Legend says bald Kahuku, in the southern district of Kau on the Big Island, was once a lush with forests, fruit trees and taro fields. Many villages in the area, and when the people were not inclined their crops they enjoyed games, including Holua (sled) races down steep grassy slopes.
One day Pele, the tempestuous goddess of the volcano, appeared in Kahuku as a beautiful princess and her bravery exhibited in this exciting but dangerous sport. Fascinated by her grace, courage and athleticism, two handsome young chefs challenged her race with them, and wound up vying for her affection as well.
As time passed, however, the chiefs saw the princess had a volatile temper. "Be careful," warned an elderly. "She was Pele, here playing with us before she returns to her home in fiery Halemaumau Crater."
Once it would be best for their relationship with the mysterious princess cool, the heads began its decline invitations to race. Their detachment angry Pele. Body on fire, eyes flashing and smoke from her mouth, she stamped the ground and shook earthquakes Kahuku. Hot lava burst from fissures and flowed far and wide. The once green land was bleak and desolate.
Terrified, Pele's former lovers walked toward the sea, hoping to escape her fury. She quickly caught up with them and embraced them. Molten lava piled upon them, creating after Puu o Pele (The Hills of Pele). Saved from later eruptions, this lonely monuments can still be seen along the coast from Kahuku.
This is perhaps one of the stories you hear on the monthly Kipuka Akihi Walk in Kahuku led by National Park Service Rangers. On July 3, 2003 at the Park Service in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy purchase of 116,000 acre Kahuku Ranch from the estate of Samuel Mills Damon as a supplement to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Transaction of $ 22,000,000 - the largest land conservation deal in Hawaii's history - increased the size of the park by 50 percent to 333,086 hectares.
Now known as the Kahuku Unit of the national park, the property runs along the slopes of Mauna Loa, which, for half of the Big Island is the largest volcano on earth. Ranging between 2,000 meters and 13,000 meters high, the unit encompasses diverse ecosystems, including forests, grasslands, bushes, stark lava, and subalpine and alpine communities.
Ranger Adrian Boone, Dean Gallagher, John Stallman and Kupono McDaniel launched for five hours, 1.5 miles long walk in April 2009.
"We thought it would be a great opportunity for the public to dozens of rare and endangered plants and birds, and also to see an area that was private property of a century and half to visit," said Boone.
"We walk through a virgin forest, surrounded by meadows. The forest kipuka (oasis) ranching survived 150 years because it is located in a canyon with steep walls, and cattle, sheep and goats had a hard time getting it."
The vegetation flourishes also hapuu Pulu (tree ferns); kupukupu (sword fern) and fragrant maile Kolea Lau Nui, whose wood was long ago used to tapa beaters, making house posts and beams. Also important is a patch of rare Olona, which early Hawaiians wove into rope.
"We have a management program as part of the hike, so that participants can help preserve the kipuka," said Boone. "We explain that highly invasive non-native plants such as strawberry guava and kahili Ginger can blanket the ground and choke native plants, and it is important for us to remove them before that happens. Once people understand that they are happy to lend a hand. "
Hikers walk between the trees, they keep their eyes open to native or pulelehua Kamehameha butterfly and three species of endangered forest birds - the akepa, akiapolaau and Hawaii creeper. The endangered io (Hawaiian hawk), opeapea (Hawaiian BAT) and Nene (Hawaiian goose, Hawaiian state bird), and five rare species of songbirds - the elepaio, iiwi, amakihi, omao and apapane - their homes here.
"In ancient times, people were known as Kahuku bird hunters," said Boone. "They appreciated birds for food and for their beautiful feathers, which they made in cloaks and similar articles for the alii (royalty). Kahuku was well known throughout the islands for the abundant forests, which KOA wood for canoes provided."
During mid 1800, the Hawaiians also collected sandalwood and Pulu (tree fern fiber) from Kahuku forests for trade. Livestock began during the same period, meat, hides and tallow from cattle were valued as a commodity.
Kahuku is also geologically important because much of it is very active within Mauna Loa's southwest rift zone. Scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory U.S. Geological Survey, consider it an excellent environment for research. Although frequent earthquakes and lava flows have buried a number of archaeological sites, many remain, including the old paths, AHU (altars), house sites and rock carvings dating back 700 years.
"The Kipuka Akihi Walk allows visitors to see another side of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park," said Boone. "It's a challenge, but enlightening, excursion back in time."