Kayak Circumnavigation of the Big Island
Upolu Point (Through Day 3, Read Below)
Hamakua and Hilo Sections (Day 4-8)
past Puna To South Point (Day 9-12)
Point to Kona (Day13-16)
Excerpt from April 4th 2002 (Day 10)
Fox's Landing to Halape (20 miles, 5 hours): The molten lava entry on a later trip
We hoped to see the active lava flow entering the ocean
but on this trip it's not to be. The flow regularly changes course, lava tubes seal themselves and a new spot breaks out and a new entry ocean point will soon appear. Today the flow is quiet which probably is good for us since we won't have to worry about toxic fumes and lung problems in the future.
The trades are finally kicking in, blowing at 30-35mph, at
this point in our circumnavigation we are directly downwind, enjoying
the thrill of catching the wind swell (occasional breaking waves)
and riding wave after wave for hours on end.
We stay well off the coast for this stretch. The continuous lava
cliffs offer no safe haven and the backwash created by the pounding
waves (inside) would only slow us down, making paddling more difficult. Keahou Bay
We take a rest stop and lunch break at Keahou, a bay protected by a natural breakwater. We clean and cook up the fish we landed, take a shade break inside one of the small camping areas and in the afternoon depart for the short 1.5 mile stretch to Halape.
Finally we reach Halape, an isolated, picturesque, white sand lagoon.
We refresh ourselves in the freshwater, clear, inland pool. The
isolated tranquility belies the sites history, when in 1975 a local
earthquake caused a tidal wave, surprising a boy scout troop and other campers on a hiking trip. Two died and 19 were injured. You can read about their terrifying ordeal at:
Looking back, the toughest part of this adventure was the uncertainty
of weather and the pre-departure jitters. I had been all over the
island, by vehicle, on hikes and done many sections by kayak during optimal
weather conditions. For this trip, my longtime friend (Mickey Sarraille)
has flown over from Ca., for three weeks, to make this circumnavigation
I did not know during the initial planning, but was later told,
that no one had yet attempted to circumnavigate the island in one
outing. The handful of people, in modern history, who have paddled
the complete Big Island had done it in sections, over a number of years, waiting for premium weather, and for the most part following the trades downwind, forgoing the circling in a continuous direction. Pohiki Boat launch
I told a few people of my plans but when I mentioned that my friend
Mik had never been in a kayak before and was handicapped, missing
his left leg near his hip from a motorcycle accident 24 years previously,
I could see their dismay and wondered why they couldn't visualize the possibility of
my dream but would rather see me as simply insane.
I was more than delighted when one friend offered me his EPIRB (satellite
position rescue beacon), since his sailboat had been damaged and was awaiting
repair. Now I have few worries if anything catastrophic should happen.
The Coast Guard would immediately be notified of our emergency in
the event of shark attack, appendicitis, blown off the island or
being smashed against the rugged lava cliffs. One concern I have
is besides being manually activated the EPIRB also automatically
activates if it gets wet so I've got it triple drybagged and hope
any moisture doesn't bring any pissed off rescuers on a wild goose chase.
The weather on the Big Island is known to be volatile. Having spent quite a bit of time on the Big Island over the last 30 years, I have some understanding of the difficulties
involved. I know it blows gale force, a high percentage of the time,
over much of the Eastern half of the island. We could expect that to be
a headwind for about 80 miles. The wind often drops at night however,
and my plan, barring an unusual break in the trades, is to paddle
at night and rest during the day while negotiating the upwind leg.
One positive on our side is Mik and I are longtime friends (since
11 years old). The two of us know each other, our strengths and weaknesses,
well. We have experienced rough expeditions before. Weathering an
extended storm in a sinking sailboat, flying in hang gliding competitions, hanging on for dear life as we travel (by the unpowered aircraft)
through the mountains, consoling each other by radio, that the last
piece of extreme turbulence surely must have been an isolated incident, and
we should keep pressing on.
We spent a winter on a sailboat at Isla Todos Santos (Island of
all the saints) in Mexico while surfing and bodyboarding, some of
the worlds largest rideable waves.
Some people may look at Mik as
handicapped (or insane) but I know from experience that his mental
toughness, positive outlook and superior upper body strength (from
being on crutches for 25 years) makes him a perfect partner for
a challenge of this type. While he has zero kayaking experience,
with the exception of sitting in one in a sporting goods store,
he has ocean skills far above the vast majority of kayakers.
We have no illusions as to the probable difficulty, we only hope
that conditions are not so demanding that the trip goes beyond our
ability to endure.
Mik's flight is late. I pick him up at the Kona airport with our gear fully loaded. Had his flight been on time we could have loaded the boats and done a night departure. Since midnight is now approaching
we hike out to camp near our departure point in Kona
to wait for morning. I can hardly believe the weather report, it
is more than favorable, because of a storm track North of the islands,
there are no trades in the near term forecast. It might be a week
before they return.
Loading up departing Kona
Day 1 March 26th, First Light:
We're up and amped, like overloaded circuit breakers. We spent most
of the night, high on adrenaline, discussing the trip. We spend
an hour loading our gear into our Scupper Pro TW kayaks. My sister
and her boyfriend show up, to give us a sendoff, take some photos
and take care of my car.
I have Mik's footpedal on his rudder system rigged with a strong
bungee on the left side so he only needs to work the right pedal
and it should, in theory, return left of its own accord.
Loaded up, a few too many items strapped on top, which we couldn't
cram inside, we lug the heavy kayaks down the launch ramp and set
them afloat. Mik gets his first taste of sitting in a floating kayak
and out we go.
Rudders down and Mik seems to be stuck in a left turn. The bungee
is too tight and after a quick adjustment we make our way out of the
harbor, Mik zig zagging along getting the feel of his rudder system.
I'm starting to have second thoughts. Was I being overly optimistic
that a first time kayaker could handle the 15 miles a day (over
an extended period) that I had expected we could accomplish? Would
Mik's handicap become a factor in, as yet, unforeseen ways? As I
watch him zig zag along, these thoughts run through my mind, we
also talk incessantly and are filled with exuberance as we
round the Westernmost point (Keahole Point) of the Big Island and
come to our first stop after an 11 mile paddle. Makalawena
Makalawena beach, one of the Big Islands finest beaches, is accessible only by hike, boat or Humvee. We made it a point to start on one of the easier stretches of coastline to get a warmup, but now with the light trade winds , we wish we were getting the upwind leg out of the way. I planned on 3 days to Kawaihae harbor but it could be done in 2 if we can handle 19 miles each day. I don't want to burn out at the beginning, but wanting to get to the upwind section before the trades return, we decide to see how far we can get on day one.
A couple of miles before our evening camp I dive in and come up with a 6lb sea bass on the end of my three prong spear.
It turns out we are able to make the 19 miles, but not before making
an exhausting final push over the last mile into a 20mph offshore
breeze finally getting ourselves safely nestled into Kiholo Bay. Mik is exhausted, not surprisingly, after his first day of kayaking.
He looks as if he's been overworking himself on a bicep machine at the gym, not
yet adept at the torso rotation that will conserve his energy in
the days to come. We set up camp, eat, and sleep like
2: Kiholo to Sunstroke Bay (we renamed it, 25 miles)
Mik wants to blast the miles out of the way. I tell him the trip
will be a waste if we don't take time to enjoy the places we visit
so I convince him to put on his waterproof headlamp and we swim in, Mik with his
floating carbon fiber crutches (homemade), to explore an inland
flooded lava tube. They call some of these places "Queens Baths". In hawaiian
history only royalty were allowed to bathe in some of these freshwater
pools. This swimming pool/cave continues underground for quite a ways. I had not
explored it, back into the dark chambers, in the past.
We swim through the crystal water, our waterproof headlamps, lighting
up the complete darkness, the tube finally comes to an end where
the lava has filled in the tube, putting a stop to the underground corridor.
Back to the kayaks and we make our way north. A strong Kona wind (reverse
trades) starts cranking up. This is a beneficial, unexpected tail
wind getting up over 20mph. We discuss skipping the Kawaihae bay,
straight lining it toward the north end of the island. This would
save us some miles and time, getting us sooner to the upwind leg.
It would also take us 5 miles offshore and make for a near 30 mile
day. With the confidence of children we go for it with no regrets. We know it will
be a long day, far from shore, .
Our biggest enemy is the sun and today is hot, thank god for the
wind. We have great hats and Mik is liberally applying the spf 50.
I keep the sunscreen on my face but ignore the rest of my exposed
skin, mistakenly thinking that my tan will prevent the burn. We
raft together for lunch 5 miles offshore, then continue on toward
Lapakahi park where the coastline will come out to intersect with
About 3 pm I start feeling sick thinking I must have eaten too much
for lunch. We decide to shorten our day a bit and angle in toward
what we hope will be a landable (rocky) beach. Not feeling good
now, I can only paddle for a couple of minutes at a time before needing a
break. Mik is tired but doing well and he goes on ahead to scout the coast
for a landable spot. We make a landing after a 25 mile day, I immediately
crash in the shade, under a Kiawe tree, for an hours sleep before
reviving, Mik dives in and comes out with a couple of fish for dinner.
We now realize that it was the sun that did us in and my legs are
purple where the sun was beating, causing my downfall.
Day 3: Sunstroke Bay
to Kohala Lighthouse (19 miles) Kapaa Park
Now well covered by long sleeve windbreaker
pants and tops, we paddle seven miles to a stop at Kapaa park where
we hit the trades (Strong offshore winds). A friend meets us and we
get a ride up into Kohala to visit with friends and family.
We see the trades are again backing off and figure
we better get back on the water. Another six mile paddle to the north and we are just
short of the north end of the Island (Upolu Point). We now run into
heavy trades (a headwind now), impossible to penetrate against, and need to wait for them to drop. We
anchor the kayaks in a small protected bay and swim in climbing the 15 lava cliff.
We find we have landed at the birthplace of King Kamehameha
and take a self guided tour of Mookini Heau, a Temple of War in
historic times. We will not try battling this velocity of headwind. Our
choices are to swim our camping gear in and spend the night, or
if the winds drop around sunset, we could continue on to the Kohala
lighthouse (2 hours away, weather permitting) which has a rugged
rocky launch ramp and the light could guide us in.
We see the trades lightening up, we watch
the awe inspiring sunset and we swim out to our boats as the sky
darkens. We paddle into the night in sloppy conditions. The full
moon rises and for a time brightly lights our way. Soon clouds surround
the moon and we are witness to a spectacular moonbow the first we've
Rounding Upolu point we see the lighthouse
up ahead and also a small light off to the right. A friend of mine
is camping near the lighthouse and I suspect we are seeing his Coleman
lantern from 5 miles away. Mentally it seems to take a long time
for us to reach the lighthouse. Anthony's (my friend) lantern goes
out a few minutes before we arrive.
At 9:30 pm we get in close to the surf
and yell at Anthony to bring down a light to show us where the easiest landing
is. We camp with Anthony and his family eating their leftovers,
plenty of fish and rice, and again sharing breakfast with them. Anthony
and his family are pure Hawaiians and as local as you'll find. Because
of their friendship and willingness to share we owe them a big mahalo
(thank you), and a twelve pack of beer (yeah we're cheap) is on
The Hamakua and Hilo Sections (Day 4-8)
Downwind past Puna To South Point (Day 9-12)
South Point to Kona (Day13-16)