Friday, March 6, 2015

High and Low on Maui, Part V: Endings

For earlier posts in this Maui travelogue, please see Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

Here's part five. The last part.

Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge, near Maʻalaea Bay

Hawaiʻi Research Adventure: Day 51

This was my last day on Maui. I woke up early and packed out of Kīpahulu campground by 7am. It then took me fully three hours(!) to drive the 70 miles or so from Kīpahulu to Kahului in Maui's Central Valley. My goal for the day, in anticipation of my 7pm flight back to Honolulu, was to visit all of Maui's famous wetlands. I had seen the high and the low of Maui—from the summit of Haleakalā to the beaches of Kīpahulu. Now it was time to see the very special environments preserved at Maui's wetlands. 


View of nā aeʻo in Kanaha Pond, near Kahului Bay

 Kanaha Pond is not an attractive place. Birders must park in a small concrete square carved out between the pond and the highway that leads to Maui's main airport. I wasn't the only birder there at 10am. There was an older white couple, too. But it was pretty desolate-looking. I opened the gate and entered the walkway into the protected pond. It smells kind of funny at Kanaha Pond. It's a wetland smell; the smell of brackish water perhaps? But it would be easy to mistake it for the smell of pollution, and perhaps there is pollution here. Indeed, squashed between industry and the airport, it is hard to imagine there isn't pollution at Kanaha Pond.

 A sign outside the pond advertises it as the "permanent home of the Hawaiian Stilt." This was the real joy of visiting Kanaha Pond: to see this endemic bird (meaning that it exists nowhere else in the world!), the Hawaiian Black-Necked Stilt, otherwise known as Ke Aeʻo. 

In the photograph above you can see two aeʻo hanging out in the pond. 

These are beautiful birds. Endemic and endangered, the wetland here is preserved by the State of Hawaiʻi because these birds truly have nowhere else to go.

Zoomed-in view of ke aeʻo, the Hawaiian Black-Necked Stilt, Kanaha Pond 

 After about fifteen minutes at Kanaha Pond watching stilts—oh, and I also saw Ka ʻAuhuʻu, the Black-Crowned Night Heron; and Ke Kolea, the Pacific Golden Plover—I got back in my rental car and drove the fifteen minutes down to Maʻalaea Bay, to visit Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge.

The photograph at the top of this post is of Keālia Pond, which is much more beautiful—although no less smelly—than Kanaha Pond.

Entrance sign featuring nā aeʻo at Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge

 At Keālia Pond I saw lots of Aeʻo, Black-Necked Stilts—just like at Kanaha Pond—, but I also saw a few ʻAlae Keʻokeʻo, the Hawaiian Coot. These are the signature endemic birds (again, meaning they are found nowhere else in the world) of Keālia Pond National Wildlife Refuge.

Two ʻalae keʻokeʻo at Keālia Pond

 It's worth pointing out that keʻokeʻo means "white," and refers to ka ʻalae keʻokeʻo's distinct white beak and forehead. I couldn't capture this in my horrible long-distance photography, but it is a very striking feature of the bird.

 I also saw a bird that I could not accurately identify in my bird book, Audubon's Hawaii's Birds. Any help, birders?
 
Mystery bird, Keālia Pond

 From there it was off to Kīhei, Maui's most sprawling resort town. I had to return my rental car there by 5pm, so I still had about five hours left to kill. I ate a lot of food: I had ahi poke from Foodland, and shave ice from a local vendor. I even sat in a Starbuck's for an hour and read the local newspaper. I did everything I could to pass the time. This included visiting two interesting sites in the city of Kīhei. The first was the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary headquarters. There's not much to see here—not like the actual humpback whales I saw in the ʻAuʻau Channel a few days earlier!—but it was a good rest stop.

Apparently the only fully-intact Hawaiian monk seal skeleton in the world? Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Kīhei
 
Koʻieʻie Fishpond, and Maʻalaea Bay, as viewed from the Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Kīhei. Also look at that vibrant naupaka!

 From there, my last stop was to the ruins of Davida Malo's church in Kīhei. Malo is one of the most famous nineteenth-century Native Hawaiian historians; he was also a prominent early nineteenth-century convert to Christianity. He is said to have participated in building this church c. 1852. The ruins now house an open-air church that is used on Sundays. I was there on a Tuesday, but I got a feeling that this is a very special place.

Davida Malo's Church, Kīhei. The exterior stonework dates to the 1850s. The pews are much more recent.

 That concludes my five-part, five-day Maui travelogue. It was important to visit Maui, not only because it is one of the last major neighbor islands that I had yet to experience, but also because I write about Maui in my dissertation—about Lāhainā and whaling in Chapters 3 and 4, and about Haʻikū and sugar production in Chapter 7.

 Now, ten days later, do I have any overarching reflections or conclusions to make regarding my Maui trip? Not really. It was just so awesome! I especially enjoyed being outside twenty-four hours a day and not looking at a computer screen for five straight days. I could have done that anywhere, I guess. I could go camping in New York or California as I have done in the past. But Maui was at hand for this adventure, and it proved to be a place of great interest—historical, cultural, and ecological—for five full days of explorations.

My next trip will be to Sāmoa. I leave in exactly four weeks. In the meantime, here I am in Mānoa, doing my thing. I am writing and reading up a storm. I will soon be mistaken for a permanent resident of the Hamilton Library at the University! But this is why I came here: to do research. A hui hou!

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