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Nēnē's Ark

Updated: Mar 11

Sunday, 19 February 2023, Hilo

The tempo tapped out by the windshield wipers now lay in my memory... but the showery symphony played on our tin roof played throughout the night. In the filtered morning light, I rubbed my eyes and looked out the window. Sure enough, our lake expanded through the wee hours, though no lifeguard had yet reported for duty. But wait - what is that?

OMG, it looks like the nēnēs have hired an itinerant mongoose family to build them a tiny ark! Oh, that's a rare, uniquely Hawai'ian scene few people will ever experience. [and it could make an appearance in this year's Christmas letter!]

Oh, what to do on another wash-out of a day? (I recognize that I'd been gifted with exceptional weather for my parks challenge before this, with only two days impacted by rain after one hundred days on the road... and no rain for the last 80 days. However, that didn't remedy Sue having her big vacation inundated.) Google mentioned a botanic garden north of here - the closed garden we'd passed two days earlier - so we now had a target in which to pass time before returning to Kilauea crater late in the day (see previous blog).

Hawaii Tropical Bioreserve and Garden squeezed into a narrow cleft in a steep canyon emptying into Onomea Bay. A town once existed on the coast, but it had succumbed to the elements. In 1977, dense, impenetrable jungle littered with trash dominated the land.

That year, Dan and Pauline Lutkenhouse took a trip to Hilo as they considered selling their company back in the states and retiring. When they heard this site was up for sale, they visited it and fell in love. They bought the 17-acre parcel (and added 20 more acres later), then set about transforming the neglected land. (Pictured: the bacurubu, or Brazilian Firetree.)

They had no experience or training with botanic gardens, but they dove in without hesitation. For six years they removed weeds, built trails, and hauled out trash. They tackled all tasks by hand. Tractors or heavy equipment could compact the soil, so the couple hauled out debris and carried in material by wheelbarrow. In 1984 they transferred the land to a non-profit to run it as a public space, but they continued to add to the 2,000+ species growing there, selecting new flora from around the world on their trips to other tropical lands. If there truly was a Nēnē's Ark, they could have filled it with plants from this well-kept enclave.

At the ticket booth, I noticed that children 16 and younger paid a reduced price. I asked the cashier, "My 17th birthday is one year and 10 days away. Does that mean I get in for the 16-and-under price?" My argument didn't sway her, but it was worth a try.

A developed trail - part boardwalk, part pavement - took us end-to-end through the gardens. The beginning section provided a handrail as it dropped ~200' to near sea level.

Given the rain-slickened surfaces, the rail proved essential. (For most of the two hours we spent there, the rain held off, with only a couple minutes of light drizzle to bother us. You can still see the raindrops on this plant - I believe it is red ginger.)

The orchids - rooted to various trees or in a garden dedicated to them - are stars of the garden.

Can you imagine the surprise the Lutkenhouses experienced when they discovered the three-tiered Onomea Falls?

The statue of Kū - hawai'ian god of war, farming, and fishing - was carved out of a single aged monkeypod tree.

To clarify: Kū is on the left. On the right, Sue models one of the oh-so-stylish ponchos we managed to procure for the day.

The upright Heliconia contrasts with the hanging Heliconia we saw at Akaka Falls.

Near the bananas, I spotted a sign, 'Beware of falling fruit'.

Midway to the coast, the onwers formed the tranquil Lily Lake. (The lake in our yard wasn't quite as big.)

When the builders reached the coast,

they encountered remnants of the earlier village that had sprung up there. Here, they preserved gravesites.

The path took us along the rocky coast of Onomea Bay.

Whipped up by the Kona Low, the waves broke incessantly against the land.

Our route now took us back inland, along a parallel stream.

The visitor's map labels it Alakahi Stream, but it also calls the upper reach Boulder Creek Falls.

At several spots, I noticed spiderwebs strung up in the plants - but most of them defied photos, as my auto-focus would not recognize them (and I haven't yet learned how to override that on my camera). This one barely turned out.

A friend said the web likely came from a rock spider. We had hoped that maybe it came from the Happy-Face spider, and that we could see one...

Finally, a bit of color as we exited the park.

And that finished the adventure for mid-day. Now we returned home to get packed for a travel day tomorrow, and to wait until returning to Kilauea.

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