Laura and I visited the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden outside Hilo on our drive from Volcano to Hamakua. It far exceeded our expectations and I’d highly recommend an hour or so stop if you’re on the Big Island.
The garden is along a trail that’s roughly a mile loop. It’s located off a scenic road which was among the best drives we did on the island. Just a mile south of it is the Onomea Bay Trail, which we walked as well. The trail actually passes through part of the garden, but you can’t get into the main area without first buying tickets at the main entrance.
Here are some highlights from the botanical garden:
And here are a few shots taken from the Onomea Bay Trail:
I’d never photographed the night sky until last week. Living in the Northeast, it’s rare for me to have a clear opportunity without lots of light pollution. And when I’ve been lucky enough to travel somewhere remote, I’ve generally been without a tripod or the right lens. In Hawaii, light pollution is low and visibility is great, so I decided to give it a try while Laura and I were visiting.
Here’s what I used for settings on a Nikon D7200 with a 16-80mm lens: manual mode, ISO 6400, focal length 16mm, f/2.8, shutter speed 25 seconds, and focus just a few millimeters to the right of infinity. I tried a few slight variations of those, but found the results weren’t as good.
I shot the first bunch while walking back from the lava flow outside Kalapana. When we were about halfway back, the sun had completely set and the stars came out. I walked about 50 feet off the road to get away from the flashlights other hikers were using, and then balanced my camera and tripod on some lava stone.
Here’s what I got:
There are clear parts of the Milky Way in all of them. You can see the Andromeda Galaxy near the center of the first shot, and there’s a shooting star on the left side of the second.
A few nights later, Laura and I were at a ranch in Hamakua near the northern coast of the island. The sky was clear again, so I thought I’d try some more. We were at a higher elevation which should have improved visibility relative to my first shots. I also had some more interesting foregrounds to work with:
I think the focus isn’t quite as sharp in the second set, but I like them more. Let me know if you have any tips on camera settings or post production techniques.
Picking up from the previous post on where to see lava in Volcanoes National Park, here are my shots from the Kalapana lava flow site. We arrived around 5:30pm, just before sunset. I had a lot of trouble choosing which pictures to post, but these are the highlights.
Lots of steam coming off the ocean as the lava hits the water: Here there’s some lava shooting up into the air – it gets a little too close to the boat: This is my favorite shot of the bunch. I love the steam patterns over the ocean with the silver water and boat driving away: As it gets dark, the glow becomes brighter: Lots of explosions in the steam:
This was by far my favorite part of our time in Hawaii. I’d never seen anything like it. The 8 mile hike was well worth it, and we had some great views of the stars on the return walk.
One of the things I was excited to see in the National Park was molten lava flow. This is something that you can only experience at a few places in the world at the moment, and Volcanoes National Park is one of them. After some research, I found that active flow has been relatively consistent in two places, with great visibility.
The first option is easy. A couple miles from the park entrance is the Jaggar Museum, which has a viewpoint overlooking the active Kīlauea Caldera. The caldera is about a half mile away, so you can’t get close, but it’s still an incredible view. It’s best to go at night, as during the day it can be difficult to see the lava itself. Even with the distance, you can still see quite a bit activity, especially with binoculars or a zoom lens:
The second site requires a bit more planning. The Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater on the eastern side of the park has been active for some time, and most recently lava flow from a branch called 61g has been spilling into the ocean. But unfortunately, it’s not easily accessible from the park. You can see the fumes from the end of Chain of Craters Road, but the best way to actually see the lava is by hiking from the other side. It’s an 8 mile round trip walk or bike ride, which begins outside the park, but you re-enter mid-way.
To get there, it’s about an hour drive from Volcano, HI to the end of Highway 130 in Kalapana:
There’s plenty of parking, and lots of people selling water and flashlights and renting bikes for $20. It opens at 3pm each day (although some reviews say this isn’t enforced), and the best time to go seems to be a little over an hour before sunset. This way you can see the landscapes and lava while there’s still light, and then watch as it gets more impressive in the dark.
We chose to walk, and it’s relatively easy terrain on a gravel road. At the very end you need to maneuver over some lava stone to get to the area where the lava can be seen flowing into the ocean.
Here are some shots from the walk there:
After about an hour and fifteen minutes, we arrived at the lava flow location. Check the next post for the photos.
Following our beach day in the Kona and Kohala coast area, and then our drive to Volcano, HI with a few stops along the way, Laura and I had two full days in the National Park. Unfortunately, it rained like crazy the first day. We were told it was the heaviest rain the area had gotten in years. But we ventured into the park anyway, hoping to catch a break in the downpour. We stopped at the visitor center for some recommendations on hikes, and Mark, a ranger, convinced us that despite the rain, and despite the forecast for 24 more hours of rain, the park was filled with “micro climates” and there could be plenty of relatively dry areas. So we decided to take our chances and go for a hike.
We drove a few miles into the park, and then the weather improved slightly. Seemed like a reasonable opportunity, so we started the Kilauea Iki trail, which was the most highly recommended hike and also happened to begin right where we were when the rain stopped. It’s a 4 mile loop that begins along a the Kilauea crater rim and then descends into a crater where you walk across a hardened lava lake from an eruption in 1959. We enjoyed the first mile, and then the downpour kicked back in. In a big way. So we got soaked for three miles, but the landscape was still impressive.
The weather wasn’t great for photos, but I got a few while we were walking across the lava lake, which looks like a giant parking lot that was destroyed by an earthquake.
The next day we woke up early and the rain had stopped, so we went back into the park to explore a bit more and do a couple more hikes. We first stopped at the Thurston lava tube, which is a tunnel created by lava flow about 100 years ago. It feels a bit like walking through a cave. We arrived before 8am and were the only people there. By 10am it seems to get packed with tour buses, so early was good.
Next we drove along Chain of Craters road all the way to the coast where we did a couple mile hike across some of the hardened lava flow. Some interesting patterns.
On the drive back, we did another hike up Mauna Ulu. I didn’t get many interesting landscape shots, but focused quite a bit of some of the plants we saw along the way:
Afterwards, we went back to our cabin for lunch, and then ventured out on an 8 mile hike to see some lava flow, which I’ll cover in the next post.
After our first day at the beach outside of Kona, Laura and I drove to Volcano, HI to spend a few days in Volcanoes National Park.
We first stopped at Big Island Bees, a local honey farm that’s south of Kona and is just outside Captain Cook. We picked up a few jars of honey, and I was able to get a few shots of one of their demonstration hives, which was inside a large glass container:
Just around the corner, we found a beach with perfect blue water:
The guy at the honey store had recommended a hike along our route that’s only open on weekends. It’s called Kahuku and is in a separate section of the National Park that isn’t connected to the main area. We took a quick detour, and did a couple mile loop hike in the park, which had some beautiful landscapes and was our first time seeing lava beds:
After the hike we made a quick stop at the Punaluu black sand beach, but it started raining so we didn’t stay long. Got a few overcast shots that looked better black and white:
The rain got worse as we arrived in Volcano and checked into our cabin, so I wasn’t able to get any more shots. But more to come.
Laura and I arrived on the Big Island Thursday evening for a week long getaway, and we had our first full day yesterday. Had perfect weather, a great start to the trip. Here are a few of the highlights.
A bird on a tree while we were having breakfast at our B&B outside Kona:
Some turtles, or Hono, on the beach at Kaloko-Honokohau National Historic Park:
Some lava stones at Mauna Lani:
And then finally the sunset from Anaeho’omalu Beach:
From the graphic alone, I would have guessed this was in northwest India, but after looking up the coordinates, it turns out the center of people is just over the border in Pakistan:
Coincidentally, as a direct result of Joost’s course, I ended up conducting some research on food waste in India right by the border, just 100 miles from the above coordinates in Pakistan. Here’s what it looks like:
Having just been to South Africa last month, where over 80% of the 26,000 rhinos in Africa live, I thought I’d share some of what we saw and learned. Previous posts on South Africa are here and here.
While I had known that poaching has historically been and continues to be a huge issue, I hadn’t appreciated the extent of it. Over 1,000 rhinos were poached in South Africa 2013, the largest number in recent history, and this year it looks like the number might be even higher. That’s almost 5% of the population poached, every year, and doesn’t include rhinos that die of old age and other natural causes.
I had also always assumed that poaching was most prevalent in less populated areas with few tourists and little infrastructure — somewhere deep in the bush away from conservation areas and managed parks/reserves. That couldn’t be more wrong. Most of the poaching happens in Kruger National Park, the largest and arguably most well-known and visited park in South Africa. Despite the fact that it’s only open from 6am-6pm, has a team of dedicated anti-poaching police, and that the entry/exit points appear regulated with only a handful of well guarded gates and frequent car searches, rhinos in Kruger aren’t well protected at all. About one per day is poached.
In some ways it seems the parks and reserves just need to do more of what they are doing — searches and dedicated anti-poaching patrol — and maybe be a bit more tactical about it. The first very small private reserve we visited had four rhinos as recently as a year ago. Now there are three — poachers cut through the fence in the middle of the night, killed one, and cut off his horns. We saw the bones, which the reserve kept in place to raise awareness.
Apparently at the time it was well-known that the anti-poaching police weren’t on duty from about midnight to the early morning, which in many ways defeats the purpose of having them for the other ~20 hours per day. Obviously more resources are needed. But making the hours and routes less predicable would seem to help. However, my understanding of the context is limited to a few conversations, so I’m hesitant to assume too much about which aspects of protection failed.
In the parks, our car was searched a few times, but not every time, despite the fact that we were stopped for five minutes or so at each entry or exit point. There didn’t seem to be any reason why the guards couldn’t have quickly looked in our trunk each time. Maybe they were profiling us as tourists, but they seemed more interested in finding out whether we had alcohol than guns. And given the recent arrest of some park employees for walking around with a hunting rifle, it sounds as though guns coming in and out of the park should be a focus.
At many of the parks, we did notice a culture of secrecy around the rhinos. We often asked rangers and guides how many rhinos were in parks we were visiting, and the most common answer was that they don’t disclose the information. Also, many of the parks had boards at the visitor areas where people can mark recent sightings of elusive animals such as lions, leopards, elephants, hyenas, wild dogs, etc. Rhinos would have been an obvious addition to that list, but we never saw their locations marked.
Maybe this already happens on a limited scale, or is more challenging than I appreciate, but it would seem to me that anti-poaching efforts could be improved with a bit of technology. I’ve read about parks using motion sensors. But what about adding some cameras along key roads, maybe even streaming them to the web, and crowd sourcing the monitoring. People from all over the world could check out various parts of the parks, and report anything that appears suspicious. There’s clearly a large global network of people who care. When we visited the Tembe Elephant Reserve, we learned that they have a very popular 24/7 webcam covering one of the watering holes, and there’s something similar in popular spots in Kruger. Why not take this exact model and replicate it a few hundred times over using satellite internet in different parks? I suppose there’s risk of poachers using the cameras to locate rhinos, but I think the added monitoring of the areas would more than compensate.
We also learned of some innovative approaches to reducing demand for rhino horns that have been tested on a limited basis and sound promising. One example is to inject poison and pink dye into the horns — a practice that doesn’t harm the rhinos, but would be apparent to poachers and would make anyone consuming the horn fairly sick. This sounds like a promising approach, but it would likely have to be expanded on a much larger basis before it could really reduce demand rather than shift poaching to different areas. Time will tell — hopefully it helps.
I’ve included some shots of some of the rhinos we saw below.
The first two are from Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park, where we saw about 15-20 different rhinos throughout our day-long self-drive. I didn’t notice at the time, but after reviewing the pictures closely, it’s clear this rhino has large wounds on both sides. It’s difficult to be sure, but they look like gunshot wounds (especially the one on its left in the first picture) suggesting he or she may have escaped an attempted poaching:
A couple others from the same park:
And here are a couple more from a reserve near Hluhluwe:
If you’re interested in donating to anti-poaching efforts, I found that savetherhino.org has a bunch of great programs across Africa, including one at Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park.