The humpbacks of Maui

One of the highlights of our stay on the Hawaiian island of Maui was our encounters with the majestic Humpback Whales that visit these shores between November and May each year. The bays around Maui provide the sheltered and shallow water needed for Humpbacks to be able to birth their young and provide a safe place whilst the cubs build up their strength and skills.

There are many other places that you can watch Whales, but not many where the Humpback can be seen.  Only 30 years ago the Humpbacks were on the brink of extinction, but conservation efforts have proved successful and it’s numbers are now steady and growing to a point that they will be taken off the endangered list.

I took a sunrise trip with Pacific Whale Foundation to see these beautiful creatures offshore.  The trip was 2 hours long and was well hosted by the crew and naturalists on board.  We were well educated on Whale behaviour, habitat and migrating habits.

Whilst we didn’t have Whales hugging the sides of our boat, we did get reasonably close to these gentle giants, but it is very hard to capture them.  Later in the day we stopped by the main viewing point in Maui to watch the Whales from land and  again were not disappointed. Here are a couple of photos, which whilst not super sharp (as they were taken a long way off) do show how visible the Whales were even from land.

 Whale tailWhales

 What we learnt about these gentle giants was as follows: They migrate from Alaska which is their main feeding ground to warmer shores during the winter months.  55% of the population come down to Hawaii, the other 45% are split equally in the migration to Japan or Mexico.  The migration is for mating and birthing purposes.  The gestation period is one year, so those that are lucky this year will be returning to give birth next year. They need relatively shallow waters for birthing (the Maui waters are less than 300ft), they are warm as the young take a few months to build up their blubber layers. They also need to be free of predators, of which for the young would be the Killer Whales. So there are only three places on the planet that fit the bill. Contrary to what most of us would believe, they are not looking for an abundance of food and in fact there is very little that they can eat whilst in these warmer shores, so lose up to a third of their body weight whilst taking their winter vacation. When they do return to Alaska, the journey will take them between 4 and 6 weeks to complete. I did hear some of the mesmerising Whale Song whilst we were out on the boat.  It is only the males that make the sounds and there is no clear theory for why they do, but is mostly likely to be about social cohesion of the group rather than for attracting females. It certainly felt a privilege for us to be able to get relatively close to these majestic creatures and see them in action.

 

 

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Maui Delights

We have enjoyed the last four days on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Maui.  This is often called the Valley Isle and its very easy to see why, as you drive around. Maui is a relatively small island, only 48 miles by 26 miles, yet still offers many contrasts in landscapes and eco-systems.  It also grows an abundance of crops including Pineapple, Bananas, Papaya, Guava, Coffee, Macadamia (& other) nuts, Cacao and about as many kinds of trees, herbs, perennials that you can imagine.

Inland, the landscape is mainly mountains, forests and deep riven valleys, as well as the Crater from its Volcanic past.  There are plenty of rich agricultural fields and some grazing for cattle and horses. As you come to the coast, you get to see what Maui is famed for, some of the Worlds best beaches.  Powder white sand, clear blue skies and stunning views in every direction.

Although it is technically possible to drive around the entire island, there are parts that are so hazardous that car hire insurance is invalidated if you do go on the more precarious routes. We decided to stay safe and stick to the main highways.

As well as the beaches, visitors come for the Golf and it seems you can hardly go a mile or two without seeing a course. The second reason, certainly during the winter is to see the majestic Humpback Whale that migrates from Alaska during the Winter Months to the sheltered shallow seas whilst they mate and bring up their young.  More on our Whale watching tomorrow.

We also visited a plantation, took in the beautiful scenery, but mostly we just chilled on the beach.  Even little man enjoyed himself.

 

Following a vegan diet whilst travelling has its challenges, but the Hawaiian islands have been fairly kind.  The Japanese influence means that Vegetarian Sushi, Tofu and Rice dishes are in plentiful supply. We also found a fantastic wholefood store called Mana Foods in a little town called Paia which supplied us with the best Vegan and gluten free alternatives ever.  They beat the national US chain Wholefoods, hands down.  We particularly enjoyed the Gingerbread Cupcake.  If only I could get the recipe!

Next stop Kauai.

 

 

Hawaii Farming Adventures

We completed our first farm experience this week and it has been an enriching experience.  Our hosts, as well as being lovely people, were very knowledgeable about the land, the plants and the history of Hawaii, that we certainly got a much richer education than we might have anticipated.

A lot of the produce that they sell is mainly herbs and aromatics such as mint, tarragon, chives, ginger, turmeric.  These are easy to grow, but there are not many farmers providing these organically. Other produce on the farm, some of which we were able to enjoy during our stay including Papaya, Tangelos, Lemons, Limes, Guavas, Avocados and Mamey (yep, we’d ever heard of that one either). They also had tea, coffee plants that are not harvested on site, as well as pimento’s chillis and black and red peppers.  I’m sure there are more that I have forgotten to mention, but that covers the main ones.

Our duties during the week including harvesting the herbs and aromatics and weeding the beds, which provided plentiful supply of both.

Other duties included chopping down roots of  Christmas Berry Trees – these are very large trees that have a beautiful canopy which you can see all over the Island. Although lovely to look at, they are classed as invasive and do need to be manged. Any branches that were chopped down were used to mulch the beds. The Ficus (Fig) tree, commonly referred to as the banyan tree (because of its habit of sending down roots from its branches for stability and growth) also got a bit of a short back and sides. But the picture below is not the one.  This one was a glorious example in Honolulu. Note the two doves in the middle. They’re real.

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We also did a bit of dry stone walling.  Only one section in the photo below, not the whole thing, as it was sticking out and making deliveries difficult to the property.

Stone wall

We re-used  volcanic rocks from the section of stone wall that we demolished, or found more around the property, such as the lava rock, which is a surprisingly strong, but relatively light weight material.

The wall is essential to keep out the wild pigs, roosters and other animals that would ruin the delicate crops.  The roosters are everywhere and can be heard crowing throughout the night.  Here’s a picture of one that was wondering around the airport, just as we were transferring to the next island. He’s in fine condition for a wild thing.

Rooster

 

They have thrived on the island under their own steam.  Other wild herds you might not expect are Donkeys.  Apparently when farms started to use machinery and the many vehicles left by the military after the second world war were widely available, the donkeys were just left to roam and have since become large wild herds. We didn’t see the donkeys, but here’s a slightly blurred roadsign to prove the point.

Donkeys

It’s hard to capture the beauty and peacefulness of the place.  The smells were heady. Colours stunning. The coffee plant which is part of the Gardenia family has a beautiful rich smell and there were many other vibrant colours all around us.  One plant that came into flower in the wooded area when we were there (a rare occasion we were told) is the Jade Vine.  Very aptly named, as the photo below has not been photo-shopped, this plant is really a very vibrant colour of blue-green.  Everywhere we looked, nature was showing us here amazing glory.

Jade

The last new experience for us was a very early ‘lights-out’ warning one evening.  Apparently the Termites were swarming and they would attack buildings where lights were on – as if guiding them to their feast.  Most of the time it was best not to think of the many little insects and bugs that might be out there.

We now move on to the smaller islands of Maui and Kauai to experience a bit more of this Hawaiian paradise.

 

Tropical wonderland

Today we went to Hawaii’s Tropical Botanical Gardens on the west side of the big Island. It is a 17 acre site that opened in 1984.

It was the brainchild of Mr and Mrs Lutkenhouse, who were looking for a retirement home that they could visit during the winter months from their San Francisco home. Whilst on the house hunting trail they came across this derelict and forgotten corner of the island and spend the next 15 years clearing, restoring and gathering beautiful tropical plants.

The whole visit was a feast for the eyes.

Flower 1editedOrchid editedPath ditedWaterfall edited (2)

 

 

 

 

Even little man enjoyed the experience.

On the way back we stopped by one of the black sand beaches, which is a result of the still active volcano of Hawaii.

The results are a very moody beach scene and the most fascinating rock formations.

Beach panoramic to editRainbow on beach to edit

 

 

Tomorrow is our last day on the farm, so we’ll do a round up of our week’s work then.

Aloha.

Paradise Lost

We arrived in Hawaii, in the very early hours after a six hour flight from LA. We had a poky hotel room in a dated hotel next to the very noisy elevators. The effect was like trying to sleep at the end of a bowling alley. A change of room was negotiated in the morning which will hopefully lead to a better night of sleep later.

We have explored Waikiki, Honolulu. The place is full of contrasts.

The sky and sea are beautiful shades of blue and turquoise. The sand is like white powder under your feet. The surf is playful and the sea is warm. So far, so paradise.

Yet Honolulu is a cityscape, with high rises, shopping malls and heavy traffic, just inches from the beach. It has a very cosmopolitan feel with a rich mix of American and Japanese influences.

If you want the relaxing picture postcard seclusion if the paradise island, you have to move further afield. It’s not that Honolulu is not enjoyable, only that the noise and bustle of commerce, detracts from the natural beauty around you.

Despite the big city feel, you can’t help but notice the wonderful Flora and fauna all around you. Waikiki is rich and vibrant. We have only caught a tiny glimpse of some of the birds, with their unusual calls. The trees are magestic and the flowers overflow with vibrancy. Nothing that humans create can compare with nature.

We leave Oahu (where Honolulu is located) tomorrow and move on to our farm experience on the Big Island, as they call it here; that’s Hawaii to you and me.

Did you know that Spam is a thing here? Not those annoying emails we get, but the tinned meat that was a staple if the 40s and 50s. For some reason it never went out of fashion here and is served in many popular dishes. Who knew?

Little man should not be hard to spot this time. He likes Hawaii so far. We’re still wanting suggestions for what to call him.