Kaua’i Isle, Hawaii 2009
During the summer of 2009, Becky and I took a cruise in the Hawaiian Islands. We spent three days on the garden island of Kaua’i, exploring the Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon.
Kaua’i, the oldest of the Hawaiian Islands, was born eight million years ago as a single volcano that rose out of the ocean. The cone of Mount Wai’ale’ale is nestled into the island’s central massif, and bears mute testimony to the upheaval of it’s birth.
Kauai went through three stages of development: 1) shield; 2) post-shield; and 3) rejuvenation. The shield stage refers to the first exposure of igneous and metamorphic rock, which became the foundation for the landmass. In the post-shield stage the volcanic eruptions slowed down. The lava dried and the excess magma invaded the previously formed rock, creating lava dikes and tubes on the cliffs. Finally, in the rejuvenation phase streams and rivers formed into valleys within the huge mountain that was early Kauai.
The countless volcanic eruptions ended up creating an initial island size of 3000 square kilometers. Its highest peaks stood at nearly 2,800 m. But because Kaua’i developed so rapidly, the actual structure of the island was weak. Over time, Kauai lost nearly 1,000 m in elevation. Today, the highest peak on Kauai is Mt. Wai’ale’ale at 1,720 m. The island now encompasses only 1,440 square kilometers. It is believed the eastern side of the island collapsed during the post-shield stage which caused the creation of Waimea Canyon.
Carved over thousands of years from rivers and floods that flowed from the summit of Mount Wai’ale’ale, Waimea is the largest canyon in the Pacific. Mark Twain called it the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific” and although not as big, it is just as spectacular, (pictured above and below).
Waimea canyon is situated on the western portion of Kaua’i Island and protected within the boundaries of Koke’e State Park. As mentioned above, it was once part of an ancient volcano, but part of its flank collapsed thus enabling the Waimea River to cut through a weakness in teh layers of volcanic rock.
Over 5 million years the eroding waters have exposed different colored layers of lava, but the rocks have an overall tinge of red from the presence of iron. The red, green , blue, gray, and purple hues of the chasm highlight the canyon’s dramatic crags, hills, and gorges, (pictured below).
There are tracts of Kaua’i’s rare upland forest of koa and red-blossoming ohia lehua trees, along with roses and siennas.
Weathering and erosion is ever present on Kaua’i, and is exemplified best along northern shore of Kaua’i, called the Na’ Pali Coast.
The Na’ Pali, which translates to “the cliffs,” was first formed entirely of lava flows. Later, water flow on the island had a major affect on its shape.
5 million years ago a massive amount of water was spilling onto the northwest side of the island, carving out the valleys of the Na’ Pali Coast. Not only were streams cutting down from within, giant waves up to 15 m high continuously battered the Na’ Pali Coast, and still do today.
The sea caves along the Na’ Pali were formed when the waves cut through the rock, (pictured below).
And when the waves cut through faster than streams could carve, cliffs and waterfalls formed.
The Na’ Pali Coast stretches 27.4 Km from Ke’e Beach on the north shore to Polihale State Beach Park on the west shore, with cliffs reaching heights up to 1,400 m (pictured below).
Presently, the Na’ Pali coast is one of the world’s wettest regions. An annual average of 1,168 cm of rain falls on its flanks. In 1982, a record rainfall of 1,692 cm fell at it’s peak on Mount Waialeale, while 25 cm fell at the coast.
Over time, this incessant deluge has scoured some spectacular features on the Na’ Pali Coast. Waialeale’s catchment, (Na’ Pali Coast), feeds a labyrinth of streams, tumbling to the lowlands over numerous waterfalls.
Only well-adapted plants such as mosses, sedges, and grasses thive on this high-altitude, sunlight-deprived, wet, and windy Waialeale Mountain and it’s surrounding hills towards the Na’ Pali Coast.
From end to end, and top to bottom, three different climates can be seen along the rugged Na’ Pali coastline.
The best way to see the transformation between climates is by taking a Na’ Pali Coast boat-tour, like the one Becky and I did, (pictured below).
Beginning on the west and heading north along the coast, the landscape changes dramatically, starting as a desert and ending in a tropical rainforest. On the west side of the island there are cactuses growing and the landscape is mostly brown. But as we headed north and east, we noticed the vegetation turning greener. Looking up, at the very top of the cliffs, in Koke’e State Park, a temperate rain forest thrived.
Pictured above, the valleys become lush with rivers and cascading waterfalls. Eucalyptus trees and bamboo grow. These diverse ecosystems are what make Kauai a unique place to visit. Like the sandy beaches created by an unseen surrounding coral reef, there is more to this island than meets the eye.
Looking up, at the very top of the cliffs, in Koke’e State Park, a temperate rain forest thrives. It is also a cooler atmosphere in the State Park, with temperatures staying within approx. 40-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Kaua’i’s geology is extremely complex. It has now entered a dominantly destructive phase. The island is essentially disappearing. 71% of beaches on Kauai are eroding by wave action, (pictured below).
Additionally, Kauai rides along the Pacific Tectonic Plate, drifting north. Because of this, the island is slowly sinking. It is believed that Kauai will disappear within the next 20 to 25 million years.