Sunday, May 4, 2008

Kayaking, The Sunken Island, and The King of Kapapa Island

All the pictures in this post will be replaced when we get better copies. The pictures came from an underwater camera and the film (which is fine) wasn't processed correctly into the digital files.

Last year, my wife and I took a five day cruise from L.A. down towards Mexico. One of the days, the ship stopped at Catalina Island and my wife and I went kayaking on the ocean. She was really nervous about kayaking on the ocean at that time, but having a guide with us made her feel more confident. It was the first time for both of us, and we discovered that we really enjoyed it.

So it was that one of the things we really wanted to do was go kayaking on the ocean when we were in Hawaii. To save money, we didn't want to do a "tour" kind of thing, like we did on Catalina Island, and just rented a kayak on our own. As it turned out, the place we wanted to rent from was actually only a few blocks away from where we were staying.

We showed up early on our first day there and rented the two-person kayak and what they called a "soft shell" to mount it on top of the rental car. The "soft shell" wasn't anything of the sort. It was basically two strips of thick foam about 6" thick that we put on top of the car. They then provided to us a few straps that we would throw over the kayak (once on top of the car) and put into the car (with the doors open, so we could open the doors later!) and then cinch up.

It was an extraordinarily unsophisticated way of dealing with the problem, but it worked beautifully. We did have some water dripping in through the doors where the straps were preventing the doors from sealing around the roof, which was vexing when it rained, but otherwise it went rather well.

Once the kayak was firmly mounted to the roof of the rental car, we headed north. We drove to Kane'ohe and found a pier near He'eia Beach Park. We had read about a "sunken island" just to the north of there, so we put in -- being sure to bring our waterproof camera -- and started paddling. On our way out there, we were stunned by how blue the water was. Where we were there wasn't much waves, which was really good because my wife was really nervous about being out there on the ocean without a guide to help us if we got into trouble (we never did).

On the way north, we passed a big boat where a bunch of Japanese people were fishing. Actually, I don't know how much fishing they were actually doing. They did have fishing lines in the water, but they weren't paying much attention to them. We did see one guy wrestling with a line that appeared to have a lively fish on the end, but we never saw him actually pull it in (we got bored of waiting).

Anyway, as we headed north, we soon came upon some reef beneath us. It wasn't very far beneath the waves, and we were delighted to actually see it. We get excited over simple things. Well, the reef soon gave way to a sand bar, which we continued to paddle over. On one occasion, I dipped my paddle into the water, and hit the sand bar! It was right below us! We didn't have any idea how shallow the water was, as you can't really tell from above the surface.

Upon paddling a bit further, we found ourselves in the middle of this gigantic sand bar. Big boats full of tourists had beached themselves and people were getting out and walking around waist deep in the water (mostly Japanese tourists, it seemed, decked out in ridiculously over-large life vests). We paddled over to one group and asked them to take a picture of us.

(image 29)

We moved on and continued paddling. Soon we got to a place where it was actually so shallow that the water only came up to our knees. I got out of the boat and took a picture of my wife with one of the tourist boats in the background.

(image 26)

It was quite the odd feeling to be standing a mile from shore, standing up in the water.

(image 25)

My wife wouldn't get out for a while, as she was nervous about things, but I finally talked her into it, so long as I had a really good grip on the boat (she didn't want it drifting away on us!).

(image 23)

Apparently, this sand bar actually rises above the water level during low-tide. People go out there regularly, park their boats, and have picnics on the "beach". The sand bar is actually a sunken island. All of the Hawaiian islands were formed by volcanic activity, and as the source of the islands drifts away (a hot spot on the continental plate), the "old" islands are eroded away by waves, washed away by rains, and also collapse under their own weight.

This little sunken island upon which we were standing was actually the top of an ancient volcano that had once stood large and majestic above the waves. At the end of the last ice age, the ocean level rose and it was eventually reduced to the mile-wide sand bar that we so effortlessly kayaked over.

Anyway, the sunken island was actually the half-way point of our journey that day. Off in the distance we could see an island ahead. It was Kapapa Island, the top-most part of the sunken island that remains above water even at high tide. As we approached, we found ourselves buffeted by waves coming from both sides of us. It got pretty choppy and my wife got a little nervous. We were so close, though, that we pressed on, paddling with all our might towards this island as waves crashed around us.

As it turns out, the waves flow around Kapapa Island from both the east and the west, crashing towards each other on the leeward side. It was from this direction that we were traveling, so we took the hits as gracefully as we could, but soon found ourselves wobbling precariously in the waves.

Our goal was to avoid having the waves crest over us, and we managed that all right, but it was a very scary experience for my wife. (And for me? I don't get scared.) We proceeded quite far in that fashion before it occurred to us that I could literally just get off the kayak and pull the kayak to shore.

(image 17)

We made it to shore and were quite relieved. We shed our life-jackets and climbed up the coral-strewn "beach". We walked the entire circumference of the island, enjoying the waves and just being in each other's company.

(image 9)

It was spectacular. The waves were incredible from out there, and would crash ashore and explode into the air.

(image 7)

The island was completely deserted. We found no structures there, just a wrecked boat and a few old fire pits. For that brief moment in time, I was the King of Kapapa Island! We stayed away from the interior of the island, however, 'cause there were big, gnarly spiders everywhere in the shrubbery. (Nah, I wasn't scared.)

(image 6)

Along the eastern edge of the island, we could see the volcanic rocks eroded away from the bottom up. It's amazing that the ocean tides are such an irrepressible force.

(image 5, cropped to show the overhang)

Soon thereafter we decided we wanted to actually eat something -- Kapapa Island is no tropical paradise to be marooned upon, that much was clear. We got back into the kayak and paddled back the 2 2/5 miles to the dock. Going back was easier with the wind and the waves at our backs, but we didn't stop to rest much on the way -- it was exhausting work.

All in all, I think we spent about 5 hours out there on the ocean. Without a tour guide, my wife was nervous, but she did amazingly well, and by the end, she was as comfortable on the kayak as I was. I was so proud of her. We had a great time.

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