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Imponerende Fosser

Updated: Mar 4, 2023

Friday, 17 February 2023, Hilo

I recall a trip to Norway in 1989. In my feeble attempts to learn a few words of the local language, one phrase forever lodged in my memory: imponerende fosser. If it had been Croatia, I'd have remembered impresivni vodopadi; in Japan, I'd have thought about Inshō-tekina taki.

They all translated to: impressive waterfalls.

After hearing the rain pounding on the tin roof of our airBNB cottage all night, pelting then easing then pounding again, I figured there must be a few around. The torrents created a veritable lake that greeted us in the side yard when we arose, attesting that the Kona Low had moved in. But our stomachs forced other thoughts aside, urging us into town to get breakfast. We hadn't stopped last night for any food on the long drive to Hilo from the airport.

Our buddy Google recommended Paul's Place as the best breakfast in town, so we plugged it into our Garmin and set out. We followed the directions into town, but did not see it, so stopped to ask directions at the farmer's market. "You just passed it," the helpful local said. "Cross the street and go back one block." Ahh, there it is - a small sign extending over the sidewalk. No wonder we missed it. The café squeezed into the building, six stairs up from the sidewalk, with an open window overlooking the street.

Luckily, someone had just cancelled their reservation, so Paul and his wife squeezed us in. The place was just large enough for three tables, six chairs, with Paul behind the counter whipping up his delicacies. Quaint! Nothing like the mega-resorts that prevail over much of the islands. My Eggs Benedict with Salmon certainly fueled me for the morning.

Afterwards - with it lightly sprinkling - we walked back to the farmer's market to partake of fresh fruit. On sale we saw the produce you'd expect here - rambutan, longans, liliko'i (passion fruit), mangos, papayas - along with items new to us. Ever heard of apple bananas? Half the size of a regular banana, with a sweet, faintly apple-like taste. Wish we could get them back stateside!

Across the street, an adjunct market sold other gifts. Big surprise - I found an attractive Hawai'ian shirt that I couldn't live without. (Not that I don't already have a large collection at home...) The price was reasonable, around $20. (A few days later we browsed a shop where they had Hawai'ian shirts priced at $110-$120!)

With a thin rain continuing to fall, we set our sights on the most renowned of the area's waterfalls. Rainbow Falls spilled into its ravine only a ten-minute drive away, with Garmin giving us accurate directions. Many people wandered about the tiny park, coming and quickly going. The falls were visible a few steps from the parking lot, or you could walk a few paces more to get above the falls.

The rainbows which they named the falls for only come out when the sun shines through the mist that the falls kicks up - no chance of that happening today. Still, it was worth a picture, imagining what it must look like. The clouds continued their drizzly output, so we made it a quick stop and headed out.

Our other recommended falls did not come with directions, just a vague direction of 'go north until you see a sign'. As we drove on, I noticed a sign saying 'scenic route' along the old highway, so we detoured. 'Old' highway pegs it right - narrow, twisting, potholed for four miles before returning to the main road. Along the way, we passed the Hawai'i Tropical Bioreserve and Gardens, but they were closed due to the weather. Maybe another time.

Back on the highway, we drove aimlessly for a bit before we finally saw it: the sign for 'Akaka Falls. Wikipedia states this waterfall was named for Chief 'Akaka-o-ka-nī'au-oi'o-i-ka-wao -- go ahead, say that several times real fast!

Crowds greeted us at the state park protecting 'Akaka and Kahūnā Falls. Luckily, the rain had finally paused, giving us a short window in which to take the 0.5-mile paved loop trail providing views of the cascades. Taking the loop counterclockwise (as recommended), we dropped a bit to an overlook of Kahūnā. Mostly, the lush greenery hid it in the distance.

The trail now rose as it circled back to 'Akaka. You could hear its roar before you could see it - and what a sight it was, water hurtling down 442' (2.5 times the height of Niagara Falls, albeit with much less volume),

lush greenery on both sides. It kicked up an enormous amount of mist - certainly, this must show rainbows on sunny days also.

The trail reached a prime viewpoint before doubling back to the parking lot.

As we stood watching the majesty of the plummeting water, I read the interpretive sign regarding the wildlife here. Now I must warn you that what I'm about to say may be hard to believe. For those familiar with my whimsical Christmas letters, which often mention my extra-terrestrial ex-wife and inserts me into exotic situations, you may believe I am embellishing on reality. I promise you, I am not.

You've heard about the life cycle of salmon, no doubt, who live their lives in the sea but swim upriver to spawn and die in freshwater. Well, above 'Akaka Falls, a small Hawai'ian goby fish called the 'o'opu 'alamo'o will be born from eggs deposited between rocks in the streambed. As larvae, they get washed downstream, over the falls, and into the sea. After several months at sea, where they grow to adult size of 3"-5", they get the urge to spawn. So they then swim upstream and CLIMB 'Akaka falls - all 442' of it! - with the aid of their pectoral fins and a suction cup which allows them to stick to the rocks behind the falls.

Ain't nature strange!

And that's not all! A 2" Hawai'ian shrimp called ʻōpaekalaʻole makes the same journey.

I certainly can't beat a tale like that, no matter how I embellish, so I'll leave it at that. As we worked our way up the rest of the trail, we noted the impressive vegetation,

and spied some cascades nearly hidden in the forest to the side.

Driving back into town, the rain restarted. We would see a soupçon of sprinkles and a dollop of deluges for the rest of the day as the Kona Low wore out its welcome. Time for a shopping binge, heading to Safeway for breakfast fixings and a meal away from the expensive restaurants, then to WalMart for an extension cord. (Turns out the electrical outlet our TV cord hooked in to was not working - indeed, half the outlets in the cottage needed servicing - and the hostess would reimburse us.)

At 4:00, the rain abated again, so we aimed for the Hilo harbor. There laid a Japanese garden donated to the city by Queen Lilliuokalani, many years ago.

I've always had an affinity for Japanese gardens, admiring them for their simplicity and tranquility.

The stone lantern-type structures provide a touch of development into the natural setting.

The traditional red bridge, as always, adds a touch of color to a landscape nearly monochromatic. (In this case, a homeless man had made himself at home in the sheltered place. It surprised us how often we saw homeless people around town, not enough trying to make themselves invisible.)

In the harbor, a few islets sport a tree or two, lending a bonsai feel to the scene.

(The clouds, of course, stretch all the way to the hills that they hide.)

At the far end of the gardens, a bridge leads over to Coconut Island.

An interpretive sign there mentions that the small island once hosted a few residents. In May 1960, though, the largest earthquake ever recorded shook Chile. The residents of Coconut Island heard of the event and quickly fled to safety, but the resulting tsunami still scraped the island clean of the people's possession (and killed 61 people elsewhere in Hilo).

Makes something like enduring incessant rain a minor hassle in comparison...

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