up with a way to act out certain defining characteristics of the honu. After designing our educational presentations, we gathered as a full group to share and teach one another what we had learning.

Next, after a briefing about the cultural sensitivity it is important to hold when walking through a wahi pana (sacred site), we took to the ancient ala kahakai (trail by the sea), once an important link between ritual centers and communities. For hundreds of years, this trail had served as the “road” around the island, and in 2000, President Clinton dedicated the ala kahakai as a National Historic Trail. We took the trail through ancient housing sites, by still used heiau (Hawaiian temples) and by a towering stone wall that, while crumbling in places, can still be seen at more than ten feet tall and wide. Past this ancient site the trail continues along the coast, where waves crash against lava rock cliffs and christmas berry trees give way to desolate aging lava flows. There would seem little reason to hike across this old flow, where the trail is marked by white coral pieces to contrast the stark black landscape, if it weren’t to talk about island erosion, lava shelves and explore a shady fissure with a freshwater swimming pool at the bottom.

It was a wonderful full day at Punalu’u, filled with culture, environment and adventure. Check out some interesting links on saving Punalu’u and beautiful videos of Punalu’u.

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